“I suppose you too have heard of the Rocky Mountains. If you have, you will have fancied something to their shape to satisfy the yearnings of your fancy. If you have not heard of them, one of the most eminent features of this world is a blank to your existence. You have also, I suppose heard of the American plain or prairies. Have you clearly conceived the real object of that name? I do not think you have…” Angus McDonald ca. 1850, University of Montana Papers
Considering the remarkable sights Angus McDonald encountered while crossing North America, the thrust of Cenezoic faulting in the Mission Mountains would certainly leave a mark on a man, just as it must have done when the highlander arrived at present day Post Creek, Montana in 1847.
Born in Craig, Scotland, in 1816, under the ancestral tartan of Glencoe, McDonald was raised on the untamed shores of Loch Torridon, a place not unlike the wild rural landscape of early western Montana. Some suggest McDonald left Scotland in a hurry, but what is certain can be found in his record of employment, gained at the age of 22, with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Voyaging across the Atlantic Ocean, McDonald soon found himself traveling the plains and prairies of North America, through the Crown of the Continent, experiencing the Rockies he later described in his usual poetic pen.
By fall of 1839, McDonald was stationed at Fort Colville in eastern Washington, and while treading the ranks of HBC came to land a clerk’s position at Fort Hall (in present-day Idaho). This was a considerable jump in ranking, for the Snake River outpost served as a staging point on the 2,000 mile-long Oregon Trail. “The trade in furs was quite large,” Angus commented on his new situation, and described the arriving emigrant wagons as “each hungry caravan.”
Aboriginal tribes, such as the Nez Perce, brought brisk business to the post as well, and “did often stay there.” Among these people, Angus found a wife, Catherine, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Sometimes referred to as Nez Perce royalty, Catherine had already begun to witness the subjugation of her people’s native lands, much the same as the McDonald’s highlander ancestors had experienced in the clearances of Scotland.
In the summer of 1847, they set off with a young son and an infant daughter – the first two of some dozen children to come from their marriage – and traveled north. After a brief stint at Fort Flathead (Saleesh House), where Angus served with Neil MacArthur, the two traders set their sights on what would one day be known as the Mission Valley.
Fort Connah was built, and McDonald took charge during the period 1847-52, conducting business among the native tribes of Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai. While the beaver trade was surely petering out, fully packed and dressed hides of all kind were still in demand. Angus trucked in coffee, flour, salt and sugar, trading for pemmican, tallow and buffalo robes, and was responsible for seeing goods back to Fort Colville. Eventually, HBC recalled him to this fort where he rose in rank to Chief Trader and spent most of the next 20 years.
One gets the idea that McDonald never forgot the Mission Valley. Some say that when Indian affairs became dangerous near Fort Colville, he sent his family back for safe refuge. His intent became clear when he sold his share in HBC and bought land near Fort Connah. In addition, he invested in Galloway and Shorthorn cattle, all branded with MD, and successfully raised the herd to some 2,000 head before his death in 1889.
Make no mistake, Angus McDonald is here still -- his remains lie buried in a small glen not far from his Mission Valley homestead. Even today, casual conversation continues with regard to the “Scotch” fur trader, and folk still speak fondly as if he were a close acquaintance, a long-time neighbor – or, maybe, someone who just hadn’t been seen in a long while. His many descendants wear the everyday faces of those still living on the Flathead Indian Reservation, a familiarity that hasn’t faded a bit with generations or time.
His words, like his descendants, linger.
“There then stout reader is a range for your eye were it strong as an eagles. Upon the hillocks and levels of this ocean-like land, thousands of wild men, buffalo, deer, antelope and bears have fought and loved, fed and played since time immortal.”