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Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com



Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Conrad Brothers

Let’s do some Conrad begats.

In the beginning were three brothers: William, Charles and John. In 1868, William (16) and (14) were sent to Montana by their father, Colonel James Conrad, an officer in Mosby’s Raiders and once a plantation owner. He kept John two more years until he turned 14. The first two soon found work with Isaac G. Baker, merchant, river master and whiskey trader. They supervised ox teams, built trading stockades, and John, as soon as he came, handled the gold dust and acted as a courier and road escort. He was six foot three. By 1873 he brothers had a controlling interest in the Baker Company and were operating eight trading posts spread out clear the the Arctic Circle.

Charles Conrad found his first wife in the 1870’s. “Singing in the Middle,” a Blood Indian, at one of the Canadian forts and formally married her. In 1876 she gave birth to a son, also named Charles. She drifted off and remarried to an Indian but died in childbirth in 1881. Charles Jr., at his mother’s request, was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Montreal and raised there. By then Charles Sr. was a 37-year-old prosperous trader and banker. Letitia Stanford arrived from Nova Scotia with her mother and and sister to start the Select School for Ladies and Children. Charles Sr. married her and built her a red brick house on the corner of Washington and Sixteenth Street in Fort Benton.

In 1882 Lettie had a son and they named him Charles. So now Charles had two sons, Charles Edward, the half-breed, and Charles Davenport, the all-white. Charles Senior, known by the Indians as “Spotted Cap,” had a reputation as a special friend of the Indian and gave advice in the sale of the Ceded Strip (Glacier National Park) to the government. It had to do with how the payout was made; whether it was good advice depends on opinion.

William became deeply involved in cattle ranching, though all the Conrads were ranchers for a while. The village of Valier was once part of the Conrad Circle Cattle Company, specifically the Block Hanging Seven. Founder of Conrad, William helped develop irrigation along the southern edge of the reservation. Lake Frances, next to Valier, is the man-made impoundment lake for that system which starts at Swift Dam in the mountains. He cooperated with Jesuits to bring in Belgian grain farmers and occasionally worked behind the scenes (unsuccessfully) to move the reservation boundary farther north so that the work done there at Blackft expense would be part of his system.

There was a Fort Conrad at once point, but it was eaten by the flooding of nearby Marias River. Charles Sr. ran it, as one among a string along the Whoop-Up Trail, now commemorated by markers. The whole complex was based on running what passed for whiskey. James Willard Schultz (sometimes accused of using “grass”) was a friend of the Conrads, especially Charles. Mounties were specifically sent to close the whiskey trade and in 1874 they had about succeeded. Joe Kipp, Schultz, Hiram Upham, and Charles ran the fort for a few years, then sold it to a rancher in 1885. The buffalo had been used up in 1883-84, so there was nothing for Indians to trade.

But the prairie was emptied for the great open-range cattle operations. In 1878 the three Conrads put half a million dollars into cattle. William ran these operations and was not sentimental about feeding Indians. For a good price the Conrads supplied over five million pounds of beef for Mounties and reservation Indians in 1880. By then they were thinking about railroads and coal.

In 1890 James J. Hill was building tracks and Charles Conrad agreed to found a town that would provide a meeting point -- the result was Kalispell. In 1892 Charles Conrad opened a bank and built the fabulous house that appears in “Heavensgate.” He enjoyed inviting Indian leaders to formal dinners, complete with crystal, silver, china and linen. Then all repaired to the Great Entry Hall where there they settled before the huge fireplace to share cigars and stories. Charles’ daughter Alicia said that she would crouch on the stairs to listen, watching the firelight play across their faces and make their eyes glitter. She also remembers the first appearance of her half-Indian brother, Charles Edward, who picked her up and swung her over his head. She loved him.

Neither of the junior Charleses was a success. Charles Edward, handsome and proud, married Marie Blanche Lionais, a French girl from a fine family, in Montreal’s cathedral with the archbishop presiding. Charles Sr. gave the newlyweds a fine house and created a trading company for his son. Edward ran it into the ground. More money was sent, but it was never enough and then Charles Sr., knowing he was dying of diabetes, turned his attention to designing his own mausoleum. He died on Thanksgiving, 1902, aged 52. Edward took as much more money as he could get from the estate and from his stepmother until business and wife were gone. In September, 1905, not quite thirty, he committed suicide.

Charles Davenport, the all-white son, was no better. He was a party-hearty guy even after he married Kokoa Baldwin, daughter of a prominent lawyer. Insulted beyond bearing, she rode her horse to the bank, carried her riding crop into his office and lashed his face. She filed for divorce in 1915 and left to be in silent Western movies. After not-enough-success she returned to Kalispell and is rumored to have died of suicide.

Charley D. remarried. In 1930 his 21-year-old son went into the woods and died of a shotgun blast to the chest, maybe another suicide. Lettie died in 1924, leaving a fortune to Charley D. and his sisters, Alicia and Katherine. He managed to get control of all the money. His last scheme was to turn that elegant big house into a casino and bordello, but Alicia found out in time and saved the house with a secret down payment from the last of her money. In 1940 a group of Kalispell businessmen bought the Conrad bank and two years later he died of lung cancer.

Alicia was married long enough to lose the last bits of money and to produce a daughter, Alicia Ann. Alicia and a stepfather lived in the big Conrad house while it fell apart around them. There was no money for rehabilitation. When it became impossible, the couple lived in a mobile home in the driveway. In 1973, the stepfather died, and in the late 1970’s Alicia Ann’s son Chris made arrangements to transform the building into a museum.

Rewind to 1880. Now we turn to John Conrad. His cattle were in the Hurlbut-Conrad Cattle Company, based in the notorious Johnson County, Wyoming. It’s unclear whether he was part of the cattle mogul vigilante groups, but certainly his cowboys were also gunslingers. By 1891 he had sold out his cows.

He met Mabel Barnaby during the 1884 Democratic National Convention. She was nineteen, accompanying her father, who was a Rhode Island merchant and politician. John was 29, identified by the newspapers as a “Western millionaire.” In 1887 he installed his wife in a log cabin home in Billings and opened a fancy store. He also established an attachment to Samuel Hauser (banking, railroad, mining, and cattle) who was one of the Big Four. the others were Charles Broadwater (railroads and a fabulous health spa in Helena), Marcus Daly and Willliam A. Clark (both copper kings). John’s goal was becoming governor. He bought a house as 702 Madison Avenue in Helena.

In the spring of 1891, Mabel’s mother was poisoned to death in Denver. John went berzerk in pursuit of the poisoner, who might well have been a doctor who had ingratiated himself with the woman. The doctor had a mentally unstable wife who eventually collected $25,000 from her will, but the doctor poisoned himself before he could be convicted. Under the pressure the John Conrad marriage came totally unglued -- the master and mistress accusing each other of repeated adultery and the household so disorderly that at one point there was an in-house riot featuring the coachman wielding a stick and the Chinese cook swinging a frying pan. John was the loser.

The divorce was complete in 1895 and Mabel took her children (Florence, Maud and the first Barnaby) back to civilization in Europe. Since she had her own fortune, it was not difficult to marry an American named George Choate Kendall and move into a chateau in France.

John Conrad disappeared for a while, popped up again in the Yukon and made a mighty effort to repeat the past on this new frontier. At sixty, his Venus Mine was a success until 1912. He died in 1928, drunk and indigent, in an SRO hotel in Seattle.

The three Barnaby Conrads all grew up educated, sophisticated world-citizens. Absinthe and martinis are a far cry from the product sold on the Whoop Up trail, flavored with tobacco and hot peppers. Barnaby Conrad II has written 37 books, and Barnaby Conrad III is in close pursuit of that record. Any of the three could be portrayed on the screen by Kris Christopherson. Maybe Barnaby Conrad III is a little young -- let’s say Brad Pitt as in “Legends of the Fall” -- not such a different story.

16 comments:

Carolyn R said...

I found the story interesting. Have heard a little about it when I went to The Conrad Mansion. My great-grandfather was John Calvin Conrad and I was wondering if there was a connection. The story I know is that 2 Conrad brothers were in the Revolutionary War; after the war one went to NC and the other to PA. We are of the NC line. Trying to make the connection to the PA line. You said William, Charles, & John were sent by their dad to Montana...from where? Do you know of the earlier history?

prairie mary said...

I'm shocked at myself that I didn't establish in this post that it is basically from Barnaby Conrad III's excellent book "Ghost-Hunting in Montana." Even if you were not related to the Conrads, Barnaby's book would be well worth buying. It is so well written and so full of fairness and perception!

About all I know about the Conrads comes from this book.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the neighborhood with Barnaby III, or Thumper, his childhood moniker. He was always the target of all the young girls.

prairie mary said...

Easy to believe that a Conrad would charm the girls! Kipps were like that, too!

Prairie Mary

Many Bears said...

Dear Mary,

Thanks for writing so fairly about the Blackfeet, the Conrads, and me. You site is fascinating and I look forward to reading more about Montana from a Browning perspective. My best to you, the Kipps, and Vickie Santana.
Sincerely,

Barnaby Conrad III (Many Bears)
San Francisco

prairie mary said...

Thanks, Barnaby. I've always had a weakness for bad boys. So has Brad Pitt taken an option on "Ghost Hunting on Montana" yet? He OUGHT to!

Prairie Mary
Mary Scriver
Valier, MT

Glacierman said...

Would like to make a correction, if I may. The Conrad boys' father did not ride with Mosby. He was in the Va. militia, but I have yet to determine what unit. But Charley and W. G. (he changed his name from G. W. to W. G. in 1870) both rode with Col. Mosby. Charley was the youngest of Mosby's Men and was paroled out in April 1865 at the age of 14. George (W. G.) was 16. The boys were in Co.C. Their records are on file at the National Park Service.

prairie mary said...

Thanks, Glacierman. Corrections are always welcome. History is never finished.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

My Mother was born in Conrad Montana in 1912 and Left in St Thomas Orphanage. She was adopted in 1916 by William Conrad and Mary Ann (Peters)Conrad. Were William and Mary Ann any relation to this Conrad Family??

mscriver said...

When people ask me genealogical questions, I rarely know the answers. The best way to go about finding these things out is through the websites that specialize in the subject. I don't have access to records and am often using partial accounts as references.

I'm sorry. I know people love following the connections.

Prairie Mary

Barnaby Conrad said...

Dear Anonymous care of Prairiemary,

Regarding the adoption by William Conrad and Mary Ann (Peters) Conrad, I have to say that they may not be related to the original Conrad Brothers who left Winchester, Virginia after the Civil War and settled in Ft. Benton circa 1868-70. They went on to found Kalispell, MT and Conrad, MT.

My great grandfather was John Conrad, who had one son named Barnaby Conrad (and two daughters). His older brother William G. Conrad had two daughters only who moved back to Virginia. The other brother, Charles E. Conrad (founder of Kalispell), had two daughters and two sons, C. Edward Conrad (had two daughters and died of suicide at age 25) and Charles Davenport Conrad (daughters and one son who died in a hunting accident).

So that first generation of Conrads did not have any sons either naturally or adopted named William Conrad.

The original Conrad brothers listed above are descended from their father, Col. James Warren Conrad of Winchester, Virginia. The Colonel's brother, William Self Conrad of Virginia, had sons; but I do not know all their names. However, a couple of their descendants came out to Conrad, MT. ----after its founding---and settled there around 1910. The best known Conrad in that town was Herbert Conrad, born around 191, a longtime county attorney and good man, who died in the mid-90s, as I recall. There were also some Conrads in Great Falls related to him, all descended from the William Self Conrad family. Herbert had 3 children born in the 1960s---Charles Conrad (now an editor at Broadway Books/Doubleday in NYC); Damian Conrad, a photographer in Seattle; and Monica Conrad, who may still be in Helena or Missoula. All very capable, fine people. You best bet would be to track them down and ask for help. Or, better yet, get onto a good genealogical site.

Good luck with your search.

Sincerely,

Barnaby Conrad III
San Francisco

prairie mary said...

Big thanks, Barnaby. I guess I should do a post about genealogy searches.

I hope things are going well for you.

Prairie Mary

Glacierman said...

Hi, again, Mary! This time I'd like to mention that the received canon on Chas. Edw. Conrad, the Mètis, is all wrong, but considering that the original source of the "drunken wastrel who ran his business into the ground," etc., was his step-mother Alicia "Lettie" Conrad, nèe Stanford, it makes sense. It is a long, convoluted story involving his father's will, and I won't go into it here, BUT that story will be told when we get our work finished and published. Suffice it to say for now that Edward (as we call him), was the opposite of Lettie's version of him. He has been unfairly maligned all these years, and we look forward to correcting the record on his behalf.

Thanks again for your blog. Hope this fins you in good health.

Tracy Antonelli said...

Hi Mary,
I have a little different perspective on the Conrads. I live in Rhode Island and was in the textile business for many years. My first husband was a horse trainer born in Kalispell,MT. He grew up there and traveled quite a bit being in the horse business. We moved to Montana and I lived there for 8 years. I moved back to Rhode Island and remarried. My second husband and I bought a carriage house in Providenc,R.I. which we renovated as our home. This carriage house was the carriage house for a huge Victorian mansion on Broadway known as Barnaby's Castle. J.B. Barnaby was known as the Textile Prince of Rhode Island, having one of the largest and earliest ready to wear stores in the country, here in Providence.He was born in Freetown,Ma I think in 1830. He was also involved in politics here in Rhode Island and ran for Govonor as well.My husband and I were married in the carriage house and we were told that one of Barnaby's daughters were married there too. The wedding was written up in the society page of the NY Times in which it listed many of the gifts they recieved.
The carriage house itself was certainly a show place for his horses and carriages where no expense was spared in its creation. The tack room for example had mahogany walls of alternating light and dark wood, porcelian mosiac tile floor, elaborate carved trim along the upper part of the walls with the intials J B carved in Old English Lettering over the doors into the tack room.
I was doing research on the house when I came across your blog. It's quite a strange coincidence that I was in textiles and married a man from Kalispell,MT and moved there.( Like Mabel Barnaby) and then returned to Rhode Island and ended up living in the carriage house built by JB Barnaby. I would have never put it all together had you not written this blog. Wow the power of the internet!
I have more info on the carriage house and JB Barnaby if anyone is interested to learn more about him and his family here in Rhode Island.
Best regards,
Tracy Antonelli

Bianca said...

Hi Tracy-by name is Bianca Maiello and my grandfather Dr. Luigi Maiello owned the Barnaby Castle from about 1924 to 1960-he bought it from the Eddy family-I lived in the house for about eight years as a youngster-I still live in Providence and am the project manager for the present owner of the house who is restoring it back to its original state -I certainly would appreciate and be interested in any info you have on the Barnabys, Conrads or the carriage house-we are trying to gather all we can in its history-do you by any chance have any pictures?-thank yo in advance-Bianca Maiello

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

People who are not all that familiar with the way the Internet works, and specifically "blogging," will often try to contact me or others who have commented by leaving a comment on my original blog post but not including their email address, which means that neither I nor the commenter they are trying to reach can find them. Though they've used Google to look for information and though Google "owns" blog spot and requires one to join in order to leave a comment, it doesn't report the commenter's email. This may change since people's worries about being identified are giving way to worries about doing hostile things, covered by anonymity.

My own email is prairie@3rivers.net. Anything sent to that email is not published without your permission. I hope you folks find each other. It used to work to just go to the phone book, but with so many cell phones, that's limited now.

Prairie Mary