This rather small, quiet, town of Montpelier is the largest community in the Bear Lake Valley; this area is situated north of Bear Lake in southeast Idaho along the Utah border. The population is only about 3,000 so it is hardly a huge metropolis but it is a city and has been so since 1891 which seemed odd to us as this is a town size in the UK.
We stayed the night in this little town or city as the Americans call it on our way from Salt Lake City to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We chose this little town mainly because of the Oregon Trail Centre museum in the town as we found it on the internet and thought it sounded worth a visit.
Montpelier has an interesting history. And is in the scenic Bear Lake region so popular for summer holidays for people who want to use the lake for water sports, swimming or juts enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Bear Lake was a popular hunting ground for the local Shoshone, Ute and Bannock tribes for many years and one of their camping grounds. Later in around 1818 the Mountain Men began to trap and hunt in the area and indeed the lake got its name when one of these Mountain Men, Donald ‘Fats’ McKenzie attended an Indian gathering on the shores of the lake. He named it Bear Lake because of the large number of Black bear in the area.
There is written evidence of two major rendezvous on the shores of the lake when Indians and trappers and traders met to trade furs and other goods and supplies. Two well known Mountain men were at these rendezvous in 187 and 1828, one was Jedediah Smith and the other Jim Bridger.
Smith was famous for his explorations throughout a number of states in today’s USA and also for having survived a number of massacres and also a bear mauling in his travels.
In 1824 Bridger set out to find the exact course of the Bear River from the Cache Valley and when he returned he reported that it emptied into a vast lake of salt water. Everyone was certain that he had found the Pacific Ocean. What he had actually found was The Great Salt Lake and so he was the first white man to view The Great Salt Lake.
In 1836 the Whitman- Spalding party arrived to set a mission to work with the local tribes and reported that there was plenty of great farming land in the Oregon territory to be settled and so many pioneers came out west to take advantage of this.
By 1841 pioneers arrived in the area crossing on their way to Oregon. They camped at Clover Creek, on the site of the Oregon Trail Centre today. Clover Creek became Montpelier later in time. ‘Peg Leg’ Smith had a trading post on side of the river close to the site of the present town of Montpelier.
In 1863 the original pioneers were now followed by Mormon pioneers moving west because of religious persecution rather than the hope for rich pastures of farmland. Montpelier was settled in 1863 by these Mormon colonists and became the first settlement in the area.
The Mormon settlers led by George C Rich then established a base in Paris where a tabernacle was built. Shortly after this they spread out through the valley and by September 1919 the Montpelier tabernacle was built and crowds came to see President Grant, one of the Mormon leaders dedicate the tabernacle.
It was after the arrival of the Mormons that Montpelier had its name changed from Clover Creek to Montpelier at the request of Brigham Young when he came to the area in 1864 and he suggested the name Montpelier after his home town in Vermont.
This tabernacle was the first public building in Montpelier to have indoor toilet facilities! It cost a whopping $ 77,000 a fortune at the time but I am sure the indoor toilets must have been very popular with the congregation at meetings. This tabernacle was completed in 1889.
Montpelier’s other claim to fame is that their bank was the first one robbed by Butch Cassidy and his gang. On August 13th 1896 the gang apparently needed money to bail out their friend Matt Warner from a jail in Wyoming and this seemed the answer to their problem. It was a bit of a bodged job but they got away with $6165 in notes and $1,000 in silver and gold. Cassidy and another man who actually went into the bank escaped while the one Joe Meeks was left outside with the horses he was later caught and stood trial for his part. No-one knew what became of the money stolen.
So this small town or city is nowadays somewhere people stay for a holiday in the Bear Lake region. It has a lot of traffic through the town on Highway 30 as trucks travel the route from the Northwest states to the east. Also the route we passed through the town is Highway 89 which takes you from Salt Lake City through Bear Lake Valley and on to Jackson and the Grand Tetons which is the way we were travelling.
I am not sure that I would make a special effort to visit Montpelier as apart from Bear Lake and the Oregon Trail Centre there is not really a lot there to see; however the city lies very conveniently between salt lake City and the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone so if you are driving through then certainly make an overnight stop. The Clover Creek Inn is excellent and very convenient for visiting the Oregon Trail centre and that museum alone is well worth the overnight stay.