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Manuscripts by Subject - Family / Local History - #10024

Title: Henry A. Boller Papers

Dates: 1853-1904

Collection Number: 10024

Quantity: 1 ft./ 1 roll microfilm

Abstract: Consists of letters from Boller to his relatives in Pennsylvania describing his trip to Fort Atkinson, his life there, and the Indians; correspondence with Elliott Coues, Washington Matthews, George Catlin and others concerning a revised edition of his book, Among the Indians (1868); a notebook of Hidatsa linguistic material, newspaper clippings concerning Boller’s book, and a diary. (.75ft./1r/#1558)

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired this collection from Mrs. Henry A. Boller in 1911. This collection was processed and the inventory prepared by Karen Mund, Grace Wanttaja, and Kari Rombs Kohlhoff in November 1988. An addition to the collection occurred in January 2005.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Consideration of all copyrights is the responsibility of the researcher.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.

Transfer:  Seven photos of the Alex Culbertson family were removed from the Henry A. Boller Papers and transferred to the Photo Archives.


Henry A. Boller was born August 17, 1836, in Philadelphia; Henry A. was the eldest of four children of Henry J. Boller, a prominent and successful Philadelphia importer. He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1852, but proved to be an indifferent student and dropped out during his final year.

As a youngster, Boller had been an avid reader of western American adventure stories and Indian lore. In 1857 this led to a steamboat trip to St. Louis, Missouri, accompanied by his father, to investigate opportunities in the Upper Missouri River fur trade. Boller returned to St. Louis in 1858 where he was hired as a clerk--apparently through the influence of one David Ranken–by Frost, Todd & Co. This firm was one of several competing with the American Fur Company, or “Upper Missouri Outfit”, which had ruthlessly dominated the Upper Missouri fur trade for twenty-five years. Boller left St. Louis on May 23, 1858, and traveled on the steamboat Twilight to the company’s post of Fort Atkinson, also known as the “Gros Ventres Post’, at Like-A-Fishhook Village in present-day McLean County, North Dakota. Nearby stood the American Fur Company’s competing post of Fort Berthold. Frost, Todd & Company’s attempts
to compete with the “Upper Missouri Outfit” resulted in financial losses and the firm was dissolved in November 1859.

In July 1860, a new “opposition” company was organized in St. Louis, comprised of Boller, Robert H. Lemon, Jefferson Smith, and Charles Larpenteur. Boller raised $2 ,000 from his father for his share of the partnership. The partners quarreled from the outset and internal friction almost destroyed the firm before it began. In September the men left St. Paul with their supplies and equipment in a wagon train. Near the junction of South Antler Creek and the Souris River in northern North Dakota, the party divided. Larpenteur and Lemon went west into Assiniboine country where they eventually set up a post near the junction of the Poplar and Missouri Rivers in present-day northeastern Montana. Smith and Boller took four wagons southward and set up a trading post among the Hidatsa Indians in competition with the American Fur Company at Fort Berthold.

The partners continued to wrangle and in August of 1862 the company was reorganized with Lemon and Larpenteur as the dominant partners. Boller retained a small share in the business with the understanding that he remain away from the Missouri while Smith went to work for the Upper Missouri Outfit. Some sources give the date of the breakup as 1861, but a chronology in Boller’s handwriting notes that in 1862: “Dissolved the Fur Co.--after a prosperous trade--& returned in the fall from the Upper Mo.”

Boller then returned to Philadelphia and on March 25, 1863 became engaged to Mary Parsons, a friend of his sister, Anne. In May he traveled to the Montana gold fields, returned briefly in March 1864, and went back to Montana two months later where he spent the next two years. In 1866 he traveled to California “for a drove of horses”. Returning to Philadelphia, he was married on November 15, 1866. Soon after the wedding, he wrote Among the Indians, which described his experiences as a fur trader on the Upper Missouri. The book was published in July 1867 and received favorable reviews.

In 1868 the Bollers moved to Junction City, Kansas, where he spent the next decade as a cattleman. He abandoned the cattle business after being harassed by drought and plagues of grasshoppers for seven of the ten years.

The Bollers moved to Denver, Colorado, in June 1878, where Henry was involved at various times in real estate, life insurance, and investment loan businesses. He was finally wiped out in the Panic of 1893. Henry A. Boller died in Denver on October 30, 1902. His wife Mary died in 1919.

Sources: Mattison, Ray H., editor. Henry A.  Boller Missouri  River Fur Trader. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1966.

Henry A. Boller Papers, 1853-1904, ½ ft., MSS 10024.


The Henry A. Boller Papers date from 1853 to 1904 and measure ½ ft. This collection documents Boller’s life as a fur trader and writer. The papers consist of a diary and subject files. In the diary, dated 1858, Boller relates everyday events in the lives of traders, the Indians, buffalo hunts, and people who visited the post. The diary, consisting of 143 pages, and some correspondence dating 1853-1860, is also on microfilm reel 1558. The subject files include letters from Boller to his relatives in Philadelphia, describing in detail his trip to Fort Atkinson, his life there, and the Indians; correspondence with Elliott Coues, Washington Mathews, George Catlin, and others concerning a revised edition of his book, Among the Indians (1868); notes for the revised edition; copyright papers; a photo copy of the Hidatsa lexicon and sketches; and newspaper clippings concerning Boller’s book, Among the  Indians. The subject files are arranged chronologically.

The Henry A. Boller Papers were originally unorganized. The physical condition of the collection was good, with some brittleness and tears the only problems.



Box 1:
1 Diary            1858   

Subject Files
2 Brochures     1872-1904      
3 Catlin's Indian Cartoon Catalogue  1871   
4 Clippings                 
5 Copyright Papers for "Among the Indians" 1867   
6 Correspondence, Mary B. & Book Publisher          1911-1951      
7 Correspondence from Father           1853   
8 Correspondence Received, Book Publishing           1871-1904      
9 Correspondence Received, Ranken/McBride          1853-1863      
10 Correspondence Sent, Book Publishing    1871-1900      
11 Correspondence to Family 1853-1860      
12 Essays on Life on the Upper Missouri       1859   
13 Lexicon and Sketches        1859   
14 Notes for Revision "Among the Indians"  1858-1893      

Box 2:
1 Notes for Revision "Among the Indians"  1858-1893      
2 Transcript Copies of Letters and Misc.      1853-1860      

Box 3: W. Raymond Wood Transcriptions
1 CD-Rs of diary, correspondence and notes 2003-2004      
2 W. Raymond Wood Transcriptions 2003-2004      
3 Photocopies of correspondence                  
4 Photocopies of diary, clippings and notes with Wood transcriptions

Microfilm #1558         1853-1958      

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