“T. C. Power and Bro” was a prominent mercantile business started by Thomas Charles Power (left) (1839-1923) and his brother John (1844-1901), who were to become well established traders in Montana and across several southern Canadian provinces.
Of Iowa and Pennsylvania Irish Catholic stock, their parents Michael Power and Catherine McLeer arrived in Iowa, via Missouri in the 1830s. Their father Michael, himself an established mercantile man, had came to the United States from Ireland as a young emigrant.
In 1867, Tom C. Power, having completed his private schooling in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, travelled up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana and opened a general mercantile store, in partnership with his brother. During the years of the US Civil War, the Powers were involved in trade along the mighty Missouri River, primarily dealing with steamboats. TC Power eventually became president of a steamboat line, at one time owning and operating 9 steamers.
The Power brothers gradually established themselves in the trading business and this enterprise was to become very profitable, with thirteen stores being established on the norther US border with Canada and two on the Canadian side.
“Power and Brother”, and other notable firms, dominated trade and freighting on the northern plains of the USA by the mid 1870s. Throughout their time in business, the Powers were involved in military and Indian trade (particularly buffalo hides), steam-boating, freight shipping, stage coach lines, mail contracts, cattle ranching, banking, bridge building and town planning.
By 1875, their trade with local tribes for buffalo hides reached an incredible 36,000 in number, which they sold to markets in New York, Chicago and other cities. This was a remarkable feat in both accomplishment and value, as a hide was approx USD$2 at the time, translating to roughly US$750,000 or €660,000 nowadays – one hunting season’s gains!
When the buffalo herds declined, they continued a profitable trade with miners and stockmen in the area around Fort Benton, Montana. This trade also helped the city of Fort Benton (called the Birthplace of Montana) become an important river trading post, the town, established in 1846, already being one of the oldest settlements in the American West.
As Henry Classen puts it, in his paper “Shaping the growth of the Montana Economy: T.C. Power & Bro, and the Canadian Trade 1869-93” :
Fort Benton’s two largest merchant
partnerships, T.C. Power & Bro. and I.G. Baker
& Co., became leaders among the pioneers in
the big business of Canadian prairie trade during
this period. They created international marketing
and purchasing networks for importing
buffalo robes and furs and for exporting foodstuffs,
ready-made clothes, metal and wood
products, and livestock to Canada.
This advertisement, from paper “The Mineral Argus” of Maiden, Montana (1886) and advertising their store in Lewistown, Montana, gives and interesting look at their stock, their large area of trade and a good insight into the firm.
When their establishment was incorporated, Power was president of T.C. Powers & Co. and T.C. Powers Mercantile Company of Fort Benton, Montana. After settling in Helena, Montana in 1876, Power started another firm, T. C. Power and Browhich, a prominent mercantile company which served the northwestern United States and western Canada. He also served as president of the American National Bank of Helena and represented the state in the US senate, serving from January, 1890 to March, 1895.The town of Power, Montana was named in TC Power’s honour.
We would urge the reader to invest some time in a more in-depth biography of both remarkable men which can be found in the early 1900s publication “Progressive men of the state of Montana”, now available online.