Creation of the Brigade Trails, overview and 1846, part one of several parts

I do travel to give speeches (I would rather call them talks) and one of the talks I gave was in front of the people who are preserving all of the HBC brigade trails that run between Kamloops and Fort Langley.

This group works under the name Hope Mountain Centre, and you will find them on the web at:

The gathering was held at the Blue Moose Cafe, and the room began to fill up pretty quickly. Even after I started talking, people kept coming in.

This is what I said on that occasion, and I might divide this up into two [or more] posts, as the talk was one and a half hours long!


“Good evening everyone, and I am glad to be amongst a group of people who know exactly who Alexander Caulfield Anderson was, and what part he played in your history.

“He has been forgotten by many, and when I started to write this book some ten years ago, my reason for putting his story on paper was to have him remembered — to tell his story. Over the years my reasons changed of course, and when I was more or less finished I realized I wanted to know who he was and what kind of man he was. This had become a very personal project.

“I will try to show a little of who he was in this talk, but for the most part I will be talking about what he and the other fur traders did. You will have to read my book to discover what kind of man I uncovered.”

The image I showed at that time was Alexander Caulfield Anderson at the age of 60 some-odd years — see above. As I wrote the book this was the image I had in my head, and I always struggled to remember that when he was exploring the Fraser River canyons, and riding over the brigade trails, he was a little more than thirty years of age.

“Historians have always known who A. C. Anderson was — he is the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader who, in the mid-1840’s, threaded his way through mountain passes and down rapid filled rivers in search of a horse-friendly trail through the rugged country that separated the Kamloops fort from Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River.

“He uncovered two rough trails, both of which might be made suitable as a horse trail, to be used in a few years time and after a great deal of work was done to improve the trail bed.

“However, unbeknownst to the fur traders — at the same time Anderson was exploring for a new route, a creeping illness sickened the Natives along the Columbia River. The presence of this pestilence would, without warning, change the fur trade and force the traders to bring out their furs by one of Anderson’s unimproved trails. The first traverse over one of Anderson’s trails was an impossibly difficult journey, and that a year later little better. However on their return journey they tried Anderson’s second trail, and to everyone’s surprise, it worked reasonably well.

“With a lot of work, that trail became the first good road into the interior of what would eventually become British Columbia — as you who live in Hope know, I am speaking of the Coquihalla brigade trail that runs east of Hope over the range of mountains behind us.

“In this talk I will tell you some of the stories of these difficult years, beginning with Anderson’s cross-country expeditions in 1846 and 1847, and ending with the establishment of Fort Hope in winter 1848, and the construction of the brigade trail you are so familiar with.

“But first I have to explain a few things, so you understand better what is going on.

“The fur traders had an annual cycle that centered around the brigades, when furs gathered every winter were carried out to their headquarters on the coast — that is, Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, WA) — to be shipped to London and sold. Every year between 1824 and 1845, the New Caledonia men brought out their furs by canoe or boat — beginning their journey at Fort St. James and coming downriver through Fort George [Prince George, BC] to Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River north of Williams Lake.

“At Fort Alexandria the men paused to load their ninety pound packs of furs onto packhorses and crossed the rugged Thompson plateau to the North Thompson River. Fording that river to its east bank [at Little Fort, BC], they rode south to their fort at Kamloops.

“South of Kamloops their trail led over the hills to Monte Lake, the north end of Okanagan Lake, down the west shore of the lake to the Okanagan River. It passed west of Osooyos Lake and down the American Okanogan Valley, reaching the Columbia River at Fort Okanogan. 

“At Fort Okanagan, the fur traders loaded their furs into boats and headed downriver. Their first stop was at Fort Nez Perces [Walla Walla]. East of Fort Nez Perces was Waillatpu — a mission set up by American missionaries among the Natives. In 1848, the Waillatpu Mission would play an important role in the history of the brigade trails.

“From Fort Nez Perces the fur traders continued south and west to their headquarters at Fort Vancouver, reaching it in early June. They departed in July for Fort Okanogan, carrying their trade goods into the interior forts. By August they approached Fort Alexandria, and everyone rushed out of the fort to help them the last miles home. In September they reached Fort St. James, where they had begun their journey five months earlier.

“In 1842, Anderson entered New Caledonia to take charge of Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River. He traveled north over a newly opened trail that cut off the rocky traverse over the Thompson plateau. This trail led from the Kamloops fort across the north shore of the lake to Copper Creek. It followed Copper Creek north over various ridges to the Deadman River, and — avoiding the bogs along the Bonaparte River — continued north west to the north end of Loon Lake and the south end of Green Lake.

“Somewhere east of Lac la Hache it joined the old brigade trail that led north and west to Fort Alexandria. In 1842, Anderson might have been the first gentleman to ride the trail, and in 1843 he led the two hundred horses of the New Caledonia brigade out over the new trail to Kamloops.

“So now that I have told you of the background of the trails, I will talk of Anderson’s four cross country expeditions in 1846 and 1847, and explain the international forces that caused the fur traders such anxiety over these years.

“Long before 1840, the boundary line between the United States and British territories had been established from Canada [Ontario and Quebec], along the 49th parallel to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.  Now the British and American governments were negotiating the placement of the line west of the Rockies — between what they called the Oregon Territory and the so-called British territory occupied by HBC fur traders and the Natives they traded with.

“The HBC hoped the line would follow the Columbia River to the Pacific, leaving everything north of the Columbia River in Hudson’s Bay Company hands.

“Even at isolated Fort Alexandria, Anderson heard the rumours. He thought the line might continue to follow the 49th parallel west, and if it did, he knew the fur traders would eventually require a trail to Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser, from whence they could ship their furs to London. He wrote a letter to the Governor of the Company offering to explore for a new route, and the Governor immediately accepted his offer.

“It was 1846. The fur traders already knew they could not reach Fort Langley by boat through the two rapid-filled canyons [Hell’s Gate and Black Canyon] that blocked the Fraser River between Kamloops and Fort Langley. But they also knew that the Natives from above Hell’s Gate traded at Fort Langley, and that the Sto:lo on the lower Fraser traveled north past those canyons — there must therefore be a trail around the two canyons, and Anderson was expected to find it.

“The fur traders had certain requirements for their trails. The country must provide good grass and water for the horses, and the trail bed must be solid enough underfoot that two hundred heavily laden packhorses could pass over in safety both ways. Switchbacks were needed on steep slopes to allow the horses to clamber safely up and down, and safe fords or bridges must be provided if the horses crossed deep creeks in the high waters of early summer. Nor can horses travel through deep snow — though Anderson probably thought he would not have to worry about that problem this summer!

“In 1846 Anderson left Kamloops and followed well-known Native trails through Marble Canyon to the Fraser River, and down the Fraser to the north side of Fountain Ridge. He left his horses behind at the Fountain and crossed the Fraser, walking down its west bank to the mouth of Seton River. He and his men followed the north shores of Seton and Anderson Lakes before crossing various heights of land until they reached the Lillooet River. There they hired Native canoemen to bring him and his men downriver to Fort Langley.

“Douglas Hudson, an anthropologist who does research among the Lil’wat people who live on today’s Lillooet River, collected a story from one man who said his many-times-great-grandmother, as a child, had been hidden away by her parents because”strangers were coming downriver.” He figured out the generations and thought the story  had taken place about 1850 — close enough to 1846 for it to have possibly been Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s descent of the Lillooet River.”

The powerpoint image I put up then was of the Coquihalla Mountain as seen from Fort Langley. “Picture, if you will, Chief Trader James Murray Yale, and Alexander Caufield Anderson, standing on the bank of the Fraser and discussing a Native trail that ran through or around this range of mountains, ending in the area around the river that the fur traders called the Similkameen [the Tulameen River]. Within a day or two, Yale’s guide led Anderson upriver to the mouth of the Coquihalla.

“From the mouth of the river, Anderson’s party followed the river east, up “a broad valley watered by a considerable stream, which we keep upon our right… pasture about the banks of the main river: wild pea, prele [horsetail], etc., in moderate sufficiency for the temporary sojourn of the brigade. Burnt woods as we proceed; two small lakes…”

“Where the Coquihalla turned north they crossed the river on a logjam of driftwood, and followed the Nicolum east. He wrote: “The opposite mountains which bound the valley approach very closely here, and the Indian track (scarcely perceptible by the way) is very bad, though with a good deal of labour it might be rendered available…” Late in the day: “Fine pasture for horses and abundant… Our Progress meanwhile very slow owing to the miserable travelling of our Indian assistants… The country from our encampment to this point has been very favourable for a horse-road; and since breakfast remarkably so for a woody country.”

“In the Sumallo River valley he wrote: “Fall in at the last crossing with an Indian from the Forks of Thompson’s River who is hunting Beaver in this neighbourhood. As he appears to possess a knowledge of the country superior to our other pseudo-guides, who are miserably at a loss, I have engaged him under the promise of some ammunition and tobacco to accompany us for a day or two.”

“Two days later they reached the place where the Thompson’s River Native had indicated the trail that led up the mountain. “Breakfast at 6, at the spot where the Indian track from the lake [Council’s Punch Bowl lake, on the top of the Coquihalla Mtn.] descends. It is said to be very short and must evidently be so, but is at present thickly covered with snow, and the ascent appears, moreover, to be too steep for horses to go up with loads. A beautiful Rhododendron, with splendid crimson flowers now in bloom, abounds in this vicinity…”

“They have reached the northernmost grove of the California Rhododendron, at Rhododendron Flats in Manning Park — the only place in British Columbia where these plants grow wild. When I was writing this part of the story I pictured a clump or clumps of garden-type rhododendron growing on an open mountainside slope, in the sunshine! You can imagine my surprise when I walked into the woods at Rhododendron Flats. Within short order I found a sort of salal-like plant growing quite tall and spindly, and eventually I realized that these bushes were the rhododendron I was looking for. It was early June when I was there, and the last few petals were still clinging to the branches — when Anderson passed through this grove the flowers were still in full bloom.

“This place became every more magical when, out of curiosity, I sent an image of one of the pages of Anderson’s Latin Bible, to see if my naturalist friend could identify the leaves that Anderson had stored in that Bible. The naturalist lived in Washington State, and he sent it on to other naturalist friends and together they suggested that the leaves belonging to the California Rhododendron — Washington’s state flower. None of these people had any idea that Anderson had walked through Rhododendron Flats in 1846.

“From somewhere near Rhododendron Flats, Anderson and his men climbed the south side of the Coquihalla. Anderson’s journal reads: “We here leave the river; strike up East, bending round northward towards the height of land. The name of the little stream we have left is Sk-haist; implying, it is said, “A peak standing between two ridges. At noon reached the summit of the mountain pass. The ascent is very gentle, and perfectly clear of impediment throughout the greater part; frequent fires having destroyed the timber that heretofore encumbered the ground. Upon nearing the summit of the pass, a few occasional snowdrifts witnessed our elevated position, but up to that point there was nothing of the kind to impede the passage of horses. But alas! On reaching the summit a dreary prospect met the view. The whole surface of the valley, as well as of the confining mountains, was white with accumulated snow…”

“The men stopped on the shoreline of the little lake they found there — a lake that Anderson named Council’s Punch Bowl. All the time I was looking at Anderson’s maps, I did not know what Anderson’s Tree was — and yet Anderson’s Tree [southeast of Council’s Punch Bowl] appeared on three of his maps. James, his son, also commented on the tree in his Memoirs, when he wrote that the lake called Council’s Punch Bowl was commemorated by a marked tree.

“Then I picked up Carolyn Podruchny’s book, “Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade.” In this book she wrote about the traditional Maypole Trees, sometimes called lobsticks. This is what she said:

“”Theatre and Maypoles — the quotation that begins this chapter illustrates a striking performance of the master and servant relationship in the fur trade… Voyageurs selected a tall tree standing out on a lake, “lobbed” off all its branches except for those at the very top, carved into the trunk’s base the name of the bourgeois, clerk, or passenger to be honored, and gathered round the maypoles to cheer and fire muskets. The honouree then provided regales, or treats, to all the brigade.”

“From this I came to realize that Anderson’s Tree might be a Maypole Tree. This was an honor granted to very few men west of the Rocky mountains [as far as I know]; and no fur trader ever saw Anderson’s Tree after he and his men walked away from it. But Anderson knew it was there, and I believe he marked the tree on his maps so that he, if no one else, would remember the honor.”

I will pause here, and let you rest — this is a long talk.

Next week I will continue with his descent of the north side of the Coquihalla Mountain via the Tulameen River, and his meeting with Blackeye, the Similkameen.

Blackeye and his son will prove to be very important characters in Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s fur trade story.


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