The Creation of the Brigade Trails, 1846-48, part two

Alexander Caulfield Anderson made four explorations across or around the Coquihalla Mountain, but because this is the talk that I gave in Hope, British Columbia, it is mostly concentrating on the brigade trail that ended up at Fort Hope in 1849.

So let us continue:

I ended my last post with Anderson and his party settling in for the night, at Council’s Punch Bowl Lake.

“From Council’s Punch Bowl Lake, the men left the height of land and encamped on the east bank of the stream which Anderson thought was a tributary of the Similkameen. From Anderson’s journal: ‘The river bends round very gradually towards East, receiving several tributaries of some magnitude from left side; others of inferior consideration upon that on which we are travelling. Upon most of these we find drift trees to serve our purpose; but have occasionally to fell a tree for a bridge.’

“Eventually they crossed the mainstream of the Tulameen on another logjam, and Anderson wrote: ‘Altogether our bridge was a tremulous and marvelously unsteady affair; and my mind was relieved of no small degree of anxiety when I saw the whole party safely across. The old proverb tells us to bless the bridge which carries us safe over, and I say not do less than this, our friend in need, however dubious its pretension to security.’

“From the north base of the Coquihalla, the party proceeded about six miles when they met Old Blackeye, the Similkameen, and his son in law, ‘on their way to visit their deer snares.’ Blackeye told Anderson of a Native trail that led across the mountains to the meadows where the Rhododendron grew — or at least that is what Anderson understood. ‘He states that it is a wide and good road, with plenty of pasturage at the proper season; and that but for the depth of the snow we could not have missed seeing it after crossing the height of land.’

“Anderson returned to Kamloops and Fort Alexandria (on the Fraser River north of Soda Creek). Early the next spring, Peter Skene Ogden sent clerk Montrose McGillivray north with a message for Anderson, and instructions to explore the banks of the Fraser River for a snow-free trail between Kamloops and Fort Langley.

“It was now May, 1847. When he left Kamloops, Anderson already knew about the newly opened Similkameen trail from the Nicola Valley to the Fraser River — ending where Boston Bar now stands.  [We are not talking about the trail up the Coquihalla — this was a different and newly discovered trail]. Anderson had also viewed Sam Black’s 1835 map of the Thompson’s River district at Kamloops, and noted that Black had marked the ranged of hills the trail was supposed to cross, with the words: “Terrible Mountains all over Hereabouts!”

“From the Nicola Valley south of Kamloops, Anderson rode to the mouth of the Nicola River and, leaving his horses behind, crossed the river in borrowed canoes. He and his men walked down the south bank of the Thompson River [as seen below, looking East] toward modern-day Lytton, where they met their Sto:lo guide, Pahallak.


“Pahallak guided Anderson’s party down the east bank of the Fraser, and one day later they reached the Native settlement that Anderson called ‘Squa-zowm,’ about where Boston Bar stands today. This was where the newly opened Similkameen trail was supposed to begin, and Blackeye’s son joined Anderson’s party there. Blackeye and his close relative, Tsilaxitsa, showed the fur traders their new trail up the mountains behind Squa-zowm.

“Somewhere up the mountainside, at a place suddenly familiar to two of Anderson’s men, they paused. Anderson’s employees assured him that, from this place, there already existed a trail that would take them all the way to the Nicola Valley.

“Now Anderson had only to find his way south to Fort Langley, past Hell’s Gate and Black Canyons and the miles of rapid-filled river north of modern day Yale. From the mainstream of the Squa-zowm River, Pahallak led Anderson’s party up a cliff climbing trail that took them to the top of Lake Mountain [the mountain across the River from the Hell’s Gate tramway], where another long sloping trail led them southward to a Native village called Kequeloose, on the Fraser River south of the two canyons.

“From there they crossed the Fraser and made their way downriver — with some difficulties — until they were able to borrow canoes to bring them to Fort Langley. Anderson’s party of fur traders and Native guides immediately returned upon the canyons bringing two unloaded boats to Kequeloose — again with some difficulties. He then followed his Native guides over Lake Mountain and up the trail to the Nicola Valley, on foot.

“As they reached the open grasslands of Nicola Valley, Anderson wrote a letter of instruction to Montrose McGillivray: ‘The chief part of our survey being now completed, I propose entrusting to your care the further charge of the party… Therefore you will proceed to [Fort] Okanagan with the horses, accompanied by the men herein named — Fallardeau, Lacourse, and Desaqutel remain with you. Also Nkwala’s nephew [Tsilaxitsa], Blackeye’s son, and Laronetumleun, the last as Interpreter.’



“This is Tsilaxitsa, as an old man. In later years, Anderson wrote that he rode many miles with Nkwala’s nephew, Tsilaxitsa, who was to become the most prominent Okanagan chief of his time. Both Tsilaxitsa and Blackeye’s son were on Anderson’s expedition down and up the Fraser River to Fort Langley; and I suspect that both these Native men, and others who remain forever unnamed, regularly worked for the fur traders, helping them to take out the furs and bring the trade goods home.

“But…. at the time Anderson was making his 1847 exploration down and up the Fraser River, measles, which had come north with Natives who traded for horses in California, began to spread through the district around Fort Nez Perces, on the lower Columbia River. Measles is an illness that spreads in crowded conditions, and Natives gathered in large numbers around the Waillatpu Mission, east of the fort. Many Natives died — so many that the Cayuse chiefs became convinced that the missionary was intentionally killing them with poison.

“When the oblivious missionary failed a test they set for him, the Cayuse swarmed into the mission house, slaughtering fourteen residents and taking many hostages.

“When news of the massacre reached Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, WA], Peter Skene Ogden traveled east up the Columbia River to purchase the hostages and settle the tribes. He succeeded, but the end result of this massacre was the Cayuse wars that erupted up and down the Columbia River, making it no longer safe for travel. The gentlemen at Fort Vancouver instructed the men of New Caledonia, Kamloops and Fort Colvile [on the Columbia River near Spokane], to bring out their furs by one of Anderson’s unimproved trails.

“It was 1848, and the trail they chose to use was the Squa-zowm River trail, through Sam Black’s “Terrible Mountains all over Hereabouts” and over Lake Mountain. James Douglas traveled to the Fraser River to asses how easy it would be to travel downriver to the new Fort Yale. He was horrified by the river rapids, and discovering a rough passage that led through a rift in the rocks on the west side of the river, he ordered that a good road be built through it. This was the Douglas Portage, north of modern day Yale.

“Before 1848, a typical brigade consisted of about 200 horses. The gentlemen rode at the head of the column, and behind them came the man individual brigades of heavily laden packhorses. In normal years, each string, or brigade, of seven to nine horses was in the care of two men responsible both for the horses and for they loads they carried.

“But in 1848, close to four hundred horses — including many unbroken animals — came out in the hands of fifty men, many of whom would not be returning with the brigades. The outgoing brigade left Kamloops in late May and traveled over the hills south of the fort, before following the Coldwater River west. They crossed the plateau and rounded the range of hills before dropping down the west side of the ridge to the Squa-zowm River, which the furtraders now called Anderson’s River.

“Then up the cliffs to the top of Lake Mountain where they passed Hell’s Gate and Black Canyons — down the long sloping trail to the village at Kequeloose and downriver to Spuzzum Creek, where they crossed their loads in barges that were difficult to handle and where they drowned some of their horses. They arrived at Fort Yale in early June, and Anderson wrote: ‘It is needless to enumerate the difficulties which we had to encounter and surmount; suffice it to say that we continued to reach Fort Yale, which had meanwhile been established, and thence ran down speedily to Langley.’


We are looking north up the Fraser River, and that point of land on the right side is Kequeloose. Just beyond you can see the modern day Alexandra Bridge. The mountains on the right hand side are the mountains the fur traders had to clamber over with their horses and loads, to reach Anderson’s River at Boston Bar, and the Nicola Valley. As you can see, this is not a gentle country!

To continue: “The outgoing brigades had carried out packs of furs and castoreum — the incoming brigades would now carry in trade goods such as packs of iron goods and axe heads, balls and black powder and flints for flintlocks guns, salt, and tobacco in 90 rolls or in carrots.

“The brigades would also return with fewer men — nine men sent out with the Fort Colvile crew returned to Fort Vancouver, and three or more men deserted at Fort Langley. But a young gentleman named Henry Newsham Peers had come out with the brigades, and he would be returning home with them. As Donald Manson’s clerk, he was instructed to keep a journal of the trip in!”

This is probably a good place to stop until next week — next week’s post will be full of the disasters and excitement that occurred on the incoming brigade journey to Kamloops from Fort Langley, as the fur traders and their employees make their way upriver to tiny Fort Yale, and beyond. If you are from British Columbia, you will shake your head at the fact they even tried to take horses over the mountains that separated the two forts…. but all this really happened!

For your further information, I have a website coming, but it will be a few weeks before it shows up. My blog post will also be a little more decorated — as you can probably see I am still learning how to manage WordPress, which I find quite a challenge. 

But be patient, it will happen.


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