Category Archives: Fur Trade History

Creation of the Brigade Trails, 1848-1849 and beyond, part four

I am sorry, I am a little late in posting this section of the “Creation of the Brigade Trails.” But here it is now.

I left you at the severe winter of 1848-1849, when deep snow buried the fut trade posts in New Caledonia and the Columbia, killing thousands of horses and cattle.

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“Alexander Caulfield Anderson had left Fort Alexandria in summer 1848, and was now in charge at Fort Colvile, on the Columbia River just north of present day Spokane. He rode north from Fort Colvile with his men — not as I said in the book by the Similkameen River valley, but by the old brigade trail west of Okanagan Lake and through Monte Lake. As he waited for the brigades to load at Kamloops, he sat on the hilltop above the fort and sketched the unfinished watercolour and pencil drawing of Kamloops contained in my book.

Kamloops watercolour

“From Kamloops,the combined brigades came out, once again, by the Anderson River trail, and it took them ten days to reach Fort Langley. At the fort, Anderson quickly loaded his trade goods into the boats and pushed his men upriver to Fort Hope, to begin work on the new trail over the Coquihalla Mountain.

“On their way downriver, Donald Manson of Fort St. James had asked Anderson to remain behind at Fort Hope to open the trail, but Anderson had refused to do so. Now, when the packhorses that had been sent over the mountain from Kamloops finally arrived at Fort Hope, Anderson told Manson of his decision to leave Fort Hope with his men and horses, without doing any more work to improve the trail. The two gentlemen exchanged “high words.”

“The Fort Colvile men found the passage over the mountain easy even though the trail was unfinished; they continued their journey to Fort Colvile via the Similkameen Valley, Osoyoos Lake, Anarchist Mountain and the Kettle Valley. They followed the Kettle River south to reach the Columbia River a few miles from Fort Colvile. This image is of the Kettle River Valley.

Kettle River 3

“I believe Anderson had already considered the possibility that he could cross the mountains a second time that summer, and that is why he left Fort Hope as soon as he could. From Fort Colvile, Anderson sent his men back for the remainder of his goods, left behind because of the shortage of horses. Because Fort St. James was so far north, Donald Manson did not have that option, and could not make a second journey to Hope. He left much of his supplies behind, and the shortage of trade goods plagued him the entire year afterwards.

“A few weeks after Anderson left Fort Hope, reports of his argument with Manson reached the ears of Peter Skene Ogden at Fort Vancouver, who arranged that the Fort Colvile brigades, and those from New Caledonia, arrived at Fort Hope separately. Every year, James Douglas travelled to Fort Langley to supervise the brigades’ arrivals and departures, because, as Peter Skene Ogden wrote, “without a conductor the gentlemen are not competent to conduct their own affairs, trifling as they are, and a separation is absolutely necessary as Pugilistic affairs between the two leaders is not exactly the proper mode of conduct in Brigades in the presence of the Company’s servants.”

Neither Manson nor Anderson would have called their affairs ‘trifling.’ Their return journeys over the mountains were at all times difficult. Stress levels were high, the work was hard and there were sometimes heavy losses, and the pay was low. They worried about having enough men to do the work the fur trade demanded — fewer good men were joining the fur trade and the quality and quantity of men that reached the Columbia district and New Caledonia was in constant decline. Moreover, at Fort Langley, many voyageurs attempted to desert the fur trade and make their way south to the California gold fields now in full swing!

“I found a very good description of the trail over the Coquihalla, written that year by the acting-Governor for the HBC, Eden Colvile, who rode over it a few months after the brigade had crossed it. From the place the fur traders called Campement des Femmes, at the north side of the Coquihalla [Tulameen/Coalmont area] — “we commenced the ascent of the first range of Mountains & encamped on the top of the hill about 5 pm. As we were going nearly the whole time this mountain must be very high. The following morning we again descended to a branch of the Similkameen [Tulameen River] & followed the valley for some miles; we, on leaving this, again climbed a hill of considerable elevation to the Campement de Chevreuil. From this place to Fort Hope, a distance of nearly thirty miles there is no grass to be found for the horses & I started at 6 am hoping to reach the Fort. Soon after leaving the Campement de Chevreuil the road descends into the Sa, anqua [sic] River, & at the bottom of this hill the chief difficulty of this route first presents itself, viz. the “boue biers” or to use the american phrase “Mud holes,” which are very numerous, of great depth, & exceedingly fatiguing to loaded horses. These swamps are found at intervals, between the hill just mentioned & the top of another & the last considerable elevation which we reached about 2 pm. From this the road descends to Peer’s River, which is crossed five times, & at which the tired state of our horses compelled us to encamp. The next morning we crossed & recrossed the Quaquialla River & arrived at the Fort at 10 am….”

“When the brigades came out in the summer of 1850 they found the trails much improved. From Campement des Femmes at the base of the mountain on its north side, the Fort Colvile brigades followed Blackeye’s Trail twelve miles up to Lodestone Lake. Another twelve miles or so brought them to Horseguards Camp on the Tulameen River at Podunk Creek — where Anderson’s exploration of 1846 crossed the brigade trail that resulted from that exploration.

Brigade Trail 2

“The next day they camped at Deer Camp or Campement de Chevreuil, and nineteen miles further on reached Manson’s Camp, at the head of Peers’ Creek. Fifteen more miles brought them down Peers Creek and the Coquihalla River into Fort Hope, where they loaded their furs into boats and drifted downriver to Fort Langley.

“In August of that year, James Douglas reported: “I have been to Fort Langley, where the Brigades from the interior arrived safely with the furs between the 15th and 19th July. They crossed the Frasers River ridge without difficulty, the snow being compact enough to support the loaded horses, and Mr. Manson is of the opinion that the passage may be made ten days earlier in the season with perfect safety… The Colvile people reached Fort Langley in seventeen days moderate travelling, and the other Brigades took ten days from Kamloops. The woods have been partially cleared by fire, and grass seed sown at Fort Hope and other points on this road, which will in a short time furnish a sufficiency of food for the horses.”

“I will try to give you a picture of the brigades arriving at Fort Hope, and packing up to leave again. About 1860, a very young Susan Allison saw the horses and described them as “splendid animals, hardy and enduring, with lots of good horse sense.” Her description of the brigades’ arrival follows: “Sometimes there would be a grand stampede and the pack trains would disrupt. Horses and men could be seen through a misty cloud of dust, madly dashing all over the Hope flat, lassos flying, dogs barking, hens flying for safety anywhere. Suddenly the tempest would subside as fast as it had arisen, the pack boys would emerge from the clouds of dust leading the ring leaders in the stampede….”

“So by 1850, the new brigade trail was established and successful, though there were still hiccups. In 1851, a “party of ten men, under the direction of Mr. Peter Ogden, were employed upon the new road for nearly two months… and made many substantial improvements. They cleared the points of wood on the whole route between [Fort] Alexandria and Fort Hope, and from the Similkameen River they increased the general breadth of road, shortened the bends, leveled or relined the steep ascents by inclined planes, and bridged about 300 yards of boggy ground.”

More changes were made to the road later, but all this happened after Alexander Caulfield Anderson was no longer riding over the trail. By 1854, Anderson was retired from the fur trade. He would pop up again in 1858, when he came to Fort Victoria and opened the first highway into the interior over the route of his first exploration via the Lillooet River and Anderson and Seton Lakes [which he then named]. By this trail, thousands of eager gold miners accessed the Fraser River gold fields north of the same canyons that had confounded the fur traders in 1848.

“In 1860, the soldiers and engineers of the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers substantially widened the Harrison trail and turned it into a good wagon road. Then the Royal Engineers carved a good road out of the cliff faces between Yale and Boston Bar, above the rapids that had so troubled the brigades in 1848 and 1849. By autumn 1862 their road reached Lytton, and in 1863 the first Alexandra bridge crossed the Fraser River north of Spuzzum, its eastern end resting near the place where Anderson’s men had buried Jacob Ballenden in 1848.

“T British Columbians, the brigade trail faded from view. However — to British Columbians — it was the most important road. The brigade trails were the roads that brought the fur traders out to the coast and Fort Langley. What if they had failed to find a road over these mountains and were never to reach Fort Langley? What impact would that have had on the importance of Fort Victoria and Fort Langley. How would that have impacted British Columbia’s history?

“Historians agree with me. In 1975, our first local historian, Derek Pethic, wrote the Anderson’s ‘discovery of a practical, all-British artery for the fur trade was to have a profound effect on the history of not only British Columbia, but also of Canada itself.”

When I spoke in front of the Victoria Historical Society in November, 2011, one of the questions I was asked at the end was — were these trails now open? Could people hike these trails? I was able to tell them about the Hope Mountain Centre and the work the people who were listening to my talk were doing in opening these trails. It gave me great pleasure to tell them about these volunteers uncovering some of the 150 year old hash marks the original fur traders had used to mark the trail.

I then thanked the group I was speaking to — the Hope Mountain Centre — for the work they had done in preserving our important history. The American writer William Faulkner wrote, “The Past is never dead; it is not even past…” I think that phrase is especially suitable when we are speaking of the Coquihalla and Anderson River brigade trails. These trail created the town of Hope, and now they are part of Hope’s future. As a descendant of one of the men who rode over this trail, I want to thank Hope Mountain Centre for their important work.

Thank you.

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The 1849 Brigade to Fort Langley, Part 4 of Creation of Brigade Trails

At my last blog posting, we paused in mid winter, 1848, when deep snow covered the entire territory west of the Rocky mountains. This snow prevented Henry Newsham Peers from constructing a new brigade trail between Fort Hope, on the lower Fraser River, and Kamloops.

“Though the snow fall was good news for the fur trade, it killed so many horses in the interior that the fur traders now worried about having enough animals to carry out their furs in the spring. Still, the furs must go out — but because the fur traders had no idea how much snow might lie on the top of the Coquihalla, they decided to go out, once more, by the Anderson River trail they had used in summer 1848.

“Alexander Caulfield Anderson was now in charge at Fort Colvile, and he rode north to Kamloops by the old brigade trail up the west side of Okanagan Lake and through Monte Lake. As he waited for the brigades to load at Kamloops, he sat on the hilltop above the fort, and sketched the unfinished watercolor and pencil drawing of the new Thompson River post contained in my book.

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“From Kamloops, the combined brigades came out, once again, by the Anderson River trail, and it took them ten days to reach Fort Langley. At the fort, Anderson quickly loaded his goods into the boats and pushed his men upriver to Fort Hope, to begin work on the new trail.

“As they came downriver Manson asked Anderson to remain behind at Fort Hope to open the trail, but Anderson refused to do so. Now, when the packhorses that had been sent over the mountain from Kamloops arrived at Fort Hope, Anderson told Manson of his decision to leave Fort Hope with his men and horses, without doing any more work to improve the trail. The two gentlemen exchanged “high words.”

“The Fort Colvile men found the passage over the mountain easy even though the trail was unfinished; they continued their journey on to Fort Colvile via the Similkameen Valley, Osoyoos Lake, Anarchist Mountain and the Kettle River, which they followed south to reach the Columbia River a few miles from Fort Colvile. I strongly suspect that their guide over this new route (base of the Coquihalla at Tulameen, to the Similkameen Valley and over the hump of land to Osoyoos Lake) was a young Native man we only know as “Blackeye’s Son.”

“I believe that Anderson had already considered the possibility that he could cross the mountain a second time that summer, and that is why he left Fort Hope as soon as he could. From Fort Colvile, Anderson sent his men back for the remainder of his goods, left behind because of the shortage of horses. Because Fort St. James was so far north, Donald Manson did not have that option, and could not make a second journey to Hope. He left much of his supplies behind, and the shortage of trade goods plagued him the entire year that followed.

“A few weeks after Anderson left Hope for Fort Colvile, reports of his argument with Manson reached the ears of Peter Skene Ogden at Fort Vancouver. Ogden arranged that the Fort Colvile brigades, and those from New Caledonia, arrived at Fort Hope separately. Every year afterward, Fort Victoria’s James Douglas travelled to Fort Langley to supervise the brigades’ arrivals, because, as Peter Skene Ogden wrote, “without a conductor the gentlemen are not competent to conduct their own affairs, trifling as they are, and a separation is absolutely necessary as Pugilistic affairs between the two leaders is not exactly the proper mode of conduct in Brigades in the presence of the Company’s servants.”

“Neither Manson nor Anderson would have called their affairs “trifling.” Their return journey over the mountains were at all times difficult. Stress levels were high, the work was hard and there were sometimes heavy losses of essential trade goods. They worried about having enough men to do the work the fur trade demanded — fewer good men were joining the trade and the quality and quantity of men that reached the Columbia district and New Caledonia was in constant decline. Moreover, at Fort Langley, many voyageurs attempted to desert the fur trade and make their way south to the California gold fields, now in full swing.

“I found a good description of the trail over the Coquihalla Mountain behind Hope, written that year by the acting-Governor for the HBC, Eden Colvile, who rode over it a few months after the brigade had crossed. Among other things he suggested, “It will be necessary to send a party of men from each end of the road to cut all the fallen timber, as it is very fatiguing to the loaded horses to be continually stepping over these fallen trees, & thirdly, ditches should be cut through the swamps, & where requisite, logs & brush laid over them, so as to afford firm footing for the horses.”

“The work was done. When the brigades came out in the summer of 1850, they found the trails much improved. From Campement des Femmes at the foot of the mountains on its north side, the Fort Colvile brigades followed the brigade trail twelve miles up to Lodestone Lake. Another twelve miles or so brought them to Horseguards Camp on the Tulameen River at Podunk Creek — where Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s exploration of 1846 crossed the brigade trail that resulted from that exploration.

“The next day they stopped at Campement du Chevreuil or Deer Camp, and nineteen miles further on reached Manson’s Camp, at the head of Peers’ Creek. Fifteen more miles brought them down Peers Creek and the Coquihalla River into Fort Hope, where they loaded their goods into boats and drifted downriver to Fort Langley.

“In August of that year, James Douglas reported to Governor Simpson: ‘I have been to Fort Langley, where the Brigades from the interior arrived safely with the furs between the 15th and 19th July. They crossed the Frasers’ River ridge [Coquihalla] without difficulty, the snow being compact enough to support the loaded horses, and Mr. Manson is of the opinion that the passage may be made ten days earlier in the season in perfect safety… the Fort Colvile people reached Fort Langley in seventeen days moderate travelling, and the other Brigades took ten days from Kamloops. The woods have been partially cleared by fire, and grass seed sown at Fort Hope and other points on this road, which will in a short time furnish a sufficiency of food for the horses.'”

Next week I will give you descriptions of the brigades arrivals at Fort Hope, written by people who lived outside the fur trade. Further work was done on the trail, as well, and I can tell you the story of the men who worked on the trail. And for those of you who are interested in hiking these trails, know this: For the most part, these trails — both Anderson’s River trail and the brigade trail over the Coquihalla — are in good condition and can be hiked at any time. Parts of the Anderson River trail have been logged and the trail bed lost, but Native trails take their place. For more information, go to http://www.hopemountain.org

Creation of the Brigade Trails, 1848, part three

I ended the last chapter, or blog post, with the introduction of many of the new characters in this fur trade adventure — and one of them was the interesting young clerk named Henry Newsham Peers. Sometime after I finished this book I learned that Peers did not only go in with the return brigade — he came out from Fort Colvile and Kamloops, with the outcoming brigade! He appears first in Thomas Lowe’s “Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, March 24-Oct 19, 1848,” in which Lowe delivers him and seven or eight other Fort Vancouver men to Fort Colvile, to help those men bring their furs across the new Anderson’s River trail to Fort Langley.

Peers may have kept a journal of the outward journey, but if he did it was lost — probably in the crossing of Fraser River at Spuzzum. It does not matter: his outgoing journal did survive, and is found in the British Columbia archives. I inherited my copy from my uncle, Elton Anderson, one of the two people to whom I dedicated my book. Before he died, Elton did a tremendous amount of research on his grandfather, A. C. Anderson, which I inherited … and I guess that is what started me off on this project.

We will rejoin the brigade as it begins from Fort Langley on its inward journey to Kamloops. “They started off from Fort Langley, and Anderson traveled in the first cluster of four boats, with five more to come under Donald Manson’s command. Anderson later described the upriver journey to the new fort at Yale: ‘Hitherto, bateaux of about three ton burthern have been employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, for transport below the Falls [at Yale] — a slow method when the water is high, as the ascent can then be effected only by warping along shore, with the aid of Indian canoes to pass the lines. By this tedious process, an ascent was made during the freshet of 1848, to the foot of the Falls, in eight days; under ordinary circumstances it would occupy five.’

“From Peers’ journal, on passing over the Douglas portage north of Fort Yale: ‘I and Mr. [Donald] Manson left Ft. Yale on the 2nd August with the last trip 30 horses to rejoin Mr. Anderson at the other end. We got on very well on the portage with the exception of a couple of horses falling in the ascent of the Big Hill & some little confusion in a swampy part of the road rendered worse than its original state by the frequent passing & repassing of horses. There is a pretty gradual ascent (one stiff hill intervening) as far as Douglas’ River [probably Sawmill Creek], where there is a steep descent of about 700 feet to a bridge & a somewhat steeper though shorter ascent on the opposite side of this ravine, thence a level road till within a mile of Spuzzum River or Simon’s House where the road descends pretty gradually to that place — we were about three hours coming across & encamped on the south side of the Fraser River.’

“Peers tells us that they remained about three days at Simon’s House, crossing horses and loads to the east bank of the Fraser. Then they started north, ‘with some 500 & upwards pieces goods in 15 brigades, each brigade having 18 & some a greater number of horses to 2 men.” A normal brigade has seven to nine horses to two men.

“They traveled about six miles up the banks of the Fraser River, as Peers says, ‘encamped at the foot of Big Hill where the road leaves Fraser River, many of brigades only arriving when pitch dark and consequently great confusion from horses straying with their loads and so forth: several fell down a steep hill on nearing the encampment… from weakness, threw their loads & a bale was swept off in the river before it could be seized & one animal killed.’ This was at Kequeloose, at the bottom of the big hill that led them over Lake Mountain.

“Peers’ journal continues the next day. ‘Rainy weather — this morning Jacob Ballenden was found dead near the encampment with his gun discharged by his side, shot through the heart. It is supposed he committed suicide. the day was spent in collecting strayed horses with their loads and all found but 6 pieces and another horse killed. A war party of the Chute Indians against those of Anderson’s River passed the camp and created some little alarm… Nothing I may say here for the horses to feed on.’

Jacob Ballenden’s grave still exists in this historic graveyard near Alexandra Lodge, at the east end of Alexandra Bridge!

Image

“The brigades climbed Lake Mountain and descended the cliffs on the other side to Anderson’s river, and Peers records: ‘Some of the rear brigades got on very badly and 80 pieces were found deficient… Remained here today till the lost pieces should be brought in all of which were rendered but 2 bales.’

Below we have an image of the Fraser River and its east bank, taken across the river from the town of Boston Bar. Anderson River flows down that dip in the middle of the picture — the the right is Lake Mountain (the mountain the brigades clambered over to avoid Hell’s Gate Canyon, which of course is just around the corner of the river). The the left is the hill behind Boston Bar, where the fur traders clambered up Utzlius Creek to the top of the hills and crossed the plateau behind. As I have said before, this is not horse-friendly country as you can see!

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“They began the climb from Anderson’s River to the top of the hills via Utzlius Creek, eventually reaching ‘a small patch of thinly wooded ground in which had been constructed a miserable horse-park. Two or three of the rear brigades arrived when quite dark and many horses necessarily strayed away before they could be freed from their loads, passing the night with the rest in the woods under a heavy thunder storm with little or nothing to eat.’

“Peers also makes mention of the work the Natives did, in helping the fur traders bring in their supplies. ‘The pieces all but two or three were recovered after much searching and order was again restored. The Indians who had been employed for the last four days in searching for and bringing lost goods to the camp were paid off and seemed satisfied although there is some doubt as to their honesty.’

“The next day the fur traders camped five miles from the top of the hill, and men in the latter brigades went without supper [the provisioning brigades were at the head of the brigade]. On the following day Anderson rode ahead, while Manson sent Natives out to search for more packs. At the end of the day the fur traders found they were still missing: ‘six bags salt, two bags of ball and two rolls of Tobacco.’ Each of these bags and rolls weighed ninety pounds.

“From the top of the hill, Anderson sent fresh horses back to Manson and Peers, and Peers reported that ‘the early part of today was devoted to catching and loading young horses, about which some time was wasted.’ The next afternoon Manson and Peers rode across the wide plateau, and finally caught up to Anderson’s brigades in the Coldwater River valley. They reached Kamloops on August 22nd, and the gentlemen held a meeting to discuss the trail.” The image below is of the Coldwater River valley … a beautiful spot! Anderson and the men of the brigade rode over the plateau beyond the valley, and then down the steep hills to the Fraser River in the far distance.

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“Hot-tempered Donald Manson reported: ‘We have tested [the trail’s] advantages and disadvantages thoroughly, and I have no hesitation in declaring it utterly impracticable for a large brigade such as ours. The rugged, rocky mountainous and thickly wooded country which lies between Fraser River and the plains, … is, in my opinion, sufficient in itself to condemn this route. [I mentioned at this point that there was a Donald Manson descendant in the room, who was clearly enjoying my description of his bad-tempered ancestor].

“This route was far too difficult, and the gentlemen all agreed that the snow covered trail over the Coquihalla must be tried. They sent Henry Peers with Edouard Montigny, one of Anderson’s men, to Blackeye’s camp, to ask that he show them his trail to the top of the Coquihalla.

“Historians have puzzled over how Henry Newsham Peers chose the trail across the plateau, especially as it in no way followed Anderson’s 1846 exploration. Anderson himself expected that Blackeye’s trail would end up on the south side of the mountain, at Rhododendron Flats. But it did not.

Peers’ actual guide was Blackeye’s son, who took them up his father’s trail to the top of the plateau, and then guided them due west, across the mountaintop, to a stream he called Soaqua. He pointed out his trail down the west side of the mountain, by streams that immediately came to be called Peers’ Creek and the Coquihalla River. Peers and Montigny followed the stream to the Fraser River, where they borrowed canoes from the Natives and made their way to Fort Langley.” Below, is the Coquihalla River at Hope, BC.

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“In October, 1848, James Douglas wrote to John Tod of Kamloops: ‘In consequence of the very unfavourable report we have received from Messrs. Manson and Anderson of their last Summer’s route, we have come to the determination of opening a New Road recommended by Mr. Peers after a very careful survey. Leaving Fraser’s River, it follows successively the valleys of the Quequealla, Peers and the Soaqua Rivers, from thence crossing the dividing ridge into the Similkameen valley, where it falls upon Mr. Anderson’s track of 1846 and follows it to Thompson’s River.

“‘Mr. Peers will be despatched with ten men in a few days hence to commence operations at the mouth of the Quequealla, where we intend to establish a small Post for the convenience of parties passing to and from Thompson’s River [Kamloops] and at the same time he will proceed in opening the road with the assistance of all the Indians that can be mustered, and we hope to have it made as far as the snowy region before the Winter sets in …. He is particularly desirous that Blackeye’s son, the Indian who accompanied him a part of the way on his late journey to this place and left him at the head of the Soaqua, should be sent to meet him at that point, as without such assistance he will not be able to find his way into the Similkameen Valley… With that Indian you will please despatch Montigny and as many whites and Indians as you can muster to open the road from the plains of the Similkameen to the Soaqua Valley, following the line of road Mr. Peers pointed out to Montigny as being the best adapted for horse-transport, as early in the spring as the snow will admit….’

“Peers was placed in charge of building Fort Hope, and the fort did get built. But no work was done on the trail over the winter of 1848-49, though that was not Peers’ fault. Snow began to fall early in the season and it kept falling and the trail up the Coquihalla River was buried under deep drifts of snow and remained that way all winter. The heavy snow fell on the forts in the interior, too — at Kamloops and Fort Colvile at least. Though the snowfall was good news for the fur trade, it killed so many horses in the interior that the fur traders now worried about having enough animals to carry out their furs in the spring. Still, the furs must go out — but because the fur traders had no idea how much snow might lie on the top of the Coquihalla, they decided to go out, once more, by the Anderson River trail they had used in summer, 1848.”

This is a good place to pause — next week we can talk about the fistfights and desertions that occurred at Fort Langley in 1849, and the stressful return over the mountains. Anderson would now be called Fort Colvile home, as in spring 1848 he had ridden away from Fort Alexandria for the last time.

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.

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“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.’

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“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.’

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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.

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: http://www.hopemountain.org

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!

ACAnderson

“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.

Flintlock and Percussion Guns

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Alexander Caulfield Anderson was always fond of his guns — when he joined the fur trade in 1831, he purchased the best flintlock gun he could find in London. A few months later, at York Factory, he purchased a pair of flintlock pistols. And in 1833, at isolated Fort McLoughlin. he had an opportunity to use them.

At this North West Coast fort, Chief Trader Donald Manson had taken a tribal chief hostage and held him hostage inside the fort, hoping for the return of a deserter. Naturally the fur traders expected trouble. Anderson noted that : “Everything remained quiet and undisturbed for a few days, yet I could not but suspect the untoward tranquility that reigned around…

“Evening came on, and the men asked permission to go outside for water. I myself went out, having my pistols upon me, and leaving my other arms where they were easily accessible, for I had my misgivings, and they were very shortly realized.

“I advanced to the edge of the bank and was looking around when suddenly, within a few paces of me, I saw darting through the bushes a host of armed Indians. I turned at once, gave the alarm, and retreating to the fort was speedily prepared to defend the entrance.”

The scuffle was soon over and only one fur trader was injured, but a Native or two lost their lives. This was a common situation in the fur trade: there were times when fur traders needed to defend themselves when they were faced with a crowd of Natives who far outnumbered them. For Anderson, the second occasion occurred in 1846, when his exploring party stumbled on “a camp of Indians; the inmates of which upon our approach rushed out tumultuously with their arms, yelling very vociferously.”

The fur traders had left the fort with their guns prepared for firing, but now took off the canvas covers that protected the gunpowder from moisture, and waited for instruction from Anderson himself. For reasons you will see below, no man wanted to be the first to fire his gun!

As leader, Anderson took charge of the situation: “Judging, as it proved correctly, that their hostile demonstrations were not intentionally directed towards ourselves, I rode up and enquired their meaning. The tumult forthwith subsided; and the leader of the party, a one-eyed blackguard who is known as the Batailleur, excused himself….” and the tense situation was defused.

So why does the flintlock gun play such an important role in the situations the fur traders found themselves in? The fur traders’ guns needed to be cleaned, primed and loaded on a regular basis, especially when the explorers or traders rode through country inhabited by Natives who far outnumbered them.

Flintlocks got their name because they used flint, a hard, silicized-quartz found naturally almost everywhere, and used for thousands of years to light fires. The gun-owner knapped a small piece of flint from the larger stone, and inserted it into the gun where it would be driven by the force of the striker against the frizzen.

The flint was hard enough to knock a piece of steel off the frizzen and cause a spark, but the flint lost a bit of itself as well and would eventually need to be replaced.

The Natives used flints they picked up anywhere, but the fur traders imported the best flints from England — they were probably gathered at the base of Dover’s white cliffs.

“Lock, stock & Barrel” — a phrase familiar to all of us! The stock of the flintlock is the part that the fur trader held to his shoulder, and it remains today on modern day rifles.

The barrel is the metal part that the bullet travels down, similar to modern day rifles.

The lock is the metal part in the middle, where the gun workings are — the chambers for bullets or balls and the various working parts including the trigger. This part differs markedly from the modern day rifle.

The flintlocks were all smooth-bored muzzle loaders. To load the gun, the fur trader poured black powder into a measure he carried with him, and that might have formed a part of his powder-horn. He poured the measure of powder down the barrel of the firearm and, with a sharp tap of the gun stock on the ground, he knocked the black powder all the way to the lock where it would be ignited by the flash of gunpowder in the pan.

Next the fur trader wrapped a ball in a piece of tallow-soaked cloth, and inserted ball and cloth into the mouth of the barrel. He cut away the extra cloth with a knife he always carried with him and, removing the ramrod from the holder where it traveled as part of the gun, he rammed the ball all the way to the lock where the black powder lay.

Next the fur trader primed his gun by tipping a little black powder into the pan of the gun and snapping the steel frizzen over it — the pan and frizzen are on the outside of the lock, and a tube carries the spark into the gun where it ignites the gunpowder. When powder and ball is inside the lock, and gunpowder and frizzen outside but separated, the gun is ready to fire.However, it will not fire until the hammer is fully cocked, and released from its sprung position by a strong pull on the trigger.

These firearms were accurate, and at 80 yards the fur traders could put their shot into a target about the size of a saucer! But once fired — or if the gun misfired — it took an experienced man a full twenty seconds to reload his gun with powder and ball and make it ready for the second shot. In a confrontation with the Natives, who carried similar guns, the fur trader would always chose to negotiate, holding fire until it became absolutely necessary to shoot.

The Natives carried flintlocks, too, but the guns the fur traders sold to them were not as well built as their own guns. The Trade Guns, too, were always decorated with a brass serpent on the side, and a seated fox engraved on the back of the lock. These animals had a spiritual significance for the Natives, who also believed the symbols would bring them good luck in the hunt.

While he was still a young man at Fort McLoughlin, Alexander Anderson had test-fired William Tolmie’s percussion pistols: ten years later Anderson ordered his own percussion gun from London. With the incoming 1846 brigade, he received his new 23-gauge, double-barreled percussion gun with stout barrels, bullet moulds, nipple keys, and cleaning rods.

Percussion guns were quite different from the flintlocks, which used flint and steel to ignite gunpowder stored in the barrel of the gun. In both guns the explosion of the gunpowder powered the bullet: but in the percussion gun the flint and steel was replaced with a nipple, cap, and tube. The cap contained fulminate of mercury, an explosive chemical made of mercury, nitric acid and alcohol — the nipple accepted the cap, and the tube led the flame to the gunpowder in the barrel.

If you ever want to see these guns in action, attend one of the fur trade celebrations at Fort Langley or elsewhere, where it is likely they will have re-enactors who will demonstrate the guns and answer any questions you may have.

And one more little thing, relative to my last weeks’ post about salmon: In the papers of James Anderson, A.C.’s son, I found a note that said his father “was amazed to learn that Natives who fished at the salmon weir on Fraser Lake [and at Fort Alexandria] also killed fish by submerging the barrel of a flintlock gun up to the breach in the water, and pulling the trigger. The resulting explosion stunned the fish, which floated to the surface, and the gun never burst as it would have done if only the muzzle was submerged.”

The Salmon, from Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s manuscripts

Alexander Caulfield Anderson was many things: he was a fur trader; a historian; and a writer. Among historians he is known for his work; and today they read his manuscripts for the historical information those writings contain.

However, Anderson has many different manuscripts, both published and unpublished, for the most part hidden away in the British Columbia archives. and sometimes, in other places as well. It takes years of research to find all his works, and I still have four or more missing manuscripts to find.

So from three manuscripts easily accessible in the British Columbia archives and elsewhere, I have taken his writings about the Salmon, and mashed all the information together to make a completed manuscript. Here it is, as it stands today:

“The Salmon has been since time immemorial the chief, and frequently the sole, dependence of the aboriginal races bordering on the interior of the Coast range, for the sustenance of life. For many years, too, the European traders and their employees, has this resource alone to trust to the staple article of food — eked out, it is true, by various other products in both cases; the beasts of the chase, the minor fisheries, the wild-fowl, and the hare — but still, for their winter dependence, the Salmon was the chief and most valued.

“And here, if in a practical essay such as I am supposed to be engaged upon, I may be permitted to deviate momentarily from the dull monotony of description, I would vain direct the attention of the Reader to the beautiful concatenation of circumstances through which the ascent of the salmon is made practicable.

“From the rising ocean vapors, to their condensation in their interior ranges; the melting of the mountain snows; the consequent rising of the rivers, whereby eddies are formed, and the abruptness of waterfalls, else impracticable to the salmon, is modified — all these circumstances, coincident as they are with the natural causes which impel the shoals of salmon to ascend, compose one more line in the chain of evidences design.

“The various tributaries both of Fraser River and the Columbia, with rare exceptions, are the resort of vast shoals of Salmon at the proper season. Of these exceptions, upon the latter mentioned stream, the Similkameen is one: an effect proceeding apparently from local obstructions to their ascent not far above the junction of the stream with the Okinagan (Okanogan River).

“To these spawning grounds, following the instinct of their race, the various shoals generated originally upon each direct their course with undeviating precision — to those conversant with the habits of the European salmon it is superfluous to mention that each shoal as it ascends strives perseveringly and with unerring instinct to reach, for its spawning-ground, the spot where itself was generated. The natives employ various devices for catching them, according as the stream be clear or turbid; the same means not being generally applicable to both.

“For clearness sake, I shall confine my remarks chiefly to two principal varieties, called by the lower Indians (at Fort Langley) Saw-quai and Suck-kai, by the upper Indians Kase [Chinook] and Ta-lo [Sockeye]; by which latter names I shall distinguish them. The first, equal in size and quality to the large Salmon in Europe, enter the Fraser in May; the latter, a very much smaller and not so rich a fish, arrived a month or so later. In the lower part of the river the natives secure them in large quantities by means of drift nets. Higher up scoop-nets are chiefly used, which are wrought from stages suspended from the rocks bordering on rapid currents; and above Alexandria the Ta-cully [Dakelh] tribe construct ingenious weirs for their capture. 

“There are two varieties of the Kase, differing very little in their characteristics, but one shoal, perhaps a little smaller in size, entering the Fraser somewhat earlier than the second; this first shoal, as nearly as I could ascertain, resorts to the West Road River [Blackwater river]. The Kase arrive at the mouth of the Fraser River somewhat earlier than the Ta-lo, in May, and are caught at Alexandria in the beginning of July. The course of the Kase, apart from the minor shoals which may diverge to their native tributaries by the way, may thus be indicated from the Forks of Thle-et-leh [Prince George, BC]. A division of the grand shoal here takes place; one detachment ascending the eastern, or Great Fork, or Tete Jaune Branch, and some individual fish attaining as before stated as far as Tete Jaune’s Cache, where an abrupt overfall debars all further progress.

“The other division strikes up the Stuart’s Lake Branch, as high as the point called the Forks of Chinlac, 60 miles above Thle-et-leh. A further subdivision here takes place; one portion continuing to ascend the Stuart Branch nearly to Stuart’s Lake which, however, they do not enter — instead ceasing at the Rapid a short distance below the issue of the Lake. The other detachment ascends the Fraser Lake branch, and turning off about a mile below the outlet of the lake, continues their course towards the Nechaotin lands, up the river Neja-coh, on which its spawning grounds are situated. This is a stream which on the other hand the Ta-lo do not enter.

“The Ta-lo, its vanguard reaching Thle-et-leh in company with the rearguard of the Kase, strike up the Stuarts Lake Branch, not frequenting the main river heading to Tete Jaune’s Cache. They continue undeviatingly up to the forks of Chinlac, before mentioned, where a separation takes place. They divide; one shoal ascending to Stuart’s Lake, passing through it, and continuing up its chief feeding tributary towards Lake Tat-la. the other division, passing the Naja-coh unnoticed, proceeds directly to Fraser’s Lake; continues through it and pursues its route by the tributary stream issuing at the village of Stella, ascending it towards the Lac des Francaise on the inner verge of the Coast Range, and opposite to the Southern heads of the Skeena.

“It will thus be seen that the laws which govern the ascent of these fish are fixed and undeviating. The knowledge of their habits, therefore, which long experience has taught them, enables the Indians to prepare devices for their capture, in the full certainty that, when the fish do arrive, their preparations will not have been made in vain: in these various devices much ingenuity is displayed, but in different portions of the river, and by different tribes, various methods are practiced.

“Before the salmon enter the Fraser they are readily caught in the adjacent straits and inlets with baited hooks, frequently affixed to long lines fastened to a canoe, which is then paddled briskly through the water. the bait used in this system of trolling is a small fish, or some other substance, even a piece of old cloth.

“The lower Indians of the Fraser use small drift nets which are plied from their canoes. Higher up they erect scaffolds on rocky projections where the current is strong. From these scaffolds bag-nets distended by light frames, nearly similar to the drift-nets, are plied by the fishermen. This system continues as far as the borders of the Ta-cully tribe near Alexandria [just north of Soda Creek, BC].

“The Ta-cully, who are particularly expert in preparing various devices for fishing and the snaring of beasts of chase, construct weirs for catching the Salmon. A close fence of light hurdles, supported by strong stakes driven into the bottom, is projected some forty or fifty feet into the stream, where the current is swift and the bottom gradually shelving. Another fence is run downstream; then at a right angle six feet or so towards the bank, and again upwards nearly to the first transverse fence. The ascending fish thus intercepted in their progress by the upper fence, seek in vain to round the obstacles and, after a while, enter a large cylindrical basket which is sunk at the angle where the descending fence is formed, with slender rods converging inwards like the entrance of a wire mouse-trap. Great numbers are thus caught.

“This is the plan adopted on the mainstream where, as before stated, the water is turbid. In the clear tributaries the submerged basket is not found to answer, except where the stream can be fenced from side to side. Elsewhere the natives substitute an open basket, in the same position as the other but sunk only a few inches below the surface, above which the top of the basket projects. An opening is left in the top of the fence opposite to the basket through which the water rushes. The salmon leap this tiny fall and drop unsuspectingly into the trap prepared for them. At the discharge of Fraser’s and Stuart’s Lake the stream is fenced across, and the sunken basket is used; immense numbers are thus caught in ordinary years. The fence, however, is rarely so secure but that the main portion of the shoal contrives to force a passage, and even admitting it were perfectly close, the natives have an understanding that the fish shall be allowed to pass towards their neighbours further inland, who in turn do not seek to intercept the main body from the spawning grounds.

“The spear cannot be used save in the tributaries when the water is clear. At Alexandria I used to amuse myself at times with the scoop net, and have thus secured fifty or sixty fish in an evening.

“I will now advert to a peculiarity in their fate, which, strange as it may appear, distinguishes the majority from all other known varieties of the genus. There seems to be no question that the shoals resorting to the smaller streams debouching upon the Coast return, after performing their procreative functions, to the sea, as elsewhere. But as regards the main body, resorting to the distant head-waters of those great rivers, it may be incontestably asserted that they never return to the sea. At first incredulous of this asserted fact, subversive of all my preconceptions on the subject, it was only after the observation of years, under circumstances which seem to preclude the possibility of error, that I was constrained to arrive at the same conclusion. Without prolonging my notes by entering on the particulars of these observations, I may confidently repeat the assertion that, the function of spawning over the fish, still struggling upwards, die of exhaustion. Upon the main, or Eastern, branch of the Fraser, which as I have said is frequented only by the large variety of Kase, the strongest of these fish attain as high as Tete Jaune’s Cache between 700 or 800 miles from the sea: there their further progress is arrested by a steep fall. At the foot of this fall, and elsewhere below, the stream swarms in September with dead and dying fish. The once brilliant Salmon, no longer recognizable save from its general form, may here be seen, the function of spawning completed, almost torpid from exhaustion; its nose in many instances worn to the bone, its tail and fins in tatters, nay its very flesh in a state of half-animated decay, either helplessly floating in the eddies or with momentary exertion still struggling to ascend. In no case is the smallest disposition to descend perceptible: its course is still onwards, until dying at last, it floats with myriads of others to be cast upon the beach, attracting to a hideous banquet a multitude of Bears and other carnivorous beasts from the adjacent mountains.”