Tag Archives: Donald Manson

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.


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!


“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!


“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.


“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.


“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.