Tag Archives: Fort St. James

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.