Tag Archives: Fraser River

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.


“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


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.”

A short Chronology of the Fur Trade West of the Rockies

One of the things that most interested me as I wrote this book, was that the fur trade in the territory we now know as British Columbia had such a short life. New Caledonia’s fur trade began with the North West Company’s explorer Alexander Mackenzie, and his attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean. Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s fur trade experience began less than 40 years after Mackenzie’s failed expedition.

Below I list some of the dates that I feel are important to readers interested in the fur trade west of the Rocky Mountains:

1793: In his search for a route to the Pacific Ocean, Alexander Mackenzie followed the Fraser River south to the area where Fort Alexandria was later built (south of Quesnel, B.C.). There the Natives advised him to follow the West Road River to the Pacific, and he successfully reached the ocean at modern-day Bella Coola. However, Mackenzie found the route so difficult he discouraged the North West Company from entering the new territory.

1805: Seven years after Mackenzie’s exploration, Simon Fraser and John Stuart, also of the North West Company, arrived at McLeod’s Lake to build their Trout Lake Post. In 1806 they founded Stuart’s Lake Post (later Fort St. James), and in 1808 they followed the Fraser River to its mouth. The explorers faced many dangers and returned home to Fort St. James, making no further attempt to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.

1821: Unknown to the NWC men who were building Fort Alexandria, the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company merged under the name of the latter company, and George Simpson became the Governor of the new Hudson’s Bay Company.

1824: The NWCo’s old Fort George, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was replaced by a new headquarters 100 miles inland, and named Fort Vancouver.

1826: The first New Caledonia brigades brought their furs southward to Fort Vancouver, and this new brigade trail over the Thompson Plateau and through the Okanagan Valley would be used every year until 1847; it was only 21 years old when it was abandoned for the new Anderson River trail to Fort Langley.

1827: Fort Langley was built on the lower Fraser River. From Thompson’s River, Francis Ermatinger explored a new route through the Lillywit (Lillooet River), looking for a route to Fort Langley. Anderson would follow the same route in 1846.

1828: Twenty years after Fraser and Stuart descended the River, the HBC’s Governor Simpson and a few of his Chief Traders frightened themselves silly in a descent of the Fraser. Simpson declared that bringing the brigades out by boat would result in certain death nine times out of ten.

1835: Alexander Caulfield Anderson entered New Caledonia for the first time, taking charge of the 21-year old Fraser’s Lake post.

1840: Anderson and his wife, Betsy, rode over the old brigade trail to Fort Vancouver, and took charge of Fort Nisqually (on Puget Sound) for a few years.

Winter 1842: Alexander Caulfield Anderson returned to New Caledonia to take charge of Fort Alexandria, and was probably the first Gentleman to ride over the new brigade trail between Kamloops and Fort Alexandria. The next spring he would bring the brigade out by that new trail, and the old trail over the Thompson Plateau to modern-day Little Fort disappeared.

1846: 19 years after Francis Ermatinger explored the Lillywit river, Anderson followed his path down the same river and reached Fort Langley. His return journey to Kamloops took him over the Coquihalla Mountain range east of what later became Fort Hope (Hope, B.C.). On the north side of the mountain the fur traders met the Similkameen, Blackeye, who told them of an easier trail over the mountain.

1847: 39 years after Simon Fraser explored the Fraser River, Alexander Anderson made two expeditions down and up the Fraser River, discovering what he thought might be a suitable horse road between the two posts.

1848: The massacre of the Waillatpu missionaries and resulting Indian wars forced the New Caledonia fur traders to bring out their furs by Anderson’s unfinished trail, by what they began to call Anderson’s River. No one kept a journal of the outgoing brigade, but Anderson said it was “harrassing.” The return journey was chaotic, and on their arrival at Kamloops, the Gentlemen all agreed that a new trail must be developed by Blackeye’s Trail, to the new Fort Hope.

1849: The outgoing brigades came out once more by the Anderson River trail of 1848, but returned by a surprisingly easy trail over the Coquihalla. It wasn’t perfect, and the fur traders spent many years trying to find a way around Manson’s Mountain — but it worked. This was the brigade trail the fur traders used up to 1860.

1858: The American gold miners swarmed their way north via the old Okanagan brigade trails and by ship to Fort Victoria, on their way to the goldfields on the Fraser River. Anderson’s first exploration via the Lillywit (Lillooet) River became the first highway into the interior and brought thousands of gold miners north of the rapids and canyons that had confounded the fur traders for so many years.

1860: The Royal Engineers carved roads out of the cliff-faces between Yale and Boston Bar, above the rapids and falls that had so troubled the fur traders. By autumn 1862 their road reached Lytton, and in 1863 the first Alexandra Bridge crossed the Fraser north of Spuzzum, its eastern end resting where Anderson had buried one of his voyageurs in 1848. The Royal Engineers roads opened British Columbia to settlers, and though the fur trade continued for many years after, the brigade trails were more or less abandoned.

There we have the short chronology of the fur trade in British Columbia; though we feel as though the fur trade was here forever, it was not.