Tag Archives: New Caledonia

Anderson’s 1846 expedition from Kamloops to Fort Langley

A paragraph or two from The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West, will introduce you to the reason why Alexander Caulfield Anderson made his four expeditions between Kamloops and Fort Langley — two in 1846 and two in 1847. [The image is of the Thompson River west of the outlet of the Nicola River, and looking east.]


Thompson River

“In 1846, the British and American governments began to negotiate the placement of the American border through traditional Hudson’s Bay Company lands west of the Rocky Mountains. Some Company men optimistically expected the new boundary to pass south of the Columbia River, leaving all the territory to the north in Company hands. Americans hoped the boundary might be placed as far north as the bottom of the Russian territories [the Alaska panhandle], which meant that much of New Caledonia would fall into American hands. Wherever the boundary ultimately ran, it was certain to interfere with the business of the fur trade. The nervous Company men planned to enlarge the new post at Fort Victoria, on the south end of Vancouver’s Island. Fort Langley was already serviced by the HBC ships, but no one knew how the rich furs of New Caledonia would reach the lower Fraser River. The impassable Fraser River Canyon and a rough, unexplored range of mountains lay between New Caledonia and Fort Langley.

“In 1845 Anderson wrote to Governor Simpson [of the HBC] to volunteer himself for the job of finding a new brigade route across the mountains from Kamloops to Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser. The letter reached Simpson at Norway House, and he discussed the issue with Peter Skene Ogden, who happened to be there at the time. In October 1845, Ogden wrote from Fort Colvile [Spokane area], giving Anderson instructions to confer with John Tod of Kamloops before exploring potential routes between Kamloops and Fort Langley. At the same time, Ogden wrote to Tod, suggesting that the most feasible route might be “starting from Thompson’s River, across land to the Nicoutimine Country, and from thence to Harrison’s River then with canoes nothing can intervene to prevent reaching Fort Langley.”

Anderson did follow Ogden’s suggested route, but the roughness of the Lillooet River made him decide against using this as a brigade trail. This was no country for horses, nor for boats!

But Anderson was not the only man to go on this expedition — he took five employees with him: Edouard Montigny, Jean Baptiste Vautrin, Abraham Charbonneau, Theodore Lacourse, and William Davis. So here I go with whatever information I have about these men:

Edouard Montigny: No one is sure where Edouard Montigny comes from, but he is Metis. He might have been the mixed-blood son of Ovid de Montigny, who is quite famous in the fur trade of Washington State as a long time employee of the ill-fated Pacific Fur Company, the North West Company, and finally the HBC. Ovid’s supposed son Edouard was one of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s most trusted employees at Fort Alexandria, and he was Anderson’s interpreter — he translated the Natives’ languages so that Anderson could communicate with them.

Edouard first appears in the fur trade at Thompson’s River in 1833, when he was probably 17 years old. I think it was Edouard who led Anderson to Fort Alexandria in mid-winter 1842, over the new brigade trail north of Kamloops. He remained at Fort Alexandria the entire time Anderson was there, then returned to Kamloops. He had a brother who also worked at Fort Alexandria, but who deserted in 1844. Anderson wrote, “I suspect the scamp has let some of our horses stray off, and is afraid of his brother’s anger.”

Jean Baptiste Vautrin: I have written a lot about Jean Baptiste, and he has plenty of descendants in the area. He was French Canadian, born in Lower Canada in 1813, and he died at the Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon in 1893. He spent most of his fur-trade career in the New Caledonia area, and was at Fort Alexandria when Anderson arrived there. He must have been sent off to man the new Thleuz-cuz post, because in November 1844, Anderson wrote: “Today to my very great surprise, Vautrin cast up from Thleuz-cuz, having a letter from Mr. Todd… notifying that the fall fishery failed, that he had killed a horse (Rapide) some time previously for food…”

Vautrin is regularly at the fort in 1846, On the 31st of October, “Vautrin (who has been sick during the greater part of the week) commenced yesterday the care of a coal furnace previously built & fired by Gendron.” On Monday 9th: “Yesterday evening the wife of J. Bte Vautrin (a daughter of Lolo’s) was taken ill, and shortly after gave birth to a still born child. She afterwards fell into a state of exhaustion, and I was applied to for assistance. I accordingly administered, with proper caution, some wine & water & a little laudanum, which had a salutary effect, and on my going to bed a little after midnight, the woman was much better & breathed with freedom. Towards morning, however, I was again summoned, and found her in a dying state. It appears that after sleeping tranquilly some time, she awoke and conversed a little, but ere long again relapsed. Internal flooding I suspect to have been the cause of the poor woman’s death; for little appeared externally..”

On Tuesday, December 8th, 1846, Anderson reported that “I have to record that today I was under the disagreeable necessity of chastising one of the servants under my command — the more disagreeable to me, I may add, since it is the first occasion of my having to do so for some years past; and the only one since my sojourn in New Caledonia. Having occasion to reprimand J. Bte Vautrin for disrespectful language, which I did quietly in my sitting room, the man replied in so improper a manner that I was compelled to strike him a couple of blows, in order to maintain that authority without the possession of which one’s efficiency in this country is more than doubtful.” The last mention of Vautrin comes when he leaves Fort Alexandria, in march 1847. “today Pere Nobili set out for Kamloops, accompanied by his man & Baptiste Lolo, together with Vautrin. The last, whose time was expired & who was on his way out, had my sanction to make an arrangement to accompany Mr. Nobili till the spring, when he will be disposable for the summer Brigade. He has therefor renewed his agreement with HBC for another year…”

Abraham Charbonneau: Charbonneau was French-Canadian, born about 1815 in Quebec. For a few years he was in the Snake district, and came to New Caledonia via Fort Colvile. At the end of his contract he returned to Fort Colvile and hoped to go out with the York Factory express. He did not, because of illness. He eventually rejoined the trade at Fort Vancouver because of shortage of men, but deserted the place for the California gold fields, where he disappeared. He was first mentioned in the Fort Alexandria journals in spring, 1846, “They will be forwarded at Kamloops by Charbonneau, Lacourse & Touin, whom I left there in passant.” In January 1847 Anderson wrote, “Vautrin returned from Fort George, having left two men [Charbonneau & Desautels] on the way — the former being sick & unable to travel. Three days after these men cast up, they have their feet frozen and altogether are in dismal plight.” Because of his many illnesses, I think that Charbonneau had an unidentified chronic disease that, on occasion, sickened him.

Theodore Lacourse:¬†Lacourse or LaCroix was French Canadian, born about 1823. By 1840 he was in New Caledonia and accompanied Anderson on both his expeditions across the mountains. In April 1846 Anderson wrote: “Linneard, Vautrin & Lacourse having prepared the ploughs, made a beginning to plough this evening in the home field.” His brother Pierre was also in New Caledonia, and Anderson “received a note from Mr. [Donald] Manson stating the desertion of two men, Pierre & Theodore Lacourse. I have commissioned the Indians to search for these men & if they discover them to give me notice. I have also sent down word to the same effect to the Rapid, with directions to the Indians to steal their horses & bring them back to me with prompt intelligence.” The Lacourse brothers were returned to Fort Alexandria and Theodore finished out his contract and left the country in Thomas Lowe’s 1848 York Factory Express.

William Davis: Davis was born in Lower Canada [Quebec] about 1827 and joined the fur trade on a three year contract. He was another who deserted Donald Manson’s brigade but was taken back with the threat of capital punishment were he to do it again. He resigned his contract in 1848 and returned to Canada, in the same York Factory express as Theodore Lacourse.

There are the five or so men who accompanied Anderson across the mountains in summer, 1846. They traveled via Fraser River to Seton and Anderson Lake and crossed the height of land to the Lillooet River, which they then followed down to Fort Langley. On their return journey they walked up the Coquihalla River and then crossed the massive Coquihalla plateau — on foot. These men were tough, but they were also young. I have to remember that A.C. Anderson himself was only thirty years old — a difficult feat when the photographs show him as a seventy year old.


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.