Tag Archives: Thompson’s River post

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!

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“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.