Saturday, November 28, 2009

John McIntosh, HBC

Alexander Caulfield Anderson knew many of today's famous historic persons, but not all of them were men to be proud of.
One of the latter was clerk John McIntosh, who crossed the Rocky Mountains with Anderson's leather expedition of winter 1835, and remained in New Caledonia until his death.

According to his biography at HBCA, John McIntosh was born about 1803.
His father, Donald McIntosh, worked for the North West Company, and at its amalgamation with the HBC in 1821, was made Chief Trader.
Governor George Simpson did not have a good opinion of Chief Trader Donald McIntosh, considering him "qualified to cheat an Indian.... but perfectly Sober and honest." (Source: HBCA bio sheet and Simpson's 'Character Book.')
John McIntosh's mother was a Mohawk woman; no fur trader at that time had an English wife.
John began his career as a clerk in 1821 at Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ont.), and was clerk-in-charge at various posts in the Lake Superior District and at Lac La Pluie (Rainy Lake) between 1827 and 1835.
By the time McIntosh met Alexander Anderson at Jasper's House in October 1835, he had a very good opinion of himself.
He was a senior clerk, having clerked in the HBC for fourteen years; he was also the son of a Chief Trader.
In 1835, John McIntosh was about thirty-two years old; Anderson was twenty-one.
Certainly McIntosh considered himself must more important than any of the other men who worked the 1835 Leather party that Anderson commanded.

Anderson's party had reached Jasper's House ten days before the Columbia express and the passengers for the Leather party reached the post.
Anderson picked up sixty packs of leather and five adult passengers, along with McIntosh's wife and children.
Eleven days later the party reached the banks of the Fraser River, but was already short of provisions.
Winter came early with freezing temperatures, and Anderson's canoes froze into the ice of the Fraser River near modern-day McBride, B.C.
They were in serious straits, almost out of food and hundreds of miles from any New Caledonia post.
Twenty-two people, including McIntosh's three small children, walked through the snow toward the safety of Jasper's House, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.
"After a few days our provisions were entirely exhausted," Anderson wrote. "We expected go to bed supperless, .....but no sooner had the illumination of our newly lit fire spread through the valley, when a neighing was heard, and a fine fat unbroken horse...galloped fearlessly into camp..."
They slaughtered the horse and its meat fed them a few more days.
From hand to mouth they at length reached Jasper's House, two weeks after turning back.
As there were no provisions to spare at Jasper's, they continued their retreat to Edmonton House, at modern-day Edmonton, Alberta.

Anderson returned to New Caledonia by dog-sled, but McIntosh remained at Edmonton House.
In the spring he was dispatched to hunt for meat with a few other men.
They discovered a party of Assiniboine hunters prowling around their horses.
The Assiniboines were noted horse thieves.
The men captured eight Natives and brought them into their camp, where they held a mock court-martial and executed them on the spot.
Anderson wrote that the news of this atrocity caused "a thrill of shame and indignation throughout the country."
When the incoming New Caledonia brigade carrying Betsy Birnie arrived at Fort Alexandria, the clerk noticed that "Mr. Anderson arrives he is cordially rec. by Mr. Ogden with the shake of the hands to both Mr. Ogden & myself but no shake of the Hands to Mr. John McIntosh who was standing by us." (Fort Alexandria post Journals 1837-1839, B.5/a/4, fo. 5b, HBCA)

At that time McIntosh was in charge of the difficult Chilcotin post, but in later years he was at McLeod Lake post.
In July 1844 he was "shot Dead by a Sickanie Indian" and his body disappeared beneath the waters of the lake.
The HBC men suspected that his death was in retiribution for his role in the murder of the party of Assiniboine men years earlier.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is what happened to one of his children.
Some of the older boys joined the fur trade and worked at Fort Vancouver.
But Donald returned to Montreal with his mother, and later joined the U.S. Cavalry on frontier duty.
In 1876 Donald McIntosh was part of the first assault when General Custer recklessly led the Seventh Cavalry into the Battle of Little Big Horn against Chief Sitting Bull and his thousands of native warriors.
Lieutenant Donald McIntosh rode in the first charge, and went down when his horse was killed by an arrow in the head.
He grabbed a stray cavalry horse but was wrestled from the saddle and clubbed to death.
Fifteen Canadians were in Custer's Army, but McIntosh was the first of the Canadian members to be killed.
The source of this latter information is from an article in Beaver Magazine, Summer 1976, Custer and the Canadian Connections, by C. Frank Turner.

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