Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Traverse at Little Fort

At the foot of the Big Hill, the outgoing New Caledonia brigade rode their horses south and east along the edges of the hills until they reached the place they called the Traverse, at modern day Little Fort, British Columbia.
Here they crossed the North Thompson River (shown to the left) in a 40 foot Native canoe that was provided by the Thompson's River post some miles downriver.
Today, people who want to cross the North Thompson River at the fur traders' traverse use the little ferry pictured at the top of the page.
This is a one-man ferry that takes one or two cars at a time; the operator waits on the west bank of the river (at Little Fort) until someone wants to cross.
Those who are coming from the east bank drive up to the dock and honk their horn to catch his attention.
The operator generously gave us a ride across the river; it was beautiful and so quiet you could hear the water bubble as it flowed under and around the ferry.
Obviously, the main road runs down the west bank of the North Thompson at this point; but the brigade used to cross the river and travel down the east bank of the North Thompson to the old Thompson's River post, at modern day Kamloops.

The brigaders made many crossings of the river in the Thompson's River post's big canoe, but they swam their horses across.
On the east bank of the river they loaded up their 15o-200 packhorses and rode downriver toward the post at the junction of the North Thompson and the South Thompson Rivers.
In later years (long after Anderson left New Caledonia) the HBC built a small post at the location of the modern day town of Little Fort; which stands on the west bank of the river where I have indicated the traverse.

Today the highway passes down the west bank of the river and Little Fort is barely a blip on the map.
But we spent some time here, enjoying our dinner and social time in an old pub that usually entertains motorcycle riders.
In 1840, when Alexander Caulfield Anderson left New Caledonia, Chief Trader Sam Black was in charge of the old Thompson's River fort.
By the time Anderson returned to New Caledonia in early winter, 1842, Sam Black was dead and John Todd was already constructing the new Kamloops fort across the North Thompson River from the old post.
After 1840, Anderson never again travelled over this old route as a fur trader.
But he did visit this territory once more, when in 1877 he and the other Indian Reserve Commissioners settled many of the Native reserves in this district.
Shortly after Dominion Day 1877, the Commissioners left Kamloops by steamship, travelling up the North Thompson River to Chief Andre's reserve.
They rode beside the chief over his lands, and travelled as far north as the old crossing place where, before 1843, the brigaders had carried their loads across the river in the Native canoe.
I think that Anderson looked back at his fur trade days as good times, regretting that these days were gone.
As we drove away from Little Fort, we looked back across the river valley at the Thompson plateau we had just crossed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Anderson-Seton family

For those of you who want to learn more about Alexander Caulfield Anderson and his most interesting family, I suggest you take a look at the Anderson-Seton Family History Site on
Until now it has been a private tree; I have just made it public so that everyone can view it.
The best way to find it (should you want to) is go to or and search for Alexander Caulfield Anderson (1814-1884).
If you do not have an Ancestry membership, try going to the two-week free membership that offers -- it may or may not work and it may or may not be showing, but it is an option.
It may take a week or so before the tree becomes public, so if you can't find the tree immediately, try again.
Many trees will show Alexander Caulfield Anderson (mostly trees of James Birnie descendents). Our tree name is "The Anderson Seton Family History Site."
Warning: I may make it private again in a few weeks time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fur Trade Books

Now that we are on this subject, let us talk about books.
There are many books about the fur trade worth having, and some that you must have if you want to write about the fur trade.
Harold A. Innis' book, "The Fur Trade in Canada; an introduction to Canadian Economic History," University of Toronto Press, 1930, is an essential.
But like most books it does not address the fur trade west of the mountains, in modern day British Columbia.
The only book that does that is Richard Somerset Mackie's "Trading Beyond the Mountains; the British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1793-1843," UBC Press, 1997.
Every time Mackie speaks, readers ask him to write a second book that covers the years after 1843; little do they know how many years it would take to write that second book.
But in a way, my biography of A.C. Anderson does tell people what took place after 1843.
He lived through those years and most of his important work was done after 1843.

If you want to learn more about the brigade trails before 1843, read James R. Gibson's "The Lifeline of the Oregon Country; The Fraser-Columbia brigade system, 1811-47," UBC Press, 1997.
This book also has plenty of information about the old brigade trail over the Thompson plateau, but nothing about the new brigade trail that Anderson travelled over.
If you want to learn more about the early fur trade in French Canada, find an old copy of David Lavender's "Winner Take All; the Trans-Canada Canoe Trail," McGraw-Hill, 1977.
If you want to learn more about your voyageur ancestors, read Carolyn Podruchny's "Making the Voyageur World; Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade," U of Toronto Press, 2006.
This is a short list; there's plenty of other books to read.

A New Fur Trade History coming

For those of you who are interested in the fur trade -- not necessarily of this part of the world but of United States -- Eric Jay Dolin has written a book called, "Fur, Fortune and Empire; the Epic history of the Fur Trade in America." The book is due to be published in July 2010; it won't reach Canada for another few months.
You can google him at to get more information about his upcoming book. I look forward to buying a copy.
Eric, you will never get tired of talking about the fur trade; it is such an important and interesting business.

The old Brigade Trail over the Thompson Plateau

Today we are going to follow the outgoing brigade from Fort Alexandria, on its 1840 journey across the North Thompson plateau to its traverse at modern day Little Fort, British Columbia.
We have followed the streams to Lac la Hache and taken a short diversion down the Bonaparte River trail that David Douglas might have travelled many years earlier.
Now we leave Douglas' story and return to Anderson's.
This is a big country; a rough country filled with lakes and bogs which made travel difficult.
The map below shows that the fur traders' travelled to the north of Drowned Horse Lake and followed the river valley eastward toward Salt Lake, Lac Tranquile (Lac Traverse), and Lac du Rocher.
The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the two bigger lakes on the top of the plateau; it looks westward toward the Fraser River.
The brigaders followed the north shores of the various lakes -- Drowned Horse Lake, Lac Traverse, and Lac du Rochers.
They then crossed the bog they called the Grand Muskeg, and descended the Big Hill.
Once again on flat land, they followed the eastern side of the plateau and crossed open grassland to reach the banks of the North Thompson River.
The modern day road travelled south of Horse Lake; the old trail went to the north of the same lake (called Drowned Horse Lake).
Notice, please, that the new brigade trail is also shown on the map below, but it runs a different course than the trail I have shown in an earlier post.
It followed the south shore of Horse Lake before swinging south and west to the northeast end of Green Lake.
I believe that, in 1843, when Anderson first took the brigade out over the new trail, that this is where the trail ran; in later years they cut off that loop and travelled across country by the esker that led them to Green Lake.
Why do I believe this?
In 1843, the Fort Alexandria journals told us that the brigaders lost a few brigade horses which were later located near Horse Lake.
If the early trail had run along the esker between Green Lake northwest, avoiding Horse Lake, the horses would not have drifted so far as to reach Horse Lake.

In the photographs below we have travelled eastward, bypassing Horse Lake which lies to our left hand and driving past Lac Tranquile and Lac du Rocher.
The first thing I noticed about these plateau lakes was their brilliant blue colour.
There are no more clouded, green-coloured or alkali lakes in this part of the world, as there is in the Cariboo to the south-west.
On both lakes we are on the north shore, following the road a little above where the brigade trail would have travelled.
According to the map above, the brigaders travelled close to the north shore of the two or three lakes that lay along their route.

Agriculture has changed the face of the land on the top of the plateau.
When the fur traders crossed the plateau, it was unlikely the land was as clear as it is today.
This photograph looks eastward along the length of the lake toward the North Thompson River and the mountains on the river's east shore.
You can see that this country was rocky and hilly, not necessarily easy travelling for horses.

This is a photograph of a bog alongside the modern day road -- is this the fur traders' Grande Muskeg?
Probably not.
I never hiked this trail; that will be someone else's story to tell.
But this bog is somewhere in the area around the fur traders' Grand Muskeg, and must resemble the bogs they had to pass through to make their journey across the North Thompson plateau.

Bogs are deadly to horses and the Grand Muskeg was the most difficult part of this journey.
I am putting in a modern-day aside here: I watch a TV show called Mantracker, a modern-day reality show that pits two "prey" against an experienced wilderness tracker and his guide.
Mantracker follows his willing prey through whatever country they lead him into.
It is fascinating to watch where the trackers' horses can travel, and where they cannot go.
From that show, I have learned a lot about the difficulties the brigaders had while riding around this rugged country.
The prey, who of course know the difficulty horses have with bogs, often take to swampland to escape Mantracker.
Sometimes when I watch this TV show, I am thinking about the brigade trails; but mostly I enjoy the show because I am a fan.

The photograph below was taken directly behind Little Fort.
Do not imagine that this is the brigade trail mounting the hills behind Little Fort, because it is not.
That hill to the right of the photograph is the Thompson plateau, and the riders travelled quite a long distance from their crossing before they reached the base of that plateau and followed their trail up its side.
If I had known then what I know now, I could have shown you the brigade trail as it mounted the east edge of the plateau.
There are people who have uncovered many portions of this old trail; it has not disappeared and many pieces of it can be discovered, if you know what to look for.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The HBC's alternate trail, shown on A.C.'s 1867 map

On his 1867 map of British Columbia, Alexander Caulfield Anderson drew the line of a trail that until now I have had no explanation for.
Other historians have called it an "alternate trail," and so that is what I have called it, too.
But I have, I think, discovered why this alternate trail existed, and why it was never used as a brigade trail.
In 1833, the naturalist David Douglas travelled north to New Caledonia with a herd of cattle which was being driven north to Stuart's Lake post (later Fort St. James).
They travelled up the Okanagan trail -- on the old trail because they passed McIntyre Bluff -- and reached the Thompson River post, where Sam Black was in charge.
The cattle plodded along the shores of the Thompson River west of Kamloops Lake until they crossed Bonaparte River near its mouth and followed it up its west shore.
When the men reached the Bonaparte River area, they travelled through bogland -- and that is why this trail, though known to the fur traders, was never used as a brigade trail.

The fur traders would have had to cross the mouth of the Riviere du Dufunt (now Deadman's River) by canoe.
Their horses (or in this case their cattle) they might have driven upriver until they found a safe place to cross the river.
In 1846 Anderson and his party could not cross the swollen Riviere du Defunt without the aid of a rickety canoe that Anderson's men found in the bushes.
Later, Anderson wrote that the Secwepemc or Shuswap people, whose territory they were now in, "principally do their travelling on horseback & have very little knowlege of the art of constructing canoes, the only use they ever make of them being just for the purpose of ferries where the water is too deep to ford."

Familiarity with the Secwepemc's habits illuminated the Company men's course of action.
"Found River du Defunt much swollen; and having searched in vain for a tree suitable for a bridge, we went at length to the mouth of the river and having procured a crazy old canoe, we succeeded in doubling the end of the impediment upon the main stream. After several successful trips with our sorry vehicle we nearly experienced an accident at last, for Montigny with [another] of the men and several Ind[ian]s narrowly escaped missing the eddy, and being swept into the boiling rapids some hundred yards below. Having crossed safely myself at the first trip, my feelings at witnessing the imminent danger of these people may be conceived."

This last quote comes from Anderson's "Journal of an Expedition under Command of Alex C. Anderson of the Hudson's Bay Company, undertaken with the View to ascertaining the practicability of a communication with the interior, for the import and the annual supplies," A/B/40/An3.1, BCArchives.
Travelling south and east, it was only a short distance from the mouth of the Deadman River to the end of Kamloops Lake, where they crossed the Thompson River and rode over the folding hills to the old Thompson's River post, at the far end of the lake.
When David Douglas arrived at the Thompson River post (the Kamloops post before 1843) the fur trade post was on the other side, or east bank, of the North Thompson River.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shoes in the Fur Trade

Alexander Anderson's father-in-law, James Birnie, was descended from generations of leather workers and shoe-makers in Aberdeen City, Scotland.
But when he came to Spokane House and the Snake River district in 1818, James Birnie worked as a fur trader in the North West Company (though I suspect he used his tanning skills for preparing the trappers' skins for transportation across the mountains.)
Why didn't he use his skills to make shoes?
There were, after all, no shoes in the fur trade.
Every man, woman and child wore the leather mocassins that every woman and girl child in the forts sewed whenever they had time.
For outdoors, the mocassins were probably made of double layers of leather, with straps that tied the high tops around the ankles.
Whenever a party set out on an expedition or brigade, each member packed a dozen or so pairs of mocassins in their luggage, to replace the mocassins that they wore out.
But English shoes were not unknown in the fur trade, by any means.
English shoes and, possibly, English boots were sold in the stores at Fort Vancouver and York Factory.
But when Anderson arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1832, the American missionaries wore boots and shoes, while the fur traders wore mocassins.
At Fort Nisqually in 1843, employee John Bull stole 2 pairs English shoes and 2 prs stockings from Toopanehee, a Hawaiian man, according to a note from Angus McDonald, 1816-1889, A/B/90/M14, PABC.
That was my first discovery of shoes in the fur trade -- I had been having a discussion re: the availability of shoes with a historian or two, who both said they never existed here.
Since that time I discovered that the naturalist David Douglas bought two pairs of English shoes at Fort Vancouver when he travelled north to New Caledonia (these were probably the first shoes in New Caledonia???)
In later years at Fort Colvile, Angus McDonald (not the same Angus McDonald as above) ordered hundreds of pairs of English shoes and boots to sell to the American gold miners who were passing by the fort.
So interestingly enough, there were shoes in the fur trade.
And why not! George Simpson imported ostrich feathers and ribbons to pleasure the French Canadian voyageurs who loved such frivolous items -- why not import English shoes for the Orkneymen, and the gentlemen.
There were no cobblers though. Once the shoes were worn out, they were tossed out.
Isn't it a shame that James Birnie did not have the imagination, or the skills, to repair the shoes the men wore out so quickly.
His father was a tanner -- his grandfather the shoemaker.
Probably James Birnie never learned how to make shoes.

David Douglas in New Caledonia

I had always thought that, of all the naturalists that came to the west, David Douglas was the man who Anderson had no connection with. I was wrong!

Jack Nisbet, author of The Mapmakers Eye, has published his biography of the naturalist David Douglas, and I have discovered quite a few connections between the two men.

In 1826-7, David Douglas infected George Barnston with his love of nature; in 1830 Barnston retired from the fur trade, and a year later rejoined, travelling west as far as Lake Superior, with Alexander Caulfield Anderson. The two corresponded for years afterwards, and as late as 1870, Anderson's daughter Rose collected seeds for George Barnston.

Certainly Douglas knew Anderson's father-in-law, James Birnie -- in 1830 when Douglas was one of many to fall sick of malaria, James Birnie was one of two clerks who nursed the malaria-infected men back to health.

When Alexander Anderson arrived at Fort Vancouver in winter 1832, David Douglas was in London. He had left Fort Vancouver in 1827, and did not return until 1829. In November 1830 he sailed to California; in August 1832 he was in Hawaii; in October he returned to Fort Vancouver -- Alexander Caulfield Anderson arrived in early November at the same place.

In March Anderson left for the Northwest coast, and Douglas travelled with the New Caledonia brigade north to Stuart's Lake post (Fort St. James).

Douglas did not travel north by the brigade trail over the Thompson plateau, but by another trail that is shown on Alexander Caulfield Anderson's 1867 Map of British Columbia.

By this old trail, Douglas reached Drowned Horse Lake (Horse Lake) and Lac la Hache, and travelled north and west by the same trail that Anderson now followed south from Fort Alexandria.

Reference: Jack Nisbet, "The Collector; David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest," Seattle, Sasquatch Books, 2009.