Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fort Colvile

In summer 1848, Anderson and his family rode away from the Kamloops post, leading the Fort Colvile men back to their home post on the Columbia River.
He had left Fort Alexandria for the last time, and would never return.

Fort Colvile had been established about 1826 when Governor George Simpson instructed John Work to close down the old Spokane post and transfer its business to the Columbia River fort.
Alexander Ross had travelled up the Columbia River with the Governor, and described the future location of Fort Colvile:
"At this place, the site of the new establishment, to be named 'Colville,' was marked out close to the [Kettle] Falls.
"The situation of Colville has been extolled by many as a delightful spot; there is a small luxuriant vale of some acres in extent, where the fort is to be built, under the brow of a woody height; this is so far pleasant enough, but in every other respect the prospect on all sides is limited.
"The place is secluded and gloomy; unless the unceasing noise of the Falls in front, and a country skirted on the opposite side of the river with barren and sterile rocks and impenetrable forests in the rear, can compensate for the want of variety in other respects.
"If so, the place may, indeed, be called delightful: otherwise, there are very few places in this part of the country less attractive or more wild."

You will notice the American spelling of Colville here; the author of the article from which I am quoting this information was an American and the spelling might have been his, or it might have come from Alexander Ross himself.
Actually the fort was named for one of the London directors of the company, and would have been spelled 'Colvile.'
The new fort did not get constructed immediately, but James Birnie who was then in charge of Spokane House, planted the first crop of potatoes the same year the fort was supposed to be constructed.
James Birnie would become Alexander Caulfield Anderson's father-in-law, but at this time, Anderson's future wife was a toddler.

"This fort is to be situated in a little nick just above the falls on the south side of the River," John Work wrote in his journal when he received instructions to build the fort.
"This little nick or valley is of a horse shoe form, about 2 miles along the River side and about 2 1/2 or three miles in depth surrounded by steep hills on both sides, a ridge of hills run along the opposite side of the river.
"The Fort is to be situated on a sandy ridge about 600 yards from the river side."
The rounded hills behind the fort was part of the Selkirk range of mountains, and those across the river the Monashee.
But Archibald McDonald, in charge of the place for many years, called the fort an "obscure hole west side of the Rocky Mountains."
Others had a different opinion.
Lieutenant Johnson, of the Wilkes expedition, described the place: "The whole of the northern posts depend upon Colvile for supplies and provisions," and he declared it "superior, for the purposes of cultivation, to any other spot on the upper waters of the Columbia."
When the missionaries Walker and Eels arrived at the place, Walker wrote in his diary that the sight of Colvile with "fields well fenced, large stacks of all kinds of grain, cattle and hogs in large droves ... was a feast to my eyes."
Mary Walker described the fort in a letter to her family: "Majestic craggy mountains of granite covered with yellow pine & at this season of the year capped with snow present themselves on either hand.
"The site of Colvile is pleasing & romantic ... I never was in a place I liked the looks of better. The fort is large and more elegantly constructed than any I have before seen."
George T. Allan described Fort Colvile as a "neat and compact little establishment, and nothing I have yet seen in the Indian country can equal the beauty of its situation."
George Simpson, when he revisited the fort in the early 1840's, also enjoyed the view.
"On reaching the summit of a hill, we obtained a fine view of the pretty little valley in which Colvile is situated.
"In a prairie of three or four miles in length, with the Columbia River at one end, and a small lake in the centre, we decried the now novel scene of a large farm, barns, stables, &c., fields of wheat under the hand of the reaper, maize, potatoes, &c., &c., and herds of cattle grazing at will beyond the fences."

It is hard for us to imagine the discomfort and inconvenience that these fur traders lived in.
The gentlemen in charge of these forts had little privacy, and they never had their own separate house.
At Fort Nisqually Anderson and his family shared their house with Captain William McNeill's family, and the Captain resided in the same house when his ship, the steamer Beaver, was at Fort Nisqually.
I believe at Fraser's Lake Anderson had his own residence, but at Fort Alexandria his private residence consisted of a room built on to the gentleman's house.
The gentlemen's house itself was often shared with the missionaries or with other fur traders, so while the bedroom might have been private, the living quarters were not.
I have a description of the Fort Colvile's gentleman's house, and it is not a place that I would like to live in.
However, we must also remember that the description comes from a British naturalist who wandered the wilderness of the Columbia district for a few years.
His name was John K. Lord, and he later authored a book titled "At Home in the Wilderness: What to Do There and How to Do it," [London, 1876].
He describes the gentleman's house a few years after Anderson left Fort Colvile, and the character he describes is probably Angus McDonald, a man who was happiest when he lived in a leather tent somewhere in the wilderness.

"I shall select for description Fort Colville, which is situate on the banks of the Upper Columbia, about 1,000 miles from the seaboard.
"This quaint old place, one of the Company's earliest trading stations west of the Rocky Mountains, is worthy of a passing description as affording a good example of the fur-trader's 'Home in the Wilderness.'
"The trader's house is quadrangular in shape, and built of heavy trees squared and piled one upon another...
"The visitor, on entering the somewhat ponderous portals of this primitive mansion, finds himself in a large room dimly lighted by two small windows, the furniture of which, designed more for use than ornament, consists of a few rough chairs and a large deal table, the latter occupying the centre of the room.
"Looking beneath this table one cannot fail to notice an immense padlock, which evidently fastens a trap-door, and if you happen to be a guest of the chief trader (and here I must add as the result of long experience that the Hudson's Bay Company's traders are the most hospitable kind-hearted fellows I ever met with), the probabilities are greatly in favour of your discovering the secret of the trap-door, very soon after you enter the room.
"The table pushed back, the trap-door is unfastened, and the trader descends into a dark mysterious-looking cave, soon however to emerge with a jug of rum, or something equally toothsome.
"Now, if you are of an inquisitive turn of mind, you may find out that in this underground strong-room, all valuables are deposited and secured.
"This room, beneath which the cavern has been excavated, has some person to occupy it night and day, and the chief trader sleeps in it; hence it is next to impossible that the savages could steal anything unless they forcibly sacked and pillaged the establishment.
"An immense hearth-fire, both warms and lights this dreary sitting-room, for at least eight months of the year."

I know that when Anderson arrived at Fort Colvile there were no pickets surrounding it.
Because of the Cayuse war south of Fort Colvile he immediately ordered the construction of a palisade around the fort.
But this is how Lord describes the grounds behind the gentleman's house a few years later:
"Behind the dwelling is a large court enclosed by tall pickets, composed of trees sunk in the ground side by side, (the house itself was I believe once picketed in, but the Indians proved so friendly that any protection of that description was deemed unnecessary).
"In this court, all the furs traded at the fort, are baled for conveyance by the Brigade to Fort Hope.
"The trading shop, and store of goods employed in bartering with the savages, adjoins the trader's house, although not actually a part of it; and the fur-trader stands therein behind a high counter, to make his bargains.
"The Indians have a curious custom in their barterings, which is, to demand payment for each skin separately, and if a savage had fifty marten skins to dispose of, he would only sell or barter one at a time, and insist on being paid for them one by one.
"Hence it often occupies the trader many days to purchase a large bale of peltries from an Indian trapper."

Later in the same article, Lord has a further description of some of the fur trade posts -- and it appears to be true of Fort Colvile, too.
"In many of the Posts the trade room is cleverly contrived, so as to prevent a sudden rush of Indians, the approach from outside the pickets being through a long narrow passage, only of sufficient width to admit one Indian at a time, the passage being bent at an acute angle near the window, where the trader stands.
"This precaution is rendered necessary, inasmuch as were the passage straight, the savages might easily shoot him.
"Where the savages are hostile, at the four angles of the court bastions are placed, octagonal in shape, and pierced with embrasures, to lead the Indians to believe in the existence of cannon, intended to strike terror into all red-skinned rebels daring to dispute the supremacy of the Company.
"Over the fur shop are large lofts for storing and drying the furs in as they are collected.
"Beyond this a smith's shop, a few small log shanties, and an immense 'corral,' for keeping the horses in, whilst fitting out the 'brigade,' make up all that is noteworthy as far as the buildings are concerned at Fort Colvile.
"The regular staff stationed at this Post, consists of the chief trader, a clerk, and about four half breeds, the remainder of the hands needed are selected from the Indians.
"The houses are by no means uncomfortable, and I can truthfully say, many of the happiest evenings of my life, have been passed in the 'big room' at Fort Colvile."

Because most of Anderson's later writings were to encourage immigration into British Columbia, he never wrote a good description of Fort Colvile.
But his son, James Robert Anderson, did.
James was ten to twelve years old, and though he wrote his memoirs many years after he left the fort, his memories of Fort Colvile remained clear and sharp.
"Fort Colvile was a pleasant post, the country in the vicinity was clear of timber up to the foot-hills one or two miles distant.
"The fort was situated about a mile from the Columbia River on the left hand bank and about the same distance from the Roman Catholic mission down the river, presided over by Pere de Vos, a Jesuit priest.
"Quite near the mission which was situated on higher ground than the Fort, were the Kettle or Chaudiere Falls which stretch clean across the Columbia.
"Here the Indians used to congregate when the salmon were running.
"The manner of capturing the fish was accomplished in two ways -- one was by baskets, so called, made of withes some ten feet long, closed at the sides and lower end.
"This was suspended so that the upper end touched the water of the falls, the other end being lower.
"The salmon, in attempting to leap the falls, often missed and fell struggling into the basket when he was hooked out.
"The other way was by spearing the salmon whilst in mid air, from a frail looking staging sticking out over the seething torrents, a most exciting pursuit."

There is a little more that might be of interest to local historians, though this salt lick, like the fort itself, must now be buried under the waters of the Columbia River:
"Between the Fort at Colvile and the foot-hills was a salt lick which the horses and cattle in the vicinity frequented and in the course of time quite extensive excavations were made.
"These salt licks occur in various parts of the country and are frequented not only by domestic animals but by wild beasts of various kinds."

Actually, I cannot say that Anderson never left behind a good description of Fort Colvile.
He listed the buildings that existed at Fort Colvile when he left it for the last time in 1852:
1 range of stores, 60 x 25 feet (stores is probably store-houses)
1 range ditto, 50 x 21 feet
1 store, unfinished, 40 x 22 feet
1 dwelling house, 50 x 24 feet
1 dwelling house, 24 x 18 feet
1 range of officers'houses, 60 x 18 feet
1 range of men's ditto, 50 x 18 feet
1 house, Indian hall, 16 x 16 feet
1 kitchen, 27 x 16 feet
1 blacksmith's shop, 17 x 13 feet
1 carpenter's shop, 30 x 17 feet
1 meat house & ice cellar, 20 x 16 feet
1 bake house & oven, 15 x 15 feet
1 poultry house, 20 x 13 feet
1 pigeon house, 9 x 9 feet
1 root house, 40 x 20 feet
pigs' houses, 60 x 15 feet
1 stable, 17 x 13 feet
1 barn, 50 x 15 feet
2 byres, each 65 x 20 feet
horse yard, six feet high, solid logs, 127 x 87 feet
barn yard, 81 x 60 feet
cattle yard, 84 x 33 feet
1 bastion, 12 x 12 feet
stockades, 208 feet square, 14 feet high (so when Anderson left the fort, the stockades existed)
18 M. fence poles
340 acres cultivated land
one flour mill complete with one pair of stones and bolting machine, 30 x 20 feet.

Farm at White Mud (a few miles behind the fort, but part of it):
1 dwelling house, 16 x 16 feet
1 barn, 30 x 20 feet
1 stable, 20 x 15 feet
1 pig house, 8 x 8 feet
1 1/2 m. fence poles
30 acres cultivated land.
The listing of the buildings and improvements at Fort Colvile was for the settlement of the Oregon Boundary Question, of course, and was presented to show the value of Fort Colvile to the Americans who were claiming ownership of it.
And you will notice the flour mill -- this is the third flour mill that Anderson had some connection with, and the second flour mill he was responsible for the construction of.
The first mill he constructed was at Fort Alexandria.
I know that a mill existed on his arrival at Fort Colvile; I know he built this second mill; and I know there are photographs of a little mill which do not match the description of this mill.
Were there two mills at Fort Colvile, or three?
Maybe I will have to research this question, and tell you the answer.

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