How interesting to find that potatoes, once again, plays an important role in this section of the journal.
The potato story goes back to the Northwesters and their habit of importing expensive provisions into the territory to feed their men, rather than growing their own food.
In 1821, the HBC took over the NWC posts, and Governor George Simpson, who toured the district a few years later, ordered that the forts west of the Rocky Mountains get used to growing more of their own food.
He also ordered that Spokane House be closed down and Fort Colvile be constructed near Kettle Falls, on the Columbia River, where there was more good farmland than could be found in the district around Spokane House.
Chief Factor John McLoughlin placed James Birnie in charge of Spokane House in summer 1825, and instructed him to plant the first crop of potatoes on the plains that surrounded the place where John Work was to begin construction of Fort Colvile later that year.
The first building built at Fort Colvile was the shed that was to hold the harvest of potatoes planted by my great-great-grandfather James Birnie.
John Work did not begin construction on the new post until the following summer.
York Factory Express Journal, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
March, Tuesday 17th. The accounts being completed for YF [York Factory] as far as circumstances permit Express Boat manned by 7 men under charge of Mr. E. Ermatinger leaves Fort Colvile in the evening. D[avid] Douglas, Esq, Passenger. Encamp a mile from the Fort. Perrault found himself too unwell to go out as intended, therefore Moche Otoctavin takes his place as Bowswain.
Wednesday 18th. Light snow this morning fine weather afterwards. Proceed on our journey at 1/2 pas 5am. Reach the head of the Dalles by 3pm. [this is the little Dalles near Northport, WA]. Experienced very little difficulty in ascending them. Only required to haul up with the line at two of the strongest points. An Indian overtakes us on foot with a letter from Fort Colvile. Encamp at 1/2 past 6, 8 miles above the Dalles.
19th. We had a fall of snow last night fine weather today. Continue our journey at 1/4 before 5. Pole and paddle all day. Use the line only 3 times. Encamp a short distance below McGillivray's River [Kootenay River]. Country very mountainous and many hills covered apparently with perpetual snow.
20th. Hard frost in the morning day fine. Proceed at 5am. Ascend several Rapids. Enter the first Lake [Lower Arrow Lake] at 8 o'clock and take breakfast. Afterwards hoist sail with a light breeze. Continue sailing all day and encamp at the end of the Lake at 7pm. An Indian comes to our camp with a few fish [Suckers and Tidubee or whitefish] and a small piece of cabris[?] which we exchange for a piece of dried meat.
21st, Saturday. Fine weather, but wind strong ahead. Embark at 5am. Pass the narrows and continue up the River to the entrance of the 2nd lake [Upper Arrow Lake] where we encamp at 7am. Our track this day, with the exception of a short narrow of Lakes generally not more than 1 mile wide. Passed several camps of Indians in course of the day and traded 7 pairs of Pas d'ours [snowshoes] for our journey across the mountains, gave for them 2 scalpers, 13 ball and powders, and some dried salmon. Country still mountainous and covered with snow on the hills.
Sunday 22nd. Fine weather. Start at 4am. Paddle thro' the 2nd Lake. Re-enter the river at 4pm. Find Indians encamped here. Trade from them a little bears meat and a pair of snow shoes for ammunition and tobacco. Proceed up the River 6 or 7 miles and encamp 1/2 past 6.
23rd. Fine weather. Resume our journey at 1/4 past 4am. Find the River till toward evening very good and the current slack. We then enter a narrow, banked on each side by rugged rocks, and ascend a succession of strong rapids at the head of one of which we encamp, having before us a short piece of smooth current, 7pm. The banks of the river nearly the whole way we came to day are still covered with deep snow as well as the woods. In the morning we saw a[n] Indian woman and children from whom we traded about 40 Tidubee [a small species of white fish] and suckers for a little amm. and dried salmon.
Tuesday 24th. Toward evening commences raining and continues all night. Proceed at 5am. The part of the River we have this day passed is full of Rapids and strong current with occasional pieces of smooth current. In mounting the Rapids we sometimes used the Line but more frequently the poles. Encamp at 1/4 past 7pm. Saw a beaver to day, but our gun being out of order he escaped.
Wednesday, 25th. Thick fog in the morning, fine day. Start at 1/4 past 5am. Course of the river very rapid. Take breakfast at the foot of the Rapid below the Dalles des Morts. Carry all our baggage at the lower brink of the Dalles, haul up our boat safe, tho' it is rather a dangerous place clear the Dalles about noon. While here endeavored to procure a piece of Rock Crystal, according to Dr. McLoughlin's instructions, but not knowing the exact spot where it is said to be were unable to find any. Probably the great quantity of snow on many parts of the banks of the River concealed it from our view. River becomes more rapidous as we ascend. Encamp about 7 or 8 miles above Dalles des Morts at 1/2 past 7pm.
Thursday 26th. Fine weather. Proceed at 5am. Ascend many rapids. Breakfast above the Rapids Croches. Afterwards less frequent. Pass several pieces of smooth current. Country very mountainous, snow deep. Encamp at the head of a small rapid at 1/2 past 7pm.
Friday 27th. Sharp frost in the morning, fine day. Proceed at 1/4 before 5am. and arrive at the Boat Encampment (the most northernly part of the Columbia River) between 11 and 12 o'clock. The most part of the distance we made up the river this day the current was strong but smooth with several steep Rapids. The remainder of the day we occupied in preparing our baggage for the journey across the mountains. The paper trunk (which is very heavy, say upwards of 70 lbs.) is to be carried by 3 men alternately together with their prov[ision]s and private baggage. Our other baggage is divided among the remaining four men.
Owing to the liberality of the gentlemen by whose posts we passed along the communication we were enabled nearly every night since we left Fort Vancouver to treat ourselves with potatoes at supper and finished the remains of our stock from Fort Colvile to day, probably the first ever eaten at this place. Fruits of attention to gardening.
Express Journal, Spring, 1828, by Edward Ermatinger:
April 20th. This evening the business at this place being done the Express Boats take their departure manned by 14 men and having the following passengers:
J[ohn] W[arren] Dease and J. McGillivray, Esq., Messrs. A. McDonald and Ermatinger, J. Rundal and 2 boys. Encamp at the Point above the Fort.
Monday, 21st. Fine weather -- morning sharp. Start at 6am. Stiff poling all day. Encamp at 7pm. above Riviere a mouton blanc. Passed the Little Dalles by 1/2 past 3pm.
22nd. Fine warm weather. Started at 1/2 past 4am. Continue poling all [day] and encamp below McGillivray's River at 1/2 past 6. Both Boats are gummed having become very leaky.
23rd. Fine weather. Embark at 1/2 past 4 o'clock. Enter the 1st lake between 7 and 8 am. Continued paddling all day and encamp at 7pm. near the end of the Lake. Trade a pair of snow shoes and a small piece dried meat from an Indian.
24th. Fine weather. Start at 4 am. having got thro' the first Lake we proceed up the Narrows and encamp at the end of the 2nd lake at 7pm.
25th. Fine weather. Resume at 1/2 past 4am. and paddle thro' the Lake by 3pm. See Indians and trade 3 pairs snow shoes. Continue up the River till past 7 o'clock and encamp about an hour's march above our last's encampment.
26th. Fine weather. Embark at 1/2 past 4am. Very little ice and snow on the banks of the River. Encamp at 7pm. beyond our last year's encampment, an hour's march.
Sunday, 27th. Fine weather. Embark at 4 o'clock and proceed till 7 and encamp on a Sandy Point a short distance below the Dalles des Morts.
28th. Light rain in the evening. Start at 4am. Get up the Dalles des Morts, take breakfast and gum our boats by 12 o'clock -- use the line often. Rapids very strong and frequent. Encamp at 7pm.
29th. Rain in the evening. Embark at 4am. and encamp at 7.
30th. Rain all the forenoon. Start at 1/4 past 4am. Arrive at the Boat Encampment at 1/2 past 10. Occupy the remainder of the day packing and preparing the loads.
James Douglas, Diary of a Journey from Fort Vancouver in 1835:
Saturday 4th, April. Rainy wet morning and the atmosphere so overcharged with vapours as to leave no room for any hopes of a speedy change. Notwithstanding the unfavorable state of the weather we determined to leave Colvile, as we cannot consistently with our instructions postpone our departure another minute. All the necessary arrangements being completed we recommenced our journey precisely at nine o'clock am, with two boats in which are embarked 4 passengers and 23 working men. The banks of the river on both sides rise in some places quite abruptly, on others by successive stages as it were, that is a steep ascent succeeded by steep[sic] horizontal surface leading to the next ascent, and so on to their greatest elevation varying from 2 to 300 feet above the level of the River. These hills are at no distance and confine the view to the course of the River, a circumstance which with their general sterile and rugged aspect gives a disagreeable appearance to the whole scenery. Some of the lower projecting points have a pretty effect, but assuredly owe most of their attraction to the strong contrast offered by their rugged neighbours. The tree mostly commonly met with here is the Pin Rouge which grows generally over the whole face of the country. Encamped 5 miles below the Mountain Goat River.
Sun. 5 April. A fine clear morning. Continued our route at 5 o'clock, at 6 1/2 past the Mouton Blanc River, at 11 the Flat Head River, and at 6:30 pm. we encamped at the river des eiore. The country we have passed today is much of the same description as that of yesterday.
Mon. 6. At 5 o'clock this morning we were once more on the move, a thick dense fog which did not disperse until we nearly reached McGillivray's River rendered all the surrounding objects quite indistinct. McGillivray's or Coutonais River is about 100 yards at its mouth, and derives its water from the Rocky Mountains. The Coutonais Post is built upon this river, the journey to which occupies about 22 days by water. At this place found a camp of Indians belonging to the little Chief's Band. Entered the Lake at 11 o'clock and encamped on a pretty gravelly point which may be considered half its length. High, snow covered hills on both sides.
Tues. 7th April. At four o'clock proceeded on our journey and we arrived at the upper end of the Lake at 11 o'clock including one hour's detention for breakfast. Encamped at the entrance of the 2nd Lake. Passed a few Indians during the day. 13 hours, lake; 8 hours, Narrows; 10 1/2 hours 2nd Lake.
Wed. 8. Encamped at Chutes au Bovil.
Thurs. 9. A few miles above the Lower Dalles. The Grand Bature [gravel bar] is a few points below the Dalles.
Fri. 10. Left our encampment at our usual hour half past four, and proceeded onwards very slowly owing to a succession of strong points and rapids where the pole or the line were constantly required. In the afternoon we overtook a canoe wherein were five Indians with a Canadian engage named Brissett and family, who had been sent off from Fort Colvile by Mr. [Francis] Heron [C.F., Fort Colvile] previous to my arrival there. This man's intention is to cross the mountains and it seems that Mr. Heron had pledged himself that he should be permitted to do so by the present opportunity. On his mentioning that the Indians are unwilling to proceed Mr. H. proposed that himself and family should be embarked in one of the boats. I felt the impropriety of complying with this proposal; but not being fully authorized to act, and Mr. H. being my senior and superior in rank, out of delicacy to him I assented and the man & family were accordingly permitted to embark. Called on Mr. Heron this evening and mentioned Dr. McLoughlin's orders against the embarkation of families in the Express Boats; I at the same time explained the motives which induced me to comply with his wishes, and I requested him to state explicitly whether in the event of my being called to account for this disregard of orders he was willing to bear the whole responsibility. He replied that in every case he would stand between me & the consequences.
Sat. April 11th. Clear, cold night. Reached the Dalles des Morts at 8 o'clock, and at 7pm. encamped at St. Martins Rapid.
Sunday 12. Encamped 10 miles below the Boat Encampment.
Mond. 13. First Point Woods.
A note here: According to Bruce Watson's "Lives Lived," David Thompson's Joseph St. Martin drowned September 1825 at an unknown location. I wonder if his deathplace was at the St. Martins Rapids; hence its name in James Douglas' journals?
Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring, 1847, Thomas Lowe:
April, Thursday 22nd -- Beautiful weather. Started from Colvile with the two Boats about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and reached Dease's encampment 6 miles from the Fort. Mr. Burke & myself are the only passengers.
Friday 23rd April -- Fine weather. Made a good days work pulling against a light head wind. Passed the Little Dalles about 2pm. and encamped a miles [sic] below the Pend Oreilles River.
Saturday 24th -- Cloudy, threatening weather, but only a few drops of rain. Two or three peals of thunder in the afternoon. Wind still ahead, although light. Camped 2 miles above the Kootenie River.
Sunday 25th -- Fine day. Came to the first Lake before breakfast and camped in the evening nearly at the upper end of it. Strong head wind all day.
Monday 26th -- Started this morning at 2 o'clock, and had a strong favorable breeze for about 2 hours, after which it lulled, and were light and contrary the rest of the day. Fine pleasant weather. Camped late, about ten miles from the end of the upper Lake. Slept in the boats.
Tuesday 27th -- Fine weather. Breakfasted at the end of the upper lake, and camped a little below the Grand Batture.
Wednesday28th -- Breakfasted at the foot of the 2nd Little Dalles and had very hard work all day against rapids and strong currents. Rained in the afternoon & evening. Camped about 15 miles above the 3rd Little Dalles.
Thursday 29th -- Showery. Got up to the Dalles de Mort, made a portage of the pieces, and hauled the boats up with the line. Camped at the head of the dalles, made a fire on the rocks & slept in the boats.
Friday 30th -- Light showers. Camped about 2 miles above the River of St. Martin, on the snow.
Saturday 1st May, 1847 -- Fine weather. Got up to within 5 miles of the Boat Encampment.
Sunday 2nd -- Reached the Boat Encampment at 6 o'clock in the morning, and got the boat which is to be left hauled up, and secured alongside another which we found there. Set the people to cook provisions to take them across the mountains and got the loads arranged. Took 4 men from the boats to assist to carry until we meet the horses, and hired to Indians we found here to assist us also in carrying. One of the men who was to go out (Abraham Charbonneau) had to be left behind, being unable to walk...
Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
April, 24th Monday -- very cloudy, but no rain. Started from Colvile about 1 o'clock pm. with two boats for the Mountains. Five men from the Interior go out with us, but we had to leave two of the men here whom we brought from Vancouver, Ignace Tagoganeuras & Murdock McLeod, who are both sick and unable to cross the Mountains at present. They are to go across with Mr. [John Lee] Lewes in the Autumn, also Mrs. [Francis] Ermatinger & daughter who are likewise to pass the summer at Colvile. Mr. [Henry] Peers remains here with 7 of the Vancouver men to take out the Colvile Returns to Langley. In their stead we have embarked 5 Indians who are to return from the Boat Encampment with Joe Onowano and Louis Awetaronguash. Chief Trader Paul Fraser and one of his sons joined us here. He is going to Canada on furlough. Had a sail wind for some distance and made good progress.
April 25th Tuesday -- Warm. Breakfasted at the foot of the Little Dalles, and encamped about ten miles above the Pends d'Oreilles River.
Wednesday 26th -- Exceedingly warm, and last night the river rose about a foot. Sailed for a short time in the afternoon. When we got to the Lower Lake had a light favorable breeze and encamped about 15 miles from its entrance.
Thursday 27th -- Warm. Had a light fair wind for about 2 hours in the forenoon, after which it turned ahead, and kept so for the rest of the day. Encamped at the end of the first Lake.
Friday 28th -- Warm weather. Breakfasted near the end of the River between the Lakes. Had a head wind in the upper Lake, but pulled to within 10 miles of the end of it, and camped.
Saturday 29th -- Fine day. Breakfasted at the end of the upper Lake, and got a good distance up the River.
Sunday 30th -- Cloudy. Breakfasted at the foot of the Little Dalles, and had hard work with.....
Monday May 1st -- Cloudy through the day, and rained in the evening. Encamped on the snow at the head of the Dalles des Morts.
Tuesday 2nd -- Raining most of the day. Breakfasted a little above McKenzie's encampment. Got up to the foot of St. Martins Rapid, and encamped on the snow.
Wednesday 3rd -- Rained last night, and as the weather was mild the river rose considerably. Rainy unpleasant weather. Got up to within 10 miles of the Boat Encampment.
Thursday 4th -- Cloudy, but no rain. Reached the Boat Encampment about 8 o'clock this morning, where we found Capot Blanc with two lodges of Indians. Got one of our boats hauled up to be left here until the Autumn. Gave the men their loads & provisions, and started about 2pm.....
Journal of the Columbia Express Party, 1849, by John Charles:
April, 23rd, Monday. Left Fort Colvile for the Boat Encampment about 5pm. with two boats laden with provisions and men's property. We encamped at a small distance below Dease encampment. Cloudy weather.
24th, Tuesday. Encamped about ten miles above the "Riviere de Mouton Blanc." Experienced a very heavy shower of rain towards night.
25th, Wednesday. Had a shower of rain in the morning. At breakfast the sky cleared up and the sun shone brilliantly.Traded a beaver from an Indian. About 1 pm. we put ashore at some Indian lodges, encamped on the beach where we were informed that the lakes were still frozen over.
26th, Thursday. Reached the first lake, but encountered no ice. Encamped at sundown.
27th, Friday. Fine weather. Encamped at the end of the first lake.
28th, Saturday. Entered the second lake. Camped at sunset.
29th, Sunday. Blowing furiously all of last night and this morning. Breakfasted at the end of the Grand Lac and camped a little after Sundown. Traded some meat from an Indian in the evening.
30th, Monday. Passed the small Dalles an hour after breakfast. Tracking and poling up the Rapids almost all day. Cloudy weather. Great quantities of snow and ice along the shore.
May 1st, Tuesday. Raining almost all day. Camped at the lower end of the "Mauvaise Rapide".
2nd, Wednesday. After getting safely over the "Bad Rapid" we breakfasted. Camped at the foot of St. Martin Rapide. Beautiful weather.
3rd, Thursday. Fine weather. Camped in sight of the Rocky Mountains.
4th, Friday. Arrived at the Boat Encampment at 8am. Had one of the boats taken up the bank above high water mark. Having taken breakfast and arranged everything requisite for our trip across the mountains we commenced our march.....
Sadly, today the Boat Encampment is buried under Kinbasket Lake.
Unlike the American Columbia River, the Canadian part of the river has been little affected by the massive power projects along it route.
But the water is a little higher everywhere, and so the Columbia today is not identical to what the fur traders might have seen years ago.
It is likely that the "Mauvais Rapide," of John Charles, or the Dalles des Morts of all the other journal keepers is similar but not identical to what it used to be.
But it still exists.
Today it is called Death Rapids.
The "Rapids of Death" had been given its name in 1817 when seven North West company men came shore at its northern end, and allowed their laden canoe to be taken through the rapids on the end of a line.
The line snapped and the canoe broke to pieces in the rapids and their supplies were lost, and one by one the men starved to death in the wilderness.
There were other serious accidents in these rapids and in those that were downriver, too.
Here is a story that began at Death Rapids, and ended in another set of rapids to the south.
From the book, "John Tod: Rebel in the Ranks," by Robert C. Belyk [Horsdal & Schubart, 1995] we have the story of the incoming express of 1838, when Kamloops' John Tod was in charge:
Remember -- this is the story of an incoming express and they are travelling down the river, not up.
"Boat Encampment, as the spot was called, was where the [express] usually exchanged its horses for canoes to take it down the Columbia River, and as expected, Chief Trader Archie McDonald had sent two vessels up from Fort Colvile to assist in transport.
"However, with such a large party, the craft were entirely inadequate.
"Tod decided to split the brigade into three sections. [He went downriver in the first].
"The first part, made up mostly of the freight, was loaded into the large boat and sent on with its crew directly to Colvile, almost 200 miles down river.
"The smaller craft, carrying freight as well as a complement of voyageurs, the two missionaries and a clerk, young John McLoughlin... was sent as far as Maison des Lacs, a new outpost the Company was establishing on the Upper Arrow Lake, about 125 miles downstream.
"There the voyageurs were to discharge their passengers and freight and return to the Boat Encampment where they would pick up the third section of the brigade and continue on to Fort Colvile.
"The plan had not been well thought out, for to remove everyone from Boat Encampment, the smaller craft had to be grossly overloaded...
"On 16 October, two days after leaving Boat Encampment, the second craft, containing McLoughlin and the two priests, reached Maison des Lacs.
"The voyageurs quickly unloaded the cargo and set off again upriver....
"On 20 October the boat with guide Andre Chilifour [Chalifoux] in charge completed its return upstream to the mouth of the Canoe River.
"To accommodate everyone remaining at Boat Encampment, 26 people had to be crammed on board.
"The journey went without incident until the boat reached the first major rapids along this section of the Columbia, known as the infamous "Dalles des Morts," a stretch of white water that narrowed to no more than 60 feet across....
"For safety, Chilifour sent the passengers and some of the cargo ashore to be portaged around the rapids.
"The unaccompanied craft was sent through the rapids.
"Even in this lightened condition, the boat was damaged in the current and almost swamped.
"It was retrieved and the water emptied out, but the cargo that had been left on board was soaked and now weighed much more.
"With everyone again on board, the gunwales were hardly above the surface of the water.
"After what they had witnessed at the Dalles des Morts the passengers remained apprehensive; however, there was little choice but to go on.
"They had travelled less than 50 miles when another stretch of churning water came into view.
"Compared with the last obstacle, Little Dalles should have been only a minor difficulty, but the sign of their boat being almost destroyed at Dalles des Morts had unnerved many of the passengers.
"As the vessel neared the rocks that broke the surface of the water, waves began splashing over the sides of the boat.
"There was still time to consider making for shore, but Chilifour, faced with unloading the boat again, chose instead to head into the current.
"This was a costly mistake for some of the passengers were so frightened that they began standing up, which threatened to capsize the boat.
"Chilifour restored order just as the craft shot through the most dangerous stretch of white water.
"Before the vessel had reached safety, however, the botanist Wallace stood up and stripped off his coat.
"Panicked, he intended to swim for shore, which now seemed deceptively close.
"Taking up his young wife in his arms he jumped overboard.
"The sudden shift of weight caused the boat to overturn, throwing everyone into the cold Columbia waters.
"The death toll was high.
"Twelve people -- almost half the passengers and crew on board -- drowned.
"The victims included Wallace and his wife, Maria, the second botanist, Banks, and nine other men, women and children.
"For the shocked survivors, there was little that could be done but to haul the boat on shore and begin a search for their missing companions.
"The Columbia, though, was reluctant to give up its dead.
"Only the bodies of three children were ever recovered -- nine others were never found....."