There are some good stories in this section of the Saskatchewan Brigades and Columbia Expresses:
I should probably mention now that the RN that appears after Aemilius Simpson's name referred to his career in the Royal Navy, before he entered George Simpson's fur trade.
When he took this cross country journey, he was still a Royal Navy officer on half-pay, heading to the Columbia to command one of the HBC ships there.
Aemelius Simpson was born July 17, 1792, in Dingwall, Scotland, and his mother died shortly after his birth.
Aemelius' schoolteacher father then married Mary Simpson -- aunt of the future Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, George Simpson.
As children George and Aemelius knew each other well and were students at the same Dingwall school.
But their future courses took different routes: George went into business in London, and Aemelius entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1806, when he was only thirteen years old.
Aemelius's service covered the last nine years of the Napoleonic Wars; he later served in the Channel Fleet, the West Indies, Ireland, the Mediterranean and the East Indies.
In 1815 he made lieutenant, but in the same year the Navy was reduced and he went onto half-pay.
Ten years later, his cousin George Simpson arranged that Aemelius be appointed hydrographer and surveyor for the Hudson's Bay Company.
Aemelius actually did some surveying work in Red River before he was sent west to captain the HBC ship Cadboro.
This information comes from an article I discovered online, on The Free Library site at www.thefreelibrary.com -- the article itself was written by Larry Green and published in Alberta History, June 22, 2000.
Larry Green writes that: "Neither the journal nor its author are widely known, and very few fur trade historians have used the manuscript in their researches and studies.
"The reasons for the lack of recognition might lie in the fact that when he wrote the journal he had no experience in the fur trade; he was a Royal Navy officer on half-pay travelling as a passenger with a Hudson's Bay Company brigade.
"He was a novice who lacked the authoritative voice of someone who had spent half his life bartering for animal pelts, managing recalcitrant voyageurs, pacifying hostile Indians, and confronting the multitude of other dangers that were the fabric of life in the North-West in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"Nor was he among the ranks of explorers and adventurers who became the icons of the first centuries of European encroachment into North America.
"But the journal is valuable because of the unique insight it gives of the excitement, pleasures, and trials of transcontinental travel -- seen through the eyes of a newcomer -- at a time when a day's progress depended on the brawn of horses and men and the vagaries of wind and water."
Aemelius Simpson recorded what he experienced as a newcomer -- he saw what we would see if we were ever fortunate enough -- and brave enough -- to experience this transcontinental crossing for ourselves.
Journal of a Voyage across the Continent of North America in 1826 by Aemilius Simpson, R.N:
Thursday 10th [August] Commenced close gloomy weather, with distant thunder, our arrangements being completed and having partook of an abundant breakfast with Mr. [James] Leith, we resumed our Journey at 11 am. and pursued our route by the [little] River to the West of Pine Island, in a winding course to the SE for 1 1/2 leagues. When we returned the main branch of the Saskatchewan and continued its ascent the course being particularly winding, some [times] turning to the north and south and occasionally to [east?] which is within light points of giving round the compass. At 3 we had a severe thunderstorm which continue for some hours. As we ascend the banks of the river become more elevated, but are still too muddy to afford an encampment. The trees along the River are becoming larger; in some instances the Poplar have attained a considerable growth. Having come 25 1/2 miles by estimation [by a] very winding direction we put up for the night at 8 pm and slept in our boats.
Friday 11th. Showers [ahead] with strong breezes from the S.W. which combine with the current against us, retards our progress very much, not averaging a greater rate than about 2 miles per hour. As we ascend the banks gradually increase their elevation and are becoming drier. The trees are more varied, numerous and of a better growth, our track generally has been less winding than yesterday, averaging a SW direction. We pass thru channels formed by Islands, lying in the bed of the river, which appear to owe their origins to drift wood covered with muddy deposits. In the evening the wind abated [word] in clear weather, but myriads of moskitos infesting us. Having come a distance of 22 miles we encampt at 9 pm.
Saturday 12th. Fine weather, a breeze from the SW. At 3.30 am embarked and continued our ascent of the Saskatchewan, in a SW direction, but [wind] from the south and then again from the S.E. The country in [some] parts rising to hills and generally becoming more interesting, being [covered] with trees of a much larger growth, many of the pines and poplars having attained a great height. The banks continue muddy with a great quantity of iron oxide oozing through them, the waters of the river are quite turbid. As the banks attain height the current appears to gain additional force -- the greatest part of our journey today has been made by the tracking line, which did not average a greater distance than 2 1/2 miles per hour. We met a few Indians in a canoe in the afternoon, who supplied us with moose deer treats. Having come by estimation a distance of 26 miles we encampt at 8.30 pm.
Sunday 13th. Hot and sultry weather with moskitos in great numbers rendering the tracking very [hard] labour to our crews. We embarked at 3.15 am and pursued our route up the Saskatchewan in a very winding direction, between North and South to the West. The [word] of the country is becoming more [word] as we ascend, but the banks continue muddy. The forest is becoming extensive. The river is also extending in breadth, but our course in occasionally obstructed by islands -- we traveled 29 miles [mainly] by tracking, when we encampt at 8.30 pm.
Monday 14th. Hot and sultry weather, at 4 am we embarked and commenced the labours of the day by tracking along shore, averaging about 3 miles per hour. the banks now begin to rise in perpendicular cliffs of a muddy sand, to an elevation of from time to time hundred feet -- in other parts by gradual ascents form hills of as great a height, richly clothed with pines and poplars, with [covering] of shrubs, the [green] foliage affording a pleasing landscape, several of the shrubs affording an abundant supply of refreshing fruits to our crews of the service berry. The ridges of hills are composed generally of a firm yellow sand. Our course has been very winding between north & south to the west. We came an estimated distance of 30 miles, and encampt at 8 pm.
Tuesday 15th. The weather gloomy with a heavy dew, the moskitos very troublesome. At 4 am we proceeded on our journey, the muddy banks of the river affording a very bad path for our crews on the track line notwithstanding they passed at a good pace, making about 3 to 4 miles per hour and as they relieve each other hourly, the crews being divided into [two] parties, there is no interruption in our mode of travelling which prevents my taking observation as I could wish as the delay necessary for that purpose would throw me so much to the rear that I could not readily get up with the boats again.
Wednesday 16th. Fine weather, with great heat during the day. There now seems tracks [tracts] of clear country. At 5 pm we arrived at the Forks of the North and South branches of the Saskatchewan. We continued our ascent of the North Branch, here is now a very [sharp] diminuation in the depth of the river [and] we are constantly opposed by rapids formed by shallow ledges extending across the flow of the River, in hauling above one of these rapids Mr. Rowand's boat I think [struck] and go so much [damaged] that it was necessary to discharge her for the purpose of repairs, which made us encamp at 8 pm for the night.
Tracking these boats was hard and heavy work.
The Saskatchewan River is, of course, running towards Lake Winnipeg and against the voyageurs, who get out of the loaded boats and haul them up the river with ropes.
Sometimes the men are wading in the rivers, more often they are walking along the muddy or stony river banks; others would probably remain in the boats to keep them from being damaged by hitting the rocks in the river or on the river banks.
Some gentlemen might remain in the boats either as lazy passengers (adding to the work of the voyageurs)' most probably walked the river banks ahead of the hardworking express men.
As you see, some went exploring.
If you ever get to see the film, "The Return of the Far Fur Country," [not yet finished so don't look for it yet] you will see an excellent image of voyageurs and/or employees hauling a heavy barge up the Athabasca River.
This short image will show you how hard the work was!
For me, that was the most powerful image in the short piece of edited film I was allowed to see.
At the end of the above journey, the voyageurs and express men have reached the North Saskatchewan River.
I think this makes an excellent dividing point for this series of express journals.
Journal of a Voyage From York Factory to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
12th, Sunday [August] Overcast with rain. Some changes having been made in the Boats cargoes to embark the families of Messrs. [A. R.] McLeod and [James] McDougal we took our departure from the place at 8 am. The last boat arrived at the encampment at 10 pm.
13th. Overcast with rain. Embarked at 4 am having made some further alterations to equalize the Boats cargoes. Encamped at 1/2 past 8 pm.
14th. Showers of rain during the day. Started at 1/2 pas 4 am. Passed the River Cebanac about 10. Encamped at the head of Thoburn's Rapid at 8 pm.
15th. Slight rain. Wind ahead. Started at 4 am. At dusk having arrived at a very shoal part of the River we had much difficulty in passing it and only reached our encampment at 1/2 past 10 o'clock. Mr. [John] Rowand's boat having taken a different channel found it barred at the top and was obliged to remain there for the night.
16th. One shower of rain to-day -- part of the crews of the five Boats went at daylight to assist in extricating Mr. R's boat from its confined situation, which being effected we resumed our journey at 5 am. Encamped at 8 pm. (Dr. Todd stretched his legs in the Boat). La Rivie unwell, off duty.
17th. Rain afternoon. The dog Prince having strayed from the Boats yesterday, a man was dispatched in search of him this morning. Started at 1/4 past 4 am. Encamped at 1/2 past 8.
18th. Fine weather. Started at 1/2 past 4 am. At noon came to Point La Corne and breakfasted. Saw G. Sutherland, freeman, from whom traded a little dried meat &c. McKay and Guilbauche fought at the point above -- 2 rounds -- Guilbauche beaten. Encamped 2 points above Fort a Batosh. Man returned without the dog.
19th. Rained in the evening. Started at 1/2 past 4 am. Breakfast at 11 opposite the South Branch. Saw an Indian here from whom were traded 170 swans. Encamped at 8 o'clock below the 7th of the Cole's Rapids.
Journal of a Voyage from Norway House to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, 1831, by George Traill Allan:
(Again, there is nothing on this part of the river in his journal, but be patient!).
Diary of a Journey from Fort Vancouver in 1835, by James Douglas:
Monday, 17th August. Early this morning left Cumberland House, the entire party of nine boats being in company. Proceeded through the narrow channel leading from Cumberland Lake to the main river which is still very high and is in consequence full from bank to back. The water is so thick and muddy as to be scarcely fit for use. As we ascend, the banks are more elevated than in the lower parts and are covered with the aspen, poplar, and willows. I observed a red currant bush today. the oar was in constant use the whole day. Showers of rain.
Tues. 18th. Continued our journey early this morning and received during the day some trifling assistance from the sail. Country of the same description as yesterday. Encamped a few miles above Sturgeon River. A gentle northerly breeze induced our crews to extend the boat sails, but it proved of short duration, and (crossed off: allowed) afforded little relief to the harassed men. At 10 o'clock our tracking lines were put in requisition and were not withdrawn excepting for a very short distance until we had ascended Thoburn's Rapid when the oars were once more set in motion until our encampment a few miles farther on. On the opposite side of the river some Crees are encamped who brought us a little venison which they bartered for rum. From Cumberland House to the place where we commenced tracking today I did not observe a single stone, there however and along the rapid the beach is in most places covered with stones of different kinds. I notice one or two limestones, blue and grey granite, but the others are unknown to me. In a walk thro' the woods I found the common strong scented black currant, and another kind of black currant, with gooseberry leaf, wood covered with soft weak prickles; berry well flavoured & fursed [?] colour jet black. Banks covered with the willow, aspen, birch, poplar, and occasionally a few spruce.
Thurs. 20th. Pretty severe frost during the night, ice formed on the oars. Fine clear weather with oppresive [sic] heat during the day. Proceeded today at times with the oar, at others with the tracking lines. The country improved in appearance as we ascend, the banks being of greater elevation and are covered with tall and graceful poplars intermixed with birch, and the dark green foliage of the pine. Pass a number of islands. Some of them rather extensive formed by diverging branches of the river. Reached Pemican Point in the afternoon. Encamped a few miles above Rowand's portage.
Fri. 21st. Rather cold this morning. Left our camp about our usual hour half past 3. At 5 o'clock reached the tracking ground, and travelled with the line out all day.
Sat. 22nd. Slight rain during the night, and showers with intervals of sunshine during the day. In the evening very heavy rain. Broke one of our boats at Fort du Tremble and were detained one hours & a half in repairing it. encamped 8 miles blow Fort La Corne. Country densely wooded.
Sun. 23. Constant rain the whole night and during the early part of the day, it ceased in the afternoon & before sunset the sky was clear & unclouded. Passed Fort La Corne at 8 o'clock and 2 hours after Batoche's Fort, and encamped for the night 3 miles below Fort Maranquin.
Monday 24th. Passed the Bow River Forks [South Saskatchewan] early this morning where a small party of Carlton Crees who have fled from the storm of war are resident. It appears from their information that a war party of Blackfeet or Slave Indians have lately visited Carlton with the view of retaliating their spring disasters on the hostile Crees. Having encountered none of their actual or natural enemies to allay their savage rage and to quench their eager thirst of vengeance they directed a portion of their ill will against the Traders, and by way of compensation for other disappointments carried off Mr. Pruden's saddle horses after possessing themselves of the clothes and property of their guardians. No other violence seems to have been committed. Met with an hour'd detention in consequence of an accident happening to one of the boats in Cole's Rapids. Encamped at a place called the Women's Camp.
Did you notice that the voyageurs would not let John Rowand forget about the time, in 1837, when he took the wrong way up the river and got stalled by a sandbar?
If you have forgotten the story of "Rowand's Portage," then re-read Edward Ermatingers' journal above.
Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring 1847, by Thomas Lowe, in charge of party:
Tuesday 24th [August] Very cloudy, but not much rain. Started from the [Cumberland] Portage after breakfast, and made good progress afterwards.
Wednesday 25th. Cloudy weather, and raining occasionally. Pulling and tracking the whole day.
Thursday 26th. Very squally. Had a fine sail wind part of the day, and came a good distance.
Friday 27th. Rainy. Had a sail wind again today in come of the reaches, but as the current was strong, made but poor progress. Got over Colborne's Rapid.
Saturday 28th. Today we came to the tracking ground and the men were hauling the line all day.
Sunday 29th. All day on the line, and came a good distance. Squally and a little rain.
Monday 30th. Rainy and wind ahead Made nevertheless a good days work.
Tuesday 31st. Fine weather. Came to the commencement of Cole's Falls about noon [at this point they have passed the mouth of the South Saskatchewan River], and Messrs. O'Brien, Ross, McKenzie and myself then walked on to Campement des Femmes, where we passed the night, the brigade coming on more slowly.
Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with Express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
Thursday 17th [August] Very warm day, and no wind. This forenoon the Columbia boat struck a pointed stump under the water, and as the wood in that part of the boat was completely rotten, it made a considerable hole. As we struck very lightly, none of us took any notice of it, never supposing that it had done any damage, and we only found it out when the boat was half full of water, so that nearly all the bales got more or less wet, and everything else which could get injured by the water. We immediately had the boat unloaded and repaired, and Mr. Rowand's boat remained behind with us to have the bales opened the dried, the rest of the brigade going on. It was evening before we could start, but we carried on late.
Friday 18th. Exceedingly hot. Started very early, and before breakfast overtook the Brigade. After breakfast Mr. Rowand's boat started to go ahead, in order to reach Carlton before the Brigade. Encamped about two miles above Mosquito Point.
Saturday 19th. Sultry, and in the afternoon a thunder storm, with rain. Tracking most of the day. Reverend Colburne's Rapids in the afternoon, and encamped about 6 miles beyond.
Sunday 20th. Fine warm weather. Passed Point de T (on the right bank of the River) about noon. Tracking and pulling all day. Encamped about 5 miles below the regular tracking ground.
Monday 21st. Exceedingly warm. Came to the tracking ground early this morning, and kept at it the whole day afterwards, on the right bank. Encamped a short distance beyond Napaway Rapid.
Tuesday 22nd. Beautiful day. Tracked the whole day, and came a good distance.
Wednesday 23rd. Cloudy and squally, but no rain. Breakfasted at Fort de Corne, where there were several lodges of Indians, who traded a good quantity of dried meat with us. Tracking all day. In the evening one of the boats was slightly broken, and we lost upwards of an hour by it.
Thursday 24th. Weather overcast. Breakfasted at the foot of Cole's Rapids, and Mr. Beardmore & I afterwards walked up to Campement des Femmes, and as the Brigade did not come up, we slept out.
Journal of the Columbia Express Party, 1849, by John Charles:
23nd, 23rd, & 24th [August] the weather during these three days was variable. Met with several Indian canoes, which were laden with furs etc. and bound for Cumberland House. On the evening of the 24th we arrived at the tracking ground.
25th, 26th, 27th. Tracking from morning until night. About 4 pm of the 27th, we had a very heavy shower of rain. Passed a few Indian lodges on the same evening. Saw two horses grazing on the beach.
26th, Tuesday. Pass the Forks of the Riviere Pend'Oreille at 3 pm, at half past three came to the foot of "Coals Falls" where all the hands saving the Boutes per each boat were obliged to track.
I probably already have this quote somewhere on the blog, but we'll put it in again -- it is an excellent description of the Cole's Rapids, given by Alexander Caulfield Anderson who travelled over them three times in his lifetime.
He wrote: "..... on the Saskatchewan River there are no impediments to the navigation of any moment, save the Coles' Rapids, near the confluence of the north and south branches, some twelve miles in length, which are navigable with care and skill...."
You will have noticed, perhaps, in the first journal, that they camped at the end of the seventh rapid -- I presume this is a series of rapids extending twelve or so miles up the North Saskatchewan River.
It did not appear to be a difficult hurdle, and most of these express men tracked their way past Cole's Rapids without much difficulty.