Sunday, April 7, 2013
My Answers to Questions Asked
In the months after my book, The Pathfinder, was published, readers and historians asked me a few questions that I was unable to give good answers to at the time.
The first came from an anthropologist and archaeologist who teaches at a local University.
His email said this: "I am really looking forward to your book."
Then he told me a story of a Native man who remembered that, many years earlier, his many-times-great-grandmother had been hidden away for safety, because "some strange person was coming down the [Lillooet] river."
He figured out the generations, and said he thought that the stranger might have been Alexander Caulfield Anderson, on his 1846 journey down the Lillooet River to Fort Langley.
Great story! But the anthropologist finished his email it with the question:
"Anderson does not seem to mention much in the way of villages as he went down the Lillooet river -- any idea why?"
At the time I did not have the answer.
But while I never consciously thought about the question, it simmered away and eventually answered itself.
I realized that most of what Anderson put in his expedition journals related directly to the business of searching for a suitable brigade trail.
It was, in other words, entirely a business journal, and only things that were important to the business of a brigade trail made it into his journal.
The journal's name tells us that -- his 1846 journal is titled: "Journal of an expedition under command of Alex C. Anderson... undertaken with the View to ascertaining the practicability of a communication with the interior, for the import of the annual supplies."
Like his other journals of exploration, it has a specific purpose: to report back to the Board of Management at Fort Vancouver the route taken and its availability, or non-availability, as a brigade trail for heavily laden pack-horses.
I figured this out when I learned, from a historical geographer friend, what the requirements were for a good brigade trail.
He gave me the information that I included in my book, and I added a bit to it:
From page 106: "Besides considerations regarding the route itself, the Hudson's Bay men had developed strict requirements for an overland brigade trail, based on experience, good and bad.
"The Company was looking for a trail that hundreds of horses could travel safely without injury.
"A path that might work for a man on foot would not necessarily work for the heavily loaded brigade horses.
"Sharp rocks on the trail bed would damaged the horses' delicate hooves and cut their fetlocks.
"If the ground was too soft, the passage of so many horses would turn the trail into a quagmire that later brigades could not cross.
"Safe fords over rivers and creeks were essential, especially as so much of the travel was done in early summer, the season of high water.
"Gradient was important, but they could accept a steep slope if the hillside allowed room for switchbacks.
"The horses needed food and water, and trail builders could sow alfalfa and white clover along the edges of the horse road if the ground was good, but they could not manufacture streams.
"Anderson would have to keep all these concerns in mind as he explored the potential brigade trails."
So when I re-read the journals after processing and writing the above, I understood them more fully.
Anderson wrote nothing of the journey along the south shore of Kamloops Lake to modern day Savona, as this road was good and well-known to all the fur traders -- there were no problems here.
When he "found River du Defunt much swollen" because of the rainy spring, he is warning of difficulties future brigaders might have in crossing the river.
Of course, the fur traders would build an easily maintained bridge here.
On the 17th of May he does describe the rock indented with hat-like cavities: rather unnecessarily. But he goes on with a description of the "picturesque valley, richly covered with herbage, and bordered by hills sprinkled with Fir trees."
There was plenty of feed for the horses here, and fresh water only a short distance further on.
Then at the Lower Fountain, where the Kamloops men traded for salmon, he noted that: "The banks of the [Fraser] river hereabouts are extremely broken and precipitous; and many of the adjacent hills are white with recent snow."
You will remember that I informed you that "Sharp rocks on the trail bed would damage the horses' delicate hooves and cut their fetlocks."
Anderson's next line was this: "One of our horses got his leg cut in crossing a small brook, this afternoon, and is lame in consequence."
It may not have had meaning to us on the first read, but it would have meant a lot to the members of the Board of Management at Fort Vancouver.
On Tuesday 19th Anderson wrote: "The spot which had been described to me as likely to afford a passage for horses is at the Riviere de Pont, opposite to the Lower Fountain, but to my disappointment I find it quite unsuitable for the purpose -- at least at this season, if indeed at any time practicable with a large band of horses.
"The proposed track passes over a mountain 1,500 to 2,000 feet in height, the summit of which even at this advanced season, is still thickly covered with snow, and obviously impassable save with snow shoes.
"In short there does not exist the slightest probability of a horse road in this direction, suitable for our purposes, from the spot alluded to, to that where I am now encamped...."
When he wrote this, he was on Seton Lake, having crossed the Fraser River to walk down its west bank to the Seton River.
I am looking at this paragraph now, and wondering...
Was he talking about Fountain Ridge, or was he describing the mountain across the Fraser from the end of the ridge?
I haven't been up to that spot since 1993 -- I may have to return and take a good look.
Whatever route was described to him by John Tod, at Fort Kamloops, was then discarded, and the second choice taken -- an expedition via Seton and Anderson Lakes to the Lillooet River.
He says this in the line: "Finding my views disappointed in the direction at first proposed, I determined on proceeding by the lakes...."
I now believe it was his plan to go down the Fraser River through the canyons, but he chose to travel the second route, by the lakes, when the first did not work.
I also now know that Pahallak, or another Sto:lo guide, was waiting for him at the forks of Thompson's River and the Fraser.
They did not meet that summer.
Anderson tells no stories of the Salish Wool Dogs, though he certainly saw them on this journey and in his later expedition down the banks of the Fraser River.
He does describe the Natives he found there, and the discomfort the fur traders felt because they were alone amongst all these men who could easily have overwhelmed them.
But the Native name for Seton River -- Pap-shil-qua-ka-meen -- is mentioned only in a later piece of writing, though he can only have learned the name from the guides who accompanied him on this particular journey.
As far as I know, he never returned to the mouth of the Seton River.
Anderson's party continued on to Lillooet Lake from Anderson and Seton Lakes.
On the Lillooet River, Anderson hired "a fine canoe, with two expert boutes. In the evening... we encamped at the head of a rapid or fall, where it is necessary to drag the canoe."
Then he said: "I find the river very different from what I expected. At this stage of the water it is a perfect torrent; and at a higher stage (it is now at half-water) must afford a very precarious navigation.
"In fact, but for the expertness of our Indian boutes, who are thoroughly versed in the intricacies of the river, we should, I fear, have much difficulty in getting through."
Anderson had already disqualified this route as a brigade trail for horses.
Clearly, by now, he is now mentally eliminating the travel of this rough river as a possible route for the boats the fur traders used -- if they could make their way downriver (which seemed unlikely), how would they ever come upriver again?
From this point onward, he and his party continued downriver to Fort Langley as quickly as they could: there was no further need to look around.
His work was done, and he spent little time in describing the country he saw.
But the question was: "Anderson does not seem to mention much in the way of villages as he went down the Lillooet River -- any idea why?"
My answer, at last: This was a business journal, and the Native villages along the lower Lillooet River were not important to the fur traders, especially as he had already mentally disqualified this route as a possible brigade trail.
He was travelling downriver with Native guides who had no reason to dally -- the sooner they reached Fort Langley, the more quickly they would be rewarded for their work.
Anderson also had a reason to reach Fort Langley as quickly as he could.
He wanted to begin his return journey to Kamloops, exploring for an alternate route on the way.
He still had a job to do, and this first trail was not the route he was looking for.
Anderson never returned to the Lillooet River, and wrote very little about it later.
In his unpublished draft manuscript "British Columbia" he noted that: "The Lakes of British Columbia are a great feature in its geography....
"Harrison's Lake, in the lower portion, I have already referred to.
"This lake is connected with two other lakes, in close contiguity with each other, the united length of which is about 25 miles.
"These lakes, distinguished by their Indian name Lillooet, are connected with Douglas [the town of Port Douglas, at the head of Harrison Lake] by by a wagon road.
"They are navigated by steam boat.
"From the upper end the road is continued through a depression in the Lillooet spur of the coast Range, twenty four miles to Lake Anderson.
"A channel 1 1/2 mile in length connects this lake with Lake Seton, the lower end of which is within three miles of the town or village of Cayoosh, on the bank of the Fraser River, some 40 miles above Lytton.
"The united length of Lakes Anderson and Seton is about thirty eight miles.
"The scenery of the shores, and especially of the latter, is extremely grand.
"These lakes, like the Lillooet, are navigated by steamboats.
"The depth of all is great."
He is describing now the 1858-1859 Harrison Lillooet trail, which was developed over the route of his first exploration down the Lillooet River.
In 1858 he visited what is now called Port Douglas, a town built a year or two later at the mouth of the Lillooet River on Harrison Lake.
He played a major part in naming the future town for his friend, James Douglas.
But he never travelled over the Harrison-Lillooet trail, and so never saw the Lillooet River again.
The second question I was asked, in person, when I was in Hope, B.C., after my one hour & a half talk there:
My sister and I were in the Blue Moose Cafe (a wonderful place, if you are ever in Hope), waking up with our morning coffee the morning after I had given my talk and slide show.
Two men came in and sat down at the coffee table and chairs where we were reading the newspapers and sleepily drinking our coffee.
They talked to each other, and then they talked to us; they knew who we were.
One, a young Native man who said he came from Spuzzum, asked me whether I thought I would ever write about any person or thing other than my great grand-father, Alexander Caulfield Anderson.
Now, isn't that an interesting question?
I had no answer for him at that time.
My first thought was this: that in order to write about someone else or something else I would have to set aside my ten years of research on Alexander Caulfield Anderson and his fur trade, and begin all over again.
To me, that was a huge objection.
I wasn't ready for that question.
I was still deeply involved in writing talks and articles to promote the current book, published only three months earlier -- a year and a half later I am still involved in promoting the book.
The question came too quickly, and at the time I did not have an answer.
Again, it had to simmer.
It took me six or more months for the answer to emerge, and in the meantime I wrote two or three more speeches and an article for the Annual Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, 2012.
I fooled around with other ideas, and you can see the result of my blog where I wrote about "The Salmon in the fur trader's New Caledonia," on Saturday, February 18, 2012.
This is Anderson's own writing but it is a merged manuscript -- that is, I took four of his manuscripts and merged the information in them in order to create this future chapter of a book I could write.
And maybe I will write this book, sometime in the future.
I have, however, four missing A.C. Anderson manuscripts I want to find before I do this -- if they still exist.
I also considered other choices in addition to the "Memoir."
I can write about the years of the Indian Reserve Commission of 1876-1877 -- that's a fascinating story in itself and much of the story is omitted from this book.
I can write a more detailed story of the four explorations and the end result of those expeditions and the crisis that followed, and I am extremely interested in that time period.
I can write about Fort Victoria during those years; but, frankly, of all the things I could write about, Fort Victoria is the one thing that has the least interest for me, in spite of the fact I live in Victoria.
The fur trader Sam Black fascinates me, but that involves a great deal of research and writing with very little information about his later life at Kamloops.
Interesting as his life may have been, his story would be skimpy at best.
I can write about Peter Skene Ogden or Donald Manson or other fur trade characters, but his descendants are planning to do this -- not that that should stop me.
In a way I am writing about them, because their story will be a part of my next book.
I do now know what I am writing about, and I am already learning things that will add to or change the information I put in The Pathfinder.
There will be many characters in this book; and yes, Alexander Caulfield Anderson will be one of them.
Yes, he will play a major role in a complex story, but he will disappear from the story, too.
Yes, it is a fur trade story: I don't think I will ever move outside the fur trade, or at least, not until I write about the Indian Reserve Commission and that is, in its way, still a fur trade story.
This next book will be a thick book: I think it is possible that it will be two books by the time I am done.
I have a feeling I know which way the book or books will lead me.
However, books sometimes lead the author to some unexpected places.
We will have to see where I end up.
So anyway, if anyone in Hope or Spuzzum is reading this post, please tell the young Spuzzum artist who designed the stage decorations for the stage play "Where the Blood Mixes," that I have answered his question.
Tell him, thank you for the question!
It was a tough one to answer.