Saturday, August 24, 2013

A little more on some of the men in the Fur Trade -- some of them from the West of the Mountains

I have told you that my new blog is up and running, and its address is at
Much of the information on this blog will be familiar to people who have followed this blog from the beginning -- there will however be more coming that you have not heard of.
I am concentrating on that blog at the moment, and so you might feel a little ignored.
Its decorations are coming....

Changes are coming to this blog as well: I will probably keep this going as a research blog, and completed information will be transferred onto the Wordpress blog, where appropriate.

However, to carry on from the previous post, I have learned a few more things about some of the men I have already spoken of.
George McDougall, who built Fort Alexandria about 1821, and who afterward remained in the fur trade on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, was a man I got quite fond of.
It seemed that he was a warm and friendly man who everyone liked.
In a letter from John Rowand of Edmonton House, written from the Saskatchewan District on the 29th of December, 1849.
McDougall went out to York Factory with the express in the command of John Charles.
He returned to Edmonton House and apparently made his way to Fort Assiniboine -- but he never reached his home base at Lesser Slave Lake.
Rowand gave this report: "As the time is approaching for the departure of our annual express, I beg leave to bring under your notice the few incidents that have occurred since my arrival at this place [with the incoming York Factory express].
"The distribution of the Outfit for the several Outposts was completed as early as possible. On the 29th September the several Gentlemen were off for their respective stations. On the 14th October I received intelligence of the death of Mr. Geo. McDougall -- that gentleman died on his way to Slave Lake in the Athabasca River after a short illness of five or six days; in consequence of this unfortunate & unforeseen circumstance on the 16th I was under the necessity of sending Mr. Christie to adjust the Company's affairs of Slave Lake, leaving Louis Chastellain in charge for the time being, as it was necessary for that Gentleman to return hither..."

So now you know. McDougall had no wife and children (though his brother James, did) and so there will be no descendants to be interested in this story. Its almost a shame. Like I said, I found him a very likable man.

Here's a new story, and its a gruesome one! You will remember some time ago I blogged portions of the York Factory Express's journeys from the Columbia, to Hudson's Bay and back.
In one of these journals I mentioned the artist, whose name I thought was Hood.
The actual quote is: "We commenced our ascent of the Trout River, which having done for 1 1/2 miles, we arrived at the Trout Falls, one of the most dangerous rapids or falls on the line of Communication.
"We encampt at the Head of these falls, two of our Boats having fallen again in the rear.
"These falls with the surrounding scenery afforded a fine subject for the Pencil of poor [Hood], but the heightening of the Landscape, by the Silver tints of the Moon's rays shooting above a projecting point of wood on the opposite shore & playing upon the agitated surface of these fierce falls, made me regret that they were not similarly presented to him, as they were to me this evening, which added much of their natural grandeur."

As you see, I wasn't even sure what the artist's name was, which presents quite a challenge.
But I found him immediately.
An article from "Arctic Profiles" tells me his full name was Robert Hood, born in 1797 and dead by 1821.
Hood was a member of the Franklin exhibition, 1819-22 -- a mapmaker who made incredibly accurate maps of the Arctic coastline during this single journey.
But on their return journey, eleven out of twenty members of Franklin's party died -- and Hood was one of them.
From Antony Brandt's book, The Man Who Ate his Boots: the Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage, comes this story.
It is needless for me to tell you that the returning party was in great distress at this time, and separated into various clusters of men were spread over the snowy wastes that surrounded Franklin's Fort Enterprise:

"Eleven men died in all. Not all of them died of starvation. Four men -- Jean-Baptiste Bellanger, Michel Teroahaute, the Iroquois, followed shortly after by Fontana and Perrault -- had left Franklin's party early in October to struggled the five miles back to the willow grove where Richardson, Hood, and Hepburn were camped. Only Michel arrived. Richardson never wrote up in his journal an actual day-by-day account of what happened after that, but he did prepare an official report to the Admiralty. Those days were spent, he said, hunting for the lichen that poor Hood could not eat and trying to snare partridges. Michel came and went as he wished, keeping himself apart, behaving in a hostile and surly manner. One evening he brought back a piece of what he said was a wolf that a caribou had killed with his antlers, and they ate it, but later Richardson would come to believe that it was a piece of a man he brought back, Belanger or maybe Perrault.

"No one knows whether he actually killed these men, or whether they collapsed on the way back to Richardson's camp. It is certain that he killed Hood. By the eighteenth Hood was "so weak as to be scarcely able to sit up at the fire-side, and complained that the least breeze of wind seemed to blow through his frame." He gathered the strength nevertheless to argue with Michel, telling him it was his duty to hunt for them and to bring wood to the fire, which Michel refused to do, while threatening at the same time to leave them and go to the fort by himself. On the twentieth, while Richardson was out of the camp looking for tripe de roche, he heard a gunshot, and Hepburn yelled to him to return right away. Hood was in their tent, shot through the head. Michel claimed that Hood had shot himself, but that was impossible. He had been shot through the back of his head, with a rifle. "Although I dared not," Richardson explained, "openly to evince any suspicion that I thought Michel guilty of the deed, yet he repeatedly protested to me that he was incapable of committing such an act, kept constantly on his guard, and carefully avoided leaving Hepburn and me together."

"The next day they set out for Fort Enterprise. On the twenty-third, as they were struggling south, Michel began threatening them, told them he hated the white people, by whom he meant the French voyageurs, "some of whom, he said, had killed and eaten his uncle and two of his relations." Michel was well armed. He had besides his gun "two pistols, an Indian bayonet, and a knife." Hepburn and Richardson had no strength left and expected him to turn on them at the first opportunity. When they came to a rock where there was some tripe de roche, Michel stayed behind to gather it, and Richardson and Hepburn seized the opportunity, the first they had had, to compare notes. Hepburn offered to do the deed, but Richardson said no, he would do it himself. when Michel came up to them, Richardson put a bullet through his head. Then they looked in his pouch. Michel had in fact gathered no tripe de roche."

So there you are. In the Arctic Profiles article, mention is made of the cannibalism that occurred on this long foot journey, and Franklin himself said, on his arrival at Fort Chipewyan: "To tell the truth, .. things have taken place which must not be known." It is clearly stated that "Richardson and Hepburn, his two remaining companions in the straggling rearward group, owed their survival in part to eating, knowingly or unknowingly, some human flesh and Hood's buffalo robe."

All of John Franklin's explorations in the Arctic (except those done by ship, I presume) were done under the auspices and with the help of the Hudson's Bay Company. They are stories of exploration, but they are also fur trade stories.

Some of you will know that the original quote from whence I started the above story was written by the fabulous failure, Lieutenant Aemelius Simpson, cousin of the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, who was travelling to the west coast to take charge of one of the HBC's ships.
In his Lives Lived, Bruce Watson has this to say of him:
He was born in Dingwall, Ross, Scotland, and died at Fort Simpson on the Northwest Coast, in 1831.
It was his grave that the furtraders (including James Birnie and Alexander Caulfield Anderson) removed from the old Fort Simpson and buried in the new, in 1834 (page 47 of my book, The Pathfinder.)
Aemelius Simpson "introduced the first apple trees to the North Pacific Coast and had an HBC post named after him... Aemelius joined the Royal Navy as a voluntary midshipman in 1806 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant before retiring in 1816.
"Upon the recommendation of George Simpson in 1826, he  joined the company as a hydrographer and surveyor reaching Fort Vancouver on November 2, 1826 as superintendent of shipping of the west coast.
"The following year, he was given command of the Cadboro when it arrived. That year he took soundings in the Fraser River and helped found Fort Langley. Three years later in 1829 he was involved in trading negotiations with the Russian American Company in Sitka.
"He became a chief trader in 1830 and the following year helped to establish a post at the mouth of the Nass River where he died in 1831. The post was later moved to the Tsimshian Peninsula and renamed Fort Simpson in his honour. His body was also removed to the new site, re-interred and surrounded by a white picket fence."

There is more information on Aemelius Simpson, and this comes from The Free Library at
This source tells us that Simpson had seen much of the world before making his transcontinental journey in 1826, when he was a Royal Navy officer on half-pay travelling as a passenger with the HBC brigade and Columbia express. "He was a novice who lacked the authoritative voice of someone who had spent half his life bartering or animal pelts.."
But because he was a novice, he described a part of the world that the fur traders never did. For this reason alone, his journal is important to some researchers.

Aemelius Simpson's duty on the west coast was to take charge of the little ship Cadboro, which was being delivered to Fort Vancouver from England.
On his death in 1831, Archibald McDonald (then of Fort Langley) wrote: "Among the latter [deaths] we have to lament the loss of poor Lieutenant Simpson who died on board his own vessel .... Independent of his loss to the concern I regret him very much as a private friend. I am sorry to say with you in confidence however, that he was not over-popular with us -- the cause you know as well as I do."

Chief Factor Duncan Finlayson made a similar remark: "He departed this life ... much lamented and regretted and whatever feelings might be entertained toward him during his career in the past of the country there is now but one of general sympathy for his untimely end."
It appears that Lieutenant Simpson was a misfit in the fur trade.
He attempted to bring the protocol and discipline of the Royal Navy to the unruly fur traders west of the Rocky Mountains, and that did not work!
Historian H.H. Bancroft stated (from information he collected many years later) that Aemelius Simpson had demanded that his sailors' "hands must be incased in kid before he could give an order on his own deck in the daylight, and if the occasion was perilous or peculiar, his gloves must be white kid. Form was nine-tenths of the law with him and the other tenth conformity."

But Governor Simpson did not criticize his cousin in his infamous "Character Book."
In fact he praised him (something that did not happen often):
"About forty years of age. A namesake and Relation of my own, whom I should not have introduced into the Fur Trade, had I not known him to be a man of high character and respectable abilities. He has occupied the most dangerous posts in the Service since he came to the country, and his whole public and private Conduct and Character have been unexceptional."

Governor Simpson also later noted that Aemelius was "as good a little fellow as ever breathed, honourable, above board and to the point.
"He may be a disciplinarian but it was very necessary among the Vagabonds he had to deal with.
"The Drunken wretched creature [Thomas] Sinclair could afford him no support, he was therefore under the necessity of doing all the dirty work of cuffing & thunking himself... I have (laying all other claims & feeling aside) a very great respect for his character & high opinion of his worth."

I can't imagine what the above-mentioned "cuffing & thunking" was, but I think you will agree: There are lots of good stories in the fur trade.

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