Agnes Christina Laut.

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son in his journal of June 22nd; but if he goes north,
that will lead to a great detour — that much he. can
guess from what the Indians tell him — the Big Bend
of the Columbia. He is facing the Rockies on the
east. On the west are the Selkirks. He does hot
know that after a great circle about the north end
of the Selkirks, the Columbia will come down south
again through West Kootenay between the Selkirks
and the Gold Range. To Thompson, it seems that
he will reach the Pacific soonest, where American
traders are heading, by ascending the river; so he
follows through East Kootenay southward through
Windermere Lake and Columbia Lake to the sources
of the Columbia east of Nelson Mountain. There,

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where the Windermere of to-day exists, he builds a
fort with Montour, the Frenchman, in charge — the
Upper Kootenay House. Then he discovers that
beyond the sources of the Columbia, a short portage
of two miles, is another great river jflowing south —
the Kootenay. The portage he names after the
Northwest partner — McGillivray, also the river,
which we now know as Kootenay, and which Thomp-
son follows, surveying as he goes, south of the Boun-
dary into what are now known as Idaho and Mon-
tana, past what is now the town of Jennings and
westerly as far as what is now Bonner's Ferry — the
roaring camp of old construction days when the
Great Northern Railroad passed this way. Here
Thompson is utterly confused, for the Kootenay
River turns north to British Columbia again, not
west to the Pacific, and he has no time to follow its
winding course. His year is up. He must hasten
eastward with his report. Leaving the fort well
manned, Thompson goes back the way he has come,
by Howse Pass down the Saskatchewan to Fort
William.

While Thompson is East, the Hudson's Bay Com-
pany of Edmonton is not idle. Mr. Howse, who
found the pass, follows Thompson's tracks over the
mountains and sets hunters ranging the forests of
the Big Bend and south to Kootenay Lake.

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When he returns to the mountains in 1808, Thomp-
son joins Henry's brigade coming west from Pem-
bina. It is September when they reach Edmonton,
and both companies have by this time built fur
posts at Howse's Pass, known as Rocky Mountain
House, of which Henty takes charge for the Nor'-
Westers. Sixteen days on horseback bring Thomp-
son to the mountains. There horses are exchanged
for dogs, and the explorer sleds south through East
Kootenay to Kootenay House on Windermere Lake,
where provisions and furs are stored. Thompson
winters at Windermere. In April of 1809 he sets
out for the modem Idaho and Montana and estab-
lishes trading posts on the Flathead Lake southeast,
and the Pend d' Oreille Lakes southwest, leaving
Firman McDonald, the Highlander, as commander
of the Flathead Department, with McMillan and
Methode and Forcier and a dozen others as traders.
He is back in Edmonton by June, 18 10 — "thank
God" — he ejaculates in his diary, and at once pro-
ceeds East, where he learns astounding news at Fort
William. John Jacob Astor, the New York mer-
chant, who bought Nor'Westers' furs at Montreal,
has organized a Pacific Fur Company, and into its
ranks he has lured by promise of partnership, friends
of Thompson, such good old Nor'Westers as John
Clarke — "fighting Clarke," he was called — and

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Duncan McDougall of the Athabasca, and that
Alex. McKay, who had gone to the Pacific with Sir
Alexander MacKenzie, and Donald MacKenzie, a
relative of Sir Alexander's, and the two Stuarts —
David and Robert — kin of the Stuart who was with
Simon Fraser on his trip to the sea. These Nor*-
Westers, who have joined Astor, know the mountain
country well, and they have engaged old Nor'West
voyageiurs as servants. Half the partners are to go
round the Horn to the Pacific, half overland from
the Missouri to the Columbia. If the Nor'Westers
are to capture the transmontane field first, there is
not a moment to lose.

Thompson is forthwith dispatched back to the
mountains in 1810, given a crew of eighteen or twenty
and urged forward to the Pacific; but the Piegans are
playing the mischief with the fur trade this year.
Though Henry drowns them in whiskey drtigged
with laudanum at Rocky Mountain House, they
infest Howse's Pass and lie in wait at the Big Bend
to catch the canoes bringing up the furs from Idaho
and to plunder Thompson's goods bound south to
Kootenay House. Thompson's voyageurs scatter
like lambs before wolves. He retreats under pro-
tection of Henry's men back through Howse's Pass
to Rocky Mountain House, but he is a hard man to
beat. Reach the Pacific before Astor's men he

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must, Piegans or no Piegans; so he forms his plans.
Look at the map! This Kootenay River flowing
through Idaho does not lead to the Pacific. It turns
north into Kootenay Lake of West Kootenay. The
Columbia takes a great circle north. Thompson
aims for the Big Bend. He hurries overland by
pack horse to the Athabasca River, enters the moun-
tains at the head of the river on December 20, 1810,
at once cuts his way through the forest tangle up
between Mt. Browa and Mt. Hooker, literally
"swims the dogs through snowdrifts, the brute
Du Nord beating a dog to death," and finds a new ^
trail to the Columbia — ^Athabasca Pass! Down on
the west side of the Divide flows a river southwest,
to the Big Bend of the Columbia. Thompson winters
here to build canoes for the spring of 181 1, naming
the river that gladdens his heart — Canoe River.

Down in Idaho, his men on Flathead Lake and
the Pend d'Oreille are panicky with forebodings.
Thompson has not come with provisions. Their fur
brigade has been driven back. The Piegans are on
the ramp, and there are all sorts of wild rumors about
white men — ^Astor's voyageurs, of course — coming
through the mountains by way of the Snake Indian's
territory to "the rivers of the setting sun."

Up on Canoe River, Thompson and his voyageurs
worked feverishly— building canoes, and getting the

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fur packs ready against spring. Toward spring,
ten men are sent back with the furs; seven are to go
on with Thompson down Columbia River for the
Pacific. Their names are Bordeaux, Pariel, Cot6,
Bourland, Gregoire, Charles and Ignace. His men
are on the verge of mutiny from starvation, but pro-
visions come through from Henry at Howse's Pass,
and when these provisions run out, Thompson's
party kill all their horses and dogs for food. Very
early in the year, the river is free of ice, for Thomp-
son is in a warmer region than on the plains, and
the canoe is launched down the Coliunbia through
the Big Bend — a swollen, rolling, milky tide, past
what is now Revelstoke, past Nakusp, through the
Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes and what is now
known as the Rossland mining region. It is a region
of shadowy moss-grown forests, of hazy summer air
resinous with the odor of pines, of mountains rising
sheer on each side in walls with belts of mist mark-
ing the cloud line, the white peaks opal and shim-
mering and fading in a cloudland.

Each night careful camping ground was chosen
ashore with unblocked way to the water in case of
Piegan attack. July 3rd, Thompson reached Ket-
tle Falls. For a week he followed the great circular
sweep of the Columbia south through what is now
Washington. At Spokane River, at Okanogan

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River, near Walla Walla where the Snake comes in,
he heard rumors among the Indians that white
men from the East had come to the sea, whether
overland or round the world he could not tell, so on
Tuesday, July 9th, Thompson judges it wise to pre-
empt other claimants. Near Snake River, "I
erected a small pole," he writes, /'with a half sheet
of paper tied about it, with these words:

" Know hereby, this country is claimed by Great Britain
and the N W Company from Canada do hereby intend
to erect a factory on this place for the commerce of the
country — D. Thompson."

Broader spread the waters, larger the empire rolling
away north and south as the river swerved straight
west. The river, that he had found up at Blaeberry
Creek near Howse's Pass, was sweeping him to the
sea. This was the river. Gray, the Boston man,
had found, and Alexander MacKenzie had missed
when he touched the Fraser. Thompson had now
explored it from source to sea, from the Columbia
and Windermere Lakes north through East Koote-
nay, south through West Kootenay, south through
Washington, west between Washington and Oregon
to the Pacific — a region in all as large as Germany
and France and Spain.

But from Walla Walla to the sea was a dangerous

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stretch. At the Dalles camped robber Indians to
pillage travelers as they portaged overland. Thomp-
son kept sleepless vigil all night and by launching
out at dawn before the mountain mists had lifted
from the water gave ambushed foes the slip. Came
a wash and a ripple in the current. It was the tide.
The salt water smell set the explorer's pulses beating.
Then the blue line of the ocean washes the horizon
of an opening vista like a swinmiing sky. The voy-
ageurs gave a shout and beat the gun'els of the canoe.
A swerve to left — chips floating on the water tell
Thompson that Astor's men are already here, and
there stands the little palisaded post all raw in its
newness with cannons pointing across the river from
the fort gates. Precisely at i P. M., Monday, July
15, 1811, Thompson arrives at Astoria. The Astor
men have beaten in the race to the Pacific. Thomp-
son is just two months too late for the Nor'Westers
to claim the mouth of the Columbia.

Then all his old friends of the Athabasca, McDou-
gall and the Stuarts and fighting John Clarke — all
his old friends but Alex. McKay, who has been cut
to pieces by the Indians in the massacre of "the
Tonquin^s crew," all but McKay and Donald Mac-
Kende, who has not yet arrived from overland —
rush down to welcome him. The Astorians receive
the Nor'Westers with open arms. It is good fellow-

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ship. It is not good policy. "He had access every-
where," writes Ross, a clerk in the employment of
Astor. "He saw_and examined everything." He
heard how the overland party of Aster's men from
the Missouri had not yet come. He probably heard,
too, that the crew of the ship Tonquin had been
massacred, and he was not slow to guess that Mc-
Dougall, head of Astor's fort, was homesick for his
old Northwest comrades.

Thompson remained only a week. McDougall
gave him what provisions were necessary for the
return voyage, and July 22nd he set out to ascend
the Columbia with a party of Astorians boimd inland
to trade. Bourland, his voyageur, wanted to stay at
Astoria, so Thompson traded his services to Mc-
Dougall for one of Astor's Sandwich Island men.
The Astor hunters struck up Okanogan River to
trade. Thompson pushed on up the Columbia
through the Arrow Lakes at feverish pace, noticing
with disgust that the Hudson's Bay man, Howse,
was camping hard on his trail, forming trading con-
nections with Sarcees and Piegans and Kootenays.
Snow comes early in the mountains. Thompson
must succeed in crossing the pass before winter sets
in so that the report of what he learned at Astoria
can be sent down to Fort William in time for the
annual meeting of July, 181 2. He pauses only for a

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night with Harmon and Henry at Rocky Mountain
Pass and curses his stars at more delay caused by
the Piegan raiders, who are keeping his men of the
Big Bend at East Kootenay cooped up in fear of their
lives, but he reaches Edmonton in three months, and
is present at the annual meeting of the partners at
Fort William in July, 1812.

This is a fateful year. War is waged between the
United States and Canada. True soldiers of fortune
as the Nor^Westers ever were, they decided to take
advantage of that war and capture Astoria. John
George McTavish and Alexander Henry of Howse's
Pass, with Larocque of the Missouri, are to lead fifty
voyageurs overland and down the Columbia to
Astoria, there to camp outside the palisades and
parley with Duncan McDougall. Old Donald Mc-
Tavish, as gay an old reprobate as ever graced the
fur trade, is to sail with McDonald of Garth, the
Highlander of the Crooked Arm, from London on
the Northwest ship, the Isaac Todd, under convoy
of the man-of-war, Raccoon, to capture Astoria.

Thompson has fulfilled his mission. Though he
was late in reaching the mouth of the Columbia, he
has played his fur trade tactics so skillfully that
Astoria will fall to his Company's hands. The story
of John George McTavish's voyage from Fort
WilUam, Lake Superior to Astoria, or of old Donald

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

McTavish's drunken revels round the world in the
Isaac Todd, would fill a volume. John George Mc-
Tavish and Larocque reached Astoria first, sweeping
gaily down the rain-swollen flood of the Columbia
on April nth in two birch canoes, British flags flying
at the prow, voyageurs singing, Indians agape on
the shore in sheer amaze at these dare-devil fellows,
who flitted back and forward thinking no more of
crossing the continent than crossing a river.

Again McDougall welcomed his rivals in trade,
his friends of yore, with open arms. Had he trained
his cannon on them, they had hardly camped so
smugly under his fort walls, nor stalked so surely
in and out of his fort, spreading alarm of the war,
threatening what the coming ships would do, offering
service and partnership to any who would desert
Astor's company for the Northwest. McDougall
was tired of his service with the Astor company.
The Tonquin had been lost. No word yet of the
second ship that was to come. The fort was de-
moralized, partly with fear, partly with vice. There
had been no strong hand to hold the riotous voy-
ageurs in leash, and loose masters mean loose men.
Now with news of a coming war vessel, all the pot
valor of the drunken garrison evaporated in cowardly
desire to capitulate and avoid bloodshed. The voy-
ageurs were deserting to McTavish. On October

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i6, 1813, Duncan McDougall sold out Astor's fort
— furs and provisions worth $100,000 — for $40,000. '
Four weeks later, on November 15th, came Alex- ]
ander Henry and David Thompson to convey the
furs overland to Fort William. While the men are ^
packing the furs, at noon, November 30th, "being
about half-tide, a large ship appeared, standing in
over the bar with all sails spread.'' Is it friend or
enemy; the British man-of-war, Raccoon, or Astor's
delayed ship? Duncan McDougall goes quakingly
out in a small boat to reconnoiter, to pacify the Brit-
ish if it is a man-of-war, to welcome the captain if
it is Astor's ship. John George McTavish and
Alexander Henry and David Thompson scuttle up-
stream to hide ninety-two packs of furs and all am-
munition and provisions and canoes, but game in his
blood like a fighting cock, Henry can't resist stealing
back at night to see what is going on. There is sing-
ing on the water. A canoe is rocking outrageously.
In it is a tipsy man, who shouts the welcome news
that the ship was the man-of-war. Raccoon, under
Captain Black, and that all the gentlemen' are glor-
iously drunk. Thompson and Henry and John
George McTavish come downstream to witness, on
December 13th, the ceremony of a bottle of wine
cracked on the flagstaff, guns roaring from fort and
ship, the American flag run down, the British flag

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run up, and "Astoria" re-named Fort George. From
all one can infer from the old journals, the most of
the gentlemen remained "intoxicated" during the
stay of The Raccoon. "Famous fellows for grog,"
records Henry. The Raccoon puts to sea New
Year's Day of 1814. David Thompson has long
since left for his posts on the Kootenay, and in April,
John George McTavish conducts a brigade made up
of Astor's men enlisted as Nor'Westers in ten canoes,
seventy-six men in all, with the furs for Fort William.
Henry stays on with McDougall awaiting the
coming of Donald McTavish on the Isaac Todd.
The long delayed, storm-battered Northwest ship
comes tottering in on April 23rd with Governor
Donald McTavish drunk as a lord, accompanied by
a barmaid, Jane Barnes, to whose charms the dissi-
pated old man had fallen victim at Portsmouth.
Old punk takes fire easiest. What with rum and
Jane Barnes to ply it, Astoria was not a pretty place
for the next few weeks. Masters and men "gave
themselves up to feasting and drinking all the day."
Sometimes in his cups, McDougall would forget
that he had become a Nor'Wester and rising in his
place at the governor's table would hurrah for the
Americans till the rafters were ringing. Then Henry
would overset table and chairs hiccoughing a chal-
lenge to a duel, and the maudlin old governor would

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troll oflF a stave that would turn fighting to singing
till daylight came in at the windows revealing the
gentlemen asleep on the floor, the servants sodden
drunk on the sands outside. In May, the weather
clears and my pleasure-loving gentlemen setting such
an edifying example to the benighted heathen around
Astoria, must enjoy a sail across the flooded Colum-
bia. Five voyageurs rig a small boat. In it step
the partners, Donald McTavish and Alexander
Henry. A stiflF breeze is blowing, and a heavy sea
running; but they must have a sail up. The boat
tilts to the gun'els. A heavy wave struck her and
washed over. She sank at once, carrying all hands
down but one voyageur, who was rescued by the
Chinooks. Thus perished Donald McTavish and
Alexander Henry.

Meanwhile, what had Simon Fraser accomplished
in the North, while Thompson was exploring the
South? Like Thompson, he, too, was ordered to
the mountains in 1805. James McDougall, a North-
west clerk, had already followed MacKenzie's foot-
steps up Peace River across the mountains to the
Forks, when Simon Fraser came on the scene in the
fall of 1805. If Nor'Westers are to pass this way to
the Western hunting ground, first of all there must
be a fort at the entrance to the Pass. Fraser knocks

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The Conqitest of the Great Northwest

up a cluster of cabins, leaves two clerks and twelve
voyageurs in charge and ascends the south fork —
the Parsnip. This was the stream where Mac-
Kenzie had such tremendous difl&culties. Fraser
avoids these rapids by going up a western branch of
the Parsnip to a little lake narrow and seventeen
miles long, set like an emerald among the mountains.
There on a point of land beside a purling brook, he
built the first fur post west of the Rockies, which he
named after the partner, Archibald Norman Mc-
Leod. To this day it stands exactly where and as
Fraser built it. James McDougall and La Malice, a
blackguard half-breed, are left at the fort. Fraser
spent three months at the post in the pass, but Mc-
Dougall goes westward from Fort McLeod to a
magnificent lake surrounded by forests and moun-
tains.' This lake is the center of the Carrier Indians'
country. To an old Shaman or Medicine Man, Mc-
Dougall presents a piece of red cloth, teUing him
white men will come to trade in the spring. Blazing
initials on the trees, he takes possession of the coun-
try for the Northwest Company. Fraser, at Peace
River Pass, has sent the furs East and been joined
by the wintering partner, Archibald McGillivray,
who has come to take charge, while Fraser explores.
Now it must be kept in mind that Fraser, like
MacKenzie, thought the great river flowing south

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was the Columbia, and setting out from the Pass in
May with John Stuart as second in command, Fraser
follows the exact trail of MacKenzie — up the Parsnip,
down Bad River to the great unknown river. Sweep-
ing south, they come to a large stream coming in
from the west — the Nechaco. Will that lead to the
Pacific? Fraser ascends it June nth, only to find
that like an endless maze the Nechaco has another
branch, the Stuart. They proceed leisurely, hunting
along shore, blazing a trail through the forests as
the canoes advance, encountering two grizzly bears
that pursue the Indian hunter so furiously they
flounder over the hunter's wife, who has fallen to
the ground flat on her face with fright, tear the man
badly and are only driven off by dogs. It is the
end of July before the canoes emerge from the second
branch on a windy lake, surrounded by mountains
with forests to the water's edge — the lake McDougall
had found the preceding autumn. Carrier Indians
tell the legends yet of their tribe's amazement that
July day to see two huge things float out on the water
and come galloping — galloping (such is the appear-
ance of rows of paddlers at a distance) across the
waves of their lake; but the old Medicine Man dashes
out in a small canoe flourishing his red cloth and
welcomes the white men ashore. To impress the
Carrier Indians, the white men fire a volley that sets

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

echoes rocketing among the peaks; and the Indians
fall prostrate with terror. Fraser allays fear with
presents, and bartering begins on the spot, for the
Carriers are clothed in fine beaver. The white men
then clear the ground for a fort. The lake, which
McDougall had found the preceding fall and to which
Fraser had now ascended, was named Stuart after
Fraser's second officer. It was fifty miles long,
dotted with islands, broken by beautiful recesses
into the forests and mountains. East were the snowy
summits of the Rockies, west and north and south,
the mighty hills rolling back in endless tiers to the
clouds. Fraser names the region New Caledonia
and the fort, St. James.

For some reason, salmon were tardy coming to
Lake Stuart this year. Fraser's provisions were
exhausted and his men were now dependent on wild
fruit and chance game. Forty-five miles to the south
was another lake also drained by the Nechaco to
the great unknown river. To avoid having so many
hungry men in one camp, Fraser at the end of Au-
gust sent Stuart and two men southward to this new
lake, which Stuart named in honor of Fraser. Blais
remains for the winter with voyageurs at Stuart
Lake. Fraser goes on downstream, and where the
Stuart joins the Nechaco meets John Stuart and
hears so favorably of the new lake that the two pole

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back and build on Fraser Lake the third fort west
of the Rockies.

The winter of 1806-7 was passed collecting furs at
these posts; and the eastern brigade sent to Peace
River with the furs carried out a request from Fraser
to the partners of Fort William for more men and
merchandise for farther exploration. Back with the
autumn brigade in answer to his request came Jules
Maurice Quesnel and Hugh Faries with orders for
Fraser to push down the unknown river to the
Pacific at all hazards. Where the Nechaco joined
the great river, Fraser in the fall of 1807 built a fourth
j)ost— St. George.

Somewhere from the vicinity of this post, at five
in the morning toward the end of May, 1808, Fraser
launched four canoes downstream for tide water,
firmly believing he was on the Columbia. With him
went Stuart and Quesnel and nineteen voyageurs.
Eighteen miles down came Fort George canon with
a roar of rapids that swirled one canoe against a
precipice almost wrecking it; then smooth going till
night camp, when all slept with firearms at hand.
Next day, the real perils of the voyage began. Canoes
were on the water before the mists had rolled up the
hills and the river had presently contracted to a
violent whirlpool between rock w^Us — Cottonwood
Canon. Portaging baggage overland, Fraser ran

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the lightened canoes safely down. The river passed
on the east was later to be known as Quesnel, famous
for its gold fields. At Soda Creek, those natives,
who had opposed MacKenzie, suddenly appeared
along the banks on horseback, and called to Fraser



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 32 of 50)