Agnes Christina Laut.

The conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 online

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to be revoked in five years. To the colonists, land
was to be sold at £1 ($5.00) an acre. In Oregon,
the colonist could have 640 aCres for nothing. For
every one hundred acres sold at $5.00 an acre, the
buyer was bound by covenant to bring to Vancouver
Island at his own expense three families, or six single

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persons. Last of all and most absurd of all, at the end
of five or ten years, the Government might buy back
the Island by paying to the Company all it had ex-
pended. Another point — but this was not in the
official terms — retired servants of the Hudson's Bay
Company might buy the land at a few shillings an
acre. Looking squarely at this extraordinary con-
tract, only one of two conclusions can be reached:
either the ignorance of conditions was so dense that
d)mamite could not have driven a hole through it,
or there was no intention whatever of colonizing
Vancouver Island, the real design being twofold:
(i) on the part of the Government to keep this re-
mote region securely British, for Mormons had
talked of escaping persecution by going to Vancouver
Island; (2) on the part of the Company, to hold
colonizing in its own control to be forwarded or
retarded as suited its interests. The Company
declared that from the time Lord Grey framed the
conditions of the grant, they knew the scheme was
foredoomed to failure. This did not prevent them
accepting the terms; but the fur traders were too
tactful to suggest one of their own men as governor
of the new colony. Earl Grey suggested Richard
Blanchard, a barrister, as governor; and Blanchard
foolishly accepted the appointment without a single
stipulation as to residence, salary, land, or staff.

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Pelly talked unofficially of the governor being given
one thousand acres, but when Blanchard reached
Victoria he found that Chief Factor Douglas had
received no instructions. The governor of the colony
was to have only the use of the one thousand acres,
not the possession. One year of such empty honors
satisfied Blanchard's ambitions. He had neither
house nor salary, subjects nor staff, and came home
to England in 185 1 , ;£i ,000 the poorer. James Doug-
las, the Chief Factor, was at once appointed Gov-
ernor of Vancouver Island.

The record of the colony is not a part of the history
of the English Adventurers, and therefore is not given
here. How many colonists were sent out, I do not
know; exclusive of the Company's servants, certainly
not more than a dozen; including the Company's
servants, not more than three hundred in ten years.
Provisions must be bought from the Company. Prod-
uce must be sold to the Company — a one-sided per-
formance that easily accounted for the discontent
expressed in a memorial sent home with Blanchard
when he retired.

The man, who had hauled fish and furs in New
Caledonia at $300 a year, was now governor of Van-
couver Island. James Douglas received his com-
mission in September of 1851. Five years ago, he
had been compelled to choose between loyalty to

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McLoughlin, and loyalty to his Company. He took
his choice, was loyal to his Company and had been
promoted to a position worth $15,000 a year. Events
were now coming that would compel Douglas to
choose between his country and his Company.
Wisely, he chose the former, sold out all interests in
the Hudson's Bay Company, received knighthood in
'59 and died at Victoria full of honors in 1877. Upon
renewing the grant of Vancouver Island to the Com-
pany in 1854, the English Government requested
Douglas to establish representative government in
the colony. This was not easy. Electors were
scarce, consisting mainly of retired Hudson's Bay of-
ficers; and when Douglas met the first parliament
of the Island on August 12, 1856, it consisted of less
than a dozen members; all directly connected with
the Hudson's Bay Company; so that the governor
was able to report to England that "the opening"
passed oflf quietly without exciting "interest among
the lower orders" — ^upon which Bancroft, the Ameri-
can, wants to know "who the lower orders were"
unless "the pigs on the parson's pig farm."

As told in the story of Kamloops, gold was dis-
covered this very year on Thompson River. A year
later, the air was full of wild rumors of gold discov-
eries north of Colville, in Cariboo, on Queen Char-
lotte Island. The tide, that had rolled over the

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mountains to California, now turned to British
Columbia. When the second five-year grant of Van-
couver Island to the Hudson's Bay Company expired
in 1859, it was not renewed. Douglas foresaw that
the gold stampede to the North meant a new British
empire on the Pacific. The discovery of gold
sounded the death knell of the fur lords' ascendancy.
Douglas resigned his position as Chief Factor and
became governor of the new colony now known as
British Columbia, including both Vancouver and the
mainland. For the repurchase of Vancouver Island,
the British Government paid the Hudson's Bay
Company ;£s7,5oo. The Company claimed that it
had spent ;£8o,ooo. Among the gold seekers stam-
peding north from Oregon were our old trappers
and traders of the mountain brigades, led by Dr.
David McLoughlin, now turned prospector.



Notes to Chapter XXXIII.— The contents of this chapter are
drawn from the same sources as XXXII ; in addition Hansard
and Congressional Reports for both the Vancouver Island and
Chregon disputes, the Farl. Enquiry Report of 1857; H. B. C.
Memorial Book on Puget Sound Company; Fitzgerald's Van-
couver Island, 1849; Martin's H. B. Territories, 1849; De
Smet's Oregon Missions, 1847; Oregon (Quarterly) Hist. Soc.
Report, 1900; Schafer's Pacific Northwest, 1905; and most
important — H. H. Bancroft's invaluable transcripts of Douglas
and Finlayson MS. in his "British Columbia." For a popular
account of McLoughlin from an absolutely American point of
view nothing better exists than Mrs. Dye's "Old Oregon, though
it may be sniffed at by the higher critics for unqiuestioning ac-
ceptance of what they please to call the "Whitman myth."
Whitman's ride was not all myth, though the influence was



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greatly exaggerated; and the truth probably exists half way
between the critics' skepticism and the old legend. Wilkes'
Narrative of the Exploring Squadron, 1845; the reports of
Warre and Vavasseur, the two special spies on McLaughlin;
early numbers of the old B. C. Colonist and Cariboo Sentinel;
Sir Geo. Simpson's Journey Round the World; Lord's Natu-
ralist, 1866; Macfie's Vancouver Island, 1865; Mayne's B. C,
1862; Milton's North- West Passage, 1869; Paul Kane's Wan-
derings, 1859; Dimn's Or^on Territory, 1844; Grant's Ocean
to Ocean, 1873; Gray's Or^on, 1870; Greenhow's Oregon,
1844; Dawson^ Geol. Reports, Ottawa; Peter Burnett's Let-
ters to Herald N. Y. — also throw side lights on the episodes
related.



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CHAPTER XXXIV

1857-1870

THE PASSING OF THE COMPANY

THE tide of American colonization rolling
westward to Minnesota, to Dakota, to
Oregon, was not without effect on the
little isolated settlement of Red River. Oregon had
been wrested from the fur trader, not by diplomacy,
but by the rough-handed toiler coming in and taking
possession. The same thing happened in British
Columbia when the miner came. What was Red
River— the pioneer of all the Western colonies —
doing?

The union of Nor'Wester and Hudson's Bay had
thrown many old employes out of work. These now
retired to Red River, where they were granted one
hundred acres of land and paid a few shillings an acre
for another twenty-eight acres, making up farms of
one hundred and twenty-eight acres, all facing the
river and running back in long, narrow lots to the
highway now known as St. John's Road. St. John's
and Kildonan expanded to St. Paul's and St. An-

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drew's settlements northward. Across the river were
three sets of settlers — ^the French Plain Rangers, de-
scendants of the old Nor'Westers, the De Meuron
soldiers, and the Swiss. These gradually clustered
round the settlement just opposite the Assiniboine,
where the Catholic missionaries were building chapel
and school, and the place became known as St. Boni-
face, after the patron saint of the Germans. In the
old buildings of Fort Douglas lived the colony gov-
ernor distinct from the Company governor. Sir
Greorge Simpson, whose habitat was Fort Garry, near
the site of old Fort Gibraltar, when he was in the West,
and Lachine, at Montreal, when he was in the East.

The colonists continued to hunt bufifalo in Minne-
sota during the winter and to cultivate their farms in
the summer; but what to do for a market? Col-
onists in Oregon could sell their produce to the Span-
iards, or the Russians, or the Yankee skippers pass-
ing up and down the coast. Colonists in British
Columbia found a market with the miners, but to
whom could the Red River farmer sell but to the fur
company? For his provisions from England, he
paid a freight of 33 per cent, ocean rate, 58 per cent,
profit to the Company, and another 20 per cent, land
rate from Hudson Bay to Red River — a total of
over 1 10 per cent, advance on all purchases. For what
he sold to the Company, he received only the lowest

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price, and he might on no account sell furs. Furs
were the exclusive prerogative of the Company. For
his produce, he was credited on the books, but the
credit side seldom balanced the debit side; and on
the difference the Red River settler was charged
5 per cent. — not a high debtors' rate when it is con-
sidered that it was levied by a monopoly, that had
absolute power over the debtor; and that the modem
debtors' rate is legalized at 6 and 8 per cent. It was
not the rate charged that discouraged the Red River
settler; but the fact that paying an advance of no
per cent, on all purchases and receiving only the
lowest market price for all farm produce — two shil-
lings-six pence for wheat a bushel — he could never
hope by any possibility to make his earnings and his
spendings baJance. Mr. Halkett, a relative of Sel-
kirk's, came out in 1822, to settle up the affairs of
the dead nobleman. The Company generously
wrote off all debt, which was accumulated interest,
and remitted one-fifth of the principal to all settlers.

Mr. Halkett and Sir George Simpson then talked
over plans to create a market for the colonist. These
successive plans and their successive failures belong
to the history of the colony rather than the history
of the Company, and cannot be fully given here.

There was the Buffalo Wool Company of 1822,
under Pritchard's management, which set all the

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farmers scouring the plains as buffalo hunters with
schemes as roseate as the South Sea Bubble; and
like the South Sea Bubble the roseate scheme came
to grief. It cost $12.50 a yard to manufacture cloth
that sold for only $1.10; and the Hudson's Bay
Company wrote a loss of $12,000 off their books for
this experiment.

Alex MacDonell, a bottle-loving Scotchman, who
had acted as governor of the colony after Semple's
death, and who became notorious as "the grass-
hopper governor" because his regime caused the
colonists as great grief as the grasshopper plague —
now gave place to Governor Bulger. Over at the
Company fort, John Clarke of Athabasca fame, now
returned from Montreal with an aristocratic Swiss
lady as his bride — ^acts as Chief Factor under Gov-
ernor Simpson.

The next essay is to send Laidlaw down to Prairie
du Chien on the Mississippi to buy a stock of seed
wheat to be rafted up the Mississippi across a por-
tage and down the Red River. He buys two
hundred and fifty bushels at $2.40 a bushel, but
what with rafting and incidentals before it reaches
the colonist, it has cost the Hudson's Bay Company
;£i,040. Next, an experimental farm must be tried
to teach these new colonists how to farm in the new
country. The same Mr. Laidlaw with the same

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grand ideas is put in charge of the Hayfield Farm.
It is launched with the style of a baronial estate —
fine houses, fine stables, a multitude of servants, a
liberal tap in the wine cellar; and a total loss to the
Hudson's Bay Company of £2,000. There follow
experiments of driving sheep to Red River all the'
way from Missouri, and of a Wool Company that
ends as the Buffalo Company had, and of flax grow-
ing, the flax rotting in the fields for lack of a pur-
chaser. What with disastrous experiments and a
grasshopper plague and a flood that floats the houses
of half the population down the ice-jammed current
of the raging Red, the De Meurons and Swiss become
discouraged. It was noticed during the flood that the
De Meurons had an unusual quantity of hides and
beef to sell; and that the settlers had extraordinary
diflficulty finding their scattered herds. What little
reputation the De Meurons had, they now lost; and
many of them with their Swiss neighbors deserted
Red River for the new settlements of Minnesota.
From ranging the plains with the buffalo hunters of
Pembina, the Swiss came on south to Fort Snelling,
near modern St. Paul, and so formed the nucleus
of the first settlements in Minnesota. It has
been charged that the Hudson's Bay Company
never meant any of these experiments to succeed;
that it designed them so they would fail and prove

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to the world the country was unfit for settlement.
Such a charge is far-fetched with just enough truth
to give the falsity semblance. The Company were
not farmers. They were traders, and it is not sur-
prising that fur men's experiments at farming should
be a failure; but that the Hudson's Bay Company
deliberately went to work to throw away sums of
money ranging from $5,000 to $17,000 will hardly be
credited with those who know the inner working of
an organization whose economy was so strict it saved
nails when it could use wooden pegs.

American herdsmen as an experiment had driven
up herds of cattle to sell to the Red River colonists.
This was the beginning of trade with St. Paul. Hence-
forward, what produce Red River people could not
sell to the Hudson's Bay Company, was sent to St.
Paul. Then the St. Paul traders paid higher prices
than the Hudson's Bay Company. Twice a year
the long lines of Red River ox carts, like Eastern
caravans, creaked over the looping prairie trail of
Red River southward to St. Paul with bufifalo hides
and farm products. These carts were famous in
their day. They were built entirely of wood, hub,
spokes, rim and tire of wheel, pegs even taking the
place of nails. Hence, if a cart broke down on the
way, it could be mended by recourse to the nearest
clump of brushwood. The Sioux were at this time

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the greatest danger to the cart brigades, and the
settlers always traveled together for protection; but
the Indians wished to stay on good terms with the
Hudson's Bay Company, and had the settlers carry
an H. B. C. flag as a signal of friendship with the fur
traders. Within a few years, twelve hundred Red
River carts rumbled and creaked their way to St.
Paul in June and September. Simpson had issued
Hudson's Bay Company notes oi £ij 5 shillings and
I shilling, to avoid the account system, and these
notes were always redeemable at any fur post for
Company goods, but in St. Paul, the settlers for the
first time began using currency that was coin.

Early in the thirties, possibly owing to the dangers
from the Sioux, Governor Simpson ordered the build-
ing of the stone forts — Upper Fort Garry as a strong-
hold for the Company, Lower Fort Garry near St.
Andrew's Rapids twenty miles north, as a residence
for himself and trading post for the lake Indians.
These were the last stone forts built by the fur trader
in America. Of Upper Fort Garry there remains
to-day only the old gray stone gate, to be seen at the
south end of Main Street in Winnipeg. Lower Fort
Garry yet stands as Simpson had it built — the last
relic of feudalism in America — high massive stone
walls with stores and residence in the court yard.

Other operations Simpson pushed for the Com-
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pany. McLean is sent in '37 to explore the interior
of Labrador. John Clarke is dispatched to establish
forts down MacKenzie River almost to the Arctic.
Bell goes overland, in 1846, to the Yukon. Murray,
later of Pembina, buUds Fort Yukon, and Campbell
between 1840 and 1848 explores both the Pelly and
the Yukon, building Fort Selkirk.

The explorations that had begun when Radisson
came to Hudson Bay in his canoe from Lake Supe-
rior, were now completed by the Compan)r's boats
going down the MacKenzie to the Arctic and down
the Yukon to Bering Sea. How big was the empire
won from savagery by fur trader? Within a few
thousand miles of the same size as Europe. Spain
won a Mexico and a Peru from savagery; but her
soldiers' cruelty outdid the worst horrors of Indian
warfare, steeped every mile of the forward march
with the blood of the innocent natives, and reduced
those natives to a state of slavery that was a hell upon
earth. The United States won an empire from sav-
agery, but she did it by an ever-shifting frontier,
that was invariably known from Tennessee to Ore-
gon, as "the Bloody Ground." Behind that shifting
frontier was the American pioneer with his sharp-
shooter. In front of that frontier was the Indian
with his tomahawk. Between them was the Bloody
Ground. In the sixteen-hundreds, that Bloody

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Ground was west of the Alleghanies in Ohio and
Tennessee and Kentucky, In the seventeen-hun-
dreds, it had shifted forward to the Mississippi; In
the eighteen-hundreds, it was on the plains and in
the mountains and in Oregon. Always, the forward
step of white man, the backward step of red man-
had meant a battle, bloodshed; now the colonists
wiped out by the Sioux in Minnesota; or the m^ission-
aries massacred by the Cayuse in Oregon; or the
Indians shot down and fleeing to the caves of the
mountains like hunted animals.

How many massacres marked the forward march
of the Hudson's Bay Company from Atlantic to Pa-
cific? Not one. The only massacre, that of Seven
Oaks, was a fight of fur trader against fur trader.
The raids such as Heame saw on the Coppermine
were raids of tribe on tribe, not white man on Indian,
nor Indian on white man. "Smug old lady," ene-
mies designated the Hudson's Bay Company. " Op-
pressor, monopoly, intriguing aristocrats," the early
settlers of Oregon called her. Grant all the sins of
omission common to smug, conservative old ladies!
Grant all the sins of commission — greed, secrecy,
craft, subterfuge — common the world over to monop-
olies! Of these things and more was the Hudson^ s
Bay Company guilty in its long despotic reign of
two hundred years. But set over against its sins,

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

€ ■

this other factj a record which no other organization
in the world may boast — the bloodless conquest of an
empire from savagery I

Apart from Selkirk's friends, the Hudson's Bay
Company had never been favorable to the idea of
colonizing Red River. Now that the colonists had
opened connections with American traders of St.
Paul, it became evident that the Hudson's Bay must
relinquish sovereignty over Red River Colony, or
buy out Selkirk's interests and own the colony, lock,
stock and barrel. In 1835, ^^^ ^^^^ ^^ Lo^^ Selkirk
sold back to the Hudson's Bay Company the vast
grant of Red River for some ;^84,ooo. The sum
seems large, but I doubt if it covered a tenth of what
Selkirk had spent, for it will be recalled, though he
intended in the first place to sell the land, he ended
by giving it to the settlers scot free. To-day, the
sum for which Selkirk's heirs sold back Red River,
would hardly buy a comer lot on Main Street, Winni-
peg. Selkirk's heirs retained their shares in Hud-
son's Bay stock, which ultimately paid them back
many times over what Selkirk had lost.

Why did the Company buy back Red River?
Behold the sequence! Settlers are crowding into
Minnesota. The settlers of Red River are begin-
ning to ask for a form of government. They want to

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rule themselves as the Americans do south of the
boundary. Good! The Company will take care
there is no independent government such as was set
up in Oregon and ended by ousting the fur trader.
The Company will give the settlers a form of govern-
ment. The Council of Assiniboia is organized.
President of the Council is Sir George Simpson, gov-
ernor of the Company. Vice-president is Alex
Christie, governor of the colony; and the other thir-
teen members are old Hudson^s Bay officers. The
government of Assiniboia is nothing more or less than
a Company oligarchy; but that serves the Hudson's
Bay better than an independent government, or a
government friendly to the American traders. But
deeper and more practical reason lies beneath this
move. Selkirk's colony was not to interfere with the
fur trade. Before the Red River carts set out for St.
Paul it is customary for the Hudson's Bay officers
to search the cargoes. More! They search the set-
tlers' houses, poking long sticks up the deep set
chimney places for hidden furs; and sometimes the
chimney casts out cached furs, which are confiscated.
Old French Nor'Westers begin to ask themselves —
is this a free country? The Company responds by
burning down the shanties of two hunters on Lake
Manitoba in 1826, who had dared to trade furs from
the Indians. These furs, the two Frenchmen no

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doubt meant to sell to St. Paul traders who paid just
four times higher than the Hudson's Bay. Alto-
gether, it is safer for the Company to buy out Sel-
kirk's colony themselves and organize laws and
police to enforce the laws — especially the supremest
law — against illicit fur trading.

First test of the new government comes in 1836,
when one St. Dennis is sentenced to be flogged for
theft. A huge De Meuron is to wield the lash, but
this spectacle of jury law in a land that has been
ruled by paternalism for two hundred years, ruled
by despot's strong right arm — is something so re-
pugnant to the Plain Rangers, they stone the execu-
tioner and chase him till he jumps into a well. In
1844 is issued proclamation that all business letters
sent through the Company must be left open for
perusal, and that land will be deeded to settlers only
on condition of forfeiture if illicit trade in furs be
discovered. In fact, as that intercourse with the
American traders of the Mississippi increases, it is
as difficult for the Company to stop illicit fur trading
as for customs officers to stop smuggling.

That provisional government in Or^on had
caught the Company napping. Not so shall it be
in Red River. If the despot must have a standing
army to enforce his laws, an army he shall have.
The experience in Oregon furnishes a good excuse,

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The Company asks and the British Government
seiids out the Sixth Royal Regiment of five hundred
men under Colonel Crofton. Now laws shall be
enforced and provisional governments kept loyal,
and when Colonel Crofton leaves, there comes in
1848, Colonel Caldwell with one hundred old pen-
sioners, who may act as an army if need be, but settle
down as colonists and impart to Red River some-
what of the gayety and pomp and pleasure seeking,
leisurely good fellowship of English garrison life.
Year after year for twenty years, crops have been
' botmteous. Flocks have multiplied. Granaries are
bursting with fullness of stores. Though there is no
market, there is plenty in the land. Though there
i^ little coin current of the realm, there is no want;
and the people stuck oflf here at the back of beyond



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 49 of 50)