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Sir James Douglas
Chapter II - The Traveller Overland


IN the record of coastwise exploration, of which a brief account was given in the preceding chapter, it will have been noted that the explorers, if they landed at all, did not ordinarily venture beyond gunshot of the waters whereon their vessels rode, and that the information they brought back related entirely to the configuration of the shore or to the animal life which teemed in the adjacent seas. The traveller overland was scarcely possible until the sailor had supplied him with a sure objective; but his advent, when at last he came, had a more immediate significance for the country. He came as the forerunner of the trade that had already opened up the whole of the interior continent and that is notable in history for the fierce rivalry with which it sought new worlds to conquer. With the first dip of his paddle in the tumultuous upper waters of the western slope, the hour of civilization for that mighty region may be said to have struck; while with the firm establishment of the fur trade as the dominant local influence we are come at once to a period from which conditions began—tentatively at first, but in accordance with a definite process—to take on the form which was destined to be final. The sailor showed the way, but it was the overland traveller who entered in and took possession.

There is a wealth of material bearing on this important epoch in the settlement of the continent. The Pacific slope, no less than the border lands of Canada and New England, was the meeting place of many an old-time jealousy ; and many political currents of the great world sent their waves into that distant territory. Europe and the new-born republic lay behind—the immediate fountains of energy; before, was all the glamour of the ancient East, to which, even yet, America could be thought of as a stepping-stone. But our concern must first be with the men whose unconquerable will and daring were needed before any nation could lay claim to the land—with the traveller and the trader who were the first to scale the mighty barrier of the mountains and to penetrate the fertile valleys that lay beyond.

It is a singular tribute to tenacity of purpose (the wish being father to the thought) that the search for the North-West Passage furnished a motive hardly less powerful for the earliest expeditions overland than for those that had been undertaken by sea. The firm belief in the existence of an ice-free channel did not end with the conclusive voyages of Cook and Vancouver. In England especially, when almost every other nation had abandoned the pursuit, a stubborn confidence remained. From Frobisher, Gilbert and Davis, in the sixteenth century, through Hudson, Barrow and Baffin in the seventeenth, to Ross, Franklin and McClintock in the nineteenth, the tradition on the Atlantic seaboard had been handed on. But, long before the navigator gave over the quest, other agencies had been invoked. One of the most frequent complaints against the Hudson's Bay Company in the eighteenth century was that it had done little to develop the land acquired by its charter, and, especially, that it had made no serious effort to find a shorter route to the Pacific. Hence the expeditions of Hearne, Rae, and Simpson, on behalf of the company, and the discovery of the Coppermine River in 1769. Hence, also, with a shifting of the scene and leading actors, the historic voyage of Alexander Mackenzie to the mouth of the river bearing his name, and his expedition later to the Pacific—efforts fruitless in so far as their immediate objective was concerned, but rich beyond measure in ultimate results for his country and for humanity. The subject proper of this chapter may begin with Mackenzie.

It is not necessary in referring to the North-West Company, whose servant Mackenzie was, to do more than mention that it was organized at Montreal in 1784, and that its object was to secure the trade of the remoter Indian territories without fear or favour of the Hudson's Bay Company, a rival with which its members were unable separately to contend. For the nonce, success attended the venture ; the ancient and more powerful rival was outstripped ; and to the North-West Company fell the honour of being the first to send its men into the country of the Pacific slope. The company was, in effect, a consolidation of the interests of a number of independent merchants, trading across a territory two, and even three thousand miles in extent, and so beset with difficulties that years often elapsed between the first capture and final delivery of the furs. The traffic was carried on through coureurs de bois and voyageurs, that unique and ever fascinating type indigenous to this continent—their home, the forest and the plain ; their instincts, those of the wildest nomad ; their pleasures, feasting and song ; their literature—oral, as among all primitive peoples—the chanson and conte; their calling, hunting and trapping, and the wielding of the paddle and the axe over river and portage. Of such was the domain to which the lad Mackenzie came. Its dominion was the whole boundless west.

The portraits of Sir Alexander Mackenzie reveal a personality in which strength of intellect and purpose was suffused and exalted by the imagination which belongs to the true artist. Without rashness or impetuosity, he possessed a will and energy of the most indomitable; and his well-balanced Scottish mind and his instinct for detail enabled him, without danger, to cherish the greatest resolves and to risk the largest undertakings. Of Stornoway parentage, he early emigrated to Canada and was bound apprentice to the fur trade. At thirty-four years old, we find him risen to the command of Fort Chipewyan on Athabaska Lake, in the midmost of the vast expanse that lies between Hudson Bay, the Arctic and the Pacific. Mackenzie knew of the discoveries of Hearne and longed, both for his own and his company's fame, to rival or eclipse them. Fort Chipewyan had, in fact, been built as much with discovery as with trade in view. It was from this point, accordingly, that he set out in 1789 to find, and afterward to trace, the great river of the north —the Mackenzie, as he named it in reasonable pride—to its delta in the Arctic Ocean, nearly a thousand miles distant, and to satisfy himself and the world of the futility of seeking a route beyond to the Atlantic. On his return, he had already resolved to attempt the more dangerous passage westward to the Pacific, where " white men wearing armour" were to be met, according to Indian legend, doubtless referring to Quadra's Spaniards. But the task required special preparation; and Mackenzie deferred its execution until he had visited England, where he made careful study of the narratives of Cook and other navigators and acquired a more perfect knowledge of astronomical instruments. Thus equipped, he returned to Western Canada. Leaving Fort Chipewyan on October 10th, 1792, he set forth on his memorable journey.

The route lay by the Peace River, nine hundred miles to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where Mackenzie erected a fort and spent the winter. By June 12th, 1793, he had ascended that difficult river to its source. Crossing the height of land, he found within a mile of the Peace a small stream flowing southward. This was the Tacouche Tesse, afterwards the Fraser, the mouth of which was already known to the sailors of the Pacific, but which had never been seen inland before. Mackenzie followed its course in the belief that he had found the long-sought river Oregon ; but learning from the natives, some two hundred miles below, that a shorter route to the sea could be taken overland, he retraced his steps to a branch, named afterwards the West Road River, and proceeded for the rest of the journey on foot. On July 20th, at the mouth of the Bella Coola, he came upon the Pacific.

It would be hard to overstate the difficulties and dangers as well as the importance of Mackenzie's journey. As the crow flies, over a thousand miles of rugged mountain and treacherous waterway lies between Fort Chipewyan and the Pacific. The wandering of De Soto and his Spaniards in the wild country of the Gulf of Mexico, the crossing of the Rockies by the Astor traders, or the famous ride of Whitman from the Oregon to the city of Washington may equal it perhaps as feats of endurance; yet the self-imposed and unflinchingly executed task of Mackenzie forms a record of courage and resource-fulness such as the annals of few nations can display. Geographically, the voyage was an additional blow —all but the final one—at the notion of a North-West Passage. Mackenzie, gazing at the Pacific after the long battle with the Rockies and the wilderness, is an incomparably greater figure than Balboa—nay, is worthy of being named with Columbus himself. He had penetrated a vast and unknown continent still in a condition of untamed nature and offering every obstacle of rapid river, impenetrable forest, sky-towering mountain, and the extremes of a variable climate. At every step new dangers confronted him. Strange skies or the lodges of hostile savages were his only roof. Tribes who had never before seen white men had to be awed or conciliated. He was many a time face to face with starvation and with the mutiny begotten of despair. His final success was almost a miracle of victory. He is his own historian in a narrative that stands with that of Caesar for simple dignity and plain truthfulness. Napoleon had it translated into French and it became one of his favourite books—an eminent recognition by one master mind of the greatness of another.

His body lies in the churchyard of Avoch, beside that of his gifted and beautiful wife, Lady Geddes Mackenzie, who survived until 1860. The stone at his head bears the record of his wonderful life. But his sufficient title to fame was the legend roughly painted by his own hand on a rock on the shores of the Pacific: "Alexander Mackenzie, from CANADA, BY LAND, THE TWENTY-SECOND OF JULY, ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND NINETY-THREE."

Mackenzie's expedition was the beginning of a new life for the country west of the Rocky Mountains. Out of the territory which he traversed in that famous journey were formed, before a quarter of a century had passed, two great districts—the one, New Caledonia; the other and more celebrated, Oregon. These areas received their titles from circumstances in themselves of interest to history. Nearly all the traders and proprietors of the North-West Company were of Scottish birth or descent, and the region of the Peace, through which the fur trade followed Mackenzie, was named in honour of their rugged native land. By the title of New Caledonia the north-eastern portion, and often the whole, of British Columbia was for a long time known. Strictly speaking, the district occupied a huge triangle, the base of which extended from the southernmost point of Alaska to the Rocky Mountains, containing the greater part of the present districts of Cassiar and Cariboo. The rest of British Columbia was included in the far extending region to the south and west known as Oregon. The meaning and origin of the word are wholly obscure. Jonathan Carver, an early traveller in the interior of the continent, refers in 1779 to the Oregon River, of which he had heard from the natives, or had read, perhaps, in the narratives of others. Whether Carver invented the name, whether he mistook the title current among the Indians, or whether the word itself has since perished from their language, remains unknown. In process of time the territory westward through which the river was supposed to flow came also to be known as Oregon or the Oregon Territory. Some years later, as we know, a river, the mouth of which had previously been sighted by Heceta the Spaniard, was discovered by Gray of Boston and named the Columbia. Thenceforward the two names, Oregon and Columbia, were applied indifferently to the same vague territory. It happened, accordingly, when the western boundary line between the United States and Canada was fixed at the 49th parallel, that the country north of it was called British Columbia, to distinguish it from the portion lying south of the line. Here, for fifty years after the discoveries of Mackenzie, was the scene of action of the men who made the history of the Pacific coast. The day of the navigator, except as an auxiliary to the fur trader and the landsman, had forever passed away.

After Mackenzie, the first to enter the interior of British Columbia were David Thompson and Simon Fraser. Both were employees of the North-West Company. Thompson, who was an astronomer, had been previously in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, making surveys of its eastern territories. After joining the rival enterprise, he had travelled north and south throughout the region immediately east of the Rocky Mountains, from the Peace into the heart of the Mandan country, obtaining a general knowledge of the inhabitants and of the state of the fur trade. Combining a scientific training with experience in the methods of commerce, Thompson was invaluable to the company for the work in which he was for so many years engaged. After several ineffectual attempts to cross the mountains south of Mackenzie's point of ingress, Thompson penetrated into the interior of the Bow River Pass, through which the Canadian Pacific Railway now enters the Rockies. This was in 1805. The hostility of the natives soon after compelled his return, but on a second expedition he discovered Howe's Pass, reached the Columbia River, ascended it to its source, and built Fort Kootenay. Thompson, in fact, stands in the highest rank among early travellers in British Columbia. He was the first to explore the Kootenay District; he was the discoverer of the Athabaska Pass; he descended the Columbia, (and as far as the Lewis River he was the first to do so,) proclaiming the sovereignty of Britain at the junction of the Spokane, and all but forestalling the establishment of the Astorians at its mouth. But this is to anticipate somewhat. Three years before Thompson had completed his work in 1811 and had returned to Eastern Canada (where he ended his days in poverty) Fraser and other members of the North-West Company had achieved an even more signal success in the race for trade, incidentally winning for their country a domain that is one of the most cherished in its possession to-day.

As the result of a conference held in 1805 at Fort William, the headquarters of the company, the task of extending its operations to the great new land discovered by Mackenzie had been assigned to Simon Fraser. Ascending the Peace River from Lake Athabaska, in the same season in which Lewis and Clark dropped down to the mouth of the Columbia and wintered there, Fraser confined his first year's efforts to the establishment of two trading-posts on the threshold of the new domain. In 1806, however, he portaged to the Tacouche Tesse, later to be known by his own name—then supposed to be either the Columbia or one of its tributaries—and built two forts, one on what is now Stuart Lake, and a second on the river itself. For still another year Fraser tarried in this region, busied in the firm planting of the company's power. It was at this stage that the territory over which his discoveries extended, and in which the company's operations were now carried on, received the definite title of New Caledonia. We may find an added interest in the man and the district from the fact that not many years afterwards, James Douglas, then a rising officer in the Hudson's Bay Company's service, came upon the same scene, and was one of the most active in the district of which Fraser laid the foundations.

But the crowning achievement of Fraser was to follow. What matter if the spur that pricked him on was the jealousy of rival traders? The fame of the voyage of Lewis and Clark had made clear to the North-West Company how immediate was the need of anticipating another on the north-west coast. Acting on instructions from headquarters, an expedition was fitted out in New Caledonia with the object of extending the company's rule at once to the Pacific. Three men, whose names are forever preserved in the annals of the Pacific slope,—Simon Fraser, John Stuart and Jules Maurice Quesnel,— with a crew of twenty-one, nineteen of whom were voyageurs, embarked on the undertaking. They were in four canoes, and the stream whose unknown reaches lay before them was the Fraser. Those only who have seen the tremendous rapids and cascades, the precipitous side walls and the thousand other dangers of that splendid river, can appreciate the nature of the task that confronted them. The Fraser has been described as a ragged gash in the mountains, by which, in ages gone by, the waters of a great interior sea burst through their barriers of rock to the ocean. The modern traveller gazes in wonder at the thread-like trail cut into the face of the overhanging cliffs, by which at dizzy heights the railway traces the yawning canyons through which the river hurls itself forward, and is lost in admiration at the daring of the men who carved its tortuous way along the mountains. Even greater was the task of Fraser and his men, who for the first time, without landmark to guide them or knowledge of the country of any kind, and beset by hostile natives, followed the river throughout its length from source to mouth, a distance of seven hundred and fifty miles. Fort George, the point of departure, was left on May, 28th 1808; the journey to tide water was completed on July 1st. To the sea itself Fraser was prevented by the natives from penetrating. Returning, the party arrived at Fort George on August 6th. Thus was accomplished the second epoch-making feat of exploration in British Columbia. It was only less notable than that of Mackenzie himself. The latter had demonstrated that it was possible, though at a fearful price, to reach the Pacific overland. Fraser had proved that the river he had descended was not the Columbia, but an independent stream which fell into the sea over seven degrees further north.

It is necessary now to turn to the phase in the development of the Pacific coast which more than all others influenced its political destiny. And here it will be well to define somewhat the relative positions of Great Britain and the United States with respect to the sovereignty of the western continent at the end of the eighteenth century. Up to this time, no nation, certainly neither of the two in question, had established any absolute claim to the country north of Lower California. Drake had harried the Spaniards, and had taken possession of the Californian coast in the name of Elizabeth; British navigators, also, had in later times done more than those of any other nation to determine the northern shore line and to make it known to the world. Spain had to all intents abandoned the field. On the other hand, the United States could claim with justice to have solved the mystery of the Great River of the West. As yet, moreover, there had been no actual occupation of Nootka, and only a nominal possession of Vancouver Island, by Great Britain. The situation, therefore, was chaotic. About the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, a number of events combined to create an interest in the country west of the Rocky Mountains that commanded order to arise. The question, to which of the two Anglo-Saxon nations the Oregon territory belonged, was slowly formulating itself.

At first its utterance was no more than a whisper—a passing word in the halls of diplomacy and state. Forty years before, the capture of Quebec and the subsequent cession of Canada to England had changed the face of politics on the continent. To this had succeeded the American revolution, a counter-change still more momentous. The new conditions, however, did not make themselves felt at once in the western country. It was not, in fact, until 1803, that any echo of the great events that had happened on the Atlantic was heard on the Pacific. It came then as the result of very special circumstances. In 1762, Spain had ceded to France in perpetuity the whole of the territory of Louisiana. There has already been occasion to remark the vagueness of the region included in that comprehensive term. In the cession of 1762, no attempt was made to dispel the uncertainty; and indeed it would have been impossible. In the following year, a treaty which considerably modified this arrangement was concluded between France and Spain on the one hand, and Great Britain and Portugal on the other, but again not a word was included as to the eastern or western limits of Louisiana, though Great Britain was granted Canada, Florida and the portion of Louisiana " east of the line drawn along the Mississippi from its source to the River Iberville, thence along the middle of the Iberville and the Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the sea." In the course of events, the territory was again ceded back to France in 1800, and in 1803 passed by purchase into the possession of the United States. Immediately the question of its boundaries arose, this time with an insistence that demanded an answer. Did they extend west of the Mississippi? Did they embrace the whole of the interior plateau to the foot of the Rocky Mountains? Did they extend to the ocean? If so, for how far north and south? What were the southern limits of British territory? To its earlier possessors, Louisiana had been a word and little more; to the United States it was the gateway to a golden future. Spain and Great Britain were the other nations affected, as the possessors of contiguous territory to the south and north. Spain on the one hand claimed the whole of the territory west of the Mississippi, to which the United States opposed a counter claim to an enormous portion of the coast of the Mexican Gulf. As against Great Britain, the view held was that the 49th parallel of latitude marked the southern limit of British possession. Both of these disputes were postponed for settlement from time to time with results unfortunate to British interests.

Varying estimates have been placed upon the character of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the United States. Whether as a result of Jefferson's personal initiative or of the foresight of his advisers, several notable events occurred within the period of his influence to determine the trend of circumstances unfavourably to British interests beyond the Mississippi. These were: the acquisition of Louisiana, for which Napoleon was paid the sum of $15,000,000; the expedition of Lewis and Clark to the mouth of the Columbia River; and the founding of Astoria by the Astor Fur Company. Whoever pointed the way, the foundation was laid in these events for the expansion of the republic across the Mississippi and beyond the Rocky Mountains. While the great mass of the people cared nothing for the west, there were a few who realized its possibilities. Jefferson was undoubtedly one of the latter. Projecting his vision into the future, he saw the hosts of settlers pressing further and further west—beyond the Alleghanies; across the Ohio and the Mississippi; along the valleys of the mighty rivers which rise among the foothills of the Rockies; overcoming finally the Rockies themselves, and surging down into the valleys of the Pacific slope; blazing trails that were to become national highroads; building homes, towns and cities; carving out new states of the republic. He saw the possibility of adding another and larger empire to the thirteen states. He saw and he acted. He had read of the overland journey of Mackenzie; he knew that the British flag was being carried by the fur traders across the continent in the north; and he realized not only the possibilities that lay in the fur trade, but that, in the time to come, settled industry would follow the march of the fur brigades, and the solitude of the forest and the plain be broken by the voices of civilization.

In the meantime, and while the dream was forming in his mind, the territory of a foreign nation intervened. This obstacle removed, the genius of the American people, it was thought, might be trusted to do the rest. But the Louisiana purchase did not fully accomplish the end that Jefferson had in view. The added claim of exploration was still lacking. It was to establish this that Jefferson now equipped the second great expedition to cross the continent. Lewis and Clark, two experienced frontiersmen, were placed in command. As the journey was long and hazardous, and the territory through which it lay unknown, the president took the utmost care to provide against every contingency. The objective was the mouth of the Columbia, to the credit of discovering which the United States already laid claim; but it was by no means certain where the expedition would end. If the Pacific were reached at all, it might be in Spanish, British or Russian territory. The impression was accordingly conveyed that the expedition was in the interests of science and literature alone, and to this end the cooperation of the other nations was sought and obtained. The leaders were supplied with passports by the representatives of the powers at Washington, so that they might travel without hindrance through foreign territory, and were furnished besides with letters of credit for use in foreign ports. At the same time a confidential message was despatched to congress disclosing the real object of the enterprise, which was to strengthen the claim of the United States to the distant west against the day of settling the respective titles of the nations having interests between the Mississippi and the Pacific. The ruse was in every detail successful. Not only were the necessary funds forthcoming; but the representatives of the foreign powers at Washington vied with each other in rendering their assistance. The details of this famous expedition are not germane to the present narrative. It was thoroughly equipped, though costing only $2,500; it consisted of forty-five persons; the starting-point was St. Louis and the actual distance travelled amounted to about one-third of the circumference of the globe. The route lay from Illinois through regions since known as Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The main waterways followed on the eastern side of the mountains were the Missouri and the Yellowstone; and on the Pacific side, the Lewis, the Kooskooskee, and the Columbia. The continental divide was surmounted in three places, many miles apart. Though great hardships were often encountered, and sometimes suffering and immediate peril, there was but one life lost. The expedition occupied over two years, from May, 1804 until August, 1806, during which time all communication with the outside world was suspended and an immense mass of exact information respecting this hitherto unexplored territory was made available. Lewis and Clark wintered at Fort Clatsop, on the Pacific Coast. This great expedition, so successfully brought to an end, was not the only one that Jefferson had in mind; but the futile mission of John Ledyard to Russia and the ignoble ending of the project of Andre Michaux, for which Lewis volunteered, call for no special comment. In the light of events, it is unnecessary to emphasize the momentous consequences which flowed from the Louisiana purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Seldom has appreciation more acute of the greatness of an opportunity been seen in history; seldom has the wisdom that divined possessed the power to execute in equal measure. Jefferson was the prototype of American diplomacy; Lewis and Clark were the prototypes of the men who followed its voice and reaped its harvest.

The logical sequel of the journey of Lewis and Clark was the formation in 1810 of the Pacific Fur Company by John Jacob Astor of New York. The organization has been made a name in literature by Washington Irving. Astor had risen from humble circumstances to great wealth and political influence. He was the friend of Jefferson, and the project of extending the territory of the United States westward, doubtless owed much to his encouragement. Appreciating to the full, from his intimate association with the fur trade, the value to commerce of the territory west of the Mississippi, Astor's ambition was to obtain for himself a sphere of influence in the United States similar to that possessed by the North-West and Hudson's Bay Companies in British America. Not less anxious was he, for the same reason, to see the 49th parallel extended to the Pacific Ocean as the dividing line between the two countries. There can be little question that when the Lewis and Clark expedition was decided upon, it was with the entire concurrence of Astor. From Irving, who deals at length with Astor's aims and methods, we learn of the close relationship which existed between him and the administration; it is not, therefore, far to seek for the inspiration of Jefferson's policy. Astor, the rival of the British fur companies, was the only man of his time who had an overpowering self-interest in extending the United States westward to the Pacific.

The Pacific Fur Company was not the first organization of its kind, but it was the first which carried out its aims in accordance with a comprehensive plan combined with practical business experience and ability. The operations which it immediately set on foot partook of the nature of a national effort to counterbalance the success of the British companies and divert the fur trade from Montreal to New York. Thus, though its object was in the main a business one, it had, at the same time, many features that appealed to wider sympathy and support. The main features of Astor's project, as embodied in his company, involved the establishment of a line of posts along the Missouri and the Columbia to the mouth of the latter, where the chief trading depot of the company was to be situated. Subsidiary posts were to be set up in the interior and on the tributary streams of the Columbia to trade with the Indians; these would draw their supplies from the main establishment and bring to it the peltries they collected. Coasting vessels would be built and fitted out on the Columbia, to trade, at favourable seasons, along the north-west coast, and to return with the proceeds of their voyages to the place of deposit. In this way the entire Indian trade, both of the interior and of the coast, would converge at the mouth of the Columbia. A ship was to be sent annually from New York with reinforcements, supplies, and merchandise suited to the trade. It would take on board the furs collected during the preceding year, carry them to Canton, invest the proceeds in the rich stuffs of China, and return thus freighted to New York. What was of importance in the scheme was the development of trade with the Russian establishments on the north-west coast. This suggested many possibilities. As a preliminary step, a staff experienced in the Indian trade and inured to life in the wilderness was necessary. This was recruited in Montreal. Three prominent employees of the North-West Company were among those who accepted the terms of Astor. A personal representative and chief agent was appointed. The Pacific Fur Company was then formally incorporated and the work of organization perfected to its final details.

The expedition which it was determined at once to send out for the realization of these plans was divided into two parties; one to proceed in the ship Tonqvin by way of Cape Horn to the Columbia; the other to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark across the continent. The quarrels of the members of the party on the Tonqvin with her captain ; the final loss of the Ton-quin and the murder of her crew by the natives at Clayoquot ; the sending of a second ship from New York ; and the terrible sufferings of the overland party under Hunt, are famihar history. The establishment of Astoria and its varying fortunes need not detain us here. By a series of mishaps it soon passed into the possession of the North-West Company. Irving assigns the failure of the enterprise primarily to the loyalty of the employees to Great Britain and their former masters the North-West Company. There is force possibly in the contention. The final blow was the War of 1812. When peace was declared, Fort Astoria was ceded back to the United States, though without prejudice to the rights of Great Britain to the territory in which it was situated. The Pacific Fur Company, however, made no further attempt to carry out the projects of Astor; and the North-West Company, and subsequently the Hudson's Bay Company, continued in virtual occupation of the fort until the settlement of the boundary dispute in 1846. The abiding importance of the experiment lies in the fact that the occupation of the Columbia by the Astorians was put forward at the time of the settlement of the boundary question as one of the strongest claims in behalf of the United States. This international aspect of the case will be referred to later in the present volume.

It may be well to recapitulate in proper sequence the five great transcontinental expeditions of these early times as follows:—(1) The expedition of Alexander Mackenzie, by the Tacouche Tesse and Bella Coola Rivers, in 1793. (2) The expedition of Lewis and Clark, by the Missouri and the Columbia Rivers, in 1805. (3) The expedition of Simon Fraser, by the river which bears his name, formerly the Tacouche Tesse, in 1808. (4) The expedition of David Thompson, by the Columbia River, in 1811. (5) The overland expedition of the Astorians in 1811. Among the most glorious in the history of the Anglo-Saxon race, these great achievements must, for the moment, be remembered in their special and less happy significance: as shedding light upon the bitter rivalry which was to follow—of which indeed they were already the beginning—between the mother and the daughter countries for the continent so dauntlessly won for their common civilization.

It has now been shown, however briefly, by what steps the Pacific coast first became known to the world; and it has been noted, also, how the overland explorer completed the work of the navigator. The fur trader, it has been seen, was the first to enter the new country as other than a spy or adventurer, and his forts and depots were the first roofs, as his trafficking with the Indians was the first act of commerce, in the great interior. The remainder of this chapter may be fitly devoted to a statement of certain broad and salient features in the life and methods of this striking type as it existed during the first fifty years of the last century. These were the days of the trader in the full flush of his glory, and the recital of his leading characteristics, however familiar, is necessary to give a background to the succeeding narrative. In this it will be understood that the reference throughout is to the Hudson's Bay Company, which in 1821, after a struggle which had ended in armed hostilities and the effusion of blood, absorbed the North-West Company, and from that time forward, retaining only what seemed best in its former constituent bodies, completely dominated the trade and the life of the western country.

How the great enterpise—"the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay,"—came to birth in the revival of mercantile activity which followed the restoration of King Charles II; how Rupert, Prince of England and Bohemia, dashing cavalier and patron of commerce, became its founder; how the powers conferred upon it in that lavish age included, in addition to the "whole, entire and only liberty of Trade and Traffick," the absolute ownership of a third part of North America, with authority to frame laws, administer justice, wage war or make peace therein; how its early servants planted its rule on the edge of the wilderness amid difficulties that would have driven back any but the most determined of men ; how through a century and a half of steady progress—of bloody wars with the French, implacable rivalries with other traders, thrilling adventures and vicissitudes innumerable— it drove its purposes to a victorious end, sending out its explorers on journeys that gave a new face to the continent, naming some of the greatest rivers and mountains of the earth, spreading step by step the arteries of its trade and the empire of its flag over thousands of miles, and over thousands of souls; civilizing sometimes, corrupting and degrading often, bartering continually;—all these varied and commanding activities combine to form an episode unrivalled for the romantic and the picturesque in our history.

The general system under which the company carried on its multiform and far-extending business has been many times described. In the manner in which it adapted means to ends it could have little to learn from the largest enterprise of modern days. The minuteness of the trade and the tremendous distances which it traversed rendered necessary a method of accounting, at once the most elaborate and exact. For organization purposes, the vast dominions of the company were divided into four great departments. These were again divided into districts. Each district had its fixed and permanent trading-posts, as well as a number of temporary or flying stations, the latter frequently the precursors of the former. Here were the vital points of contact between the company and the trade from which it drew its life's blood: here the traders met and bartered with the Indians. Important posts or parties, together with the transportation service, were in the charge of chief clerks; a lower grade of employees managed the outlying stations. The districts were under the chief traders. In the departments, depots and distributing points were presided over by the factors, while over all the chief factor bore rule. An army of postmasters, interpreters, mechanics, guides, canoemen and apprentices made up the rank and file, though even here degrees were strictly recognized. In general terms, the service was made up of three classes; the servants, the clerks and apprentices, and the officers. The second class sat at the officers' mess and were addressed as gentlemen. But the officers were the real oligarchy, bound by special covenant to fidelity, and receiving their reward not in salary but in a share of the company's profits. Subject to the orders of his superior and the regulations of the company, each officer was supreme in his sphere of duty. The system, as will be seen, was military in its absolutism. The chief factor was lord paramount ; his word was law, to support and symbolize which the office was enveloped in a halo of dignity. When a chief factor transacted the most ordinary business, his habiliments were elaborate and imposing ; when he travelled, it was in state, with a retinue by whom he was lifted in and out of his conveyance, his arrivals and departures heralded by the firing of salutes. High above all reigned the governor of the company, a personage scarcely less exalted than the most absolute of sovereigns, owing allegiance to no one save the directorate in London, whose policy, as a matter of necessity, was largely dictated by his advice. Great indeed was the majesty that hedged about a governor of the company. But the show was no greater than the reality, though part of a deliberate plan to overawe the natives and subordinates where rebellion or mutiny would have meant extinction. It succeeded in so far as the immediate object was concerned; but, as examples show, it had sometimes an unhappy effect upon the ruler.

The company's Western Department, with which the present narrative has chiefly to do, included the entire region between the watershed of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, bounded on the north by Russian territory and the Northern Department (the latter embracing the country drained by the rivers running into the Arctic Ocean and Behring Sea) and on the south by the Mexican republic. Roughly, it extended a thousand miles in length, by half that distance in average width. The de'pot for the department was, in the early days, at Fort Vancouver, a post of considerable size (its stockade measuring 750 feet in length by 600 feet in breadth) situated on the Columbia River six miles above its junction with the Willamette. Afterwards it was removed to Victoria. Here the company's goods were received from abroad for distribution throughout the coast and the interior. Here were collected the furs as they were sent in by the traders for subsequent transportation to England around Cape Horn. Here, too, were the headquarters of the chief factor and the heart of the official life of the region. While Fort Vancouver remained the depot for a period of some twenty-three years, the districts north of the Columbia landed their supplies at the mouth of the Okanagan, and packed them on horses thence to their destination. For the service of the other districts, lying nearer the coast, the furs and goods were carried to and from the Fraser River. Goods for the Upper Columbia and Kootenay were landed at Fort Colville near the Rocky Mountains; those for the Snake River were landed at Walla Walla. The former became in time the centre of all the trade on the Columbia—the last post touched at by the brigades on their long journey from Fort Vancouver to Norway House. The coast ports were supplied by sailing vessels, the returning boats and vessels bringing in the furs collected at the several ports. The trade in New Caledonia, and in what is now known as the Yukon in the Northern Department, was carried on by way of the Athabaska route, of which the forts on Hudson Bay were the entrepdts.

The activity of the company in the Western Department was by no means restricted to the trade in peltries. In process of time, large farms were established in the vicinity of Victoria, on Puget Sound, in the Willamette valley and in other parts of the country. The trade in horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and general farm produce, soon attained importance. The erection of grist mills, sawmills, tanneries and dairies followed. A considerable fishing industry sprang up. Within a few years, the ships of the company were regularly exporting flour, grain, beef, pork and butter to the Russian settlements in Alaska and Siberia, lumber and fish to the Sandwich Islands, and hides and wool to England. The company was the first to open the coal mines of Vancouver Island, at Fort Rupert first and later at Nanaimo. The wants of its own communities and of the vessels of the coast furnished the original incentive; but the sale of a thousand tons to a vessel bound for California, during the height of the mining excitement, proved the inauguration of a trade that has since become of first importance to the district. It was, in fact, the proportions reached by the general commerce of the department, even at an early stage of its development, and the industries thus founded and nourished, that first attracted the attention of the outside world to the potentialities of the Pacific coast, the result being a gradual process of settlement that eventually extinguished the company's rule. The debt that is owing to the men who were the first to recognize in the natural resources of the country still greater possibilities than existed in the gathering of peltries—even though they could not clearly foresee the effect that was to follow for the company whose servants they were—is one that could not easily be overestimated. Had they followed tamely in the footsteps of precedent; had they lacked sagacity to perceive the wealth that lay in the fertile valleys, the teeming rivers and the timber-clad hillsides of the vast dominion whose present destiny they shaped at will, they might have purchased for the great master of their allegiance a few doubtful years of the power to barter "skin for skin"; but they would have thrown back the progress of the coast at least a quarter of a century, and they would have missed the opportunity of conferring upon their country a boon far beyond the gift of any corporation bound to a single and narrow circle of activity.

A word may be added as to the treatment accorded by the company to the Indians,—its equals in trade, its benefactors even, but with all the pathetic helplessness of an inferior race. There can be no doubt that the company was, before everything else, a keen trader. It took the Indian as it found him—and it kept him so. To be a hunter and a wanderer was the Indian's nature ; he would have been useless to the company had he been otherwise. There was no effort, accordingly, to civilize him,—none, for almost two centuries, to christianize him. But he received justice—or what he thought was justice—even kindness, dictated though both were by policy. To gain the Indian's confidence was a necessity of the trade; and the company made sure of this. In two centuries of rule over tribes of every shade of racial difference, ranging from the Eskimos of the Labrador and Arctic coasts, through the Crees, Sioux and Blackfeet of the interior, to the polyglot chaos of tribes that dwelt along the Pacific Ocean, war was unknown and violence and bloodshed only an occasional incident. Thousands of miles from any force of arms, trade was carried on in scores of factories in perfect trust. The coast tribes of the Western Department were perhaps more truculent and excitable than any on the continent, yet here as elsewhere Indian outrage was comparatively unknown. The manner in which intercourse between the trader and the Indian was held had much to do with this result. Respect was always paid to fairness in exchange. Docile as the Indian was, and avid of the goods that made his barren existence happier, this was no difficult task. In other respects an equal discretion was displayed. The relations established were ever those of reserve ; familiarity was permitted on no pretext, though firmness was tempered with tact, courtesy and the constant expression of good-will. The frequent intermarriages of traders with native women did much to secure the good feeling of the Indian, and to further the interests of the company. That some of the traders were profligate must be admitted ; that rum found its way into the trade has been proved ; but in these, as in other matters, the law of self-preservation was the constant monitor of the company. In the summing up, history will accord thanks to the company for the fruits of its attitude towards the Indian. Without that preparation of the Indian mind, the peaceful settlement of the country would have been impossible. When the hour of the fur trade had struck and the settler stood at the gateway of the mountains, he found a native race subdued to the methods of the white man, and ready to play its part in the new order. The Indian is to-day a more important factor in the labour market of British Columbia than of any other portion of the Dominion.

Of the life that went on beneath the extraordinary surface of the company's system and policy, who could give even a glimpse in a page ? It was a world in itself, so romantic and full of wonders that every fireside has listened to the story of it. Over half a continent it embraced scenes the most varied and sublime on the earth—the forest growth of ages, pathless and impenetrable; the endless prairie, roamed by millions of bison ; mountain lands unrivalled for wildness and grandeur; all alike interlaced by one of the most beautiful and majestic chains of waterways in the world, running down into the everlasting sea which bore the company's trade to its ultimate markets. Dotting the wilderness, hundreds of miles apart, were the "forts" or trading-posts of the company, whence it drew sustenance and by which it kept its grasp upon the land. Even these were stamped with individuality. Built, large and small, upon a common plan—a low and quadrangular centre structure surrounded by high palisades, flanked by bastions and defended by six-and twelve-pounders—they aptly proclaimed the rigour that ruled within. This was no less than martial law, to transgress which was punished with swift and ruthless severity, and from which the only seasons of respite came at Christmas and the New Year, or on the days, many months apart, on which news and letters were brought from the outside world—sunbursts of joy that made their recurrence the chief solace of an existence unparalleled for monotony and isolation. The brigades were the agents of this beneficence, the tie that bound the forts together, and constituted the veins and arteries of the system. In summer they came with goods in "York boats,"—nine tripmen to each, and eight boats to the brigade,—or by cart and cayuse over the prairie; in winter they brought only letters and newspapers by sledge and snowshoe, the gaily caparisoned dog trains making forty miles a day over the snow, sheltering under trees and bushes, and covering once a year the entire round of the company's trading-posts. But the real bond of union was the comradeship of the service which laid its spell (or its terror) upon all, the essence of which, for rude and polished alike, was its touch upon the aboriginal and the elemental in both wild and human nature. In such a setting, Ufe took on varied forms. The man of mighty will turned all to power, triumphing over difficulties that subdued and appalled others, and rose because he could do nothing else. Others in whom the flame burned less fiercely, adapted themselves to their surroundings and hewed out paths of useful effort. Others were broken utterly, consuming their hearts in the awful toil and loneliness until death or madness came.

The roll of honour in the company's western service is a long and illustrious one. From 1805 to 1846, and in British Columbia until 1858, the fur trader ruled on the coast. It was not an absolute sway: the settler arrived early to dispute it; and the half-century was one of conflict and evolution. Simpson, Ogden, Ermatinger, McDonald, McLeod, Tod, Yale, Dallas, Finlayson, Anderson, Black, McKay, Ross, Campbell, Murray, Dease, Rae, Tolmie, Grahame, are some of those who bore a share, in the early and formative period, in directing the energies and moulding the destinies of the country, each in his own field and method. Their impress can never be obliterated. But from the list of all that generation two names stand out preeminently in the history of the upbuilding of the Pacific Slope—McLoughlin and Douglas. Occasion more than once will be offered in the following pages to note the striking personality of the former of these great men. He was the founder and the patriarch—the first great leader of the company in Oregon. He made the career of Douglas, who was his friend and follower, possible. The superior of his disciple in all that touched the human and the lovable; magnetic, impulsive, eager; Napoleonic in the swiftness of his judgments and of his movements to execute them; resolute, brave and chivalrous, McLoughlin was swept from his feet in the end by a movement that struck at his emotions and his sense of right—the right of the mass as opposed to that of an individual interest. He could not, or he would not, stem the tide of settlement from the United States, so fatal to the company's and, as it proved, to his country's future. And when, in 1846, the land north of the Columbia to the 49th parallel passed to the United States, he went with it, divorced from an allegiance to which his whole life had been devoted. Douglas, his successor, less keen and restless; of an order of genius that had less perhaps of fire and humanity but more of purpose and obedience; studious, orderly, tactful and resourceful; commanding a rigid respect and admiration, if not love; one at all times master of himself and his surroundings, was undoubtedly the greater officer, if not the greater man. Of the two, Douglas must always remain of larger interest to the historian. He came into command at a moment of supreme importance in the period of rapid transition from old to new conditions, for which McLoughlin had opened the door. Unshackled by doubts of any kind, he was in a special degree qualified to deal with developments which he could not wholly control, but which he could influence powerfully in the direction of the company's interests, while at the same time clearly foreseeing that they must result in a new order wherein the company would cease to be a ruling factor. It was in truth to this last point that the enterprise of the fur trader in building forts to be the centres of future settlement; in opening lines of communication throughout the interior to be the avenues of future commerce; and in the bringing of ships to the coast depots to establish intercourse with the outside world, inevitably converged. Even a less clear-sighted observer than Douglas could not but see in the movements which drove the company out of Oregon and which planted a colony in the valley of the Red River, something that portended the ultimate extinction of its sovereignty in the west and the erection of popular government in its stead. Of never-fading interest in themselves the lives of the traders in the wilds of the interior and on the shores of the Pacific must always remain. That strange and varied period is a subject, probably, of which the ground has been no more than broken. McLoughlin was of it, and his lamp was extinguished when the trade passed away. Douglas too was of it, blood and bone; but he was something more. As has been said, our interest in the fur trade is for the fruits it bore in subsequent history. We have to watch its huge and tireless mechanism as, in measured process, James Douglas, the most notable figure which it produced in the country west of the Rocky Mountains, rose step by step to the post of chief command, thence, by the inevitable sequence of events, as the company gave place to civil government, to become the first representative of the Crown in a British colony on the Pacific Ocean.


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