The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay
Company CHAPTER XXXIX. - ON THE PACIFIC SLOPE
Extension of trade in New Caledonia—The Western
Department— Fort Vancouver built—Governor's residence and Bachelor's
Hall—Fort Colville—James Douglas, a man of note—A dignified official—An
Indian rising—A brave woman—The fertile Columbia Valley—Finlayson, a man
of action—Russian fur traders—Treaty of Alaska—Lease of Alaska to the
Hudson's Bay Company—Fort Langley—The great farm—Black at Kamloops—Fur
trader v. botanist—"No soul above a beaver's skin"—A tragic death—Chief
Nicola's eloquence—A murderer's fate.
The great exploration early in the century secured
the Pacific Slope very largely to the North-West Company. Several of
their most energetic agents, as the names of the rivers running into the
Pacific Ocean show, had made a deep impression on the region even as far
south as the mouth of the Columbia River. On the union of the North-West
and Hudson's Bay Companies, Governor Simpson threw as much energy into
the development of trade in the country on the western side of the Rocky
Mountains as if he had been a thorough-going Nor'-Wester.
In his administration from ocean to ocean he
divided the trading territory into four departments, viz. Montreal, the
Southern, the Northern, and the Western. In each of these there were
four factors, and these were, in the Western or Rocky Mountain
department, subject to one chief. Under the chief factor the gradation
was chief trader, chief clerk, apprenticed clerk, postmaster,
interpreter, voyageur, and labourer.
This fuller organization and the cessation of
strife resulted in a great increase of the trade of the Hudson's Bay
Company on the coast as well as the east side of the Rocky Mountains.
The old fort of Astoria, which was afterwards known as Fort George, was
found too far from the mountains for the convenience of the fur traders.
Accordingly in 1824-5, a new fort was erected on the north side of the
Columbia River, six miles above its Junction with the Willamette River.
The new fort was called Fort Vancouver, and was built on a prairie slope
about one mile back from the river, but it was afterwards moved nearer
the river bank. The new site was very convenient for carrying on the
overland traffic to Puget Sound. This fort was occupied for twenty-three
years, until international difficulties rendered its removal necessary.
Fort Vancouver was of considerable size, its
stockade measuring 750 ft. in length and 600 ft. in breadth. The
Governor's residence, Bachelor's Hall, and numerous other buildings made
up a considerable establishment. About the fort a farm was under
cultivation to the extent of fifteen hundred acres, and a large number
of cattle, sheep, and horses were bred upon it and supplied the trade
carried on with the Russians in the Far North.
Farther up the Columbia River, where the Walla
Walla River emptied in, a fort was constructed in 1818. The material for
this fort was brought a considerable distance, and being in the
neighbourhood of troublesome tribes of Indians, care was taken to make
the fort strong and defensible.
Still further up the Columbia River and near the
mountains, an important post, Fort Colville, was built. This fort became
the depot for all the trade done on the Columbia River; and from this
point the brigade which had been organized at Fort Vancouver made its
last call before undertaking the steep mountain climb which was
necessary in order that by the middle of March it might reach Norway
House and be reported at the great summer meeting of the fur traders'
council there. This task needed a trusty leader, and for many years
Chief Factor, afterward Sir James, Douglas became the man on whom
Governor and Council depended to do this service.
The mention of the name of James Douglas brings
before us the greatest and most notable man developed by the fur trade
of the Pacific slope. The history of this leader was for fifty years
after the coalition of the Companies in 1821, the history of the
Hudson's Bay Company on the Pacific.
Born near the beginning of the century, a scion of
the noble house of Douglas, young Douglas emigrated to Canada, entered
the North-West Company, learned French as if by magic, and though little
more than a lad, at once had heavy responsibilities thrown upon him. He
was enterprising and determined, with a judicious mixture of prudence.
He had capital business talents and an adaptability that stood him in
good stead in dealing with Indians. The veteran Chief Factor, McLoughlin,
who had served his term in the Nor'-Wester service about Lake Superior
and Lake Nepigon, was appointed to the charge of the Pacific or Western
District. He discerned the genius of his young subordinate, and with the
permission of the directors in London, after a short interval, took
Douglas west of the mountains to the scene of his future successes. The
friendship . between these chiefs of the Pacific Coast was thus early
begun, and they together did much to mould the British interests on the
Pacific Coast into a comely shape.
While McLoughlin crossed at once to the Columbia
and took charge of Fort Vancouver, he directed Douglas to go north to
New Caledonia, or what is now Northern British Columbia, to learn the
details of the fur trade of the mountains. Douglas threw himself
heartily into every part of his work. He not only learned the Indian
languages, and used them to advantage in the advancement of the fur
trade, but studied successfully the physical features of the country and
became an authority on the Pacific Slope which proved of greatest value
to the Company and the country for many a day.
Douglas had as his head-quarters Fort St. James,
near the outlet of Stuart Lake, i.e. just west of the summit of the
Rocky Mountains. He determined to enforce law and do away with the
disorder which prevailed in the district. An Indian, who some time
before had murdered one of the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, had
been allowed to go at large. Judgment being long deferred, the murderer
thought himself likely to be unmolested, and visited Stuart Lake.
Douglas, learning of his presence, with a weak garrison seized the
criminal and visited vengeance on him. The Indians were incensed, but
knowing that they had to deal with a doughty Douglas, employed stratagem
in their reprisals. The old chief came very humbly to the fort and,
knocking at the gate, was given admittance. He talked the affair over
with Douglas, and the matter seemed in a fair way to be settled when
another knock was heard at the gate. The chief stated that it was his
brother who sought to be admitted. The gate was opened, when in rushed
the whole of the Nisqually tribe. McLean vividly describes the scene
which ensued: "The men of the fort were overpowered ere they had time to
stand on their defence. Douglas, however, seized a wall-piece that was
mounted in the hall, and was about to discharge it on the crowd that was
pouring in upon him, when the chief seized him by the hands and held him
fast. For an instant his life was in the utmost peril, surrounded by
thirty or forty Indians, their knives drawn, and brandishing them over
his head with frantic gestures, and calling out to the chief, "Shall we
strike? Shall we strike?"
The chief hesitated, and at this critical moment
the interpreter's wife (daughter of an old trader, James McDougall)
stepped forward, and by her presence of mind saved him and the
"Observing one of the inferior chiefs, who had
always professed the greatest friendship for the whites, standing in the
crowd, she addressed herself to him, exclaiming, 'What! you a friend of
the whites, and not say a word in their behalf at such a time as this!
Speak! You know the murderer deserved to die; according to your own laws
the deed was just; it is blood for blood. The white men are not dogs;
they love their own kindred as well as you; why should they not avenge
The moment the heroine's voice was heard the
tumult subsided; her boldness struck the savages with awe. The chief she
addressed, acting on her suggestion, interfered, and being seconded by
the old chief, who had no serious intention of injuring the whites, and
was satisfied with showing them that they were fairly in his power,
Douglas and his men were sot at liberty, and an amicable conference
having taken place, the Indians departed much elated with the issue of
Douglas spent his four years in the interior in a
most interesting and energetic life. The experience there gained was
invaluable in his after career as a fur trader. In 1826, at Bear Lake,
at the head of a branch of the River Skeena, he built a fort, which he
named Fort Connolly, in honour of his superior officer, the chief of the
Pacific department. Other forts in this region date their origin to
Douglas's short stay in this part of the mountains. Douglas also had an
"affair of the heart" while at Fort St. James. Young and impressionable,
ho fell in love with Nellie, the daughter of Mr. Connolly, a young
"daughter of the country," aged sixteen. She became his wife and
survived him as Lady Douglas.
His life of adventure in the Rocky Mountains came
to an end by the summons of Chief Factor McLoughlin to appear at Fort
Vancouver, the chief point of the Company's trade on the Pacific slope.
In two years more the rising young officer became chief trader, and
three years afterward he had reached the high dignity of chief factor.
His chief work was to establish forts, superintend the trade in its
different departments, and inspect the forts at least annually. His
vigilance and energy were surprising. He became so noted that it was
said of him: "He was one of the most enterprising and inquisitive of
men, famous for his intimate acquaintance with every service of the
Though James Douglas rose by well marked tokens of
leadership to the chief place on the Pacific Coast, yet the men
associated with him were a worthy and able band. His friend, Chief
Factor Dr. John McLoughlin, who had been his patron, was a man of
excellent ability. McLoughlin was of a sympathetic and friendly
disposition, and took an interest in the settlement of the fertile
valley of the Columbia. His course seems to have been disapproved of by
the London Committee of the Company, and his place was given to Douglas,
after which he spent his life in Oregon. His work and influence cannot,
however, be disregarded. He passed through many adventures and dangers.
He was fond of show, and had a manner which might well recommend him to
Sir George Simpson, Governor-in-Chief.
From a trader's journal we learn: "McLoughlin and
his suite would sometimes accompany the south-bound expeditions from
Fort Vancouver, in regal state, for fifty or one hundred miles up the
Willamette, when he would dismiss them with his blessing and return to
the fort. He did not often travel, and seldom far ; but on these
occasions he indulged his men rather than himself in some little
variety. ... It pleased Mrs. McLoughlin thus to break the monotony of
her fort life. Upon a gaily-caparisoned steed, with silver trappings and
strings of bells on bridle reins and saddle skirt, sat the lady of Fort
Vancouver, herself arrayed in brilliant colours and wearing a smile
which might cause to blush and hang its head the broadest, warmest, and
most fragrant sunflower. By her side, also gorgeously attired, rode her
lord, king of the Columbia, and every inch a king, attended by a train
of trappers, under a chief trader, each upon his best behaviour."
But a group of men, notable and competent,
gathered around these two leaders of the fur trade on the Pacific Coast.
These comprised Roderick Finlayson, John Work, A. C. Anderson, W. F.
Tolmie, John Tod, S. Black, and others. These men, in charge of
important posts, were local magnates, and really, gathered together in
council, determined the policy of the Company along the whole coast.
In 1827 the spirit of extension of the trading
operations took possession of the Hudson's Bay Company. In that year the
officers at Fort Vancouver saw arrive from the Thames the schooner
Cadboro, seventy-two tons burthen. She became as celebrated on the
Pacific Coast as any prominent fur trader could have become. It was said
of this good ship, "She saw buried every human body brought by her from
England, save one, John Spence, ship carpenter." Her arrival at this
time was the occasion for an expedition to occupy the Lower Fraser with
a trading post. John McMillan commanded the expedition of twenty-five
men. Leaving Fort Vancouver in boats, and, after descending the Columbia
for a distance, crossing the country to Pugot's Sound, they met the
Cadboro, which had gone upon her route. Transported to the mouth of the
Fraser River, which empties into the Gulf of Georgia, they, with some
difficulty, ascended the river and planted Fort Langley, where in the
first season of trade a fair quantity of beaver was purchased, and a
good supply of deer and elk meat was brought in by the hunters. The
founding of Fort Langley meant virtually the taking hold of what we now
know as the mainland of British Columbia,
The reaching out in trade was not favoured by the
Indians of the Columbia. Two years after the founding of Fort Langley, a
Hudson's Bay Company ship from London, the William and Ann, was wrecked
at the mouth of the Columbia River. The survivors were murdered by the
Indians, and the cargo was seized and secreted by the savage wreckers.
Chief Factor McLoughlin sent to the Indians, demanding the restoration
of the stolen articles. An old broom was all that was brought to the
fort, and this was done in a spirit of derision. The schooner
Vancouver—the first ship of that name—(150 tons burthen), built on the
coast, was wrecked five years after, and became a total loss.
In the same year as the wreck of the William and
Ann, it Was strongly impressed upon the traders that a sawmill should be
erected to supply the material for building new vessels. Chief Factor
McLoughlin determined to push this on. He chose as a site a point on the
Willamette River, a tributary of the Columbia from the south, where
Oregon city now stands. He began a farm in connection with the mill, and
in a year or two undertook the construction of the mill race by blasting
in the rock, and erected cottages for his men and new settlers. The
Indians, displeased with the signs of permanent residence, burnt
McLoughlin's huts. It is said it was this enterprise that turned the
Hudson's Bay Company Committee in London against the veteran trader.
Years afterwards, Edward Ellice, the fur-trade magnate residing in
England, said, "Dr. McLoughlin was rather an amphibious and independent
personage. He was a very able man, and, I believe, a very good man ; but
he had a fancy that he would like to have interests in both countries,
both in United States and in English territory . . . While he remained
with the Hudson's Bay Company he was an excellent servant."
Among the traders far up in the interior, in
command of Fort Kamloops, which was at the junction of the North and
South Thompson, was a Scotchman named Samuel Black. There came as a
visitor to his fort a man of science and a countryman of his own. This
man was David Douglas. He was an enthusiast in the search for plants and
birds. He was indefatigable as a naturalist, did much service to the
botany of Western America, and has his name preserved in the
characteristic tree of the Pacific slope—the Douglas Fir. Douglas, on
visiting Black, was very firm in the expression of his opinions against
the Company, saying, "The Hudson's Bay Company is simply a mercenary
corporation; there is not an officer in it with a soul above a beaver's
skin." Black's Caledonian blood was roused, for he was a leading spirit
among the traders, having on the union of the Companies been presented
with a ring with the inscription on it, "To the most worthy of the
worthy Nor'-Westers." He challenged the botanist to a duel. The
scientist deferred the meeting till the morning, but early next day
Black tapped at the parchment window of the room where Douglas was
sleeping, crying, "Mister Douglas, are ye ready?" Douglas disregarded
the invitation. David Douglas some time after visited Hawaii, where, in
examining the snares for catching wild cattle, he fell into the pit, and
was trampled to death by a wild bullock.
The death of Samuel Black was tragic. In 1841,
Tran-quille, a chief of the Shushwaps, who dwelt near Kamloops, died.
The friends of the chief blamed the magic or "evil medicine" of the
white man for his death. A nephew of Tranquille waited his opportunity
and shot Chief Trader Black. The Hudson's Bay Company was aroused to
most vigorous action. A writer says: "The murderer escaped. The news
spread rapidly to the neighbouring posts. The natives were scarcely less
disturbed than the white men. The act was abhorred, even by the friends
and relatives of Tranquille. Anderson was at Nisqually at the time. Old
John Tod came over from Fort Alexandria, McLean from Fort Colville, and
McKinley and Ermatinger from Fort Okanagan. From Fort Vancouver
McLoughlin sent men. . . . Cameron was to assist Tod in taking charge of
Kamloops. All traffic was stopped.
"Tod informed the assembled Shushwaps that the
murderer must be delivered up. The address of Nicola, chief of the
Okanagans, gives a fine example of Indian eloquence. He said: "The
winter is cold. On all the hills around the deer are plenty; and yet I
hear your children crying for food. Why is this ? You ask for powder and
ball, they refuse you with a scowl. Why do the white men let your
children starve? Look there! Beneath yon mound of earth lies him who was
your friend, your father. The powder and ball he gave you that you might
get food for your famishing wives and children, you turned against him.
Great heavens! And are the Shushwaps such cowards, dastardly to shoot
their benefactor in the back while his face was turned? Yes, alas, you
have killed your father! A mountain has fallen! The earth is shaken! The
sun is darkened! My heart is sad. I cannot look at myself in the glass.
I cannot look at you, my neighbours and friends. He is dead, and we poor
Indians shall never see his like again. He was just and generous. His
heart was larger than yonder mountain, and clearer than the waters of
the lake. Warriors do not weep, but sore is my breast, and our wives
shall wail for him. Wherefore did you kill him? But you did not. You
loved him. And now you must not rest until you have brought to justice
"The old man was so rigid in expression that his
whole frame and features seemed turned to stone.
"Archibald McKinley said, 'Never shall I forget
it; it the grandest speech I ever heard.'
"The murderer was soon secured and placed in
irons, but in crossing a river he succeeded in upsetting the boat in the
sight of Nicola and his assembled Indians. The murderer floated down the
stream, but died, his death song hushed by the crack of rifles from the
Thus by courage and prudence, alas ! not without
the sacrifice of valuable lives, was the power of the Hudson's Bay
Company and the prestige of Great Britain established on the Pacific
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