Saturday, February 16, 2013

The rush home: Fort Nez Perces to Fort Vancouver

This will be a short post for me.
Everyone in these expresses was eager to get home and hardly any one paused to make entries in their journals.
I expect the voyageurs paddled all night when they could, but there were plenty of hazards in this part of the Columbia River.

In my book, The Pathfinder, I described this part of the Columbia River: "Eighteen miles past Fort Nez Perce[s], the Columbia River turned sharply westward and forced its way through a narrow canyon with perpendicular walls. The rapids that blocked this canyon were followed closely by another set of rapids at the Big Island. With those disruptions behind them, the voyageurs guided their boats down the fast-flowing river until at last they reached the foot of the Cascade Mountains, 100 miles east of Fort Vancouver.

"This was the most dangerous stretch of the Columbia River. The mountains forced the Columbia through a rocky passage only 150 paces wide, and the river fell 20 feet almost immediately and continued to tumble down rocky rapids, known as the Chutes, as it carved its way to the sea. The voyageurs partially avoided the hazards of The Chutes by beaching their boats and carrying their loads over the narrow trail along the riverbanks. The boats themselves they ran downriver over the three sections of Celilo Falls and into the rapids of The Dalles, where the river continued its downhill tumble between perpendicular walls of basalt for four rough miles. At the two-mile mark of the Dalles, however, the men and supplies waited on a sheltered beach for the boats, for in the low waters of autumn the remaining rapids were a passable, but exciting, ride.

"Below The Chutes and The Dalles came the Cascades, a foaming chain of rapids that rushed around a sharp bend in the river and was avoided by the use of a narrow, slippery, four-mile portage along the bank of the Columbia. There were no rattlesnakes here, as there had been on the other portages, for between The Dalles and the Cascades the desert faded away as if a line had been drawn in the sand and the lush green growth of the coast flourished.

"Once the difficulties of the Cascades were behind them, the voyageurs paddled their boats down the smoothly flowing river toward Fort Vancouver. They paused on the riverbank near the fort's sawmill to don their colourful clothes before paddling quickly downriver, their voices raised in song. Soon the headquarters loomed above them on the grassy slopes, and HBC employees crowded the banks to greet the new arrivals. Eager for their regale [of rum], the voyageurs raised their red-painted paddles in a noisy salute, while the guns of the ships anchored in the river boomed a welcome."

Journal of a voyage across the Continent of North America in 1826 by Aemilius Simpson, R.N.:
Monday 30th [October] At 7am we embarked from Walla Walla [Fort Nez Perces] and continued our descent of the Columbia. We fall in with the Horse Brigade at our Breakfast encampment. Noon, strong breezes. The river has expanded considerably being now little short of a mile. We passed numerous Indians along the banks of the river, who importuned us very much for Tobacco. At our night's encampment they collect about us in great numbers, but conducted themselves peaceably, having got tobacco to smoke, of which they are passionately fond.
Tuesday 31st. The morning gloomy. At 5 am we embarked & pursued our route down the Columbia... at 2 pm we arrived at the Shoots [Chutes] Falls, where we had to make a portage of our boats & luggage for about 1/4 mile across a Rocky point on the North shore. We found about 70 Indians encampt upon this portage, who conducted themselves very peaceably... We gave the chiefs some tobacco to have a smoke when they ranged their tribes about and indulged in that luxury... At about two miles below the shoots, we came to the Dalles Rapids, a long & intricate chain rushing with great force through a number of narrow & crooked channels, bounded by huge masses of perpendicular rock...
November 1826, Wednesday 1st. .. At 3 pm. we arrived at the Cascades, which is the last obstruction in the Columbia River. We make a portage here along the base of a hill on the North shore of about 1/4 mile. We encampt for the night at the foot of the falls or Cascade -- our crews being employed during the evening in transporting the boats and luggage...
Thursday 2nd. We embarked at 6.15 pm and continued the descent of the Columbia, for about a league below the Cascades there is a very strong current with rapids. The run branches off into several channels formed by Islands: for about 6 leagues below the Cascade the river is bounded by a range of high hills densely wooded, then falls in plains.... We breakfasted at the Prairie de Tea, a few miles above Johnson's Island, from here the banks of the river become low and continue so to the Fort, they are fringed with trees of the poplar & ash... We arrived at Fort Vancouver, our place of destination, having made the journey from York Factory in three months and nineteen days, a distance which I estimate by our route of five thousand eight hundred and seventeen miles, the whole of which is by water communication, except the Assinaboine & Rocky Mountains Portage, which does not exceed [one?] hundred miles, but still they form the most serious obstacles on the line of route. Our journey [though] not performed with great expedition, may be justly called good, as during the whole of it, not the smallest [difficulty] and every thing destined for the different posts arrived in perfect safety.

Isn't it a shame we are finished with Aemelius Simpson's journal?
And I also regret not having copied out the entire journal, and omitting so much of it; but of course at the time I found it I was following my great great grandfather, James Birnie, across the country.
Sooner or later I will get back to this journal.

York Factory Express Journal, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
24th [October] Fine weather. Having settled our business at this place we embarked at 11 am. Most of our cargoes remain here and we have scarce [sic] anything but our Provisions and baggage to take down. Encamped at 1/2 past 5 at the tail of the Long Island.
25th. Fine weather. Embarked at 4 am. The Chutes Portage [Celilo Falls] held us 2 1/2 hours and we had just time to clear it and encamped. At 5 pm began to blow very hard. Found but few Indians on the Portage.
26th. We had a little rain today and a strong head wind which impeded our progress greatly. We could not start until daylight, about 6 am, on account of running the Dalles. Encamped just above the Cascades 1/2 past 5 pm.
27th. Fine weather. Started about 6 am. Got over the Cascades by 9 and arrived at Fort Vancouver about 4 pm.

Journal of a Voyage from Norway House to Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, 1831, by George Traill Allen:
On the 25th of October 1831, we arrived safely at Fort Vancouver.

Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring, 1847, by Thomas Lowe, in charge of party:
Monday 15th [November] Last night it came on to blow very hard and we had to unload the boats and haul them upon the beach. Were unable to start from Fort Nez Perces until midday. Mr. McKay embarks as passenger for Vancouver. Encamped short distance below the Grand Rapid.
Tuesday 16th. Had fine weather today. Encamped a very short distance above the Chutes.
Wednesday 17th. Windy, but no rain until the evening. Reached the Chutes early this morning and succeeded in getting the boats and pieces across with our eight men & only about a dozen Indians, most of them being sick. Had the boats gummed, and pushed off just about dark. [Encampt] the head of the Grand Dalles.
Thursday 18th. Rained last night, and during most part of today. Had to put ashore for a short time in consequence of the strong head wind. Got to within a short distance of the Cascades.
Friday 19th. Blew very strong last night, and we could not start until after daylight this morning. Reached the Cascades in time for breakfast. Found about 70 waggons of American emigrants there. It was sundown before we got the pieces across and the boats passed. Pushed off from the lower end of the Portage in the evening, and put ashore for supper some distance below. Carried on in the night time and with the help of a favorable breeze of wind, reached the Saw Mill a little after midnight.
Saturday 20th November. Raining the whole day. Started from the Saw Mill two hours after daylight, and reached Vancouver about 10 am. Found all well. The Fort fired a salute of 7 guns. The measles now raging much in the upper country have not yet reached this. Mr. [John] Work is here from the Northwest Coast having arrived with Mr. [James] Douglas four days ago. The men got their Regale in the evening.

You will notice that Thomas Lowe's York Factory express came in very late this year, and James Douglas and Peter Skene Ogden were very concerned about this.
So, too, was Governor Simpson.
He wrote to Douglas and Ogden in June 1848 [B.223/c/1, fo. 292-3, HBCA]:
"The late arrival of the express at Vancouver during the two past years must necessarily have been attended with much inconvenience to the service, and we have given particular instructions to the gentlemen in charge of the Saskatchewan Brigade to use his best endeavours to have the express forwarded as early in the season as possible in future: and from the measures which have been taken, together with the favourable state of the water, we are in hopes Mr. [Thomas] Lowe may reach Ft. Vancouver this year at the latter end of October.
"From the information we have received from the gentleman in charge of the Saskatchewan, from Mr. Lowe and from the Columbia guide, we find that the craft now in use on the Athabasca River are not the large unwieldy boats you supposed them to be, but light handy craft of small draft of water, better adapted for the navigation than any other we have in our power to substitute.
"The delay during the two past years arose from causes of which we trust there may not be a recurrence....
"We have to beg that the express from the Columbia may be sent out sufficiently early next season to reach Edmonton before the departure of the Saskatchewan brigade, which is intended to start about the 15th May."

Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with Express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
Arrived at Fort Vancouver on 3rd November.

That's it -- the end of the long journey from Fort Vancouver to York Factory and back, via the Athabasca Pass.
We've had many interesting people join our cross country journey, some of whom I have been able to identify, and some who I have not.
James Douglas, whose journey we have followed, later became a member of the Board of Management at Fort Vancouver and moved north to Fort Victoria in 1849.
He later became the Governor of Vancouver's Island and is responsible for ensuring that the New Caledonia brigades found a good route to Fort Yale, first -- later to Fort Hope.
Being anything but a "geographer," he drove James Murray Yale of Fort Langley mad (but that's what my next book is all about).
I do have one James Douglas quote that makes me laugh every time I read it, and it is very relevant to all that happened in the Fort Vancouver area in 1848 and later.
"The Americans are a restless people," James Douglas said in March 1848, "and will be for ever involved in trouble with the Indians.
"We shall hold on as long as possible and endeavour to pick our way carefully amidst the rocks and quicksands which beset our path, and I trust that success will finally be the reward of all our suffering."
Little did James Douglas know at that time, that the battle between the Gentlemen and employees of the HBC, and the Americans who then surrounded them, had only just begun.

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