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THE COLUMBIA RIVER UNDER HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY 

RULE 

By his Astoria Washington Irving drew the eyes of the world to the 
now far famed Columbia River and perpetuated the story of the late John 
Jacob Astor's ill fated enterprise on the Pacific Coast. The name "As- 
toria" recalls, not only the trading fort which gave the book its title, but the 
varied adventures by sea and land of those who went forth to plant the 
Stars and Stripes on the Columbia and to secure for Mr. Astor's company 
a share of the rich fur trade of the far West. 

If Mr. Astor's great enterprise was, through no fault of his, doomed 
to failure, almost from its beginning, it enabled him to supply, from the 
correspondence and journals of his co-partners and employees, material 
with which Washington Irving was able to shed the halo of a romantic 
early history upon the Columbia and the Northern Pacific Coast. Captain 
Bonneville's adventures enabled the illustrious author to extend his chroni- 
cles to regions further east. 

Among the cherished possessions of the present writer is an old vol- 
ume, presented to his father by the author. It was published in Montreal 
in 1 820. It is written in French by G. Franchere, fils, one of the clerks 
who sailed in the Tonquin in 1810, on her memorable voyage round Cape 
Horn, to the Sandwich Islands and the Columbia, where he remained to 
assist in the founding of Astoria and other trading posts. On the cession 
of the posts to the Canadian "Northwest Company" he remained a few 
months in the employ of the latter, and returned over the mountains and by 
way of the Red River settlement and Lake Superior to Montreal in 1814. 
His narrative agrees in the main with that of Irving. Indeed, it is prob- 
able that it was one of the sources from which the latter obtained his ac- 
count of the Tonquin s trip and subsequent events on the Columbia. On 
two points dwelt on by Irving it is, however, silent — the one, the marriage 
of Macdougall, one of the partners in the Astor company, to the dusky 
princess, the daughter of King Comcomly — the other, the chief part played 
by Macdougall in the transfer of Astoria to the British company. It 
is probable, however, that a marriage, after the Indian custom, may have 

iMr. C. O. Ermatinger, of St. Thomas, Ontario, the writer of this paper, 
is the son of the E. (Edward) Ermatinger and a nephew of the F. (Francis) 
Ermatinger who are mentioned in the entry on Monday, October 31st, 1825, 
of the Journal of John Work, which is printed in this Quarterly. Judge 
Ermatinger is a prominent member of the Elgin (County) Historical and 
Scientific Institute of Ontario, Canada. This paper was prepared for use 
in the East some years since; its publication in this Quarterly has now 
been kindly permitted. — T. C. Elliott. 

(192) 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 1 93 

taken place between these personages, M. Franchere not thinking it worth 
while to mention the matter, nor even the fact of the young woman's exist- 
ence. That there was treachery toward Mr. Astor in McDougall's deal- 
ings with the North West Company is rather a matter of inference with 
Irving than a distinct charge. Franchere — who speaks of the bargain with 
the North West Company as participated in by all present at Astoria at 
the time — not being a partner, could scarcely know more than appeared 
on the surface. 

The only sentence in English in Franchere's book is contained in a 
footnote. It is the now historic exclamation of Captain Black of His Ma- 
jesty's ship Racoon when he landed at Astoria: "What! Is this the 
Fort I have heard so much of ! Great God ! I could batter it down with 
a four pounder in two hours." Franchere evidently thought his French 
rendering of these memorable words did not do the gallant captain com- 
plete justice, so he re-translated them, and Irving repeats them in all their 
nautical Anglo-Saxon vigour. 

Washington Irving's chronicle of Astoria practically closed with 
the cession of that post to McTavish, representing the North West Com- 
pany — with the running up of the British in place of the American flag 
at the Fort in 1813 and the change of name from Astoria to "Fort 
George." As the North West Company thus swallowed up the American 
Company in 1813, so in 1 82 1 the Hudson's Bay Company practically 
swallowed the North West Company — though the settlement of the ir- 
regular warfare, waged for years between these rival British companies, 
was termed an association or coalition. 

The industrious beaver and his less industrious neighbour, the Indian, 
saw little or no change. It will, however, be remembered by readers of 
Astoria how disgusted was the worthy one-eyed monarch. King Com- 
comly, chief of the Chinooks, at the sudden change of flag at Astoria, 
brought about by his son-in-law, McDougall, whom he finally concluded 
to be a squaw rather than a warrior. Yet Comcomly lived on and, making 
a virtue of necessity, cultivated friendship and amity with the British as 
he had before with the Americans. His poor opinion of his whilom 
son-in-law may have subsequently been confused by the fact of the latter's 
leaving the princess, his wife, behind when he left the country — though, 
as a rule, both the wife and her family in such cases preferred her remain- 
ing among her own people to venturing into the haunts of civilization. The 
divorced princess in question, too, we resarved for higher honours; as we 
are told by Paul Kane, a Canadian artist and traveller, who visited 
the country in the forties, that she subsequently became the favourite wife 
of a powerful chief named Casanov, who could previously to 1 829 lead 



194 C. O. Ermaiinger 

into the field 1 000 men — leaving at home, at the same time, ten wives, four 
children and eighteen slaves. Casanov is described as a man of more than 
ordinary talent for an Indian, and of great influence with the people whom 
he governed, in the vicinity of the British fort, Vancouver — Chinooks and 
Klickataats. He possessed, among other luxuries, a functionary, known as 
his "Scooccone" or "evil genius" — -a sort of Lord High Executioner — 
whose duty it was to remove persons obnoxious to his lord and master, by 
assassination. This functionary had the misfortune to fall in love with one 
of Casanov's wives, who eloped with him — with the result that, though' 
they at first eluded his search, Casanov at length met and "removed" his 
errant wife on the Cowlitz river and procured also a like fate for her lover, 
the whilom executioner himself. 

It was the belief of the chiefs that they and their sons were per- 
sonages so important that their deaths could not occur in a natural way, but 
were always attributable to the malevolent influence of some one, whom 
they selected in an unaccountable manner and unhesitatingly sacrificed. 
One most near and dear to the deaceased was as likely to be selected as 
another. The former wife of McDougall, now favourite wife of Casa- 
nov, was thus selected by him, to accompany her own son, who died of 
consumption, to the great beyond, but she escaped and sought and was 
accorded protection at Fort Vancouver. Mr. Black, an officer of the Hud- 
son's Bay Company in charge of their Fort on Thompson's River, fell 
a victim to the same superstitutions custom — shot in the back by the nephew 
of an old chief with whom Black had been on the most friendly terms, at 
the instigation of the dead chief's widow. Regard for Mr. Black, how- 
ever, impelled the young man's tribe to ignore the sanction of the custom 
and hunt down and put him to death. 

The company chartered by gay King Charles II — "the company of 
gentleman adventurers trading into Hudson's Bay," or "the Honourable 
the Hudson's Bay Company" — as it was and still is styled — was un- 
doubtedly the dominant partner in the new coalition. Newspaper and 
pamphlet warfare occasionally broke out between partizans or admirers 
of the former rival corporations during the next half century — an occasional 
flow of ink of controversy instead of the flow of blood which sometimes 
characterized their collisions in former days — but the North West Com- 
pany had ceased to exist, while the Hudson's Bay Company ruled almost 
half a continent. 

On the Columbia their chief post was established ninety miles up 
the river from the sea and was called Fort Vancouver — which must 
not be confused with the flourishing young city at the western terminus of 
the Canadian Pacific Railway. Fort George or Astoria became thereafter 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 1 95 

a subsidiary post, utilized as a place from which a watch could be kept 
on the movements of American traders. Though the territory now com- 
prising Oregon and Washington was claimed by the United States ever 
since Captain Gray with his good ship Columbia passed the dreaded bar 
and gave the river a name, the Hudson's Bay Company was, under a 
series of ten-year treaties between the two nations, leaving the question of 
ownership open — providing indeed for a joint occupation — in practical 
possession of the country and its trade, until the boundary question was 
finally settled in I 846 — not long after which the company withdrew its 
headquarters to the north of the 49th parallel. The company gradually 
obtained control by lease of a number of the Russian posts as well, main- 
taining also vessels to trade along the seashore. The country tributary 
to the Columbia was rich in furs in those days. Eve nas late as 1840, 
one trader, for example, was able to bring out of the Snake country 3300 
beaver and otter skins, the result of his season's work for the company. 

Though Sir George Simpson was the governor in chief of the Hud- 
son's Bay Company after the coalition, the dominant spirit west of the 
Rocky Mountains for some twenty-five years was Dr. John McLaughlin — 
the "Big Doctor," as he was familiarly termed. "He was the partner in 
charge of the whole Columbia department, to which is attached that of 
New Caledonia and Fraser River, for more than a quarter of a century," 
wrote an old Hudson's Bay clerk* who knew the doctor, "a more in- 
defatigable and enterprising man it would have been difficult to find. 
With an energetic and indomitable spirit, his capacious mind conceived 
and pushed forward every kind of improvement for the advancement of 
commerce and the benefit of civilization. Wtih only seven head of horned 
cattle and others which he imported from California, by good management 
and perseverance, he stocked the whole of the Oregon territory, until they 
had increased to thousands. He built saw mills and cultivated an extensive 
farm on the beautiful prairie of Fort Vancouver. Subsequently he laid 
the foundation of Oregon City, where he built a splendid grist mill. The 
machinery of the mill he imported from Scotland and from the same coun- 
try a good, practical miller. * * * * By every means in his power 
he promoted trade and commerce with other countries. To Sitka, the prin- 
cipal Russian establishment, the company exported produce — chiefly wheat 
— to the Sandwich Islands lumber and salmon, and to California, hides and 
tallow. In short, under Dr. McLaughlin's management, everything was 
done to develop the resources of the country." Two military officers, Warre 
and Vavaseur, who visited Oregon on the part of the British government, 
reported that the doctor favoured the Americans. While his correspond- 

*The present writer's father. 



196 C. O. Ermatinger 

ence shows a sympathy with the advanced political party in Canada, which 
at that time would have been there regarded as proof positive of "Ameri- 
canism," the fact is that the doctor's mind was of that liberal cast which 
favoured everyone who could be useful to the country, Britisher or for- 
eigner. This is borne out by his actions as well as his unpublished corre- 
spondence. 

Not only was there an extensive farm established at Fort Vancouver, 
but others at Fort Colville and on the Cowlitz, while a large grazing 
company or association was formed, to raise sheep, near Puget's Sound. 
The doctor was, moreover, anxious to wean the red man from his savage 
life to agricultural pursuits, as well as to promote in every way the set- 
tlement of the country. He succeeded in making cattle plentiful by forbid- 
ding the killing of any for a considerable period. At last he wrote in 1 837, 
"I killed forty head of cattle last summer, so, you see, the taboo is broken." 
He hailed with satisfaction the arrival of missionaries, both Protestant and 
Roman Catholic, and did much to inculcate temperate habits among the 
people, both whites and natives. Indeed, in 1843 he rejoiced in having 
for a number of years successfully enforced a prohibitory law for both 
Indians and the French settlers on the Willamette, at that time numbering 
200, ninety per cent of whom were old voyageurs and American Rocky 
Mountain trappers, yet with few exceptions temperance men, "which," 
quaintly wrote the doctor, "I think may be said to be unique of its nature 
in such a number." The American traders seem to have been his chief 
foes in the region of the Columbia, in regard to the liquor traffic— as the 
Russians were in the regions farther North. 

The doctor was a firm believer in exemplary punishment for crime, 
especially in territories where such punishment only would act as a deter- 
rent on savages, who might at any time be tempted to outrage. One instance 
of his method of dealing with such cases may be referred to. 

From an old manuscript report of one of the Company's traders, who 
took part in the proceedings detailed, the following particulars are gleaned. 
In January, 1828, Mr. Alexander McKenzie and four men under his 
charge were murdered on Puget's Sound, on their way from Fort Langley, 
and an Indian woman of the party carried off, by the tribe known as the 
Clallums. AH the effective men at Fort Vancouver were mustered and 
told by Chief Factor McLaughlin of the affair and of the necessity for 
an expedition being sent off in search of the murderous tribe, to make a 
salutary example of them if possible. A call for volunteers brought a ready 
response and on the 1 7th June a force of upwards of sixty men under 
Chief Trader Alex. R. McLeod set forth, with a salute of cannon from the 
fort and cheers from the officers and crew of the Eagle — presumably an 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 197 

American vessel. The voyageurs having enjoyed their customary regale 
and the Iroquois their war dance, on the previous evening, no delay for these 
ever necessary functions occurred and the expedition proceeded down the 
Columbia and up the Cowlitz to the portage, where their boats were cached, 
and horses obtained. Then the motley army, consisting of Canadians, half- 
breeds, Iroquois, Sandwich Islanders and Chinooks, with Scotch and Eng- 
lish officers, mounted, set forth, looking, as the chronicler thought, more 
like a band of gypsies than a force collected for the purpose in view. At 
the end of the portage the force again embarked in canoes and on 1st 
July, coming upon a couple of lodges, one, understood to be occupied by 
Clallums, was at once attacked and death immediately dealt out to its 
inmates, ruthlessly, regardless apparently as to whether they were con- 
cerned in the murder of McKenzie and his party or not, while in the semi- 
darkness of evening men, women and even children appear to have shared 
the same fate. 

Off Cape Townsend the company's vessel Cadhoro', Captain Simpson, 
was sighted. Thereafter the land and naval forces co-operated — so far, at 
least, as the somewhat divergent views and orders of their respective com- 
manders permitted. A day or two was spent off one of the Clallum vil- 
lages, near New Dungeness, in apparently fruitless negotiations for the 
return of the Indian woman, whose father was a man of great influence in 
his own tribe. Not until a chief and eight others had been slain by shots 
from the vessel's guns and a bombardment of a village, where some articles 
of Mc. McKenzie's were found, had taken place, was the woman brought 
on board. A second village, from which the murderers of McKenzie's 
party were said to have set out, was burned. The force then parted from 
the Cadhoro' and returned to Fort Vancouver. The Indians stated that 
seven people had been killed at the lodge fired upon on the 1st, and that 
the friends of these had at once avenged their deaths, by putting to death 
two of the principal murderers of McKenzie. In all, they reported 25 peo- 
ple killed in these various affrays, to avenge the original crime, not to 
speak of a very considerable quantity of Indian property destroyed. 

It would be unjust to charge Dr. McLaughlin with the responsibility 
for the entire proceedings of this merciless expedition. What his instruc- 
tions to Mr. McLeod were that gentleman kept pretty well to himself. Un- 
fortunately the latter showed vacillation and timidity, at the moments 
when firmness and promptness were required, disputed and quarrelled with 
Captain Simpson on board his own vessel, assumed too much authority at 
one time, too little at another, with the result that indiscriminate slaughter 
and destruction of property seem to have taken the place of just and merited 



198 C. O. Ermatinger 

punishment. It is to be presumed, however, that the deterrent effect was 
produced, at any rate as to the Clallums. 

The population, native and foreign, of the Columbia district, at this 
period, was of a wonderfully heterogeneous character. The number of 
small tribes into which the native population of the Pacific Coast and islands 
was divided is well known to have been large. Yet Indians from the plains 
and Iroquois from the far East had come in as servants of the company, 
while Sandwich Islanders — or Owhyhees (Hawaiians) as they were termed 
— were among almost all the company's crews and forces. French half- 
breeds and others of varying tints and gay costumes lent picturesqueness to 
the Hudson's Bay posts and campfires. Sir George Simpson gives a 
striking instance of the variety in colour and language afforded by a single 
boatload. "Our batteau carried as curious a muster of races and lan- 
guages as perhaps had ever been congregated within the same compass in 
any part of the world. Our crew of ten men contained Iroquois, who spoke 
their own tongue; a Cree halfbreed of French origin, who appeared to 
have borrowed his dialect from both his parents; a North Briton, who 
understood only the Gaelic of his native hills; Canadians who, of course, 
knew French ; and Sandwich Islanders, who jabbered a medley of Chinook 
and their own vernacular jargon. Add to all this that the passengers were 
natives of England, Scotland, Russia, Canada and the Hudson's Bay 
Company's territories; and you have the prettiest congregation of nations, 
the nicest confusion of tongues, that has ever taken place since the days 
of the tower of Babel. At the native camp near which we halted for the 
night, we enriched our clans with one variety more, by hiring a canoe and 
its complement of Chinooks, to accompany us." 

Sir George Simpson was at this time on his famous overland jour- 
ney round the world, having the previous day, Sept. I st, 1 84 1 , left Fort 
Vancouver, where, by the way, his party found two vessels of the United 
States exploring squadron under command of Lieutenant (afterward) Com- 
modore Wilkes, which contributed much to the enjoyment of their week's 
stay there. The circumnavigators had parted on the beach at Fort Van- 
couver with Lieutenant Wilkes and party and had added to their number 
another Hudson's Bay officer, Mr. Douglas (afterwards Sir James Doug- 
las, governor of Vancouver Island) and had visited the company's exten- 
sive dairy on the delta or island of Multnomah or Wappatoo. Thence 
down the Columbia and up the Cowlitz, across to Fort Nisqually and 
Puget's Sound, visiting the Cowlitz farm and the sheep ranch — a four 
days' journey from Fort Vancouver brought them to the company's steam- 
er, the Beaver, on which they set out for the posts of the Pacific coast and 
Sitka — that coast trip now familiar to thousands of goldseekers. 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 1 99 

At the Stikine (or Stickeen) River — a place much in the world's 
eye during the past year or two — Sir George found young John McLaugh- 
lin, a son of the big doctor, in charge of the company's post, with a force 
of twenty-two men. The governor next proceeded to Sitka, and, after a 
somewhat protracted side trip to California and the Sandwich Islands, re- 
turned in the Spring of '42 to Stikine on board the company's ship, the 
Cowlitz, in tow of a Russian steamer loaned him by Governor Etholine of 
Sitka — to find that young McLaughlin had just been murdered by his 
own men, who were in a state of mingled mutiny and intoxication within 
the fort, while about 2000 Indians were gathered without, in readiness 
to take advantage of the insurrection within! The opportune arrival of Sir 
George, with two ships' crews at his disposal, enabled him to speedily 
quell the disturbance and disperse the Indians, after preparing their minds 
for a measure which the company was anxious here as elsewhere to enforce 
— the discontinuance of the liquor traffic. It may here be remarked that 
the one good result of this most unhappy tragedy at the Stikine was the 
agreement arrived at soon after with the Russian company — whose bad ex- 
ample had been held to necessitate the British company's fighting "fire- 
water" with "firewater" at competitive trading posts — under which agree- 
ment both companis inaugurated a prohibitory liquor law on this coast. 

Doubts as to his powers and the best policy to pursue led Sir George 
to take the man who fired the fatal shot with him to Sitka, whither he was 
returning en route to Siberia and Europe. For a less comprehensible reason 
he sent another man — a supposed participant in the affair — to Fort Van- 
couver, accompanied by a letter to Dr. McLaughlin, apprising him of 
the tragedy and casting some blame upon the murdered son for the insur- 
rection. The letter the big doctor had, of course, no alternate but to 
receive, but the man he would not see nor so much as suffer to set foot on 
shore at Fort Vancouver — but had him kept a prisoner on board the Cad- 
boro. On a trip of that vessel to Vancouver Island, this man saw Mr. 
Douglas and at once made a confession to him, implicating all the people 
at Stikine in a plot to murder John the younger. He even stated that an 
agreement to that effect had been drawn up by the man who was acting as 
a temporary assistant or clerk to the murdered man. The confession ab- 
solved the young trader from the charge of drunkenness and contradicted 
the depositions taken by Sir George in every material point. Little wonder 
is it that the doctor, smarting under the blow received, was not satisfied 
with the apparently easy methods pursued by Sir George, with whom he 
had moreover recently exchanged some angry words in California on mat- 
ters of business; nor that he sent an officer of the company to Mr. Manson, 
with a complete new complement of men, to the Stikine to re-open the in- 



200 C. O. Ermalinger 

vestigation — with no known retributive result, though the evidence taken 
tends to justify the doctor's summing up — his vigorous penmanship adding 
strength to his words — "The short and the long of the affair is, these fel- 
lows wanted to impose on my son, to which he would not submit" — true 
chip of the old block it seemed! — "They, finding they could not make him 
bend, conspired and murdered him." 

It is worthy of note that at the last the young man seems to have 
relied upon his Owhyhees (Hawaiians) to make a stand against the whites. 

The doctor's subordinate officers at these various and remote posts 
eagerly scanned all news of the affair which reached them and sympathized 
with the afflicted father — but they could scarcely grasp the situation in all 
its details of doubt and difficulty as to criminal procedure, territorial juris- 
diction, etc. "I fear we have got ourselves into a hobble and that it will 
turn out we are more au fail in our humble occupation as Indian traders 
than as the dispensary of Her Majesty's criminal law," wrote one. But 
the big doctor's feelings were still aroused — he attributed, whether rightly 
or wrongly, his son's death to Sir George indirectly, as a result of the 
governor's having removed a trusted man, Mr. Finlayson, from the post of 
assistant to the young trader, substituting a labourer in his place — and he 
carried the matter before the heads of the company in England — "wrote 
a thundering epistle to their honours at home, concerning Sir George, rip- 
ping up old grievances," as another old trader, John Tod ( 1 Sept. 1 842) 
put it. Yet Sir George remained at the head of the company, while the 
old doctor continued to mourn the unavenged death of the son he evidently 
loved much. 

The witnesses who were examined by Mr. Manson at Stikine testi- 
fied that the document referred to by their former comrade in his confes- 
sion, as an agreement to murder the trader, was simply a formal complaint 
against him, which they intended presenting to Sir George Simpson, as 
head of the company, on his expected arrival — but that it was never pre- 
sented, but destroyed, because it was too dirty to be presented to the 
governor. Not only was Sir George a man whose examples as to soiled 
documents had to be considered, but he seems to have had a prejudice in 
favour of clean linen as well — as the following less tragic incident would 
seem to indicate: Sir George at one time wrote Dr. McLaughlin to re- 
move the officer in charge of Fort George (Astoria), with a seven years' 
pension. The doctor declared the governor "must do his dirty work 
himself," and took no decisive steps to interfere with the officer in ques- 
tion, who was described as youthful in apeparance, though fat and indo- 
lent, but with "children enough for a colony." The officer nominated to 
succeed him enquired of the condemned, what he had done to offend the 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 201 

governor. He stated that Sir George had sent two cotton shirts ashore to be 
washed and while they were being taken, under the fat officer's charge, from 
the fort to the ship, one of them fell overboard — but he declared his inten- 
tion of sending another to London and hoped his offense would be forgiven. 
His propritiatory offering, or Sir George's better feelings, it is presumed, 
prevented his becoming the victim of another "tale of a shirt," by an igno- 
minious expulsion from office, for such a cause. 

On December 8th, I 846, there arrived at Fort Vancouver a person 
whose errand was of a novel character to dwellers upon the Columbia — 
Mr. Paul Kane, to whom reference has already been made, was a native 
of Toronto, who had adopted painting as the profession of his choice and, 
after spending some four years in Europe qualifying himself in his art, 
conceived the idea of making an overland trip across the continent, making 
sketches, as he proceeded, of the representative Indians of the various tribes 
and of the scenery of the country through which he passed, then an almost 
unbroken wilderness. He spent nearly four years in these wanderings, to and 
from the Pacific, sketching portraits of chiefs, medicine men, warriors, their 
wives and daughters — also fishing, hunting and other scenes, illustrative of 
the customs, occupations and amusements of the red men and the physical 
features of the country. From these sketches he subsequently executed 
many paintings, some of which are on the walls of the embryo Canadian 
national gallery at Ottawa, but a much more extensive and elaborate se- 
ries in oils — numbering about 100 canvasses — is among the valued pos- 
sessions of a Toronto gentleman, the Hon. George W. Allen, Canadian 
senator.* The artist's Journal, published in London in 1 859, with speci- 
mens of his work — now unfortunately out of print — gave an interesting 
narrative of his travels and adventures, with much of the history and 
folklore of the various people of the Northwestern regions. 

Kane reached the height of land on November 1 2th. His voyage 
down the Columbia to Fort Vancouver he accomplished in little more than 
a fortnight — including stoppages at Forts Colville and Walla Walla en 
route — whereas it took him four months to cover the same distance on his 
return the following year. 

It may well be imagined that the advent of such a character excited 
no little interest. At Fort Vancouver two chief factors, Messieurs Douglas 
and Ogden, now reigned, in place of Dr. McLaughlin, with eight or ten 
clerks and 200 voyageurs. Her Majesty's warship Modeste, with her 
complement of officers, lay in the broad river, opposite the fort. Outside 
the stockade was the village with its motley population of English, French, 

♦Now deaeeased. The paintings were purchased I believe by Mr. C. B. 
Kstes, M. I'., of Toronto. 



202 C. O. Ermatinger 

Iroquois, Sandwich Islanders, Crees and Chinooks, and its confusion of 
tongues. The artist enjoyed the hospitality of the officers at the fort for 
about a month and on 10 January, 1847, in company with Mr. MacKen- 
zie, a chief trader, proceeded up the Willamette to OregonCity, passing 
"two cities that are to be," one of which contained but two houses and 
the other not much more advanced. Oregon City, located by Dr. Mc- 
Laughlin, who owned the chief mills, contained then about ninety-four 
houses and two or three hundred inhabitants, a Methodist and a Roman 
Catholic church, two grist mills and as many hotels. A lawyer and 
"doctors ad libitum" were already on the ground. That it would be 
rivalled, if not eclipsed, by a city to be built where Portland now is, was 
even then predicted, owing to intervening impediments to navigation. A 
few weeks at Oregon City and a few days at the Roman Catholic missions 
further up the Willamette, and Kane returnd to spend the balance of 
the winter pleasantly with the Hudson's Bay and naval officers at Fort 
Vancouver in riding, and in fishing and shooting the waterfowl and seal 
with which the neighbbourhood abounded. In the Spring he made a trip 
to Vancouver Island and adjacent coasts and islands, returning to Fort 
Vancouver in June, and on July 1 st began his homeward journey. 

The artist was regarded as a great "medicine man" by the natives, 
who sometimes gathered in great numbers to watch him manipulate his 
supposed implements of magic — insomuch that at one village on the coast 
of De Fuca Straits, so great was the crowd gathered in the head chief's 
lodge that it was filled, and those outside climbed to the roof and, tearing 
the mats from their supports, to which they slung one upon another, peered 
down at him from above. He experienced much difficulty everywhere, 
however, in prevailing upon the natives to sit for their portraits, owing to 
their superstitious fear that the possessor of their likenesses would have 
some mysterious power or evil influence over them. In addition to en- 
treaties and bribes, he had sometimes to resort to various strategies and ar- 
guments to attain his end — as, for instance, that the pictures were to be 
shown to their "great mother," the queen, who would no doubt be much 
disappointed on missing his proposed subject's portrait. On one occasion 
he allayed the fears of a repentant sitter, who continued to pursue him 
only by hastily preparing a duplicate sketch of him and destroying the 
duplicate in his presence — on another occasion he was in great peril owing 
to the unexpected death of one of his subjects — a woman — whose demise 
was attributed to his malign influence. 

Kane, notwithstanding, had many interesting subjects. Among oth- 
ers he met at Fort Victoria the great Yellow-cum, head chief of the 
Macaws at Cape Flattery and the wealthiest man of his tribe in slaves and 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 203 

iaquas, the shell money then in circulation there. His father was the 
pilot of the Tonquin, who escaped destruction by the terrible explosion, 
which blew in pieces Mr. Astor's ship, with the man who fired the maga- 
zine and all the savage horde on her deck. On his way home he paid a 
four days' visit to Dr. Whitman, the well known missionary, and his 
family at their home on the banks of the Walla Walla. The doctor 
took him to see an Indian named To-ma-kus that he might take his like- 
ness — his appearance being the most savage, Kane says, he ever beheld. 
The Indian, a prey to superstitiuous fears, endeavoured to burn the 
sketch made of him by Kane, who snatched it from him and fled, the man 
appearing to be greatly enraged. The circumstance is referred to, as it 
must have been peculiarly distressing to the artist to hear when at Colville 
of the massacre of Doctor and Mrs. Whitman and a dozen others and 
that the ferocious To-ma-kus was the man who had tomahawked his late 
host, while another Indian, whom he had sketched, was present when 
the deed was done. Kane had, however, done all he could to warn Dr. 
Whitman of his danger and endeavoured to persuade him to seek safety 
at Fort Walla Walla — having, indeed, taken a three hours' ride back 
from the fort, where he had heard and seen enough to arouse his fears for 
the missionary, to the missionary — but in vain. The devoted man said he 
had lived so long among these Indians that he had no apprehension oL 
their injuring him — yet they attributed, it seems, to him various ills which 
Providence and their enemies visited upon them, with the lamentable result 
just mentioned. Rev. H. Spalding and family were made prisoners by 
another tribe, from whom, however, Mr. Ogden, chief factor of the Hud- 
son's Bay Company, who had at once repaired to the scene on hearing of 
the trouble, purchased their release. 

The light of the gospel had first been brought to the natives of the 
Columbia some 1 4 years before this sad occurrence by a young Indian lad, 
christened Spaganbarry, by the English missionary at Red River, where 
he with some other sons of chiefs, had been sent in 1825, through the 
instrumentality of Governor Simpson. He returned in 1 832 and subse- 
quently spent some time in instructing his people, but afterwards himself 
lapsed into a profligate and savage life, according to the testimony of 
Governor Simpson himself. The Methodist Episcopal mission on the Will- 
amette was begun by the Lees in 1 834. In 1 836 Dr. Whitman and 
Rev. H. Spalding with their wives — said to have been the first white 
women to cross the mountains — had begun their work among the Indians, 
as did also two Roman Catholic missionaries in 1 838 — while a chaplain, 
Rev. Mr. Beaver, and his wife, had come from England to supply the 
spiritual wants of Fort Vancouver. More than a decade of Christian 



204 C. O. Ermalinger 

teaching, it will be seen, had failed to eradicate superstition and savagery 
from the native character; yet the same spirit which has imbued those 
who have suffered similarly in Africa and China, in more recent years, 
has inspired the soldiers of the Cross on the Columbia and its tributaries to 
persist in their self-sacrificing labours, with what success the present resi- 
dents of Oregon and Washington can best attest. 

The difference in appearance and customs, as well as language, be- 
tween the Indians of the plains east of the mountains and those of the 
coast was great. Washington Irving attributed — no doubt correctly — the 
bent legs, corpulent bodies and generally squat appearance of the latter, 
as compared with the tall, straight figures of many of the natives of the 
East, to their life as fishermen and mariners, constantly squatting in canoes, 
while the aborigines of the plains scoured the prairies in the chase. Their 
disposal of their dead also reflected the character of the coast Indian's 
life — their cemetaries being collections of elaborately decorated canoes, 
containing the corpses, and finished with all manner of paraphernalia and 
provision for the deceased in their future state, in happy fishing, rather than 
hunting, grounds. 

Slavery was rife among the aborigines of the coast, the number of a 
man's wives and slaves being the two chief items in estimating his import- 
ance. The lives of these slaves were completely at the mercy of their 
owners, who killed them without compunction whenever the occasion seemed 
to them to call for such a sacrifice. 

The custom of flattening the head in infancy was a characteristic of 
certain of the tribes in the region of the Columbia and Puget's Sound, es- 
pecially of the Chinooks and Cowlitz Indians. The process, which is well 
depicted, as well as described by Paul Kane, commenced with the birth 
of the infant and continued for a period of from eight to twelve months, in 
which time the head had lost its natural shape and acquired that of a 
wedge, the front of the skull flat and higher at the crown, giving it a 
very unnatural appearance. The infants are said to have shown no signs 
of suffering while subjected to the treatment, but on the contrary to have 
cried when their bands were removed — nor was their health or acuteness 
of intellect apparently impaired by it. The Flatheads took their slaves 
from among the roundhead tribes, the former looking with contempt even 
upon the whites, whose heads had grown in the natural shape which served 
to distinguish slaves from their masters. 

The fondness of the Indian for arraying himself in the white man's 
garments, especially if they be of a showy or striking appearance, has been 
often remarked, and the Indians of the Columbia were no exception to 
the rule. "I remember old King Comcomly," said the old Hudson's Bay 



Hudson's Bay Company on the Columbia 205 

clerk quoted in the earlier part of this article* /'once marching into Van- 
couver, with all his naked aides and followers, rigged out in a British gen- 
eral's uniform. But His Majesty had thrown off the pantaloons before 
he marched out — considering that they impeded his progress" — a scene 
which reminds one somewhat of the visit of the founder of the late Ha- 
waiian dynasty and his suite to the Tonquin, while she lay at the 
Sandwich Islands. 

The lot of the officers and clerks at the more remote posts of the 
Hudson's Bay Company was, in most cases, by no means an enviable one. 
Their letters to their friends and to each other — usually long and neatly 
written documents — contained many a tale of dangers surmounted and 
hardships endured. One wrote from Colville, in 1835, "we had five or 
six hundred Blakfeet upon us and fought some hours" ; another, speaking 
of Fort Simpson in the same year, said : "A winter voyage on that rugged 
stormy coast is both dangerous and unpleasant and, when arrived, the 
matter is not much mended. The natives are very numerous, treacherous, 
daring, savage and ferocious in the extreme." Separated from his family, 
whom he would not expose to the dangers of the voyage, he exclaims against 
the country of his exile. Such instances might be multiplied and it is little 
matter of wonder that the burden of the trader's letter was at all times 
an expression of longing for the time when he hoped to "go out" to the 
far away civilized world and that he invariably looked upon one already 
there as in a situation akin to Paradise. The hope of promotion — which 
could not begin until after many years of service — the heartburnings at 
sometimes being passed over, the long waits of twenty or even thirty years 
for their "parchments," as they termed their commissions as chief factors 
or chief traders — were the subject of ceaseless thought and some grumb- 
ling. Now and again the bullet, knife or tomahawk of some treach- 
erous foe would put an end to the earthly solitude of the trader at a remote 
post. In spite of all their drawbacks, however, the Hudson's Bay factors, 
traders and clerks formed a brotherhood of men, who, for courage, loyalty 
to the service and good comradeship, were unexcelled perhaps anywhere. 
In Eastern Canada, the Red River settlement and Vancouver Island, 
which formed the chief havens of their retirement from service, the old 
Nor'westers and Hudson's Bay men formed a confraternity of large- 
hearted and often opulent veterans, full of affection for their families and 
old comrades and of thankfulness to God for mercies vouchsafed them. 
That not only the highest position in the company's service, but the highest 
imperial honours as well, were open to the Hudson's Bay clerk possessing 
the necessary ability, tact, vigour and perseverance is evidenced by the 

♦The writer's father. 



206 C. O. Ermatinger 

case of the Hon. Sir Donald A. Smith, who, entering company's service 
as a lad from Scotland, 1 8 years of age, has risen, step by step, to the 
highest position in that service, has amassed great wealth, held a seat for 
many years in the Canadian parliament, and occupies now the important 
position of High Commissioner for Canada at London, where he holds a 
seat in the House of Lords as Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal. 

As already stated, the Hudson's Bay Company withdrew headquar- 
ters to the north of the present boundary after it became fixed in 1846. 
Meantime settlement, especially in the Willamette valley, was going on 
apace and cities and towns arose. Though the fur trade departed, the 
fisheries have remained and the city of Astoria has been reared chiefly on a 
diet of fish — for the salmon and sturgeon, as well as smaller fish, of the 
Columbia, were ever justly celebrated. Ships of all nations found their 
way in increasing numbers across that bar which has ever been the chief 
drawback to navigation to and from the Columbia. Across the broad 
river down which the express boat propelled by the light-hearted, gaily- 
singing voyageurs, made its way in former times, the swift express train 
now travels with passengers who mayhap have crossed the continent in less 
time than would, in the early days, have been consumed in a trip from 
Spokane to Fort Vancouver. 

C. O. Ermatinger.