Here we now have George Traill Allan’s journal of his journey from Carlton House to Red River, so that he could represent the Columbia District at the Annual Committee meeting of the HBC, at the Stone Fort [Fort Garry]. The year is 1841, and he had arrived at Carlton House with the York Factory Express on the 25th of May:
Wednesday 26th [May]. Having disposed of all our superfluous baggage and provisions Dr. [William Fraser] Tolmie and myself an Indian Guide and three men, including a young Half-breed, son of Chief Factor [John Peter] Pruden, mounted our Horses and commenced our journey over the plains to Red River. Our route for the first three days lay through a very pretty country — a mixture of plains, woods and Lakes, the latter abounding with wild fowl, a number of which we killed, and the plain with Antelopes; but our time pressed too much to admit of our hunting them.
These were pronghorn antelopes, no longer found as far north as he found them, but still on the prairies. Before European settlement it is estimated there were 30 to 40 million pronghorn on the prairies! They are smaller than most horned/antlered North American mammals: males weigh up to 70 kg, while females weigh 56 kg. Females are hornless, but the males have horns with forward projecting prongs, which cast off in early November. They have keen eye-sight and are described as curious, but can speed off at the rate of 100 kilometers per hour if they feel threatened! [information from University of Regina and Canadian Plains Research Centre, and written by George Mitchell in 2007, I presume?]
Allan’s journal continues:
Saturday 29th. Very sultry weather and no water to be had except from stagnant pools and to increase our comforts the guide lost his way and kept us wandering backwards and forwards for upwards of three hours. At last he fell upon the track. During the day we perceived three Buffalo, but at a great distance — and the Guide going a little a-head saw two Moose Deer at which he snapped his gun three times; lucky for him they were not Blackfeet! The rest of the party coming up fired two shots without effect.
Sunday 30th. To day we came in sight of a very extensive Salt Lake, the borders of which are much frequented by Buffalo [Bison] at certain seasons; at present we only saw three Bulls and our time was too precious to go in pursuit of them. Our horses were also very much jaded as we had ridden very hard all day in order to get to the end of the Lake, no fresh water being found along the borders. We were so fortunate as to achieve our object and enjoyed, with great relish, a glass of good cold water than which, when a man is really thirsty, nothing can be more acceptable.
Monday 31st [May]. This morning we commenced our journey as usual very early and had travelled about twenty miles when our Guide once more got bewildered, to my great chagrin, as the despatches I carried for Governor Simpson were already late. Having arrived upon the summit of a hill, the poor Indian, worn out with vexation and fatigue, asked my permission to smoke a pipe and recollect himself; which being granted, and the pipe finished, he again led the way, but in a totally different direction to that which he, for the last few hours, pursued. We of course followed, though doubting whether he was right or wrong. Towards evening we encamped with our horses, much fatigued and uncertain with regard to the route. While at supper I dispatched the Guide to make a tour of discovery. He had not proceeded far when he fell upon a Lake which put him again to rights, and he rejoined us with a smiling countenance.
Tuesday 1st June. At half past 3 am we raised camp, the Guide & I being a-head, and upon ascending a rising ground we discovered a herd of about fifty Buffalo Cows with their Calves. Calling a halt I immediately dispatched the Half-breed & Guide to endeavour to intercept them, while the rest of us remained concealed with our guns ready for action, as it was most probable they would pass our way. But most unfortunately, as they approached them the wind suddenly changed and the Buffalo scampered away at a great rate, leaving us to digest our perhaps over-sanguine-anticipation of Beef stakes and Roast ribs as we best might.
Bison are very fast and can turn on a dime: they could “scamper off” at speeds up to 35 to 40 miles per hour!
This evening we reached Fort Pelly, a post in charge of Mr. Chief Trader [Dr. William] Todd who had left a few days before for Red River. I found, however, his representative, Peter Sinclair, an old Half-breed, in charge of the Fort, who waited to receive us at the gate with his pipe in his cheek, arms folded, and hat upon one side of his head, evidently impressed, and no doubt wishing to impress us, with a high idea of his importance. I did not, however, at the moment feel in a humour to be awe-struck with our friend Peter’s dignified demeanor (being vexed at the state of our horses) and therefore desired him, sans ceremoni, to provide us the means, without loss of time, to prosecute our journey.
This is probably Peter A. Sinclair, born in the country about 1805. He entered the HBC in 1827, and served as Fort Hunter at Swan River for years. In 1832-1834 he was Fort Hunter and Middleman at Fort Pelly, but he seems to have returned to Swan River for the rest of his career, where after 1835 he was an Interpreter. However, I don’t think Swan River is far distant from Fort Pelly, and Sinclair may have often been assigned the duty of care-taking the latter post when its Chief Factor was absent on business.
I here found a note addressed to me by Chief Factor [John] Rowand [of Edmonton House], who had passed only four days before, informing me that he had left two fresh horses for our use, and hoping we might overtake him before he reached Red River, where the Columbia Despatches, of which I was the bearer, at all times looked for were anxiety, were doubly so this year as Governor Simpson was about to visit that quarter of the Hon. Company’s territories.
The year is 1841, and Governor Simpson did tour the Columbia district! He arrived at Fort Vancouver in late summer 1841, and visited Fort Nisqually [Tacoma, WA], where Alexander Caulfield Anderson was in charge, on September 5. Anderson was away from the post at the time, and so Simpson left a note telling him that he was being replaced. “I think a change of management here is likely to be advantageous in several points of view,” his letter said. Simpson then went on to the northwest coast forts, and crossed Russia on his journey around the world. Allan’s journal continues:
We certainly stood in great need of fresh horses, for those we had been travelling with were wretched in the extreme; in fact could we have only mounted Mr. Peter Sinclair as Don Quixote and procured an equally good representative of his man, Sancho, nothing else would have been wanting upon our arrival at Red River, where windmills abound, to have completed a most perfect likeness of that celebrated hero, as any one of our steeds might have very well passed for a Rochinante [Rocinante, Don Quixote’s ancient horse]. I had myself ridden for half a day an old Buffalo runner out of one shoulder, who was so extremely well-bred that when he felt inclined to lay down (which occurred rather too frequently) he would endeavour to get to one side of the road and lay down gently upon the grass, his sense of politeness, however, carried him no farther, for did not not immediately dismount he would roll over you without more ado.
Wednesday 2nd. Bidding adieu to Mr. Peter Sinclair and his importance, we soon fell upon a narrow muddy River…
It is a shame to find records like this, but George Traill Allan was a bully who judged and demeaned people he did not like. Despite his character flaw, what he described is important. As Philadelphia historian Whitney Martinko (@WhitneyMartinko) says on Twitter, and I paraphrase:
Primary sources are for historical study and are not biased and bad, or unbiased and good. Every source author has a perspective, and its the historian’s job to understand it and use it to analyze the source.
So in spite of the fact you might dislike Allan, he still leaves us a good picture of Peter Sinclair, who was likely not as self-important as Allan judged him to be. He had earlier described Spokane Garry in a manner that someone on twitter felt was racist, and she RT’d the blogpost with a scolding note for Allan (or perhaps for me, though I am not responsible for his racism). There were other places in his journal where Allan demeaned persons, but I cut them out because that part of his journal wasn’t important to the overall story. But if it had been, I would have left the story in without guilt, and without accepting that anyone could bully me for telling the story of Allan’s bullying ways.
When the next section of Allan’s journal is published, it will appear here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/
This is connected to another journal that travels over what might be the same route, and it is found here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/carlton-to-red-river/
There is more to come in this short series. I think the third journal might turn into a series on its own — it’s quite interesting.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.
- Carlton to Red River
- Two Canoes: To the North River