Harrison-Lillooet Trail

Kamloops Lake, British Columbia, from its west end and looking toward modern-day Kamloops city

Kamloops Lake, from its south western end. The fort would have been where the plume of smoke rises. In 1846, Anderson and his men rode over the hills pictured here, making their way to the mouth of Thompson’s River where it left the lake.

I am starting a new thread here, telling the story of the Harrison-Lillooet trail from 1846, to 1859 or so. I collected a ton of information on this interesting trail a long time ago, and was going to write about it, but never did. So, if I still have this information (and I do), I think I should use it.

The beginning of the story: In 1818, negotiations between the British and Americans established a boundary line between the United States and British territory as far west as the Rocky Mountains. For many years, the line through Oregon Territory remained undecided, though the territory was jointly claimed by both Great Britain and the United States. The only residents were the First Nations who always lived here, and the North West Company and HBC fur traders and employees who continued to operate as if the territory was British-owned.

The first Americans trickled west in the early 1840s, shortly after Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, returned from Puget Sound. As a result of Wilkes’s glowing descriptions of Oregon Territory, the two governments re-opened negotiations. Most HBC traders were confident the line would follow Lewis and Clark’s trail to the Pacific, leaving the territory north of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in British hands. However, Governor George Simpson had conversed with some members of the Exploring Expedition at Fort Vancouver, and he was not as confident as others in the HBC’s ability to maintain ownership of any part of Oregon Territory.

Alexander Caulfield Anderson, then clerk-in-charge at Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River, thought the HBC should open a brigade trail from New Caledonia to Fort Langley on the lower Fraser — just in case. In spring 1845 he wrote to Governor Simpson, offering his services in locating such a trail. The Governor spoke to newly-minted Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden, who was on his way to the Columbia District. With James Douglas and John Work, Ogden was slated to become one of three members of the Board of Management that would run the massive district west of the Rocky Mountains. When the incoming Columbia Express reached Fort Colvile, Ogden told the New Caledonia gentlemen of Simpson’s instructions.

Shortly prior to my departure from Red River, Sir George Simpson suggested to me that it would be most highly important to ascertain if a communication with horse could be effected between Fort Alexandria and [Fort] Langley, and as Mr. A. C. Anderson has volunteered his services, and from his active habits and experience in [New] Caledonia, I consider [him] fully competent to carry it into effect, I have to request he may be appointed…I would also recommend that during the winter, both Chief Trader [John] Tod and Mr. Anderson, without creating any suspicion of our intentions, should obtain every information of the country from the natives. [“Extract from C.F. Ogden’s letter to Chief Traders Tod & Manson, dated Colvile, 22nd Oct 1845,” A/B/40/Og2, BCA. Edited for clarity and to remove fifty million commas].

In 1846, the outgoing New Caledonia brigade left Fort St. James in mid-April and, on May 2nd, arrived at Fort Alexandria. Anderson traveled to Kamloops with them. Now thirty years old, Anderson was in good conditions and was also over-confident in his ability to find a road to the coast. Unfortunately, he was also entirely unfamiliar with the country he had volunteered to find a path through. This was rugged country, and he would be exploring for a brigade trail that would be used by hundreds of pack-horses carrying furs to the coast, and trade goods inland. The finished trail would be ten feet wide for most of its course, and a path that might work for a man on foot would not necessarily be suitable for heavily laden pack horses. Though sturdy, the HBC horses were small: only 700 to 1,000 pounds as a rule. They were also unshod, and sharp rocks on the trail-bed damaged their hooves and cut their fetlocks. If the ground was soft, the passage of many horses turned the trail-bed into a quagmire. Because so much of the brigade’s travel was done is seasons of high water [freshets], safe fords over creeks and rivers were essential. Gradient was also important, but they could accept a steep slope if the hillside allowed for switchbacks. The horses needed good grass and water: the trail-builders could sow alfalfa and white clover along the trail if the ground was good, but they could not manufacture streams. Building a brigade trail was a complex matter, and Anderson would have to keep all these concerns in mind as he explored potential trails. [Most of this information is from The Pathfinder.]

On May 15, Anderson rode away from the Kamloops post with five men and an “Indian from the Lakes,” named N-poomsk. His journal begins with their journey along the south bank of Kamloops Lake.

Friday, 15th May. Set out from Kamloops, having with me five men, viz. Edouard Montigny, J. Bte, Vautrin, Abraham Charbonneau, Theodore Lacourse, and William Davis. Left at 3/4 pm, the New Caledonia & Thompson’s River brigade still encamped there, and delayed by bad weather. At 6 3/4 encamped at the lower end of Kamloops Lake. 

Saturday 16th. Fine weather. Crossed with Indian canoes at the discharge of the lake. Found Riviere du Defunt [Deadman’s River] much swollen and having searched in vain for a tree suitable for a bridge, we went at length to the mouth of the river and having procured a crazy old canoe, we succeeded in doubling the end of the impediment upon the main stream. After several successful trips with our sorry vehicle we nearly experienced an accident at last, for Montigny with [another] of the men and several Indians narrowly escaped missing the eddy, and being swept into the boiling rapid some hundred yards below. Having crossed safely myself at the first trip, my feeling at witnessing the imminent danger of these people may be conceived…

The Deadman was a difficult river to cross when the water was high, as it was now. Like other HBC men of his time, Anderson (or his interpreter) knew that the Secwepemc people did not often travel by canoe.

These Indians principally do their travelling on horseback, and have very little knowledge of the art of constructing canoes, the only use they make of them being just for the purpose of ferries when the water is too deep to ford. [James R. Anderson, “Indian Tribes of British Columbia”]

Anderson’s 1846 journal continued as they traveled west from the banks of the river.

On arrival at R. de Bonaparte we found the water extremely high, and the banks inundated. We are now encamped 11 miles above the usual ford, without having yet found a spot to admit of our crossing. A few dry spots that remain among the willows are the resort of many hares which have taken refuge there from the water.

Sunday 17th. Overcast & threatening rain. Succeeded in making a bridge, and crossed over by 9 a.m., but it was not till late in the afternoon that we got the horses across, having had to go up nearly as far as the Loon River Fork to find a suitable spot. Encamped upon the Riviere au Chapeaux [Hat Creek], a feeder of the Bonaparte. This stream, which derives its name from an Indian tradition connected with a large granite stone on its left bank indented with several hat-like cavities, flows through a very picturesque valley richly covered with herbage, and bordered by hills sprinkled with Fir [pine] trees.

Monday 18th. Set out at 4 1/2 a.m. Rainy, disagreeable weather nearly all day. Five miles upon Riviere aux Chapeaux; then N.W. through a cut in the hills, 4 miles to a small lake [Crown Lake, in Marble Canyon]. Then another lake about 3 miles in length, deep, narrow & of a deep sea green tint [Pavilion Lake]. Steep & lofty limestone crags bound the valley on either hand, diversified in spots by small waterfalls, swollen by the melting snows. Three miles further to breakfast upon Pavillon [sic] River leading S.W. 3 miles to Pavillon village upon Fraser’s River. Course of the Fraser River at this spot, S.

Anderson’s party arrived on the banks of the Fraser River at the mouth of Pavilion Creek. He would later note that “An encampment… was called Le Pavillon, owing to the British flag having been conspicuously hoisted there. This has been…corrupted by the [gold] miners into the Pavillion.” His journal continues:

At 4pm Reached 1st Fountain on Fraser’s River. In this neighbourhood the greater part of the supply of salmon for Thompson’s River district is traded; and the road we have followed is that by which the transport is effected. The banks of the river hereabouts are extremely broken and precipitous; and many of the adjacent hills are white with recent snow. One of our horses got his leg cut in crossing a small brook this afternoon, and is lame in consequence.

Many Indians are assembled around us at this place (the Upper Fountain) where we are encamped, but they behave very peaceably, and seem overjoyed at our arrival.

I think we can pause here. They have reached the Fraser River just north of Fountain Ridge, and so on the next post we can talk about this place, and continue the journey down the Fraser to the mouth of Seton River. 

When I write the next post on this thread, it will appear here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/harrison-lillooet-trail-2/

This should be, in the end, a nice long thread, with tons of drama and false rumours — or maybe they are true stories. We will have to find out.

So far this information has come from Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s “Journal of an Expedition under command of Alex C. Anderson of the Hudson’s Bay Company, undertaken with the view of ascertaining the practicability of a communication with the interior, for the import of the annual supplies, 1846,” A/B/40/An3.1, BCA.

One quote has come from James Robert Anderson, “Indian Tribes of British Columbia,” Mss 1912, Box 16, folder 1, BCA. Two other quotes have come from Anderson’s writing, specifically “British Columbia,” and “History of the Northwest Coast.”

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.