A paragraph or two from The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West, will introduce you to the reason why Alexander Caulfield Anderson made his four expeditions between Kamloops and Fort Langley– two in 1846 and two in 1847.
“In 1846, the British and American governments began to negotiate the placement of the American border through traditional Hudson’s Bay Company lands west of the Rocky Mountains. Some Company men optimistically expected the new boundary to pass south of the Columbia River, leaving all the territory to the north in Company hands. Americans hoped the boundary might be placed as far north as the bottom of the Russian territories [the Alaska panhandle], which meant that much of New Caledonia would fall into American hands. Wherever the boundary ultimately ran, it was certain to interfere with the business of the fur trade. The nervous Company men planned to enlarge the new post at Fort Victoria, on the south end of Vancouver’s Island. Fort Langley was already serviced by the HBC ships, but no one knew how the rich furs of New Caledonia would reach the lower Fraser River. The impassable Fraser River canyons and a rough, unexplored range of mountains lay between New Caledonia and Fort Langley.
“In 1845 Anderson wrote to Governor Simpson [of the HBC] to volunteer himself for the job of finding a new brigade route across the mountains from Kamloops to Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser. The letter reached Simpson at Norway House, and he discussed the issue with Peter Skene Ogden, who happened to be there at the time. In October 1845, Ogden wrote from Fort Colvile [Spokane area], giving Anderson instructions to confer with John Tod of Kamloops before exploring potential routes between Kamloops and Fort Langley. At the same time, Ogden wrote to Tod, suggesting that the most feasible route might be “starting from Thompson’s River, across land to the Nicoutimine Country, and from thence to Harrison’s River then with canoes nothing can intervene to prevent reaching Fort Langley.””
The image below is from A.C. Anderson’s 1867 map of British Columbia. It does not show his downward journey through Seton and Anderson Lake and the Lillooet River to Fort Langley (just off the bottom of the map to left), but it does show his return journey after he descends the north edge of the Coquihalla plateau and makes his way north, via Otter Creek and Nicola Valley, to Kamloops.
Anderson did follow Ogden’s suggested route, but the roughness of the Lillooet River made him decide against using this as a brigade trail. This was no country for horses, nor for boats! On his return to Kamloops he took the route suggested by James Murray Yale — walking due east up the Coquihalla, Nicolum and Sumallo Rivers, then north across the Coquihalla Plateau to the fur traders’ “Similkameen” (Tulameen River). On the banks of the Tulameen the explorers collected the horses that had left for them, and enjoyed an easy and pleasant ride north to Kamloops.
But Anderson was not the only man to go on this expedition — he took five employees with him: Edouard Montigny, Jean Baptiste Vautrin, Abraham Charbonneau, Theodore Lacourse, and William Davis. So here I go with whatever information I have about these men:
Edouard Montigny: No one is sure where Edouard Montigny comes from, but he is Metis. He might have been the mixed-blood son of Ovid de Montigny, who is quite famous in the fur trade of Washington State as a long time employee of the ill-fated Pacific Fur Company, the North West Company, and finally the HBC. Ovid’s supposed son Edouard was one of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s most trusted employees at Fort Alexandria, and he was Anderson’s interpreter — he translated the Natives’ languages so that Anderson could communicate with them.
Edouard first appears in the fur trade at Thompson’s River in 1833, when he was probably 17 years old. I think it was Edouard who led Anderson to Fort Alexandria in mid-winter 1842, over the new brigade trail north of Kamloops. He remained at Fort Alexandria the entire time Anderson was there, then returned to Kamloops. He had a brother who also worked at Fort Alexandria, but who deserted in 1844. Anderson wrote, “I suspect the scamp has let some of our horses stray off, and is afraid of his brother’s anger.”
Jean Baptiste Vautrin: I have written a lot about Jean Baptiste, and he has plenty of descendants in the area. He was French Canadian, born in Lower Canada in 1813, and he died at the Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon in 1893. He spent most of his fur trade career in the New Caledonia area, and was at Fort Alexandria when Anderson arrived there. He must have been sent off to man the new Thleuz-cuz post in the Chilcotins, because in November 1844, Anderson wrote: “Today to my very great surprise, Vautrin cast up from Thleuz-cuz, having a letter from Mr. Todd… notifying that the fall fishery failed, that he had killed a horse (Rapide) some time previously for food…”
Vautrin is regularly at the fort in 1846. On the 31st of October, “Vautrin (who has been sick during the greater part of the week) commenced yesterday the care of a coal furnace previously built & fired by Gendron.” On Monday 9th: “Yesterday evening the wife of J. Bte. Vautrin (a daughter of Lolo’s) was taken ill, and shortly after gave birth to a still born child. She afterwards fell into a state of exhaustion, and I was applied to for assistance. I accordingly administered, with proper caution, some wine & water & a little laudanum, which had a salutary effect, and on my going to bed a little after midnight, the woman was much better & breathed with freedom. Towards morning, however, I was again summoned, and found her in a dying state. It appears that after sleeping tranquilly for some time, she awoke and conversed a little, but ere long again relapsed. Internal flooding I suspect to have been the cause of the poor woman’s death; for little appeared externally.”
On Tuesday, December 8th, 1846, Anderson reported that “I have to record that today I was under the disagreeable necessity of chastising one of the servants under my command — the more disagreeable to me, I may add, since it is the first occasion of my having to do so for some years past; and the only one since my sojourn in New Caledonia. Having occasion to reprimand J. Bte Vautrin for disrespectful language, which I did quietly in my sitting room, the man replied in so improper a manner that I was compelled to strike him a couple of blows, in order to maintain that authority without the possession of which one’s efficiency in this country is more than doubtful.” The last mention of Vautrin comes when he leaves Fort Alexandria, in March 1847. “Today Pere Nobili [missionary] set out for Kamloops, accompanied by his man & Baptiste Lolo, together with Vautrin. The last, whose time was expired & who was on his way out, had my sanction to make an arrangement to accompany Mr. Nobili till the spring, when he will be disposable for the summer Brigade. He has therefor renewed his agreement with HBC for another year…”
Abraham Charbonneau: Charbonneau was French Canadian, born about 1815 in Quebec. For a few years he was in the Snake district, but came to New Caledonia via Fort Colvile. At the end of his contract he returned to Fort Colvile and hoped to go out with the York Factory express. He did not, because of illness. He eventually rejoined the trade at Fort Vancouver because of a severe shortage of men, but deserted the place for the California gold fields, where he disappeared. He was first mentioned in the Fort Alexandria journals in spring 1846: “They will be forwarded at Kamloops by Charbonneau, Lacourse & Touin, whom I left there in passant.” In January 1847 Anderson wrote, “Vautrin returned from Fort George, having left two men (Charbonneau & Desautels) on the way — the former being sick & unable to travel. Three days after these men cast up, they have their feet frozen and altogether are in dismal plight.” Because of his many illnesses, I think that Charbonneau had an unidentified chronic disease that, on occasion, sickened him.
Theodore Lacourse: Lacourse or LaCroix was French Canadian, born about 1823. By 1840 he was in New Caledonia and accompanied Anderson on both his expeditions across the mountains. In April 1846 Anderson wrote: “Linneard, Vautrin & Lacourse having prepared the ploughs, made a beginning to plough this evening in the home field. His brother Pierre was also in New Caledonia, and Anderson “received a note from Mr. [Donald] Manson stating the desertion of two men, Pierre & Theodore Lacourse. I have commissioned the Indians to search for these men & if they discover them to give me notice. I have also sent down word to the same effect to the Rapid, with directions to the Indians to steal their horses & bring them back to me with prompt intelligence.” The Lacourse brothers were returned to Fort Alexandria and Theodore finished out his contract and left the country in Thomas Lowe’s 1848 York Factory express.
William Davis: Davis was born in Lower Canada about 1827 and joined the fur trade on a three year contract. He was another who deserted Donald Manson’s brigade but was taken back with the threat of capital punishment were he to do it again. He resigned his contract in 1848 and returned to Canada in the same York Factory express as Theodore Lacourse.
Here are the stories of the five or so men who accompanied Anderson across the mountains in summer, 1846. They traveled via Fraser River to Seton and Anderson Lake and crossed a small height of land to the Lillooet River, which they then followed down to Fort Langley. On their return journey they walked up the Coquihalla River and then crossed the massive Coquihalla plateau — on foot. These men were tough, but they were also young (and in some cases, very young). I have to remember that Alexander Caulfield Anderson himself was only thirty years old at that time — a difficult task when the only photographs we have of him show him as a seventy-year-old.
Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.
- The Anderson-Seton family, part one
- The H.B.Co. brigade trails in British Columbia