1858 Brigade Trails


Packhorses on Athabasca Portage

This is image na-3934-16, from Glenbow Archives, and is used with their permission. The packhorses that the HBC men used were probably smaller than these horses, but the scene would be very similar to this.

It is interesting to see how the packers who followed the HBC trails into the upper district travelled up and down what they called “the Old Brigade Trail” to get to Fort Alexandria and places north. Many of the roads they called “the Old Brigade Trail” were not part of what I know was the actual Brigade Trail that was opened in 1843. And in 1851, the road crew started their work on the trail and changed it. But did they change it so much that it followed the Bonaparte River south to the Thompson River? I am not sure they did.  

And so I always have questions when I see that the packers say they followed the Old Brigade Trail north. Yes, they did travel parts of it. But there are other parts of their trail that they called the Old Brigade Trail, though I am not sure it was. However, there is no record on where the trail ran over the years after 1851. And by the way, if you want to see what I am talking about when I talk about the Road Crew, see this post: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/road-crew/ 

So over the years the trail did change: but we don’t know how. Or at least, I don’t. 

In doing my research on the brigade trails, however, I concentrated on the trails I knew were brigade trails. We are talking now of the 1843 trail, which is clearly marked on A.C. Anderson’s 1867 Map. I had to figure out where this trail ran, and as I give you the packer’s story, below, I will also include links to my blog-posts on the sections of the trail that are the same as that our packer talks about.

As I said previously, parts of the old trail remained the same, and sections of the trail changed every year. It is possible, I suppose, that by the time the packers came the trail actually did run down the Bonaparte River valley, which is where the packers began their journey north.

So here is the packer’s story of his journey up the Old Brigade Trail. It is titled “The Old Brigade Trail in ’59,” and its author is Frank Sylvester. You can find this manuscript in the University of Victoria Digital Collections. 

So, this packer’s mule train started off from Lillooet Flats in April 1859. “There was no wagon road above Lillooet,” he says, “and no wheeled vehicles whatever. Everything was carried by either mule or horse Trains.”

His pack-train started off when the Fraser River was still frozen hard [if you can imagine that!], and they travelled 7 miles north to the Fountain. “The trail to the Fountain… follows the bank of the Fraser right along and was pretty good, but gradually rises high above the river. The next day we struck in to the right, leaving the river, so as to go around back of Pavilion Mountain…A pack train, as a rule, does not travel more than 15 [miles] per day, with loaded animals, as they travel very slow, in fact, they just walk.” 

From here we pass, heading I think about north east, by Marble Canon [Canyon] and Hat Creek and then on to the Bonaparte River. We were now on the Old Brigade Trail. This was so called because each year the Hudson’s Bay Co. brought down their collection of the season’s furs from all their interior northern Forts, by Big Batteaux for Fort Alexander [Alexandria], and from there they were brought down packed on the backs of Cayuse Horses to Fort Hope…

This trail down the Bonaparte Valley was marked on A.C Anderson’s map as an alternate trail, but at no time in his history does he say they ever used it as a brigade trail. Later brigades might have used it, and they might not have. Personally I think that they stuck to the old trail, but so far as I know there are no records that say what trail they actually did use over the years between 1851 and 1859. 1851 is the year that Peter Ogden began to make changes to the road. Did he bring it down the Bonaparte River? I don’t know. I do know that according to David Douglas, there were bogs along that route, and so it seems unlikely.

But to continue with the packer’s story:

The country we had been travelling along up to here [the Bonaparte Valley] was very rough and broken, but the scenery changed greatly at the Bonaparte. Here we came into nice rolling prairie land with lots of fine bunch grass, although of course most of it, as yet, was covered with snow. We crossed and recrossed the Bonaparte 3 times, once at the Round Mound and once each at the First and Second Crossing Fords, always fording the stream, but the fords were well known. We continued on, by Green Lake, a fine sheet of water…

But to get to Green Lake from the Bonaparte Valley, they had to travel over a section of the 1843 brigade trail. The brigade trail came due north from Loon Lake over the Bonaparte Plateau, dipped into the Bonaparte River Valley, and then carried on across the Green Timber Plateau to Green Lake. See this post: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/green-lake/

We know he passed over the Green Timber Plateau, because he says so, here:

On their travel we had to go through what was called the Green Timber, a drive of 25 miles in one day, as there was no feed till we got through, and it was very bad travelling. Our Bell Mare took a tumble here down a slippery rock slide, turned over a dozen times, and entirely demolished our valuable kitchen besides destroying the valuable large kettle of Beans we had cooked, so as to be ready as soon as we struck camp, which we knew would be very late. We spent about 2 hours picking up the ruins of our silver ware and utensils, and finally got the old mare back on the trail, and found she was not badly hurt, but terribly skinned up. One of our Mules also rolled down and spilled her load, which was 300 pounds of Beans belonging to me, and although we got the mule back with only a stifle joint displaced, I left my beans scattered all along the mountain ride and no insurance.

It was not an easy journey over the Green Timber Plateau to Green Lake — neither for the packers, nor for the men of the New Caledonia brigades coming out to Fort Hope. Firstly, the trail followed a series of eskers north toward Green Lake, and it is likely one of those rough, snake-like ridges that the poor Bell Mare, above, tumbled down the edge of. Eskers are geological features formed by streams running over glaciers and leaving behind collections of stones on their stream bed — and the HBC brigades followed these eskers north of the Bonaparte River for miles.

Then, at Green Lake they find another set of geological oddities called Buttes, or Plugs. The trail the trackers would have used, however, may have avoided “La Butte,” which appears on this map. But if you like this sort of thing, you can read the next post in the series, https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/horse-lake/ 

The packers would have hardly touched Green Lake, just rounded the west end and continued straight north, up the east side of modern-day Eighty-Three [Mile] Creek to Taylor Creek and Lake, where they might have camped. By carrying on along the same north-east route and rounding the end of a range of hills, they would have reached the south shore of modern-day Horse Lake. That whole section of the old Brigade Trail has now been buried under the tracks of a railway — as always, new trails follow old.

But it is also important to know that new trails did not always follow old — the Cariboo Road, for example, rarely if ever touched on the brigade trail route and never followed it for any distance. It was not until they got to the north shore of Lac la Hache that the trail, and the wagon road, merged. But they cannot have followed the same path north — it is interesting to know, for example, that a piece of the brigade trail still exists, separate from the Cariboo Road, in a place called the “old Dairy Fields” near Williams Lake.

I myself would like to know more about this, but I haven’t got up to Williams Lake at a time when I am likely to learn anything about it. There is a man who gives talks on this piece of property, I understand (and I presume he still does). But if anyone has any information they would like to share with me, I would love to hear about the Dairy Fields!

So the packers eventually arrived at Fort Alexandria. This packer has a good story about this old place too:

Fort Alexander, the town proper I mean, consisted of just about a dozen log cabins. It is built on a smooth flat, right on the Bank of the Fraser River, and has several nice terraces rising just behind. Right across the River was the Hudson Bay Company Fort Alexander [Alexandria], at that time in charge of Red River [Ferdinand] Mackenzie… Here come every spring the huge Batteaux of the Company from Fort George and further north, bringing down the furs for shipment to Fort Hope. When I arrived there about April 1st, the Fraser was still frozen over solid and I crossed over to the Fort several times on the ice trail. About April 14 I heard a tremendous explosion early in the morning. I ran to the river bank, close at hand, and saw a most wonderful sight. The ice was breaking. The river was opening. First the well worn trail over the smooth white ice began to slowly move, the whole river moving at first in a solid sheet, but constant explosions took place, in an hour the ice began to break up in huge cakes, and by evening it came only in large broken masses…. Late in the afternoon I heard great noise and shouting. Running down to the river bank I saw a fine sight, one seldom seen — Several large heavy Batteaux pulling long oars were coming in and amongst the ice cakes, all filled with Canadian voyageurs and half-Breeds, in their wild mountain dress, and in the first Batteaux was seated one of whom many of you have read, but very few have seen. I mean Peter Ogden, who came down with the Brigade. I got well acquainted with him, and found him to be a splendid man. He was a picture of the Old Regime. Short, stout, Swarthy with long curly hair, and he certainly knew how to handle the wild crew he had in charge. During the time these men remained at the Fort, repacking and arranging the furs in readiness for the Horses to arrive to carry them to Fort Hope, they certainly had a while time, and frequently gave us much trouble when they came over to our side, pretty filled with good H.B.C Rum. But Mr. Peter Ogden could always quiet them with a word when we had to call upon him. He died many years ago. May he rest in peace, for he was a fine Man.

This Peter Ogden was Peter Skene Ogden, Jr., son of Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden of New Caledonia and later of Fort Vancouver. And yes, he is the man who led the Road Crew south from Fort St. James to Fort Hope every year, straightening out the old road. What a shame he is no longer alive to tell us whether or not the 1843 Brigade Trail ever ran down through the Bonaparte River valley to the Kamloops post!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2020. All rights reserved.


3 thoughts on “1858 Brigade Trails

  1. Kenneth Favrholdt

    Hi Nancy,
    I found this blog very interesting. My own research indicates the Bonaparte River Valley was a possible route (if high water was not a problem), but the Old Brigade Route from Kamloops north was more direct. Upon reaching the east of Loon Lake the trail from Kamloops headed across the ridge to the Bonaparte, then up Fly Creek which the late Bob Harris and I walked one summer day, which is how they crossed the Red Timber Plateau. From there they headed for the southwest end of Green Lake. The “railway” you mention is the name given to one of the eskers that was used by the brigades. My main point is that the Bonaparte was an unlikely route before the Gold Rush when Fort Kamloops was located on the south side of the Thompson River and traffic headed toward the Cariboo Road.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, I wrote that for Sue Smith Josephy who has a book out now about Cataline: all the packers apparently called that the old Brigade Trail. I agree it wasn’t. Red Timber Plateau — named for the Ponderosa Pine I suppose Thanks. My brigade book is just being edited now (by my editor, not the publishers. It will be submitted to publisher soon).