In 1846, the British and American governments negotiated the placement of the new Boundary line through Hudson’s Bay Company lands west of the Rocky Mountains. The HBC’s governor, George Simpson, suspected that the line might interfere with the company’s traditional route down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. Another possibility for delivery of the furs to the coast existed — that the furs might be brought out to Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River. However, no trail yet existed. Governor Simpson and Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden assigned Alexander Caulfield Anderson the chore of exploring for a new brigade trail over the range of mountains that separated Kamloops from Fort Langley.
From Kamloops, Anderson led his five men on a cross-country expedition to Fort Langley, confident he could find a good horse road. His first exploration brought them through Seton, Anderson, and Harrison Lakes, but the route was far too difficult to ever become a brigade trail.
On May 28, Anderson’s party left Fort Langley, and began their journey up the Coquihalla and Nicolum Rivers. A week or so later they followed an easy trail to the top of the Coquihalla Mountain, where, to their dismay, they found a deep layer of snow. The party hiked away from the summit at 2.30 pm, crossing the plateau to the north. At last the exhausted men set up camp in a clear spot among the pines, on the banks of a creek that flowed from a lake Anderson named Council’s Punch Bowl.
In a map drawn more than ten years later, Anderson indicated the position of ‘Anderson’s Tree,’ which stood slightly south-east of the lake they camped on. The tree actually appears on three of his maps, so it is obvious it has some importance to him. But he never mentioned it in any of his writings, so it remained a mystery.
It was not until I read Carolyn Podruchny’s book, Making the Voyageur World; Travelers and Traders in the North American fur trade [Toronto: UofT Press, 2006] that I understood what ‘Anderson’s Tree’ might be. It is probable that it was the French-Canadians’ Maypole Tree — a tree lopped of all its branches except for a puff of greenery at the top. Making a maypole tree to honor a man or a special occasion was a tradition among the French-Canadian voyageurs, and, like all traditions, it was done to inveigle a drink of rum from the gentleman the tree honored. On this occasion it almost certainly succeeded. It was a historic moment in time, as this group of explorers had reached a height of land that no other non-Native man had seen.
It is unlikely that Anderson ever saw his tree again, nor did any other fur trader. The route across the Coquihalla mountains eventually became the new brigade trail, but the trail bypassed Council’s Punch Bowl and followed quite a different path down the mountains to Fort Hope. Nor will we ever know whether or not Anderson’s Tree was, in fact, a maypole tree; one hundred and sixty years later little will remain of the tree.
However, I am happy to have discovered that the tradition of Maypole Trees did actually make it to the West side of the Rocky Mountains. This quote is from National Gallery of Canada’s Paul Kane’s Frontier [Toronto: U of T Press, 1971] and it speaks of Kane’s experience in waiting for Thomas Lowe’s incoming York Factory Express at Boat Encampment:
We now had nothing to do but to try and pass the time pleasantly as we could under the circumstances, until the arrival of the brigade from the east side of the mountains. The men spent the day principally in gambling, and performing charms which they supposed would hasten the arrival of the brigade, such as erecting crosses with one of the arms pointing to the direction from which it was expected. They also prepared what they call a “lobstick.” For this purpose a high tree is chosen which has thick branches at the top, and all the lower limbs are carefully trimmed off; a smooth surface is then cut on one side of the tree, on which the person in whose honor it has been trimmed is invited to cut his name; this being done, three rounds of blank-charges are fired, and three cheers given, and the spot afterwards bears the name of his encampment.
The lobstick, of course, is another name for the Maypole Tree. Thanks to a Thomas Lowe family member (descendant of brother John Lowe) for pointing this story out to me.
From Anderson’s Tree, we are descending the Coquihalla Plateau again, and will return to Fort Langley, to begin the journey up the Fraser River to Kequeloose, as it was in the incoming 1848 brigade. Incoming means, going from Fort Langley on the coast, into New Caledonia, in the interior of the present province. Here’s the post: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/1848-brigade/
The story of this historic and chaotic crossing of the mountains in the 1848 brigade is told in my first book, The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West. It is out of print, but I have some copies left and so you can order them from me if you wish — $20 Canadian plus postage. Thank you.
You can order “The York Factory Express” through my publisher, here: http://ronsdalepress.com/york-factory-express-the/ The book tells the story of the HBC men who journey to Hudson Bay and return every year, with the York Factory Express and the Saskatchewan Brigades. Thank you.
This story, above, will be a part of my third book — Working Title: “Brigades,” which is being edited. Exciting times! I would never have imagined, when I began writing, that it would take so long to write and publish a book! It is a learning experience — Thanks for following along!
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014, [Updated 2020]. All rights reserved.
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