I just read an article online, published in the Gering Citizen Newspaper [Facebook page], on Domestic Animals on the Oregon Trail. The author, Lesley Gaunt, listed quite a number of animals that probably arrived in Oregon Territory via the trail: the one animal she says she did not find was a cat.
We know that in 1833, cattle were shipped north to New Caledonia. The story is told in Jack Nisbet’s The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest [Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2009]:
After circling the Columbia’s Big Bend [traveling with the outgoing express], Douglas and [William] Johnson disembarked at Fort Okanagan, where they joined a small cattle dive heading for the New Caledonia posts. This district was notorious for its lack of big game, and the traders had the idea of supplementing their monotonous diet of dried fish with fresh beef.
With the cattle drive he accompanied the men up the Okanagan valley to Kamloops. Beyond Kamloops he and his cattle brigade apparently followed the Thompson River west to the Bonaparte — not an easy journey. It’s more likely they drove the cattle south, over the hills to the Nicola Valley, then up the Nicola River to the Thompson. There they could swim them across the Thompson River to its north shore. Apparently the cattle were driven up the boggy Bonaparte River to what must have been part of the 1843 brigade trail by Fly Creek, as he ended up at Green Lake. Here he reported there was a “High ridge of snowy mountains stretching N.W. 34 miles.” As Jack Nisbet writes:
If a person today climbs a slight rise above Green Lake, stunning views of the Rocky Mountains do indeed appear etched against the sky.
Douglas arrived at Fort Alexandria on May 9, and it is unclear how he traveled up the Fraser River to Fort George. Some of the cattle arrived at Fort St. James, I believe, and some were left at Fort Alexandria where there were good grasslands. Young James Anderson wrote about the Fort Alexandria farm in later years, and in his writing he made mention of the cattle that David Douglas helped to drive north:
I may remark that except to our parents, we the children spoke French Canadian to everyone, hence the name of Patte Croche for a horse. Another whose name I remember was Misere de Monde, an untameable beast with a most vicious temper; and a train dog, on account of a peculiar habit he had, was called Cochon. My own horse was named Petit Cendre being a strawberry roan… My father, being of an agricultural turn of mind devoted a great deal of the men’s time to the growing of crops and the rearing of cattle (the progeny of some brought from Fort Vancouver in 1833)…
Cochon means “dirty-minded,” and so this is probably one of those insecure dogs that mounts every other dog around. Patte Croche translates, more or less, as “Trip Up,” and Misere de Monde as “Misery of the World.” From the paragraph above we also know that some of Fort Vancouver cattle remained at Fort Alexandria, and we know there was a dog there. There were a number of dogs in the district in fact, used as train dogs for hauling sledges, though they were not usually at Fort Alexandria.
However, let’s see what other domestic animals we can find in these journals. A.C. Anderson wrote himself on the animals:
We had in 1847 twenty-six milch cows and in the spring of 1848, when the writer was removed to the charge of the Colvile District… ninety head of cattle, counting the increase of that year, remained upon the farm. Fowls, turkeys, and pigeons completed the livestock. Swine, albeit in many parts a most profitable stock, were not raised in large numbers on account of the trouble attending them when ranging at large. A few were raised in styes for a while, but the breed eventually was lost. It was an abominable breed, lanky, long-legged and with a snout like a plough share. I did not fret much when I saw the last of them disappear.
These were historic pigs, actually, and probably descendants of the pigs that went upriver to Spokane House with the first outgoing York Factory Express in 1826, for Fort Colvile. For more on this story of the Express that carried the pigs north, see here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/birnie-three/ Though only calves were mentioned, piglets were there too. Obviously they were much less trouble than the calves!
When A.C. Anderson arrived at Fort Alexandria on November 16, 1842, one of the men was “arranging the new Poultry House.” On January 7, 1843, “some Indians brought in today a dead calf, recently cast, which they found near the little river. It proves to belong to the big brown Chilcotin cow. The cattle are now kept around the house, getting a little hay night & morning…” On January 18, Anderson writes:
Lefevre now proceeds to square with Michel for a dairy. Sawyers as before. Trudelle mudding the necessaries [outhouses]. Michel Ogden carting out the snow with the young red ox, which thus gets broken in.
So, an ox! What else will we find here? In April 1843, the men “Set a Turkey hen on 13 eggs, and a domestic hen on 15.” A few days later, Donald McLean “Set 3 hen turkeys on 39 eggs, 20 also Domestic hens, our chickens I am sorry to say do not get on well.” On Wednesday May 3, they sent some poultry north to Fort George [Prince George]:
This morning Mr. William Porteus with an engaged servant and an Indian started for Fort George by land taking with them 6 horses, a turkey cock & hen, also one corn cock. Mr. Porteous has been very unfortunate with his poultry, his turkey cock being killed a short distance from the fort, he has sent the hen and corn cock back here.
On May 26, the “Young turkeys hatched, say 21 in all.” On June 5, Gendron castrated five calves. On the 14th of the same month, Donald McLean “and family off for Chilcotins, take with them 3 cows, 2 calves, and a bull.” On August 1, Gendron milked the cows: butter is often mentioned in these journals and so the milk Gendron got from the cows may well have gone to making butter.
On October 21, 1844 the Fort Alexandria men slaughtered three pigs. For more on the story of the disappearing pigs, as mentioned above, see here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/brigade-provisions/
On March 11 1845, the Fort Alexandria turkeys also disappeared, tragically, as Anderson writes:
On Saturday night, notwithstanding every precaution that I had taken, the rascally dogs from above [from the Native village, perhaps] broke into the yard; and having forced their way into the poultry house, destroyed nearly all the Turkeys & one half of the hens before they were discovered. Fortunately I overheard the noise & saved the remainder. 4 hen turkeys only remain; 33 or 34 head of all sorts have been destroyed. This is a most provoking circumstance.
And on March 24, 1845, “the plough horses, having been brought from the guard, are now all crossed to this side [of the Fraser River], in anticipation of the ice shortly leaving us.” I doubt these were anything but husky, strong horses broken to the plough, and I think this later post entry confirms this:
[April 10 1845] He harnessed about 4pm two ploughs with an old horse & a marron [horse] in each. Before the evening the latter went very well, In a day or two we shall couple them with other young unbroken horses, as all our old stock of ploughers is now nearly exhausted. In fact, heretofore, they seem to have selected the oldest & quietest horses to break. I think it better to choose stout young marrons, as being more durable & in all respects, preferable. They are perhaps even more easy to break in than old stubborn runts.
Horses were at Fort Alexandria, of course, and they were the only animal used in the brigades — or so I thought. But in July 1846, I found this:
Gendron, Vautrin & Roi employed about the new house &c. Linneard laid up with a painful whitlow. The Indian boy Laframbroise drives the mule.
A mule! Mules are useful pack animals. They can be stubborn, but they are stronger and more sure-footed than horses, and can travel some twenty miles a day with packs. But of course there were no mules in this district, other than this one (and I am surprised to find this animal here at all!). In 1858, when the Harrison-Lillooet trail was built over Anderson’s route through the Lillooet River, the HBC men at Fort Victoria imported mules from San Francisco, to pack provisions for the gold miners over the trail. This mule, found at Fort Alexandria in 1846, must have come north with the brigades, having somehow been traded, or stolen, in California!
I found one more animal at Fort Alexandria. This was the cat. There was one short mention and I, of course, cannot find it at the moment, but it was there. There were probably cats in every post in this territory, and they had work to do. It was the cat that kept down the rats who made their homes inside every fort in this territory. But how did the cats get transported around the territory? Probably they were transported from post to post as kittens, and grew into their job as ratters inside the fort palisades.
When I once again stumble on the cat, I will add it to this post. In the meantime, I apologize for not being completely organized (I am never completely organized! What were you thinking?)
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.
- Grand Camas
- Cattle Drive