Augustus Peers’s journal

Flintlock Guns, Fort Langley

Flintlock Guns

Augustus Peers was the older brother of Henry Newsham Peers, of Forts Langley and Victoria. Henry was a man who made history west of the Rocky Mountains: he will be a major character in my next book. Augustus, however, did not come across the Rocky Mountains.

So, if Augustus never came west, why am a talking about him? Augustus Peers ended up in the north, at Fort Simpson, McKenzie River district, in about 1843. A few years later he was assigned to Peel’s River post [later Fort McPherson] a short distance away, and remained there until his unexpected death in 1853. At the time of his death his supervisor was James Anderson (A) of the HBC — Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s older brother. This is what James Anderson wrote to Governor Simpson on Peers’s death, in a letter dated July 12, 1853:

I regret to announce to you the death of Mr. A. R. Peers at Peels River on the 15 March last from (I believe) a decline, he was much respected, and I sympathize sincerely with his Widow and Relatives — he has left a family of 2 children.

Augustus Peers’s wife was named Christina Bell, and she was the eldest daughter of Chief Trader John Bell. They were married in 1849. Christina Peers went on to marry Alexander McKenzie on the 18th of August, 1855, at Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River. Sometime before 1867 one of the daughters died, and Christina wrote to the Committee that:

Owing to the death of my Daughter Louisa Peers, I have to request that you will direct the balance at credit of her account to be transferred to the credit of the account with you of her Brother Augustus John Peers.

So, let the genealogists scribble these people into their trees — I have spoken to a number of people who have Henry Peers in their family tree, and they do not know of Augustus and his family. His full name was Augustus Richard Peers. How this journal from the north ended up in California, in the hands of people who had nothing to do with the fur trade as far they knew, might tell you something about what happened to the son, Augustus John Peers.

Before he died, Augustus began to write a book about his experiences in the north for publication in London. There were a few good stories in that manuscript, and some excellent descriptions of the people he worked with. For example, here is one story — well, two stories in one. He did not identify the person whose story he was telling, and I struggled to discover who this gentleman might be. When he is beginning this story, he is speaking of the rivalry that existed between the NWC and the HBC in the years before the 1821 amalgamation: knowing this helps you to know when these stories took place.

Not only were the different parties in dread of each other. The war like tribes of Indians inhabiting the plains were then at the zenith of their glory and proved a constant source of annoyance. A friend of mine — an H.B. of the olden times — had met with many narrow escapes in those days. On one occasion while out on one of his tramps he was surprised by a party of these prairie thieves, who seized him and commanded him to strip and deliver up everything he possessed, under pain of death. He was alone, and of course it was useless to remonstrate, so [he] quietly submitted to be deprived of every rag, and in this plight he was allowed to take his departure, and made the best of his way. After many hardships he arrived at the camp of a friendly tribe. There were only however a party of old men and women at home, the young warriors being absent. My unfortunate friend was provided with clothes and otherwise cared for by these people, and judging that the marauding party would, in all probability, make a descent upon the camp, he made all the old men and women mount the few horses left in camp and conducted them to an eminence overlooking the plain. There he set them in marching order with poles on their shoulders to resemble guns. This ingenious trick was of good service and well timed, for the guard had not been long posted ere the pillagers were seen on the distant plain, who discovering the people on the height riding hither and thither judged them to be the scouting party of a numerous and hostile tribe and made a retreat from the neighborhood…

Much about the same time that the events of the above story happened he was travelling with his servant through the plains with a sledge drawn by dogs. One evening as he turned the angle of a bluff, to his astonishment he observed at no great distance from him a camp of Indians. He instantly halted, making signs to his servant to draw back with the dogs while he concealed himself and observed the movements of the savages. He was unable to tell from that distance whether they were friends or foes, but as his road lay directly in their view, and there being no way of escape without retreating on his trail, and so losing a great deal of ground, he chose rather to be still and if possible, smuggle himself off under cover of night. ..

The darkness soon closed in, and judging it time to be stirring, my friend resolved to reconnoiter; so coming forth from his hiding place he crept with stealthy step among the bushes and underwood till within a few yards of the camp. Overhearing their conversation he was convinced that they were hostile. Creeping slowly back he ordered his men to unharness the dogs and haul the sledge themself, so as the better to avoid any unnecessary noise, which would betray them. They set off; and making a deep bend into the plain and by walking briskly they soon passed the watch fires of the enemy. Having at length got well out of the neighbourhood, my friend who always was and I suppose always will be an inveterate smoker, thought he would be none the worse for a whiff on the present occasion after his hasty retreat; but on searching for his pipe what was his dismay to find it missing. A little reflection, however, soon convinced him that he had left it in the spot where he lay concealed. What was to be done? He had no other to supply its place, and yet to think of starving himself for a smoke, was not to be thought of. He resolved at the hazard of detection, to return on his steps and recover his pipe or lose something of more value, perhaps his scalp; so throwing down his load, he set off heedless of the entreaties of his servant. The darkness however favored his project and after some time he reaching his hiding place, found his cherished pipe, and finally returned to his servant who was kept in a fever of excitement lest his master should be discovered and lose his scalp and perhaps his life.

Those are the stories, and I could not figure out who this man was. As Peers crossed the Methye Portage into the Athabasca River system on his way to the north, he met this man for the first time. He described him sitting on a pillow in his tent, doing his book work and writing his letters. The fact that the gentleman is sitting on a pillow in the middle of nowhere might give you an idea of who it was. No? Not yet?

Here is the story that finally identifies the risk-taking gentleman in the stories above. Interestingly, it is also an eye-witness account of a story that I have already told in another post. That should help you identify him!

My amusements were however abruptly brought to termination by a serious accident which befell my friend Mr. L. While shooting grouse one day in the park his gun accidentally went off carrying away his right hand at the wrist. He was supported to the house where my little skill in surgery was called into service and although I have never seen a wound of the kind before I fortunately succeeded in securing the arteries with ligatures of silk and having bound up the wound I put my patient to bed and could not help admiring his coolness as he called for his pipe. But my friend was an old H.B. man and had seen many a rough day in the opposition times of yore and my readers may recollect in a former part of this narrative his (for it was the same) reluctance to part with his pipe even at the risk of his scalp; it was not therefore to be wondered at that he should still stick to his pipe when the loss he had sustained was only a hand.

And now you know — or do you? If you do not, or if you want to learn more, this is the first blogpost I wrote about “Mr. L.”

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.