Fort Nez Perces to Fort Vancouver with the New Caledonia brigade

The Flintlock gun

The Voyageur and his flintlock gun

Chief Factor William Connolly and his brigades arrived at Fort Nez Perces (Walla Walla) on Friday, June 9, 1826. He departed soon after he had arranged with Chief Trader Sam Black, to get more horses for their return journey to Okanogan House. Generally, on their return journey, the Gentlemen of the trade left the boats at Fort Nez Perces and rode overland, through the spectacular Grand Coulee, to Okanogan House. But that is in a future post: today they are going downriver to their headquarters at newly built Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, WA]. Obviously, the post is so newly-built that they have none of the important boats needed to transport their trade goods from the ships to the shore.

My book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in June 2024. You may order the book now through your favorite bookstore, or via Amazon. Thank you! 

William Connolly, 1826: “Shortly after our departure from Walla Walla [Fort Nez Perces] we met an express from Mr. Chief Factor [John] McLoughlin, conveying the intelligence of the Safe arrival of the Ship Dryad, Capt. Davidson, from England, with the Columbian Outfit. But for want of hands, and no proper craft being yet provided for the purpose her Cargo had not been yet discharged — a duty which must necessarily fall upon the people of this Brigade, and will occasion a longer stay at Fort Vancouver than I had calculated upon. The weather was fine, and we Encamped at eight PM below the Grand [Umatilla] Rapid.

“Saturday 10th. At an early hour we embarked, and reached the Portage, called the Chutes, at nine, where the assemblage of Indians was such, that it was necessary to place an armed guard at each end of it, whilst the Men were carrying the Property. This place we left at twelve PM and got to the next portage, called The Dalles, at one. The concourse of the Indians at this place was much greater than at the former, and the same precautions were therefore taken to preserve the property from depredation. This portage is so long that it was too late when we reached the west end to proceed any farther, and we were under the necessity of passing the night amongst these rascally Indians, who to all appearances are the outcast of God’s Earth. They have not the smallest idea of decency, and their propensity to theft is such, that nothing is safe which they have an opportunity of taking. Although a Strict watch was Kept at night, they contrived to steal a Capot [blanket coat] and Hat from the Men. We procured from these people, and those at the Chutes, an abundant stock of Salmon for the whole Brigade for two days, in return for which they received Tobacco, Beads, Knives, and other articles of the like description. The weather was fine & very warm.

“11th, Sunday. Left the Portage at break of day, and proceeded down the small dalles, which were passed without accident. [There are four dalles [falls] in the ferocious stretch of the river they called The Dalles]. From thence to the Cascades no rapids of any consequence occur, and the distance could have been performed in little more than one day had the weather been favorable. But the contrary was the case. A westerly wind prevailed, which blowing against the current occasioned a swell which no Boat could have withstood, and confined us to the same spot for two whole days.” Interestingly, though in all York Factory Express journals except Edward Ermatinger’s, the place they called “Cape Horn” is located west of the Cascades. In Ermatinger’s journals, it appeared to be located at the same place that William Connolly is placing this windy place in this journal. So although Connolly is not calling this place Cape Horn, I now understand why Edward Ermatinger transferred the name of “Cape Horn,” upriver to this place.

“15th Thursday. The weather Moderated sufficiently to allow us to proceed. At seven o’clock AM we reached the portage of the Cascades, at the west end of which we Breakfasted upon excellent Salmon, which the Natives gave us in abundance, on the same terms, & for Similar articles as those we procured before. At twelve PM we left the Portage Neuf, from whence to Fort Vancouver no danger existing I left the Brigade, and proceeded on a head with my Boat for that place, which I reached at nine o’clock in the Evening — Making it 42 days since I left Stuarts Lake, including three lost at Okanogan in waiting for the Fort Colvile people. Mr. Chief Factor McLoughlin, and the Gents with him, viz: Messrs [Archibald] McDonald, [Alexander] McKenzie, [Donald] Manson & [Edward] Ermatinger, I found all well.”

So Connolly and his men had some work to do at Fort Vancouver, unloading the goods from the Dryad. Only a few years later, while he was at Fort Vancouver, he and his men had an adventure, which must have given them great pleasure. The following story apparently occurred in 1829: Here it is, in Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s words! [Anderson met Connolly at Lachine in 1830-31, and would have heard this story at that time].

In 1829 the annual ship from London, the William and Ann, Captain Swain, bound for Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, was wrecked upon the dangerous bar which impedes the entrance. The crew escaped in the ship’s boats, and effected a landing at Clatsop, the Southern point of the estuary. Incited by the hope of plunder to be obtained from the wreck, the Clatsops murdered (or were assisted to have murdered) the survivors of the crew. Large quantities of the cargo were obtained and appropriated by the Indians, and on inquiry being instituted by Dr. McLoughlin, a derisive answer was returned: the murder of the crew was denied: and as to any restitution of the cargo, an old broom was sent, with a message that this was the only portion of the cargo which the Indians intended to restore. Mr. McLoughlin, sending word that they would hear more of the matter shortly, awaited only the arrival of the Brigades from the interior a week or two later, to take active measures to deter the natives from future acts of a similar nature. The boats from the Interior under command of Mr. W. Connolly arrived about the middle of June. A well-armed party of about a hundred voyageurs was organized, commanded by Mr. Connolly and supported by a number of our officers, and dispatched to the scene of action by boats. A small well-armed schooner, the Cadboro, preceded them, and was moored abreast of the Clatsop village, bringing her guns to bear. During the night the boat-party arrived, and the boats, six or more in number, with crews of 15 or 16, were concealed on the outer side of the schooner.

The Indians, meanwhile, were defiant. At early dawn the signal was given, the guns opened fire, and the boats dashed out under a strong force of paddles, the crews uniting in a lively French canoe-song. The distance to the shore was about a quarter of a mile: some shots were exchanged as the boats approached, and on landing a brief encounter took place which ended in the discomfiture and flight of the Indians. There was, indeed, little bloodshed on this occasion, but the effect was in all respects salutary — the submission of the Indians, namely, and their subsequent good conduct. [Story edited for punctuation, length, and clarity. The original is found in A.C. Anderson’s “History of the Northwest Coast.”]

And over the next few days or weeks, the goods plundered from the wreck of the William and Ann were brought into Fort Vancouver from the Clatsop Village. Which was the point, after all!

Peter Warren Dease, 1831: “Tuesday 7 [June]. Left the fort [Fort Nez Perces] at 2PM & put up at the Big Island [Blalock Island], procured some fresh Salmon from the Indians in the Course of the day. Fine Warm Weather.

“Wednesday 8. Passed the Chutes and Camped at the End of the first Portage of the Dalles, Boats all Carried across with the Assistance of the Natives who are very numerous here. Less inclination to pilfer was Evinced by them than I had Expected, from their well Known propensity to theft. They were paid for the Assistance rendered and appeared well satisfied. Some Salmon was traded from them, Enough to Give a Good Mess to all the Brigade.

“Thursday 9. Made the 2 last of the Dalles portages & encamped below the Plains being stopped by a violent head wind, the boats shipping Water.” Obviously, along with Cape Horn, which is lower on the river, this is a windy place! This appears to be the place where William Connolly was delayed by wind and waves in 1826. It must have been a common experience in all these brigades, and in the Express, too — though I have not run across it in the York Factory Express journals that still exist.

Dease’s journal continues here: “Friday 10. Saw many Indians in Course of the day, reached the head of the Cascades in time to encamp, got some fresh Salmon from the Natives.

“Saturday 11. The Portages of the Cascade & Portage Neuf were made, the Boats all safely run down. The weather fine. Arrived at Fort Vancouver at 4 PM, when the packs were delivered, a few got a little wet but not of any consequence. The men got their Regale for arrival.”

The Regale — Rum! The voyageurs all received rum on their arrival at Fort Vancouver, and for the month that they were there they disrupted the peace and organization of the place. The voyageurs did little to no work: it was the Gentleman’s time to work, and the voyageurs’ time to play.

To go back to the beginning of this series, click here: You will also find some other information about the various brigade trails, mostly in British Columbia, in these posts. There is one more trail I have to write about, and that is the story of the brigade that came out from Fort Colvile to Fort Nisqually, in Puget Sound, in the mid-1850’s. I’ll get there eventually, as it is part of the book I am now writing about the Brigades.

The next post is now done, and posted here:

The New Caledonia Brigades is making its return journey up the Columbia River to Fort St. James, one thousand miles to the north. It will take them a while!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. Updated May 2016. All rights reserved.