New Caledonia Brigades travel west from Horse Lake

Looking west from the north shore of Williams Lake, B. C.

Looking west and south from the north shore of “Fish Lake,” or today’s Williams Lake. This lake lies just west of Lac la Hache, or Axe Lake, and the men of the brigades rode along the north shore of these two lakes. 

In the eighteenth blogpost in this series, we will follow the incoming New Caledonia brigades past Horse Lake. They will go up to Lac la Hache via Little Bridge Creek, I think. I want to confirm this, if I can. 

So let us begin with William Connolly’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, 1826 [B.188/a/8, HBCA]. In the last post of this series his brigades reached Horse Lake, which they called “Drowned Horse Lake,” for obvious reasons:

“…We found the roads excellent, and reached the drowned Horse Lake at six o’clock PM where we Encamp. Fine weather continues, distance about 27 miles.

“3rd Sunday. Started at an Early hour, and reached the Beaver Dam River [Bridge Creek] at nine AM, the water of which has sufficiently subsided to admit of the horses fording it with their loads. A short distance from this, is the Bridge river [Little Bridge Creek], Where we halted for three Hours; When we resumed our Journey, and got to the White Earth Lake at seven PM, where we encamped. The Weather being cool and pleasant, and food for the Horses very abundant, they can perform long days marches without any risk of endangering their reaching the end of their Journey in safety.

“4th Monday. After proceeding four hours and a half we baited the Horses (microfilm very scratched: “at the western extremity of Axe Lake [Lac la Hache], where we”) saw a few Indians, who had nothing to dispose of but a few Berries. In the afternoon we went on and Encamped at seven o’clock. Days march about 30 Miles. The roads are beautiful, the weather equally so, and food for our Horses in such abundance they generally graze as they go along, and some who were rather weak when we left the Mountain, have now recovered their strength, and carry their burthens with sufficient ease.”

So at the moment they are west of Lac la Hache (Axe Lake) and probably approaching Williams Lake. The brigade trail ran on the north side of these two lakes as far as we know. It is interesting to find “White Earth Lake” in this section of the incoming journal, as it is generally accepted that the White Earth Lake of the brigades is McLeese Lake, south of Fort Alexandria and north of Williams Lake. So, this is a second “White Earth Lake.”

Let’s see what Peter Warren Dease has to say, in his journal: Peter Warren Dease’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, 1831 [B.188/a/17, HBCA]:

“12 [August]. Put ashore to bait at Riviere la fourche, but a heavy Shower of Rain obliged us to stop all day. Some of the horses being much Galled & Exhausted, intend to proceed in the morning for [Fort] Alexandria in order to send the mares that are there to assist them on. Take one Man with me.

“13. Left the brigade under Care of Mr. [Francis] Annance & Gregoire, and Stopped for 1 1/2 hour. Had a violent shower of Rain towards Evening. Put up for the night at dusk.

“14. Sunday 14. Arrived at Sunsett at Alexandria, where find Mr. Fisher and all his people safe and well…”

Dease’s journal is obviously not useful in this point, as it gives no information at all about his route, excepting for the Riviere la fourche. These words translate as “River of the Fork,” more or less. So if he is somewhere in the location of Horse Lake when he wrote this, he might have baited the horses at the forks of the Bridge Creek (which flows south from Canim Lake through 100 Mile House) and Little Bridge Creek. I also note there are two Canim Lakes in this area: a tiny lake at the east end of Lac la Hache (Axe Lake) and the large lake north and east of Horse Lake. This latter lake is the one from which Bridge Creek flows. 

To determine where Dease might be I then looked at his outcoming journal, and read this:

This day without any accident brought us [from Williams Lake] to Salmon River… The weather fine & Warm & the Rivers not being in a high State, is a great advantage, having numerous Streams to ford which at high Water Causes much difficulty & Delay besides the risk of Wetting the packs.

Wednesday 18 [May]. Put ashore to bait the Horses as usual at a River called Beaver River, from when we Proceeded & Encamped along Lac des Chevaux…”

There is a Salmon River in this area. The modern-day Salmon River flows… Well, it doesn’t. Its not on my backroad map, nor on the old Lands and Forest Map I have. But I know I have seen it somewhere, and so looked in James Gibson’s The Lifeline of the Oregon Country: the Fraser-Columbia Brigade System, 1811-47. On the map, page 83, he indicates he believes that the Salmon River is Watson Creek! What this means is that the Salmon River system was not an alternate route east to Horse Lake for the brigades.

I checked William Connolly’s journal as well. Connolly gives very few clues as to his route:

13th Saturday & 14th Sunday [May]. We proceeded from our Encampments both these days at our usual hour, at half an hour after four o’clock AM. The Country we passed through is beautiful, the roads level & unobstructed, and food for our Horses plentiful, which enabled us to perform excellent Marches…

At this point his brigades are passing along the north shores of Williams Lake and Lac la Hache, and perhaps he is already in Watson Creek Valley — or wherever else they may have traveled. As you see, he soon comes to the “Beaver Dam River,” which river everyone seems to agree is modern-day Bridge Creek:

15th Monday. Two hours after leaving our Encampment we passed a small river sufficiently deep to wet the lower part of some of the Packs. At a Small Lake suitable to our purpose we Halted to give the Horses their usual rest, and to dry the furs. In the afternoon we pursued our route in course of which we passed a river too deep to be forded, but its breadth not exceeding ten yards we threw a bridge across, over which the Horses passed with their loads. At four o’clock PM we reached the Beaver dam River [Bridge Creek], which was also too deep to ford. The Horses swam across, & the property was carried over a Bridge formed by drift wood. 

The next day they baited their horses at Horse Lake — I think these above creeks and lakes might have been 111 Mile Chub Creek; 108 Mile Lake or 103 Mile Lake or 101 Mile Lake; Little Bridge Creek; with Beaver dam River being the larger and deeper Bridge Creek. One thing to remember is that, in May, they are coming out during the freshets when the rivers are high from the snow melt: when they are returning to their home post the water in the creeks and rivers is much lower. So I believe that the outgoing brigades came down Watson Creek, and the incoming brigades used the same route. But is there a lake in the Watson Creek valley that could be called “White Earth Lake?” Should we be looking at Soda Lake, east of 111 Mile House? Is a mineral filled lake what they would have called a White Earth Lake? (I think white earth is clay). I don’t believe so, but does a route by Soda Lake fit the description of the road taken by these men? James Gibson does not think so, and I believe he is right. 

So anyway, I will bring William Connolly’s brigades north to Fort Alexandria, as Peter Warren Dease’s brigades have already reached that post. 

“5th Tuesday. Fraser’s River being at no great distance, I sent off the Interpreter Lo-Lo [Jean Baptiste Leolo] this Morning to go and visit the Indians who Inhabit its Banks, to procure some salmon, with which he will rejoin us at the Encampment. The brigade went on at the usual hour; baited the Horses at McLeese Lake after which we proceeded on half after Seven PM when we encamped on the same spot where we passed the night of the 12th May. Lo-Lo overtook us here with a party of Indians from whom we received a good supply of Salmon for two days, which was paid for with Ammunition & Tobacco. From these people we learn that several Bloody Battles had been fought in course of the Summer between the Natives of Alexandria, and the Chilcotins. I trust these reports are exaggerated, but even after making due allowances for Indian stories, I dread much that Hostilities between these two Tribes have not yet ceased. Weather continues fine. Days march about 30 Miles.

“6th, Wednesday. The Indians who Encamped with us having contrived during the night to steal a Bundle containing the whole of Joseph Porteur’s property, and all our endeavours to discover the Thief & recover the property having proved ineffectual, we took two of their Horses from them as some Kind of equivalent for the Stolen property and as a punishment necessary to be inflicted to prevent a recurrence of similar practices. At the same time they were told that their Horses should be returned when the stolen property was restored.

“This affair occupied some time & prevented our departure until Six o’clock. At eight we reached the Banks of Fraser’s River, and at two halted for a couple of Hours, when we resumed our Journey, and got to our Encampment of the 10th May at eight o’clock PM, where we put up for the night. The little Atnah Chief, with a few of his followers, paid me a visit. To the first I gave a Shirt and a piece of Tobacco, and to the rest each a piece of Tobacco. These people are employed curing Salmon, which they complain is rather scarce. However it is still early in the season, and they may yet be abundant. They also in some measure, confirm the reports we had yesterday in regard to the Alexandrians & Chilcotins, but this will be cleared up tomorrow, when I expect to arrive early at the Fort. Weather beautiful. March about 34 Miles.

“7th Thursday. Early in the morning I left the Brigade in charge of Mr. [James] Douglas, and proceeded towards Alexandria, where I arrived at Seven o’clock AM, and the Brigade two hours after, with every article of Property in excellent order, excepting two Guns, one of which was broken by accident, and the other by the negligence of one of the Men. Our Horses are, to appearances, all healthy and those that left Okanagan [Fort Okanogan] in good order, are not much reduced, but many of them have sore backs & sides, which will take some time to cure. Our voyage has occupied from Okanagan to this place exactly 25 Days during which the weather was particularly favourable, and I believe it hardly possible for a Brigade consisting of the same number of Horses, and with equal loads, to perform it in less time.”

You will notice the comment, above, on the condition of the horses’s backs and sides. This was normal for a brigade. Here is a description of the HBC style of loading their horses, given to us by an American who saw the horses as they arrived at Fort Colvile and at Fort Hope. His name is John Keast Lord, and this quote comes from his 1876 book, At Home in the Wilderness: what to do there and how to do it, [London: Hardwick & Bogue, 1876], page 63-64.

My own opinion, deduced from practical experience, is that the Hudson’s Bay Company’s system of packing is about the very worst means of conveying freight on the backs of animals which by any possibility could be adopted. The horses, as I saw them at Fort Hope, and as I have repeatedly observed them at [Fort] Colville on the return of the Brigade, were nearly every one of them galled badly on their backs, cut under the bellies in consequence of the sawing motion of the girth, as well as being terribly chafed with the cruppers. 

The cruppers pass from the packsaddle under the tail of the horse and back to the saddle, and are there to keep the load from sliding forward. As Lord says, the pack-saddles used by the HBC were Cross Tree Packsaddles, and he has an illustration of one on page 52. He describes, too, how they saddled and packed the horses (in later years they used sheepskins and, apparently, even goats skins, as “apichemons” [saddle blankets]). 

First a sheep or goat’s skin, or a piece of buffalo ‘robe,’ failing either of the former, called an ‘apichimo,’ is placed on its back; with the fur or hair next to that of the horses, and is intended to prevent galling; next the pack-saddle is put on. This miserable affair with its two little pillows or pads, tied into the cross-trees of woodwork, is girthed with a narrow strap of hide, which often, from the swaying of the load, cuts a regular gash into the poor animal’s belly. Next a bale is hung on either side, and the two are loosely fastened together underneath the horse by a strap of raw hide. This completes the operation of packing, and the horse is set free, to await the general start.

So anyway, with a few diversions, we have reached Fort Alexandria with the incoming New Caledonia brigades. To go back to the beginning of this series, click here:

If you want to see my earlier post on the route up Watson Creek, see here:

When the next post is completed, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.