Incoming brigades, Journey to Fort Okanogan

Map of the Columbia district, HBC

Map, Fort Nez Perces (Walla Walla) to Forts Okanogan and Colvile

William Connolly began the journal of his voyage from Fort Nez Perces to Okanogan with a complaint: “Mr [Samuel] Black Traded a few Horses — but at the rate he goes on, it would be far preferable to go up the Nez Perces river at once, for every moment we remain here I consider as lost, particularly as Mr. Black is determined not to remove this Post at present.” He was at Fort Nez Perces [Walla Walla]. In 1826 the HBC planned to move the post to the west bank of the Columbia River, upriver from the place it was presently located. Aemilus Simpson, who came downriver with the incoming York Factory Express later that same year, also mentioned the planned move. The move never did happen.

Get excited, everyone! My book, The HBC Brigades, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May 2024 — that’s soon! I will let you know where and when you can place an order when I know myself.

The journal continues: “17th, Sunday [July 1826]. Being now convinced of the impossibility of procuring from the natives in this neighbourhood the Horses we require, the necessary preparations were made for a visit to the Nez Perces Camps. The property required was furnished out of Mr. Black’s outfit, and Messrs. [John] Work, [Archibald] McDonald, [James] Douglas & [Francis] Annance with 29 Men, are to depart from here tomorrow for the above purpose. Mr. Work, who is appointed to conduct this business, is directed to trade if possibly 80 Horses, with twenty of which he will proceed direct to Fort Colvile from the Horse Fair, and Mr. Douglas in like manner will conduct the remainder to Okanagan. The former is to be accompanied by two, & the latter three men. The Nez Perces Chief who are at present here, are to accompany our people to their camps, and have promised to use their influence to have the object of the Trip as speedily accomplished as possible. ”

And so we see the beginning of what was to become a brigade tradition: the trading for horses at the horse fairs outside the Nez Perces villages, and the herding of these horses across the Columbia plateau to Fort Okanogan. [You will note the different spellings of “Okanagan” here: Okanogan is American, Okanagan is Canadian]. They would take two different routes, depending on their destination. The Fort Colvile men would ride straight across the plateau, following explorer David Thompson’s Shawpatin Trail. Those headed for Okanogan, however, would follow the Columbia River north to the end of the Grande Coulee, and ride through that spectacular chasm to the banks of the Columbia River just east of Fort Okanogan. Although this is my area of interest, this little *fact* has been a relatively new discovery for me!

“18th, Monday. The above party embarked in two Boats this morning to proceed on their trip. The date of their returning is very uncertain, and cannot be much less than twelve or fifteen days. Mr. Work, having represented to me that the detention of the Fort Colvile Outfit for any considerable time would be highly injurious to the Trade of that post, I in consequence made the necessary arrangement to dispatch the Boats conveying the same from hence tomorrow morning. In proceeding above, no danger exists farther that what is incident to the navigation, and as the Guide & Mr. [William] Kittson accompany this Brigade, I am therefore under no apprehension of serious accidents occurring in the passage.” In future years, all the boats would be sent on ahead of the Horse Trading party.

“25th Thursday… The Interval between this period and the return of the People from above was as barren of occurrence worth repeated as the former, and was borne by me with no small degree of impatience, reflecting that the time so idly spent might have been employed in advancing to our destination, where our early arrival  this season in particular would have been attended with beneficial results. But we could not possibly proceed without Horses, and the number required it was equally impossible to provide without resorting to the measures we have adopted.

“August 1, Tuesday. Messrs McDonald & Annance returned from the Nez Perces Forks [Columbia and Walla Walla Rivers], and I was happy to find that the Object of the voyage thither had been fully accomplished. They traded 77 Horses, which added to the two taken from hence by Mr. [Finan] McDonald, & one I got in exchange from Mr. Kittson, forms the exact number we require. With this Band of Horses Messrs. Work, F. McDonald, & Douglas proceeded yesterday morning to their respective destination, viz the two former for Fort Colvile with 20 Horses, and the latter for Okanagan with 60. Having nothing further to detain us here, the necessary arrangements were made for our departure tomorrow morning.”

So, in the early years of the incoming New Caledonia brigades, Chief Factor William Connolly wasted a full fifteen days waiting at Fort Nez Perces, waiting for the horse trades to be completed. In future years this did not happen. The men and boats were sent on their way under the command of a single clerk, while the gents rode to the horse trading fairs. From the Nez Perces camps, they would herd the horses to their various destinations, proceeding directly to Fort Okanagan via the Grand Coulee, or to Fort Colvile over the Shawpatin Trail. You will see that happening in the following two journals, as the men and boats continue their upriver journey. Both gents chose to go upriver with the boats. Though they cover some distance, they are quick journeys, because nothing happens.

William Connolly, 1826: “2nd Wednesday [August 1826]. The day was pretty far advanced before all The Boats were in readiness. We immediately afterwards embarked. This Brigade consists of four Boats manned with Six men each & loaded with 36 pieces, exclusive of the Provisions required for our voyage from hence to Okanagan.

“Our voyage from Walla Walla was unattended with any disagreeable occurrences, and favoured with fine weather. We reached Okanogan on the 10th, Thursday, where Mr. Douglas had arrived five days before with the Band of Horses all safe, tho’ many of them are too lean to proceed any further until they recover their flesh. The Band of Horses I left there in the Spring are all recovered of their sores, and in good order, excepting some of those that were lately gelded — an operation it was necessary they should undergo, to avoid the immensity of trouble they give us in the spring.”

Peter Warren Dease, 1831: “Tuesday, 12 [July 1831] Left the Fort afternoon, & put up near Nez Perces [Walla Walla] River.

“Wednesday 13. Strong side wind. Encamped below the White Bluffs [Marle Banks of Hanford Reach].

“Thursday 14. Encamped above the Bluffs, traded some salmon. Learn from Indians that 1 of the New Caledonia horses had run away from [Fort] Okanogan & could not be overtaken by [Etienne] Gregoire, who was out 3 days after them. Two Indians were gone in search of them.

“Friday 15. Got up Priest’s Rapid. Learn from the Old Priest that the body of a man drowned last fall at Chalifoux Rapid was found by him & interred above the Rapid a little. Gave the Old man a present for the humanity he showed.

“Saturday 16. Put up opposite the Tree in the Rock, had assistance from the Natives in getting up the Rapids.

“Sunday 17. Got above the Portage of Stoney Islands, put up at the upper end.” This is the Rock Island Rapids.

“Monday 18. Encamped above the Piscaoose [Wenatchie] River without any serious accident.

“Tuesday 19. Had sail wind afternoon which notwithstanding the loss of 3 hours to wait for one of the Boats brought us near Clear Water River. [Chelan River?]

“Wednesday 20. Encamped above the Big Rapid all safe. The day very warm.” Is this the Entiat Rapid? I know almost nothing of this rapid, as it was never mentioned by the men of the York Factory Express!

“Thursday 21. Reached Okanagan at 10 am where all was safe. The 2 horses that run away have not been found, and 3 others died since I left there, belonging to New Caledonia. Two others [are] unable, from injury or Disease, to perform the voyage. Prepared Every thing to send off the Boats with Colvile district Outfit.”

If you want to know more about these unique Columbia River boats, see here: 

As you can see, even in the early days of the New Caledonia brigades, the men had trouble keeping their horses in good health. The situation would only become worse in the years after 1850, when the horses came out over the new trail that took them over the Tulameen Plateau to Forts Hope and Langley. They had the same problems: Horses dying of blood loss after being castrated, sores on their backs from the packs, sore feet, starving from lack of grass on their route, exhaustion, drowning in the rivers they were forced to swim across, and more. James Douglas, who is one of the clerks driving the newly purchased horses to Fort Okanogan, saw the condition of the horses left at that post in 1826. In the 1850’s, as Chief Factor at Fort Victoria, he would complain the loudest about the loss of horses in the field. Did James Douglas forget what he saw in the early years, as a young clerk in the New Caledonia brigades? It seems so.

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The next post is now published, and found at

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