Cattle Drive

This is the marsh at the west end of Green Lake, British Columbia. We are looking south, toward Kamloops and Loon Lake. David Douglas’s cattle drive traveled the south bank of the lake as pictured above, from the north shore, and his first camp on reaching Green Lake was on a point of land just to the left of the edge of the photograph.  His cattle drive would probably have been visible across the lake from this point.

A few days ago I was thinking about the 1843 brigade trail, and wondered if I would get any clues on its location from David Douglas’s journey to New Caledonia in 1833. Douglas accompanied a cattle drive north to Fort Alexandria and (perhaps) beyond: that is as much as I knew.

But I have Jack Nisbet’s book, The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, [Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2009], and so I looked up where Douglas had gone. Nisbet wrote this:

He skipped the first hundred leaves of this notebook, then applied his pen to a left-hand page. In rich brown ink, he sketched a map that accurately depicted the serpentine Columbia receiving the Okanogan River A neat square represented the fur trade post [Fort Okanogan]… The right leaf remained blank. Over the next month, he drew twenty-one similar maps, always on left-hand pages, documenting the cattle brigade’s journey north. He calculated the coordinate of each day’s resting place,… recorded the mileage covered, and jotted topographical comments around his bird’s-eye sketches. [p.218]

This book of maps is in the British Columbia Archives, and so I quickly visited the reading room to find his drawings. As I said above, I wanted to know if his cattle drive had followed the 1843 brigade trail, including the section between Green Lake and Horse Lake. I had been aware the trail led him up the Bonaparte River, but I did not know how he traveled north from that river valley. 

Well, he had quite an interesting route, and some people might be interested in digging out this trail. I don’t know how many cattle they drove north to Fort Alexandria, but they must have left some sort of track that would be visible in dips in the ground in places that have not been dug up by roads and civilization. So, here is where Douglas’s trail led north from Kamloops: 

From the south bank of the South Thompson River, which the cattle had reached via Monte Lake and Creek, the HBC men headed west along the south side of Kamloops Lake, some distance from the lake itself. There was a well-used trail there already, and at this point it is the same route that Alexander Caulfield Anderson traveled in 1846, as he headed west to the Bonaparte River and Marble Canyon on his first cross country expedition to Fort Langley. Douglas’s trail crossed the Thompson River at modern day Savona, as expected, and followed the north bank of the Thompson River west to the Deadman River. It was early May, well before the spring freshets would raise the water level in all these rivers: the cattle probably had little trouble crossing this narrow but treacherous stream.

West of the mouth of the Deadman River, Douglas’s trail passed over the mouth of “Couteau River,” which Sam Black’s map [CM/B2079, BCA] indicates has “Mauvais Rocher.” This river, I presume, is modern-day Battle Creek.

Beyond Battle River his party found the Bonaparte River valley and followed the river north on its east bank. He crossed the Cache Creek, where the town of Clinton now stands. On his map, Sam Black called the creek “Cache River.” 

From the Cache Creek or river, the trail continued to lead up the Bonaparte River valley, to some point below the mouth of Loon Creek. I believe the trail followed Scottie Creek in a straight line to the north east, until the HBC men abandoned the creek and drove the cattle across land to the banks of Loon Creek. On Sam Black’s map, there is a trail that follows that line, and he calls it “New Caledonia New Route.” Sam Black’s map was drawn before his death in 1841: although this was the Thompson’s River post’s working map, this information appears to be in Sam Black’s handwriting. Interestingly, this trail is NOT shown on A.C. Anderson’s 1867 map of British Columbia: something that merely indicates he wasn’t familiar with the trail, not that it didn’t exist in the late 1840’s.

Douglas’s cattle drive crossed Loon Creek at the point where they struck it: if Douglas’s drawing is accurate this was a little northeast of the halfway point between Loon Lake and the Bonaparte River. The trail followed Loon Creek, on its north bank, to the north shore of Loon Lake, and continued to follow the shoreline to the north-east end of Loon Lake. Sam Black’s Map also shows this section of that route as it appears in Douglas’s map book.

At the north end of Loon Lake, Douglas’s trail took a 90 degree turn to the north west, and headed across country to Green Lake’s west end. Sam Black’s map shows the trail continuing on its north-east route, but still hitting Green Lake, also at its west end. According to Sam Black’s Map, his trail would have crossed the Bonaparte Plateau and the Bonaparte River, and then mounted the Green Timber Plateau and follow Fly Creek and its eskers northward. Although I questioned this at first, I now believe that David Douglas’s cattle drive also followed this route over the Green Timber Plateau, by the Fly Creek eskers to the west end of Green Lake. At this point they are following a section of the later 1843 brigade trail, and this part of the route is described in this blogpost: 

So Douglas’s cattle drive has now reached the end of Green Lake, where it appears to come into the lake from the west. I suspect that to reach the south shore of Green Lake where it did, Douglas’s cattle drive followed Tin Cup Creek to its mouth and camped close by. According to Douglas’s drawing, their camp was on a finger of land that sprouted out of the south bank of Green Lake, a mile or two [perhaps] from the west end of the lake. But this is where Douglas’s 1833 trail differs from the later trails: on Sam Black’s Map, the road rounded the west end of the lake and followed the north shore, and A.C. Anderson’s map also indicates that, as far as he knew, there were no trails along the south bank of Green Lake.

The trail followed Green Lake to the east. In his map of the day’s journey, Douglas indicates that Green Lake was a “Lake with small islands.” True. To the south were “Low woody hills,” and a “High ridge of Snowy mountains striking NW distant 34 miles.” On the north shore of the lake were “Low Hills with Pinus Banksiana [word] Poplar Tremulous.” The high ridge of snowy mountains was almost certainly the Marble Range as viewed from Green Lake.

At the east end of Green Lake, the trail crossed a stream that flowed from what I suspect is modern-day Lake of the Woods. It continued north-east, and passed between two largish lakes, which I suspect are Watch Lake to the west, and Little Green Lake to the east. At this point the trail appears to head north, but by the time it is shown coming into Horse Lake, on the next sheet, it is approaching the south shore of the lake from the south-east. So somewhere between Watch Lake/Little Green Lake, and Horse Lake, the trail left its northward track and bent toward the north-west. It almost certainly passes west of Sheridan Lake and rounds the “Low woody Hills” with “Very large Pine Trees,” south of Horse Lake. It might well have hit Fawn Lake, and followed Fawn Creek into Horse Lake. His trail comes close to the south shore of Horse Lake at a point a little more than half way down the lake (closer to the east end than the west), and it may have been following the natural valley of Fawn Creek, if it has a natural valley, to the south shore of Horse Lake.

The trail came close to touching on Horse Lake, and then leaves the shore again to continue west. It crosses Bridge Creek some distance from Horse Lake and continues north west, where it will join the old brigade trail from the “mountain.” From there it is an easy drive to Fort Alexandria, where it appears that many of the cattle spent the remainder of their days.

I don’t know where these cattle came from — whether from Fort Vancouver or from Fort Colvile. I know that some of them were meat cattle, and some were milk cows. That means that some of these cattle might have been Texas Longhorns: descendants of the Moorish-Andalusian cattle that were brought to the New World by the Spaniards as early as the late 1400’s. These cattle were in California, and if the Hudson’s Bay Company imported cattle from California, they were almost certainly descendants of the first Spanish cattle that reached the New World. But there also milk cows: perhaps the HBC had imported a few of these from England. It might be that these milk cattle came from the Fort Colvile farms and were descendants of the three calves that were shipped up the Columbia River to Spokane House in 1828!

I wondered how the cattle survived the trail: could they travel through mud and bogs or would they have trouble with that. It seems, however, that except for the section of the Bonaparte River which has bogs along its route they avoided that problem. Rocks and stony ground would not have been a part of this trail: if this trail was already used for horses that difficulty was already solved. But these men were not cattle drovers, and learning how to drive these animals would have been an interesting experience for them. For example: one expert wrote that handling cattle requires that you outsmart the cattle rather than fighting their natural instinct, and that they should be outwaited, rather than hurried. I saw that once, where one calf refused to be moved from a field and was left behind, with his mother, to be collected another day. However, the calf was stubborn and it took a few days before it was ready to herded from the far end of the field, to whatever other field the men wanted him to be moved to. As this expert said: “Most tests of will between the handler and the cows are won by the cow.” If these were Texas Longhorns, the tests of will on this trail-ride might have been quite challenging!

But this is interesting: dominant animals stay in the middle of the herd while subordinate animals are at the front and back of the herd. The dominant animals — that is, the larger, older animals — push their subordinates ahead, rather than pulling them along by leading the pack. Cattle will naturally group and herd together, as movement of other animals entices them to move. Experts also advise to let the cattle move at their own pace: allowing cattle to move at a slow, consistent pace makes for calm cows, and hurrying them up makes the cows at the back end of the herd anxious. When cows are calm they keep their heads down so they can see where they are placing their feet. Steep declines will slow them down: walking through mud will tire them out: and they prefer the safety of sunlight to the deep shade. 

This would have been quite a learning experience for the HBC men, who were more used to horses than cattle. I wonder which men were part of this cattle drive: did they come down from New Caledonia to bring the cattle north, or did they drive them north from one of the southern posts? I suspect the first. David Douglas’s journals would have been able to give us some information on this historic drive, but unfortunately they were lost in the Fraser River. We are fortunate, however, that his map books survived.

But this is the question I have: is this the route that John Stuart took to Fort Vancouver in the years before there was any real brigade? See this post:   I wonder. It is possible, but there is no way to find out, as far as I know. 

Or maybe there is one way: a clue in his writing. I have run across a manuscript that might have the answer, and will check this out. 

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