Donald Manson’s Retirement

HBC brigade trail, Garden of Eden

This is the Garden of Eden — a piece of the brigade trail that Manson rode over numerous times, in summertime. Photo provided by Kelly Pearce of Hope Mountain Centre, Hope, B.C.

Donald Manson was born in 1800, in Scotland, and worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company until 1857, when he retired. This is what Bruce Watson says of him in his book, Lives Lived West of the Divide:

Donald Manson, a stout, strong man suited for hard tough work but possessing a short temper, joined the HBC in 1817. Before coming west of the Rockies, he was a member of several exploration parties, and in 1824 was second-in-command in Samuel Black’s Finlay River expedition. After his arrival at Fort Vancouver in April 1825 he was often put on exploring expeditions as, for example, he voyaged up the Nass River in September 1832 and the following month, went up the Skeena. Simpson felt that he would never rise above a clerk. However, in 1838 he was appointed Chief Trader. He never reached Chief Factor and when Manson complained, Simpson wrote back saying that it was largely because of “an unfortunate instability of temper.” In 1853 Simpson complained of Manson’s rough treatment of people in New Caledonia. He retired and settled in 1858, having bought Dr. Newell’s Donation Land Claim near Champoeg, Marion Co., Oregon, the birthplace of his wife. In 1861 the Willamette River flood swept away several of his buildings, causing him considerable losses. In his later years, he was described as a large man with a ruddy face and white hair. According to Edward Huggins, Manson was bald and, unknown to his wife, wore a wig which, in a fit of temper, his wife pulled off accidentally, much to her horror. He died in Oregon at his home near Champoeg.

Donald Manson had one wife and children. In 1828 he married Felicite Lucier (1814-1867), daughter of Etienne Lucier, and together they had seven children. Three children were William (c.1829-?), John Duncan (?-?). Anna or Anne married Isaac Ogden.

Donald Manson started his HBC career on the Hayes River and other posts on the east side of the Rockies. In 1822 he participated in expeditions led by Chief Factor Donald McKenzie, to the headwaters of the Missouri and the South Saskatchewan River [South Branch Expedition].  In 1825 he was transferred to the Columbia District and in 1826 he was part of an expedition to the Umpqua Post south of Fort Vancouver, and is mentioned several times in A. R. McLeod’s journal. After a short while there he was sent to help to construct the first Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River. Then he was at Fort George [Astoria] where he tried to rescue two HBC ships — the William and Ann in 1829, and the Isabella in May 1830. In 1833 he was in charge of building Fort McLoughlin, on the Northwest Coast — Alexander Caulfield Anderson was his second-in-command.

Manson was promoted to Chief Trader in 1837 and took a year’s furlough in 1839-1840. On his return he went to Kamloops post, and for two years after that was in charge of the Stikine post after John McLoughlin Jr’s murder. In 1844 he took over the charge of New Caledonia from Peter Skene Ogden.

Manson was Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s superior officer the entire time Anderson was at Fort Alexandria. As far as I know, they got along just fine: Anderson, at least, complained of no difficulties. However, in March 1849 Peter Skene Ogden wrote to Governor Simpson, that:

Manson and Anderson are opposites in Character and find difficulty to agree together and to avoid it as much as possible last season [1848] the Board appointed [John] Tod [of Kamloops] to remain inland and every precaution was taken so far as [word] could tend to effect it and so far I have heard there was no open rupture and from what Anderson writes in his private letters he requests not to be under Manson’s control but such an arrangement could never occur..” [D.5/24, fo. 365, HBCA].

So all was not perfect! In 1848, Anderson moved on to take charge of Fort Colvile. In 1849, Manson and Anderson had a heated argument at Fort Hope, with Anderson refusing to obey Manson’s instructions. In  March 1850, Peter Skene Ogden reported to Governor Simpson on the plan for the next year’s brigade:

In regard to the movements of the interior Brigade this year [1850] a new arrangement has been made, they are to arrive at Langley at different times. Mr. Chief Factor [James] Douglas will be there to direct affairs — although strange it may appear to you and I regret to state it without a conductor the Gentlemen are not competent to conduct their own affairs, trifling as they are, and a separation is absolutely necessary as Pugilistic affairs between the two leaders is not exactly the proper mode of conducting Brigades in the presence of the Company’s servants. [D.5/27, fo. 456, HBCA]

So it sounds as if it were a fist-fight, rather than an argument, between the two Chief Traders. Manson tended to make enemies, and one of his strongest enemies may have been Governor Simpson himself.

Donald Manson remained at Fort St. James, and he reported regularly to Governor Simpson though did not receive very satisfactory replies from the Governor. Simpson complained almost every year of the loss of horses in his district. In 1852 Simpson complained about Manson’s requests for more leather to be shipped into New Caledonia, charging him with wastefulness. In 1853 he complained about the Club Law that existed in his territory. See:   In 1856 there is little information on the New Caledonia brigades, and in 1857 the gentlemen of the territory were preparing for Manson’s temporary absence from Fort St. James, as he was going out on furlough — furlough being a year-long absence, or “holiday” from his post. Donald Manson and his family rode out with the brigades. In July, Chief Factor James Douglas, of Fort Victoria, reported to the London Committee on the arrival of the outcoming New Caledonia brigades at Kamloops:

I lately received letters from Chief Trader McLean [of Kamloops] dated Thompson’s River, the 16th of June. Chief Trader Manson had arrived there with the New Caledonia brigade. There was much sickness at Kamloops, and several death had occurred among the children of the establishment from dysentery, which is very prevalent. [fo. 117-8, B.226/b/13, HBCA]

To Dr. W.H. Tolmie [Fort Nisqually], Douglas reported that “The dysentery has broke out at Kamloops and has prostrated many of the men. Manson and [Donald] McLean have each lost a child, and 5 of Manson’s children were still suffering from its effects by account received yesterday from Thompson’s River.” [A/C/20/Vi4A, BCA] So Manson traveled out with six children, if Douglas’s report was accurate.

The Brigade arrived at Fort Langley at the end of June, but Manson was not traveling with them. On July 20th Douglas reported on the brigades arrival at the post:

I have lately returned from Fort Langley where I met the Brigades and made the necessary arrangement for the business of the coming year… Chief Trader Manson avails himself of his rotation of furlough this year; but will probably return next outfit to New Caledonia. Under these circumstances, it was not considered advisable to remove Mr. [Donald] McLean from Thompson’s River and Chief Trader [Peter] Ogden was therefore appointed to the temporary charge of New Caledonia… [fo. 2-3, B.226/b/15, HBCA]

Once his children recovered from their illness, Manson prepared to come out over the brigade trail to Forts Hope and Langley. On July 10th, Douglas responded to Manson’s letter, which he had received at Fort Langley:

I have within the hour received your letter of the 3rd of Instant [July] and am glad to learn that the violence of the dysentery has abated and the sick generally speaking in a start to convalescence. I regret not having met you here but have nevertheless attended to our wishes in respect to providing an asylum for your family at this place until you have provided another home. Mr. Yale will make them as comfortable as possible in your absence. [A/C/20/Vi4A, BCA]

So Manson arrived at Fort Langley sometime in July, I imagine. In August he reached Fort Victoria, where on August 3rd, Douglas advised Yale that: “Mr. Manson arrived here on Saturday and I was disappointed at receiving no letter from you…” [A/C/20/Vi4A, BCA]. On August 13th Douglas wrote that: “Manson will go to Nisqually by Jones’s boat in a few days.” [A/C/20/Vi4A, BCA]

Donald Manson was back at Fort Victoria by November 5 1857, when he wrote to the Governor and Committee:

Having recently purchased a small property in Oregon Territory, of which I would wish to take possession next summer, I beg to request that you would be pleased to grant me an extension of my furlough until the close of Outfit 1858, when it is my intention to retire from the service. I trust that when you take my long services in the Fur Trade, say 40 years, into consideration you will not hesitate in granting me this favor. [Black’s Rocky Mountain Journal, p.239]

In December, James Douglas made the same request of Governor Simpson: “Mr. Manson bought a property in the Willamette, of which he is to take possession next August. He would like to leave the service at that time, but not having given a years notice of his intention to retire he cannot do so without a violation of the rules of the service. He will therefore winter for another year and retire with Outfit 1859, unless you give him another year and extend his furlough to the close of Outfit 1858, with the view of then retiring from the service. For my own part, I think it would be best to grant him an extension of furlough, as there will be no advantage, and much expense, in sending him into the Interior, and for the short time he has to remain in the service, there can be no object in doing so.” [fo. 425, D.5/45, HBCA]

The request was refused, on the grounds that every such request had been “invariably refused” for many years — and they had. Secretary William Smith wrote to Manson in January 1858, giving him the news that:

…the Governor and Committee will be glad to learn that you have resolved to return to active service for another year or longer, but should you not wish to do this, they will of course accept your resignation as on the 1st June 1858. [Black’s Rocky Mountain Journal, p. 239]

So that was the choice that Manson was left with. He stayed at Fort Langley with his family over the winter of 1857-1858. In April 1858 he was at Fort Vancouver, where he wrote to Simpson that “having now given up all hopes of further promotion in the fur trade, a result which, ere now, my long services might naturally lead me to expect & for which I have now been labouring for many, many years without success, I have therefore, in consideration of my family, tho’ still a very poor man, made up my mind to resign my C[hief] Tradership, and to settle down in the Willamette where I can secure a tolerable education for my children.” [Black’s Rocky Mountain Journal, p. 240]

That is exactly what he did. On December 16th, 1861, Alexander Caulfield Anderson heard of the floods in the Willamette Valley, and wrote to James Murray Yale [now in Victoria]:

Fearful news has reached us from the Wallamette. The whole country has been swept by a flood; houses, farms, cattle, horses have been swept away, and many people, it is feared, have been drowned. Among the rest is asserted that the whole of Champoeg, including of course poor Manson’s house and property, has been swept away. God grant that it may be otherwise: but the full truth is not known yet. [Yale Family Papers, BCA].

This, from a letter from John Minto to Eva Emery Dye, October 31, 1903, OHS Mss 1089, Box 1/18:

The officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company so far as [I] knew them were larger [largely?] what you might expect of men, intellectually, the product of the influences of the Waverly novels would make. They were, as a rule, very reticent as to their family [and] relatives, the best of them — among whom I class Donald Manson, W.F. Tolmie, and James Birnie — while they had no cause to flinch from showing their families, did not parade them. I was several times a business visitor at the Birnie residence…. So at Donald Manson[‘s] home in Marion County in 186–, where he closed his adventurous life as an American citizen — as a specimen of dignified manhood ripe in trustworthy service. He was  personally worth riding many miles to merely see, and in his case the books used seemed to be Scott’s works mainly..

Ah, the Americans would never understand that the Metis women would never “parade” alongside or before their men! It was not part of their culture, at all. After Manson’s death in 1880, George Barnston, who had worked with Manson at Fort Langley in the early years, wrote to Alexander Anderson:

You mention the death of Manson, our old brother of the western trade… Manson and I were close friends after we had been together at the first establishment of Fort Langley, where we often stood shoulder to shoulder against the aggressive and bullying attempts of the Cowichens and Nanaimos to take freedom with our fort and the working servants in the woods. These two tribes were strong in numbers and constantly round us, their summer villages being on the banks of the river below us, although they fished salmon up above the fort. Manson’s failing was that of a quick temper, but he was honest and true and would, I believe, meet death as a good Christian ought in the hope and view of a better and happier hereafter. Your few remarks confirm me in this pleasing idea, and that God gave rest to his soul. [Mss 559, volume 1, folder 1, BCA]

As good an epitaph as I have ever seen.  Enjoy the stories!

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