Edmonton Post Journal

Packhorses on Athabasca Portage

This is image na-3934-16, from Glenbow Archives, and is used with their permission. The packhorses that the HBC men used were probably smaller than these horses, but the scene would be very similar to this.

As I was researching the York Factory Express, I read some journals from the posts they would have gone through on their way down the river. I didn’t get a lot of new information, but here is the Edmonton Post Journal for 1826.

From the Edmonton House Post Journals, B.60/a/24, Edmonton House post Journals, 1826-1827, “Diary of Occurrences transpiring at Edmonton House, Fall 1826, and continued by John Rowan[d], Chief Factor,” on Reel 1M184, I got this information:

Sept. 1826: Monday 4th. Fine clear weather. I being re-appointed for Edmonton arrived here this day in company with Chief Trader [James] McMillan and Messrs [James] McDougall and [James] Birnie, clerks. We left the brigade at the lower end of the Red Deer Hill under the chief conduct of John Stuart, Esquire, on the [blank in mss, but Aemilius Simpson says it was August 31st] Instant [ulto.], whereby we took horses and proceeded hither for the purpose of advancing preparations in readiness for the arrival of the Boats. The Country through which we came since we separated from the Brigade has more the appearance of unabated deluge than effects from frequent rains; at Carlton and the lower parts of the Saskatchewan the summer has been remarkably dry.

Red Deer Hill is on the North Saskatchewan River near North Battleford, and is today called Paradise Hill. The Red Deer is, of course, the elk, but our elk resembled the much smaller Red Deer in England and so all the HBC men used that name for the animal.

John Stuart was being punished by Governor Simpson for his remarks on how Simpson treated the women who he had affairs with. Simpson met Stuart in 1825 at Carlton House, as you will see in the Carlton House journals posted below. If in 1826 he was bringing the express upriver to Edmonton House, Stuart must have been newly assigned to Lesser Slave Lake, where he remained for a number of years. https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/carlton-house-journal/

We found everyone here enjoying good health. Mr. [Henry] Fisher, who was left to take charge of this Establishment during the summer gave me a [circumstantial] account of every thing transpired since my departure last spring up to the present day and I am extremely sorry to find that the Provisions collected this summer from hundreds of Indians who visited this place does not exceed 1,200 lbs. Grease, 1,100 lbs. Pounded Meat and [blank] lbs. Dried Meat, the whole of which is barely sufficient to forward the different Brigades. This arises principally from the prosecution of War which in the present times appears to have become their summer vocation. A battle between our Blackfeet and their allies, the Fall Indians, Blood Indians & Surcies [Sarcee] with the Crees of the lower country took place last at or about the Moose Woods on the South Branch River, and ten Crees with seven Blackfeet remained upon the field, the Crees deserting their Lodges exposed them to the [wrath] of their enemies who pillaged and carried off every thing that could be attained, about eight Leather Tents…Mr Linton, who was appointed to the charge of Fort Assiniboine for the summer I found here upon business of the company’s & dispatched him immediately for his Place to prepare and have everything in readiness for the Columbia and Slave Lake Brigades…

This Linton is George Linton, who clerked in New Caledonia from 1831 to 1834. Governor Simpson said that he was a “stout strong square built fellow who would have made a very good figure in the Prize Ring, being an excellent bruiser; has a good deal of the Manner of a man accustomed to live by his Wits, and I suspect is out of a bad nest. A low Knowing Kind of fellow who is neither a good Clerk nor Trader…Had no prospects of advancement.” He was murdered. I haven’t written his story yet though I do have some of the reports of his death. To continue with the Edmonton House journals:

Saturday 9th. The Brigade manned by fifty men in seven Boats arrived, its departing from York Factory was on the 14th July making the voyage inward to be 58 days from that place hither, where it landed in good order and safe from misfortune. From Carlton the fare has been sumptuous for all hands, the poor living that the men subsisted upon until that time has greatly reduced their wonted vigor, but thence to their arrival hither being seventeen days they have lived well. Fat Buffaloes furnished them on their way up made amends for subsequent Poverty. Mr. Stuart says that the last herd of Buffalo was left about Fort Vermilion. We have nothing here, however, to give the People but Dried Provisions with Potatoes. Our Gardens wear a good appearance except the wheat which is so far backward that I am dubious of its coming to perfection, indeed, to any thing at all.

I have Aemilius Simpson’s journals, and he mentioned nothing of this. But this journey was his first trip into the country and he cannot be expected to notice things that more experienced HBC men, such as John Rowand, would have seen. Of course, Rowand was in charge of the district and this was his responsibility.

Sunday 7th. Fine weather. Myagan, who started the other day to join his family, brought us a Moose Deer at a very seasonable opportunity, our family being considerably augmented. The boats were all brought up the bank of the River and stowed for the season.

Monday 11th. Robidoux and Portelance, who left this with Mr. Linton, arrived from Fort Assiniboine with 23 horses, very poor, they having been attacked with a decrease in their feet which deprived several of them of their hoofs and consequently caused their deaths.

There are a number of diseases that would have caused this damage to the horses’ feet, and some of them are fungal diseases — which sounds likely. These horses spent their winter out of doors, and were never in good condition in the spring when they were used for the first time in the year for the outgoing York Factory Express.

Unbaled the Goods and Mr. Stuart’s Outfit taken out and repacked convenient for land carrying, made out a small Requisition for Jasper’s House and Fort Assiniboine Outfit, the former is to be taken up by the Columbia Canoes and Mr. Linton accompanies them thither for the purpose of equipping the freemen and to see the Company horses returned in safety.

It seems possible that Linton accompanied the incoming brigades all the way to Boat Encampment, but I don’t think he did that. You will see why , below:

Tuesday 12th. Cloudy weather: every one of the Gentlemen here busy in packing and arranging their Property for the transport. Our men of course not [working]. In the evening a dance was given to the people. After drafting horses for each Brigade separately a strict watch was kept during the night.

Wednesday 13th. Messrs. Stuart and McMillan send off their Brigades. Eight loaded horses form the cavalcade for Fort Assiniboine where it is expected they will arrive the sixth day from this. The little dried provisions on hand was all expended in supplying the different Parties and we are now without an ounce remaining.

Thursday 14th. Mr. Stuart took his departure for Slave Lake, Mr. [Aemilius] Simpson, [George] Barnston, Birnie and [Thomas] Sinclair for the Columbia. Mr. Joseph McGillivray and McDougall for New Caledonia via Jasper’s House. The latter Gentleman, however, does not start until tomorrow morning, as well as Mr. [John Edward] Harriott, who is nominated to the charge of Fort Assiniboine. Mr. Linton, after depositing his Returns from the Freemen at Fort Assiniboine is directed to proceed hither to pass the winter, and Mr. Fisher, the only Gentleman now remaining, will in a few days depart for the Mountain House with an Outfit for the Piegans.

The Mountain House must be Rocky Mountain House, to the west of Edmonton House on the North Saskatchewan River (see last blogpost).

Mr. Harriott left his wife here and he is to return himself after the Brigades leave Fort Assiniboine. In the evening he came back in quest of some writings that were forgotten. The above gentlemen expect to join their Brigades [in] the evening. They all departed on horse back. Sent off Francois Lucier with a Band of horses not sufficiently in condition to work on the Portage, he is to take care of them until called for.

You may order “The York Factory Express” through my publisher, here: http://ronsdalepress.com/york-factory-express-the/ The book tells the story of the HBC men who journey to Hudson Bay and return every year, in the York Factory Express and the Saskatchewan Brigades. Thank you.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2020. All rights reserved.