York Factory Express: Carlton House to Fort Pitt

Bison hunt

This is image na-1406-189, Glenbow Archives, and used with their permission. While this is a later bison hunt, those York Factory Express men who took part in the bison hunts on their way from Carlton House to Fort Pitt would have not differed from these men.

Between Carlton House and Fort Pitt, the gentlemen in the incoming York Factory Express always hunted for bison on the prairies between the two forts. George Traill Allan passed through Carlton House only three times in his lifetime, so far as I am aware. He was a tiny man, only about five feet tall, and delicately built. Yet, he joined the “rough and tumble of the fur trade,” and had an important role to play in the business of Fort Vancouver in later years. In this blogpost we will speak of his 1831 journal, when he comes into the territory for the first time — travelling from Carlton House to Fort Pitt along the North Saskatchewan River.

Allan, somehow a relative of James Allen Graham of Fort Vancouver (his uncle, I believe), was born in Perthshire, Scotland, about 1807. His brother was Dr. Allan, Lord Selkirk’s attending physician at Red River (or at least in North America). James Allen Grahame married a daughter of James Birnie of Cathlamet, and so all these people are in my extended family tree. In fact, George Traill Allan spent his final years in James Birnie’s house in Cathlamet, and was still alive when Birnie died. The family connection, though unknown and perhaps untraceable, is strong, and so I am always interested in George Traill Allan’s stories.

Anyway, George joined the fur trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1830, as writer at York Factory, and was sent to Fort Vancouver in 1831. He kept a journal, though very sporadically. It seems to have been written at the time of crossing, but great swathes of the journey are omitted. He was not interested in the scenery, beautiful as it might be — he seems to have been more interested in the sport of hunting. So, in his way, he is not a good record-keeper. However, when he does bother to keep a record, it is interesting to read, and informative. Here is the section of his 1831 journal, that covers the part of his incoming express as its gentlemen go hunting for bison West of Carlton House — as they always did. The transcript is found at B.C. Archives, A/B/40/Al5.2A. I am not sure the original still exists. So here is Allan’s journal, as he sets out from Carlton House in 1831.

[August] Saturday 20th. We set out [in the York Boats] after breakfast. The face of the country is now entirely changed, large plains instead of woods now surround us.

Monday 22nd. Mr. [John] Rowand having brought six horses from Carlton House Mr. [James] Douglas and I went on shore today to take a ride, accompanied by an Indian and Canadian as guides, we rode from 2 pm to half past eight when we joined the other gentlemen at the encampment. The horses in this part of the country are small but swift and hardy. During our ride across the plains we fell in with a large Company of Cree Indians. The Crees when on horseback and with all their warlike accoutrements have a formidable and fine appearance, most of the present company were mounted and accompanied by an immense number of dogs. Some of them, the dogs, I mean, dragging sleighs, others loaded with parcels of furs etc. We remained nearly an hour talking to them by means of our guide, and then set out to overtake the boats. We now lived in style having taken as much fresh meat from Carlton House as the boats could carry.

Tuesday 23rd. The weather very sultry. Mr. [?] Grant and I went on shore to pick up some berries, but were soon driven from the bushes by mosquitoes who pursued us in myriads. The heat was very oppressive at this part of our voyage, and indeed for long distances the banks of the Saskatchewan are lined with bushes heavily loaded with stone cherries. On ascending the banks a view is to be obtained as far as the eye can reach, of vast plains dotted over here and there with, as it were, small islands of wood and occasionally of small lakes.

The country between Carlton House and Fort Pitt was wide, flat prairies, with small islands of woods and lakes — and plains filled with free-roaming bison. All the HBC men hunted bison as they crossed this vast prairie west of Carlton House, while the men continued to row the York boats up the North Saskatchewan River.

Wednesday 24th. Mr. Rowand accompanied by Messrs. [Duncan] Finlayson, [James] Douglas & I went out on horseback to hunt buffalo. After a ride of about two hours, we suddenly perceived on emerging from a kind of gully, a very large bull, who no sooner discovered us, than he set off at his utmost speed in another direction. We lost no time in giving him chase, nor did our horses require either whip or spur to induce them to follow, for being broke into hunting they seemed to enjoy it as much as their riders, at least if I may judge from my own charger, who was so unwilling to be restrained that in attempting to do so, the saddle which had not been sufficiently tightened came under his belly, and as might have been expected, down came I full tilt upon the ground, but fortunately without injury. Having put my saddle to rights, I was soon in full pursuit again, but Mr. Rowand, being an old hunter and better mounted than the rest of us, soon came up with and wounded the buffalo who took refuge in a small thicket of wood, where he soon expired. As he proved to be very lean, we only carved off his tongue and left the rest of his body a prey to the wolves who are very numerous in the plains of the Saskatchewan.

Thursday 25th. We fell in today with about thirty tents of Assiniboine or Stone Indians. They are a nation of rogues who think it no crime to steal, rob, and even murder. Their warriors, it is said, are a fine looking race of men, but we had not now an opportunity of seeing them as they were absent on a War party, nor did we much regret that circumstance, as had they been present it would have been necessary for us to keep a sharp look out. We only saw the old men, women, and children.

Saturday 27th. I went on shore today and walked to Fort Pitt, a small establishment under the charge of Mr. [Patrick?] Small, who received us kindly. We found at the Fort about two hundred tents of Cree Indians. They are in general a quiet people, except when they get liquor, when they become very troublesome. I reached Fort Pitt about an hour before the boats, where I waited their arrival.

When he came into the country in 1832, Alexander Caulfield Anderson also went hunting for bison around Carlton House, accompanied by the other gentlemen who traveled in his incoming Express. He described the animals he had shot in a letter to his uncle, Alexander Seton of Mounie. This letter is found is the Mounie Archives, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, MS2787/5/2/19/5.

Fort Vancouver, Columbia, 14th February, 1833.

My dear Uncle; I arrived here on the 4th November after a voyage from York Factory of 3 1/2 months — partly on horseback, in boats & in canoes…

This fort is finely situated on the Columbia River, and the soil is very fertile. The company has a very large farm on which are raised annually about 7,000 bushels potatoes, [illegible] wheat, 5,000 & 6,000 of pease… Melons are also raised here in large quantity, and a few apples & turnips are now procured. From what I stated before, you can imagine it would be a fine country to settle. The River is huge & navigable for 100 miles from its mouth. Salmon are in immense quantity as well as the moose.

I have killed only one Buffalo & one deer since I have been in this country, and a great many ducks, geese, partridges, etc.

Pray give my love to my aunt and all my cousins, and believe me to remain, My dear Uncle, your affectionate nephew, A. C. Anderson.

Every Chief Trader, Clerk, and Apprentice Clerk who crossed the country in the incoming York Factory Express, had an opportunity to hunt for bison in the country west of Carlton House. This is part of the culture of every “gentleman” who crossed the country in the York Factory Express. Was it part of the culture of the voyageurs who rowed these boats upriver? No, it wasn’t. It was highly unlikely that any of the Canadien, Orkneymen, Iroquois, or half-breeds, that worked in these boats, was ever allowed to hunt the bison that roamed the prairies west of Carlton House. However, they benefited from the hunt, as all the meat was brought back to the boats to feed those who did all the hard work, while the gentlemen played.

If you wish to purchase my book, “The York Factory Express,” you can do so through my publisher, here: http://ronsdalepress.com/york-factory-express-the/ Thank you!

The next “leg” of the journey is now posted, and will be found here:  https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/sixteenth-leg/

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