Anderson at the First Fort Nisqually

Fort Nisqually and Puget Sound

This drawing of Fort Nisqually was done by Steve A. Anderson and is used with his kind permission

In early to mid- October of 1841, clerk Alexander Caulfield Anderson finally arrived at the first Fort Nisqually, built in spring, 1833, on Puget Sound. For the fort’s early history, read the first post of this series:

It is likely that Anderson was already irritated by the tone of voice that Chief Factor John McLoughlin used in his letters, and at Fort Nisqually, he found that nothing was likely to change: the letters he received were all written in the same tone of voice as those he had received while he was at the Cowlitz Farms. It is easy to see from his collections of letters, that McLoughlin addressed everyone in the same way, but unfortunately Anderson took offence. His not-so-carefully-worded response to one of McLoughlin’s letters did not survive the years, but James Douglas’s scolding letter to Anderson did — or at least, an Extract from that letter has survived. It reads:

I have read your letter to Dr. McLoughlin and do not approve of the warm expostulatory style, which I regret is neither proper nor respectful. It was never, my dear Sir, Dr. McLoughlin’s intention to question the propriety of your general conduct, he merely inquired as a matter of justice, equally to himself and to you, why certain specific orders had not been followed to the letter, and I certainly think you would have acted a much wiser part, had your reply to a requisition so simple been given in a more courteous way. You have got to learn at this hour, that obedience is the very first and most important of your duties; like the A.B.C. in literature, the ground work of all our acquisitions, and in fact the great principal which all persons entering the service should be taught to revere.

We hear of ‘trifling deviations from orders,’ now there can be no such thing as a trifling deviation, for whether in trivialities or in grave maters, the principle in question is, in both cases, equally endangered, and equally outraged; therefore all that can be heard in extenuation of such offences is a simple statement of facts, which may be approved or not according to circumstances. Dr. McLoughlin was greatly displeased with some passages of your letter and intended to take a severe course with it, until a friend of yours suggested that the fault was evidently one of manner and not of intention, which induced him to drop the thing. As you value the good opinion of those who wish you well, be more temperate in future and consult the dictates of sober judgement in preference to the impulses of exciting feeling.

Clerk James Douglas seems to suggest that he was the ‘friend’ mentioned in the letter; and it is likely he was. Anderson and Douglas had worked together in Fort Vancouver over the winter of 1832-1833: Anderson had arrived at Fort Vancouver in November 1832 and was sent north to help build Fort McLoughlin in spring, 1833. But by the time Anderson had returned to Fort Vancouver in 1840, he had spent four or five years working directly under Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden, both on the coast and in the interior at Fort St. James. Ogden was a joking and indulgent leader of men, and it is clear that the two got along very well together. 

I don’t know which of McLoughlin’s letters so offended Anderson, and it doesn’t really matter. There are other letters written by Douglas to Anderson at this period of time, so the friendship between the two men did not appear to suffer: although I suspect, too, that James Douglas took on the work of dealing with Anderson because McLoughlin no longer wanted to do so. In an apparently friendly letter, written on April 20, 1841, Douglas tells Anderson that his “travels in California were safely brought to a close about the middle of March… it is undoubtedly one of the most favoured regions of the earth, nature having been exceeding lavish of her gifts, while art has hitherto made no effort to increase their value: in fact, California, with a delightful climate and a soil fertile beyond example, remains to this day a poor and thinly inhabited country, destitute of intelligence or any means of developing it among the body of people. There is a complete absence of judicial organization throughout the length and breadth of the country, except here and there an illiterate Alcade, more qualified from early pursuits to decide… In view of all these evils, I would nevertheless cheerfully become a citizen of that country, provided that I could do so in company with a party of friends, respectable from their numbers, and powerful enough to restrain opposition.” (At this time, California was under Mexican control, and although the numbers of permanent settlers of non-Hispanic birth had been steadily increasing, the first large organized party from the United States — that is, the 1841 party led by John Bidwll and John Bartleson — had not yet arrived there.)

In December 1840, Douglas had sailed for California in the HBC ship, Columbia, with the Outfit for the California post. Unless he made two trips to California, he must have returned to Fort Vancouver in March, 1841. As I said, his letter started off friendily — but it seems James Douglas had another reason for writing his April 20 letter to A.C. Anderson: he also wrote that “I have been informed that it has been said within the circle of Batchelor’s Hall that you are unpopular with the Indians of Nisqually: and without reference to the truth of this rumour I wish to caution you against the exercise of any considerable severity towards the Natives. In assuming a new charge it has always been my study to act with the utmost circumspection, until I became fairly established in the opinion of the Indians, then but never sooner, I would begin to lecture and reform abuses, having recourse, if necessary, to the infliction of moderate punishment, but I always did so with apparent reluctance, and always with due allowance for the ignorance of the Party with whom I was dealing. Beware of these evil reports, they go further than many think and often are taken as illustrations of character…”

I ran across this issue when I was writing The Pathfinder — that is, A.C. Anderson’s biography. Because I knew what he had to do in New Caledonia, where he had been employed before he came down to Forts Vancouver and Nisqually, I understood this issue much better than James Douglas did. This is what I said: 

It appears that Anderson was too severe with the Native hunters, who chose to stay away from the fort. He was probably using the trading practices he had learned in New Caledonia, where Ogden and his fur traders had to forcibly change the old debt system. But that debt system had never existed at Fort Nisqually, and the Natives resented Anderson for the hard bargains he thought he had to drive.

So we can all see that trouble lies ahead for Anderson at Fort Nisqually. But let’s go back to his arrival at the place in October, 1840. This is from Anderson’s “Origin of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company,” written in 1865 as part of the Boundary Commission hearings being held in Victoria.

“Large herds of cattle and extensive flocks of sheep were on the ground when I assumed charge in /40 (Oct),” he wrote, “also a considerable band of horses. The sheep at that time were in several flocks, and the pasture pounds varied daily. The shepherds lived with their flocks in temporary huts and a moveable house on wheels. The whole were under the direction of a head shepherd, (one Mr. Lewis, an experienced shepherd, engaged in Scotland especially for the purpose). At certain seasons the flock of rams (imported) were herded at a great distance with great care in order to regulate the period of breeding. The sheep on the ground at that time were, as far as I remember, all of improved breeds — ie. the product of ewes originally imported from California, crossed by valuable rams from England. I could not state from memory the number; there were some hundreds. The herds of sheep were were folded nightly within distinct enclosures for the purpose of manuring the ground for agricultural purposes. These pens were shifted periodically as the ground became enriched, and to promote the comfort of the sheep — washed and shorn in summer — wool picked and sent to [Fort] Vancouver for shipment to England.”

I have been told that the quality of the wool was poor, and that might be because of the breed of the sheep. I grew up on a farm: one of our sheep, named “Old Popeyes,” was a scraggly, unattractive animal who looked like she was ready to expire: but every year, for year after year, she emerged from some hiding place with healthy twin lambs! I think now that she was far younger than she looked, and that she was a specific breed of sheep that differed from all the other fat and woolly sheep we had.

Anderson’s information on the Fort Nisqually he knew, written in 1865, continues; 

 There were at the same time large herds of cattle… I can state, however, that during the summer of /41 upwards of 100 cows (I think 120) were tamed and milked for dairy purposes at the district dairy (4 1/2 to 5 miles from the old Fort). Other cows were milked for home use daily at the fort. The cows at the dairy were not all milked at once, but as soon as a certain number of the young cattle had been sufficiently habituated to being handled and milked, they were discharged with their calves, and replaced by others. About 1/3 were probably at each period of the division. All the cattle (milch cows excepted) were penned at night in the same way as the sheep, partly to habituate them to being driven and herded, but chiefly to improve the light soil for agricultural purposes. Mounted herders (Indian) were employed to attend to and collect the cattle.

Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, also described the Fort Nisqually farm and the animals he found there some years after his arrival in May 1841 — this was published in his book, Life in the Oregon Country before the Emigration: “In connexion with the Company’s establishment at Nisqually, they have a large dairy, several hundred head of cattle, and among them seventy milch cows, which yield a large supply of butter and cheese; they also have large crops of wheat, pease, and oats, and were preparing the ground for potatoes. These operations are conducted by a farmer and dairyman brought from England expressly to superintend these affairs. A few Indians are engaged in attending the flocks, and the Company’s servants are almost exclusively employed as labourers.” [Life in Oregon Country Before the Emigration, by Charles Wilkes, editor Richard E. Moore]. 

So I guess you now know what is going to happen next: Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and the United States Exploring Expedition party are all set to arrive at Fort Nisqually, after an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Columbia River! On his arrival in Puget Sound, Wilkes sent a messenger by longboat to Fort Nisqually, asking for a guide and an interpreter. In his Narrative, Charles Wilkes indicates that his ships, the Vincennes, and the Porpoise, sailed down Puget Sound toward Fort Nisqually in May, 1841.  On May 6th, he wrote “the Indians inhabiting the surrounding shores are clad in blankets and skins of wild beasts, and appear friendly. They are passionately fond of smoking, and will exchange anything they have for pipes and tobacco. The principal ornament worn by the women is a round piece of white bone of about two inches in length, stuck through the cartilage of their noses.” 

So the HBC men at Fort Nisqually knew his ships would be arriving, and sent men to help him down the Sound. On May 8th, William Heath, and another man,  arrived in a canoe to guide the American ships down the Sound. It was a gusty day, and Heath led the two ships to a safe anchorage in Port Orchard. The next morning, the crew of the Vincennes put on such a display of bad sailing that the HBC men must have snickered: “We were humbugging around for two hours,” the embarrassed purser complained. [Puget Sound: a Narrative of early Tacoma and the Southern Sound, by Murray Morgan.] Their woes continued: the next morning they had some difficulty keeping the ships off shore when they raised the anchors. The two American ships arrived at Fort Nisqually at 8 in the morning of May 11, 1841, and dropped anchor “just south of Sequalitchew Creek, a little seaward of the black-hulled, paddle-wheeled Beaver.” [Murray Morgan, Puget’s Sound.] 

Wilkes wrote that: “Twelve more miles brought us to the anchorage off Nisqually, where both vessels dropped their anchors about eight o’clock. Here we found an English steamer (Beaver) undergoing repairs. Soon after we anchored I had the pleasure of a visit from Mr. Anderson, who is in charge of the fort, and Captain [William Henry] McNeill. They gave me a warm welcome, and offered every assistance in their power to aid me in my operations.” [Washington Geographic Names, by Edmond S. Meany. Meany goes on to say that Wilkes “honored these two men by naming for them the nearby Islands — Anderson and McNeil… The Inskip chart, 1846, shows [Anderson Island] as “Fisgard Island” after the British frigate which was on this station, 1844-1847. Inskip sought to carry the honor further by changing the name of McNeil Island to “Duntze Island,” for Captain John A. Duntze of the frigate. Anderson Island was also known for a time as “Wallace Island,” in honor of Leander C. Wallace, who was killed by Snoqualmie Indians during their attack of Fort Nisqually in 1849.”]

And so, prepare yourself for the arrival and the long visit of the United States Exploring Expedition under Lieutenant [or Captain] Charles Wilkes. When I write about this visit, it will appear here: or whatever I chose to call it. 

My blogpost for next week will not happen on Saturday, but it might be published on Sunday: I do not yet know. On Saturday, I will be at Langley, with many others, attending and speaking at the Heritage Picnic at Michaud House on May 13, 2023 — the subject matter: Voyageurs and Genealogy; Columbia Boats on the Fraser; and the 1824 journey to Fort Langley via the Nicomekl River! I will have maps, and the talk will also include additional information that I have learned and added to the story I told in the 4-post series that begins with this blogpost:

When I continue this series re: Fort Nisqually, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved. 


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