Fort Colvile Brigades

Sioux Island Rapid

Henry Jame Warre, “The Columbia River above Sioux Island Rapid, Washington, LAC Mikan 2834204 C-117072) I am certain that this is what the HBC men called the big Rock (or Stone), and so this is Equilibrium Rock.

In this blogpost we continue the stories of the incoming 1828 Fort Colvile Brigades, as they make their way up the Columbia River from Fort Vancouver. The man who kept this journal is John Work, who is still a clerk in the HBC fur trade. We begin our story (which is continued from an earlier post) on July 23, 1828. The combined Fort Colvile Brigades, and those from New Caledonia, arrived at Fort Vancouver in the evening of July 7, having been delayed by bad weather upriver, and an accident to a boat which caused the drowning deaths of three men, combined with a short journey upriver to recover the survivors of the accident. And the furs, of course. It was also important to recover the furs.

Now the Fort Colvile Brigades, and those of New Caledonia, are setting off together from Fort Vancouver, making their way upriver to their home posts. They will separate at Fort Okanogan, with the New Caledonia men continuing their journey on horseback, with packhorses, up the Okanagan River, while the Fort Colvile Brigades continue up the Columbia River in their boats.

They are travelling in Columbia Boats, of course, as they always do. I had questions in my last blogpost on whether they used paddles or oars in these boats: John Work explained that though when he came into the territory in 1823 the men paddled their Columbia boats — but in 1828 they used oars, which they found more efficient. And I see they are using oars in this return journey as well.

The men of the Fort Colvile Brigades had spent about two weeks at headquarters. Let us begin with John Work’s Fort Colvile Brigades journal, 1828:

July 1828, Wedy. 23. This morning the inland brigade left Fort Vancouver and encamped in the evening a little below the Cascades. We had a sail wind a while in the afternoon. The brigade consists of 9 boats, 54 Men including two Indians. There are [as] passengers Mr. [William] Connolly, who commands the party, and Messrs. [Francis] Ermatinger, [James Murray] Yale, [Thomas] Dears, & myself [John Work], besides Boisvert, an invalid, & E. Lewis, a freeman and family. The boats are heavy laden [blank] pieces besides provisions. The cargoes were delivered & the boats loaded and moved up to the upper end of the plain yesterday evening, when the men got their regale.

There are two reasons why they spent their first night close to the fort, but far enough away that the men who did manage to get drunk didn’t disturb the gentlemen. That’s the first reason, actually: the second reason is that someone could return to fort if they discovered they had forgotten some essential piece of equipment, such as a frying pan, or a line. So, to continue the Fort Colvile Brigades journal…

The men’s provisions for the voyage are corn, pease, and grease. 

Thursday 24. Cloudy weather with a fine breeze. Continued our route early in the morning, and were employed the whole day getting to just a little above the Cascades, the water is very low and it was very difficult dragging the boats. The line broke and one of them [the boats] ran down the rapid again and a considerable time was lost recovering it. Part of the cargoes had to be carried, both at the new portage and at another place below the Cascades.

The New Portage, or Portage Neuf, sounds like a sandbank that formed just below the Cascades, catching the silt and other debris as the current from the main river slowed. There are sandheads at the mouth of the Fraser River, where the men would step out of their canoes and drag the boats across a shallow spot, much to the surprise of Anderson’s two children who thought they were in deep water. To continue the Fort Colvile Brigades…

The Indians at the Cascades are taking plenty of salmon but would give us none, from a superstitious idea that if our people, who had been at war, would eat of the salmon they would catch no more. Had we been in want of provisions we would have helped ourselves without ceremony, but that not being the case we did not take any, though we told the Indians we would do so if we choose.

 That sounds like William Connolly’s words and tone of voice. 

Friday 25th. Embarked at daylight and had a fine sail wind all day and early in the evening reached the lower end of the Dalles, where we encamped, it being too late to begin the portage. The Indians here are taking plenty of salmon and gave us a sufficiency for our people and made no objections about the men having been at war. 

In 1828, what recent war would the American Indians on the lower Columbia been aware of? Who was battling who? And how was the HBC involved?

Saturday 26. The whole day was [spent] getting the goods across the portage and the boats only part of the way. The weather part of the day was very warm. In the morning we were met by Mr. [Peter Skene] Ogden who with part of his people is on his way to Fort Vancouver… Mr. Ogden remained with us all day, & to pass the night. Three of our men, [Jacques] Servant, [Supplie] Laurent [of New Caledonia], Eugras [?] are sick or disabled & unfit for duty. Got plenty of salmon in the evening for the people.

Sunday 27. I employed the men before breakfast carrying the boats across the portage. We got them loaded and after breakfast took our leave of Mr. Ogden, & proceeded under sail to the Chutes, where boats & cargo had to be carried. We got to the upper end of the portage late in the evening, loaded the boats, and encamped for the night. It was very warm during the day though it blew a storm & the people were nearly blinded with driving sand…

Monday 28th. Clear warm weather. Embarked at daylight and were employed all day with the poles. In the evening we encamped a little above [John] Days River. 

As you see, these men of the Fort Colvile Brigades carried and used poles, and though oars are not mentioned they must have also been used [they were]. The poles (setting poles) are used by setting the lower end of the pole against the bottom of the river and pushing the boats forward in the water. I wrote about tracking and poling some time ago, here:  

Tuesday 29. Continued our journey with the poles. Had a light air of wind & got up the sail a short time in the evening, but the wind was too weak to be of much service. We encamped in the evening a good way below the big Island [Blalock Island]. Passed some camps of Indians during the day, they have very few fish and report that Salmon are very scarce above.

I presume that the Columbia River is much like the Fraser in its salmon runs: that there are good years and bad years. The Fraser River has a cycle of four years, with one good followed by one bad, and the next two years recovering. Is it the same on the Columbia, or is their/your cycle different from ours? Well, back to the John Work’s Fort Colvile Brigades journal:

Wedy 30th. Embarked at daylight. After breakfast a fine breeze sprang up when the sails were hoisted and we had a fine run the remainder of the day, and encamped late in the evening a good piece above Grand Rapid [Umatilla Rapids]. Servant, one of the sick men, is again able to do his duty, but the other two are still unable to work. Some others of the men are badly with a severe cold. Some of them have their hands lamed with the poling. 

Thursday 31. A fine fair wind this morning again. We proceeded under sail and arrived at [Fort] Nez Perces at 8 o’clock. The Nez Perces outfit was delivered & the remainder of the property distributed among 8 boats as one [boat] is to be left. Two rolls of Tobacco were received here instead of 6 that were expected. 20 Traps were also received from Colvile…. I found Rivet’s [Louis Vivet’s] boys here, they are going off to Colvile in two days. By them I wrote to Mr. [William] Kittson & sent six sickles so that he may be able to get on with the harvest. I also sent 22 lb. Tobacco, as I understand he is short of that article…

August 1828. Friday 1. Left [Fort] Nez Perces at 7 o’clock and encamped late in the evening above the Yakama River. The men worked with the poles all day, the weather very warm & calm. The current strong though the river is unusually low for this season of the year. We have 8 boats as deep laden as when we left Vancouver, but as two more of the men, Jacques & [Joseph Sebastien] LaRocque, are disabled we are still not better manned than before, though the men are all with us. Messrs. Ross, Yale, & Ermatinger & a man, [Jean] Toupin, remained [at Fort Nez Perces] to take 30 horses to Okanagan.

Satd. 2nd. The weather very warm and sultry. Pursued our journey with the poles as the current is stil strong — encamped in the evening at the White banks [Hanford Reach]. From an Indian information part of the bones of one of our unfortunate men that was drowned in the spring was found. We had them collected and buried & Mr. Connolly read the funeral service over them. The arms and leg bones were wanting. It is supposed to be [J.F.] Laurent’s bones. Pierre’s body was found & buried at Fort Nez Perces. There are but few Indians on the river and these are starving; they are taking no salmon.

Sunday 3. Continued our journey at an early hour, and encamped in the evening at the lower end of Priests Rapid. The current during the day was strong and the poles were employed all day. The water is very low. Here we found a lodge of Indians from whom a few dry salmon were obtained; they had very few. Salmon seem to be very scarce in the River. We occasionally get a few large grouse, which the people shoot along shore. The weather excessively warm, not an air of wind.

Monday 4. Overcast, cool pleasant weather in the morning, but clear and very warm afterwards. It took a considerable portion of the day to get up the Priests Rapid, where some time was taken gumming the boats, when we again proceeded & encamped late in the evening a little way above the Rapid. Messrs. Ermatinger & Yale, who we expected would have been at Okanogan or nearly so with their horses by this time, are now encamped on the opposite side of the River. 

Tuesday 5. Very warm weather. While there is a little air of wind it is really warm passing over the burning sands. [He must have walked upriver “like a gentleman,” at least part of the time]. I lost some time this morning crossing the horses. In the evening we encamped below Rascal Rapid [Qualque Rapids], the poles were used all day except at short intervals when the oars were employed. Yesterday and today several more of the men are off work with sore hands or other diseases. Little Charles, [Jean Baptiste] Dubuois, McDonald, & Thomas are not able to work, the others are very little better. Paul is also unfit to keep the head of his boat.

Wedy. 6th. Continued our journey early and encamped early to gum the boats just above Stony [Rock] Islands. The boats were lightened & part of the cargoes carried both here and at Rend [Cabinet] Rapid.

Thursday 7th. Warm sultry weather, passed Piscauhouse [Wenatchie] River in the afternoon. Here we were detained some time mending Michel’s boat that got broke. Had a sail wind a little in the evening. Traded some salmon from the Indians.

Friday 8. Had a good breeze of wind and sailed the most of the day. The Wind, though warm, was a great relief from the scorching heat we experienced these [three] days past. Encamped in the evening a little above Clear Water [Chelan] River. A man from Okanogan met us in the evening with two horses.

Saturday 9th. Cloudy, but very warm weather. In the morning Mr. Connolly & I left the boats & proceeded on horseback to Okanogan where we arrived about 9 o’clock in the morning. Four of the boats arrived late in the evening, the other four are a little way behind.

At Fort Okanogan, the New Caledonia Brigade will separate from the Fort Colvile Brigades, with the New Caledonia men loading their packhorses for their journey north, while the Fort Colvile men continue up the Columbia River to their post, just forty miles south of today’s boundary line between the United States and Canada. 

Sunday 10th. The other four boats arrived early in the morning, when the boats were unloaded & the different outfits separated, when I distributed the Colvile goods, amounting to 123 pieces, independent of provisions and baggage, among three boats, and sent them down [to?] the big river to strip & gum the boats.

I don’t know for sure what this means: I presume that where the HBC men unloaded the boats was a little up the Okanagan River, near or at the Monte, where they “mounted” the horses. I suggest that Work had his three boats unloaded and reloaded at the Monte, and then sent them downriver to the junction of the Okanagan with the Columbia. Does that sound reasonable? According to one of A.C. Anderson’s maps, the Monte was a little distance up the Okanagan River and north of the Fort… And now to continue with the journal of the Fort Colvile Brigades:

Besides the above cargo, we have of passengers, a freeman, Lewis, Wife, daughter, & three children & slaves, Mr. McDonald’s wife and 3 children…

It is possible that this McDonald is Finan McDonald, as he went out of the territory in the 1828 Fall Express, did he not? Nope: wrong year! Finan McDonald went out in Fall, 1826, and so this is someone else.

…Mr. McDonald’s wife and 3 children, & an invalid, Boisvert, who embarks with myself, and all their baggage — and six men per boat. Six of these men are lent us from Okanogan. One of the men, Vivet, appointed to go to Colvile, being unable to work with a sore hand he returns below, & another, Gilbeault, goes in his place. 

Monday 11th. Went to the boats early this morning, but it was nearly 8 o’clock before they got done gumming, when we proceeded up the River and encamped for the night a little below the [Little?] Dalles. The current is very strong, we nevertheless got on well.

Tuesday 12th. Continued our route early in the morning, passed the Dalles, & encamped in the evening a little below the big Stone [Equilibrium Rock]. We spent some time gumming Charles’ boat. The boats had to be lightened at one place at the [Little?] Dalles.

Interesting! I had a question about this rock in my last post, and so did one of the people who read my post. The copy of John Works’ journal, “Journal of a Trip from Fort Colville to Fort Vancouver and Return in 1828,” published in Washington Historical Quarterly, XI 1920, has a footnote that says that the “big Stone is now known as Equilibrium Rock.” Previously I had guessed it was, and now I can say that it is probable that my guess was correct.  It does not, however, appear that the big Stone is Hellgate, as that is further upriver, not at the Sinapolish [Sanpoil River], but at the Stony or Rock Islands, as you will see below. The Source: the footnotes of the above mentioned journal! So now I know! 

Wedy. 13. Commenced our route early and encamped a little above the Spellum [Nespelem] River. Some more time was lost gumming Charles’ boat, in the day, the other two boats were to be gummed in the morning.

Thursday 14. Continued our journey early, & embarked a little below Sinapolish [Sanpoil/’Without Furs”] River. Lewis the freeman has been since yesterday not able to work with a sore hand but walking along shore like a gentleman. [Jean Baptiste] Chalifoux is also complaining of a sore hand, but has not yet given up working.

I wonder if John Work and the other HBC gentlemen were walking alongshore, “like a gentleman”? Some of his earlier comments make it appear as though he was. But “like a gentleman?” A lovely turn of phrase — that’s what I like about John Work’s writing: it is unique. 

Friday 15. Embarked early and encamped early to gum two of the boats a little above Stony Islands. [This is Hellgate!] We had to carry part of the cargo at one of the points below the islands. Chalifoux from work with his hand and walking along shore like a gentleman, leaving only five men in our boat. Met Robidarie [Robidoux], our horse keeper, it is some time since he left Colvile and has little news.

John Work’s journal ends here. It is likely he (and other gentlemen) took to horseback and rode ahead of the boats to Fort Colvile, which is now not too far away. Robidoux may have been added as crew to one of the boats — although I think it likely that his horse-managing skills would have been required on the gentlemen’s ride home. So this short thread has ended, and should you want to read the first half of this post, you will find it here: 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2024. All rights reserved. 



2 thoughts on “Fort Colvile Brigades

  1. Tom Holloway

    I think the “war” the Natives knew about was the January 1828 murder of Alexander McKenzie and four other HBC men by the Clallam natives on the Hood Canal in Puget Sound, and the punitive expedition in June led by Alexander Roderick McLeod and Aemilius Simpson, in which they destroyed the village of Dungeness and 27 cedar canoes, and killed 22 Natives.

    “Rivet” (father of the boys from Colvile) was Francois Rivet (1759-1852), a veteran of the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804, then NWC with David Thompson in 1811, and then HBC. (His stepdaughter Julia was Peter Skene Ogden’s wife.) Incidentally, when Work, going upriver, met Ogden going down, Ogden was completing the fourth of his six Snake Country brigade.

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