Building Fort McLoughlin

Furs at HBC replica fort at Fort Langley, B. C.

This selections of furs is displayed at Fort Langley, but the same furs would be found at any HBC fort in the territory.

And so the Hudson’s Bay Company men have arrived in McLoughlin Bay, in what the HBC men on the coast called Milbanke Sound, on the North West Coast. They have found a location for their new fort and are ready to build. As you see from the last blogpost, John Dunn has already had a bit to say of their first brush with the First Nations people, the Heiltsuk. Now, let’s see what other members of the team have to say, of incidents that occurred at a later date. 

The HBC ship, Ganymede, arrived at Fort McLoughlin carrying further goods and “cole” [coal], interestingly, which it quickly discharged before sailing north for the Nass River and Fort Simpson. On Sunday, August 18, the Dryad “Set the sails & took 7 passengers on board & weighed. Saluted the fort with 5 guns which the same number was returned from the fort. Then proceeded down Millbanke Sound.” The ship was probably sailing south for Fort Vancouver, her job now completed. As you see from the last blogpost in this series, the Llama had already sailed, so there was now no ship guarding the post.

John Dunn tells us that “The Indians are numerous, and divided into three different tribes. The chiefs are Wacash, Oyellow, and Kyete. . . They have several villages that they shift to at different seasons of the year. Their winter villages are strong built houses, particularly those belonging to the chiefs.” [History of Oregon Territory].

A.C. Anderson’s story continues. “Our operations proceeded rapidly, and by the month of October the area of the fort was well picketed in, bastions constructed at the corners, and several substantial houses within.” Hubert Howe Bancroft, an American historian who obtained much of his information from Anderson, says that “the work of fort-building began in June, and was completed for safe occupation by October.” He continues:

The square enclosed in pickets eight feet long and two feet in circumference, mortised into a square log sunk into the earth, was one hundred and twenty feet on each side. Inside the pickets ran a gallery, and in each of the two bastions were mounted four nine-pounders, with small-arms and ammunition. The usual buildings were erected within. Watch was kept night and day, for the savages here were dangerous.

In his record of the incident at Fort McLoughlin, author Bruce McKelvie [in his Tales of Conflict] gives quite different measurements for its size. “It was roughly 140 yards by 150 yards in extent: its palisades were strong, built of eight-inch logs, mortised into squared logs at both top and bottom. It had two bastions and galleries. But there was a serious weakness about this fort; no good drinking water was obtainable within the enclosure. Water had to be carried from outside the walls.” It is more likely, perhaps, that the fort was 140 feet by 150 feet, as Dr. William Fraser Tolmie stated in his later description. 

John Dunn has much to say of the trades made with the First Nations people, who were used to trading with American ship-captains. Dunn writes:

After the Dryad left, we pursued our work; the building of the fort progressed with great vigour and during its erection, we pushed on a brisk trade in furs. I was appointed to the post of trader, acting under Mr. [Donald] Manson, as governor of the fort. My instructions were to lower the price of skins; give in payment useful, substantial, and lasting articles; and endeavor to do away, if possible, with the injurious and degrading article of spirits as a medium of barter: as the American vessels had previously been here, and had given immense prices, and sold spirits, so that the company’s vessels should be debarred from the whole trade. This exasperated the Indians against me; and they gave me the name of “Shloapes,” ie., “stingy:” and when near them, if I should spit, they would run and try to take up the spittle in something; for, according as they afterwards informed me, they intended to give it to their doctor or magician; and he would charm my life away. But they were much disappointed to find me there for sixteen months afterwards.

The Hudson’s Bay Company men found the Heiltsuk friendly enough, although they were known to be dangerous. “The fort was like a magnet,” Kenneth Campbell, author of North Coast Odyssey,  wrote, “attracting aboriginal hunters and traders from as far north as the Skeena River. The Heiltsuk people became the middlemen, since the fort was on their territory, and traded furs through centuries-old routes reaching far into the interior mountains.” Those old routes were the same grease trails that NWC explorer Alexander Mackenzie had followed to the Pacific Ocean in 1793.

In his “Memorandum Respecting Millbank Sound, 3rd January 1834,” Anderson said that “Deer of the Black-tailed species are abundant here, but the Indians are too lazy to hunt them much. About 130 have perhaps been obtained since our arrival among them. The Mountain Goat is found on the mountains adjacent, but we have procured only one of these animals. Wolves, Martens, Minks, etc., abound.” [Mss 559, Volume 1, folder 6, BCA] Salmon were also abundant here. “Close to the fort is a small rivulet up which the Salmon proceed in the autumn, in this nearly 100 salmon have been hooked in a few hours by the Gentlemen of Fort McLoughlin.” William Fraser Tolmie, who will arrive at this fort in December 1833, gives a little more information on this stream and the fish which were caught in it:

Had a walk with Anderson after breakfast. We visited the two lakes which give origin to the burn, entering the sea a short distance from the fort and in the autumn abounds in salmon. The gentlemen used to amuse themselves this fall in catching the fish by means of a large iron hook fixed to the extremity of a pole 5 or 6 feet long, which hooked the salmon by the belly. They have in this manner caught 100 in the space of two hours. [William Fraser Tolmie, Physician and Fur Trader, Journals of William Fraser Tolmie].

Anderson reported on the next incident that occurred at this fort.

So far no serious disagreement with the natives occurred, or if any had occurred through the imprudence of our maritime protectors, the differences had been checked with a firm hand and in a kindly spirit. Unfortunately, however, about the first of October one of our men, named Richard, a French Canadian, was found to be missing; inquiries were made of the Indians, and the answer received so evasive that we judged it proper to seize one of the chiefs and hold him as hostage. [History of the Northwest Coast, BCA].

Historian Bruce McKelvie noted that “Dr. Tolmie, who was at Nisqually at the time that the affair took place,” recorded that “Manson thrashed a French-Canadian workman named Richard. The man deserted. It was thought that he had gone into hiding at some nearby Indian camp.” [Tales of Conflict]. In his book, History of the Oregon Territory, John Dunn also wrote of the desertion of the fort by Joseph Richard.

Everything went on favourably until the month of October; when, to our surprise, one of our men deserted and joined these savages. He was a Canadian. And, as we were given to understand that he was with one of the tribes in the neighbourhood of the fort, called “Kyete’s tribe,” (Kyete being the chief’s name — but nicknamed by an American captain, Boston), we sent for this chief; but previous, however, to this, we offered to give them blankets, ammunition, and other articles, if they would bring him back; but to no purpose. We, therefore, knowing the value the natives set on their chief, detained him in the fort, thinking this would induce them to come to terms; and we informed them unless our man was given up, we should send their chief to the governor at [Fort] Vancouver. During this time we were living in the enclosure which was not farther than ten feet from an impenetrable wood, in boarded temporary houses and tents. The bastions were built; but we had not our big guns properly placed.

You will notice that we now have the explanation for Kyeet’s name of “Boston,” which I questioned in my last blogpost in this thread. See:

There are no post journals that cover this period of time, but there is a report titled “Extracts from the Diary at Fort McLoughlin, Millbank Sound, in relation to an affair which occurred at that place, 10th Oct. 1833.” In this report (found in the HBCA), written by Donald Manson, Joseph Richard was reported missing, and “it is supposed went away with Indians. Some Indians of Kyeet’s tribe arrived about noon, and we offered them a reward of two blankets and other articles, for the bringing of Richard. This they did not seem inclined to do, and seem to wish to avoid giving a direct answer to our inquiries.” On Friday, October 11:

Rainy. . . Toward midday Boston (or Kyeet), a chief, arrived, and we again offered the reward above mentioned for bringing our deserter, but as they now denied any knowledge of our man it was thought advisable to detain Boston, as hostage for the return of Richard. This we did, after summoning all the people into the Fort. Various precautions taken in case of disturbance, and the men employed inside the Fort. Two men set to guard Boston by turns in the kitchen during the night, and the watch on the galleries doubled.

A bold move, indeed: Bancroft himself tells us that it was “deemed imprudent to stir far from the fort” after Kyeet’s capture. Anderson said, “Tyeet, the chief in question, was a well-disposed Indian, as we supposed, and we found it difficult to reconcile the contradictory statements that we induced at various periods of our enquiry, yet nothing further could be done save to retain him until some intelligence of our missing man should transpire.”

Manson’s report says that “Indians mustered numerous on the beach. Fort Gates locked, and no egress allowed, Indians harangued during a long time. Boston shewn our means of defense in the Block houses: and we express our intention of keeping him until our deserter should be brought back. They still deny any knowledge of him, but we have every reason to suppose that they know where he is. One of our men who was on his way to breakfast on the morning of Richard’s desertion, saw him making signs to an Indian in a canoe; as it were, bargaining for a passage, and the deserter did not make his appearance to breakfast. Richard has borne a very bad character for some time. Towards evening the Indians, with the exception of a few, departed.” Anderson said that

Everything remained quiet and undisturbed for a few days, yet I could not but suspect the untoward tranquility that reigned around. It was a Sunday, and not a soul was to be seen outside the fort, save only a solitary Indian seated by a small fire on the opposite side of the Bay. Evening came on, and the men asked permission to go outside for water. Reluctant to do so at that late hour, I declined to give the keys without the sanction of my superior; which being given, the men went out leaving two only within the fort, who were appointed to guard our hostage; and one who guarded the wicket. I myself went out, having my pistols upon me, and leaving my other arms where they were easily accessible, for I had my misgivings, and they were very shortly realized. [“History of the Northwest Coast,” BCA.]

Manson’s report stated that “Part of the people of Oyullah (a Millbank chief) came up to the Fort, and spoke to Boston. Wacash (a chief of this place) arrived in a small canoe and after talking some time, went over and made a fire on the Point opposite the fort. About 4 o’clock, as there were apparently no Indians about, part of the men were allowed to go to fetch water (Mr. Manson having previously taken the precaution of getting on the gallery himself). The watering place being at the left-hand upper corner of the Fort, and the people having filled their kettles there, a shout was given from the Point, and Mr. Manson (suspecting something) had scarcely time to call to the people to run to the Gate, ere Indians made their appearance on all sides . . .”

The stage is set, and the action has begun! Cruelly, I will leave you at this point, and you will discover what occurs on this occasion, in the next blogpost. When it is posted, it will appear here:

In the meantime, if you need the exact sources for any of my quotes, ask me and I will dig them out. I am still writing this piece myself — my next project. In this pandemic, we, who research in archives we can no longer get microfilms from, have to make do with stuff we have already researched. Fortunately for me, I was really lucky during our lockdown, having just completed all the research for the book I wanted to write. Well, almost all, as you will see.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved.