Peace comes to Fort McLoughlin

Walter Birnie Anderson's painting

This painting was done by Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s son, Walter Birnie Anderson, who was a member of the B.C. Police in the Comox area.

Peace came to Fort McLoughlin when Donald Manson, the man in charge of the HBC fort, allowed some of the First Nations men who had besieged them into the fort for medical treatment. The date was October 15, 1833, and some Heiltsuk men, under their chief, Kyeet or Tyeet (who also carried the nickname of Boston), stood outside the fort walls.

About 11 o’clock, Boston arrived with some of his people. Himself and three others were allowed admission. They brought a wounded man with them who was found to have received a ball through the ear, which afterwards entering the shoulder had come out in the lower part of the back. The wound was dressed, and after some talk, in which Boston made great promises, the following articles were presented to him: 4 striped Blankets; 4 fathoms Red Baize; 1 Broad red belt; 1 Gilt frame looking glass; 1 lb. soap; 1 pound brass wire; 4 heads [yards, perhaps?] Tobacco; 1 tin kettle, one gallon; and 1 pot [illegible]. It is necessary to remark that the presents now given to Boston as an inducement to bring back the deserter [Joseph Richard] had only the effect of making him say that if he had got him he would bring him, but that he was ignorant of where he was.

And so a negotiated peace came to Fort McLoughlin. While Kyeet was still in the fort, Manson reported, “Two of our people, together with two of his, went and fetched water while he remained in the fort. He told us to be cautious for some time, for although he and Oyullah were well disposed, the sentiments of Wacash were not yet known; that several of Wacash’s people were killed, among whom was a man of consequence, and that revenge might prompt him to cut off some of our people, should they go out frequently.” 

And so, a fragile peace came to Fort McLoughlin. 

As I mentioned previously, there were three chiefs here: Kaite [Kyeet/Tyeet], Oyullah, and Wacash. Donald Manson told Kyeet that there was now no reason for going into the woods: “that our houses were all built, but that if we sent out for water, we would take care that our people should not be unprotected.” When the First Nations men departed, peace comes to Fort McLoughlin once again. 

On the following day, October 16, at about 10 o’clock, “two or three of Boston’s people brought another wounded man together with the one brought yesterday. A shot had entered the thigh of this one, but the wound had a good appearance. After dressing it we gave them some tobacco, and told them to encamp on the point to be at hand to get their wounds dressed, which they accordingly did. Shortly after Boston arrived. He came to beg a little more rum, saying that he was going to the village of Wacash, and that he wished to have some to drink with that chief, and that he was going to endeavour to persuade him to peace.” The chiefs were very interested in negotiating peace at Fort McLoughlin, as you can see. “We gave him a gallon, telling him that we gave it merely to shew that we did not wish for war, but that whatever Wacash might say, we were quite prepared for him. He made a speech to his people on going out, and afterwards went away in the direction of Wacash’s village.”

On October 17, the wounded Heiltsuk men came into the fort to be treated. In the evening, “Boston arrived, and from the outside told us that he was just returned from Wacash’s village, and that some of the chiefs of that tribe would come and speak in the morning.” Kyeet asked for permission to encamp under the fort’s palisades, which permission was granted. Manson’s report continues: 

Usual precautions taken. The Indians of Kyeet’s tribe have for the last few days supplied us with water, for which we give them Tobacco, which does away with the necessity of sending men for it. 

It is interesting to take note of some of the traditions of the fur trade: to see how the First Nations people asked the HBC men to honor them with celebrations that might have resembled their own traditional celebrations. For example: On October 18, a cloudy day, two canoes arrived at the fort at about 9 am. Among them were some of Wacash’s tribe. “They put ashore on the Point opposite the fort. After talking some time with Boston, the latter requested us to fire a big gun, and that they would return it.” As we can see, the return of peace to Fort McLoughlin was certainly a complicated process!

This we did, and it was returned by them with a swivel which Wacash possesses. He then asked us to hoist the flag as a sign that we would not hurt them as they came over, as they were timid — we did this — saluting the flag as it went up. The Indians then came over; and one of them was pointed out as a chief whose brother was killed. We invited them into the Fort, but Boston alone chose to come. They told us that they wished for peace, but that this (little?) chief who had lost his brother was sick at heart; that he wanted some present as a remedy. We told him that we had no objection to giving a few blankets to smooth matters, but that we did not like to see him stop outside as if afraid of us. He said his heart was sore and he did not like to come in — that he wanted a musket and powder &c &c. We told Boston that when we made presents of muskets, it was a sign of war and that we never did so in a treaty of peace, and besides that if this chief expected to be well received, he must come inside and speak for himself.

Boston went out of the fort with this last message, but still the Wacash chief refused to come in. Instead he and his canoe-men showed their displeasure or distrust by leaving the area of the fort, although Boston returned, visiting until early afternoon. As Manson’s report indicated, this was the situation as it stood on November 1, 1833.

Other men who were at the peace negotiations at Fort McLoughlin also reported on what happened there. John Dunn, author of History of Oregon Territory, tells us that the Heiltsuk informed the HBC men that

one or two Indians had been wounded in the previous conflict; and wished to know if they came, since peace had been proclaimed, whether we would dress their wounds; to this also we willingly consented, and the patients were restored quite recovered. This conduct on our part, in receiving and healing their wounded, made a very favourable impression on them; and they exhibited every pacific disposition. We kept, however, within the fort for several weeks, until their vindictive feeling would completely have cooled down, and by that time we became mutual friends. Trade then again commenced at a brisk rate; and we went on building and clearing ground as usual, for the completion of the fort, and the preparation of our little farm. As I began to speak their language, so I increased in favour with them. 

In October 1833, Chief Factor John McLoughlin wrote a letter to Donald Manson, indicating his pleasure that peace had returned to Fort McLoughlin, and that it was placed in a good situation for trade. McLoughlin also told Manson that Anderson was to be replaced by another HB clerk, William Fraser Tolmie. Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, who got his information from Anderson in later years, wrote about this as well:

It was the custom of the company, as I before remarked, when one of its officers had experienced trouble with the natives of one locality, to remove him to another post, that he might not remain a mark of offence to the much-tempted children of the forest; hence shortly after the Indian disturbance in which he had slain at least one savage, Anderson was sent back to the Columbia.

Good lord! Those are definitely Bancroft’s words, and neither Anderson’s, nor Tolmie’s.

Tolmie stated “that he first met Mr. Anderson at Milbank Sound in December 1833,” Bancroft wrote. And in fact, from Tolmie’s own biography, we find that the ship he travelled in “anchored off Fort McLoughlin” on December 23, 1833. “Dr. Tolmie, who came to relieve him [Anderson] in December of the same year,” historian Bruce McKelvie wrote, “gives additional information that emphasizes the important part that young Anderson played in repelling the design of the Indians to capture the fort. He was a remarkably good shot, and at least one Indian fell before his aim… It was Anderson who stopped the rush on the fort, Dr. Tolmie reported.”

This Anderson is, of course, my great-grandfather Alexander Caulfield Anderson, and I did all this detailed research in order to write my first book, The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West. I have one or two copies left, and if you wish to order one from me the book costs $20. It is also still available as an e-book, I believe, through Amazon — but who doesn’t want a paper book????

It looks like I have more to say on this story, and so the next post, when published, will appear here: 

If you want to return to the beginning of this thread, go here: 

My book, The York Factory Express, has just been published and people who have ordered it should be getting it soon. If you haven’t ordered it yet, then do so here:

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

4 thoughts on “Peace comes to Fort McLoughlin

  1. Dave Simpson

    Do you know where the painting depicts? If Walter Bernie lived in Comox the scene looks like it could be Kye Bay.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      I don’t know. Walter Birnie Anderson worked at Fort Simpson (Port Simpson) but not for the HBC; he was an inspector of Indigenous orchards I believe. Then became BC Police at Cumberland and, maybe, Comox, where he was also a newspaperman and a carpenter/house-builder. After that he returned to Victoria about 19-teens or twenties, lived in Oak Bay where he used to go out in his boat and (I think) paint. It’s hard to know where this painting was done. But he was in Comox for years, early 1900s, so good possibility.

  2. Judy Kane

    Love all your articles….. always in search of info on my great great grandparents, Joseph & Josette Rondeau. We live in Minneapolis close to Ft. Snelling and Coldwater Spring where the Rondeau family and many other families were forced out. They went on to found St. Paul Mn