Fort Shepherd Stories

Fur trade building at Fort Langley

Fur trade warehouse at Fort Langley, the same as found in any fur trade fort

Well, now that I have entered the Similkameen and Kettle River areas again, it is time to relax a little and tell some stories that are just-plain-fun! So, lets look at a story about Fort Shepherd, where Jason Allard worked in 1866 to 1870. Jason was Metis, the son of Ovid Allard of Forts Langley and Yale, and his Indigenous wife.

Fort Sheppard! [sic] The very name conjures up a scene of wild Indians, long fur brigades and pack trains, hunting expeditions and wild border scenes of those times, 60 years ago! when I was an officer in charge of the Hudson Bay trading post on the Columba River. Fort Shepherd — today a heap of stones marks the pace where a great chimney of the Officers’ Quarters collapsed a few years ago. That, and tangled grasses and wild goats alone remain of the busy centre of civilization in the wilderness of British Columbia’s interior country in the days of my youth.

To me, however, that flat above the river bank three quarters of a mile north of the boundary is again picketed, and within the rough stakes I see the storehouse, two warehouses, men’s quarters and officers’ lodging all of hewn and squared logs. I see more — the Indian village with its 200 to 300 men and women and children, camped in the vicinity of the post. That is the way I will always remember Fort Shepherd, for that is the way I saw it.

It was in the summer of 1866, on the ninth day of July that I was ordered to proceed from Fort Yale to join the pack train leaving Fort Hope for the interior. I was instructed to report at Fort Shepherd as accountant, and if Joseph Hardisty, the man in charge, saw fit, to act also in the capacity of Indian trader.

Hardisty is Joseph Wordsworth Hardisty, probably born at Fort Albany in 1823, and son of Richard Hardisty and Margaret Sutherland. I wonder how many modern-day occupants of British Columbia realize how many Metis people worked and lived in this province in the early years. Their descendants are still here, and sometimes they are still facing the racism that comes from people who think they are “Indian.” I have met three such prejudiced people. This is, in part, why I write about the Metis.

Fort Colvile was forty five miles to the south [of Fort Shepherd] in the State of Washington. This had been in older days the centre of activity in that country and was still an active and profitable post, although soon to be abandoned. Mr. Angus McDonald was in charge there when the boundary line dispute had made it clear that Colvile was to be included in the United States territory. Fort Shepherd was erected to save the territory.

On receiving my orders to join the brigade, I hastened to Hope where Roderick McLean, who was in charge at Keremeos, was preparing the long train of fifty mules for the long trail to Fort Shepherd. While McLean was stationed at Keremeos, he was to go through with the outfit. Frank Richter was at the Similkameen post, where they bred horses.

I have no information on Roderick McLean, except that he had worked as an axe-man for the Boundary Commission surveyors. The Similkameen post (here called Keremeos) was built on one of the bends of the Similkameen River, where downtown Cawston stands now. Cawston is just east of modern-day Keremeos, and I have driven through it, unaware of its history, many times over. Edward Huggins drove a herd of horses from Fort Nisqually [Tacoma] for the horse raising operation. and the post was built in 1860 by Francois Deschiquette (Dechiquette) who had been sent west from Fort Okanogan. He, too, was Metis, born in 1819 to another Francois Ducharquette, and Marie Marguerite Okanogan.

It was a long slow trip from Fort Hope over the old trail to Keremeos, then over the hills [via Richter Pass] to Okanagan, and over Boundary Creek mountains and on to the Columbia. We arrived at our destination on August 4, 1866. There were a lot of furs at the post ready for packing, and they were to go out with the brigade, but no one seemed to know anything about packing them. Joseph Hardisty, who was in charge of the Post, did not know the correct way to bundle them, nor did McLean. “Perhaps young Allard does,” McLean suggested. “What does he know about packing furs?” said Hardisty. Coming to me, however, he asked if I knew anything about it. I told him that I did — that I had been born in the service. “Well, get busy then and see what you can do, will you?” So I went to work, and had the men build a press, and before long had them properly packed into bundles for the mule train and away they went. Before that the furs had gone to Fort Colvile, so that was the first time they had done any packing at Fort Shepherd.

The fort was built on a gravelly flat, about sixty feet above the river. It consisted of the officers’ Quarters, a long building for the workmen, a store, and two warehouses. It did not have bastions or other defence works usually associated with the posts of the Company, and in place of the high stockade we had a picket fence. Just why they never fortified the place I never could understand, for the Indians were about as mean a bunch as any I had ever met. It was only their Chief — a splendid fellow — who prevented them from becoming a real trouble. His name was Gregoire, and he was a fine type of Indian who ruled his tribe with an iron hand. He had a fine type of social organization and did not hesitate to have some of his warriors publicly whipped, if they broke any of the rules he established for the conduct of his people. He was a great friend of the whites, and was a frequent guest at the tables of the officers at Fort Colvile and Fort Shepherd.

I had not been long at Fort Shepherd before I had reason to know that the Indians were not as tractable as those nearer the Coast.

These were Sinixt people, I believe. This is the only comment I have on the intractableness of the Sinixt people, but perhaps my experience is limited to the stories of the York Factory Express going through the region before 1854. Interesting. But Allard would know.

There was a young fellow named Lenfesty at the Post, and he wanted to become Indian Trader in place of the man who had occupied the post, and who had been transferred to Wild Horse Creek. Lenfesty came to me and asked if I did not think he could do the work. “Well, Fred, I don’t know,” I replied. “You say you had some experience last year: there are two things however to remember — never have two prices, and never on any account let an Indian think you are afraid of him.” A short time later, Mr. Hardisty asked me what I thought of letting Fred try the work, and I agreed that he might make good. I promised to help him.

It was three or four days later that I was working away on the books. An old medicine man whom we called Doctor Allsolo was sitting in my office as was his custom, smoking. He would squat there by the hour, never saying a word. I was surprised, therefore, when he reached up and touched me. “What’s the matter?” I asked. He only pointed out of the door and grunted. I looked and saw Fred running across the Fort yard as fast as he could, with a big Indian named Kee-asstem-asnickick after him with a knife. I made a grab for my revolver but missed it. Then I tried to pick up the long ebony ruler as I ran, but missed that too. I had no time to waste if I was to save Fred, so I ran after the Indian as fast as I could. Just as I caught up to him he turned and made a thrust at me, but I was too quick for him and caught his arm and wrenched the knife away, and broke it. Then I kicked him out of the gate and down the pathway….

There is more to this story, as Kee-asstem-asnickick attempted to shoot Allard with bow and arrows, but failed. “I knew instantly that it was Keeastem who was trying to get even with me for the affair of the afternoon. I made a run for the office and got my rifle and went after him, but by the time I got down to the river bank I could hear his canoe grating on the other shore. He did not come back for a year…” A man named Louis Lee, who knew the Sinixt language and had a lot of experience, was appointed to the position then held by Lenfesty. Does anyone know who he is?

A beaver skin was the chief unit of trade in those days. It was valued at $2.00. A marten skin was worth the same. We got a lot of them at Fort Shepherd, also foxes, both red and silver, Wolverine, musquash [muskrat], Grizzly, Brown and Black bear, mink, weasles, and marmots. The same season that I went to Fort Shepherd the price went up as high as $5.00. This resulted from the great fire that extended over a great portion of the North-West, from down Puget Sound to away up the Coast.It was the worst fire that ever the Indians had heard of, and it destroyed thousands of animals. I recall seeing a Grizzly bear emerging from the burning woods that summer, with the fur all singed off. He was a pitiable, yet a comical looking object.

This “great fire” would have occurred in 1866, I presume. Does anyone know anything about this story? I wonder if this is the same fire that Susan Allison encountered as she rode over the Coquihalla? It may be, but I can’t at the moment locate her book.

Marmots were fairly common, and the Indians relished eating them. I remember in 1867 bringing a pack train over the hills to Fort Shepherd. I wanted to push on, but the natives persuaded me to camp at a place they selected. I did not realize at first why they wanted to stop at that particular spot, but after we pitched camp they nearly all disappeared, only to return after a little while with a umber of marmots. Talk about a banquet! They gorged themselves on the roasted animals and danced and sang all night, but next morning there was not an Indian that could walk. Every one was sick.

I will not forget my reception at the fort when I got in. Everything was excitement, and Mr. Hardisty told me that the brigade, and $80,000 worth of merchandise for us and for Wild Horse, would be seized. In bringing in supplies through the United States it was necessary to enter properly and take a Customs Guard through United States territory. This the man in charge of the brigade had neglected to do, and it was learned that the Customs Officers at the Little Dalles were waiting to seize the whole train of 80 horses.

Wild Horse Creek was to the north and east of Fort Shepherd, where modern-day Fort Steele stands. There had been a massive gold rush and thousands of miners had swarmed the area. My great-uncle Constable Henry Anderson, of the B.C. Police, was run out of Wild Horse a few years later, by an Indigenous chief called Little Isadore, and this is the incident that brought Sam Steele, of the North West Police, to the place where Fort Steele was built.

“Jason,” exclaimed Mr. Hardisty, “you will get one hundred pounds if you can save the train from seizure.” “Which side of the river are the Customs men waiting on?” I asked. “On the other side, on the trail.” “That’s good.” I called together a number of Indians and got two white men — woodchoppers who had been wintering there. They were inveterate gamblers. Together we started for the Little Dalles. I sent the gamblers across first, after providing them with some money, then I left my horse and the Indians on the other side and went over too. I started chumming with the men in the combined trading-store/stopping place, and saloon, and pretty soon a card game was started. The gamblers commenced losing the money I had given them, and every now and then I would call the players to have another drink.

After a while I said I was going to my room, having hired one there. I slipped out of the window and ran down to the river, and signalled to one of my Indians, who came over. I at once mounted my horse and rode to meet the brigade. While we had been entertaining the Customs men and others, the Indians had secured every boat and canoe and raft on the river, and had taken them across the stream. I met the brigade a short distance away, and the men shipped up their horses and we went past the Little Dalles as fast as it was possible for the animals to make it with their loads. The Customs men rushed out and down to the river, but they could only stand there and shake their fists. It was a close shave, alright, and I never got the reward either. I met one of the Customs men at Fort Colvile later, and he said: “I think I have met you before.” “You must be mistaken,” I told him. “Didn’t I see you at the Dalles?”

Source of this story, and many others: E/D/Al50, BCA. Jason Allard. Enclosed sketches of early life in B.C.

When the next post in this series of stories is written, I will add it here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.