The fur trade “Harangue”

The brigades travelled over Lake Mountain to pass Hell's Gate Canyon

The explorers and their Native guides had crossed the mountains in the centre of the photo, and then followed Anderson River and Utzlius Creek up the range of hills to the north side [left hand of the photo]. He harangued the Natives at the top of the range of hills to the left hand side of the photo.

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and the Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May, 2024. I will try to keep you in touch with the links for ordering and pre-ordering, as soon as I have them myself.

In Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s journal of exploration, 1847, the explorer writes about a fur trade harangue. He doesn’t call it that, of course. But he harangued the Natives who accompanied him, and they understood his harangue, and listened to it.

Here is what his journal says, before the incident and during it. We begin as they reach the height of land above modern day Boston Bar, B.C. The group of explorers and their Native guides have clambered up Utzlius Creek and are probably approaching Maka Creek, on the plateau between Boston Bar and the Nicola Valley, in British Columbia.

As Anderson says in his later writing (and perhaps in his journal too) this is a newly opened trail. An old trail did exist down this hill but on the lower sections it was not horse friendly. Blackeye’s son, the Similkameen Native, had explored this new section of trail and was showing it to Anderson and his men.

Today, not being decided as to the line to be adopted we merely chipped the road, the Indians undertaking to finish it, under the superintendence of Pahallak. Having had proof of their willingness & capacity in this line, I have no hesitation in confiding the matter to them, more especially as the distance to be cut is short, the chief portion lying over bare hills. Our horses have not yet arrived, they ought to have reached this spot today, according to my appointment.

This morning at the encampment a scampish fellow from a village below the Forks (below Lytton, I believe) began playing pranks a la mode sauvage; thus expressing his discontent, assumed or real, at discovering that we have no intention of opening a road in that direction, as was hitherto supposed by the Indians… The scamp in question seized one of the men’s guns & attempted to pull off the gun cover. Discovering, however, his action, Montigny and myself advanced to prevent him; Mr. [Montrose] McGillivray with the others standing aloof, in readiness to repel any treachery on the part of the rest, would they have shown symptoms of interference.

They, however, betrayed no signs of sympathy. The chief actor in the scene upon being grappled with, evinced evident marks of trepedition and after a momentary hesitation yielded up the gun. I afterwards spoke to the Indians in plain terms, enquiring once for all whether we were to look upon them as enemies or friends in order that we might regulate our conduct accordingly, and whether I was to judge their disposition in general, from that manifested by the individual in question. They all denied in strong terms having any desire to side with him, condemning his conduct, and loading him with long winded objurgations with all the energy of their cacophonous dialect.

Some of the Native men who were present were very powerful people in their own right, or would become powerful. Tsilaxitsa was here, and Pahallak (see below). Blackeye’s Son was here, too. All these powerful men accepted Anderson’s harangue and recognized it, as something that they did themselves.

In fact, all fur traders harangued the Natives, at various time in their career. The harangue was something they had learned from the Natives. Chiefs all over the various traders harangued their tribal members, to encourage them to go to war or to stay at peace, or to welcome his neighbours to a potlatch or a gathering, and to convince them to do what he wanted them to do. Chiefly harangues were part of the Native culture that was adopted (and adapted) by the fur traders to encourage to Natives to hunt harder, to bring in more furs, to bring in more salmon or meat. It worked because the Natives understood what a harangue was — even the chiefly chiefs would sit and listen to the white fur traders’ harangue.

I have some fun imagining what a fur traders’ harangue might have looked like. If he was preparing to go to a chief’s village to harangue the chief himself, or his tribal members, he would have donned his top hat and dressed as well as he could. Peter Skene Ogden wore a tartan cloak and beaver hat. Governor George Simpson would not have harangued the Natives without his piper being present, I think. Archibald Norman McLeod wore the red jacket of his past military career when he dealt with the Natives. One dressed to impress — and acted to impress, too. The gentleman fur trader would have made a fine speech with broad gestures of his arms. He would have spoken in simple but strong words — though it didn’t really matter what he said as the Interpreter was the man who actually transmitted the speech to the Natives. But the gentleman would have paced his phrases so the Interpreter could keep up. The gentleman would have desired to appear as impressive as he could, in order to impress the importance of what he (or his Interpreter) was saying upon the Natives’ minds.

And the Natives would have listened, because the harangue was part of their culture. They may even have harangued him back.

Anderson even wrote in his Fort Alexandria journals, that he harangued the Natives of the home guard village. We know that all gentlemen of the fur trade learned how to harangue, and we know this because they “harangued” the fellow members of the fur trade back in Montreal, at the Beaver Club. This, from Carolyn Podruchny’s book Making The Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade [Toronto: UofT, 2006]:

The fur trade masters created their own niche by founding the Beaver Club, one of many dining clubs for Montreal’s merchant class. Membership in this all-male club was restricted to NWC bourgeois who had spent at least one winter in the pays d’en haut…. The Beaver Club met fortnightly in the off season of the fur trade, between December and April,with dinners beginning at four in the afternoon and often lasting until four in the morning…. The passing around of a calumet, or peace pipe, marked the beginning of the club’s formal rituals, which were continued with a speech, or “harangue,” made by the evening’s president, and formal toasts….

So now that you know what a harangue is, go out and harangue someone, and enjoy the fun of the whole experience. I don’t think you will get the respectful silence of the Natives who are listening, but you can try it on someone. Remember, no smiling. Be strong. Stand straight, and speak in a loud, clear voice. Use broad hand strokes and pause, so that your Interpreter can tell the audience (Native or not) what you really wanted them to learn from you. Listen in respect when you are harangued in your turn, or when the Chief also stands up to harangue his followers. This is the tradition of the fur trade — and one of the reasons why I have so many good stories to tell.

And remember that even Peter Skene Ogden, who had a high-pitched voice that amused the Natives, was successful in his harangues. The Natives may have smiled. But they listened.

For further information on some of the Native men that were listening to Anderson’s harangue: This is who Tsilaxitsa is:

Pahallak’s post is here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.