Anderson Lake to Lillooet Lake

Birkenhead Portage and Anderson Lake

Here we see the west end of Seton Lake and Birkenhead (now Seton) portage. Beyond lies Anderson Lake, named in 1858 by Alexander Caulfield Anderson, for himself and his own family. 

In this post we continue with the story of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s expedition from the Kamloops post to Fort Langley in 1846. This is the first of the four “explorations” that he made, but in all but one of these he was guided by First Nations men. In this case, his guide was an “Indian of the Lakes,” named N-poomsk. Anderson does not say how far N-poomsk traveled with his party: he may have gone all the way to Fort Langley, or he might have abandoned the expedition at Lillooet Lake or another place.

So we ended our last post at Seton Portage. His party faced another lake, and his journal reported on his experience of walking down the north shore of today’s Anderson Lake. Yes, Alexander Caulfield Anderson named this lake, but not until ten years later. Here is his journal. The date is May 20th, and he had departed the Kamloops post five days earlier.

Embarked, and breakfasted upon a low point of land some miles up. The mountains are lower in this vicinity than those that border the 1st lake [Seton Lake], and the country altogether wears a more agreeable aspect. This lake is a mile or two shorter than the first, by my computation. On arriving at the end we found the aspect of the country quite altered; and though the mountains in the back-ground are still covered with snow, the low-lands wear an agreeable appearance and vegetation is very forward. Another camp of Indians here [N’Quatqua First Nation at Darcy, B.C.], who received us like the rest.

After a short delay we set out at 3.20 pm to cross the portage to Harrison’s River, by a valley leading SW. Several branches unite to form the principal stream [Gates River] at different points hereabout. One of these we followed.

Road thus far (from end of lake) very good, except that in some spots it is pebbly.

Beyond the end of the lake (where there are groves of Columbia Red Fir) [Ponderosa Pine] vegetation undergoes a change; assuming much of the character distinctive of the vicinity of the N.W. Coast, in general. Cedar, the Yew-leaved Pine, the sanguine currant, with an underwood of salal, prevail.

Thursday 21st — Fine weather. Set out at 4.30. At 6 reach height of land, where there is a large isolated block of granite, bearing an impression closely resembling that of a human foot. The Indians call it “the Foot-Stone,” and have, of course, a marvellous tradition connected with it.

The story that Anderson heard was that of the Transformers, magical people who organized the lives of the First Nations people who lived here and on the Fraser River. One Transformer stamped his foot into the rock to mark the boundary between the Upper St’at’imc, who lived on the lakes Anderson had passed through, and the Lower St’at’imc, who lived along the rivers his party had yet to travel. Anderson’s journal continues:

Fall upon a small stream running down, and after crossing, follow its course, which bends around shortly to S & W, when the mountains on the opposite side of the Lillooet, or Harrison’s River, are opened to the view.

After breakfast fall upon a stream from right [Birkenhead River] of greater magnitude than the first. The two unite; but the steam now alluded to, before the junction, disperses into several branch, which after a while reunite. We crossed these branches in detail, upon the drift wood with which they are choked. But the united stream might be crossed either above or below these ramifications, either by fording or a bridge. For the latter purpose every facility exists.

You will remember that Anderson is looking for a brigade trail, and so he mentions these options as things to consider, should it be decided that the new brigade trail follow this route. For the same reason he has mentioned the pebbles in the trail at the beginning of the portage. At this point he is looking at this route as a combined boat-and-horse portage, and as you know, pebbles or stony ground can damage the horses hooves and lame them. Let us continue:

At 4pm we reached Lillooet [Mt. Currie]. The road in this end of the portage is not so good as at the other end. There is a good deal of heavy wood to clear away (cedars, chiefly) for some distance along the bank of the river, which is timbered with magnificent trees of the cedar and other kinds. But the chief difficulty in considering its facilities for a horse road, consists in several rocky points which abut upon the river. There is, however, nothing, in as far as I could judge, to prevent the construction of a road, by rolling aside boulders and filling up the interstices in such spots as the obstacles might not be avoided by making a circuit. There are three of these impediments, from 50 to 100 more yards in length. The labor of ten men for a month would effect much in rendering the portage available. The services of a score of Indian boys and men might be procured at any easy rate, to assist in clearing away stones and the like, should the formation of a road be deemed expedient upon consideration of all the circumstances.

Upon arriving at Lillooet we found a channel, some 50 yards wide, lying between us and the village, seated upon a low grassy island of considerable extent. Similar meadows exist in different directions around, affording excellent pasture…

These Indigenous people had no horses, and so the reference to the pastureland that surrounded this First Nations village was for the HBC horses, should this trail be used for the brigades. His journal continues:

The back-ground is mountainous. As far as my search extended I did not see any favourable spot conveniently situated for an establishment, having the maintenance of a horse portage in view. But it may be presumed that, should the idea ever be entertained, a narrower search than the state of our provisions enabled me to institute, would prove successful. The chief objection was the lowness of the immediate banks of the river, but both above and below, dry woody points appears. Two rivers unite a few miles above [Lillooet River from the northwest, and Rutherford River from the West], to form the stream which is here dispersed into several channels. Its course at this place, East.

I thought that Anderson had reversed his compass, but he has not: the Lillooet River flows to the south-east here. Anderson’s report to the Board of Management, written from Fort Langley, explains how he still considered this a possible, though difficult, route for the brigades.

From the end of the lakes a portage of 30 miles conducts to Harrison’s River. It might, at the expense of some labour be rendered practicable for horse-transport. There are no hills of any moment. The chief impediments consist in the stoney nature of the ground, by which the hoofs of horses would be liable to injury; in two or three rocky points which abut upon the river; in fallen timber at certain spots; and in several streams which it is necessary to cross. But the last three of these obstacles might, I consider, be overcome if found necessary, by rolling away boulders or filling up their interstices; by the free use of the axe; and by constructing bridges where necessary. Approaching Harrison’s River fodder is scarce — at the north end it is abundant; as likewise a great degree upon Harrison’s River, where there are several low meadows [Pemberton Valley] adequate to the support of several hundred horses.

At one of the villages these men encountered on their way downriver, a nervous parent may have hidden his child, in case of danger. Anthropologist Douglas Hudson told me the story of a Lil’wat man, who remembered that his many-times-great-grandparent had been hidden away because strangers were coming down the river. Hudson calculated the generations and realized the strangers might have been Anderson’s party on their way down the Lillooet. Anderson had no way to know of the hidden child, of course, but in his journal he described the Indigenous people he found at the top of end of Lillooet Lake [Mount Currie]:

The natives whom I saw, amounting in all to about 50 men with women and children in proportion, were suffering for want of provisions, and were unable to supply us any.  They ascribe the dearth to the state of the water, which impedes the usual fishing. The inhabitants are very miserably clad, and exhibit every symptom of abject poverty. They possess, however, some good cedar canoes, made after the model of those seen on the coast. After some parlaying I succeeded in hiring a couple of these, together with the necessary conductors. Embarked after 7 o’clock, and after proceeding three miles encamped on a low point at the entrance of a considerable lake [Lillooet Lake] trending off SE.

Friday 22nd — Fine. Made an early start. The lake is about 20 miles in length. At the end a small rapid; then still water for several miles….

We will pause here, at the end of Lillooet Lake. Ahead of these men lay modern-day Little Lillooet Lake, and the rapid-filled section of Lillooet River, where Anderson learned to appreciate the canoeing skills of his Lil’wat “boutes.” They knew their river, and brought his party safely down to Fort Langley. Ten years later, this same section of rough river would cause problems for the gold-miners who made their way into the interior by this river road. However, we have plenty of time to talk about that in later posts. My next post in this series should bring Anderson and his men all the way to Fort Langley. When it is written, you will find it here:

To go back to the beginning of this series, go here: 

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