Henry Newsham Peers’ Journal

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

In 1848, the horse brigades came from right to left over Lake Mountain in centre of picture, and up Anderson River to the top of the mountains to the left. Hell’s Gate Canyon is behind the hill in the foregound, on the right side of the image.

My book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, was published by Ronsdale Press in July 2024. You may purchase the book through your local bookstore, by via Amazon. For American booksellers, the distributor for Ronsdale Press books is Independent Publishers Group. Thank you!  

James, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, described Henry Newsham Peers — who kept the journal of the incoming 1848 brigade — as a man of “quite a gay temperament, handsome and debonair.” From Bruce McIntyre Watson’s book, Lives Lived West of the Divide, I have a partial biography of Henry Newsham Peers:

Henry Newsham Peers was hard drinking but worked competently in the dying day s of the fur trade. Expelled after eighteen months at the Royal Military Academy at Woolrich but having picked up very valuable map making skills, he joined the HBC as an apprentice clerk in January 1841. A fine violinist and a good  oil painter, he was transferred to Fort Vancouver in 1843 and in 1846 during his five year stay there, was the member for Vancouver in the Oregon House of Representatives. In 1848, he joined A.C. Anderson in trying to establish a new brigade route north of the 49th parallel from Kamloops to Langley, recommended to Coquihalla valley route and oversaw the construction of Fort Hope in 1848-1849….

I kept stumbling on Henry Newsham Peers as I did my research for my next book, and the book that follows. The earliest date that I have found him is in 1847, when James Douglas writes that he is a “Clever, steady, active young man of great firmness of character.”  In 1848 Peers traveled from Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, WA] to Fort Colvile with the outgoing York Factory Express. [Source: “Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, March 24-October 29, 1848; Thomas Lowe, Hudson’s Bay Co, Fort Vancouver, 1848.” Transcript A/B/20.4/L95jA, BCA]:

1848. March 20, Monday. About 3pm I started from Fort Vancouver with three boats in charge of the Express, but one of these boats is to return from the Chutes, and accompanies us merely to assist in carrying our boats & property across the Portages, and to make a stronger party in case of any danger from the Indians. When we started the Fort fired a Salute of 7 guns, as did also the Brig Mary Dare. Mrs. Ermatinger & daughter, Bishop Demers, and Mr. Robert Logan cross the Mountains, and Mr. [Henry Newsham] Peers accompanies us as far as Colvile, from whence he is to proceed to New Caledonia.

Lowe traveled to Fort Colvile overland via Grand Coulee, while Henry Peers went upriver in the boats. On April 19 Lowe reported that, “Mr. Peers arrived with the horses after breakfast. The boats got to Okanagan on the 12th, and started next day [for Fort Colvile]. He left Okanagan on the same day as the boats and came up on the North bank of the River. Having got amongst the snow in the Spokan Mountains, he had to make towards the River where the road was clear, and lost upwards of two days in consequence. He has brought 5 additional horses from Okanagan, but left one of those from Walla Walla on the road.”

When Lowe left Fort Colvile heading north to Boat Encampment, Peers stayed behind to help the men take out the Fort Colvile furs to Fort Langley, over the 1848 brigade trail via Anderson’s River. When I wrote my book, I did not know that. Unfortunately if he kept a journal of the outgoing 1848 brigade journey it was lost! [Many personal goods were lost crossing the Fraser River with scows at Spuzzum, on the outward journey, and a few horses were drowned]. His journal of the incoming New Caledonia, Kamloops, and Fort Colvile brigades is the only record that we have of the disastrous 1848 brigade journey across the mountains from Fort Langley [on the lower Fraser River] to Kamloops!

However, in spite of the many disasters, difficulties, and the one suicide, the men did arrive safely at Kamloops post. On August 24, 1848, the Gentlemen had a meeting, in which they assigned Henry Newsham Peers the job of re-exploring Anderson’s 1846 trail over the Coquihalla plateau. This is what the report to the Board of Management, Fort Vancouver, said. It is written in controlled fury by Chief Trader Donald Manson:

We have now tested [the new route’s] advantages and disadvantages thoroughly, and I have no hesitation in declaring it as being utterly impracticable for a large Brigade such as ours, the rugged rocky mountainous & thickly wooded country which lies between Frasers River and the Plains, say a distance of about 45 miles and which took the Brigade ten days to pass, seven of which the horses were entirely without food is in my opinion sufficient in itself to condemn this Route; these however are not the only impediments to the new road, the hosts of Barbarians who are congregated on Frasers river at that season and among whom we have recently passed, under circumstances where neither courage, prudence nor precaution could avail, to resist surprise or guard against treachery, if more than sufficient to deter us from again attempting that route. I am sorry to state that not withstanding every precaution which prudence would dictate, a serious loss has been sustained, both in pieces & Horses, say 14 of the former and 35 of the latter and this loss (with the Exception of one Bale of Goods) was sustained between Ke-que-loose & “La Riviere la Grimace” [Maka Creek] which I am sorry to declare is by far the worst portion of the route. The road from Ke-que-loose to the traverse with the exception of one short hill, where perhaps two hours would be required with a spade, is as good as can be expected in a thickly wooded country, indeed it is with the exception of the hill in question merely a level from one end to the other. With respect to Douglas’ portage, were it not for the crossing of [the Fraser River by] the horses, which will always be attended with great risk in the summer when the water is always high, and also the total dearth of fodder for those animals, in other respects I consider it, that is as far as the road is concerned, perfectly practicable. Viewing our affairs as at present situated, it is absolutely necessary that active measures be immediately adopted to discover some other route for the Interior Brigade, and with a view to this object we have determined on sending Mr. Henry Peers to [re-explore] Mr. Anderson’s return route, summer 1846, as from Indian report there is a possibility of shortening and at the same time of avoiding  the impediments met with by Mr. Anderson that season. Mr. Peers has instructions to be most [minute] in describing every particular regarding the route he passes through and, as he now possesses the necessary experience to enable him to judge what is required for a Brigade Road, I for one will have every confidence in his Report, on reaching Langley he is to proceed to the Columbia unless he should meet one of the Board at Victoria in which case of course his future proceedings will depend on that gentleman’s decision. I however most particularly request that he be sent back again immediately to New Caledonia. Mr. Peers is well qualified to give you every information regarding the past summer’s campaign and to him I beg to refer you for any particular I may have omitted in this hurried letter… Donald Manson

Both Alexander Caulfield Anderson and Henry Peers wrote their own reports to Donald Manson. This is what Henry Peers’ report said:

 I only speak of that part of the Route from the Traverse on Frasers River [south of Hells Gate Canyon] till we reach the open country which by my journal I perceive took us no more than 10 days, a distance I should say of not more than sixty miles during most of which time, it cannot be denied but that the horses were starving or at all events eating nothing but leaves or such fodder as is generally found in woods and which affords very little nourishment. From the last mountainous point, a distance of perhaps fifty miles, the road is decidedly as good a one as could be wished for; an open and comparatively level country with water and grass in abundance [Coldwater River]. That part of the communication from Fort Langley to Fort Yale is tedious, but only present difficulties which could be ultimately overcome, if not by method and attention to the lading of craft, at least by choosing a better stage of the water. Douglas’ Portage with the exception of the ravine (the ascent and descend of which I think steeper than, but by no means so long as some hills on the route) forms a good road and has advantages; there is feeding at either end which the middle part of the route does not possess.

The traverse [of the Fraser River at Spuzzum village] is a dangerous place for crossing horses where the water is at its height, and I think will always be so, as the current is there too strong for the proper management of scows.

Annexed is a list of pieces lost and horses missing or dead on this voyage, as your request, which I think of itself will show that I have not painted the difficulties we encountered in their darkest colour, and I would finally remark, that had it not been for the novelty of a Brigade passing through the mountain Indians (who rendered us so much assistance in finding strayed pieces and bringing them to the camp) which naturally pleased and made them [unfeared] to be honest and useful, we would doubtless have lost a much large proportion of property.

Peers’ list of missing animals I cannot read, but the rest is clear: The brigade lost 4 bales sundry goods, 2 rolls Tobacco, 2 bags each 1/4 cwt Ball & Shot; 5 bags Salt. Each bag weighs ninety pounds. That was an awful lot of trade goods!

This post is part of my “Following A.C. Anderson Around British Columbia” series, which could be a book in itself some day. To go to the next article in the series, click here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/salish-wool-dog/

It is exciting times, and always fun (and hard work) to start a new book!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. [Updated, August 26, 2015] All rights reserved.