The Kettle Valley

The Kettle River Valley, part of the brigade trail system in British Columbia

This is the valley of the Kettle River, which the Fort Colvile brigades followed north and west to Okanagan Lake, the Similkameen River Valley, and the foot of  the Tulameen Plateau.

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. You may order or pre-order my book here:

In 1849 the Fort Colvile brigades under Alexander Caulfield Anderson came north to Kamloops, where they joined the New Caledonia brigades on their journey to Fort Hope. However, while they were at Fort Hope on their way home again, Donald Manson and A.C. Anderson came to blows. Anderson left the post with his goods while Manson stayed behind and worked on the road. For Anderson, his was the right decision for his post: there were not enough horses to pack all their goods in one trip. Anderson’s men made their way to Fort Colvile with whatever trade goods they could carry, and returned to Fort Hope for the second load. Governor Simpson’s son, George, informed his father in a letter written from Kamloops:

I am happy to inform you that Mr. [Henry Newsham] Peers’s new Route to Langley has been tried last summer, and found to answer very well, the fact of the Colvile and Thompson’s River [Kamloops] men having made two tips without any mishap is, I should think, a sufficient proof that the road is practicable. [George Stewart Simpson to his father, the Governor, April 18 1850, 96, D.5/28, HBCA]

The Fort Colvile men did not return to their home post by Kamloops, but traveled through the Similkameen and Kettle Valleys. It worked so well for them that this became their permanent brigade trail to and from Fort Hope. The Fort Colvile brigades used it in both in 1850 and in 1851, but in 1852 they came out to Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, WA]. It was not until 1856 that the Fort Colvile brigades traveled out by the Kettle and Similkameen Valleys once more.

In 1859, a Royal Engineer Lieutenant named Henry Spencer Palmer accompanied Angus McDonald to Fort Colvile by the brigade trail over the mountain and through the Similkameen and Kettle Valleys. His description of the route is fascinating, and I learned a lot from it. One thing I learned was that the part of the trail through the Kettle Valley did not run where I thought it ran!

From the east end of the Similkameen Valley, the brigade trail passed through Richter Pass where the brigade men had their “Crow Encampment,” likely on the shores of Richter Lake. Another camp was on the shores of Osoyoos Lake, where “two long sandy bars projecting from either side to nearly the middle of the lake, and connected by a ford, admit of a passage across.” Palmer’s journal continues the next morning:

September 28 — Today was cold but fine. We started late, having but a short days journey before us, and crossing the lake at the ford, traveled three miles in a south-easterly direction along its margin. The trail here takes to the eastward, following a long and gentle sweep up a divide in the Okanagan Range.

We took this route and camped five miles up the divide on a small stream [Nine Creek?] which runs into the Osoyoos Lake a short distance south of where we left it.

September 29-October 2 — as nearly the whole of the remainder of the route is in American territory, a general outline of the features of the country will be as much as is necessary.

Had James Douglas known that the brigade trail ran through American territory, he would have had a fit! And no wonder: at any time the brigades might have been intercepted by the American customs agents and their goods confiscated. Fortunately, none were on the Okanogan River, and no mention was made to them, by any HBC man, that parts of their brigade trail might have wandered into American territory. Of course, no one knew where the boundary line was at that moment, and the concerns the U.S. Customs agents had was that Fort Colvile was not supplied with goods via the brigade trail from Fort Hope. Hence, Fort Shepherd’s construction two years earlier:

So lets see where the brigade trail to Fort Colvile travels:

The trail on leaving Camp 11 [on Nine Creek, WA] runs a little north of the divide we had already commenced ascending. The slope is gradual, the trail good, the land terraced and covered with excellent round bunch grass, timber plentiful (viz. larch, pine, and aspen), and the soil of excellent quality. The summit 2,850 feet above the level of the sea commands a fine view of the Cascade Mountains west of the Similkameen…

It appeared to me, however, from present and subsequent observations, that this divide, after cutting through the Okanagan range, also separates part of a broad extensive chain intersected in a torturous line by the valley of the N-whoy-al-pit-kwu [Kettle] River and thence passing eastward along the parallel to Fort Sheppard [Shepherd], near which point it is divided by the Columbia; thence north of the Pend d’Oreille [Pend-d’Oreille] country, and nearly at right angles to the well-known Bitter Root Range, till it is lost amid the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

Passing the summit of the divide, the traveler soon strikes the head waters of the “Siyakan,” a rapid mountain brook which forks with the “N-whoy-al-pit-kwu,” 25 miles from the “Osoyoos.” The trail follows down this stream to its mouth and is generally good and at a gentle slope, except at the immediate descents to the “Siyakan” [Rock Creek] and the “N-whoy-al-pit-kwu.”

The “Siyakan” is Baker River in U.S.A, and Rock Creek in British Columbia. The “N-whoy-al-pit-kwu” is the Kettle River, which runs through both British Columbia and the United States. So the brigade trail did not mount Anarchist Mountain, but passed around its southern edge. I had heard it ran through American territory, but now I understand its route a little better. Palmer’s journal continues:

The distance from the Siyakan Forks to Fort Colvile by the valley of the latter river [the Kettle] is about 85 miles. After striking the “N-whoy-al-pit-kwu” the trail runs south of east, and soon crosses the frontier. Pretty alternating prairies, extending to a considerable size at the embouchure of valleys, light soil, good grass, mountains here and there falling bluff and perpendicular into the river, then retreating from it in low, broken, grassy masses, and a country generally park-like and pretty, complete the characteristic features of that portion of the N-whoy-al-pit-kwu valley comprised in the net two day’s travel.

The Kettle River curls south into American territory, almost reaching the town of Curlew, Washington, before turning north again and re-crossing the boundary line into British Columbia. In later years Ranald McDonald, son of Archibald McDonald of Fort Colvile, was buried in a beautiful spot above the river banks a few miles south of the British Columbia boundary line.

October 3rd-5th. On the evening of the 2nd October we again approached British territory by a long bend of the river to the northward, and camped on its right bank, in lat. 48 degrees, 59 minutes, 10 seconds N. From here the river passes north beyond the frontier, and augmented by a considerable branch for the northward (possibly the main stream) soon resumes its easterly direction.

The considerable branch from the north is the Granby River, and they are in the immediate locality of the future town of Grand Forks, British Columbia.

At the confluence of the three valleys occurs a large open plain, three miles by two, designated in the plan “La Grande Prairie.” That plain, which according to my observations lies within the British line, had, previous to our arrival, been devastated by fire, and the young green grass, just springing up, contrasted refreshingly with the dry yellow hue of the surrounding herbage. Little snow falls here in winter, and its sheltered position renders it an excellent “guard” for cattle and horses during that season.

“La Grande Prairie” might well be the Gilpin Grasslands Provincial Park, or it might be the valley where Grand Forks is. I suspect it is the former. Beyond that place they are approaching the south end of Christina Lake [which by the way, is named for Angus McDonald’s daughter, Christina McDonald].

Past “La Grande Prairie” the character of the valley changes entirely. The open timbered country gives way to a tolerably dense forest of young fir and other trees; the valley sensibly contracts and is walled in by mountains of solid quartz; pasturage hitherto so good and plentiful is difficult to find, and the river again roars along over a rocky bed and through precipitous mountain defiles. In this portion fords frequently occur, unavoidable owing to the steep mountain bluffs, and the river takes several remarkable horse-shoe bends. The same general character of the country, relieved here and there with patches of prairie and level bottom, extends to the mouth of the river (33 miles) where it empties with a roar into the Columbia one mile above Fort Colvile.

As it reaches Christina Lake, the trail dives south into American territory once again, and in short order they have reached Fort Colvile, on the Columbia River. Palmer says that they “crossed the Columbia, opposite the Fort, in bark canoes propelled by long six-foot paddles.”

The river at this point is about 400 yards wide in the fall of the year, very clear, and very swift. The Fort stands in a large open prairie, about 1,200 acres in extent, portions only of which are cultivated by Indians, the remainder being liable to inundation when the Columbia is at its height.

One mile below the Fort are the “Kettle Falls” of the Columbia, called by the natives “Schwan-a-te-koo” or “Sounding water.” I visited these falls during my stay at the Fort, and the clear blue water of this noble river dashing with a dull roar over a ledge of rocks 15 feet high, and sending a huge white cloud of foam into the air, is a sight well worth the short walk from the fort.

This description of the Fort Colvile brigade trail through the Kettle Valley is found here: Lieutenant Henry Spencer Palmer, “Report on the Country between Fort Hope on the Fraser and Fort Colvile on the Columbia River,” Great Britain. Colonial Office. Papers Relative to the Affairs of British Columbia, No. 33. As you can guess, the report contains a ton of information about the trail from Fort Hope to Fort Colvile, and is quite a good read. This report was published, in part, in the Okanagan Historical Society Journal of November 1, 1972, but the Kettle River section of the route is not included.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2017. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “The Kettle Valley

  1. Gary Mundinger (Okanogan County Historical Society)

    “Nine Creek” is Ninemile Creek. “Baker River” is Baker Creek.
    Thank you for the fine article.