Little Stories from Scraps of an old Manuscript

Furs at HBC replica fort at Fort Langley, B. C.

This selections of furs is displayed at Fort Langley, but the same furs would be found at any HBC fort in the territory. For the Natives, these furs were warmth and clothing, while the meat of the animal provided food, in a territory that had little food to spare.

Hidden away in the B.C. Archives is a magical little document written by Alexander Caulfield Anderson, in which he writes stories of the things he learned from the Natives that lived around him in the years between 1835-1848. Some of the stories contained in this posting also came from Natives he lived close to in Saanich, when he was retired from the HBC. The manuscript was written many years after he lived at a fur trade post, and probably after British Columbia had become a province in 1866. Some of his observations came from the time he was at Fraser’s Lake post. Most came from the time he was in charge of Fort Alexandria, on the upper Fraser River south of Quesnel, B. C. Much of the time he was describing the Dakelh people he knew at both of those posts, and the Secwepemc people he also knew at Fort Alexandria, whose northern boundary was a short distance south of the fort, at modern-day Soda Creek, B. C.

I should say that this is not a manuscript, but manuscript scraps spread over a number of files in his son’s collection in the British Columbia Archives. It seems that James Robert Anderson cut up his father’s old manuscript and inserted parts of it in his own writings. Most of the manuscript is lost — only these scraps remain.

The first of the stories come under the heading of Death and Burial, and what Anderson describes in the second paragraph of this section I find very interesting. I always wonder if these cairns are in the Chilcotins and around Fort Alexandria, and if this is where “Blackeye, the Similkameen” and his people came from.

Amongst the Indians of the plains & of the interior [of British Columbia] the dead were placed on platforms well raised from the ground so as to be out of the way of beasts of prey & protected with wood well weighted down with stone. The property of the deceased was generally placed with the body.

Burying the dead & erecting a cairn of stones over the remains was undoubtedly the custom of some former inhabitants of the country, as numbers of those cairns are still to be seen but of which the Indians have no traditions. I have opened several of them and in every case I have found human remains with sometimes what looked like bits of matting. The bones are invariably contained in a small cavity, not more than 18 inches long & a foot deep, over which rests a huge stone. This is surrounded by a circle of other large stones & on this the cairn of stones and earth is built.

Do any of these cairns still exist, and does anyone know where they are? I presume they are in the Chilcotin: they are not local, as far as I know. To learn about why I believe this could be Blackeye’s origins, see this post: This theory will never be proven, of course, but it is interesting that Blackeye’s people were people known to bury their dead under rocks and landslides. Today the people who are supposedly descended from Blackeye, the Similkameen, are called the Stuwix. To the HBC men in the 1840’s, however, Blackeye was a Similkameen Indian who lived on today’s Tulameen River, then called the Similkameen. (On one of the Royal Engineer maps drawn shortly after 1858, the Tulameen River is called the “Upper Similkameen, or Tulameen.”)

Let us continue: In these same manuscript scraps, Anderson also describes the Dakelh [Tacully] who lived in the territory around Fort Alexandria and at Fraser’s Lake. I put two scraps of paper together to make this statement, and have also edited it for clarity. This might not be the way it appeared in the original manuscript, wherever that may now be.

The interior Indians of the mainland of British Columbia I divide into two great branches. That part of the country towards the headwaters of the Fraser, Chilcotin, Peace River, Cassiar & roughly all that part to the Northward of the 52nd degree of Latitude, [is] inhabited by [the Tacully], termed Carriers (or Porteurs by the French Canadians)… These Indians as their name denotes did much of their travelling on foot, carrying their property on their backs. They also did much of their travelling (in summer) in canoes of rude construction as the water facilities of their country are good, there being large lakes & stretches of river comparatively without rapids, the Rocky Mountains here falling away very much. These are the people of whom I have probably spoken as trading their furs for fish oil with the Coast Indians — the oil is taken by them far into the interior; some of it finding its way to the Peace River on the Arctic watershed & possibly thence to the Mackenzie River, of which the former is a tributary.

I have a friend who grew up at Monte Lake, who remembers the eulachon oil arriving at that place.  It is likely that, to this day, this healthful fish oil travels east from Bella Coola and other places on the coast, to Indian bands in the interior.

Anderson also speaks a little of the Secwepemc in this manuscript scrap, and for me, as a writer, this was a valuable piece of information:

The other great branch of Interior Indians are those inhabiting that portion of British Columbia to the southward of Latitude 52, and are generally termed Shouswaps from one of the principal tribes in the valley. These people principally do their travelling on horseback and have very little knowledge of the art of constructing canoes, the only use they ever make of them being just for the purpose of ferries where the water is too deep to ford.

So knowing that little fact, I was able to write in The Pathfinder, that the explorers’ familiarity with Secwepemc canoes enabled them to cross a swollen river in safety. Like it or not, the “crazy old canoe” Anderson and his exploring party used to cross the Deadman River in 1846, was probably typical of all Secwepemc canoes built by these horsemen!

Anderson wrote quite a bit about the canoes he knew in British Columbia in this manuscript scrap — canoes both in the interior and on the Coast where he lived for many years. The Chinook canoes he would have seen on the Columbia River. I think the other canoes he is describing here might have been built by the Natives who lived on Brentwood Bay, North Saanich, near his house on Wain Road:

On the mainland, in the interim, canoes were never much used as the Indian preferred horses as a means of locomotion, hence they never attained great proficiency in the art of constructing them. Rude dugouts made of cottonwood, & indifferently (finished) birch bark canoes served all the purposes for which they were required [for the] Kootenay. On the coast, however, great perfection was attained in the art, inasmuch as canoes were their only means of locomotion & in many cases very rough seas had to be encountered. Their long, low & sharp fishing canoes can be seen gliding noiselessly about to this day, as well as the stately canoe used for traveling, called the Chinook Canoe, from an Indian tribe of that name on the Columbia River. These canoes (from which it is said the model of the American clipper ship had been taken) are models of beauty with their graceful overhanging bows & beautiful runs aft. The northern canoe, although as sea-worthy & as large, is not nearly so beautiful in its lines, nor so fast.

Before iron implements came into use the labour involved in making a canoe was very great & not to be lightly undertaken. Unlike most Indian arts in which all equally excel, canoe making was only excelled in by a few, & in undertaking a contract, they were sure of being pretty well paid. The first thing was to look out for a suitable cedar tree, (the coast canoes being always made of cedar). The right tree having been found it was felled by means of fire & a suitable length severed, also by fire. Superfluous parts being split off by means of bone & stone wedges, the canoe maker set about fashioning it out with stone chisels & adzes, occasionally using fire where possible. After the outsides were partly finished, the inside was burnt out as far as possible & finished off with rude stone implements, the constructor carefully gauging the thickness by placing one hand on either side. After the canoe was pretty well finished, it was stretched by means of fire being built in & about it, water being thrown on to create steam. Stretching consisted of spreading the canoe amidships to the required width & placing round thwarts every here & there, the end of which were sewed through the sides of the canoe with cedar roots or boughs. The ornamental parts of the bow & stern were placed on last, being sewed or pegged to the main canoe. Ornamentation consisted of painting the inside red & the outside black, sometimes figures were painted on the outside on the bow. The joints of shells were often used by being driven into the wood about the bow. Paddles were made of maple, yew, yellow cedar & ash. Sails were made of mats & always used, I believe, as square sails, with yards. The large canoes when managed by a good crew of Indians will live in almost any sea. On their hunting trips after seals &c they frequently went out of sight of land for several days together. As an indication of the immense size of some of the trees used for canoes I may mention that I have stood upright in one & have been unable to see over the gunwale. [Edited for punctuation and clarity].

So, back to the Dakelh: Another scrap of paper in this collection says, “The names of deceased persons were never mentioned as it was considered unlucky & a breach of etiquette.” Anderson’s son, James, found that out as a youngster at Fort Alexandria. In his Memoirs, he wrote a little bit about the Dakelh persons he knew:

A curious custom among the Carrier Indians was that of calling out the word Naltoosh if any article fell to the ground, the article becoming the property of the person first making the exclamation. Once whilst munching a bun (a rare treat in those days), it fell to the ground and a young savage immediately called Naltoosh and made a grab for the bun. But I was too quick for him, securing my bun and retreating into the house.

Another curious custom was the forbidding of mentioning the name of a deceased person in the presence of a relative. Now an evil looking Indian who went by the cheerful designation of “The Murderer” (why I do not know), had lost a daughter who had been christened Katrine by the Jesuit Priest, Pere [John] Nobili. My mother had a native servant girl by the same name. It so happened once when “The Murderer” and some of his tribe were squatting in the outer hall waiting for an audience, I called for Katrine. Immediately remembering my mistake I began to retreat, when “The Murderer” got up and motioned me to come to him. Lord, how terrified I was, and lost no time in retreating to the protection of my Mother’s room. [Edited for punctuation and clarity]

I wrote about “The Murderer” here: 

One last word: on Clothing. I don’t have what he had to say about the Natives in the interior — only this, re: the coastal people:

To the westward of the coast range & especially as the sea was approached, other articles were utilized for clothing, such as the hair of the mountain goat, the hair of a certain breed of dog which was bred for the purpose (now I believe extinct), the fibre of cedar bark, the latter sometimes mixed with hair or strips of fur, were spun & woven into blankets & articles of clothing.

In as much as the Natives of the coast were mostly canoe or fishing Indians, moccasins were not so much in use & the use of trousers or leggings were also dispensed with, a waist cloth being substituted by the men & the women wearing a skirt made by twisting dog hair into a deep fringe several yards long, which went round their waists several times & hung down to the ankles. This way of dressing was more convenient for wading in water & getting in & out of canoes. Some of the blankets manufactured by the coast Indians were very elaborate & veritable works of art, the patterns of the more northerly tribes resembling those of the Egyptians or Assyrians a good deal. The colors used were principally red & black, the former being made from the bark of the alder & from a red earth, & the latter from charcoal, I believe. Other colours, all of a dingy appearance, were got from different plants. Head dresses were not worn except in very cold weather, when caps of fur were used, or for ornament when a band ornamented with feathers, porcupine quills &c was worn round the head.

Of course I have written about the Salish Wool Dog, here:

There’s lots more here, but like I say, much of the manuscript is missing. A shame. I would love to know if the complete manuscript exists anywhere. Perhaps he wrote this for the Royal Engineers, and it is in Library and Archives Canada or wherever the Royal Engineers’ papers ended up. It would be fun to find it — but an almost impossible task, I think.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.