Michel Fallardeau

Montrose McGillivray was a flashy dresser

The costume of French Canadian and Metis employees in the fur trade West of the Rocky Mountains.

Michel Fallardeau is one of my favorite men in the history of the West side of the Rocky Mountains before 1858; and a man who suffered a mysterious death. It is said he was beaten to death by Chief Trader Paul Fraser of Kamloops in 1855 or so — but was he?

It does not matter. It is a great story nevertheless.

Michel Fallardeau was likely Metis, born on the east side of the Rocky Mountains and coming into the territory with Edward Ermatinger’s incoming 1827 York Factory Express. Presuming that Michel was about 20 years old by that time (and he may easily have been two or three years younger), he would have been thirty-eight years old when he died. He worked at Fort Vancouver and Nez Perces for the first few years, and then was sent up to the Thompson’s River district. It is certain that he worked at Fort Alexandria, too, as James Robert Anderson (A. C. Anderson’s eldest son) knew him well. This is what James had to say of the man he knew as ‘Fallardeau,’ in 1849.

“In 1849, a horse trail having been constructed in the interval between the time of my father’s exploration and the above date, the route was for the first time used for the transportation of supplies to the various interior posts. In the year previous, my father had been transferred to the charge of Fort Colvile and we all moved to Kamloops where we, mother and family, spent the summer whilst my father was absent on his journey to Fort Langley…

“We were quite a large party on leaving [Fort] Alexandria, as besides ourselves, Mr. [Donald] Manson, his wife and family, were in the party, Mr. Manson leaving his family at Kamloops in our company during his absence to Langley. My sister and I rode our own horses besides Mr. Manson’s eldest daughter; my brother Harry, two years younger, also rode alone, but firmly strapped to the saddle, he being but five years old and personally attended by Tout Laid, the native of ugly countenance previously referred to [in his Memoirs]…

“I have good cause to remember Lac la Hache for it was in that vicinity the following incident took place. I was riding my spirited little horse Petit Centre mentioned before; we were on a level plain, my sister by my side, when an eagle’s nest distracted my attention, and carelessly dropping the reins, my horse in stooping to take a bite of grass stepped upon them and throwing up his head snapped them; in an instant with one bound he cleared the space in front where the elders were riding and set off at a mad race across the plain. My horse was by odds the swiftest in the whole brigade so that when I looked behind the last of them were seen far behind, my father alone was scouring across the plain in a vain effort to head me off. A hill on my left, I fervently hoped was in my line of travel, but no, the road took through a dense wood and I realized that my danger was imminent, so twisting my hands in the mane of the now maddened horse, I offered up a prayer….

“Shortly after entering the wood the trail was blocked by a fallen tree, which had jammed about six or seven feet from the ground, and the road had therefore deviated and been made round the stump. My horse never hesitated but rushed madly up the obstacle; holding to the pommel of my saddle I threw myself to one side and instantly had safely passed the obstruction, and before I realized the cause of a wild yell, found myself in the middle of a cavalcade of Indians who instantly captured my horse. As luck would have it, amongst the Indians was a French Canadian, Fallardeau by name, how he came to be there I do not to this day know, but it was through him I was enabled to make known my plight. A few minutes after my father came racing through the woods having made a detour, and after a time everybody else, the women folk in tears….” [Source: James Robert Anderson, “Notes and Comments on Early Days and events in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon,” (Memoir), personal copy, but other copies are in British Columbia Archives].

This was in 1849, and so I wondered how young James knew Michel Fallardeau. Fallardeau was not a member of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s 1846 exploring expedition between Kamloops and Fort Langley, but in 1847 he was one of the five men who accompanied Anderson, on foot, down and up the Fraser River canyons. He was not, however, at Fort Alexandria when Anderson arrived at that place in November 1842. In fact, I did not find a Fallardeau in the Fort Alexandria post journals until November 1845, when:

Tuesday 18th. Cloudy weather. The corpse [of a Native woman who died of tuberculosis] was buried today, with the usual forms. In the afternoon Mr. P[eter] Ogden, Junr., arrived from Stuart’s Lake accompanied by Fallardeau & an Indian in a canoe. He is come to meet the Express party. Fallardeau to winter here.

So it seems likely that Michel Fallardeau was not at Kamloops as reported, nor Fort Alexandria, but at Fort St. James, Stuart’s Lake. Fallardeau does appear in the Fort Alexandria journals at regular intervals that winter, and so that tells us how young James got to know him. He disappears from the journals but returns in October 1846, when he again winters at Fort Alexandria — a common practice as the northern forts were often short of food. In March 1847 he headed north to Stuart’s Lake again, He must have accompanied the outgoing Fort St. James brigade that spring, and been seconded by Anderson at Kamloops to accompany him on his 1847 exploring expedition. Obviously, Fallardeau stayed at Kamloops on his return from Fort Langley, because that is where we found him in spring 1848 — see above story.

Fallardeau was back at Fort Alexandria in spring, 1849, when on April 15 a Native named Meowtain arrived at Alexandria from the horse guard at Williams Lake, bringing the news that “Fallardeau was at the point of Death having but a slight pulsation at the heart when he (Meowtain) left. I this morning sent off Mr. F. McKenzie and Pierre Turcot to the Guard, Mr. McKenzie has taken a Lancet, a vomit and a purge with him..”

Fallardeau was still alive on May 12, but unfit for duty after what was, I suppose, a heart attack or a stroke. On May 16, Donald McLean sent some men to Kamloops, including “Fallardeau, who is too much frightened to remain here and whose services here will not be worth the food he would consume.” So a badly frightened Michel Fallardeau left Fort Alexandria with the brigade for Kamloops, where Paul Fraser was in charge. He would have arrived there in May 1849.

There is a bit of confusion with this story however, as in April 1851, in the Fort Alexandria journals, a Louis Falardeau arrived from the Fort Alexandria horse guard bearing letters from Kamloops. There was a French-Canadian named Louis Fallardeau in the fur trade, but in 1851 he worked at Fort Victoria. Was this a mistake on the part of Donald McLean, or is this a relative of the Michel Fallardeau we have been talking about — a son? We don’t know. This is the difficulty of writing early history stories!

It was, however, Michel Fallardeau who was killed at Kamloops, Presumably in 1851 though no one really knows. They do know he did die though. From Reverend A. G. Morice’s The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (formerly New Caledonia) [London, John Lane, 1906], comes this story about Paul Fraser and Michel Fallardeau:

If he [Paul Fraser] was so curt with his brother officers, we may well imagine what must have been his temper while dealing with the servants. At  that time clubbing and flogging were the devices resorted to in order to enforce obedience or punish a wrong. Now, it happened that for some offence, the nature of which is not remembered, he gave (at Kamloops) to one of his men, a French Canadian named Falardeau, such a brutal beating that the poor fellow died of it. As Baptiste, an Iroquois, was planing and bending the planks intended for the luckless man’s coffin, Fraser happened to pass by.

“What are you doing with these boards?” he asked of the Iroquois. “Rough, unplaned boards are good enough for that rascal.”

The Iroquois, surprised at such a remark under the circumstances, stared a moment at his master; then, with the brutal frankness proper to his race:

“Hehm! When you die you may not have rough boards to be buried in,” observed the labourer.

Two months later Paul Fraser was on Manson’s Mountain, seated in a large tent by the side of [William] Manson, who accompanied his brigade, and the men were variously employed in preparing the camp when a crash was heard, and a big tree, which a Canadian was felling, came down on the tent, instantly killing Paul Fraser, who was reading his correspondence. So it was that he who had grudged a decent coffin to the victim of his own brutality had to be returned to Mother Earth without any kind of coffin,

So far this story has not been written with any primary records to confirm it. I wonder if that is what really happened? Some local historians have wondered if Paul Fraser’s death was murder by his employees, to punish him for murdering Fallardeau. But was Fallardeau murdered? No one knows. However, I have an HBCA reel waiting for me in the Library. Perhaps, by the end of the day, I will have the answer.

An update: The reel did not have the answer, but I just found this, in “Fort Kamloops Journal kept by Paul Fraser, 1850-55,” A/C/20/K12A, Transcript, BCA:

[1852] Thursday 18th [December] this Morning the Indians Came to inform me that Michel the Horse Keeper had shot himself by placing the Gun against his brest and setting it off with his foot. The Cause assigned is that his sister and Michel had a quarrel in the Evening

We know that Michel Fallardeau had a wife from the Kamloops area. We also know that he had been horsekeeper at Fort Alexandria, but had chosen to return to Kamloops. I wonder if this was him — I think there is a fairly good chance that it was, but I will keep digging!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.