Paul Kane leaves Jasper’s House

flintlock guns

Like the First Nations people, all Metis hunted; it was and is part of their upbringing and culture.

Artist Paul Kane was not impressed with the little post of Jasper’s House, but, fortunately for him, the incoming York Factory Express did not remain at the post for long. They were coming across the continent very late in the year (for the Express at least), and winter was approaching. In fact, it is early November, and it could be said that winter was already here!

So, the date is November 5, 1846, and Paul Kane’s journal entry says this of his departure from Jasper’s House:

We started with a cavalcade of thirteen loaded horses, but as we did not expect to be able to get the horses across the mountains, I got an Indian to make me a pair of snow-shoes. 

Normally, the horses of the incoming York Factory Express passed the Committee’s Punch Bowl Lake and went all the way down the Grande Coté (Big Hill) to Boat Encampment, on the Columbia River. This year, the HBC men expected that snow would block their passage, and the men would snow-shoe across the mountains to the banks of the Columbia, where they hoped the Fort Colvile boats were still waiting for them.

 The Indians about here do not number above fifteen or twenty; they are the Shoo-Schwap tribe, and their chief, of whom I made a sketch, is called “Capote Blanc” by the voyageurs — in their own language it is Assannitchay, but means the same. His proper location is a long distance to the north-east; but he had been treacherously entrapped whilst travelling with thirty-seven of his people, by a hostile tribe, which met him and invited him to sit down and smoke the pipe of peace. They unsuspectingly laid down their arms, but before they had time to smoke, their treacherous hosts seized their arms and murdered them all except eleven who managed to escape, and fled to Jasper’s House, where they remained, never daring to return to their own country through the hostile tribe. Capote Blanc was a very simple, kind-hearted old man, with whom I became very friendly.

On Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s 1867 map, Capote Blanc’s encampment or village site is shown as being located at the southern end of Cranberry Lake, which is at the end of the Cranberry River which flows northward into the Fraser River at the HBC’s historic Tete Jaune Cache. Capote Blanc was well known to the HBC men: Thomas Lowe found him at Boat Encampment one year, and in another HBC journal I found him at the Kamloops fort. Those First Nations people who were called Shuswaps in the HBC days are now known as Secwepemc, and their territory is large, encompassing all of these places. I wonder which eastern tribes drove Capote Blanc back to the Jasper Valley, assuming that Paul Kane’s statement is correct.

Paul Kane’ doesn’t seemed to have liked Jasper’s House, as his journal continues:

We left this inhospitable spot about noon, and crossed the river in a small canoe, to where the men were waiting for us with the horses, which they had swum across the river in the morning. We rode on till 4 o’clock, and encamped in a small prairie, of which I made a sketch. 

November 6 — We made but few miles of progress today, being obliged to encamp at La Row’s [Larocque’s] Prairie in order to pasture our horses, our next stopping place being too distant to reach that evening.

In 1822, Chief Trader Joseph Félix Larocque had constructed a substantial post on the west bank of the Athabasca River, where Cottonwood Creek flowed in. [Remember that the Athabasca River flows from the south toward the north, which will help you picture this in your mind.] In 1824, Governor George Simpson passed through Jasper Valley on his way to the Columbia District, and ordered the post closed down. The name remained. It was apparently such a short lived post that it is not even mentioned in Ernest Voorhis’s “Historic Forts and Trading Posts,” unless it is listed under a different name.

So, let us continue with Paul Kane’s journal:

November 7th — We made a long day; our route lay sometimes over almost inaccessible crags, and at others through gloomy and tangled forest; as we ascended, the snow increased in depth, and we began to feel the effects of the increasing cold and rarefaction of the atmosphere. 

November 8th — We saw two mountain goats looking down on us from a lofty and precipitous ledge of rock, not exceeding, to all appearance, a few inches in width. One of the Indians who accompanied us from Jasper’s House to take back the horses, started to attain a crag above them, as these animals cannot be approached near enough to shoot them from below, their gaze being always directed downwards. They chanced, however, to see him going up, and immediately escaped to an inaccessible height.

All Métis men hunted; even if they did not need the meat. It was hard-wired into their genes and part of their culture, and perhaps it still is. At times the HBC gentlemen (Robert Campbell) ordered their men not to shoot more animals than they could eat; and at other times the gentlemen (James Anderson) took their guns away so they could not shoot. But as you also know from previous posts, the HBC gentlemen were almost as anxious as their men to shoot a few animals! I guess you could say it was the culture; but the white settlers who came later were almost as blood-thirsty.

The leaders of the Brigade began to worry about the men and boats supposedly waiting for them on the far side of the Portage, and sent the Guide ahead to ensure they would wait for the brigade’s arrival. If they had not done this, the Fort Colvile men might headed downriver, and after their departure the men who arrived at Boat Encampment would have starved and/or frozen to death, as they had no provisions left.

They encamped that night 

at the Grand Batture, where we found some snow-shoes, which had been hidden by the party that had come out in the spring.

To reach the Grand Batture, they passed through the next encampment, which was called the “Buffalo Encampment,” or Prairie de la Vache. Aemelius Simpson described this encampment, which was “a small plain, extending from base to base of the bounding Mountains, with a small stream meandering through it.” After passing that encampment, they branched off the Athabasca River and followed the Whirlpool River toward the mountains and Athabasca Pass. It WAS a long day’s journey! To get to the Grande Batture, they also rode through Moose Encampment. 

The Grand Batture is today’s Scott Gravel Flats, and it is 24 miles south of Moose Encampment, and 14 miles from the summit of Athabasca Pass. Beyond the Grande Batture, but a few miles north of the summit, was the camp these men called Campment du Fusil, or Gun Encampment (now known as Kane Meadow, for the author of this journal.) Kane’s journal continues:  

We had not proceeded far before the horses stuck fast in the snow, and we were obliged to encamp on the spot to give those men who were unprovided, time to make snow-shoes, without which they could not proceed…

November 11th — We sent two experienced men in advance to beat the track for the new beginners, and made our first essay on snow-shoes. Some of our men succeeded  but indifferently in the attempt, having never used them before; and the shoes, which we made the day before not being of the best description, materially impeded our progress. The shoes which the Indian had made for me at Jasper House were particularly good ones, and I found little difficulty in their use. Mrs Lane had also taken the precaution to bring a pair with her, as she had been accustomed to them from her childhood at Red River, where they are a great deal used, she proved one of our best pedestrians. 

I wrote about snow-shoes and snow-shoeing here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/snow-shoes/

We encamped early, making for the first time what is called a regular winter encampment. This is only made where the snow is so deep that it cannot be removed so as to reach the ground. The depth to which the snow attains can be calculated by the stumps of the trees cut off at its former level for previous camp fires; some of these were twelve or fifteen feet above us at the present time, and the snow was nine or ten feet deep under us.

This might be at what is later called Kane Meadow. But as you see from this journal, the snow at this encampment was nowhere as deep as it will get only a few months later!

Some of the old voyageurs amused themselves by telling the new hands or Mangeurs du Lard [those Canadien boys who had just joined the HBC in Montreal], that the Indians in those parts were giants from thirty to forty feet high, and that accounted for the trees being cut off at such an unusual height.

It is necessary to walk repeatedly with snow-shoes over the place chosen for the encampment until it is sufficiently beaten down to bear a man without sinking on its surface. Five or six logs of green timber, from eighteen to twenty feet long, are laid down close together, in parallel lines, so as to form a platform. The fire of dry wood is then kindled on it, and pine branches are spread on each side, on which the party, wrapped in their blankets, lie down with their feet towards the fire. The parallel logs rarely burn through in one night, but the dropping coal and heat form a deep chasm immediately under the fire, into which the logs are prevented from falling by their length. Into this hole an Iroquois, who had placed himself too near the fire, rolled a depth of at least six or seven feet, the snow having melted from under him while asleep. His cries awoke me, and after a hearty laugh at his fiery entombment, we succeeded in dragging him out.

He rolled through the fire, and was hauled out through the fire? These men WERE tough!

November 12th — Today we attained what is called the Height of Land. There is a small Lake at this eminence called the Committee’s Punch-bowl; this forms the head waters of one branch of the Columbia River on the west side of the mountains, and of the Athabasca on the east side. It is about three quarters of a mile in circumference, and is remarkable as giving rise to two such mighty rivers; the waters of the one emptying into the Pacific Ocean, and of the other into the Arctic Sea. We encamped on its margin, with difficulty protecting ourselves from the intense cold. 

There may have been some sort of celebration at this place. The fur trade had many traditional ceremonies brought into it by its Canadien and Indigenous employees. It is highly likely that, at this height of land, there was sort of ceremony. The fur trade had many traditions brought into it by its Canadien and Indigenous employees. At this mountain pass, as at other heights of land, a voyageur might have overseen a rough ceremony of baptism that blessed any new gentleman or employee who was crossing it for the first time. But, sadly, if there actually was a celebration of that sort at this place, not a single soul wrote of it. 

The next day Paul Kane says, “The lake being frozen over to some depth, we walked across it, and shortly after commenced the descent of the grand cote.” That is not quite the way it happened. The Committee’s Punch Bowl Lake stood nearly 5,700 feet above sea level, some 2,000 feet higher in altitude than Jasper’s House, where they had been only a few days earlier. They would begin the descent of the Grand Coté, or Big Hill, about an hour after they left the lakes. Firstly, they must follow the creek that flowed westward out of the Punch Bowl Lake — that is, Pacific Creek — down through its boggy valley to the place where they then climbed to the top of a plateau which blocked their way. At the top of that plateau or saddle, they were 5,000 feet above sea level. To the east, the Pacific Creek valley spread out below them, and looming over the valley and the plateau or saddle where the men now stood was Athabasca Pass and its gleaming glaciers, some 700 feet above them.

But when they turned their faces toward the West, they saw the beginning of the Grand Coté: the steep trail that would bring them down the mountain side to the Columbia River at Boat Encampment. Their journey to Fort Vancouver, the HBC headquarters on the Pacific Coast, was almost over. 

To return to the beginning of this thread, go to http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/paul-kane/

When the next section of this journey is published, it will appear here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/paul-kane-8/

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved.