Paul Kane on the Columbia

Arrow Lake from Shields Point

“View of [Lower] Arrow Lake from above Shields Point, looking east towards the narrows on the Arrow Lake, circa 1932 [cropped]. Source: George Morris “Bill” Wadds Collection, Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History, Valemount Historical Society & Kootenay Gallery of Art, History & Science, image 2360.0298

Here is the story of how the artist, Paul Kane, made his way up the Columbia River from Fort Colvile to Boat Encampment, traveling with the outgoing York Factory Express of 1847. As you know from the last blogpost in this series — that is: — he has reached Fort Colvile. Here is his description of this place:

Fort Colvile stands in the middle of a small prairie, about one mile and a half wide by about three miles long — surrounded by high hills. This little prairie is extremely valuable for agricultural purposes, as it is, in fact, an island of fertility surrounded by barren rocks, sandy plains, and arid mountains, to the distance of three or four hundred miles along the river, the Spokane valley to the south being the nearest land fit for cultivation. I remained here until the 9th of September, when I made an excursion of sixty miles, accompanied by Mr. [John Lee] Lewes, to Walker and Eels’ Presbyterian Mission, where I was most hospitably received by these worthy people. Each of the missionaries has a comfortable log-house, situated in the midst of a fertile plain, and with their wives and children, seem to be happily located…

The missionary is called Tshimakain Mission, and its safety would be threatened only a year or two later, when the Cayuse War broke out. But that is not yet. Paul Kane returned to Fort Colvile from Tshimakain on the 17th of September. “The Indian village is situated about two miles below the fort, on a rocky eminence overlooking the Kettle Falls,” Paul Kane wrote.

These are the highest in the Columbia River. They are about one thousand yards across, and eighteen feet high. The immense body of water tumbling amongst the broken rocks renders them exceedingly picturesque and grand. The Indians have no particular name for them, giving them the general name of Tum-tum, which is applied to all falls of water. The voyageurs called them the “Chaudière,” or “Kettle Falls,” from the numerous round holes worn in the solid rocks by loose boulders. These boulders, being caught in the inequalities of rocks below the falls, are constantly driven round by the tremendous force of the current and wear out holes as perfectly round and smooth as in the inner surface of a cast-iron kettle. The village has a population of about five hundred souls, called, in their own language, Chualpays. They differ but little from the Walla Wallas. The lodges are formed of mats of rushes stretched on poles. A flooring is made of sticks, raised three or four feet from the ground, leaving the space beneath it entirely open, and forming a cool, airy and shady place, in which to hand their salmon to dry.

There is an image of this camp in The York Factory Express, and it is Paul Kane’s painting of Chualpays. When A.C. Anderson was in charge of Fort Colvile a year or two later, he also knew these American Indians as Chualpays, although he spelled their name Skoi-el-poi. Chalk Courchane [who many of you knew] told me that the name they had for the Colvile Indians, in general, was sxwilpish sxwyw, and said that the xw sound was “a kind of voiceless breath outward.” And in a second email he told me that “Tribes with a common language often named the Colvile Scheulpi or Chualpay, and the French traders called them Les Chaudières (the “kettles”) in reference to Kettle Falls.”

Paul Kane said that “these people are governed by two chiefs, Allam-mak-hum Stole-luch, “the Chief of the Earth,” and See-pays, “the Chief of the Waters.” The first exercises great power over the tribe except as regards the fishing, which is under the exclusive control of the latter. Allam-mak-hum Stole-luch dispenses justice strictly, and punishes with rigour any cheating or dishonesty among his subjects. He opposes the gambling propensities of his tribe to the utmost, even depriving the victorious gamblers of their share of the fish received annual from the Chief of the Waters; but still the passion for gambling continues, and an instance occurred during my stay here of a young man committing suicide by shooting himself, having lost everything he possessed by indulging in this habit. I may here remark that suicide prevails more among the Indians of the Columbia River than in any other portion of the continent which I have visited.”

But at last, Paul Kane and the outgoing Express men must depart pleasant and interesting Fort Colvile, and continue their journey up the Columbia River toward Boat Encampment. It is unlikely that we will make our way all the way to Boat Encampment in this post, but let us see how far we do get! “On the 22nd of September our two boats, with their crews of six men each, being all ready, we bade farewell to our kind host and his family and again embarked on the river,” Paul Kane writes. 

As usual, on leaving a fort, we did not start till evening, and stopped again for the night at ten miles distant, at Day’s [Dease’s] Encampment. We had no regale, as these men were not going into the interior. They only carried the express to Boat Encampment, where they exchanged boxes with the express from the east side of the mountains, with whom I was to recross.

That means that these boats were likely under the charge of Canadien Joseph Monique, one of the men who so shamefully abandoned Fort Vancouver to its fiery fate in this blog-post: 

Paul Kane’s journal continues, as the boats pass through one of three rapids, all called the “Little Dalles,” on the Columbia River. “September 23rd — Today we succeeded in getting past the Little Dalles in safety. They are about twenty miles from Kettle Falls, and are the narrowest part of the Columbia River for full one thousand miles. It is here contracted into a passage of one hundred and fifty yards by lofty rocks on each side, through which it rushes with tremendous violence, forming whirlpools in its passage capable of engulphing [sic] the largest forest trees which are afterwards disgorged with great force. This is one of the most dangerous places that the boats have to pass. In going up the river the boats are all emptied and the freight has to be carried about half a mile over the tops of the high and rugged rocks. One man remains in each boat with a long pole to keep it off from the rocks, whilst the others drag it by a long tow-rope up the torrent.” Paul Kane’s story continues:

September 24th — We had fine weather and made good progress. I shot the largest wolf today I had ever seen; he was swimming away from us across the river. 

September 25th — The morning broke dark and cloudy, and soon turned to heavy rain; but the wind was fair, so we hoisted our sail and soon scudded into an open lake, about three miles wide and twelve long.

This was, of course, the lake we now call Arrow Lake, and it is the lower, or southernmost, of two lakes that carry that name (the other being Upper Arrow Lake). It appears that the weather in the lake was too bad for the usual tradition of firing arrows into a hole filled with moss near the top of a bluff, called Arrow Rock, that loomed over the lake. It is this traditional target practice, led by the Iroquois boutes, that gave Arrow Lake its name, and it was considered “good luck” if an arrow remained stuck in the moss.

September 26th — It continued raining heavily all night, and heavy mists hung over us during the day; but we continued our journey and got into what is called another lake [Upper Arrow Lake]. 

September 27th — Still in the lakes. The day was clearer, and we could distinguish the surrounding scenery, which seemed to consist of immense mountains, towering peak on peak above the clouds. The land appeared barren and unfit for cultivation. The cedars are of enormous magnitude, some of them measuring not less than thirty or forty feet in circumference. I was told of one fifty feet, but did not see it. I attempted to reach the upper side of one which had been uprooted and lay on the ground, with the end of my gun stretched out at arm’s length, and could but just attain it.

September 28th — We had an exciting chase after a mountain goat, which showed himself in the distance, on a point of land jutting out into the lake. Putting the boat ashore, I started in pursuit, accompanied by three or four Indians and after a long hunt succeeded in killing him. He afforded us a most delicious repast. In size and shape he somewhat resembled the domestic goat, but was covered with white wool resembling that of a sheep; the horns are straight, small, pointed, and black.

September 29th — Got through the lakes by 5 o’clock p.m., and again entered into what may be more properly called the river. The rain was pouring heavily almost all day, whilst in the distance we could see the tops of the mountains becoming white with snow down to a well-defined line, where it seemed to change to rain.

September 20th — Started at 6 a.m., during a pouring rain, which soon soaked us to the skin. We stopped here to make some paddles, in a forest abounding with birch, the only wood fit for this purpose and which is not met with lower down the Columbia; large cedar trees were also very abundant.

So this birch forest is on the Columbia River south of Revelstoke, and it must have been very familiar to the outgoing York Factory Express men — although no other Express journal mentions it. I wonder where it is — does anyone know? Paul Kane’s journal continues:

October 1st — The morning was fine and clear, and the temperature was agreeable: I was enabled to leave the boat for a walk for a few miles along the shore, much to the relief of my legs. The place is a sandbank, extending for miles in a direction parallel with the shore, and generally but a few furlongs from it; is is called the “Grand Batture.”

Ah, we learned about the Grand Batture first in Thomas Lowe’s journals of 1847 and 1848 [although I see that they must have been mentioned in James Douglas’s 1835 journal as well.] As I say in The York Factory Express, “To the HBC voyageurs, a “batture” was a sand or gravel bar in a riverbed or a lake. James Douglas indicated in his journal that the Grande Batture was “a few points below the [Little] Dalles,” in the Upper Columbia River, and just north of his Chutes au Bovil. The express-men’s Grand Batture was almost certainly what British Columbians now call the Big Eddy, located on a sharp river bend some 933 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This confused piece of river marked the beginning of the uncooperative section of the Columbia, where the river flowed downward between high rock walls through narrow channels. From here, the men climbed some 400 feet of rapid-filled river in less than a hundred miles.”

And so, they are approaching the uphill part of the river — not that they were not going uphill the entire way from Fort Colvile, of course. Paul Kane’s journal continues with his further description of this place — the Grand Batture — but we will pause for a while after we read his words, and continue the journey in the next blogpost. Ahead of us lies the “Little Dalles” in the upper Columbia River, and many other landmarks, dangerous rapids, and wild creatures that, of course, Paul Kane insists on shooting or hunting. 

The steepness of the banks of of the river and the density of the under-brushwood, had confined us to the boats for the last three days; it was therefore no wonder that I should enjoy a walk. We saw some very large piles of drift-wood, called by the Canadians “Aumbereaux.”  [This word did not get included in my French dictionary, so if you know what it means, please let me know. Of course, it could be spelled differently than Paul Kane spells it…] These piles consist of trees of all sizes, but usually very large, which are deifted down the river, and are piled high up upon one another by the force of the ice when they meet with any obstruction. I amused myself by setting fire to some of them en passant, and leaving an immense fire burning, the smoke of which we could see for days in our rear.

October 2nd — It again rained heavily all day. Toward the evening we encamped. It is difficult to imagine the pleasure of an encampment round a large fire, after sitting in an open boat on the Columbia River, with the rain pouring down in torrents all day; but though the rain ma not have ceased, yet the cheerful warmth of the fire dispels all the annoyance of mere moisture in this uncivilized state of life. We passed the Upper Little Dalles….

We will end the post here. They have reached modern-day Revelstoke, or rather, what existed at this place before Revelstoke was populated. When I follow this post up with a continuation of Paul Kane’s upriver journey to Boat Encampment and beyond, I will post it here: 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2022. All rights reserved.

As you probably know, Twitter has been taken over by Elon Musk and the Twitter world is descending into chaos — or at least it almost certainly will. So at the moment I am still there, as @Marguerite_HBC, but will change social media accounts as it seems to become necessary. Exciting times, and crazy times too. 

Facebook: In your Facebook search bar, search for Nancy-Marguerite-Anderson-Author. Thanks. I am posting all my York Factory Express posts there, but also am bringing out to the light of day many of the other posts that are buried deep in my website. Its fun to read the old posts once more, and to re-remember what we learned three to five years ago when I wrote them!