The portage from Lapierre House to Peel’s River post

Before I add this post, I have a smidgen of an announcement to make. My book, The York Factory Express, will not be published in March and April as I said previously, but in October 2019. We have a lot of work to do yet on this, but by waiting it will be a better book. Onward….

Portaging and packing around a difficult rapid
This image na-1406-48 is used with the permission of the Glenbow Archives and shows the men portaging around a difficult rapid, carrying packs and hauling the York Boats with the use of rollers. They would also have portaged their goods (but not their boats) across the height of land between Lapierre Post and the Peel’s River Post.

In 1851, the Yukon Boat had come up the Porcupine River to pick up the goods which had been delivered to Lapierre Post over the previous winter. Of course the boat had also delivered a load of furs to Lapierre Post, and these must now be carried over the land portage to the Peel River post [today’s Fort McPherson]. Robert Campbell was also going out of the territory, on his way to Fort Simpson to pick up his goods for the winter to come. I am not aware that he took out any furs, but he might have done so. In his Journal #1, Two Journals of Robert Campbell, he says:

We arrived at the head of navigation, Lapierre’s House, the depot for the goods carried over the mountains in winter on dog sleds from the head waters of Peel River, an affluence of the mighty Mackenzie. The fur packs were stored there to be transferred in winter, & the Youcon District outfit which had been rendered there from Peel River during last winter was loaded into the Youcon boat & sent back on the return trip at once. Mr. [Alexander Hunter] Murray & family, myself, & some of our men started on our walk over the mountains, to Peel River Fort. On our second day, I think, we reached the barren ground, where not even a bush grows.

But this story comes from his second journal, in the same book.

Tuesday July 1st 1851. After breakfast the Youcon Boat with the outfit left on its return home. The Fort’s Boat remains here until autumn — Forcier, Charleson and Hector accompanied the former and with those I left at Fort Youcon, to proceed with the Boat and some supplies from the latter place to our house at home. At six p.m. we left for (Peel’s River), ie. Mr. Murray and family came along with 6 Indians, 4 men and a family of my men, Reid, D. Murray, (Sanderson), Marcelle with a family of 3 Indians. I left Donald to assist Mr. McKenzie and at the end of our third “pipe” parted company with the Brigade and came on ahead with Reid, Sanderson, and two (Indians). Pipe at 3 a.m. to sleep. Warm with clouds of mosquitoes tormenting us to death’s door.

Thursday 3rd July 1851. We were on the road again at 6 p.m.. Had fine head wind the fore part of the night and came on well. Crossed the height of land about midnight. The view of the country, magnificent, grand of expanse of Mountains, hills and swelling dell and vallies in all green and (illegible) state of nature. It is the finest savage country I ever saw — though a perfect waste — but though it looks at a distance as beautiful swelling green plains, on closer inspection it is all deception to (illegible) over a pimply and swampy surface. Put ashore in a winter hut at 5 or 6 a.m. for rest. Flies becoming troublesome throughout the morning. Come about 9 pipes.

Friday 4th July 1851. Heavy rain through today. Come off at 7 p.m. About midnight came on a dense fog causing some delay and missing of the proper course. We luckily found the beaten path at last and came on briskly — at 4 a.m…

Saturday 5th. Put ashore at the first wood we saw since we left the hut [at] our last resting place. By the time we had cooked and ate it began to rain and left us without shelter. We creeped under small Indian huts of willows and moss — got wet to the skin and shaking with cold. Left again having had a rest, at 2 p.m. Still in showers and foggy. Put ashore to (illegible) at a small creek and a few sticks at 6 p.m. where tired of rain without wood for either fire or wood to shelter us left for the river. Came up to Indians soon after. Took one to guide us on. At 2 a.m. we reached an Indian hut opposite the Fort. No “hollowing” could rouse them. Enjoyed a good drying (being wet to the skin) and sleep among the hospitable Indian family.

Sunday 6th July 1851. About 10 a.m. Indian raised from the Fort with a boat and soon after I received a hearty welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Reess [Peers?] at Fort Peele River. Late in the afternoon the four men I left behind arrived.

Remember this is summer in the high Arctic and it was light day and night. The transcriber would not have know this, but the “Mr. Reess” in this journal is almost certainly Augustus Richard Peers, who was for a time in charge of the Peel’s River post. In fact Peers began his autobiography with this paragraph:

It is the lot and duty of every man to seek a profession, some there are who wield the sword in defence of their country’s cause. Others there are who choose to seek their fortune on the mighty deep, but of all the ways and by-ways open to us, I find they are but as one or two in the multitude who ever think of visiting this remote corner of the earth, in which it has been the lot of fortune to cast me.

Does the reader know Peel’s River, a tributary of the vast Mackenzie, situated within the Arctic circle in latitude 67’N and longitude 134’W? I suspect not. I however judge his first impression to be that mine must be a very cold situation: I grant it is. But I must not anticipate — I have undertaken to describe my travels hither and it will be necessary to inform the reader: In the year eighteen hundred and forty two, having arrived at that age when most youngsters leave the parent roof to embark upon the world and do for themselves, and having received an appointment in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, I traveled to the Mighty City [London] where I passed the still remaining week which I could call my own… [Augustus Richard Peers, Journal 1842-52, E/B/P34, B.C.Archives]

Robert Campbell went out to Fort Simpson and then returned to the Peel’s River post later that summer: in September. He found there were very few First Nations men at the post, to “transport necessities across the portage” to the Lapierre’s House, on the Porcupine.

Sunday 7th. Busy making up packages for transport and in the evening sent the men (3) and 11 Indians including 3 wives and a boy all loaded — at dusk it began to rain and continued so all night.

Monday 8th. It cleared up and fine weather in the afternoon — at 4 p.m. Mr. Peers arrived and I got the (packages) made up.

Tuesday 9th September 1851. At 9 a.m. Mr. McKenzie and myself with 6 more Indians left (Peel’s) River Fort — camped at the Little Lakes where a few dry willows were got to boil the kettle — a fine day.

Wednesday 10th. Came off early and breakfasted on the little River — Left our Indians far in the rear and came up to the Party that preceded us to camp on a small river with a few willows to make fire — they had killed a deer of which we had the head for supper. Fine weather.

Thursday 11th. Started early — by coaxing, etc. got on the Indians pipe. [?] Breakfasted among a scanty willows near the height of land — got to the (illegible) at the first wood at the (illegible) — Fine weather.

Friday 12th September 1851. Come on well down hill — camped late and tired at (Murray’s?) camp — Fine day.

Saturday 13th. Arrived at La Pierres House at 9 a.m. — Got the Boat immediately arranged and in the evening came off with our little cargo…

There were other ways to cross the portage, but later Klondike gold miners used the same river route, as described in Gairdner & Harrison Prospector’s Guide Map and Pamphlet to the Omenica, Cassier, Liard, Klondyke and Yukon Gold Fields. In this case they are describing the trip from east to west — from Peel River to the Porcupine.

Peel River to the Summit Lake, 30 miles. We are now at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, which must be crossed before reaching the Porcupine and Yukon. Instead of going UP Peel River, which many are apt to do, we cross it simply and ascend a small stream called Rat River. The first part of this is through a level flat, with almost no current until the first rapid is reached; then the mountain is climbed by water; a small rapid and a long pool alternating till the stream contracts so that there is no room for a boat. Climbing the small bank to the right we find a plateau with a lake in the middle. This is Summit Lake. The portage between the Rat River and Summit Lake was described by Mr. McDougall of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1872 as a very good one, nearly level, and three-quarters of a mile long. Of course, everything has to be carried or dragged from water to water.

Summit Lake to La Pierre’s House, 30 miles. Besides the original route there are three other portages between Peel river and La Pierre’s House.

1st. The Winter Portage, impassable in summer, 60 miles.

2nd. The Summer route or Pack route, 80 miles; and..

3rd. What would be the route were steamers employed on both sides of the mountains. The boats on the east side would go up Rat Creek to the first rapid, then there would be a portage of 35 miles to where the western steamer could come on Bell’s River.

But Robert Campbell was walking out of the Yukon District to make his way to Fort Simpson. At the Peel’s River post they are but a short jump to Mackenzie’s River, which they will follow up until they reach the territorial headquarters for the Mackenzie district. This trip will be recorded in the next section of this series, found here when published:

However, for a moment, this series will lead elsewhere — back to Fort Selkirk in fact. When posted, it will continue here (but we are not yet going back to Fort Selkirk):

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2019. All rights reserved.