Two Canoes: John Work arrives at his destination

Spokane River, at old Spokane House

This image shows the banks of the Spokane River, near the place where James Birnie’s Spokane House stood. This was originally an American Fur Company post, but both the North West Company and the HBC operated out of this post. David Thompson’s older Spokane House stood a few miles upriver.

John Work is on his way west to Spokane House, his destination. In our last John Work post, we left his boats at the bottom end of the Upper Arrow Lake or in the Narrows between the two Lakes. The year is 1823, and this is the first time he has seen the Columbia River. His journal continues, as he makes his way to his destination at Spokane House:

Saturday 18 [October]. Raw cold weather with fog in the morning, fine weather afterwards. Embarked at daylight, and encamped when it was late in the second Lake near its lower end. Our course was nearly South. The appearance of the shores near the same as yesterday. The wood is getting thinner, several of the hills we passed had a very scanty crop. In the short piece of river between the two Lakes the current is not very strong. We passed three or four lodges of Indians and met two canoes in the Lake, from one of them we received part of two shwua, a kind of deer of small size, they are of a dark grey colour with ears as large as those of an ass, the bucks have horns. The flesh of these animals is excellent food.

These are Mule Deer.

Sunday 19. Cold foggy weather in the morning, clear fine weather afterwards. Proceeded on our journey 2 hours before daylight this morning and encamped in the evening above the dalles above Kettle Falls. We got out of the lower Lake, which is reckoned [blank in mss] miles in length, about ten o’clock. In the forepart of the day our course was S.E. In the middle of the day it inclined to the Westard [sic] and in the evening it again changed to the S.E. The general course may be about S.S.E. The current below the Lake is very strong and a strong rapid at every point. A little below the Lake we passed McGillivray’s [Kootenay] River which falls in from the Eastard [sic], & in the afternoon we passed another river on the same side called the white goat river [Big Sheep Creek?].

Today’s Big Sheep Creek actually flows into the Columbia River from the West, and so I think he is actually referring to the Pend-d’Oreille River here. It was at the mouth of this river that Fort Shepherd would be built some thirty or more years later. The mouth of the Spokane River, where Spokane House stands, is still some distance down the Columbia River.

McGillivray’s is a large river. The hills along the river are not so high as hitherto, the wood is also getting much thinner and of a smaller growth. It is probable that the country a little way from the river is fine plains.

Monday 20. Foggy in the morning, clear [and] warm afterwards. Continued our journey before sunrising & encamped at the lower end of the Grand Rapid portage [Rickey Rapids] below the Kettle Fall Portage. We lost a good deal of time at these two portages as goods, boats & all had to be carried.

Above the Kettle portage we found an Indian from whom was traded a parcel of fine Shwua meat. At the portage we met several other Indians, a number of whom accompanied us to where we encamped and remained all night. Very little was traded from them. These people were employed curing the dead and dying salmon for winter provisions. They have a kind of canoes [sic] made of one tree hollowed out and about 16 or 18 feet long.

At the Kettle Fall the river contracts and the whole body of water falls over a ledge of rock. There is an island just at the head of the fall. The country has a fine appearance, fine rising hills covered with tufts of wood, but from the dryness of the season the grass is parched & dry & has a barren appearance.

This is the future location of Fort Colvile, which would be built by John Work himself in 1825-26. Spokane House is still some distance away, up the Spokane River thirty miles, I believe, from the Columbia itself.

Tuesday 21. Proceeded on our journey before sunrising [from the Grand or Rickey Rapids mentioned above] & arrived at Spokane forks in the evening. There was a good many strong rapids, but in general the current was not so strong as formerly. There is a very strong rapid just at the forks. The country still getting thinner of wood. Passed a good many Indian encampments where the people were employed drying salmon. Saw several salmon on the water so exhausted with disease that they were just able to move. We found 2 men & some horses at the forks, one of the men was sent off to Spokane [House] for horses and men. Several Indians visited us last night and today, but had nothing to trade.

In the morning Mr. [Alexander] Ross and a man set out for Spokane House. About noon a gentleman named Mr. [William] Kittson and a man arrived from Spokane House, and brought us the melancholy intelligence that 6 of the Freemen who accompanied Mr. [Finan] McDonald to the Snake Country were killed by a war party of Slave Indians from the other side of the Mountains.

Finan McDonald’s language was a mixture of Gaelic, English, French, and more than a few Indian dialects. In a letter to John George McTavish he wrote of this incident:

We had Saviral Battils with the nasion on the other side Mountains. Poore Meshel Bordoe [Michael Bourdon] was kild with 5 more of the Band there dath was revenge as well as we Could revent it for no less than 68 of them that Remain on the Planes as Pray for the wolves and those fue that askape our Shotes they had not Britch Clout to cover them selves wee Shoe them what war was the will not be so radey to atack People (HBCA B.239/c/1, fo 124d) [Bruce McIntyre Watson, Lives Lived West of the Divide, Volume 2, p. 641]

These freemen were, for the most part, the remnants of David Thompson’s men who had crossed the Rocky Mountains with Thompson, and remained in the West, as freemen, after Thompson left. My g.g.g.grandfather, Joseph Beaulieu, may have been among the freemen who fought in this battle, but he survived and, I believe, returned to the Athabasca River. I say this because his second daughter, Josephine, wed a Canadien man who was known to have worked in the Athabasca district, but was never at Spokane House. John Work’s journal continues:

Thursday 23. Fine pleasant weather. We were visited by some more of the natives. These people are dispersed about the river curing the dead salmon for the winter.

October 1823. Friday 24. Fine pleasant weather. Mr. [James] Birnie, a gentleman from Spokane House, arrived with men and horses to take up the articles destined for that post.

Saturday 25. Fine weather. Every thing being arranged for the purpose, Mr. [Alexander] Kennedy and Mr. Birnie embarked with 21 Men in two boats for Fort George [Astoria]. Shortly after, Mr. [Peter Skene] Ogden, Mr. [William] Kittson, & I set out on horseback with a number of men & horses loaded with sundry articles for Spokane House. We made but a short stage & encamped at a place called the Barriere, where the Indians have thrown a barrier across the river for the purpose of catching salmon. Several Indians were encamped here, employed curing fish. Our road lay along the bank of the river, the country hilly and thinly covered with wood. Many places there are only a few trees here and there. With the great heat of the summer the grass is parched up & makes the country have a barren appearance. The soil appears to be nothing but sand & gravel except some points close to the river edge, which are composed of black mould.

Sunday 26. Made another short stage and encamped at noon at the little Lake which is reckoned halfway to Spokane House. The road was sometimes close along the river, sometimes a distance from it across points, the country has much the same appearance as yesterday, but still getting barer of wood. The [tree] chiefly met with is the Norway pine.

Monday 27. Mr. Kittson & I set out from the encampment at 1 o’clock and after a hard ride reached Spokane House at daylight. The Fort is situated on a low sandy point between the Spokan River and another [blank in mss] which form a junction immediately below the house. Pretty steep hills rise abruptly at a short distance from the house on every side except where the rivers have a passage through them. The place has altogether a neat appearance, trees are scattered about the house like a gentleman’s lawn. A number of Indians are also encamped about the house, living in huts or lodges, some circular and some oblong, constructed with poles & covered with mats made of rushes. There is also an Indian burying ground here, the graves are generally marked with a few poles and boards rudely ornamented with some red paint or ocre [sic], the trees are loaded with the skins of horses which have been sacrificed to the masses of the dead, buffalo robes, shirts, pieces of flannel, calico, &c with kettles, and other utensils, are also hung up as offering to the spirits of the departed. The kettles and other vessels have generally a hole in their bottom and a pole drawn through it, as if the dead did not require them to be whole, or to prevent the needy living from stealing them.

Tuesday 28. Weather very fine. Mr. Ogden arrived with the people & horses.

So John Work’s journey can be said to be completed. There is more to the journal, though it cannot be said to be part of the Two Canoes series. When, and if, I continue it, it will appear here:

The next journal in this series will be Governor Simpson’s of course. Some of you already know that he is coming to Kamloops, from which he will take a canoe journey down the Thompson River to the Fraser, and then down the Fraser to Fort Langley — through the canyons! When I continue this journey, it will appear here:  

To go back to the beginning of this series, click here:

This is part of the York Factory Express thread, and John Work’s descriptions appear in this book. If you wish to order my book, The York Factory Express, then go here: 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.