Up the Columbia River

North Thompson River

The scenic countryside the men saw as they travelled up the Columbia River toward the Cascades might have looked as green and friendly as this image of the North Thompson River at Little Fort, B.C.

In August 1849, clerk Thomas Lowe journeyed up the Columbia River as far as Fort Nez Percés, following the same river route that the York Factory Express had travelled in the spring of every year between 1826 and 1854. But Lowe was not leading the Express up the Columbia River: on this occasion his journey upriver occurred five months after the Express had left Fort Vancouver. He will also return to headquarters by another route that was new to the HBC men — a road built by the settlers. But we are not there yet.

We will follow this thread all the way up the Columbia River to Fort Colvile, where the artist, Paul Kane, takes up the story. Paul Kane will be travelling out of the Columbia District via the Fall Express, which departs Fort Colvile in late summer and awaits the incoming York Factory Express (called the Columbia Express) at Boat Encampment. So this is a thread that belongs both to the York Factory Express, and to Thomas Lowe’s story as well.

So, let the games begin!

Thomas Lowe is in the process of retiring from the Company, and as we know John Charles took his place as leader of the outgoing York Factory Express in March 1849. Lowe accompanied Charles as far as Fort Colvile before returning to Fort Vancouver. On this occasion, however, Lowe is not delivering the Express to Fort Colvile, but delivering goods and men up the Columbia River to Walla Walla [Fort Nez Percés]. Here is how his journal begins:

August 29th, Wednesday. At 1 pm. started from [Fort] Vancouver in charge of a boat laden with 41 pieces goods pr. Walla Walla, and 3 pieces for The Dalles. The crew consisted of:

  1. Joe Anowanoron (Bowswain)
  2. Charles Teousarakontes (steersman)
  3. Edouard Beauchemin, Canadian
  4. Louis Dauny, Canadian
  5. William Towal, Halfbreed Kanaka [Hawaiian]
  6. Peter, Indian
  7. Kapeet, Indian
  8. Kashoosha, Indian

So that we are well manned, Joe takes up his wife and son, as he is to proceed to [Fort] Colvile by land from Walla Walla, accompanied by the other Iroquois, Charles, in order to assist in bringing down the Express Boats. 

Joseph Anowanoron is probably Joseph Anarize, likely Iroquois, who joined the Hudsons Bay Company in 1846 and who worked on the Pacific Slopes until 1849, when he crossed the Mountains to the east. He will be travelling out with Paul Kane: I wonder if Kane mentions him.

Charles Teousarakontes will be Charles Teonsarakonta, Iroquois, who returned to Fort Vancouver and later worked at Fort Colvile. He retired in 1855. I always like knowing who these people are, and Bruce Watson’s books, Lives Lived West of the Divide, are invaluable for identifying the thousands of men who worked on the Pacific slopes over the years. And for those of you whose Métis ancestors are east of the Rocky Mountains, you would be surprised to learn how many of them worked, maybe just for a year or two, on the Pacific slopes.

Edouard Beauchemin was a Canadien man who I have identified as one of the men who worked at Fort Nez Percés at the time of the massacre at the nearby mission, Waiilatpu — always an interesting story. He was the interpreter at the post, and so had to cautiously approach the mission after the massacre, to discover if the stories of the massacre were true. They were, and he was also the man who carried the news downriver to Fort Vancouver. As Thomas Lowe says, on Monday December 6, 1847, “In the evening Beauchemin arrived from Walla Walla with the startling intelligence that Dr. Whitman and his lady, besides 9 other Americans, have been massacred by the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu.”

Louis Dauny is Louis Francois Dauny, born in Lower Canada in 1823. Immediately on joining the HBC he was sent across the mountains to the Columbia District. He was at Forts Vancouver and Nez Percés from 1840 to 1852, and on his retirement he settled in Frenchtown, near Fort Nez Percés. The name “Donnie,” on the obelisk at St. Rose Cemetery, likely refers to him. 

The Kanaka [Hawaiian] man, William Towal, remains unidentified, by me at least, as do the First Nations men (probably Chinookian) who also worked the boats up the Columbia River.

So, as well as delivering goods to Fort Nez Percés (now commonly called Walla Walla), Thomas Lowe is taking up one man who is going out in the Fall Express, and one or two men who will meet and accompany the incoming Columbia Express home to Fort Vancouver. The Columbia south of Fort Colvile was the most difficult part of the river for the incoming York Factory Express men, and they would need strong, knowledgeable men to bring their boats down the Columbia to Fort Vancouver in safety. (As we may or may not know, that did not always happen, as you will see in this post: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/michel-kaonasse/  ).

Beauchemin, Dauny, and the two last Indians return with me from Walla Walla, and as the boat is to be left there for Mr. [Richard] Grant we are to return on horseback by the way of Oregon City. William [Towal] and Peter are to be stationed at Walla Walla. On starting found that Joe was intoxicated, and it was with much difficulty I could get him to start. Pulled up to the Saw Mill, remained there about an hour, and encamped at a small Creek about half a mile beyond. Warm weather.

It was not the least bit uncommon for these men to be intoxicated when starting a long journey such as this. Firstly, the gentlemen at Fort Vancouver handed out liquor to anyone travelling on the Express, although it was more likely that they all drank it at the first encampment up the Columbia River, which would be at the Saw Mill or nearby. The Express men never went far on that first day out: they departed on their journey up the Columbia River late in the day, so that if they had forgotten anything, such as a frying pan or an essential kettle, they could send a man back to Fort Vancouver to pick it up.

30th, Thursday. Breakfasted at Parker’s House, after breakfast we had a strong head wind until towards evening. About noon were obliged to put ashore for upwards of two hours below the Grosse Roche. Carried on till late and encamped near the foot of the first Rapid below the Cascades. Another warm day. 

I don’t know who Parker is, but he is probably an American settler in the region and not a missionary. They are now in the Columbia Gorge, which Lieutenant Aemilius Simpson described as he came downriver from the Cascades in 1826:

For about a League below the Cascades there is a very strong Current with rapids. The River branches off into several channels formed by Islands; for about 6 leagues below the Cascades the River is bounded by a range of High Hills densely wooded, their faces in some places being perpendicular with pretty cascades descending some hundred feet.

The “Grosse Roche’ will be what is currently named Phoca Rock, in the Columbia Gorge, named by Lewis and Clark for the many seals they found around its base. “The first rapid below the Cascades” is also well known, mentioned in any journals of men that were going up the Columbia River but ignored by those coming down. There were two portages here, as Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, explains:

There are two portages here, under the names of the new and the old. At the first, only half of the load is landed and the boats are tracked up for half a mile further, when the load is again shipped. The boats are then tracked to the old portage. A strong eddy occurs at this place, which runs in an opposite direction; and here it is necessary to land the whole of the cargo; after which the empty boats are again tracked three quarters of a mile beyond.

The men from Fort Vancouver were familiar with these rapids and I had little trouble with them, according to the York Factory Express journals. But the Brigades that came downriver from Fort St. James, 1000 miles to the north, were less familiar with them. Sometimes the Portage Neuf rapids caused trouble for the men in the New Caledonia boats, as you can see in this blogpost: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/brigade-nine/ 

Thomas Lowe’s journal continues as he travels up the Columbia Gorge toward the Cascades, the first of three major hurdles they must overcome as they made their way upriver through the Cascade Mountain range. On Lowe’s right hand loomed triangular Mount Hood, standing 11,000 feet high. To the left the range of mountains continued north in a straight line as far as they could see. 

31st Friday. Dull cloudy weather, and the air full of smoke. As the water was very strong and only one boats crew to haul the Rope, had to discharge half the cargo at Portage Neuf. Breakfasted at the lower end of the Cascade Portage.

The Cascade Portage led the men around what they called the Cascades, a foaming chain of rapids that tumbled toward them around a sharp bend in the river. At the Cascades’s lower falls, the men emptied their boats. Provisions and trade goods they carried over the narrow, slippery, four-mile long trail that ran along the riverbank. The boat or boats, however, they they tracked upriver with lines.

Engaged 10 Indians to assist in bringing up the boat and in transporting the pieces. The boat was easily brought up, and after gumming we started at 4 pm with a fair wind from the upper end of the Cascades, and made about 10 miles before camping. 

Sept 1st, Saturday. Fine warm day. Had a very fine strong breeze all day. Had to close reef the sail. Breakfasted above the Two Rivers and arrived at the [Wascopam] Mission Station at the Dalles about 4 pm. Here unloaded 2 bags flour for Raymond, one bag salt for Rev. Mr. Rousseau, and left with the latter some provisions for my trip back. Encamped about half way up the Grand Dalles. Killed a sheep I brought from [Fort] Vancouver.

The Dalles was the next major hurdle. In 1826, Aemilius Simpson described them as “a long & intricate chain [of rapids] rushing with great force through a number of narrow & Crooked Channels, bounded by huge Masses of perpendicular Rock, the faces very much fractured.” There were three narrow points in The Dalles, which to anyone who travelled them divided the Dalles into the Grande Dalles, and the Petite Dalles — or any variation of large and small, depending on who was speaking. The narrows in The Dalles, along with the immense force of water in the Columbia River, created whirlpools that made this part of the Columbia the most hazardous piece of river to travel. Amazingly, coming downriver the men might bring their boats at least part of the way. But going upriver, these men carried their loads and boats over a nine-mile long portage which took them a full day to cross.

Or did they? In this section of Thomas Lowe’s journal, it actually seems as if they lined the boats up the Columbia River, partially loaded, and sometimes, light:

2nd, Sunday. The water is still high and the current strong. Had much difficulty in getting up the Dalles, having had to make two trips with the boat from a short distance above our campment, each time with a half load, and at the upper end had to make a portage of all the pieces and take up the boat light. After having made one trip the boat returned to take up the remainder of the pieces, and we breakfasted before taking up the second load. Had also to make a Portage of half the pieces at the Little Dalles, so that the sun was almost setting when we arrived at the Chutes, although we had a fine breeze all day. Found an American named Kellogg, and some others trading Horses. Encamped there. 

In 1849, the Americans who had come out over the Oregon Trail were everywhere in the territory, often making difficulties for the HBC men. So. Thomas Lowe and his men had arrived at the Chutes, which forced the rushing river into a narrow rocky passage. The water fell 20 feet almost immediately and continued to tumble down rocky rapids toward them as it carved its way to the Pacific. The HBC men avoided the Chutes’ hazards by portaging boats and loads on their shoulders over a narrow trail along the riverbanks. Six hours later, at Ceililo Falls, on the Chutes’s eastern edge, they would again place their boats in the water, as Thomas Lowe explains:

4th, Monday. Engaged 40 Indians to carry the boat across and hired horses for the men to transport the pieces. When all was across breakfasted at the upper end, and afterwards started with a fine breeze. Encamped about 2 miles above Point Yes. Fine weather.

Does anyone know what Point Yes’s real name is? How far above Ceililo Falls was it?

When we continue this journey to Walla Walla, it will be found here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/the-barlow-road/

When this blogpost gets fitted into the Thomas Lowe series, it will be found here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/thomas-lowe-

When we continue the journey beyond Walla Walla to Fort Colvile and then over the mountains, it will be found here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/whatever-I-name-it/ 

If you are interested in learning more about the York Factory Express (a fascinating story) then you should order my book, here: http://ronsdalepress.com/york-factory-express-the/ 

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





One thought on “Up the Columbia River

  1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

    Hmmm. I’ve just noticed that William Towal is a “half-breed Kanaka,” and so is probably a son of this Hawaiian man: Towai, born 1788 and worked at Fort Vancouver until 1845, when he returned to Hawaii. None of the others remained in the Columbia long enough to have sired a half-breed son who would have been twenty years old or thereabouts in 1849.