Stevens County Crossroads on the Columbia Digital Archive
Since the ice sheets retreated 10,000 years ago, Native Peoples fished at Kettle Falls until the falls were submerged beneath waters backed up by Grand Coulee Dam in 1940. Rivers were the highways of early travel, where they came together villages arose. Native people gathered through the summer at the falls to catch and dry salmon. This is the oldest and greatest of the Crossroads on the Columbia.
The first official contact between Native Peoples and White People at Kettle Falls occurred in 1811 when David Thompson arrived at the falls and constructed a canoe to take Beaver pelts to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia. This connection began an era when Kettle Falls became the principle Fur Trading Post in the interior of North America West of the Rockies. It’s key position in an international trade loop to China and back to England made it a crossroads on a much larger scale.
The Fur Trade ended around 1850 just before gold was discovered on the Columbia near Waneta on the border of the US and Canada. Mining dominated development over the next 100 years as gold and other minerals hidden in the complex geology that formed the Kettle Falls led to the rapid development of travel by river and then by railway. National and local governments clashed, built stongholds and wagon trails, and provided security for the dominant culture. Industrial and agricultural boom towns peopled by immigrants from Europe and Asia sprang up along the waterways and eventually the railways of the region. These new crossroads towns grew in turn from waves of homesteaders, many fleeing turmoil in the US and abroad. They settled in even the most remote ends of the roads wherever water and soil would support a cow and the forest would provide trees for a cabin.
In some ways the forces that built the region stole its glory. Railroads that brought industry and took minerals found more lucrative crossroads in Spokane and Seattle. Rivers became sources of industrial power and ceased to serve as highways for fish and boats. Mines boomed and busted forcing many to abandon the ends of the road and flee to bigger cities for work.
These themes meet and crisscross each other: Native People, The Fur Trade, Government, Mining, Boats, Railways and the Ends of the Road. Each of them provides a way to organize our history. Like any arbitrary convention, they may fall short of telling the whole story. But they do provide roads into the territory and we encourage you to explore each of them to understand how they influenced each other.
For those of us who call the Kettle Country home and the thousands more who have their roots here, but live elsewhere, the crossroads on the Columbia have many stories to tell. This archive is designed to hold the pictures, stories, records and other pieces of the past in a digital form, where researchers can piece together their own stories, share them with each other and with the rest of the world. It is also designed to back up the physical treasures of our local museums and family collections so that even if they are lost to flood, fire or a weak economy, they will be here at least in a virtual form for the world to see.
Like any crossroads town, this website depends on its patrons to build valuable, accessible and attractive works together. Every dollar of the Preserve America Grant that funded its beginning needs to be matched with labor and material from the community itself. There are opportunities and resources to encourage that effort in the History Detective categories of this website.
We need to strengthen, not replace our museums. There is no subsitute for being here, This project will enhance efforts to develop tours and tourism to the museums and the rest of this historic area. If you are not already familiar with the museums of Old Stevens County, a territory that covers much more than today’s jurisdiction, visit them soon. You will be glad you did.
Although some history is written in stone in grave yards and the corner stones of historic buildings, none of it is complete and all of it is open to interpretation. There are always facts to add and facts to dispute, this site will provide forums so that we can improve what is written.
A town that stops changing dies. Similarly, technology keeps providing new opportunities to see the world in different ways. Social Networks, Mobile Technology, Augmented Reality, Location Based Service, Gesture-based Computing and the Semantic web are some emerging technolgies that can enhance our understanding of the past and enrich our interactions with the present. There is room for a lot of growth in this archive and rich resources to work with. If you have ideas and projects that dovetail with this one, get involved. We can find ourselves at the crossroads.
In 1825, Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company conceived the idea of selecting some Indian boys from the Columbia River tribes in present-day Washington and Idaho and sending them east to the Anglican mission school at Red River in Manitoba to be educated. His idea was that these boys could help in “civilizing” the tribes upon their return. Two teenage Indian boys – one from the Spokan in Washington and the other from the Kootenai in Idaho – were sent to the Red River School. The boys are renamed Kootenai Pelly and Spokan Garry. The name “Garry” was taken from the name of one of the directors of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the name “Pelly” from one of its governors. At the school, the boys were taught to read and write both English and French.
About the Spokan:
First, a note about spelling: I am using “Spokan” to indicate the tribe in order to avoid confusion with “Spokane” which is the name of a city in eastern Washington. Spokan is often translated as “Children of the Sun.”
The Spokan, a Salish-speaking people, were traditionally composed of three groups: (1) Upper Spokan who occupied the Spokane Valley; (2) Middle Spokan who occupied the Deep Creek and Four Lakes area; and (3) Lower Spokan who occupied the area around the Tchimokaine, Tumtum, and the mouth of the Spokane River. Traditionally, the overall Spokan territory extended from the head waters of the Chimokaine to the mouth of the Spokane River; down the south side of the Columbia as far as the mouth of the Okanogan; south to the head of the Snake River water shed; east to about the line of the present towns of Post Falls and Rathdrum.
As with other tribes along the Columbia River, fishing was an important economic activity. Downstream from Little Falls on the Spokane River, the Spokan would build a rock barrier across the river, and then place a willow-pole fish weir just upstream from this barrier. The fish were then speared and thrown to shore. This fishing site was also used by the Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Colville, Palouse, Sanpoil, and Sinkayuse.
While men traditionally fished for the salmon, only the women were able to obtain the lashings that bound the tripod of the fishing weir together. The men, therefore, were unable to build the weirs by themselves. Building fish weirs required the cooperation of women, thus the women had a crucial role in the important salmon fishing.
The salmon was dried in the sun and wind. The dried salmon would be pounded with a stone pestle in an oak mortar until it was finely pulverized. The salmon powder would then be tightly pressed into baskets lined with salmon skin. This dried, powdered salmon would keep for a long time.
The women usually prepared the fish. Once a woman had prepared the fish, it belonged to her and she made the decisions on how it was to be used. When salmon was used in trade, the trade items belonged to the women.
While hunting provided some of the Spokan nutrition, hunting is not always a dependable way of obtaining food. In order to ensure a successful hunt, individual hunters sought out spirit helpers and communal hunts required a hunt chief with experience, as well as an appropriate spirit guide. Before hunting, the men would often go through a sweat bath purification ritual and would make appeals to the animal spirits.
While much of the hunting focused on locally available big game-deer, elk, caribou-the Spokan would sometimes go on a communal buffalo hunt. This meant that they would travel from their home in eastern Washington, across northern Idaho, through western Montana, and cross the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. This meant that they would be trespassing into territory claimed by the Blackfoot and the Blackfoot would often object to this. Thus, the buffalo hunt was often an inter-tribal affair as alliances provided some protection against the war parties of the Blackfoot and other tribes. The Kootenai, for example, often joined with the Coeur d’Alene and Spokan for the buffalo hunt. The hunt would usually last about four weeks.
Trade was also a major economic activity for the Spokan. The Spokane Falls area often served as a major trading center. Trading activities were often timed to occur during the fishing harvests. Prior to the coming of the Europeans, common trade items included stone tools from the glass volcanics (obsidian, vitrophyre, and ignimbrite) and marine shells, most commonly dentalium and olivella. The shells were often cut into beads which were then used as trade goods. In addition, manufactured products such as coiled baskets, parfleches, and tanned buffalo hides were brought into the area.
Spokan Garry and Kootenai Pelly returned to the northwest from the Red River School in 1829. Garry’s father, Illim-Spokanee, had died while the boy was at school, so the Spokan greeted him as a leader’s son who should be heard on matters affecting the welfare of this people. Spokan Garry brought with him the Christianity which he learned in school and preached it to the tribes in eastern Washington.
Garry’s preaching influenced leaders in other tribes. Soon after his return, for example, a young Nez Perce-Hol-lol-sote-tote, later known as Lawyer-heard Spokan Garry read from the Christian bible in Salish. Since Lawyer’s mother was Flathead (a Salish-speaking tribe), he was fluent in both Salish and Nez Perce. Lawyer was deeply moved and subsequently became Christian.
Soon after his return to the Spokan, Garry became recognized as a chief and acquired two wives: one from the Umatilla tribe and one from the San Poil tribe. His decision to take a second wife was viewed negatively by non-Indian missionaries.
With regard to his work as a native missionary preaching Christianity to the Indian people in the Upper Columbia area, Garry built a tule mat church and school along the Spokane River. He taught brotherly love, peaceful behavior, and humility. He also served as the translator for one of Francis Heron’s sermons at Fort Colville. In the audience were chiefs from the Spokan, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille, Sanpoil, and Kettle Falls tribes.
In 1836, Garry was involved in a large public Christian worship for the Spokan and Nez Perce at Loon Lake. Spokan Garry translated for the Spokan while a Nez Perce chief who understood some Spokan then translated from Spokan to Nez Perce.
In 1853, Governor Isaac Stevens met with the Spokan. Stevens wrote of Spokan Garry:
“Garry, the Spokane Chief, is a man of education, of strict probity and great influence over his tribe. He speaks English and French well.”
The treaties “negotiated” (some would say “imposed”) by Governor Stevens led to a great deal of unrest and set the stage for war. In 1854, a large intertribal council in Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley is called by Yakama leader Kamiakin, Walla Walla leader Peopeo Moxmox, and Nez Perce war chief Apash Wyakaikt (Looking Glass). The tribes spent five days listening to Kamiakin’s account of what was happening to the Indian nations west of the Cascade Mountains. Kamiakin urged a confederacy so that the Americans (suyapos) could be fought with a united front. Kamiakin told the council:
“We wish to be left alone in the lands of our forefathers, whose bones lie in the sand hills and along the trails, but a pale-faced stranger has come from a distant land and sends word to us that we must give up our country, as he wants it for the white man. Where can we go? There is no place left”
Spokan leader Garry, Cayuse leader Stickus, and Nez Perce leader Lawyer felt that the Indians were not strong enough to wage war against the Americans. Among the Yakama, Teias and Owhi (both uncles to Kamiakin, and Teias was also Kamiakin’s father-in-law) opposed war.
The following year, Governor Stevens held a large treaty council at Walla Walla, Washington in which he announced his plans to establish two reservations: one would be located in Nez Perce country and would be for the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Spokan, and one in Yakama country for the Yakama, Palouse, Klikatat, Wenatchee, Okanagan, and Colville. The assembled tribal leaders disliked the Stevens’ proposal, so it was modified to include a third reservation: one to be located in Umatilla country for the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla.
Following the treaty council at Walla Walla, Governor Stevens met with the Flathead, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai at Hell Gate and negotiated the treaty which would establish the Flathead Indian Reservation. In addition to the three tribes, the new reservation, according to Stevens’ vision, would also serve as home to the Coeur d’Alene and the Spokan.
By the end of 1855, the American vision called for the Spokan to leave their homeland and settle on either the Nez Perce or the Flathead reservations. Shortly after the treaties, Americans began their invasion of Spokan country looking for mineral wealth and paying little attention to any Spokan rights.
As a result of the treaties and American violations of Indian rights, war soon swept across the Plateau region. As a result Governor Isaac Stevens held council with some of the Columbia River tribes on the Spokane River in 1855. While the Americans were seeking to prevent the Columbia River tribes from joining the growing anti-American war, they heard the chiefs speak with some sympathy for the hostilities. In the rather stormy council, the Americans were unable to promise the Indians that the American army would not invade their territory. During the council, Spokan Garry told them:
“I think the difference between us and you Americans is in the clothing; the blood and the body are the same.”
As the war spreads, American forces under the command of Major Edward Steptoe were defeated by an intertribal war party with warriors from the Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, Spokan, Yakama, Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Columbia. Thus the Spokan were drawn into the war. Following the American defeat, the American forces swept though the Indians’ country from the Cascades to Lake Coeur d’Alene, attacking villages, burning provisions and supplies, taking hostages, and shooting and hanging Indians, with little regard to whether the Indians were actually hostile or friendly. The Americans defeated the Indians at the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. Two of Spokan Garry’s brothers were killed in these battles.
Following the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains, Colonel Wright directed Spokan Garry to send messengers to chiefs Moses, Big Star, Skloom, and Kamiakin and inform them that they should come in for a conference. Later Colonel Wright reported:
“I warned them that if I ever had to come into this country again on a hostile expedition no man should be spared; I would annihilate the whole nation.”
After signing the treaties with the Spokan and Coeur d’Alene, Colonel Wright adopts a policy to hang individual Indians, demonstrating to the tribes what would happen to them if they ever broke the treaties they had signed.
In 1859, Spokan Garry petitioned military authorities and the Indian agent for a reservation for his people. Brigadier General W. S. Harney forwarded the request to the Secretary of the Interior with the following comment:
“In justice to these Indians this step should be adopted by our government; they already cultivate the soil in part for subsistence, and unless protected in their right to do so, they will be forced into a miserable warfare until they are exterminated.”
No action results from the request.
In 1866, a party of Spokan were hunting buffalo in Montana. During the hunt, they captured several horses from the Blackfoot. In retaliation, the Blackfoot killed a Spokan chief and captured 160 Spokan horses. The horse-poor Spokan then captured some non-Indian horses on their way home. In Missoula, Spokan Garry was arrested, but the Indian agent arranged for his release.
In 1872, the Colville Reservation was established by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant for the Methow, Okanagan, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Lakes, Colville, Kalispel, Spokan, Coeur d’Alene, Chelan, Entiat, and Southern Okanagan. Once again there was little interest in providing the Spokan with their own reservation.
In 1874, Spokan Garry met with the Commandant of the Department of the Columbia. He was told that the government had no interest in giving the Spokan a reservation and that they should be careful not to make any trouble.
In 1880, the United States government held council with the Colville, Upper Spokan, Okanogan, Coeur d’Alene, and Lower Spokan just above the falls in Spokane. Nearly 4,000 Indians were present at the council and most did not have a reservation. Spokan Garry argued for a reservation for his people. The Americans promised them a new and ample reservation, but did not sign an agreement to that effect.
In 1881, the United States ordered the Spokan to move to a reservation west of the Columbia River or to take allotments. Chief Spokan Garry replied:
“What right have you to dictate to us? This is our country and we will not leave it.”
Instead of forcing the Spokan to move, a reservation is established for them by Presidential executive order.
In 1887, Spokan Garry asked the Indian Department to cede to his people as a reservation the land on both sides of the Spokane River from the city of Spokane to Tum Tum. The request was denied.
At the 1887 Treaty of Spokane Falls, Washington, non-reservation Spokan agreed to give up all claims to lands outside of the Spokane Reservation and to move to the Couer d’Alene Reservation in Idaho or to the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The United States agreed to help them in moving and finding new homes.
In 1888, Spokan Garry was at a temporary fishing camp away from his farm when non-Indians took over his farm and the crops that he had planted. When he returned home, the men told him to stay off. While Spokan Garry filed suit in an attempt to regain his farm, he died in 1892 before a decision was reached. The pattern of non-Indians taking over farms already being cultivated by Indians is fairly common at this time, and the Indians have little legal recourse.
Garry was about 81 years old at the time of his death. During the last years of his life, Garry was homeless and lived in poverty. The crude tent which had been his last shelter from the winter’s snow and cold became his mortuary. This post is taken by permission from http://nativeamericannetroots.net/showDiary.do?diaryId=1147
Geno Ludwig, teacher and historian, lives in Chewelah and has donated to the archive a slide show on the history of the Colville Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Colville. This presentation fits exactly into the Crossroads on the Columbia theme and is a great introduction to Stevens County history as well as the Crossroads websites. Check the Colville Road Slide Show.
Pushed out of Europe by conflict and poverty into Canada and the United States, settlers from across the nation and the world made their way to Northeast Washington in the first decades of the 20th Century. They not only settled in the small towns at the crossroads of wagon trails and railroads. They moved out to build communities wherever there was a mine to work or land to farm. A log cabin, a cow and a clearing in the woods was all that many first settlers had to make a living. The stories of these people at the ends of the roads have been passed on by their descendants and make a continuous pattern from their lives into our own.
DC Corbin built a railway through Stevens County and to the Canadian Border in 1889 and 1890. The enterprise could make or break a town and everyone had a stake in it. The changes brought on by the railroad brought many more settlers and more commerce to the area. But at the same time they took away the dominance of Colville and other towns built along the ancient water ways and gathered goods for transport to and from the rest of the country to and from the flat and dry rail yards of Spokane. Spokane soon became the biggest city between the Rockies and the Cascade Mountains.
Military Fort Colville was established in 1859 by Captain Pinkney Lugenbeel. He brought 36 wagons from Walla Walla to an area just north of the current city of Colville. The road was later named the “Colville Road” or the “Colville Military Road” and was the oldest pioneer highway in eastern Washington. It tied into the Oregon Trail at Walla Walla. The first route along the Colville River was subject to problems with flooding and an all-weather road was needed to supply the fort.
The first transportation of the industrial age to enter Northeast Washington, were steamboats. With parts brought in on wagons and boats assembled on site early ships captains cashed in on the need to export ore, fruit and livestock and to import settlers, miners and trade goods into the upper Columbia. A steamboat landing involved the whole community. Firewood needed to be supplied, food and accommodations flourished. Trading establishments and warehouses sprang up.
Captain Leonard White constructed the first steamboat above Kettle Falls in 1865 to service the burgeoning mining regions to the north.
In 1854, Joseph Morel, a teamster for the Hudson Bay Company, was taking a drink of water from the Columbia River near
what is now the Canadian Border. He noticed black sand on the river bottom. When Angus McDonald had taken charge of Hudson Bay Fort Colvile in 1852, he had hinted that there might be gold in these waters. Morel sifted through those sands and found flakes of gold. News spread quickly and veterans of the California gold rush of 1849 and prospectors from the West Coast soon flooded the area. You can still pan gold out of that stretch of the Columbia today.
The prospectors soon found more gold in Sullivan Creek, (named after prospector, Michael R.O. Sullivan) near Metaline Falls. It is another area that still continues to attract gold panners. Along with the other gold seekers came Chinese who were willing to work long hard hours and live more frugally than other nationalities. Many had escaped to the United States seeking refuge from the Taiping Rebellion which lasted from 1853 to 1864 and left 20 million dead in China. The Chinese worked up and down the Columbia. They channeled streams to fill their sluice boxes near Inchelium and carried large boulders up out of the stream-bed near the Canadian border. Their work ethic intimidated other miners and Stevens County passed a tax of $6 for each quarter of the year on Chinese miners in 1866. Further discrimination and violence continued until the 1900 when very few were left in the county.
This early gold rush moved north into The Frazer River country where gold was discovered in 1857.
Placer mining depended on deposits in streams and rivers that could be panned or sluiced. The discovery of larger deposits requiring hard rock mining would wait for another 30 years but placer mining continued. At it’s height in 1894 returns were estimated at $500,000 along the Columbia River. (Graham-Colville Collection-p.X).
By way of background it should be noted that Northeast Washington and related areas of British Columbia are possibly the most complicated geology of North America. The coastline of an early North American Continent once stretched along the Windermere Rift from near the southern end of Nevada almost to
Alaska. A local remnant of this inland sea, the Kootenay Arc, runs roughly along the Huckleberry Mountains through Stevens County. Geographic terrains with origins on the floor of the ocean and volcanic islands accreted onto this coastline as they were pushed away from the volcanic eruptions in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Much of this rock was pushed under the existing coastline and melted again. Lighter masses pushed up from beneath the lip of the continent. Where this molted rock broke through, volcanoes formed, where it cooled without erupting, granite formed. All of these geologic forces left pockets of mineralized rock. Almost every known metal is found in some quantity somewhere in early Stevens County which included the current Ferry County and Pend Oreille counties.
The rough and rowdy character of the gold rush miners further aggravated relations with the Indian Tribes. Formerly known as the most peaceful native population in the Northwest, local tribes felt increasing pressure from American Settlers as the British moved out. Union troops were called in to establish what was first called Harney’s Depot and later, Fort Colville in 1859. Skirmishes in the gold field area of Rock Creek involved miners, Indians, liquor and some off-duty soldiers in 1861. The outbreak of the Civil Way that same year prompted replacement of the regular troops at the fort with released prisoners from San Francisco who were more apt to disturb the peace than preserve it until regular troops returned in May 1865.
By the time troops stationed at Fort Colville were relocated to Fort Spokane in 1884, Chewelah was a boom town due to the discovery of lead, silver, copper and gold deposits near Embry Camp in 1883. This discovery was soon eclipsed when William Kearney, Albert Benoist and E.E. Alexander filed a mining claim for the Old
Dominion, a lead, zinc and silver deposit near Colville Washington April 13th, 1885. The claim was immediately jumped by a party of men that included the legendary Wyatt Earp. Earp was dissuaded from the claim without gunfire and was later a part owner of the Sierra zinc mine near Deep Lake. Unlike many mines to come, the Old Dominion was owned locally. The ore was smelted in Colville and soon a large workforce gathered to work the Old Dominion mine and other nearby discoveries. Old Dominion was worked until 1953. In the period between 1903 and 1905 it produced $1.5 million worth of ore.
Over the next 35 years, thousands of mines were claimed in the area.
Major Mines in Northeast Washington
1854 – Morel finds Gold in Columbia River
1864 – Head Tax put on Chinese Miners
1883 – Embry Camp near Chewelah
1883 – Young America Mine
1885 – Bonanza, Bossburg
1885 – Dominion Mine, Colville
1886 – Dead Medicine
1889 – Metaline Mining District
1890 – Trail Creek Copper (Trail BC)
1890 – Cleveland Mine, Hunters
1893 – Young America Mine, Evans
1894 – Cedar Canyon/Deer Trail
1896 – Daisy Mine, Daisy
1898 – Republic Mining District
1898 – Le Roi Smelter, Northport
1900 – Belcher, Curlew Lake
1903 – First Thought Mine – Orient
1904 – Germania Mine, Hunters
1906 – United copper Mine, Chewelah
1907 – Napoleon Mine, Boyds
1910 – Clayton
1914 – Electric Point Mine, Deep Lake
1916 – Magnesite (Dolomite) mines, Chewelah
1920 – Van Stone Mine, Onion Creek
1958 – Midnight Uranium, Wellpinit
1978 – Sherwood Mine, Wellpinit
1976 – Northwest Alloys, Addy
There are around 1800 mines that saw various degrees of profit in Northeast Washington. Most were claimed and worked in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Many claim that more money has gone into the ground here than has come out of it. The most recent mine to begin operation is on Flagstaff Mt. near Northport (2011). What the mining boom did was create a solid framework of transportation. Early wagon roads were mostly developed by the Military. (See Government Section) Early steamboats hauled freight, timber, fruit, ore and passengers, many of them prospectors. Steamboats were also forward scouts for the railroads which were much better suited to hauling ore from mine, to smelter and eventually to international markets. All of these developments opened the territory to settlers from around the world. As early as 1850, steam powered locomotives and rail lines were being developed on the East Coast before Washington became a Territory in 1853. Increased improvements in and reliance on machinery drove the demand for metals and the capability to secure them by mining and mechanized transportation.
The Fur Trade in what is now Northeast Washington did not begin until near the end of 250 years of activity in North America. Over the period from 1600 to 1850 dominance in the trade shifted from the French to the English and finally to the Americans in the era of the “Mountain Men” from 1830 to 1850. Its significance for Northeast Washington and interior British Columbia goes well beyond the economic impact that buying and selling furs had on the region.
By the time of the first official contact between White Men and the local natives, the arrival of David Thompson at Kettle Falls in 1811, the trade of iron goods, firearms, blankets and beads had shifted the control of power from one Indian nation armed with guns to the next across the face of North America.
On an personal scale, Thompson’s arrival at Astoria on the 15th of July in 1811 marked the end of his quest to reach the mouth of the Columbia River. On an International scale, it marked the beginning of a trade route that now stretched from the headwaters of the Columbia to China and back around Africa to England.
Ever since Captain James Cook’s expedition of 1776 charted the Northwest Coast of North America, hopes of finding a “Great River of the West” similar to the Mississippi or the St Lawrence had fueled explorations across the Rocky Mountains.
The fur trading companies were the front lines of nationalist expansion throughout the world led by the seafaring nations of France, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands. As wars and alliances shifted power between the royal families of Europe, so too did the leadership of the economic powerhouses of the fur companies shift in the New World.
From 1600 to 1760 France was the initiator and leader in fur trade starting along the St Lawrence Seaway and carving out an empire, New France, that stretched from the Atlantic Coast of Canada down the Mississippi and across the Great Lakes. Note that along with trade, fortifications and eventually settlements, the French brought their religion, Catholicism, and Jesuit Missionaries. They also brought shiploads of French women and sanctioned marriages with native women to balance out the predominantly male population at their forts and trading posts. Over the 10 generations of fur traders in the New World, the voyagers, descended from these mixed blood French peoples became the backbone of the Northwest Company many years after the French ceded New France to Britain and Spain in 1760. Freedmen from the Northwest Company settled near Chewelah where the Jesuit, Fr De Smet founded St Regis Mission in 1845 to fill their need for a Catholic Church. Their French surnames are predominant in the local Indian Nations and local landmarks such as French Point Rocks trace their roots to these first fur traders.
The driving force of the fur trade from 1760 to 1816 was the Hudson Day Company. After the voyage of the British ship, Nonsuch, in 1668-9 to James Bay on the South shore of Hudson Bay, the British formed the Hudson Bay Company, which with various permutations is actually still represented today in Target Stores. The French and English fur traders immediately clashed over territory, religion and the allegiance of the Native Tribes. By 1696, French attacks during the Fox Wars had crippled the Hudson Bay Company, which did not turn a profit for the next 20 years. The foxes did not fair much better and were all but extinct in the territory where they were trapped by that time. For the next 50 years, the French dominated the fur trade. In 1720, the “Golden Age” of the French Fur Trade, there were 24,500 French settlers in New France. Events during the War of Austrian Succession, 1740-1748, changed the balance of power in Europe. The war left the French with a weak navy. The Seven Years war (1756-1763) as it was called in Europe was called the French and Indian War (1753-1760) in North America. The French had superior fortifications on the ground and repulsed advances made by a young George Washington, then in the employment of, Robert Dinwidde, Governor of Virginia. The war raged on with the victories going mostly to the French. But in the end, England’s ability to block French shipping both at the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway and as French ships left France, weakened the French troops in North America and led to a British victory in 1760.
These wars had many lasting consequences. They drained the treasury of England which prompted the British to raise taxes in their American Colonies, leading eventually to the American Revolution. The British Colonies had a population of 1.2 million by 1754. The French had only 55,000. Pressure to push westward over the Appalachian Mountains led to conflicts with the British who were upholding treaties and the tribes who had been promised sovereignty in that area. During the American Revolution, Indian tribes friendly to the French took the American side and those aligned with the British remained loyal. The Hudson Bay Company kept expanding to the west and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1784, three years after the American Revolution, David Thompson landed at the Churchill factory on the shores of Hudson Bay at the age of 14, as an
apprentice to the Company. That same year, the Northwest Company was formed as a joint stock company by Simon McTavish. 16 years later in 1800 Thompson, by then an accomplished surveyor and fur trader, would join with James Duncan McGillivray and the Northwest Company to explore routes across the Rocky Mountains. Three years after that, the American Lewis and Clark Expedition was formed and in 1804 set off to discover a route to the Columbia and the Pacific. They travelled through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and into the Oregon Territory.
At this point, Fur Trading companies and explorers with their national interests were converging on the Columbia. In their travels they planted flags and exchanged gifts with local tribes. The Northwest Company’s efforts under the leadership of David Thompson developed a route up the Saskatchewan River, over Howse Pass and into the Purcell Trench in 1807. It would take 4 more labor-intensive years to set up trading posts on a route down the Kootenai River, overland to Lake Pend Oreille, then Spokane and finally Kettle Falls in 1811. In Thompson’s mind, this gave the British claim to all the territory upstream of the junction of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Meanwhile the American Fur company had established a post at Astoria and was developing trading partners up the Columbia.
When Thompson encountered Duncan McDougall, Alexander Ross and David Stuart at Astoria, he was under the impression that his company, The Northwest Company and theirs, the The Pacific Fur Company, a subsidiary of John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, had merged. In reality they had not but Thomson did not know it at that time. 5 years later, in 1816, the Northwest Company merged with the Hudson Bay Company. In the meantime, the Northwest Company had purchased Fort Astoria from the Pacific Fur Company in 1813.
The Hudson Bay Company set up a new Headquarters at Fort Vancouver in 1824 and the following year moved their inland headquarters, formerly the Spokane House at the mouth of the Little Spokane River, to Fort Colvile. (Spelled with two “l’s”) established on the rich plain on the Northeast side of Kettle Falls.
In a time when fur is thought to be a minor and somewhat offensive commodity, it is difficult to imagine the wealth or extent of the fur trade. John Jacob Astor was the richest man in the Americas, much of his wealth stemming from arrangements to export fur from the Northwest Company and eventually through his own company, the American Fur Company. His ship the Empress of China was the first American vessel to trade with China (1800). Circumnavigating the world, merchant ships traded fur for China in Asia, picked up spice from the East India Company in India, continued back to England and loaded iron goods from Germany on board that would be traded for more furs in North America.
Beginning with 5 kegs of potatoes, bushels of wheat and farming tools in 1825 and following up with pigs and cows in 1826, the Hudson Bay Fort Colvile commenced to grow huge crops of many kinds that were sent to trading posts north to the headwaters of the Columbia and east into Montana. Fort Colvile became a key connection in international commerce. French craftsmen at the fort built large freight canoes, bateaus, that were used to ship furs down the Columbia and haul other trade goods back up the river.
Along with trade goods, the Hudson Bay Company provided Bibles, catechisms and religious instruction. Many of the Voyagers, particularly those of Iroquois heritage, were Catholics as were many Northwest Company Canadians. They brought religious instruction to tribes, often with the help of the chiefs. Fur men married native women and many settled near Fort Vancouver or across the Columbia in the Willamette Valley. Not until 1838 did Jesuit priests, Rev. Modeste Demers and Rev. Francis Blanchet travel from the Red River Valley to the Northwest to serve this population.
Over the next 8 years of intense activity with encouragement from the Hudson Bay Company, missions were established throughout the region. In 1946 the Boundary Agreement between the United States and Canada forced the Hudson Bay Company to move its operations North to Fort Shepherd, on the west side of the Columbia just north of the mouth of the Pend Oreille river. Religion remained predominantly Catholic in the region with strong ties to the Portland area.
Another great influence with its roots in the Fur Trade era was the trade in botanicals. The most famous collector of new plant species was David Douglas. A very good account of his activities is available at HistoryLink.org. He was among several collectors aided in their efforts by the Hudson Bay Company. An unintended consequence of the dissemination of non-native plants and animals around the world is that they often become runaway environmental disasters in environments with no natural predators. The intense interest in these new species many of which were being discovered by Charles Darwin in the same time period, led to publication of The Origin of the Species in 1859 and the beginning of the science of evolution.
The Boundary Agreement slowly began to take effect as the 49th parallel was being surveyed by crews from both Canada and the United States. But the discovery of gold in the Columbia near present-day Waneta in 1852 by an employee of the Hudson Bay Company precipitated a gold rush following on that of the 49ers in California. Eventually the rush moved on into Southern British Columbia but in its wake it left boom towns, conflicts with native tribes, problems with liquor, the need for fortifications, US soldiers, Chinese Minors and a flood of pioneers and immigrants from the east.
A Preserve America Project for Stevens County Washington