The Era Of The Hudson's Bay Company


From 1814 to 1821, while diplomats labored to keep the peace between the United States and Britain, internal strife within the North West Company had weakened its operations. Merchant proprietors and wintering partners no longer worked in harmony. At the same time competition over the Athabaskan trade and in the Red River country had led to open warfare with the HBC. To end the scandalous situation, the British government stepped in to force a coalition of the rivals in 1821. The coalition was to run for twenty-one years, but by 1825 it was apparent that the HBC had absorbed its former rival.

The HBC remained intact as a joint-stock company but was enlarged by the addition of the North West Company's proprietors. It retained exclusive trade privileges in Rupert's Land. A royal grant of December, 1821, extended these privileges, rent free, to land outside the Canadian provinces and to the Pacific slope. By Deed of Covenant, the company agreed to abide by the terms embodied in an Act of Parliament (July, 1821) "regulating the Fur Trade and establishing a Criminal and Civil Jurisdiction within certain parts of North America." The company was charged to prevent trade in liquor with the Indians, to obey regulations for the improvement of Indian conditions, and to exercise jurisdiction over employees charged with criminal offenses and over civil suits in which less than 200 pounds was involved. In cases where the sum was greater or the crime more heinous--manslaughter for example--the company was to bring the case to the courts of Lower Canada. It was not to trade in American territories or to exclude American traders from the region covered by the Convention of 1818.

All policy decisions rested with the Governor and Committee in London. Administration was placed in the hands of wintering personnel of Northern and Southern departments, each of which had a governor and council composed of twenty-five chief factors and eight chief traders. Wintering partners of the North West Company who chose not to retire were, with a few exceptions, assigned to administrative positions. In some cases it was difficult for old Nor'Westers who had fought the HBC so long and vigorously to enter meekly into this new order; but enter they did and in time their loyalty was unquestioned.

Simpson And The Columbia Department

In Scottish-born George Simpson, trained in business practices, the Committee found so efficient a governor for the Northern Department that within several years he was sole head of the company in Canada and the architect of its policies. Through his personal friendship with Andrew Wedderburn, Lord Colvile, deputy governor and chief executive of the London Committee, he had the sympathetic ear of that body which, on the whole, followed his recommendations.

The independence of the wintering partners which had characterized the North West Company, was surrendered to Simpson's management. A new accounting system in the London office made it possible to keep track of sales and inventories; purchasing was centralized, and outfits for a year in advance of the trade were dispatched regularly. "Men of the Country," sturdy French Canadians, replaced imported Orkney men. Efficiency, in manpower as well as in provisioning and trading, was Simpson's objective. His word for it was economy.

Petty in dealings with subordinates, Simpson was nevertheless a man of large ideas, shared with, if not first promoted by, Colvile. The expansion of company enterprises in the Pacific Northwest was one of these ideas. Simpson's policies evolved from first-hand acquaintance with the region, to which he made two lightning-fast tours of inspection in 1824 and 1828, from recommendations of men who knew the land (and who were seldom given credit for their ideas), and from the ambiguities of the diplomatic situation.

The Convention of 1818 had provided for "free and open" trade in the Pacific Northwest for ten years. When Simpson toured the Columbia Department in 1824 he was confident that the convention would be renewed for another period; but he knew also that American trappers were once more moving toward the Rockies. He had to act quickly to protect the company's interests on both long-range and short-term conditions.

The Columbia Department extended from the Russian settlements to Spanish California; from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Assuming that the Columbia River would eventually form the boundary between Canada and the United States, Simpson therefore adopted a policy of trapping out the lands that might go to the Americans. This procedure would serve two purposes: it would remove the chief attraction for American hunters, and it would forestall the settlers who seemed inevitably to follow hunters' trails. The vast, vaguely defined area known as the Snake River country, stripped of fur-bearing animals, would become a barrier rather than an inducement to American occupation. Furthermore, the largely untapped riches of the Snake country could carry the cost of developing the rest of the department until it was self-supporting.

Simpson immediately ordered a step-up in the conduct of the Snake River trapping expeditions. Initiated in 1816 by Donald McKenzie, they had been continued by able but unaggressive Alexander Ross in 1823 and 1824. Simpson replaced Ross with tough-minded, hard-driven Peter Skene Ogden.

Ogden was one of the few wintering Nor'Westers not taken into the coalition in 1821; but when Simpson had need for Ogden's particular qualities, he was brought in as a chief trader and assigned to the Snake country.1 Ogden spent six harrowing years (1824-1831) exploring and trapping wherever he anticipated American intrusion. He traversed Idaho, northern Utah, and Nevada, where he discovered the Humbolt River; he explored central and southern Oregon and northern California. On his last expedition (1829-1830) his search for the mythical River Buenaventura led him to the Gulf of California. He was the HBC's outstanding explorer in the Far West.

For the rest of the department, north of the Columbia, Simpson planned permanent occupation. This meant reliance upon trade with the Indians at trading posts rather than upon roving bands of company trappers, and conservation rather then extermination of the beaver. New Caledonia, for example, was preserved through careful cultivation of the native trade. Here can be illustrated the distinguishing features of the trading post system.

The Post System Of Trade

The fur trade had the same motivation as commerce generally: to satisfy the demands of people holding a valuable commodity which they would exchange to satisfy their wants. To increase their range of wants was profitable and was believed to be a civilizing agent. The HBC improved upon this maxim, as have others before and since, by limiting the opportunities to find satisfactions elsewhere--that is, by eliminating competition. The Indians consumed British goods and produced furs which supplied the London market; hence, a large part of the world's demand for fine furs. On the goods sold to the Indians, and on the furs they received, the company usually made a tidy profit.

A district trade was profitable when its returns in furs exceeded the cost of its outfit. In 1826 the formula for figuring costs of trading goods in the Columbia Department was prime cost plus a 70 percent markup, although 33 1/3 percent normally covered all charges. In bartering with the Indians, traders had to set prices that would show a profit over the marked-up cost. Using the prime beaver pelt as the unit of trade, a trap, essential to conservation practices, cost the Indians of New Caledonia six skins. In 1833-1834, the cost of the outfit for New Caledonia district was 3000 pounds. The returns, at London prices, reached an estimated 11,000 pounds.

In order to increase the returns from their district, traders adopted a credit system which tended to keep the Indians forever in debt to the company. Not until 1839 was this practice discontinued. Under monopoly conditions, the natives not only became increasingly dependent upon company posts for goods that had become essential to their living, but for foodstuffs as well. In time, the Indians' living leveled off to a subsistence standard and they became, in a sense, wards of the company.

Where new posts should be located and when old ones should be abandoned were questions decided by weighing practical considerations: potentialities of fur production; facilities for supply and communication; advantages in meeting or forestalling competition and/or opening new areas of trade; and, important to Simpson's economy program, conditions which made the posts self-sustaining in food. It was also important that no major investments should be made in areas the company might lose when the boundary question was settled with the United States.

The company inherited from the North West Company four posts which might eventually go to the Americans. Flathead House was continued for a while as a supply depot for trapping expeditions into the Blackfoot and the Snake River countries and as an outpost against American competitors. Spokane House was a special object of Simpson's indignation when, in 1824, he found its people guilty of "an extraordinary predilection for European Provisions" whose cost made their diet like "eating Gold." It was abandoned in 1825 when Fort Colville was founded. Making few returns in furs, Colville was an important depot for the overland express; it produced fish in abundance, and by 1850 it was a granary for the northern interior posts.

Fort Nez Perce (Walla Walla) became the outfitting post for Snake River expeditions after 1826. The Nez Perces held the "Key of the River" from the Okanogan to the Dalles of the Columbia. They supplied horses for the Snake parties and were instrumental in keeping peace with warlike tribes to the south. Furthermore, this post was economical: in Simpson's Spartan opinion it could be supported by the river and a potato garden.

Fort George--old Astoria--produced neither furs nor food. It had a deepwater anchorage and seemed a logical site for the company's chief depot. But deep water was not especially important for ships of light draft, and American claims to the site were formidable. After Fort Vancouver was built (1824-1825) a man was kept at the old site to report arrival of company ships and as a lookout for American traders. In 1826 or 1827 the Indians pulled down the stockade and burned the buildings.

When Simpson was finally convinced that the Columbia was the only route by which interior posts could communicate with the sea--and it took a hair-raising voyage down the Fraser in 1828 to convince him that the river was not navigable--Fort Vancouver became the capital and headquarters of the department.

This palisaded outpost of empire, 100 miles inland on the north bank of the Columbia, was originally set on a bluff overlooking the river and a landscape "sublimely grand," to quote David Douglas, English botanist who first visited it in 1825. But a vista of river, valley, and "mountains covered with perpetual snow," eight-foot-tall stalks of wild lupine on the prairie, blue scilla on the riverbanks, or blooming salal with shining leaves touching up the shadowed edges of the forests--were not as gratifying to Simpson as fertile soil under cultivation or meadows grazed by herds of cattle.

Within five years, the farm at Fort Vancouver was supplying wheat, peas, barley, pork, and beef. Cattle and hogs were imported from California and the Hawaiian Islands, sheep from England. When their number was too great to pasture on the plains near the fort, the cattle were swum across the Columbia to Wapato (Sauvie) Island, across Multnomah Channel, and trailed over hills to the Tualatin Plains. A neat vegetable garden, orchard, and vineyard produced abundantly under skilled Scottish gardeners. Apples grew so thick on the limbs of dwarfed trees that they looked like "onions fastened in rows on a string." To live as Fort Vancouver was to live well, and fish and wild game, staples of diet at many posts, were less the regular fare than additions to it.

The fort was removed from the bluff to the plain, nearer the river, early in 1829. By 1846 it was an enclosure, roughly 732 by 450 feet, surrounded by a high palisade of hewed logs fitted closely together and firmly buttressed inside. At its northwest and southwest corners bastions mounted several small cannon which, never used, were tributes to peace rather than symbols of war. Within the walls there were two courts around which were ranged one-story buildings housing officers and clerks, warehouses and workshops. Opposite the great gate stood the residence of the Chief Factor, and to its right, Bachelors' Hall, the common room from gentlemen and Clerks.2

Over this "New York of the Pacific Ocean" Chief Factor John McLoughlin ruled.

Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor

Born at Riviere du Loup, Canada, in 1784, McLoughlin was thirty-nine years old when he was appointed to the department. He had studied medicine in Quebec in the fashion of the time, and entered the service of the North West Company in which he became a partner in 1814. He bitterly fought the HBC in the Red River country and was one of the agents of the Nor'Westers when the coalition was arranged.3 He was not easily reconciled to the new order, and some of his associates thought he was exiled to the Columbia because of his partisanship. His exile, if such it was, made him the chief figure of Northwest history for almost a quarter of a century.

From their first meeting, Simpson appears to have disliked McLoughlin. En route to the Columbia in 1824, Simpson caught up with McLoughlin, who had a twenty-day start, and noted in his journal that

. . . he was such a figure as I should not like to meet in a dark night in one of the byelanes in the neighborhood of London. . . . He was dressed in Clothes that had once been fashionable, but now covered with a thousand patches of different Colors, his beard would do honor the the chin of a Grizzly Bear, his face and hands evidently Shewing up that he had not lost much time at his Toilette, loaded with Arms and his own herculean dimensions forming a tout ensemble, that would convey a good idea of the highway men of former days.4

McLoughlin never became a dandy, but as Chief Factor of the Columbia River Department he was never again compared in appearance to a highwayman. Inclined toward corpulence, he impressed observers as a large man. He was often described as dignified and of courtly manner. His hair, prematurely gray but thick and bushy, framed a mobile face. His blue eyes could be kindly, but they could also grow icy, or flash with the temper he displayed on more than one occasion. To the Indians whom he ruled with a firm but just hand, McLoughlin was hyas tyee, a good chief. He was the "good doctor" to those missionaries and settlers who experienced--and happened to appreciate--his generosity.

But if Simpson was Emperor to some of his officers, McLoughlin was tyrant to those immediately under him. An able administrator where the trade followed the patterns of his earlier experience, and successful in carrying out Simpson's plans for agricultural development and diversified trade, he nevertheless suffered from the many demands made upon him. He was confident when dealing with Indians, whom he understood; but, subject to orders he considered inappropriate to local conditions, or with crises in his own personal life, he panicked, suffered from a nervous stomach, and exploded in violent tempers. His all-too-evident humanity does not detract from, but rather enhances, a character often portrayed in Olympian composure and granite serenity.

As Chief Factor, McLoughlin was expected to exercise discretionary powers as to appointments, outfits, distribution of personnel, and in all matters in which time and distance made it impossible to ask direction from the Governor or Committee. It was his responsibility to see that policies broadly outlined by the London Committee, and more minutely by Governor Simpson, were carried out. This meant the economical administration of the Department and a profitable harvest of furs; establishment of new posts; supervision of personnel, numerous agricultural enterprises, the Indian trade, trapping expeditions, and a marine department; development of the region's resources other than furs, such as timber and fish, and opening of new markets for them; and the conduct of business with Russians in Alaska, with Californians, and with Americans.

Life At The Trading Posts

Fort Vancouver was the headquarters and nerve center of the company's business.5 From here runners were dispatched with news and orders to outlying posts: to Colville, word that fifty horses were needed at Fort Nez Perce to outfit the Snake brigade; to Chief Trader Black at Fort Nez Perce, that an American trader had slipped up the river to the Dalles, and that Black was to reduce company prices temporarily; to John Work, leading a trapping party to northern California, that he was to meet Michel Laframboise and his men at the Umpqua; to William Connolly at Bear's Lake in northern Caledonia, that leather was needed at Fort Colville. To the fort came runners, bringing word of disasters: the Clallams at New Dungeness had attacked a party and killed two company men (1828); the Isabella wrecked at the mouth of the Columbia and her crew lost (1830); one of Ogden's bateaux and swamped at the Dalles and nine men drowned (1830); and--bitter news--McLoughlin's son John was murdered at Stikine (1842).

The fort hummed with the sounds of industry: the tinsmith fashioned utensils, the blacksmith beat iron into farm tools, coopers shaped casks for furs and salted salmon, carpenters strained their skills to build seagoing schooners. From early summer until late fall the tempo of life was strenuous. The annual ship arrived and goods had to be unloaded, checked, and assigned to outfits. Clerks worked from morning to midnight on annual accounts, checking and rechecking figures to show that the Department had not done too badly for the year. Furs had to be packed and ready when, in the fall, the sails stood fair for England again.

Trapping expeditions must be readied and set off; those returning welcomed with salutes and cheers. The overland express must leave on schedule, carrying special mail and passengers to Red River, to York, to Montreal and civilization. Stiff hands of officers and clerks worked late to complete a message to family or to friends. ". . . send the old Heron, a few late news papers, to show what is going on in the old countries; with a letter, of at least two sheets, closely written, to make him knowing in what is going on in this," wrote Chief Trader Francis Heron. Inquiries about the progress of children at school, orders for goods and clothing, comments on fellow workers and on the company's affairs, fill in the human side of the business on which McLoughlin annually, officially and impersonally, reported to Simpson and the directors. The seventy pounds of paper in a dispatch box, carried painfully over portages and the Athabaska Pass, told of the hopes, worries, and loneliness of the Columbians.

Yet life at the fort was a welcome relief from the long months in wilderness posts; it was heaven in retrospect for those who, in roofless camps of trapping expeditions, kept nightlong watches against Indians. The fort was where breeches and jackets of leather were changed for cloth. After the formalities of dinner with McLoughlin, at a polished table set with Spode and silver, the gentlemen smoked their long clay pipes, told stories of their adventures, or browsed among the books William Fraser Tolmie circulated as the Columbia Library. Life in Bachelors' Hall was a better life than that in the field, where hunger sometimes pinched so hard that the squaws scraped animal skins and boiled them for food, and the talk was of the chances of surviving another day.

Occasionally the fort had distinguished visitors. Thomas Nuttall spent almost a year (1834-1835) botanizing the region. David Douglas was an attractive person as well as a distinguished botanist. As a result of his two trips to the Northwest (1825-1827, 1830-1832) he introduced hundreds of northwestern botanical items to the scientific world. His name is familiarly attached to the native pine, mistakenly called in his honor the Douglas fir.

When the company's own employees assembled at the departmental capital they contributed an air of distinction too. The gentlemen of the officer class were required to have something more than trading skill and lore of forests and plains. Lack of education was a handicap; its possession was almost a guarantee of advancement. Doctors John Kennedy and Meredith Gairdner were graduates of Edinburgh, Dr. William Tolmie of Glasgow. At twenty-two, Gairdner was author of a comprehensive work on mineral and thermal springs. Tolmie's interests ranged from belles lettres to scientific farming. trader Charles Ross was a classical scholar. Peter Skene Odgen was educated in the law. James Douglas (later to succeed Simpson as governor), Dugald Mactavish, Alexander Anderson, Roderick Finlayson, and George Barnston, among others, revealed in their letters, journals, and histories the measure of literacy Simpson applied to men "tolerably educated."

Their regular assignments were seldom as pleasant as life at the fort. At Fort St. James on Stuart's Lake poor soil, easily exhausted, made gardening impossible. Usually fish were plentiful and quantities were dried and packed for other posts and for the Indian trade. "Where there are no gardens, the men have only dried salmon, as poor fare as civilized man subsists on in any part of the world," wrote one victim of too many years of it. Fort Fraser, on Fraser's Lake, stood in a valley open to the southwest and protected from the cold northeast winds; rich, sandy soil and a relatively long growing season produced potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables.

At Fort George in New Caledonia four acres of land were cleared and planted to wheat. "Pancakes and hot rolls were thenceforward to be the order of the day; Babine salmon and dog's flesh were to be sent 'to Coventry,'" rejoiced Trader McLean. But a late spring was followed by a cold summer, early autumn frosts. No pancakes. Even the natives suffered at fort McLeod, which in Simpson's view was "the most wretched place in the Indian Country." Connolly, or Bear Lake post, and Babine were hardly better. Yet these six northern posts yielded a gross return of 12,000 pounds, 9000 pounds net profit in 1828, and were expected to do better the next year.

It took four months for the "voyage out" and return from northern Caledonia: by boat from Fort Vancouver to Okanogan, and by horse brigade--250 to 300 animals in the train--from Okanogan to Kamloops. Many animals died from the rigors of this trip over winding mountain trails. At Alexandria, on the Fraser River near the present Quesnel, the brigade was met by men from the north in their lightweight but sturdy swiftwater canoes, who carried the supplies back to Stuart's Lake, to be distributed to other posts by "large and small canoes, Horses, Dog sleds and Men's backs."

Fort Alexandria enjoyed a setting almost like that of Fort Vancouver. There was pleasant diversity of hill, plain, and wooded groves--and of food. No one complained of Fort Alexandria.

Coastal posts were required to live, so far as possible, on country provisions, fish, and game. In one case, much to Simpson's delight, consumption actually returned a profit. At Taku, located between Sitka and the Taku River, twenty-four officers and men were maintained on venison got at "so cheap a rate from the natives, that we absolutely make a profit in our consumption of provisions, the skin of the animal selling for much more than is paid for the whole carcass." At Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser, 800 barrels of dried and salted fish were put up in 1846, of which more than half was sold in the Hawaiian Islands at $9 a barrel.

The Marine Department And Coast Forts

Fort Langley was built in 1827 to protect the company from American traders, who still came to the coast though the great days of the sea otter trade were over. In 1829 and 1830, the natives made the most of the presence of opposition and raised their demands. The effect spread into the interior where the Indians threatened to carry their furs to tribes who dealt with Americans and got higher prices. Between 1827 and 1829 two irritatingly persistent Americans, Captain John Dominis, the Owhyhee, and Captain D.W. Thompson, the Convoy, not only traded along the coast but had the temerity to enter the Columbia. As transients they were extravagant in trade, and "excited quite a sensation among the natives." Prices returned to the old rates only when the Americans left.

Simpson cherished the notion that company trading vessels would stop the Americans, and reduce the need for expensive coastal establishments. He appointed a cousin, Captain Aemilius Simpson, to head a marine department. The Cadboro arrived from England in 1827, to spend subsequent summers in the northern waters and winters in trading voyages to California or the Hawaiian Islands. The Vancouver, a 60-ton schooner, built in 1826 at Vancouver under great handicaps was hardly seaworthy and was used primarily on the lower Columbia. A better job was done on the 30-ton sloop, Broughton, launched the same year; but lack of skilled labor, iron works, and properly seasoned timber forced abandonment of local shipbuilding. In 1836 the pioneer paddlewheel steamer, Beaver, arrived under sail from England. Its two 35-horsepower engines and low draft would, it was hoped, enable the ship to enter coves and inlets where sailing vessels could not go. But its voracious appetite for fuel defeated Simpson's hopes. The Northwest's first steamer used sails in the early years of its long service in Pacific waters.

McLoughlin viewed the marine department with jaundiced eye, believing that permanent posts were less costly in the long run and made for better trade relations with the natives. Upon the death of Captain Simpson in 1831, McLoughlin took charge of the vessels and made them strictly auxiliary to new posts: Fort Simpson (1831 and 1834), Fort McLoughlin (1833), Stikine, and Taku (1840).

The annual supply ships which usually arrived in the Columbia in March, were under McLoughlin's orders while on the coast. The following season's trade and, in considerable measure, the morale of company personnel depended upon the safe arrival of these vessels and their cargoes. A disaster, such as the wreck of the William and Ann in 1829 and of the Isabella in 1830, seriously affected the trade, reducing outfits and upsetting the tight schedule for their dispatch to the interior. During their stay in the Pacific the vessels were used to distribute supplies, and they took on cargoes of lumber and salmon which were marketed in California, the Hawaiian Islands, or in South American ports on the return voyage to England.

Expanded Activities: The Lumber Trade And Farming

McLoughlin supported--perhaps anticipated--Simpson's ambition to expand the company's business to other commodities than furs. "We must avail ourselves of all the resources of this Country if we have to Compete for the trade of it with the Americans as we may depend [upon it] they will turn every thing they possibly can to account," he reported to the Governor and Committee in 1829.

A small water-powered sawmill, located about five miles east of Fort Vancouver, produced lumber for rebuilding the fort, employing six to ten saws and twenty-five men in 1838. McLoughlin and Simpson together, in 1828, selected a site at the Falls of the Willamette where, according to Simpson's enthusiastic report, "whole Forests of Timber can be floated into a very fine Mill Seat. . . . [and] Saws enough could be employed to load the British Navy." Timbers for a mill were cut at the spot in 1831, but the project was abandoned. An abundant supply of timber was one thing, but a market for lumber was another.

The first shipment of lumber to the Hawaiian Islands in 1828-1829 sold for $100 a thousand feet but the demand was spotty and unpredictable. Efforts to open a market in South America and California were not successful. The export trade in salmon, dried or salted, was disappointing. Not only was the demand light, but improperly preserved salmon spoiled on the voyage. It was no easy matter to develop the Pacific Northwest's resources.

Simpson, as had Astor before him, hoped to capture the carrying and supply business of the Russian American Company. Not only would this keep American traders off the coasts, but British manufactures could be sold with profit, and the HBC would have a market for surplus produce from its local farms. Here at least, the Americans could not underbid them. In 1829 Simpson made overtures to the Russian governor who, though attracted to any reasonable offer that would free his colony from dependence on irresponsible American traders, could not accept Simpson's terms. But when it established posts on the British Columbia coast, the company was in direct competition with Russian traders and in controversy over territory to boot. Their disputes were settled in 1839 in a commercial agreement by which the Russian American Company leased to the HBC a strip of its mainland coast extending from Mount Fairweather to Portland Canal. The Russians would keep the trade of Alaskan islands and offer no opposition to the HBC in the interior; in return the company agreed to sell the Russians agricultural products at stipulated prices.6

In 1838 the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company was formed, in part to supply the Russians. The HBC stockholders owned it exclusively and McLoughlin managed its affairs, but the PSAC was legally independent. Its purpose was to establish "an agricultural Settlement with a view to the production of wool, hides, tallow, and other farm produce for the English and other markets, in the District of Country situated between the head waters of the Cowlitz Portage and Pugets Sound. . . ." But such activities were also a means of "proving up" the company's claims (and Great Britain's) to the disputed region north of the Columbia. An agricultural settlement provided a stronger argument for occupation than a fur trading post.

Fort Nisqually, at the southern tip of Puget Sound, had been planned as a major trading post and farm when it was set up in 1833. Early hopes that the area would produce bumper wheat crops were dashed when it was found that the soil responded only if heavily fertilized. But heavy meadow grass fattened beef cattle, and after skilled husbandmen took over, a productive dairy farm was developed. In 1839, the Nisqually livestock industry was assigned to the newly formed Puget's Sound Agricultural Company and after 1841 sheep and cattle became the establishment's chief produce.

Plows broke the heavy sod at Cowlitz Farms in 1839. The turf resisted harrow and drag and the poorly prepared fields dried out in that unusually hot and dry summer. But two years later, 1000 acres produced 8000 bushels of wheat and 4000 bushels of oats, barley, peas, and quantities of potatoes.

Agricultural development was handicapped by a shortage of labor. Indians were seldom reliable workers, and indentured employees of the company were unaccustomed to farming. To meet this problem the HBC settled six of its retired employees at Nisqually, and in 1841 sent out from the Red River, under James Sinclair, twenty-one families--116 men, women, and children--who crossed the Rockies with all their baggage. Seventy-seven of these persons, principally Anglo-Indian half-breeds, were located at Nisqually where they farmed on halves for the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. Seven families were reluctant to accept these terms and were settled at Cowlitz Farms in a semi-independent status. To them were advanced seed, implements, and other supplies, but, except for their debts, they were outside the jurisdiction of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company.

Thus western Washington was becoming a farming community. A similar change was taking place in the Tualatin and Willamette valleys in Oregon. Company cattle grazed on Tualatin prairies. In the Willamette Valley in 1833, at least eight families formed the nucleus of a growing Canadian population and gave the name French Prairie to their settlement. When they were joined by Americans, missionaries, mountain men, and settlers, a new chapter of Northwest history was in the making.

The HBC was both a deterrent and an aid to American occupation of the Oregon country. It fought the Americans as competitors in the Indian trade. By trapping out, it attempted to make the Snake River a barrier against American invasion and to preserve the northern region where British claims were strongest. On the other hand, by engaging in agriculture, by disciplining the natives, by maintaining posts at strategic locations, and by establishing routes of travel, it lessened the danger for venturesome Americans who did break through. While the company frowned upon any practices that made life easy for its rivals, it could not reject the stranger at its gates. John McLoughlin's humanity made Fort Vancouver an outpost of civilization as well as of empire.


1Ogden's Snake Country Journals, 1824-26, E.E. Rich, ed., HBS XII (1950); Peter Skene Ogden's Snake Country Journal, 1826-27, K.G. Davies, ed., HBS XXIII (1961); Gloria Griffin Cline, Exploring the Great Basin (1963).

2John Hussey, The History of Fort Vancouver and its Physical Structure (1957).

3W. Kaye Lamb's introductions to McLoughlin's Fort Vancouver Letters, First Series 1825-1838, HBS IV (1941), Second Series 1839-1844, HBS VI (1943), and Third Series 1844-1846, HBS (1944), E.E. Rich, ed.

4Fur Trade and Empire: George Simpson's Journal, 1824-1825, Frederick Merk, ed. (1931), 23.

5McLoughlin's Fort Vancouver Letters, whole series; Narcissa Whitman's diary, letters in First White Women Over the Rockies, Clifford M. Drury, ed., 2 vols. (1963), I.

6"James Douglas and the Russian American Company, 1840." Willard E. Ireland, ed., BCHQ, January 1941, 65n; John S. Galbraith, The Hudson's Bay Company as an Imperial Factor 1821-1869 (1957); The Journals of William Fraser Tolmie, Physician and Fur Trader (1963).