« AnkstesnisTęsti »
return to civilization. And now came these two Yankees, fresh from the overland trail, acknowledged competitors with this great company, beggared, but honored guests. "Below the salt," at the lower end of the table, sat the postmaster, so-called, and other minor clerks, in their uniforms of navy blue, with brass buttons.
The assemblage would have done justice to London itself, and so would the table, with its abundance of game, wild fowl, vegetables, and fruits, served in courses, followed by wine. Wine was the one luxury they demanded. Only the roast beef of old England was lacking. The cattle were needed to break the new land, and neither for the eight years preceding nor for the five years following Wyeth's appearance on the Columbia was it served. Venison took its place.
After dinner, except when the "home ship" was in and letters and reports had to be written, or when the "brigade of boats" had come in, came the withdrawal to Bachelors' Hall, as the great sitting-room was called. Here, seated before the great fireplace, or grouped about the room, under the decoration of antlers and stags' heads, while the blue smoke curled from their pipes, these exiles discussed with animation both European and American politics, the literature of the day, and the general news of the world, even though always a year behind, as well as the prospects of the fur-trade, the probabilities of the crops, and the possibilities of war somewhere in Europe.
"They raise at this fort," wrote Wyeth, whose account of his reception tallies with Ball's, "6000 bushels of wheat, 3000 of barley, 1500 potatoes, 3000 peas, a large quantity of punkins. They have coming on apple trees, peach do. [ditto] and grapes."
The dress-suits worn at dinner had something to do with the apple-trees. Putting his hand into his pocket one evening at dinner, Captain Simpson of the home ship, just arrived at the Columbia, found a few apple-seeds. Then he remembered. On the last evening before he sailed from London, at a dinner party given in his honor, a lady had said, as she ate the fruit at dessert:
"Captain, you are going to that wild Northwest Coast of America. Here are some apple-seeds to take with you." And the captain had put the seeds into his pocket. Eight months later, after rounding the Horn and crossing the bar, he found the seeds still there. Tenderly were they nursed and guarded until the first apple-tree of Old Oregon bore its fruit, one green apple, the seeds of which were carefully saved, as were the seeds of all fruits, and planted.
"The Company seem disposed to render me all the assistance they can," wrote Wyeth, truthfully; but personally, as a man, not as a trader. Yet, as their own notes show, they saw clearly he would hang himself, and they made no effort to check any effort he made, or any plan. He went back to "the States" in 1833, with a few of his men, across the mountains and plains, having “blue devils" most of the way, according to his own letters, many of which were so blue he never mailed them at all. But he planned a return to Oregon, and two years later he went back, still with a small borrowed capital, still with plans which looked well on paper, but would not pan out. American traders in the Rocky Mountains, on his outward journey in 1834, refused to receive the goods ordered by them which he brought to them. In defiance he built Fort Hall, which the Hudson's Bay Company afterward bought from him at a fair price. This time Wyeth's vessel arrived, but the Indians refused to trade with him, although McLoughlin, as the doctor himself reported to his company in London, did not even put up his prices to meet the better prices offered by Wyeth for furs. Even the salmon conspired against him, for the run was about half the usual number, and the Indians would not bother to do more than fish for themselves and for Fort Vancouver. Those barreled were spoiled in large part because of ignorance in putting them up.
The second American business invasion had failed. But with Wyeth that second time came Jason Lee, the missionary, with his nephew Daniel, to whom McLoughlin gave his usual welcome. They went into the Willamette Valley, virtually at his direction, as he had to have every white man where he
could protect him. The death of one white man, as McLoughlin told Wyeth, was likely to set the whole country-side ablaze in an Indian war. As a matter of fact, the epidemic that came into the lower Columbia in the late summer of 1829, through an American ship, spread farther up the river and into the Willamette, destroying whole villages, and even tribes, in the course of a few years. After 1834 there were few Indians in that immediate region left to civilize.
Then came other missionaries. The irrepressible Peter Skeen Ogden, one of the company's traders, then away up in western Caledonia, British Columbia now, wrote to John McLeod, February 25, 1837:
Amongst the many good things their honors from Fenchurch Street sent us last summer, was a clergyman and with him his wife, the Revd Mr. Beaver, a most appropriate name for the fur trade, also Mr. and Mrs. Copperdale to conduct the farming establishment, and by the Snake country we had an assortment of American missionaryes the Rev. Mr. Spaulding and Lady, two Mr. Lees, and Mr. Shepherd, surely clergymen enough when the Indian population is so reduced but this is not all, for there are also five more gent. as follows-2 in quest of flowers, 2 killing all the birds in the Columbia, and one in quest of rock and stone. All these bucks came with letters from the President of the U. States and you know it would not be good policy not to treat them politely. They are a perfect nuisance.
To Mrs. Spaulding and Mrs. Whitman that autumn of 1836, after that long, wearisome journey over the plains and mountains, was like coming home even when they reached Fort Walla Walla, and that was a semi-arid country. Their Indian horses, long used to the wilderness, shied at the cackling of hens and the quacking of ducks and geese. Then they came down the Columbia in the comfort of a Hudson's Bay Company boat, a mere bateau, it is true. And it was even more like home with sheep and cattle and horses grazing under the trees, the granaries full of grain, the apples still hanging in the orchard. They found themselves in civilization, sleeping in beds made of wood slabs covered with skins, and resting
in home-made chairs, yet sitting at that well-bred dinner-table, with its well-served meals. Two clerks afterward commented upon being summarily turned out of their rooms for the missionaries. It was the real beginning of the American invasion of "the Oregon Country," not of trade, which had failed, but of settlement.
Life at the fort was busy. At early dawn the bell rang for the working parties, and the sound of hammers, the click of anvils, the rumbling of carts, with tinkling of bells, gave evidence that all were busy. On certain days the fragrant odor of freshly-baked bread from the great brick ovens in the yard gave other evidence of comfort. From eight to nine for breakfast, from one to two for dinner, with work stopping at six, such were the working hours. The men were all under contract.
The two great diversions of the year were the coming of the “home ship" in late summer, to carry back to England the furs, and the coming down of the furs in June with the "brigade of boats."
For weeks before the coming of the "home ship" every possible chance of disaster or of a quick voyage was discussed. Then came the day with the noisy shouts of children on the watch, mingled with the voice of the watchman, "The packet! The packet!" Seldom did the ship come up the river at once; an express canoe brought up the mail.
Work stopped automatically. The officer in charge of the mail or express went to McLoughlin's cottage, which was quickly thronged with clerks and officers from all over the place. Windows were full of heads, and a group around the door peered in as the chief factor shook hands with the officer bringing the mail, welcomed him, made an inquiry or two about the ship, and dismissed him with a wave of the handto the kitchen! It was a welcome dismissal to a man just off an eight-months' voyage. The mail was keenly read, for many of these men were from the same neighborhood in Canada or Scotland, and home news could be passed around. But for those whose mail had missed the ship! For the homesick who received no letters! There was sympathy enough
for such, but it did not always ease the grief. No more mail would come until the brigade in June.
But the great event of the year was the coming down of the furs from the upper country. Fort Vancouver knew just when to expect these men. The watchman was on the alert.
"The brigade! The brigade!" was his shout as his eyes caught the first faint glimpse of the canoes on the river, a mere line of tiny, dark specks. And from Chief Factor John McLoughlin, six feet four inches, snowy-haired, rosycheeked, blue-eyed, down to the little Indian and half-breed children playing in the meadows and among the wild flowers, every one rushed to the riverbank, listening, as from the line of black specks, larger now, came the faint sound of song.
Down the broad blue river swept the canoes, sometimes twenty abreast and in perfect line, led by the single canoe of the officer in charge. The Union Jack of commerce floated from his masthead, with the company's half-monogram on the lower red folds. The voyageurs were dressed in their finest, fringed buckskin
suits, hats almost covered with plumes or with bunches of bright ribbons, their beaded Indian pouches dangling from their gay sashes. Brightly colored handkerchiefs were knotted about their throats.
It was a beautiful sight, as well as a striking one. The broad, green plains around the fort were bright with new crops of wheat and rye, while the charming islands of tender green out in the river contrasted sharply with the dark forests which came down everywhere to the water's-edge. To the southeast, above the dense forests, towered the gleaming, snowy crest of Mount Hood. The wide river sparkled in the June sunshine as the gay fleet of canoes came down, flags and plumes and ribbons fluttering, the dark-skinned, black-eyed boatmen singing together some gay chanson and singing in time to the dip of the paddle:
Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre, Mironton, ton-ton, mirontaine.
Napoleon, said to dislike music, was also said to roar that song when he sprang into the saddle for a new cam
paign. France knew the song well, but the New World knew it better. From St. Anne's on the St. Lawrence, where the voyageurs said farewell to civilization, to the mouth of the Columbia, the very wilderness knew that refrain, "Mironton, ton-ton, mirontaine." And it was one of McLoughlin's favorites.
Nearer and nearer they came, clearer and louder grew the song, as the canoes, still out in the middle of the river, wheeled in perfect alinement, and swept side by side in toward the river-bank. Then came a shout of welcome from the shore, and a shout of exultation from the voyageurs. The danger and loneliness of the year were past. For a fortnight, at least, there would be no more danger, no loneliness, no cold, no hunger, no work.
A good time, indeed, these handsome, wild-looking voyageurs had, loafing about in the summer sunshine or on the riverbank, while busy officers and clerks sorted over the newly arrived furs, ordered them beaten, dusted, counted, and made into bales. Then from the
storehouse came all supplies, from vermilion for Indian faces to bullets and traps for Indian furs, not forgetting the food supplies to be taken back.
Then came the late afternoon of departure, when the white-haired Dr. McLoughlin, majestic and genial, stood with his officers around the table in the famous old dining-hall, and drank the parting-cup, following the old Scotch custom. For, of the out-going officers, year after year, some followed the long trail to Hudson's Bay, thence back to England or Scotland on furlough, while others, by canoe and trail, voyaged far north into the interior, often a "service of danger."
Then out went the brigade of boats. Again all were on the river-bank. The fort cannon fired a salute, which boomed and echoed among the forested hills. Voyageur rifles answered it. All was ready. Gay still, in plumes and feathers, the voyageurs stepped into the canoes and took their places. Officers and passengers took theirs, and many an American, as years went by, was numbered
among these passengers. At a pistolshot every paddle touched the water at the same instant, every voice took up the chorus, and they were off again. Out they swept into the river, singing in time to the dip of the paddle, wheeling in midstream in perfect order, off again for another year of danger and hard work. Up the broad, blue river, in full chorus, ribbons fluttering and plumes waving, on they paddled until, in the softening light of evening, one could see only small specks upon the river. Such was their going. The shadows around the base of Mount Hood deepened into blue. Children and clerks and officers scattered. In the quiet dimming of the long Northern twilight all was silent save for the ripple of the river and the echo of a song.
AND it was into a country whose Indians were under the control of the imperious ruler of Fort Vancouver, into a glorious country claimed by both British and Americans, that the first Americans began to drift shortly after the arrival of the missionaries. The first settlers of the fertile Willamette Valley -the Columbia was too densely forested for farming had been old servants of the company, dreading the cold of eastern Canada, begging to be allowed to remain in that equable climate, and allowed by McLoughlin to stay, provided they had saved enough money to begin farming, were law-abiding, and were kept nominally upon the company's books, as the company was under bonds to return them, upon the expiration of their contracts, to their own homes. There were eight there in 1832 when John Ball went down for a while. Then, with the coming of the missionaries, and the drifting in of American fur-traders with their Indian wives and half-breed children from the exhausted Snake River country, they increased rapidly. Yet for a long while, until 1842, in fact, it was thought that women and children could not cross the plains and the mountains. When they did, the immigrants. came first in hundreds and then in thousands, and all of them bitter against the Hudson's Bay Company from misrepresentations heard in "the States," for which Senator Benton and Senator
Linn, both from Missouri, and both reflecting the bitter jealousy of the American fur-traders St. Louis was the center of that trade were responsible. McLoughlin wrote to Sir George Simpson, April 2, 1845.
I had a conversation yesterday evening with one of the principal men among the American immigrants. One of them said, "I came here strongly prejudiced against the Hudson's Bay Company, and expected I would have to fight them, and that there would be an English man-of-war here to drive us away, but instead of all that all the immigrants are treated most kindly by the Hudson's Bay Company, and we found, when we got within reach of their establishments, boats with provisions to relieve our wants and to transport us to the place of our destination."
Lieutenant Neill M. Howison, of the United States Navy, who was on the Columbia in 1846, wrote:
They would arrive upon the waters of the Columbia after six months of hard labor and exposure to innumerable dangers . . . in a state of absolute want. Their provisions expended and clothes worn out, the rigors of winter beginning to descend upon their naked heads, while no house had as yet been built to afford them shelter; bartering away their wagons and horses for a few salmon offered by the Indians, or bushels of grain in the hands of rapacious speculators, who placed themselves on the road to profit by their necessities, famine was thus staved off while they labored in the woods to make rafts, and thus float down stream to the Hudson's Bay Company's establishment at Fort Vancouver. Here shelter and food were invariably afforded them, without which their sufferings must soon have terminated in death. . . . But throughout the winter these enterprising people were, with few exceptions, dependent on the Hudson's Bay Company for the bread and meat which they ate and the clothes which they wore. Stern necessity and the suffering of clamoring children forced them to supplicate credit and assistance which, to the honor of the Company, be it said, was never refused them.
It was in 1844 that Joseph Watt, with a party of immigrants, landed at Fort Vancouver, having been brought down