Chapter 1: First Fort Langley
| Here the men and horses
were unloaded from the ship and the work of building the
first fort easily accessible from the Pacific north of
the Columbia began. It was July 30. The first
timber for the fort was cut August 1. The first
objective of the small group was to complete one of the
bastions since rumours had come in that the Indians were
preparing to massacre them if they persisted in building
the fort. By August 13, except for the roof of
bark, the first bastion, 12 feet square and built of 8
inch logs, was up. Six days later the men began
digging the trenches for the palisades. On August
31 the second bastion was finished except for the
roof. On September 18 the Cadboro weighed anchor
and headed south leaving the fort's occupants to fend for
themselves. The formidable structure in which they
lived was only 40 X 45 yards. On November 26 a
flagstaff was erected and the new post was officially
named Fort Langley, after Thomas Langley, a prominent
stockholder in the management of the company. He
had inherited his brother's stock in the Hudson's
Bay Company in 1793 and was selected as a member of the
committee in 1807. He held this position until his
death in 1829.
Three horses that has been brought in the Cadboro fared poorly. One got stuck in a quagmire and died from exposure while another became entangled in a swamp and suffered a like fate. The third soon afterwards succumbed from natural causes.
Prior to the establishment of Fort Langley as a terminal on the Pacific Coast the furs from New Caledonia were taken all the way back to the Great Lakes. It was not until 1811 when David Thompson descended the Columbia to the coast, proving it satisfactory, was a major trade route established to the Pacific. In 1812 Joseph Laroque of the North West Company blazed out a (5) trail from New Caledonia to Fort Thompson (Kamloops) while David Stuart of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Trading Company worked up from the Columbia to Fort Thompson. Once these routes were made passable a district headquarters was set up (6) at Fort Vancouver. The Pacific Fur Company interests were bought out by the North West Company in 1812. The yearly brigades from the New Caledonia and Thompson River Districts consisted of 400 horses and 50 men. For these hauls furs and goods were traditionally baled into 90 pound pieces for packers to carry over the many portages. Usually not more than 5 foot 6 inches in height and weighing only 130 pounds these men were not considered worth their salt unless they could carry two pieces at one time. Each piece was tied together and a tump line was passed across the packer's forehead to support the weight. This left the man's hands free to move through the bush. This excessive exercise resulted in often grotesque appearances. Their chest and neck measurements were fantastic. Unfortunately their frames literally outgrew their vital organs. The strain on these unsupported organs bouncing around in the large chest cavity often ended with fatal results before 40 years of age.
"Dull and monotonous--everything has a wintery appearance," was the entry in the Fort Langley journal for December 8, 1827. The approach of the year's end did not indicate any Yuletide festivities. The men were not expecting any. Isolated from the rest of the world they were not aware that their superiors had planned something for them.
It was the guard on the gallery who first spotted company on Christmas Eve. Out on the river an Indian ran on the ice toward the fort waving a note at the guard. McMillan met him, read the note, and then sounded the alarm that Chief Trader Alexander McKenzie and four men from Fort Vancouver were dangerously situated among the Musqueams near the river's mouth.
Within a few moments Donald Manson and Francois Annance had enlisted an armed party and were headed downriver to the rescue. They soon found McKenzie. He had been forced to land among the Indians due to ice on the river. Although he had been threatened and robbed his party was otherwise all right. McKenzie had been fortunate enough to have a Kwantlen carry a message to Fort Langley for help.
The visitors to the fort were welcomed by a beaming James (7) McMillan. The Fort Langley men were thankful to have friends that would come all the way from the Columbia to bring mail and liquor. Laughter and violin music echoed throughout the fort. On Boxing Day, Annance took an armed party to the Musqueam Village and recovered the goods which had been stolen from McKenzie.
New Year's Day came and went with even greater enthusiasm than had been displayed at Christmas. The men danced, shouted, fought, and sang. They competed with one another in feats of strength and agility. When the merry mood was spent McKenzie prepared to return to Fort Vancouver. McMillan decided to accompany the McKenzie party and show the fort's taken of beaver skins to his boss, Dr. McLoughlin. McMillan was proud that in addition to erecting a strong post in the wilderness his men had also succeeded in trading almost 1,200 pelts with the Indians.
On the morning of January 3 the party got under way intending to camp at the mouth of the Fraser. The guns of the fort fired a parting salute and the men in seeing them off gave three hearty good cheers. Ten days later McMillan returned. The party had been stormbound at Point Roberts so decided to put off sending the furs until the weather cleared. McKenzie and his men volunteered to return to the Columbia and tell McLoughlin of the plans.
On February 15 Manson left for Fort Vancouver with the returns instead of McMillan. There was no firing of salutes to see him off as rumours has been received that McKenzie and his men has been murdered by the Clallams while camped on the shores of Puget Sound. The rumours had not been confirmed and McMillan prayed that they were not true.
Soon came the dreadful news to the fort occupants that McKenzie had indeed perished. The Hudson's Bay Company authorities feared that unless something was done and done quickly New Caledonia would not be safe for any company employees. When the brigades from the New Caledonia, Peace River, and North Thompson Districts arrived from their long, arduous overland trip to Fort Vancouver with the annual take of pelts McLoughlin explained the situation to them. It was decided that a punitive expedition, consisting of 60 men, would seek out the killers of McKenzie and make them pay with their lives. Two families of Clallams were encountered and wiped out. Two men, two women, and four children had been killed. It was never ascertained if they knew anything about the killing of McKenzie. Later the main party of Clallams was located by the Cadboro under the command of Simpson. The Clallams invited those on board the schooner to attend a council meeting ashore. They intended to murder the group when they landed. Instead the guns of the Cadboro were brought to bear upon the huts of the Indians. The cannon roared and the flimsy cedar houses splintered and collapsed. The company men then landed and put the torch to any huts left standing. They then destroyed 40 canoes that were drawn up on the beach. A count revealed that 17 Clallams had been killed. (9) McKenzie's death had been avenged. The punishment doled out by the company was unfair; however, it in the long run undoubtedly resulted in fewer whites and Indians being killed.
In October, 1828, Sir George Simpson arrived at the fort from upcountry having made a tour of inspection of the New Caledonia posts. Accompanying him were Archibald McDonald and James Murray Yale. Both men would do much to improve the productivity of Fort Langley.
The Simpson party had left Fort York on the other side of the continent on August 15. As a result they descended the Fraser River in autumn and not in freshet as did Fraser. Of the river as an alternate supply route the Governor wrote:
McDonald was well groomed for the position he was about to fill. Born on the south shore of Loch Leven, Glencoe, Appin, in Northern Argyleshire, Scotland, he had studied the rudiments of medicine at the University of Edinburgh before coming to Rupert's Land in 1813 as leader of a party of Lord Selkirk's Colonists. Under Governor Miles MacDonell he served as Deputy Governor of the Red River Settlement until the Seven Oaks Massacre. He then entered the services of the Hudson's Bay Company and after its merging with the North West Company in 1821, was sent to the Columbia River District. In 1823 he married Chief Comcomly's daughter, who died the following year giving birth to a son Ranald. McDonald married again in 1825 to Jane Klyne, the daughter of Michael Klyne, postmaster at Jasper's House. She bore him 13 children.
McDonald's assistant, although less than 5 feet in height, was a man of proven ability. The Governor was very fond of 'Little Yale' describing him as "a young gentleman in whom we can repose the utmost confidence." Born in Quebec City, Yale had joined the Hudson's Bay Company while still in his early 'teens and was immediately posted to New Caledonia. He had pioneered in the Peace River and had opened Yale House in 1805 just below the North West Company post at Fort St. John. He had been taken prisoner by North West Company men prior to amalgamation and some of his men had been murdered at Fort George on the Upper Fraser River by the rival company. He had been one of the punitive party sent out by McLoughlin to avenge McKenzie's death by the Clallams.
McDonald, at the time of his takeover, described the fort thus:
The new boss of the fort took seriously the orders of the company that the fort should be for the most part self supporting. The new factor applied himself and his men to the clearing of land and the planting of crops. The records of the following year were up roughly 100 percent. Ninety-one bushels of potatoes were planted in a field back of the fort with a 2,000 bushel yield. Over 7,000 salmon were bought from the Indians.
He and Yale then went to work perfecting a method of curing salmon for the foreign market. The fish curing industry at Fort Langley, despite setbacks, went steadily ahead. A good cooper could turn out 7-10 barrels a week, but they didn't have a cooper. McDonald prevailed upon the fort's carpenter to try, even though he knew the carpenter had "never made a keg in his life". In the three weeks that followed, Francois Faniant turned out fifteen 25 gallon barrels, with the help of Louis Ossin and Louis Delonie. Faniant left the fort in the summer of 1830. James Rendall, a cooper from Evie, Orkney, arrived in 1831 but had to quit due to ill health. Rendall's replacement was replaced in turn by Chief Cooper William Cromarty in 1843.
Across and upriver from the fort, Cromarty found a good stand of first growth fir on a river which had been named in honour of Clerk John Work. The trees were cut down and floated across the river to the fort cooperage where they were made into staves and assembled into barrels, some of which were capable of holding 800 pounds of fish. As a result Work's River was changed to Stave River. The barrels were used to ship salmon to the Hawaiian Islands and England. Unfortunately the first barrels to reach England were not a success.
The fort was not without its share of tragedy. In April, 1830, (12) John Kennedy, who was unwell but still able to work, dropped dead from an apparent heart attack. Then in August of the same year a worker by the name of Pierre Therien was accidentally shot by a gun on a sailing ship out on the river. The graveyard where these men and many others were buried was among the trees just upriver from the old fort.
When the Langley Express arrived back from Fort Vancouver in 1833, it brought instructions for McDonald to report to Dr. McLoughlin. On February 20, 1833, McDonald left Fort Langley so his growing family could attend school at Fort Vancouver. He, soon afterwards, founded Nisqually House on the south end of Puget Sound. The following year he was put in charge of Fort Colville. He retired from the service in 1844 and died in St. Andrews, near Cornwall, Ontario, in 1853. On his gravestone is recorded: "One of the pioneers of Oregon." Both Simon Fraser and David Thompson had retired to St. Andrews upon leaving the service.
With McDonald's departure Yale was left in charge of Fort Langley with 13 men. The following May the 13 were reduced to 8. Although McDonald was an able and keen worker his successor proved to be even more dedicated to the company. Yale was a very busy little man--in more ways than one. The company reckoned that inter-marriage between the whites and Indians would lessen hostile relations. Yale set a good example for his men. He married three Indian women within his first three years at the fort, and they each bore his offspring. His first wife was the daughter of Chief Whattlekainum of the Kwantlen, his second the daughter of the Katzie Chief, and the third the daughter of Pal-hal-lak, the religious head of the Thompson Indians above the Fraser Canyon. A daughter from the third wife married George Simpson Junior, the son of the Governor. Yale still later married a relative of Chief T'soschia, of the Cowichan Confederacy.
By this time Kanaka labourers, like Yale, had also intermingled with the Indians and began raising families. The Kanakas were not permitted to bring their women into the fort so instead built homes across the river from the fort. Each morning these men paddled across the river to work and in the evening paddled back again to be with their wives and children. One of these labourers, upon leaving his home Island, promised his Grandfather to name something in the new country in honour of his people. A creek situated across the river from the fort was named Kanaka Creek as a result of this promise.
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Copyright © Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan