You will find very few characters in fur trading history to rival the exuberance, importance or colorful impact of Angus McDonald, fur trader at Hudson’s Bay Fort Colvile. In 1861 Charles Wilson, the Secretary of the British Columbia Boundary Commission, wrote about the McDonald family leaving from the fort on a hunting expedition. Wilson took note of Angus Macdonald’s “French half-breed” wife Catherine Baptiste, who led the party, “perched on a curious saddle used by women here…the baby swinging in its Indian cradle from the pommel.” Behind her was Macdonald’s eldest daughter, “Miss Christine who is about 17*, with her gaily beaded leggings and moccasins and gaudy shawl flying in the wind.” Bringing up the rear was Macdonald, positioned on a buffalo-skin runner, “surrounded by a crowd of Indians and half-breeds, to which added some 40 or 50 pack horses and spare animals rushing wildly about.” (Pearkes)
Angus MacDonald (Angus’s used this spelling at times, although most articles use “McDonald” **) was in charge of HBC Fort Colvile from 1856 to 1871 and was there often before those dates. He had 12 children by his Métis wife Catherine.
He was the last trader at the fort for all practical purposes and no history of HBC Fort Colvile would be valuable without exploring the many facets of this remarkable man and his very impressive family. To that end this page notes references to MacDonald that are of interest. Since realizing how the best accounts and many of the more interesting stories have been passed down by or involve his relatives, I have included links to those as well. Hopefully, in the process of developing this bicentennial, we will encounter more stories and pictures by, from and about his descendants.
A very good place to start is the book, Angus McDonald of the Great Divide – The Uncommon Life of a Fur Trader, 1816 – 1889, by Steve Anderson. This book includes an extensive section by his wife, Catherine, about a fur-gathering trip she took with a large contingent of men south to the Sea of Cortez and back, 1840-1841. It is one of the most amazing and graphic accounts of that era that I have ever read. Written from Catherine’s memory of the trip, it gives observations from the eyes of a young Métis woman before she married Angus. As such it illuminates not only the events but the perspective that only a very literate but also fully native woman could bring to the subject.
In McDonald’s immediate family, daughter Christine draws the most attention. A very good account written by Jack and Claire Nisbet is on HistoryLink. Largely based on an interview with William S. Lewis in 1917 when Christine was 70 years old, this account also references letters that Christine exchanged with former Indian Agent W.P. Winans in 1903 that clarify her adherence to principles of lady-like demeanor taught to her by her father, Angus. But it also details her horsemanship, bravery and responsibility while preserving a leather satchel of her father’s papers even after being swept into a river when a raft fell apart; taking over the reins on a wagon full of supplies when the hired driver’s hands froze or carrying a valise of gold dust on a diplomatic trip with her father to Astoria. Her tales include accounts of Issac Stevens, Governor of Washington, guest of the McDonalds and eventually a sworn enemy of the Hudson’s Bay Company; Captain McClellan, surveyor for the transcontinental Pacific Railway, Chief Kamiaken, who Angus advised not to go to war with the United States; Doc Perkins: who married, Ellen Edwards, a daughter of Able-One, L.W. Meyers, who founded what is now Kettle Falls and who restored grain milling at Meyers Falls, Spokane Gary and many more notable historic figures. Christina Lake and Christina Creek just north of Laurier in British Columbia are named after her.
Two other important McDonalds are mentioned in the interview with Christine. Archibald McDonald, uncle to Angus and Chief trader at Fort Colvile from 1835 to 1844 was the father of Ranald McDonald, the first native English-speaker to teach the English language in Japan, including educating Einosuke Moriyama, one of the chief interpreters to handle the negotiations between Commodore Perry and the Tokugawa Shogunate. Ranald lived with Christine for months at a time both at Fort Colvile and later at Fort Connah in Montana, which was managed by Angus McDonald from 1847 to 1853.
Fort Connah was a favorite place for the McDonald family who lived there often. They retired to the Fort Connah area and several died near there. Another son of Angus, Duncan McDonald, was the last Clerk running the fort. Carolyn Corey has written extensively about the history of the fort. Her works include: A GUIDE TO FORT CONNAH and a portfolio of information about the Fort Connah Restoration Society. Cate Turner-Jamison has contributed another Fort Connah article specifically on Angus McDonald.
Other contributors to McDonald history include this article by Nancy Marguerite Anderson relating her own Anderson family history to Angus McDonald. Eileen Delehanty Pearkes wrote an article for the North Columbia Monthly in 2013 about Angus.
Another occasional contributor of McDonald stories is Gail Morin. We have several to share now and will be on the lookout for more. This one from the Anaconda Standard includes Angus’s son Duncan McDonald in a story about hunting Buffalo. This one is about Walt McDonald, a grandson of Angus and notable character in his own right as the article describes. Another from the Anaconda Standard accounts a trial for the murder of John Stevens at which Angus McDonald testified. And this one reports that Fort Colvile burned in 1910 and was owned by Duncan McDonald.
*Nisbet relates that Christine was 14 at the time.
** Albert Partoll argues for “McDonald” as the favorite of Angus in this 1951 Pacific Northwest Quarterly.