The Heritage Network

The Heritage Network

Fort Colvile Bicentennial

Articles

 Silverado Articles

Early on, Warren Seyler, Spokane Tribal historian, suggested that we start publicizing this event well in advance of the 2025 date.  To that end, a series of articles has been published in the Silverado Express.  Many of you are probably not familiar with that publication.  It is N.E. Washingtons largest community newspaper and is sponsored by the local Chevy dealer, Country Chevrolet. It is delivered free to 23,000 residents in Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.  The paper covers many local events and history. Unfortunately, it does not retain those stories on a website.  Fortunately, we are able to retain stories written for the Silverado that concern the heritage of HBC Fort Colvile on our website, The Heritage Network.  Here are those that have been published so far.

In the Stream: This story and the book by the same name cover the early life of Able One, a Sinixt woman, whose life bridges the transition brought about by the incursion of Hudson’s Bay into the Kettle Falls area.

Angus McDonald : Angus McDonald ran the fort for a time and his colorful life involves not just the fur trade but Native American life over a large region.

The McDonald Family: Angus had an uncle who also ran the fort and Angus married a Nez Pierce woman, Catherine. A wealth of stories about her and their daughter, Christina, expand the family tales.

The Fur Trade: With the help of fur trade historian, Tom Holloway, this article enumerates the scale of the fur trade in this region.

Kettle Falls Historical Center:  This article reviews some of the displays at the museum which sits in the midst of what was the Kettle Falls salmon fishery and HBC fort.

Métis Waistcoat: This article touches on the elaborate beadwork developed in the wake of the fur trade.

Friends of Spokane House: An article stemming from the work of this dedicated group of reenactors who portray the lives and activities of fur traders in the Northwest.

Talk About Canoes: Canoes were a major means of transportation in the Columbia watershed from long before it got that name.  They became the major vehicle of the Hudson’s Bay Company too.

A River People: This article stems from a presentation by Warren Seyler on Spokane Tribal History.  This is a huge topic, and the article only lays out the basic milieu of their encounter with white people.

We are Still Here: This became the cover story of the July edition.  Inevitably it over-simplified the situation for present day local tribes, but at least it pointed to the importance of their annual salmon ceremony.

Canoe Crossing: This story looks at related annual event showing the revival of canoe culture and its ties to salmon migration on Lake Osoyoos.

Mapping History: As mentioned above, this article launched the 1865 mapping project.

A Time of Fishing: Starting with a display of salmon species at the Kettle Falls Historical Center, this article helps describe the biological and historical importance of salmon to native culture.  There are some welcome criticisms of the article in that it should have stemmed more closely from work by tribal biologists and may not depict the situation 200 years ago accurately.  Expect more information.

Kandiaronk: Expected to be published in December 2022, this article reaches back to examine the views of Wendat chief, politician and philosopher, Kandiaronk.  His expression of the views of Hurons, Iroquois, and other natives in Northeast North America parallels many of those of local tribes and has direct ties to the enlightenment philosophies of America’s founding fathers.

George Simpson Family Affairs – Part I

Sir George Simpson, the Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land for the Hudson’s Bay Company, ordered the establishment of Hudson’s Bay Fort Colvile nearly 200 years ago in 1825 and that Spokane House the former North West Company fur trading post be abandoned.  He was born in 1792 in Dingwall Scotland, the illegitimate son of George Simpson, a member of the College of Justice which included the Supreme Court of Scotland.  The Hudson’s Bay company had already been in business for 122 years. Its upstart rival, the North West Company, started in Montreal, had only been in business for 13 years.

The themes of illegitimacy, privilege and the fur trade would play out in his family life for the next 68 years until his death in 1860. Although born out of wedlock, young George was far from abandoned. He was raised by two aunts and his paternal grandmother, Isobel Simpson, daughter of George Mackenzie from a noble family. His father-in-law was Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and his uncle Geddes Mackenzie Simpson ran a sugar trading company that soon employed young George. That trading company, merged with the Hudson’s Bay firm in 1812 then directed by Andrew Wedderburn,.

(In 1814 Wedderburn changed his name to Andrew Colvile Wedderburn. This adopted name was used to name Hudson’s Bay Fort Colvile and through an Americanized misspelling became the “Colville” name applied to the future Military Fort Colville and also used to label the Shwoyelpi Tribe (Sxʷyelpetkʷ), managers of the fishery at Kettle Falls, as the “Colville Tribe” and subsequently the 12 tribes confined with them on the Colville reservation as the Colville Confederated tribes.)

1820 the rivalry between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company escalated to open conflict with each side arresting the other’s officers. The officials in London lost faith in their Governor-in-Chief, William Williams and appointed George Simpson, then 28, to manage their Northern holdings, which included the Columbia River watershed.  They sent him to Montreal, the capital of the fur trade via New York, the first of his many long journeys. He left behind two illegitimate children of his own.

By this point it is obvious that the Hudson’s Bay Company was not a meritocracy, though Simpson would prove to be of great merit. The “gentlemen” who managed the company had aristocratic roots and considered company employees as a lower class. The North West Company, which employed David Thompson, who had mapped and managed much of the company’s western fur trading territory, including Kettle Falls by 1811, had a more equitable distribution of profits, at least among the management. With better morale and closer relations to native peoples, it was driving the expansion of the fur trade by 1810.

Those “closer relations” included the practice of fur traders taking native wives and supporting their families. These relationships cannot be clumped into a one-size-fits-all description. But generally speaking, as outlined in Sylvia Van Kirk’s excellent study Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870, they can be grouped into 3 eras: early years where native women were treated as equals both as members of the family and essential workers in the fur trade, middle years where daughters of mixed blood became the favored wives of fur tradesmen and a later period where native wives were shunned by high fur trade and business society in favor of “exotic” brides from England.  This later era is tied to the marriage of George Simpson to Frances Ramsey Simpson, his 18-year-old first cousin, in 1830 and her subsequent transport to Hudson’s Bay Territory, Rupert’s Land. “After her arrival in Rupert’s LandFirst Nations women married to Hudson’s Bay Company officials were excluded from respectable society.” (Wikipedia on Frances Ramsay Simpson) 

George Simpson was a remarkable man with many firsts to his name, including the above marriage. But let us set the scene by harkening back to the first era of fur-trade matrimonial unions. Fittingly there is a French rather than an English term for these: marriages à la façon du pays (“according to the custom of the country”) refers to the practice of common-law marriage between European fur traders and Aboriginal or Métis women in the North American fur trade. The ceremonies were typically a mix of Christian and Native customs. Although the managers of Hudson’s Bay at first discouraged these unions, they proved to be valuable and inescapable.

Native women were tough enough to take care of themselves and their families in the harshest conditions. They could hunt, forage, and preserve foods. They could tan hides and sew the endless series of moccasins, snow shoes and other apparel that the trappers wore out constantly. They acted as translators and ambassadors between the tribal and trader communities.  These were not necessarily idyllic relationships. Some fur traders were unfaithful and left their families behind or bequeathed them to other fur traders when they returned to the old country. Some native women sought other partners or returned to their bands. But this was the fur-trader community and native wives were integral to it. Many families remained together even after employment in the fur trade ended. A look at the 1865 habitation map on the Heritage Network website (http://theheritagenetwork.org/maps/) will confirm that.

1865 is 200 years down the road from the beginning of the fur trade.  A look at the life of Angus McDonald in the 2022 Silverado articles, http://theheritagenetwork.org/articles/ shows how his mixed blood wife, Catherine, and daughter, Christine, were very sophisticated and capable women, educated in and adept at managing the affairs of the fur trade as well as handling horses, hunting and any other tasks inherent in country living.  This next generation of “country wives” was at the heart of fur-trade society when George Simpson appeared on the scene in 1821. He had several wives and at least 6 children in the 10 years before he imported Frances.  Those transitions will be the subject of the next article on George Simpson’s Family Affairs.