Franchere Part 6 – the Great Escape


This is Part 6 of the fictitious interview with Gabriel Franchere (in 1846). Here he describes one of his first ventures on the river,  to retrieve three Astorians who attempted to escape from the fort. One has to wonder where they thought they were going. But first, Franchere tells us a bit about the fort, the shallop that was built to navigate within the river, and where one group of traders established a settlement.


How long did it take for you to construct a place to keep you out of the weather?


We took possession of our dwelling house at end of September (1811). The mason work had at first caused us some difficulty; but at last, not being able to make lime for want of lime-stones, we employed blue clay as a substitute for mortar. This dwelling-house was sufficiently spacious to hold all our company, and we had distributed it in the most convenient manner that we could. It comprised a sitting, a dining room, some lodging or sleeping rooms, and an apartment for the men and artificers, all under the same roof. We also completed a shop for the blacksmith, who till that time had worked in the open air. Continue reading

Rutherfurd’s New York

Book Review

Title: New York, the Novel
Author: Edward  Rutherfurd
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2009
Spoiler Alert: No


When I sat down to read Edward Rutherfurd’s epic historical piece on New York, I half-expected a text-book study on all the major events in that city’s history over the past three hundred years. I figured if I didn’t like it, at least I could use it as a door-stop.

I was prepared to sifon through its thousand-plus pages: the Dutch colonials, the Depression, the wars, immigration and every other event in American history; and even prepared to fall into boredom. I mean, how can one keep a single family or two interesting for centuries if they aren’t royals?

Surprisingly, Rutherfurd does it quite well. He keeps the story moving by periodically, like a ghost, dropping in and out of the  lives of ordinary people. It’s as if he threw darts at a calendar, picking up wherever his characters, or their descendants might be; then weaving their personal stories around each other and whatever hurricane of circumstances might be happening right then. But he doesn’t ignore major events entirely, only how what is happening outside affects people inside: their homes and their hearts. I liked how he had real people like Abraham Lincoln, General Lee, Caruso, Winston Churchill, the Astors, J.P. Morgan, Hemingway and Ansel Adams, to name a few, either walk right into the story or appear as distant entities who touched the lives of his characters. Continue reading

Interview with Franchere – Part 5

For those finding Gabriel Franchere as fascinating as I do, here is Installment No. 5 – probably the second to last of our interview in the fictitious Playmen magazine of 1846.

In Astoria, on the site of the original fort, is a depiction of what the settlement looked like during Franchere’s time there.


What was the weather like there on the Pacific Northwest coast of North Amercia?


During the three years I spent there (1811-1814), the cold never was much below the freezing point; and I do not think the heat ever exceeded 76 degrees . . . A southeast wind blows almost without intermission from the beginning of October to the end of December, or commencement of January. This interval is the rainy season, the most disagreeable of the year. Fogs so thick that sometimes for days no object is discernible for five or six hundred yards from the beach. Continue reading

A British Columbia journey: Nelson to Vernon, 1929

As a child, I made many trips to Edgewood from Trail to visit relatives who lived in the Inonoaklin (Fire) Valley. It used to take two days to get there; or certainly an eight-hour drive if not stopping to overnight in Nakusp. From Edgewood across the Monashee to Vernon used to take half a day on those dirty old roads with the numerous switchbacks. The radiator on our car always overheated. But there are lots of creeks in the mountains. One time, when the creek was too challenging to get to through the woods, my dad used all the Coca Cola we had in the car to fill the radiator. That was a thirsty trip!

This story shows the hardship of such a journey some 20 years before I was born. I found it in the book, Just Where is Edgewood?

Ted Affleck’s Trip Across the Monashee in 1929

By Edward L. Affleck

I was five years old in the summer of 1929, the last year for many that my parents had sufficient discretionary income to contemplate a family trip from our home in Nelson to Vernon to visit my aunt and uncle.

A highway program to link Nelson and Vernon via Nakusp was in progress, but the link between New Denver and Nakusp had not yet to be completed. Three methods of travel to Vernon, all involving some combination of bus, rail and steamboat, were subjects of domestic debate;

a)      By Kettle Valley Railway to McCulloch station above Kelowna, thence to Kelowna by bus and to Vernon by train;

b)      By rail to Robson West, thence by Arrow Lakes steamer to Arrowhead, then on to Revelstoke, Sicamous and Vernon via rail.

c)       By rail to Robson West, steamer to Edgwood, then by bus over the Monashee Pass to Lumby and Vernon. Continue reading

Interview with Franchere – part 4 – The Indians

Continuing our 1846 interview with Gabriel Franchere, conducted by our fictitious magazine “Playmen.”


The above is a statue of Sacajewea, the Indian woman who led Lewis and Clark through the wilderness. The statue is situated at Fort Clapsop, near Astoria – where the explorers set up shop at the base of the Columbia.


What were the Indians like?


The natives inhabiting on the Columbia, from the mouth of that river to the falls . . . on a space extending about 250 miles are, generally speaking, of low stature. Few of them passing five feet six inches, and many not even five feet.

This statue of Ilchee is in Vancouver, Washington. Ilchee, whose head was masterly sculpted in the way of upper-class Chinooks, was the daughter of Chief Comcomly. She married Duncan McDougall, the commander at Fort Astoria.

They pluck out the beard, in the manner of the other Indians of North America; but a few of the old men only suffer a tuft to grow upon their chins. On arriving among them we were exceedingly surprised to see that they had almost all flattened heads. This configuration is not a natural deformity, but an effect of art, caused by compression of the skull in infancy. It shocks strangers extremely, especially at first sight.Nevertheless, it is considered an indispensable ornament.

And when we signified to them how much this mode of flattening the forehead appeared to us to violate nature and good taste, they answered that it was only slaves who had not their heads flattened. The slaves, in fact, have the usual rounded head, and they are not permitted to flatten the foreheads of their children.

A museum depiction of the Chinooks meeting explorers Lewis and Clark. Lana Rodlie photo

The men go entirely naked, not concealing any part of their bodies. Only in winter they throw over the shoulders a panther’s skin, or else a sort of mantle made of the skins of wood-rats sewed together. In rainy weather I have seen them wear a mantle of rush mats, like a Roman toga, or the vestment which a priest wears in celebrating mass; thus equipped, and furnished with a conical hat made from fibrous roots and impermeable, they may call themselves rain-proof. The women, in addition to the mantle of skins, wear a petticoat made of the cedar bark, which they attach round the girdle, and which reaches to the middle of the thigh.

 The women anoint the body and dress the hair with fish oil, which does not diffuse an agreeable perfume. Their hair (which both sexes wear long) is jet black. It is badly combed, but parted in the middle, as is the custom of the sex everywhere, and kept shining by the fish-oil before-mentioned. Sometimes, in imitation of the men, they paint the whole body with a red earth mixed with fish-oil.  


What about alcohol. Did you see any problem with alcohol abuse?

Chief of the Chinooks, Comcomly. Born about 1765, died about 1835.


The Columbia River natives regard intoxicating drinks as poisons, and drunkenness as disgraceful. I will relate a fact in point: one of the sons of the chief Comcomly being at the establishment one day, some of the gentlemen amused themselves with making him drink wine, and he was very soon drunk. He was sick in consequence, and remained in a state of stupor for two days. The old chief came to reproach us, saying that we had degraded his son by exposing him to the ridicule of the slaves, and besought us not to induce him to take strong liquors in future. 





How did they govern themselves? 


The politics of the natives are a simple affair. Each village has its chief, but that chief does not seem to exercise a great authority over his fellow-citizens. Nevertheless, at his death, they pay him great honors. They use a kind of mourning, which consists in painting the face with black, in lieu of gay colors. They chant his funeral song or oration for a whole month. The chiefs are considered in proportion to their riches: such a chief has a great many wives, slaves, and strings of beads — he is accounted a great chief. It is like other civilized nations, among whom the worth of a man is estimated by the quantity of gold he possesses.  


When the Indians warred with each other, what was that like?


As all the villages form so many independent sovereignties  differences sometimes arise, whether between the chiefs or the tribes. Ordinarily, these terminate by compensations equivalent to the injury. But when the latter is of a grave character, like a murder (which is rare), or the abduction of a woman (which is. very common), the parties, having made sure of a number of young braves to aid them, prepare for war. Before commencing hostilities, however, they give notice of the day when they will proceed to attack the hostile village. This does not follow in that respect the custom of almost all other American Indians, who are wont to burst upon their enemy unawares, and to massacre or carry off men, women, and children. The Columbia natives, on the contrary, embark in their canoes, which on these occasions are paddled by the women, repair to the hostile village, enter into parley, and do all they can to terminate the affair amicably. Sometimes a third party becomes mediator between the first two, and of course observes an exact neutrality. If those who seek justice do not obtain it to their satisfaction, they retire to some distance, and the combat begins. It is then continued for some time with fury on both sides. But as soon as one or two men are killed, the party which has lost these, owns itself beaten and the battle ceases.

They never fight but in open daylight, as if to render nature witness of their exploits. The evening before a battle, they keep up frightful cries all night long, and, when they are sufficiently near to understand each other, defy one another by menaces, railleries, and sarcasms, like the heroes of Homer and Virgil. The women and children are always removed from the village before the action.

 Their offensive arms are merely a bow and arrow, and a kind of double edged sabre, about two and a half feet long, and six inches wide in the blade. They rarely come to sufficiently close quarters to make use of the last. For defensive armor they wear a cassock or tunic of elk-skin double, descending to the ankles, with holes for the arms. It is impenetrable by their arrows, which cannot pierce two thicknesses of leather. And as their heads are also covered with a sort of helmet, the neck is almost the only part in which they can be wounded. They have another kind of corslet, made like the corsets of our ladies, of splinters of hard wood interlaced with nettle twine. In their military expeditions, they have their bodies and faces daubed with different paints, often of the most extravagant designs. I remember to have seen a war-chief, with one exact half of his face painted white and the other half black.


Do they marry? Are they monogamous or do men have more than one wife? 


Polygamy is permitted, indeed is customary. There are some who have as many as four or five wives. And although it often happens that the husband loves one better than the rest, they never show any jealousy, but live together in the most perfect concord. Adultery is almost unknown among them, and the woman who should be guilty of it would be punished with death. At the same time, the husband may repudiate his wife, and the latter may then unite herself in marriage to another man.  


How do they look after their sick or wounded?


As soon as a native of the Columbia is indisposed, no matter what the malady, they send for the medicine man, who treats the patient in the absurd manner and with such violence of manipulation, that often a sick man, whom a timely bleeding or purgative would have saved, is carried off by a sudden death.


What about religion?


These people have not, properly speaking, a public worship. I could never perceive, during my residence among them, that they worshipped any idol. They had, nevertheless, some small sculptured figures; but they appeared to hold them in light esteem, offering to barter them for trifles.

Having travelled with one of the sons of Comcomly, the chief of the Chinooks, I put to him several questions touching their religious belief. This was an intelligent and communicative young man. What he told me respecting it: Men, according to their ideas, were created by a divinity whom they name Etalapass; but they were imperfect, having a mouth that was not opened, eyes that were fast dosed, hands and feet that were not moveable. In a word, they were rather statues of flesh, than living men. A second divinity, whom they call Ecannum, less powerful, but more benign than the former, having seen men in their state of imperfection, took a sharp stone and laid open their mouths and eyes. He gave agility, also, to their feet, and motion to their hands. This compassionate divinity was not content with conferring these first benefits. He taught men to make canoes, paddles, nets, and, in a word, all the tools and instruments they use. He did still more: he threw great rocks into the river, to obstruct the ascent of the salmon, in order that they might take as many as they wanted.

One of their most ridiculous superstitions regards the method of preparing and eating fish. In the month of July, 1811, the natives brought us at first a very scanty supply of the fresh salmon, from the fear that we would cut the fish crosswise instead of lengthwise; being persuaded that if we did so, the river would be obstructed, and the fishing ruined. Having reproached the chief on that account, they brought us a greater quantity, but all cooked, and which, not to displease them, it was necessary to eat before sunset. Re-assured at last by our solemn promises not to cut the fish crosswise, they supplied us abundantly during the remainder of the season.

The natives of the Columbia further believe, that the men who have been good citizens, good fathers, good husbands, and good fishermen, who have not committed murder, etc., will be perfectly happy after their death, and will go to a country where they will find fish, fruit, and all manner of food in abundance; and that, on the contrary, those who have lived wickedly, will inhabit a country of fasting and want, where they will eat nothing but bitter roots, and have nothing to drink but salt water. 


What was your general opinion of the natives?


In spite of the vices that may be laid to the charge of the natives of the Columbia, I regard them as nearer to a state of civilization than any of the tribes who dwell east of the Rocky Mountains. They did not appear to me so attached to their customs that they could not easily adopt those of civilized nations: they would dress themselves willingly in the European mode, if they had the means. To encourage this taste, we lent pantaloons to the chiefs who visited us, when they wished to enter our houses, never allowing them to do it in a state of nudity. They possess, in an eminent degree, the qualities opposed to indolence, improvidence, and stupidity: the chiefs, above all, are distinguished for their good sense and intelligence. Generally speaking, they have a ready intellect and a tenacious memory. Thus old Comcomly recognized the mate of the Albatross as having visited the country sixteen years before, and recalled to the latter the name of the captain under whom he had sailed at that period.

Source: Narrative of a Voyage to Northwest Coast of America in th Years 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814 of the First American Settlement on the Pacific by Gabriel Franchere; translated and edited by J. V. Huntington.



Brickstacks, Alfie Ewings, and the First World War

Uncle Alf – or Alfie, as he was known to his family, served with the Canadians in the First World War.

This is an excerpt from the family book: Devon Violets by Lana Rodlie. The book follows the lives of my ancestors, Mary Clayden and Albert Ewings, and their children (my cousins). I have made some changes to the text in order to protect the privacy of anyone still living. This section is about my Uncle Alf Ewings who lived in Tacoma, Washington. He served in the First World War and this is his story.

From the book:

     The second of Mary and Albert’s children was Alfred, born June 3, 1894, in England.  Although Alfie, or Uncle Alf, as we knew him, passed away in 1975, he passed down stories about his life to his son Bert, a retired teacher, who lives in Seattle, Washington. Bert is an incredible person who adapted his father’s story into a monologue which he performed at community events and for family members. He would don his father’s pith helmet and talk about his dad’s adventures in first person. On a trip to Seattle in 2006, he “performed” for us and I recorded it. (If I can figure out how to put a voice recording on this site, I will.)

      I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing it and adding it to other bits of information I had, mostly from Bert in the first place.

     Bert said his dad talked a lot about his relatives in England, as Alfie could remember them all, having grown up with them as a child, and then visiting them at the end of the war, before returning home to Canada. (Some of his comments were added to the story about the Claydens.) Continue reading

Witness to the 1907 Fernie Fire


Catherine (Ewings) Doiron married Francois (Frank) Olivier Doiron on July 17, 1916. She was born about 1898. They had 11 children.

The following story came from Lynn Desandoli who got it from a relative in England. It was written by my aunt, Kate Doiron about the fire that destroyed her town in 1907 when she was about 10 years old.    

It was in March 1907, that Dad, Mother, and six of us children arrived at a tiny station in Manitoba called Gunton.  Although Gunton is only a few miles north of Winnipeg, it seemed like the traditional “jumping off place” to us.  Just why that particular spot on the map should have a name, I do not know, for there was only a shed-like building, and a platform ; but there was the sign – “Gunton”.

    We had recently left our home in London, England, and here we were, standing on a little platform about 8′ X 8′, with the snow six feet deep all around it, and not a house in sight; nothing but snow as far as we could see – snow and cold, and silence. Continue reading

Interview with Franchere Part 3 – the Columbia River


Continuing with our interview with Gabriel Franchere in 1846. Here, he describes the region of the Columbia River as he saw it in the early 1800s. (Remember, our magazine is called Playmen – with apologies to Hugh Heffner.) Current photos taken in 2011.

The peninsula called Tongue Point sticks into the river just a few miles up from Astoria. Photo by Lana Rodlie


“What was it like, travelling on the Columbia River?”


“Just up-river from the factory, one first passes a lofty headland. We first perceived it to be an island detached from the main. We gave it the name of Tongue Point.

Here the river gains a width of some nine or ten miles, and keeps it for about twelve miles up.   Continue reading

The Morning River – a review

Book Review 

Title: The Morning River
Author: W. Michael Gear
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 1996
Spoiler Alert: Possibly 

Set in 1825, this story ticks all the boxes for anyone with interest in the fur trade, the Midwest, Indians, and/or the early part of the 19th century.

It is about a young man who is kidnapped by a group of fur traders who sell people into service in order to make their quotas in the Great Missouri Wilderness. Continue reading

Interview with Franchere – Part 2 – Tonquin

Here is Part 2 of our interview with Gabriel Franchere. (Remember, this is 1846 and we are reading the fictitious magazine called Playmen. Mr. Franchere was a clerk with the John Jacob Astor Pacific Fur Company at Astoria between 1810-1816. The first group of fur traders were deposited at the entrance to the Columbia River in May 1811.


“Once you got settled at the base of the Columbia River, what were your first impressions?”


“We imagined ourselves in the garden of Eden; the wild forests seemed to us delightful groves, and the leaves transformed to brilliant flowers. No doubt, the pleasure of finding ourselves at the end of our voyage, and liberated from the ship, made things appear to us a great deal more beautiful than they really were. Be that as it may, we set ourselves to work with enthusiasm, and cleared, in a few days, a point of land of its under-brush, and of the huge trunks of pine-trees that covered it, which we rolled, half-burnt, down the bank. The vessel came to moor near our encampment, and the trade went on. The natives visited us constantly and in great numbers; some to trade, others to gratify their curiosity, or to purloin some little articles if they found an opportunity. We landed the frame timbers which we had brought, ready cut for the purpose, in the vessel; and by the end of April, with the aid of the ship-carpenters, John Weeks and Johann Koaster, we had laid the keel of a coasting-schooner of about thirty tons.” Continue reading