"The greatest land Geographer whoever lived."
Recently discovered Ace Powell painting of at P’end Oreille
It was the North River that brought to the greatest of land geographers and one of 's great explorers. Indeed the North bore witness to many encounters had with the and Indians who made a special crusade of denying the passes to traders bent on crossing. warranted special attention by these Indians. was believed to have special powers by the Indians. One example of this is related in The North River 1972 White Water report.
"The remaining three miles to Crossing are easy paddling, for the river again widens into a larger channel. It was in this vicinity in 1810 that 's party was attacked by a ( ) war party determined to stopfrom going through the mountain passes. Fortunately for Thompson, three grizzlies suddenly appeared on the scene. Since the s and most of the Tribes who met David Thompson, believed that bears were supernatural protectors, Thompson and his men were able to escape. The Indians namedkoo-koo-sint, " You who Look at the Stars," from his constant use of his sextant which the Indians saw as possessed of special powers.
spent 28 hard years in the fur trade after he arrived in as a 14-year-old apprentice of the 's Bay Company. But the Story of is much more than a story of maps. The story of the man, of his love affair with Small, his wife of 57 years, is one of the great and legendary stories of our country. Until the 1920's and His wife lay in obscurity in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. At the time of their deaths they were living in dire straits. Within three months of 's death, died. Their love story and that of achievement is the stuff of legend.
Very little has been written of the man David Thompson and of his wife or his children. In understanding Thompson, It is important for us to observe him in the milieu of the societal values of his day and the rough and tumble life of the fur brigades. David Thompson was to spend a great portion of his life following his true dream of charting and mapping the tremendous expanses of western wilderness that encompasses almost two million square miles of today's ! His "Great Map" speaks for itself as a testament to his genius.
in his travels was to spend
time on more than one occasion, living and working at the North West Fort in
. It was here thatfirst brought his young bride,
. And it was at that their first child,
Fanny, was born in 1801.
If one sits on the bank of the North River in Riverside Park, two miles downstream from the site of the historic fur trade posts, one can reflect on how hard the living conditions must have been for all who lived at the posts. The history of the posts in this area is also a history of countless occasions of starvation. Many times the trading posts were closed because of lack of provisions and on other occasions because of the threat of violence from the Indians of the Confederacy. This was a very harsh and unforgiving land.
At the age of seventeen, spent the winter of 1787 with the Indians, where youngsoaked up the language, life and customs of these plains' Indians. It was here thatwould be impressed by the wisdom of Kootenay Appee, the War Chief who was to become his friend, mentor, and in all probability, deterred many young braves in later years who wanted to get rid of Thompson.
The fur trade was essentially a male-dominated society. Men held the most significant economic and political positions. Though fur trade society was itself highly stratified, women's roles were consistently defined with respect to their relationships to men. Women were wives, mothers, or daughters; their responsibilities to the larger community in terms of the work they did were directly related to these principal definitions. But as it turned out, was much, much more to . Their relationship of fifty-nine years is a monument to their courage and their love of each other and their children.
Author -Brock asks in her book: " Woman of the "
"However did she ( Small) cope with the constant and arduous traveling, with her brood of small children? Indeed! The more we read and learn of the life of the more mysteries and unanswered questions seem to present itself. The story of as evidenced in his letters to is a moving record of the devotion of this great surveyor and map maker to his family. As for this man's achievements they will more than stand the test of time as they are extrordinary. Neither came from aristocratic stock nor from the same culture yet they forged a love and a life that would be heroic, tender and meaningful in any time, place, or in any society. "
, fresh from the Coat School of London, was apprenticed to the
's Bay Company at the age 14. It was the experience of the Company to
recruit apprentices coming from these schools, who were all business,
disciplined and moralistic. in his Narratives, wrote when he was
back in Montreal after years with the fur trade,
somewhat sarcastically, on the 's Bay Policy "to send to
the school in which I was educated to procure a scholar who had a mathematical
education to send out as clerk . . . To learn what? For all I had seen in their
service neither reading nor writing was required. My only business was to amuse
myself, in winter growling at the cold ; and in the
open season shooting Gulls, Ducks, Plover , and Curlews and quarreling
with mosketoes and Sand flies.".
One thing had was a very good eye and mind for Mathematics and if he hadn't severely injured his leg after arriving in the colony, most likely would have carried out his duties for the rest of his life as a clerk for the 's Bay Company. .But was to come under the mentorship of Philip Turnor, a very able cartographer who taughtthe skills of the surveyor. It was the Providence that referred to that brought him to the attention of Philip Turnor after injured his leg.
While recuperating,was taught the skills of the map maker,a skill that excited a passion in youngthat not only changed the course of his life but also of this country.
"While wintering at Manchester House
I fell, breaking my leg, which by the mercy of God turned out to be the best
thing ever happened to me.....when Philip Turnor.. ..
taught me the science of surveying: how to determine
longitude and latitude exactly for each post of trade... Now I could make of
this uncharted land a known quality and to this end I kept for sixty years
records of all observations of each journey made."
While still in the employ of The 's Bay he soon began to show remarkable
talent for very accurate maps.
For instance, in 1796, at the age of 26, blazed a new route to Lake Athabaska for the company, travelling from York Factory by way of the Nelson, Burntwood, and rivers and Lake to Fond du Lac.
To The Company-
However, dissatisfied with his employers, and wanting to follow his passion of map making , joined the company in 1797. On Tuesday , May 23, 1797, he left Bedford House and walked 75 miles to the nearest North West Company post! Here he signed up with his former competitors.
This was an opportune time for both and The Company. They needed to explore the reaches of the North River and hoped to finally find the elusive way through the mountains to the Pacific. They needed 's skills as a surveyor and map maker and gave him every opportunity to use them.
His first major assignment was a vital one, to survey the 49th parallel, to ascertain whether or not any North West Company posts were now in American territory. discovered that some were. now had under his command the the most experienced , the boldest, and the hardiest of the hundreds of employed by the Company.
In 1797, the North West Company was headquartered in Montreal. Each year, they would send a large number of from Montreal up the Ottawa River, up the Mattawa River, across Lake Nipissing, down the French River across Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, through the Sault (French for rapids) at Sault St. Marie, and across Lake Superior to Grand Portage at the eastern tip of Minnesota to rendezvous with the "Mennes du Nord." They would leave Montreal as soon as the ice melted in early April and arrive at Grand Portage by the end of June. They would return to Montreal before winter set in.
A glance at a map of and you will see
that they covered an amazing amount of territory each year - all of it by
canoe! The purpose for this amazing annual trip was to exchange the goods they
left Montreal with for furs brought to Grand Portage by the who lived in the continental interior. would
paddle 15 to 18 hours a day with five minute breaks each hour for a smoke on
their pipes. They covered up to 80 miles a day through rapids, around falls,
over portages, and up and down powerful rivers.
's crews were comprised of these French and his canoe brigades were capable of mighty feats of work and travel, and even if suffering from severe hunger, could accomplish amazing feats of building such as erecting a big log house from the cutting of the trees in just a few days.
Each voyageur pack
( piece) contained ninety pounds of goods, was wrapped
in canvas, tied securely and labeled with its
destination. These packs were carried on the backs of the across the
nine mile portage and loaded into the west bound canoes." Such was the
competitive nature of these men that they never walked , but always raced over
the rough, steep ground at a jog trot..."
Their diet was a porridge made of beans, corn, and salt pork cooked until it was stiff enough to hold a spoon erect. Few of these knew how to swim and the most common cause of death was drowning. No voyageur carried less than two packets. Some carried three at the same time. These fellows were short, and over 5'6" disqualified you as a voyageur, and weighed about 150 . Consider a 150 lb. man carrying 270 . over rocks and unmarked trail! Or, consider them carrying their canoe which weighed600 .
Their birchbark canoes were constantly in need of repair from the thrashing that they would take. They merely fixed their canoes with the native materials at their disposal and pressed on with the trip. These 'canots du nord' were, at first glance very fragile, and easily damaged, but were capable of carrying 3000 pounds of provisions or trade goods and in addition carried six paddlers. The used a variety of canoes from their big forty foot freight canoes to the small single canoes that would use on occasion to either track ahead or to catch up to his canoes.
They were great singers and were known to
sing continually as they paddled sometimes to the pace of 120 strokes per
minute! They had always dashed up to the landing (
at Isle a La Croix) at top speed, singing as loud as they could.
" En roulant ma boule roulant En roulant ma boule Derriere chez nous, ya tu etang, En roulant ma boule Trois beaux canards sen vont baignant, rouli , roulant , ma boule roulant,En roulant ma boule roulant En roulant ma boule.." Early Voyageur Son
When first met at Isle a la , he found the young family of Small, a 's Bay wintering partner, abandoned. Their father, Small, had retired to England. Such was the case of a great many young Indian and Metis women who entered into relationships without benefit of clergy in the west of the Fur Trade.
The marriages of Company men and Native women
were encouraged by Native leaders, as a way to create a social bond
consolidating the economic relationship between the two groups. Marriages not
only connected two separate communities, but created a new society, the
was a mixture of Scot and Indian blood. With respect to the ceremony involved in these marriages, the following description is given in 'Many Tender Ties:'
" a la facon du pays apparently did not involve any exchange
of vows between the couple, but it was solemnized by other rituals. The smoking
of the calumet sealed the alliance that was formed between the trader and the
Indian band....The trader usually visited the Indian encampment to claim his
wife, and then the couple would be ceremoniously escorted to the fort. It
became customary for a new Indian bride to go through a cleansing ritual performed
by the other women at the fort, which was designed to render her more pleasing
to the white man. She was scoured of grease and paint and her leather garments
were exchanged for those of a more European style....Then the trader conducted
his bride to his quarters, and from thenceforth they were conside
red to be man and wife."
The lack of a formal, legal marriage contract occasionally resulted in abandonment of Native wives by Company men who either returned home to Britain or elsewhere. In some cases, the women remained in the fort as part of the community; sometimes they remarried. It is admirable to note that the marriage of to , a Metis, lasted for over 57 years and when his mapping days were over, had his " country marriage" legalized in Montreal.
"In the spring of 1799 , I came to Isle a la Crosse and there met a lovely Metis Girl. Her father, , a company wintering partner, was now retired in , having left a family in the west. On June 10th became my wife an d many a mile and river we have traveled together since."
When first met Small he was 28 years old, she was fourteen. would probably be the first to admit that he was not the most handsome of countenance. His friends had been urging to get married for some time.
What Did Look Like?
There are no photographs of and very few sketches. However descriptions do exist. In the book "Heroes" describes and his family. He is a stocky man of 36 in a buckskin shirt, whose black hair is cut in bang level with his eyebrows. Beside him is a young woman, half Irish, half , with long black hair, his wife , who married him at 14........And close by is Fanny, the , born at Rocky Mountain House on the first anniversary of their wedding day.
Gabriel Franchere described 's arrival in 1811 at Fort Astoria after his epic exploration of the River -
" Toward midday we saw a large canoe with a flag displayed at her stern, rounding the point we called Point. The flag she bore was the British, and her crew was composed of eight boatmen or . A well-dressed man, who appeared to be their commander, was the first to leap ashore"
James K Smith in his book on The s series, says of "He had a snub nose. his hair was dark, his skin sallow. The boy was downright homely. Small and chunky , dressed in dark , coarse, woolen jacket and trousers, to the men of the 's Bay Company's ship Prince Rupert he was not worth a second glance: "
"Just another son
from another penniless family on his way to a job in North America with the
is said to be the spitting image of his grandson .
STORY-TELLING and another First
David was considered to be an excellent story teller and whether at wintering quarters or in a canoe brigade or at the fort often regaled listeners with his stories and adventures.( Story Telling) Indeed , although no photograph or reasonable sketch of exists, there are a few examples of encounters with him. One such encounter occurred after Thompson had retired after 38 years in the Pays den haut the great . …Dr. J.J. Bigsby a fellow member of the Boundary Commission describes the pleasure of 's company and his story telling.
"He was plainly dressed , quiet and observant. His figure short and compact, and his black hair was worn all round and cut square, as if by one stroke of the shears, just above the eyebrows. His complexion was of the gardener's ruddy brown, while the expression of his deeply furrowed features was friendly and intelligent... His speech betrayed the Welshman - he has a very powerful mind , and a singular facility of picture making. Thompson can create a wilderness and people it with warring Indians, or climb the Rocky mountains with you in a snowstorm, so clearly and palpably , that you have only to shut your eyes and you hear the crack of the rifle, or feel the snowflakes melt on your cheeks as he talks.".
When first met she could not read or write although she could speak English, French and . This was a a matter that would soon be rectified during their marriage. was very protective of his wife and children and the family was inseparable for the greater part of their marriage.In-'WOMAN OF THE PADDLE SONG Clutton-Brock speculated on 's first meeting with .
"When came to Isle a La
Croix it was in the spring.... You can not know how beautiful it is when the
grass is new and soft..... He was not very tall but his eyes were dark like
ours and his hair dark too, and fine. And I liked him from the fir st day he called at the old post when he asked me,
, to marry him with the permission of my brothers
. I was so happy! And proud to be the wife of such a
fine man, who knew the ways of my people and would never disgrace me before
them.' never did."
"On a high bank , seventy yards from the river's edge stood behind enormous strong log stockades, protected by two blockhouses Quite formidable, it looked. Such defence was necessary, for this was country and the were noted for their unfriendliness to the white intruders.' Woman of the Paddle Song..
An Early Description of House
' Henry in his Journals of 1811 also describes the fort and the geography along the North River:
"Our establishment at this
place stands upon a high bank on the north side of the river, the situation is
well adapted for defense in case of an attack from
the slave Indians, as our block houses have a full command around the fort for
some distance... the bend of the river is 180 yards while the distance from the
top of the bank on which the fort stands to the opposite bank is 250 yards, at
high water the whole of this place is covered , and flows with a strong
Given the cautious and protective nature of and his deep love of his wife and his children, it is to be believed that and the children accompanied him on many trips. Although the journals and logs are, in the main, silent it does not indicate that it was not so.There is ample evidence to the contrary. Bay Journals are devoid usually of family matters and it would be very rare forto mention and the children in his journals even though they accompanied him on some of them.
Their marriage was an enduring one. went with him on many of his travels, and it was no uncommon sight to see them, accompanied by several of their children, in a canoe going up and down the North or encamped in some deep mountain valley. In 1808, David Thompson had been gone six weeks and had journeyed about 600 miles. A few days later, loading his family and the winter's furs onto horses, he ( ) led his party back over the pass above the head waters of the North and embarked in a canoe they had left at the Kootenay Plains the previous year.'
Travelling on this journey then in 1808 would have been , Fanny 7 years, Samuel 4 years, and Emma 2 years. was also expecting their fourth child in August. l.. By October 31st 1808,and his family ( including Joshuah 2 months) were back on the !
There were often villages of several different tribes in close proximity of the forts and these relations were not always friendly. In the vicinity of the Fort, great attempts were made to keep the and separated, across the river if necessary. recounts the story of such an incident when one young brave was literally drawn and quartered by warring tribes and his body discarded to all corners. Father was enraged when told, and stormed into the offending tribe and insisted they retrieve the body segments and present the remains for a dignified burial, which was done. ( 's Diary)
Native custom believed, even before the coming of the white man, that a spirit be presented decently before their ancestors in the spirit world. This incident is referred to again in determining the remains found at the " Seafort Burial Site" near the Historic Park.
The Fort was typical of the Company posts. Some buildings were common to all. Strongly fortified with sturdy palisades, there was always the Indian Hall, the place where the Indians met, and often slept, while at the fort. It was here that the trade was carried on.
Liquor In The Trade
also abhorred liquor at least in selling liquor to the Indians. He saw many horrible tragedies of abuse, maimings and killings that he attributed directly to the sale of liquor as a trade item. Thompson refused to use liquor as any kind of enticement to trade. One example Thompson narrates.
"I was obliged to take two kegs of alcohol, overruled by my partners, ( one being his brother in law , of ) for I had made it a law to myself that no alcohol should pass the mountains in my company, and thus be clear of the sad sight of drunkenness and its many evils. But these gentlemen insisted upon alcohol being the most profitable article that could be taken for the Indian trade..When we came to the defiles of the mountains I placed the two kegs of alcohol on a vicious horse , and by noon the kegs were empty and in pieces...I wrote to my partners what I had done and that I would do the same to every keg of alcohol , and for the next six years I had charge of the fur trade on the west side of the mountains , no further attempt was made to introduce spirituous liquors. "
always tried to relieve the monotony at any trading post. His nature was to be on the move, to be mapping and surveying and during idle times he would feel obliged to keep people occupied. It was said of that he could sit all night near a fire and spin tales of courage that would keep any listener spell bound. had an extraordinary mixture of talent and character that made him one of our historical giants.was generally well respected by white man and aboriginal. Even the rival posts of the 's Bay Company at Rocky Mountain House visited with .
In 1806 Journal recorded " .. driving down the ( North ) river, invited Mr. to sup." was in charge of the rival trading post of the 's Bay Company .
But his character remained steadfast to the
end. Afterand his family finally settled in the eastlent a
large sum of money to a group of men in Williamstown who were building a new
church, a Presbyterian church, thoughhimself was an . The
church people could not afford to pay back their benefactor ,
and with characteristic generosity , destroyed the note and
forgave the debt.There is no question that
did not endear himself to the Bay Company when he left for the
Company in 1797. They had recruited him, trained him and employed him. There is
much conjecture surrounding his departure.
was also a God fearing man.
His men were almost without exception Roman Catholic and French Speaking, but this did not deter . Every Sunday in the winter, and whenever possible in the summer, he held a devotional service which all attended. He would read to them three chapters from the old testament and three from the new , offering explanations when needed.did this always in French in deference to his although his french at best was barely discernible.
"Good Providence" was a term that used regularly and may have revealed his early schooling at Westminster in a God fearing Anglican environment.always travelled with his bible and some say a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost.
THE CHILDREN OUT WEST
By had four children :
Fanny age nine born at 1801
age six born at Peace River Forks 1804
Emmaage four born at Reed Lake House 1806
age two born at Boggy Hall, 1808
In early 1811 was carrying their fifth child, , who would be born at Fort Augustus ( ) on March 28th , 1811. It would appear that Fort Augustus was used as a safer haven for and the children during his absences. Travelling with the children must have been precarious and hard on the men of the canoe brigades as well.
Already the children had experienced the trek of the voyageur canoe and had accompanied and their father for the great portion of his travels to date. Fanny the oldest child was attending school in Montreal. Education was something felt very strongly about. In a letter to Alexander Fraser, writes about the education of his children: "It is my wish to give all my children an equal and good education. My conscience obliges me to it and it is for this I am working in this country. If all goes well and it pleases Good Providence to take care of me , I hope to see you and a civilized world in the Autumn. "
are staggering. The
greatest 19th-century surveyor in North America, explored vast
areas that later became part of Western and the
United States. In 1796 he blazed a new route to Lake
for the company, travelling from York Factory by way of the Nelson, , and rivers and Reindeer Lake to Fond
du Lac. After he joined the Company in 1797,surveyed
(1797-98) the 's head waters, crossed (1807) the by the Pass to the source of the , explored
(1808-10) the present states of , , and , and became the
first white person to travel (1811) the 's entire length.
Everywhere, he made observations that, after retirement in 1812, enabled him to complete a map (1813-14) that became the basis for all subsequent maps of western . From 1816 to 1826 he surveyed the -United States boundary between the Saint Lawrence River and Lake of the Woods for the International .
After the of the two companies in 1821, 's ' Map' eventually surfaced in at the 's Bay Company Headquarters. The map itself could fill one wall of a room. One of the major disservices done tooccurred when magnificent maps and notebooks were handed by the 's Bay Company to , cartographers. Commissioned by the 's Bay Company, incorporated maps into his own maps of North America to which the Bay Company was given credit, claiming proprietary ownership. Ironically, original maps published in 1795 of North America while in the employ of the Company, gave no credit or mention of .
One can only imagine whether or not this poor boy from the charity school of Westminster and his Metis wife were ever really welcomed and made to feel at home during their years in the east. One could question whether the 's Bay Company ever forgavefor leaving their company in 1797. It was who found unmarked grave in Mount Royal Cemetery in 1924. Until then the world had forgotten for over 70 years what little they knew about . Indeed if it had not been for .. who stumbled upon notes, journals maps and Narrative, and would have died , not only in poverty, but in obscurity as well. After much research , came upon a dusty collection of 39 journals, 11 books of field notes, and a large yellowing map of the western half of North America between the 45th and 60th parallels.
Thatwas not a man of means when he died is generally agreed. The times in Montreal and Terre Bonne had not been good to him and in their declining years. For the last nine years of his lifewas close to total blindness due to the advances of . It was not generally known then thathad been blind in one eye since his early years which makes his incredible observations, calculations and map making all the more startling.
This man who had done so much for , and who was still working at surveying long after his 70th birthday to make ends meet, was refused a modest pension he had requested from the British Government.
He was obliged to rely on his son in -law for the barest of necessities and he was most thankful to anyone who was able to give him and the smallest of monetary gifts. The poverty worsened. Thompson was forced to sell his beloved sextant and his surveying instruments, and pawned his overcoat for a little money to buy food for and himself. One of the last entries in his daily journal is a very poignant and sad note. "Have this day borrowed two shillings and six pence from a friend. Thank God for this relief."
HIS LATER YEARS Excerpts from his Journals ( Epic Wanderer -D'Arcy Jenish)
The Fur trade – East – 1812-1857
In 1812retired from the fur trade, and with his family, moved to Terrebonne near Montreal to redraw maps. Two - - and - made and measured the coffins. He became worried about who was distraught over the sudden deaths.
The Children are buried in .
Thompson wrote inhis diary. "Too good for this world"
During the War of 1812-Enlisted in - Actually Designed a sled for recoiling
1815 moved to Glengarry County, .settled into role of a Gentleman and a Justice of the Peace,
1816 He took a position with The , surveying the border from Lake of the Woods to the Eastern Townsites in Quebec. The became quite arduous.
In 1826resigned from the Commission and surveyed canals, township boundaries and land grants. He continued work on his maps of the west.
Up until 1836 everything was ok financially. was 66 years old. One must remember there were no Old Age or RRSP's in those days.
The Downward now to their deaths in 1857 barely 4 months apart.