Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume II


History and location

Very soon after reaching Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia River on his first inspection trip west of the Rocky Mountains, Governor George Simpson determined to make the Columbia District independent of imported foodstuffs by establishing farms and raising not only grains, vegetables, and fruits, but also cattle, sheep, and hogs. As early as November or December 1824., he could foresee the time when beef, pork, and butter would be among the products in sufficient supply to be exported to Alaska, Hawaii, and other Pacific lands. [1]

The site selected at about that same time for the new Fort Vancouver struck the Governor as being almost ideal for livestock raising. "A Farm to any extent may be made there," he noted in his journal before March of the next year; "the pasture is good and innumerable herds of Swine can fatten so as to be fit for the Knife merely on nutricious [sic] Roots that are found here in any quantity." [2]

The herds at the new depot were started. with livestock moved from Fort George when the latter post was abandoned in the spring of 1825. According to Governor Simpson, these animals consisted of thirty-one head of cattle and seventeen hogs, the heritage of the small herds built up by the Astorians and Nor'Westers, chiefly through imports from California and the Hawaiian Islands. [3] These numbers may not have been entirely accurate, however, because Dr. McLoughlin in later years gave varying figures. In 1837, for instance, he wrote that when he took charge of Fort Vancouver in 1825 there were three bulls, twenty-three cows, five heifers, and nine steers. [4]

Despite occasional flooding of the meadows along the river and despite poisonous roots that for several years decimated the hogs, Fort Vancouver quite fulfilled Governor Simpson's expectations as an excellent location for livestock raising. By the time of his next visit to the Columbia during the winter of 1828-29 he found that there were 153 head of cattle, "independent of calves," about 200 hogs, and 50 goats. In addition, 6,000 pounds of salt pork had been produced for local consumption. [5] But Simpson declared he would not be satisfied until the cattle numbered 600 head and until "our Piggery enables us to cure 10,000 lb of Pork pr Annum." [6]

Chief Factor McLoughlin diligently applied himself to meeting this goal. From the beginning he had determined that no cattle should be killed, except an occasional bull to supply rennet for cheese making. This policy received hearty support from Governor Simpson and was rigidly adhered to, despite occasional grumblings from the employees and the sometimes vehement protests of visiting seamen and ships' captains, until 1836, when forty head were slaughtered. During the spring of 1837 the cattle at Fort Vancouver consisted of 229 cows, 58 bulls, 178 oxen and steers, 61 heifers, and 159 calves. [7]

As early as 1830 McLoughlin had explored the idea of having cattle brought back from California by the trapping parties ranging into that Mexican province. [8] The more he thought about the prospects of the cattle industry in the Oregon Country the better he liked them, but he believed the project would prosper only if independent of the fur trade. Thus in 1832 he proposed that the officers in the Columbia District organize "The Oregon Beef & Tallow Company" to conduct cattle raising on a large scale.

The London directors vetoed this idea, but they accepted the premise, endorsed by Governor Simpson, that the livestock industry could be profitable. They believed the operation should be a Company directed branch of the fur trade, and toward the close of 1834 they sent McLoughlin dollars to the value of L300 to be used for the purchase of cattle but to be spent only as Governor Simpson should direct. They also instructed him to examine lands near Puget Sound and elsewhere north of the Columbia for places suitable for large-scale cattle raising, because they did not wish the new enterprise to be conducted in the Willamette Valley, which, it was feared, would fall to the Americans. Simpson heartily approved the idea, pointing out that cattle were cheap in California and directing McLoughlin to buy 5,000 head and have them driven to the Columbia as soon as an opportunity offered. [9]

But Chief Factor McLoughlin, denied the chance to make a personal profit, lost his enthusiasm for cattle raising. He did not follow the instructions to examine Whidby Island, though he did admit to having explored the area about Fort Nisqually and the head of Puget Sound, where he had found "pasturage for an immense number of cattle." [10] Both he and the directors were diverted from the project by a dispute with the Russian American Company over transit across the coastal strip of southeastern Alaska, but undoubtedly he could have pressed forward had he so desired. In 1837 he half-heartedly instructed Michel Laframboise, the leader of the Southern Party of trappers to California, to bring back 600 head of cattle should he not find a good place to hunt beaver. [11] Seemingly Laframboise found trapping more congenial than driving cows, because if there is a record of his returning with cattle the writer has not yet seen it. McLoughlin did, however, subscribe to a "substantial interest" on behalf of the Company in an expedition by a party of Willamette Valley settlers who went to California and brought back cattle during that same year. [12]

During the next year the captain of the Company's vessel Nereide, in San Francisco Bay to purchase sheep for delivery to Fort Nisqually, negotiated with General M. O. Vallejo with a view to buying cattle to be sent overland to Fort Vancouver. Apparently this action laid the foundation for the purchases that followed in later years. This move seemingly was made after direct orders, dated January 1837, were received from the Governor and Committee instructing McLoughlin to obtain a herd of from 500 to 1,000 young cattle from California "as early as possible" and to establish a new "grazing farm." [13]

While McLoughlin was away on furlough during the greater part of 1838 and 1839, Chief Trader James Douglas, in charge of Fort Vancouver during his absence, seems to have attacked the problem of the livestock with more vigor. Finding that the pastures around the depot were too limited in extent to support the numbers of cattle, sheep, and hogs on hand', he dispersed the cattle into three herds: one at the fort, one on the present Sauvie Island in the Columbia River, and one on the Tualatin Plains in the Willamette Valley. In addition, ninety-five head were sent to the Cowlitz River, where a farm was being started. He urged the London directors to send out blooded rams from England to improve the quality of the flocks. [14]

These preparations came none too soon. On February 6, 1839, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Russian American Company signed the agree ment by which the former -firm leased the mainland portion of the Alaska "panhandle." Under this arrangement the Hudson's Bay Company promised, among other things, to deliver annually to Sitka for ten years l5 tons of salted beef, 1-1/2 tons of ham, and 8 tons of butter, along with large quantities of grain and flour. [15]

This obligation evidently was the spur that led the Company to strengthen and reorganize the large-scale cattle raising venture. When legal advisers warned that the firm's charter might be jeopardized by major investments in commercial ventures outside the fur trade, the directors formed what was in effect, if not in law, a subsidiary corporation, the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. It was organized in 1839, as Governor Simpson later wrote, "with the view of producing wheat, -wool, hides, and tallow for exportation." [16] He forgot to mention the beef and ham, but those items certainly must have been in the minds of the proprietors.

Chief Factor McLoughlin was in London while the new association was being formed. He was placed in charge of its affairs in the Columbia District and as compensation for these added duties was granted an annual salary of £500 in addition to his chief factor's share in the profits of the Hudson's Bay Company. This recognition smoothed McLoughlin's ruffled feelings, and apparently he returned to Fort Vancouver that fall somewhat more reconciled to the cattle trade.

During 1839 the London agents of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company instructed McLoughlin to establish two farms for the firm, ' one at Cowlitz and the other at Nisqually. As a result, the Hudson s Bay Company farm at Cowlitz was transferred to the new association, while Fort Nisqually became jointly owned by the two companies. Livestock operations were to be concentrated at the latter post, which became the chief station of the agricultural firm. Flocks and herds were likewise to be shifted from the Hudson's Bay Company farms, including that at Fort Vancouver, but McLoughlin was also "to import from California as early as possible, sheep and black cattle, the former to be conveyed by sea, and the latter by the Bona Ventura trapping expedition on their return in 1841, say about 1,000 young cows." [17]

McLoughlin was slow to obey the injunction to transfer Fort Vancouver's flocks and herds to Cowlitz and Nisqually. On March 20, 1840, he informed Governor Simpson that to have moved the calves and lambs during the spring would have been "injurious to the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget's Sound Association," but he promised to get a drive under way as soon as the annual inventory was taken. [18] Evidently this promise was kept, because by September 1841 there were 1,200 cattle and 6,000 sheep at Nisqually. [19]

The number remaining at Fort Vancouver was still substantial, however. Sir George Simpson visited the depot during the late summer of that year and reported finding between 400 and 500 cattle and 1,500 sheep there. [20] Somewhat remarkably, Lieutenant Wilkes, who was visiting Fort Vancouver at the same time, found the stock on the "Vancouver farm" to number about 3,000 cattle, 2,500 sheep, and about 300 brood mares. [21] One can only assume that he did not differentiate the livestock belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company from a large band of cattle and sheep that was owned by the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company and that had lately arrived overland from California and was then on the south bank of the Columbia waiting to be driven to Nisqually. [22]

As these figures demonstrate, the plan to import livestock from California was successful. Because the topic lies somewhat outside the main theme of this report, only a few highlights of this operation will be mentioned here. Alexander Simpson purchased about 700 sheep and shipped them in the Company's barque Columbia from San Francisco Bay during the fall of 1840. [23] Very early the next year Chief Factor James Douglas visited California and bought 661 cows and 3,670 "choice Ewes" and escorted them into the Sacramento Valley to get them started on their long overland drive to Fort Vancouver. [24]

Governor Simpson was so pleased with the results that on March 1, 1842, he told McLoughlin that no more livestock were needed. "We had it at one time in contemplation to get some more cattle and sheep conveyed from California to the Columbia River," he wrote, "but I think that now we have a sufficient number of these animals, if they be properly attended to, and . . . no further step should be taken towards procuring any more sheep or cattle from California." [25]

McLoughlin did not entirely obey this injunction. For example, Clerk Francis Ermatinger returned from the 1841-42 trapping expedition to California with eighty-three cattle he had purchased on his own account. Because such private enterprise on the part of employees was not permitted, McLoughlin bought the livestock on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company. Captain Joseph Gale and a small group of Oregon settlers went to California by boat during the fall of 1842 and re turned to the Willamette Valley the next year with 1,250 cattle, 600 horses, and 3,000 sheep. J. W. Nesmith, who lived with Gale during the winter of 1843, apparently later indicated that 2,000 of the sheep may have been for the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. [27]

During 1843 Jacob P. Leese of Sonoma, California, arrived in Oregon with a herd of 400 to 500 cattle and a band of perhaps as many as 900 sheep. [28] McLoughlin, not wishing to see the Willamette settlers form a cattle company in opposition to the firm he represented, invested £500 of his own funds in purchasing a substantial number of the cows. The Governor and Committee disapproved this transaction, be cause they believed the Company already had enough cattle, but they reluctantly agreed to reimburse McLoughlin for any expenses involved. [29]

Due to such purchases and to natural increases the number of live stock required for domestic use and for export was soon reached. By 1845 there were 2,280 cattle and 5,872 sheep at Nisqually alone. [30] During the spring of 1844 the Fort Vancouver farm, including the establishment on Sauvie Island, possessed 718 horses; 14 mules; 1 donkey; 172 oxen; 65 bulls; 1,034 cows, steers, heifers, and calves; and 832 pigs. [31] If the later testimony of James Douglas was correct, there were 517 horses, 1,915 cattle, 800 pigs, and about 3,000 sheep at the post in 1846. [32]

While the problem of quantity was solved, the matter of quality continued to plague both the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company as long as they remained in the beef producing business. The sheep, though about "as low in quality as they could well be" when imported from California, were gradually improved through crossing with blooded rams shipped from Europe. [33] The dairy herd was brought up in quality by breeding the California cattle with stock driven across the plains by American settlers or imported from England. [34]

With the beef cattle, however, little could be done. As the herds increased in size, the animals could no longer be confined on islands or in fenced fields but had to be allowed to roam under the care of employees who were not always attentive enough. Inevitably, many escaped and wandered at will. As early as 1839 James Douglas noted that the cattle were "becoming unapproachably wild." [35]

Deprived of the benefits of crossbreeding, the beef cattle re mained about as they had been when in California--thin, tough, wiry, long-horned brutes, wild as "the buffalo on the Saskatchewan." [36] When required for slaughter they had to be hunted down and shot like deer. [37]

Quite as difficult as building up the herds was the problem of producing fresh and preserved meat in sufficient quantity and of suitable quality to meet the needs of both the Company and the export trade. As late as 1839 Fort Vancouver was processing little more than enough meat to satisfy the requirements of domestic consumption and those of the Company's vessels. At least such a conclusion might be drawn from the fact that when Capt. Edward Belcher of the Royal Navy visited the depot during the summer of that year he was told by James Douglas that the Columbia District was "not in a condition to supply" bullocks and other provisions to such of Her Majesty's vessels as might enter the river. [38]

The terms of the Russian contract, which became known on the Columbia during the fall of 1839, proved embarrassing to McLoughlin. The next year he sent Alexander Simpson to Honolulu and to California in what was evidently a desperate search for enough casks to put up 600 hundredweight of beef. Simpson was also to salt the beef if procurable at either of those places, but because no casks could be obtained, the venture came to nothing. [39]

McLoughlin informed the Russians that he might not be able to meet the contract requirements for 1841, but the officials in Sitka were willing to wait until the next year. They indicated, however, that they expected the contract to be met with respect to meat in 1842 and succeeding years. [40] Evidently McLoughlin was able to comply with this demand. During Outfit 1844, for example, the Company shipped to Sitka 115 casks of salt beef, each weighing 215 pounds, from Fort Nisqually and 80-40/112 hundredweight of salt beef and 53-64/112 hundredweight of salt pork from Fort Vancouver. The beef in these shipments came to within 80 pounds of meeting the requirements of the contract, while the pork greatly exceeded the amount called for. [41] By the summer of 1845 McLoughlin believed he could provide 100 barrels of beef and 50 barrels of pork for export to Tahiti if a suitable price could be obtained. [42]

The quality of the meat sent to Sitka may not have been all that was desired, however, As early as 1842 complaints had reached the Governor and Committee in London concerning the "unsound state of the Salted Meat" provided at Fort Vancouver for use in the Company's vessels. From the samples they had seen, the directors told McLoughlin, the complaints were well founded. On December 21, 1842, they said they would try to send out from England "a person, qualified to make up preserved Meats for exportation," but evidently they were never able to find a man willing to bury himself in the far-off Columbia District for the offered "moderate wages" of about £75 a year. [43]

McLoughlin promised to give particular attention to the matter. [44] But perhaps he was not very successful in bringing up the quality, because in the fall of 1844 the Governor and Committee shipped out a patented "salting machine, for salting meat, fish, hides, &c." more effectively. Where the machine was set up has not yet been determined, but seemingly it was not a great success. [45]

It is obvious that by at least 1843 or 1844 there was need at the depot for a sizable storage area for the substantial quantities of salt meat prepared for domestic consumption, for the Company's shipping, and for export to the Russian colonies and elsewhere. This condition held true despite the facts that the larger part of the pre served meat supply seems to have been produced and processed at Nisqually and that by 1844 a substantial portion of the beef for Sitka was being shipped from Victoria. [46]

The first time a structure specifically named a "Beef Store" can be identified at Fort Vancouver is on the plan drawn by Lieutenant M. Vavasour during the fall of 1845. It was situated in the northwest corner of the fort enclosure, roughly eighty-five feet east of the west stockade wall and about thirty feet south of the north palisade (see Plates VI, VII, VIII, vol. I). It lay somewhat more than forty feet directly west of the Wheat Store.

43. Ibid., 6:299; What may have been an early recipe for salting beef at Fort Vancouver was jotted down by Clerk Edward Ermatinger in a notebook, evidently about 1828 or 1829. The formula was: "To Salt Beef Boil 8 pounds of Salt, 2 pounds of Sugar and 2 ounces of Salt petre, in six gallons of water, skim it; when cold pour it on the Beef." Ermatinger, "Old Memo. Book," n.p.

A glance at the "Line of Fire" map of September 1844 reveals that this same structure was standing at least a year before Vavasour's visit (see Plate V, vol. I). A large building, labeled No. 18, is shown on the Emmons plan of 1841 in the same general area of the courtyard (Plate III, Vol. I). Described by Emmons as a "General store House--provisions, Dry goods, Hardware, &c," its shape and dimensions seem to be similar to those of the later Beef Store. But the specific location seems quite different. The warehouse shown by Emmons is north of the well and the Granary. Vavasour's Beef Store is 'south of the well and west of the Granary.

In view of the inaccuracies of the Emmons drawing, already discussed several times in this report, it would not be safe to state positively that the Beef Store of 1845 was a new structure that re placed Emmons's warehouse. In fact, because of its early demise there is some reason for thinking that the 1845 Beef Store was then already an old building that had been utilized exclusively, or at least largely, for meat storage when the need arose. At the same time, however, it must be admitted that the important differences in location do indicate a new structure. For the time being, then, the question of when the Beef Store was erected must remain unanswered.

Whatever its origin, the Beef Store was destined to play a major role in Columbia District operations for only a short period. By March 1845 Chief Factor James Douglas was already talking about expanding the farm at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island. "And then," he said, " we may kill our Beef and Pork there, more readily than in this River." [47] This move was to be a facet of the transfer of the main district depot from Fort Vancouver to Fort Victoria, which has been discussed earlier in this report.

Records thus far examined have not revealed to what extent this shift was actually made. Archibald McKinlay, who was clerk at the Oregon City post from early 1846 to 1849 and a frequent visitor to Fort Vancouver, testified years later that he believed the Company shipped no beef from the Columbia River depot after 1846 nor any longer slaughtered cattle there "by the wholesale." At Vancouver, he said, the Company thereafter killed only for its own use, and by 1849 the herds were so depleted that beef had to be bought from the settlers. [48]

As late as mid-summer, 1848, there were still large flocks of sheep, at least, at Fort Vancouver. [49] But by 1849 the general exodus of employees for the gold fields and the incursions of squatters who stole or wantonly shot the Company's stock made it impossible for the firm to maintain sizable herds, particularly of cattle. Some were driven to "positions of greater security"; others were permitted to run wild. [50] During October 1852 Chief Factor John Ballenden, then in charge of Fort Vancouver, decided to end all sheep breeding at that place and directed that the re maining f lock be driven overland to Fort Nisqually. [51]

The physical history of the Beef Store appears to reflect this picture of decline. One "Beef Store," seventy-five by thirty feet, was included in the 1846-47 inventory of Company property at Fort Vancouver. [52] What may be this structure appears on the Covington map of 1846 or some what later, though if so it is not shown in the correct location (see Plate XIII, vol. I). However, the Beef Store is clearly visible as the long, low, gable-roofed building to the right of the Granary in the 1847-48 painting by an unknown artist (Plate XV, vol. I) and in the 1851 drawing by George Gibbs (Plate XVIII, vol. I).

But the building appears to have been pulled down within a year or two after 1851. It was not listed by Dr. H. A. Tuzo among the buildings he found within the stockade upon his arrival in 1853.53 It was not shown on the careful survey made under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Bonneville in 1854 (see Plate XIX, vol. I), nor can it be detected in the view of the post made by an unknown artist that same year (Plate XX, vol. I). In fact, no written or pictorial record of the Beef Store has been found later than 1851. It must be assumed that because the Company no longer had need for a beef store at Vancouver, the structure formerly used for that purpose was removed.

Archeological excavations in 1952 were unsuccessful in determining the exact location or outline of the Beef Store. Its site is now designated as Building No. 3 on the site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

The Columbia District employee rolls for Outfit 1845 provide no clue as to which employees might have been assigned to the Beef Store.

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003