Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume II


History and location

There was an Indian trade shop at Fort Vancouver from the date of the establishment of the post at its first site during the winter of 1824-25. Business was slow for a time because the local Indians attempted to prevent more distant native groups from visiting the fort. Firm measures were taken by Chief Factor McLoughlin to end this extortion, and by August 1825 he was able to report that Chinooks from the mouth of the Columbia had arrived with "a good Lot of Skins." [1]

Nevertheless, the number of furs collected was considerably less than it had been at Fort George and continued to drop off annually until it reached only about 3,000 in 1827. Governor George Simpson reported in 1829 that the situation resulted from an exhaustion of the fur-bearing animals along the lower Columbia and that it was only by sending small trapping parties out for some distance that even the level then existing could be maintained. [2]

It probably was no coincidence that shortly after Simpson's visit in 1828-29, signs begin to appear that the Indian trade at Fort Vancouver, as distinct from the depot operations at the same post, had been reorganized and revitalized. For Outfit 1830 (mid-1830 to mid-1831) the District Statements of personnel, wages, etc., for the first time carried the subheading "Fort Vancouver Indian Trade" under the main "Columbia" heading. The next year the personnel of the "Southern Expedition" to the Umpqua and California were included under the Fort Vancouver Indian Trade subheading. [3] By 1836 this subheading included the Fort Vancouver "Indian Shop," Fort George, and the post on the Umpqua River, though the Southern Party was once more listed separately. [4] Although there were variations, this arrangement in general continued through the 1845-46 period that is the chief concern of this study. [5]

While it is not yet possible to be positive about the matter, it appears that the Fort Vancouver Indian Hall, as it was sometimes termed, had been transformed from merely the fur trading shop for an individual post to the administrative and supply point for the fairly extensive pelt-gathering operations that centered on the lower Columbia. Such at least is the inference that might be drawn from the fact that for several years the clerk in the Fort Vancouver Indian shop was the only clerk listed for the Fort Vancouver fur trade, and even when he was not the only clerk he was generally the highest in rank (that is, the highest paid). [6] Not too much should be read into this situation, however, because Chief Factor McLoughlin, manager of the entire vast Columbia District, ordinarily made the major decisions and most of the small ones relating to the Fort Vancouver Indian Trade.

In keeping with general Company practice, the Indian shop at Fort Vancouver was usually under the immediate charge of the depot surgeon when there was one in residence. [7] At least one, and possibly two, of the "medical gentlemen" appointed to the Columbia objected to this double duty, but most accepted the burden with good grace. Some, in fact, such as Dr. John Kennedy, Dr. William F. Tolmie, and Dr. Forbes Barclay, demonstrated exceptional skill at fur trading, and a few went on to higher administrative positions with the firm. [8]

Exactly what was expected of the post surgeon was spelled out by Chief Factor McLoughlin. On October 18, 1829, he informed Dr. R. J. Hamlyn that "Besides your professional Duties you will attend to the Indian Shop and Issue the Provisions for our Dinner and give directions that those provisions be boiled or Roasted &c &c as may best suit them and see that these Provisions are not Wasted. . . ." [9] By the 1840s the physician also served the rations to the laborers and other "servants" below the rank of clerk on Saturday afternoons. [10]

Despite the prominent role played by the Indian Trade Shop in the affairs of the district and post, no information concerning its exact location within the fort seems to be available prior to the time George Foster Emmons drew his ground plan on July 25, 1841 (Plate III, vol. I). This diagram shows a large structure (No. 13) described as the "Indian Trade store--Hospital Dispensary &c" situated along the south stockade wall about in the position of Building No. 8 on the present site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. It stood about fifteen feet east of the 1841 Fur Store and directly east of the southwest palisade gate. The Eld drawing shows this Indian Trade Shop to have been rather low in height, perhaps only one story, and covered by a gabled roof (see Plates IV and LIII, vol. I).

As has been seen in the previous chapter, by late 1844 this Indian shop of 1841 had been transformed into, or replaced by, the Fur Store. In other words, the site designated today as Building No. 8 was no longer the Indian Trade Shop, but the Fur Store.

When it can next be definitely located, on the Vavasour plan drawn in late 1845 (Plates VI, VII, VIII,, vol. I), the Indian Trade Shop had been moved almost 200 feet east, though still close to the south palisade wall, to the location presently designated as Building No. 21 on the site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. This spot was in the southeast quadrant of the fort and about twenty to twenty-five feet east of the southeastern fort gate.

A glance at the Emmons plan of 1841 shows that at that date the site, or the approximate site, of Building No. 21 was occupied by a warehouse called the "Missionary Store" because American missionaries had been allowed to keep property there (Plate III,, vol. I). Because the Emmons plan was not drawn exactly to scale, it is not possible to state definitely that the missionary store of 1841 had the same dimensions as the Indian shop of 1845, but certainly the two structures were very similar, if not identical, in size. A comparison of the Emmons plan with the Vavasour diagram also reveals minor differences in the locations of the 1841 store and the 1845 Indian shop, particularly with reference to the nearby Bachelors' Quarters building. Again, however, these differences could have been due to the deficiencies of the Emmons drawing. [11]

Such discrepancies make it impossible to state positively that the 1845 Indian shop was simply the 1841 warehouse adapted to a new use, yet it is quite possible that such was the case. In the first place, the missionary store was still quite a new structure in 1841 because it must have been built after the fort enclosure was expanded toward the east about 1836. [12] Therefore it is not very likely that it would have been completely rebuilt prior to the fall of 1845 or, if it can be considered that the small-scale "Line-of-Fire" map shows Vavasour's Indian shop, before September 1844 (see Plate V, vol. I). In the second place, portions of the missionary store visible in drawings made by members of the Wilkes Expedition in 1841 (see Plates IV and LIII, vol. I) correspond very well with the fragmentary or very small-scale views of the Indian shop presented in post-1845 pictures (see Plates XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXVI, vol. 1). All show Building No. 21 to have been a long, low structure with a gabled roof. [13]

Perhaps when the final reports on 1973 archeological excavations in the area of Building No. 21 have been completed they will reveal additional information about the structural history of the 1845-period Indian Trade Shop. Meanwhile, this writer is inclined to favor a hypothesis that the 1841 missionary store and the 1845-period Indian shop were one and the same structure.

If such should prove to be the case, the history of the 1845-period Indian shop could be traced back to a date between 1836 and mid-1841. It is not known when American missionaries stored goods in the warehouse on the site known as Building No. 21, but there were at least two occasions when storage facilities at Fort Vancouver were made available. In late May 1837, when the first reinforcement for the Methodist mission arrived on the Hamilton, Jason Lee hurried from the Willamette to Fort Vancouver in order, among other things, to obtain temporary housing for a part of the "liberal supplies" sent out from Boston. [14] The "Great Reinforcement," which reached Fort Vancouver on the Lausanne during early June 1840, also found it necessary to leave certain supplies, furniture, and baggage in storage until transportation to the scattered Methodist establishments could be obtained. [15] But because this same privilege may have been extended at other times and to other groups, the fact that missionaries used the building for storage throws little light upon exactly when the structure was built.

At any rate, it must have been erected after the stockade was enlarged about 1836 and before Emmons drew his plan on July 25, 1841. [16] After serving as a warehouse or "store," it probably was transformed into the Indian shop when the former Indian hall (Building No. 8) was rebuilt as the Fur Store, sometime between July 1841 and December 1844.

No historical evidence has been found concerning possible alterations or repairs to the Indian shop from the time of its identification on the Vavasour plan of 1845 until the Company abandoned Fort Vancouver in 1860. As was brought out in the previous chapter, however, there seems to have been a change in function. When the army rented the entire Fur Store as a quartermaster and commissary warehouse in 1852 or 1853, the fur storage operations appear to have been shifted to the Indian shop. Such, at least, is the conclusion that might be drawn from the fact that the board of army officers that inventoried the fort buildings on the day after the firm's departure described Building No. 21 on the present site plan as the "fur house, long since abandoned by the Company--in a ruinous condition." [17] Undoubtedly, little trade was being carried on with the natives by 1852-53. In 1854 an observer reported that the "Indian trade here is the ordinary trade of country stores, and for cash." [18]

Nothing specific is known of the fate of the Fur Store after the Company left in 1860, but the building must have disappeared with the rest of the fort structures prior to the end of 1865. Some of the footings uncovered by archeological excavations in 1952 were charred, indicating that fire may have been the final agent of destruction.

Indian shop operations. At many, perhaps most, Hudson's Bay Company posts during the first half of the nineteenth century, Indians were admitted within the gates only in limited numbers and under careful supervision. Sometimes they were confined by fences or palisades to a specified space in the courtyard; and at certain stations, where the natives were considered particularly dangerous, the approach to the trading room from outside the fort was through a long, narrow passage that was only wide enough to admit one visitor at a time and that bent at a sharp angle before the trading window. Under the latter circumstances, the Indians were not allowed to enter the trade shop at all; but generally the natives were permitted inside the building, even if only one or two at a time. [19]

At Fort Vancouver, however, there were few such restrictions, particularly after the fever epidemics of the early 1830s had decimated the native groups in the lower Columbia region. As early as 1834 John K. Townsend found Indians "assembled" in the courtyard "with their multifarious articles of trade, beaver, otter, venison, and various other game." [20] Five years later a British naval captain observed with some misgiving that no guard was observed and that the trading store was "open during working hours, and any increase in the number amongst the Indians would not excite uneasiness on the part of the officers." [21]

Although there exist several very brief mentions of the trade conducted in the Fort Vancouver Indian shop, there apparently is none sufficiently detailed to permit a clear visualization of the actual bartering process carried on there. It is necessary, therefore, to rely largely upon descriptions of such traffic at other Company posts. While the particulars differ according to time and place, there are common elements that undoubtedly were reflected in the operation of the Indian shop at the Columbia depot.

Speaking of conditions at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca in 1833, John McLean wrote, "trade is carried on in this quarter solely by barter," the old system of extending credit to the natives having been abolished. "Beaver," he continued,

is the standard according to which all other furs are rated; so many martens, so many foxes, &c., equal to one beaver. The trader, on receiving the Indian's hunt, proceeds to reckon it up according to this rule, giving the Indian a quill for each beaver; these quills are again exchanged at the counter for whatever article he wants. [22]

Robert M. Ballantyne, a young apprentice clerk, later described a trading episode at York Factory during the early 1840s:

On the following morning a small party of Indians arrived with furs, and Mr. Wilson [the postmaster] went with them to the trading-room, whither I accompanied him. . . .

Upon our entrance into this room trade began. First of all, an old Indian laid a pack of furs upon the counter, which Mr. Wilson counted and valued. Having done this, he marked the amount opposite the old man's name in his "Indian book," and then handed him a number of small pieces of wood. . . . The Indian then began to look about him, opening his eyes gradually, as he endeavoured to find out which of the many things before him he would like to have. Sympathizing with his eyes, his mouth slowly opened also; and having remained in this state for some time, the former looked at Mr. Wilson, and the latter pronounced ahcoup (blanket). Having received the blanket, he paid the requisite number of bits of wood for it, and became abstracted again. In this way he bought a gun, several yards of cloth, a few beads, &c., till all his sticks were gone, and he made way for another. The Indians were uncommonly slow. . . . [23]

In a broader treatment of the Company's Indian trade in general, Ballantyne made a more complete exposition of certain aspects of such transactions:

Trade is carried on with the natives by means of a standard valuation, called in some parts of the country a castor. This is to obviate the necessity of circulating money, of which there is little or none, excepting in the colony of Red River. Thus, an Indian arrives at a fort with a bundle of furs, with which he proceeds to the Indian trading-room. There the trader separates the furs into different lots, and, valuing each at the standard valuation, adds the amount together, and tells the Indian (who has looked on the while with great interest and anxiety) that he has got fifty or sixty castors; at the same time he hands the Indian fifty or sixty little bits of wood in lieu of cash, so that the latter may know, by returning these in payment of the goods for which he really exchanges the skins, how fast his funds decrease. The Indian then looks round upon the bales of cloth, powder-horns, guns, blankets, knives, &c., with which the shop is filled, and after a good while makes up his mind to have a small blanket. This being given him, the trader tells him that the price is six castors; the purchaser hands back six of his little bits of wood, and selects something else. In this way he goes on till all his wooden cash is expended; and then, packing up his goods, departs to show his treasures to his wife, and another Indian takes his place. [24]

Another generalized account describes operations at a typical post two or three decades later than those depicted by Ballantyne:

The business of the post, with the exception of the necessary employments of the lower servants, is transacted between the hours of nine in the morning and six in the evening, with an interval of an hour between two and three o'clock for dinner, when the offices and stores are closed. . . . When the bell announces the opening of the fort-gates, the inclosure soon fills with Indians and traders, who besiege the counter of the trading-store, or lounge idly about the yard--picturesque vagabonds in motley attire. The few clerks in charge are busily engaged in measuring tea, sugar, ammunition, etc., into colored-cotton handkerchiefs unwrapped from greasy aborginal heads for their reception; in examining furs and paying for them in instalments; in measuring off the scanty yards of blue-cotton prints that are to clothe the forms of dusky belles, or causing howls of delight by the exhibition of gilt jewelry to be sold at ten times its original cost. [25]

A description of the barter at Fort Nisqually, as observed during May 1841 by a member of the Wilkes Expedition, does not provide many details, but it undoubtedly illustrates conditions that must have prevailed at the not-too-distant Fort Vancouver:

I found Mr [Alexander Caulfield] Anderson busily employed in trading for a few skins just brought in by the natives; though the value of the whole could have been only 10 or 15 dollars, much time was occupied and many pipes smoked before the bargain was concluded. I was informed that furs of all kinds were every year becoming more scarce and that the prices were also slightly increasing. [26]

Additional accounts of Indian shop operations could be produced, but these will suffice to indicate the general nature of the activities that must have been conducted in the native trading store at Fort Vancouver. But before the descriptions quoted above can be completely understood, certain matters mentioned therein perhaps require elaboration, and certain additional facts should be stated. The following paragraphs attempt to provide such information as briefly as possible.

Credit. At many posts east of the Rocky Mountains the Indians were allowed each fall to purchase their "outfits" of supplies and equipment for the winter hunt on credit, the debt being repaid when the returns were brought in the next spring. Such advances were made to natives less frequently on the Pacific Slope, and trade was generally on a barter basis. [27]

Tariff or price. American settlers in the Oregon Country sometimes had distorted views of the pricing policies followed by the Hudson's Bay Company in its dealings with the natives. As late as 1848 one newly arrived emigrant was told, evidently by fellow countrymen, that "when an Indian wanted a gun, the trader [at Fort Vancouver] would stand the gun straight up (common-height gun) and the Indian would pile up furs as high as the gun, and then it was the Indian's gun and the Hudson's Bay Company's furs, an even swap, both parties well satisfied." [28] An examination of the Company's records shows the actual situation to have been quite different.

As early as the seventeenth century, almost from the start of its operations on Hudson Bay, the Company had found it necessary to establish a "Standard of Trade," later known as a "Tariff," which was a "formalised price-list for furs in terms of European goods." Or, to put it another way, it was a list "in which the value in trade of each item of goods was rigidly stated." [29]

With the passage of time, a tariff came to be "laid down" for each fur trading district, taking into account such factors as the original cost of the trade item, transportation from Britain to America, carriage inland from the depot, and profit. Tariffs are said to have been adjusted annually. [30] Some, however, are known to have remained unchanged for considerable periods. Also, local adjustments were occasionally permitted to meet conditions, such as the appearance of opposition traders.

In the Columbia District, particularly, Chief Factor McLoughlin was given considerable latitude in this respect. During 1829 he was forced to lower prices of goods considerably to prevent furs being traded to two American vessels in the lower Columbia. Governor Simpson wrote the next year that "we are concerned to find that the Indian Tariff has been reduced so low, but are aware that it could not have been avoided." McLoughlin informed the London directors in 1830 that "we can never bring the Indians to the old prices, of five Beaver for one Blanket, and I do not know if ever we will be able to increase the present price of one Large Beaver for a Blanket." [31]

The existence of a fixed tariff eliminated the necessity of haggling or bargaining with the hunters, native or European. It also prevented competition between the Company's own posts. At certain establishments where the clientele was not exclusively Indian, the list of prices for the available goods and the number of skins taken as equivalent to the price in each case was posted at the shop entrance. [32]

A complete tariff for the lower Columbia region during the 1845-46 period has not yet been encountered by the writer, but an abbreviated version of the "F. Vancr. Indian Shop Beaver Tariff 1842," copied for use at Cowlitz Farm, serves to illustrate the general range of prices:

Large Beav[er]
1 Green Blanket 3 pts2
1 plain Blanket 2-1/2 pts B B1
1 plain Blanket 3 pts B B1-1/2
1 pr Corduroy Trowsers [sic]1
1 Second Cloth vest1
1 broad Scarlet Belt1
1 yd blue Duffle1
1 com cloth Capot w hoods 4 Ells1-1/2
1 Trading Gun 3-1/2 feet4
1 Inf[erior?] Blanket 2-1/2 pts B.B.1/2
1 Blk Silk Handkerchief1
1 f[atho]m Baize1/2
1 com cotton shirt1/2 or 1/3

2 Large Land otters equal to 1 Large Beaver
4 Small Land otters equal to 1 Large Beaver
2 Small Beaver equal to 1 Large Beaver [33]

A much better concept of the prices and of the trade in general can be obtained from what appears to be the complete "Tariff for furs & Provisions at Fort Albert, O[utfi]t '43 & '44." A notation on this list states that it was "copied from that of Fort Langley." On March 20, 1844, Chief Factor McLoughlin wrote to Governor Simpson from Fort Vancouver that the Indian trade tariff at the depot was the same as those at Nisqually, Fort George, and Fort Langley, "but it is impossible to keep a regular standard at this place or Fort George with all these Americans around us." [34] Thus the prices at Fort Vancouver must have been very similar to, if not exactly the same as, those on the following list [prices are given in terms of large beaver skins]:

Baize per fm 6 feet furs [?], 5-1/2 feet Salmon
Blankets Green 3 points
Blankets plain 2-1/2 points
Blankets plain 2 points
Blankets plain 1-1/2 points
Blankets plain 1 points
Buttons metal Coat6 doz1/21
Buttons Ball Vest6 doz1/21
Capots com cloth 4 & 3-1/2 Ellsea21
Capots com cloth 2-1/2 & 1-1/2 Ellsea11
Caps Milldea1/41/3
Combs Large Storndoz[0]1
Cotton com Stripes3 yds3/51
Cotton printed3-1/2 yds7/161
Dags Stand 7 insea1/21/2
Duffle Blueyd3/41/2
Duffle Red com2 yds3/41/2
Files flat Bastd 7 & 8 insea1/41/4
Glasses Looking metal fram
Glasses Looking paper cased
Guns Com Indian
Guns flints2 doz11
Guns Worms2 doz11
Hats com Wool
Hooks Large Cod2 doz11
Hooks Small Cod2-1/2 doz11
Hooks Small Trout5 doz11
Powder & Shot 30 Loads
Horns, Powderea1/22
Kettles Covd tin #1
Knives Scalpingea1/41/4
Needles Darning5 doz11
Pipes clay2 doz11
Rings Brass finger5 doz1/21
Shirts Striped cottonea1/21
Soap Yellow3 lbs1/21
Stroud comyd3/41
Thimbles com brassdoz1/41/4
Tobacco Twistlb1/31
Tobacco Leaflb1/31
Trowsers com clothpair1
Trowsers Corduroypair1
Vests of all kindsea3/4
Wire Brass collarlb1/21

Bears, generally in ammunition, Cotton or Tobo.ea1/31
Beaver Largeea1
Beaver Smallea1
Beaver pupea1/2
Foxes crossea1/2
Foxes redea1/4
Lynx Greyea1/2
Lynx Redea1/3
Otter Land
Wolvereins [sic]

Red Deer Skins paid principally in ammunition, Baize, Shirts1
Chevreiul Skins paid Baize, Tobo, ammunition1/4
Venison 180 lbs1
Sturgeon 20C lbs1-1/4
Salmon fresh Large 201-15/60
Salmon fresh small 601
Salmon Dried 1201
Ducks 301
Geese 151
Swans 51
Cod Fish 301
Trout Small 801
Grease hard 10 lbs1
Oil 3 Gns1
Baskets Corn 101
Baskets [illeg.] 51
Mats Large 31
Mats Small 81
Bark Cedar 50 pieces 7 feet by 1-1/2 ft1
Sticks for Hoops1
Canoes Large4
Canoes Small2 [35]

The importance of the price list reproduced above is obvious. It not only gives the prices of goods sold, but it also shows the amounts received by the natives for the furs and other products they brought to the trade shop. Further, it provides a reasonably complete list of the types of furs, provisions, and other local products for which the Company expected to trade in the lower Columbia region. In any project to refurnish a reconstructed Indian Trade Shop, this list would be an excellent guide to the incoming portion of the items in stock.

The list also points to the fact that in some cases trade goods cost the natives more when paid for in provisions than in furs. It also indicates that certain types of furs and skins were traded "principally" or "generally" for specified goods, such as ammunition, tobacco, and cotton yardage. The meaning of such notations becomes clearer when one considers that in 1825 McLoughlin issued orders that blankets must not be traded for provisions, because they were "one of the few articles held in estimation by the natives about this place and for which we will only take furs." [36] In other words, though 180 pounds of venison equalled a large beaver skin in value, they would not buy a 2-1/2 point blanket that was priced at that amount. And evidently three bearskins would buy three twists of tobacco but not always a covered tin kettle, even though the prices were the same.

The list does not, however, indicate certain other restrictions placed on the barter as a matter of broad Company or district policy. For example, it does not show, except by omission of the item from the tariff, that liquor was not at that time traded to the natives at the Fort Vancouver Indian shop. Nor does it reveal that the amount of ammunition a native could obtain was restricted, at least during the early 1830s. [37]

Unit of value, or "made-beaver." It will have been noted that in both of the tariffs reproduced above the prices are given in terms of beaver, plus, or "large beaver." To describe the situation more succinctly, the "Standard" stated the value in beaver of each item of goods and then the value in beaver of all other kinds of furs. [38]

As Professor E. E. Rich has stated, this standard shows that from the very beginning of its operations, "beaver was the only fur to which the Company paid serious attention." [39] Factors other than market demand that may have been taken into consideration in fixing upon this unit were the wide distribution of beaver, the general abundance of the animal, and the relative stability of beaver pelt prices in Europe. [40]

This unit of value was sometimes termed a "beaver," a "large beaver," a plus, or a "castor," but the name most frequently and most widely used throughout the Company's territories and in its accounting system was "made-beaver." A made-beaver, by definition, was a prime large winter beaver skin taken in good condition and properly prepared for shipment. [41]

But to say that a made-beaver was a fine beaver skin does not convey the entire picture. The term as it was used in the fur trade was also a standard of value by which the relative worths of other furs and trade goods were expressed. This point is best made clear by an illustration. In 1832 the trader at Fort Chimo to the east of Hudson Bay recorded: "an Esquimau arrived with nine made beaver in coloured foxes." [42]

"Counters" or tokens. It will also have been noted in the descriptions of the trading process quoted above that the natives were often given quills or wooden sticks to indicate the value of the furs they had turned in and that these "counters" were then handed back in "payment" for trade goods purchased. Each counter normally had the value of one made-beaver.

Such a system had been found desirable in an economy in which there was no lawful coinage in circulation and in which money, even if present, would not have been understood. The Indians wished to have some tangible evidence of what they had sold so that they could keep track of what they had left to spend as they made purchases. Many of them were acquainted with the use of such items as shell beads as mediums of exchange, and thus the "counter" system proved a highly acceptable solution to the problem.

The North West Company, the predecessor of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Pacific Slope, employed metal tokens as counters during at least part of its tenure on the Columbia. [43] The Honourable Company, however, did not start to use such minted tokens until about the 1850s. Before that time--and in many places for long afterwards--district and post managers devised their own counters. Ivory or bone disks, porcupine quills, musket balls, and wooden sticks were among the items so employed. At Churchill during the 1880s, for instance, the "only coinage" in use was a wooden stick about five inches long, five eighths of an inch wide, and one fourth of an inch thick, made out of oak staves and branded with the figure "1." Each represented one made-beaver. [44]

What type of counter, if any, was employed at Fort Vancouver during 1845-46 is not known. Several crudely fashioned pieces of flat copper, roughly octagonal in shape and stamped with the figure "1" and the initials "HBC," have been found in British Columbia. They appear to have been cut from powder keg hoops and may represent an early form of token in the Columbia District, but nothing is known of their origin. [45] Perhaps archeological excavations at Fort Vancouver eventually will produce something of a similar nature.

Account books. In Ballantyne's account of trading at York Factory, quoted earlier, mention is made of entering an Indian's name, together with a notation of the furs he bartered, in the clerk's "Indian book." What appear to be two such books, though titled "blotters," are to be found in the Fort Nisqually Collection in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. Together they cover the period from February 1844 to December 1845. Undoubtedly, similar accounts were kept at Fort Vancouver.

These books are each eight inches by eleven and one half inches by three eighths of an inch in size, bound merely with heavy buff paper covers or wrappers. Hand-lettered on the cover of the first is the title:

Nisqually Blotter
commencing 7th February 1844
ending 31st December 1844

The blotters contain a daily running account of transactions in the Fur Shop. Also included are notations of the rations given out to the "servants" from time to time and also charges to the "gentlemen's" mess. Perhaps the entries were transferred later to more formal account books or summarized in the post accounts.

A few random entries illustrate how the accounts were kept and, more important, provide a remarkable insight into the operations of an Indian Trade Shop. In the following examples, the names of the natives bringing in the furs are on the left:

9th [February, 1844]

Soquamish 1 black bear skin prime 1 com. Cotton Shirt

1 black bear skin nearly prime 1 String Necklace Beads

5 Musquash 5 ch. Amm.

10 Musquash 20 ch. Powder

1 Musquash 1-1/2 ins Tobo.

1 Raccoon 3 ins. Tobo.

4 chevl. Skins all large 1 fm Green Baize

1 chevl. Skins all large 8 ch. Amm.

10 dried salmon 10 ch. Amm.

10 dried salmon 20 ch. Powder

6 Cod 6 ch. Amm.

Feby. 16th 1844

12 ducks12 ch. amm.

5 Flounders6 ch. amm.

3 Sinews3 ins Tobo.

1 large Beaver fm Sahaletch [?] in payt. of a Blkt lent Novr. 1843

[February 23]

Lent Kemalla 10 ch. Amm.

1 Beaver Trap Spring 5 Brass Rings

2 Baskets Cockles 15 ch. Amm.

1 Bag Salmon Roe Codroe 1 ch. Amm.

12 Cod 5 ch. Amm.

[February 25]

Seekeetuwha2 lar. Beaver1 Capot 4 Ells wh. cape

Gratis 5 ch. amm. 1 flint 1 worm 6 inches Tobo.

[February 26]

Sehewamish1 lar. Beaver1 Blkt 2-1/2 pts.

1 prime blk Bear 1 rod. head hlf axe

Gratis 3 ch. Amm. 4 ins Tobo 1 flint

Ap. 25

Farm Dr
8 ch. amm. To an Indn. for finding and bringing home a still-born calf

Advanced Snanasal & Lehlewtin an indn. awl each

May 15

Recd. from Chinitiah 1 large beaver in payt. of debt of 9th April--Gave him 10 ch. amm. 1 flint 1 worm 6 ins Tobo

June 5
Lent Sahalet for a trading excursion to Skeywhamish and Snokwalimieh

4 Blkts 2-1/2

4 Yds. Green Baize

1 Green Blanket 3 Pts.

1 Secd. hd. Gun--value 3 plues

20 ch. Amm.

2 ft Tobo.

3 flints

2 shirts Com. Cotton to be paid in 1 large beaver

1 shirts Com. Cotton

Gratis 10 ch. Amm

1 worm [46]

This "blotter" is a document of great interest. Among other things, it seems to indicate that the Indians at Fort Nisqually may have traded their furs either one at a time or a few at a time directly for trade goods of equivalent value. In such case there may have been no need for the use of quills or other types of counters. This time-consuming method of direct barter was not uncommon at Company posts across the entire continent. [47]

The "Indian book" also reveals that, despite the general policy on the Pacific Slope against outfitting Indians or advancing credit, the trader at Fort Nisqually quite frequently "lent" or "advanced" trade goods to natives. He also often made small presents to the Indians to promote their goodwill, one of the practices that the fixed tariff was intended to halt.

Tricks of the trade. Having gone thus far into Indian shop operations, it may be useful to carry the discussion a bit beyond those topics that bear directly upon the physical layout or the furnishings and equipment. It has already been seen that Dr. Forbes Barclay, who presided over the Indian trade store at Fort Vancouver from 1840 to 1850, was recognized by his peers as an excellent fur trader. Yet, it would appear from the fixed tariffs and the policies against extending credit and making gifts that the individual trader had relatively little latitude for individual initiative. In fact, the Company intended that such should be the case. [48]

How, then, did certain traders manage to outshine their fellows? How was one clerk able to increase the returns of a post soon after he was assigned to it when his predecessors had failed to do so? Such success was not won easily.

First, the trader had to possess the knack of getting along with Indians. He had to be able to learn their languages quickly. He had to know when to humor them and when to be firm. And the successful ones soon discovered how to "adjust" the tariff and how to use credit and gifts to encourage the maximum effort on the part of the natives and still not incur censure from their superiors.

The Fort Nisqually blotter quoted above illustrates how one skillful trader handled such matters. Perhaps even more revealing is the entry in the Fort Simpson (Mackenzie River District) journal by veteran John Stuart on December 7, 1834. After noting the arrival of some Indians with furs to trade, he added:

another of them had 4 Beaver skins and 6 martens for which he wanted a gun, the remaining part [of the price] to be on debt, but from what I experienced from the others I knew well that if [he] had got the gun, their [sic] would be an end to his industry for the winter, that not one skin more would be got from him; whereas by retaining the Gun until he brings the full payment I am persuaded he will exert himself to hunt some kind of furs and ere the snow is disolved [sic] bring the remaining 14 skins that is still deficient to pay for the gun, which is probably more than ever he killed in his life before. [49]

Toward the end of the century one hardworking trader in the Athabasca region attributed his success to knowing the habits of each Indian and being able to inspire the natives with a new zeal for trapping. One means of imparting this inspiration is revealed by the following story. When he first arrived at his new post, he found that the Indians swarmed around the stove in the shop and neglected their trading. He removed the stove and had to measure out cloth and dispense tobacco with fingers stiff from the 40-below-zero cold, but when natives entered the shop all was "strictly business" with no temptation to laziness. [50]

Storage of furs. Samuel Parker, who visited Fort Vancouver in 1835, recorded that there were then four large buildings "for the trading department" at the depot. "One," he continued, "for the Indian trade, in which are deposited their peltries." [51] Although possibly Parker was referring to the principal fur store, it seems more likely that he was describing the "Indian trade store" of the Emmons ground plan and indicating that the skins traded there were also stored there.

Unfortunately there appears to be no direct evidence concerning the place where the furs brought in by the native hunters were kept after trading operations were shifted to the new Indian Trade Shop (Building No. 21) between 1841 and 1844. It would seem reasonable to assume, however, that the pelts collected at the shop would be retained there at least until sufficient numbers had accumulated to warrant formal transfer to the Fur Store. The fact that the returns of the Fort Vancouver Indian shop, like those of every other post, were kept separated for accounting and baling purposes would perhaps imply some such procedure. [52] It is also possible that the furs collected by the subsidiary posts and expeditions of the "Fort Vancouver Indian Trade" and the returns from certain other establishments, such as the Willamette Falls post and Cowlitz Farm, which were occasionally transferred to that trade, were passed through the Fort Vancouver Indian shop before going to the depot Fur Store, but definite information on that subject has not yet been uncovered.

Volume of furs traded. Thanks to the diligence of Chief Factor James Douglas there exists a detailed statement of the returns of the "Fort Vancouver Indian Shop" for Outfits 1844, 1845, and 1846, the period of most interest for the purposes of the restoration project. Reproduced below, it provides a superb view of the numbers and types of pelts that crossed the counter in Building No. 21:

Fort Vancouver Indian Shop

Bears blk585427
Bears brown122114
Bears grizzly122
Beaver lar.136011911067
Beaver small409436380
Beaver coating lbs.22-1/21319
Castorum [sic] lbs.1282
Foxes cross16258
Foxes red and blue584639
Foxes silver320
Isinglass lbs.55

Martins [sic]25574
Otters land672734527
Otters sea lar.292730
Otters pup587
Otters tails

Seals Fur



Dispensary or apothecary shop. It is probable that a special room was set aside at Fort Vancouver for the practice of medicine and the dispensing of medicines from the early days of the establishment. But not until 1833 do available records provide any view of its location and appearance.

Early on the morning of May 4, 1833, two new "medical gentlemen"--Dr. William Fraser Tolmie and Dr. Meredith Gairdner--sent out by the London directors arrived at the Columbia depot. Even before sitting down to breakfast they were taken by Chief Factor McLoughlin, himself a doctor, to visit the "pretty numerous" sick employees and natives, most of whom were afflicted with the prevailing malarial fever. Part of the remainder of the forenoon was spent in bringing "some degree of order" to "Apothecaries Hall," which apparently by that time was already a named room or apartment reserved for use of the depot physician. This "Apoth: Hall," Tolmie noted in his diary that same day, "is to be our temporary domicile." [54]

From a more detailed description of the room entered in his journal two days later, Tolmie seems to indicate that the apothecary shop in 1833 was not situated in the Indian trading store, because he said that the schoolroom could be seen through cracks in the north wall of the apartment, while the "house" on the south side was "unoccupied at present." [55] Unfortunately, because the location of the school at that time is not known with certainty, this information is not particularly helpful in placing "Apothecary Hall" in a specific structure. However, that building does appear to have been a residence and schoolhouse and not the Indian shop.

Another statement made by Tolmie seems of particular significance. He and Gairdner soon decided that they would make the apothecary shop their permanent living quarters, "as we should not then in all likelihood have intruders, when arrivals of brigades occur." [56] These words clearly indicate that it had been intended to house the physicians with the other clerks, who habitually were "bumped" out of their rooms when visitors of higher rank arrived. Tolmie and Gairdner thus appear to have originated a pattern of residence that seems to have been followed by at least some of their successors.

The records provide no further information about the location of the apothecary shop until July 1841, when Emmons drew his ground plan of the fort. His Building No. 13 (the site at present called Building No. 8) was described as the "Indian Trade store--Hospital Dispensary &c." (see Plate III, vol. I).

Clearly by 1841 the apothecary shop and the Indian trade store were in the same structure. This arrangement is not at all surprising in view of the heavy burden that rested on the shoulders of the man who was in charge of both of them--the post surgeon. The triple role of the doctor as physician, Indian trader, and supervisor of rations has already been explained. But there were certain other aspects of his duties that require mention before the full extent of his responsibilities can be understood.

The first call upon the doctor's professional services was had by the Company's sick or injured employees and by such Indians as Dr McLoughlin chose to assist. Seriously ill patients were housed in two hospitals: one, as seen by the notation with the Emmons plan, was connected with the apothecary shop, or dispensary, and evidently was reserved for the Company's "gentlemen" and other persons of standing; the other, outside the stockade toward the river, was where the firm's "servants," their families, Indians, and persons considered of low rank were treated. [57] Sometimes the surgeon's nonmedical duties were so demanding that untrained clerks and boys had to be pressed into service as dispensers of pills and medicines to hospital patients, occasionally with remarkable results. [58]

The doctor's services were provided without charge to employees, Indians, and to occasional patients who were treated gratis as a matter of policy. But by the 1840s the "Medical Department" at Fort Vancouver was expected to cover its expenses through the treatment for fee of settlers and travelers able to pay. Although general Company policy frowned upon post surgeons leaving their stations to attend "outsiders," Dr. Barclay in 1844 said that his practice "extended over all the settlements in behalf of the Company." [59] There are many mentions in early Oregon records and reminiscences of assistance to missionaries and settlers by doctors from Fort Vancouver. One pioneer remembered that the charge was $50 per "home call" plus $2 for ferriage. [60]

Another duty that fell to the doctor was making up the packets of medicines that went out to the posts throughout the district with the annual outfits. This chore involved not only ordering the needed items from London but also the actual packaging of them in the small lots required at the subsidiary establishments. Thus one Company physician remembered putting up "dozens of bottles of Turlingtons Balsalm and Essence of Pepperment [sic], grosses of 'purges' of jalop and Calomel, dozens of Emetics of Ipecacuanha and Tartar Emetic and other simples." The task was not made easier by the fact that bottles and corks were generally scarce. [61]

The surgeon clearly dispensed the medicines that were given out to patients in the hospitals and in the apothecary shop. But the Fort Vancouver depot also stocked a large quantity of medicines for general sale. No evidence has yet been found that would indicate beyond question whether such remedies were stored and dispensed at the regular depot sale shop or at the apothecary shop. The fact that one indent for medicines had included six ounces of strychnine, of which all except about one fourth of an ounce were for sale, makes one hope that the latter was the case. [62]

It also usually fell to the doctor to comply with the not infrequent requests received from Governor Simpson and the London directors for stuffed bird skins, mineral samples, and other scientific specimens. The doctor seems also to have been in charge of the depot library; at least he had the responsibility for ordering new books and periodicals for it from London. All in all, Dr. Forbes Barclay seems to have been justified when he informed Governor Simpson in 1844 that his multitudinous duties, in which he was assisted only by "a boy of 13 years, for the Indian Shop & Medical Department," left him very little spare time to devote to educating any young men who might be assigned to him for training. [63]

Because of the demands made upon the doctor by both the Indian shop and the Dispensary, it would appear logical for both facilities to have been housed close together in the structure whose site is presently known as Building No. 21 when the Indian trading store was moved there between 1841 and 1844. However, direct evidence that the 1845-46-period Indian shop also contained the Dispensary is slight and by no means conclusive.

P. W. Crawford, an American settler who visited Fort Vancouver in 1847 and examined it "critically," later recalled that "on the East side of this Interior [courtyard] is the Apothacury [sic] hall or doctors shop where Medicine is served out to whites and natives." [64] A much more recent description of Fort Vancouver as it existed about 1849 states that the "drug store" under the charge e of Dr. Barclay was situated at the east end of the stockade. [65] Because the Indian shop was almost the only structure in the eastern portion of the fort in which the Dispensary could have been located, (the uses of the others being reasonably well accounted for), these descriptions tend to reinforce the supposition that the two facilities were located in a single building after 1841-44 as they had been previously.

Doctor's quarters. It has been seen that in 1833 the two depot surgeons decided to live in the apothecary shop. There seems to be no positive proof that their successors did the same. In fact, there is at least one statement, based upon recollections of youthful visits and not reliable in all respects, that the post doctor resided with the other clerks in the Bachelors' Quarters. [66]

On the other hand, there is certain evidence that indicates that one or more of the physicians who followed Drs. Tolmie and Gairdner may have made their homes in the Indian shop building. When Joseph L. Meek enumerated the population of Clark County, Oregon Territory, for the Seventh Census on October 30, 1850, the eighth house he visited, clearly within the Fort Vancouver stockade was inhabited by "A. Lee Lewis [sic]," clerk, and "Alferd [sic] Benson," surgeon. [67] The import of this entry becomes clear when it is realized that Adolphus Lee Lewes was the clerk in charge of the Fort Vancouver Indian Trade for Outfit 1850 and that Alfred R. Benson was the surgeon who replaced Dr. Barclay at the depot. (After Barclay's departure, the physician ceased to be in charge of the Indian trade, at least until 1853 when a departmental reorganization and a change in the system of accounts make it difficult to tell who, if anyone in particular, conducted the small volume of fur trade that remained at the post). [68] Perhaps Benson and Lewes found it convenient to room together in the structure where their respective activities centered. It is also possible, of course, that their joint dwelling was simply one of the separate living units in the series of apartments known as the bachelors' quarters. In such case, it is conceivable that the Dispensary was also in that building, which lay only a few yards north of the Indian shop.

There are also physical remains that point toward possible residential use of a part of the Indian shop. In 1973 National Park Service archeologists completely excavated the site of this structure. Although they found the area much disturbed by post-1860 activities, they believe that a concentration of brick and faunal remains in the southeastern portion of the shop building may have resulted from the use of this area as living quarters. Also, a large privy pit behind the structure contained much floral and faunal material, further evidence of domestic occupation. [69] Such remains from the table would have accumulated even though the doctor himself probably took most of his meals in the mess hall in the manager's residence, because his family would have been brought their food from the Big House kitchen. Also, patients in the Dispensary would have produced table scraps.

As the situation stands now, there seems to be no more reason for believing that the doctor lived in the Indian shop building than that he did not. But in the opinion of this writer, it is quite possible that he did so.

Dr. Forbes Barclay. During the 1845-46 period that is of primary concern for the reconstruction project, the surgeon at the Fort Vancouver depot was Dr. Forbes Barclay, who has been described as "a Scotsman of excellent training and unique experience." [70] Born in the Shetland Islands on Christmas Day, 1812, he was afflicted with a cleft palate. His father was a prominent physician who lectured on anatomy at Edinburgh and had authored a book on the movements of muscles. Young Barclay studied medicine in Edinburgh and, beginning in 1834, spent several summers as a surgeon with exploring expeditions to the Arctic. One of these voyages ended in shipwreck, but Barclay was one of the survivors who were rescued by Eskimos and eventually returned to Britain in Sir John Franklin's ship. He was granted his medical diploma by the Royal College of Surgeons, London, on July 5, 1838.

The Barclay family had connections with the Hudson's Bay Company. Archibald Barclay, said to have been an uncle of Dr. Forbes Barclay, was appointed the firm's secretary in London in 1843; but either he or another uncle, the Reverend Thomas Barclay, had been known by Governor George Simpson for at least several years prior to that time. [71] Perhaps this association was related to the fact that on June 4, 1839, Forbes Barclay entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in the dual capacity of clerk and surgeon and was placed on the list of those awaiting assignment. That fall he sailed in the Columbia for Fort Vancouver, where he arrived in the spring of 1840.

Relieving Dr. W. F. Tolmie, Barclay at once went to work in the Indian Trade Shop and in the medical department. He served with distinction both as fur trader and physician until he retired from the Company's employ during 1850. He then moved to Oregon City, became an American citizen, and was prominent in professional and political affairs until his death in 1873.

In 1842 Dr. Barclay married Maria Pambrun, eldest daughter of Chief Trader Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun and Catherine Humpherville, herself the daughter of an Englishman in the service of the Company. Born at Fraser Lake, New Caledonia, on October 5, 1826, Marie, as she was known to her largely French-speaking family, was a girl of character and beauty. Early in 1841, while living with her parents at Fort Walla Walla, she became engaged to Cornelius Rogers, an associate of the American Board's Oregon Mission. This event stirred up a storm among the Whitmans and Spaldings chiefly, it seems, because Marie was a Catholic, though the facts that she had Indian blood, could speak little English, and could boast of only a scant formal education evidently were also taken into consideration. Chief Trader Pambrun died as the result of a fall from a horse during May of that year, and soon thereafter Catherine Pambrun moved with her children to Fort Vancouver, where she did "fine needlework" to support and educate her brood. Although described as "distressed," the family was not in desperate circumstances, because Pambrun left an estate then estimated at not "much short of 4000£" [72]

The elder Pambrun had much favored his daughter's planned marriage to Rogers, but shortly after his death Maria terminated the engagement. Her acquaintanceship with Dr. Barclay evidently began with the family's arrival at the depot and resulted in union during the next year. The couple's first child, Jean Jacques, was born on December 13, 1845. He died of diptheria on December 31, 1847. A second son, Peter Thomas, was born on April 6, 1847, and a third son, Alexander Forbes, on September 23, 1849. Four other children were born to the pair after they moved to Oregon City in 1850.

It is known that prior to October 1850 Catherine Pambrun and her children moved from Fort Vancouver to live with her daughter and her son-in-law, Dr. Forbes, in Oregon City. [73] Whether the Pambrun family had also dwelt with the Barclays at Fort Vancouver between 1842 and 1850 has not yet been discovered. [74]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003