Kids of Fort Vancouver: Harriet Pambrun

Three girls sit on a blanket working on needlework projects.

NPS Photo / Troy Wayrynen

Harriet Pambrun

Harriet Pambrun was born in 1837 at Fort Nez Perces, near the city we now call Walla Walla, Washington. Her father was the fort's Chief Trader. His name was Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun, and he was French Canadian. He was well-known for being helpful and welcoming visitors to Fort Nez Perces. Harriet's mother was named Catherine, but most people called her "Kitty." Kitty was Métis, which meant that she had both Native American (Cree) and European heritage. Harriet came from a big family - she was one of eight children!

In 1841, when Harriet was about 4 years old, her father was killed in a horse riding accident. Her mother brought Harriet and her brothers and sisters to Fort Vancouver, where Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin gave them a home. The Pambrun family lived in an apartment in a building inside the fort called the Bachelors' Quarters.

Not long after they arrived, Harriet's older sister, Maria, married Dr. Forbes Barclay. Dr. Barclay was the fort's doctor, and he was also in charge of the Indian Trade Shop. When he was 14, Harriet's brother Thomas got a job as an apprentice in the Indian Trade Shop, where he learned how to trade furs for things that were brought to the fort from England, like beads, dishes, and blankets.

At Fort Vancouver, Harriet's mother sewed and did needlework to make money to support their family. Harriet may have helped her. She may also have helped take care of Maria's children - Harriet's nieces and nephews. Harriet would also have attended school at Fort Vancouver, where she learned reading, writing, math, and about the Bible.

In 1850, when Harriet was 14 years old, Dr. Barclay retired from the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Pambrun and Barclay families moved to Oregon City, Oregon. Oregon City was a bustling town back then, full of people who had traveled the Oregon Trail to settle in the Northwest. The move would have been an exciting change from living in fur trade forts!

Harriet lived with her mother and siblings in Oregon City. Sometimes she lived with her sister Maria and the Barclay family. Maria even named one of her daughters after Harriet!

In Oregon City, Harriet worked as a school teacher when she grew up. Later, she married, had children of her own, and moved to Yamhill, Oregon.

Part of a series of articles titled Kids at Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: February 3, 2021