The History of Fort Vancouver and its Physical Structure
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Historical Background

History of Fort Vancouver, 1846-1869: A Brief Outline

The Oregon Treaty of 1846 greatly affected the operations of the Hudson's Bay Company in the section of the Columbia Department which lay south of the forty-ninth parallel. Despite the guarantee of its "possessory rights," the firm encountered many difficulties in carrying on its business within the borders of a foreign country. In addition to having to pay customs duties upon its imported trade goods and being subject to various regulations and restrictions, the Company found itself opposed by elements, both on the Pacific Coast and in the national government at Washington, which were determined to reduce the firm's rights to the lowest possible terms. On the other hand, the Company, with a view to obtaining the highest possible price for the sale of its rights to the United States, was not particularly modest in asserting the value of its claims.

In spite of the obstacles it had to face, the Hudson's Bay Company enjoyed some exceedingly profitable years in the new Oregon Territory, particularly during the early period of the California gold rush. But when the mining excitement declined, local competition cut into much of the firm's merchandising business; and the increase in population and the Indian wars of the late 1840's and the 1850's much reduced the fur trade. Squatters moved onto the Company's farms, and settlers appropriated many of its cattle and improvements. Post after post was reluctantly abandoned, and in 1860 the Hudson's Bay Company announced that it was withdrawing entirely from the country south of the forty-ninth parallel. From what information is available, however, it appears that this announcement was somewhat premature. The few remaining establishments in the lower Columbia area were abandoned in 1860, but Fort Colvile and perhaps other northern posts continued to operate for about a decade longer.

Port Vancouver Continues as a Subsidiary Depot

The transfer of much of the departmental depot to Fort Victoria in 1845 did not have a great immediate effect upon the importance of Fort Vancouver as a distributing center for the fur trade west of the Rockies. The posts in New Caledonia, on Thompson River, on the upper Columbia, as well as those on the lower Columbia and the Umpqua, continued to receive their supplies and send out their returns through Fort Vancouver.

But the Oregon Treaty of 1846 made necessary additional changes in the Company's supply and transportation systems. It was seen that the expense and inconvenience of passing goods destined for the interior posts north of the forty-ninth parallel through the United States customs at the mouth of the Columbia would be prohibitive. In 1847, therefore, a new route was pioneered from Kamloops, on Thompson River, westward across the mountains to navigable water on the lower Fraser River. In 1848 the returns from the northern posts were brought out by this new trail, which did not cross through United States territory. Thereafter the old pack train route from Kamloops to Okanogan played a lesser role in the fur trade of the Hudson's Bay Company. [1]

In general, the posts south of the forty-ninth parallel continued to be supplied through Fort Vancouver after 1847, but from the information at hand it is difficult to state exactly which posts were so supplied at any particular date. It is known, for instance, that Fort Nisqually had been outfitted from Victoria for a considerable period prior to 1852. One witness later testified that he thought Fort Colvile, a distribution center from which goods were sent to the posts in the eastern interior, received its supplies by the Columbia route for a number of years. However, an official of the Company wrote in 1852 that "of late years" the outfits for Colvile and its dependencies had been sent in by the Fraser River route, but that "last year," to avoid complications with United States Customs authorities, the supplies had been shipped from Fort Vancouver to The Dalles by boat and then on to Fort Colvile by pack train. [2]

Certainly it was the intention of the Governor and Committee, when they organized the Oregon Department in 1853, that all posts south of the forty-ninth parallel, except possibly Nisqually, should be supplied from the depot at Fort Vancouver. But about 1855 or 1856 Colvile apparently began once again to receive its outfits from Fraser River, although products of American manufacture still continued to come in by the Columbia. [3] In 1856, for example, two boats were sent from Colvile to Vancouver for cargoes of trading goods.

The same uncertainty surrounds the date at which the furs collected at Colvile from the interior posts south of the boundary line ceased to be sent to Vancouver. It appears that in 1853 the river boats of the Company brought down the returns from Fort Colvile as of old. [4] But in 1856, apparently, no furs were carried by the boats which went downstream from Colvile for trading goods, indicating that the returns for the upper Columbia may have gone out by way of Fort Langley. [5]

By the latter half of the 1850's, therefore, Fort Vancouver had ceased to be an important depot for the Company's interior fur trade. But until it was abandoned in 1860, the establishment maintained some semblance of its former position by serving as the center for the firm's general merchandising business in Oregon and Washington territories.

Removal of the Departmental Headquarters to Victoria

After John McLoughlin went into virtual retirement at the beginning of 1846, the Board of Management of the Columbia Department consisted of Chief Factors Peter Skene Ogden and James Douglas. At a later date Chief Factor John Work was also appointed to the Board. [6]

The headquarters of the department continued at Fort Vancouver until 1849. In January of that year the British government ceded Vancouver Island to the Hudson's Bay Company, and James Douglas was appointed the firm's agent on the island. On May 17, 1849, Douglas left the old post on the Columbia to take up his residence at his new station. He reached Nisqually with his family on May 15 and embarked on the Cadboro on June 1. He landed at Victoria on the afternoon of June 6, under a salute of nine guns. It is stated that he carried with him the bulk of the records and papers belonging to the Company's principal office on the West Coast. [7]

Despite the fact that Peter Skene Ogden, the senior chief factor, remained at Fort Vancouver, the move of James Douglas to Fort Victoria is generally held to mark the removal of the departmental headquarters to the latter place. Douglas was joined at Victoria by Chief Factor John Work, the remaining member of the Board of Management.

Even after Douglas shifted the administrative headquarters to Victoria, however, Fort Vancouver evidently continued to serve as the financial center for the Company's operations west of the Rockies. According to the testimony of Dugald Mactavish, the books and accounts for all the western posts continued to come to Fort Vancouver each spring for closing, and from there they were sent by the annual express to York Factory.

The formation of the Oregon district as a separate administrative unit in 1853 appears to have put an end to this system. In 1854 the only accounts closed at Fort Vancouver were those of the posts south of the forty-ninth parallel. Those for the establishments north of the boundary were closed at Victoria. In this same year the accounts from the Columbia and Victoria were forwarded by express to York Factory for the last time. Thereafter the books for each depot were sent directly to London. [8]

In 1851 Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden left the Pacific Coast for an extended visit in the East. For Outfits 1851/52 and 1852/53, therefore, the Board of Management of the Columbia Department consisted of Chief Factors James Douglas, John Work, and John Ballenden.

The Oregon Department, 1853-1860

The minutes of the Council of the Northern Department of Rupert's Land which met at Norway House in June, 1853, reveal that at that time the Columbia Department was split into two jurisdictions: the Oregon Department, with headquarters at Fort Vancouver and comprising the Company's establishments south of the forty-ninth parallel; and the Western Department, with headquarters at Fort Victoria and consisting of that part of the former Columbia Department which lay north of the international boundary. The Oregon Department had its own Board of Management, but from certain circumstances it would appear that its officers may have been subject to the orders of the managers of the Western Department.

As headquarters of the Oregon Department, therefore, Fort Vancouver regained a part of the importance as an administrative center which it had possessed until 1849. The new arrangement continued until the post was abandoned and the department closed in 1860.

For Outfits 1853/54 and 1854/55, Chief Factors Peter Skene Ogden and Dugald Mactavish were appointed to comprise the Board of Management of the Oregon Department. On September 27, 1854, however, Ogden died, and Mactavish appears to have remained in exclusive charge of the department until June, 1857, when Chief Factor William Fraser Tolmie joined him on the Board of Management. [9] In 1858, Mactavish was succeeded by Chief Trader James Allan Grahame.

Managers of Fort Vancouver, 1849-1860

For the most part, the managers of Fort Vancouver were members of the Board of Management of the department in which the post was located. Down to 1853 this district was the Columbia Department; between 1853 and 1860 it was the Oregon Department.

When James Douglas moved to Fort Victoria in 1849, Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden remained in charge of Fort Vancouver. On December 6, 1851, Ogden departed to make a lengthy visit in the East, and the fort was left in the hands of Chief Factor John Ballenden, who had arrived on November 21. [10] During the winter of 1852-1853, when Chief Factor Ballenden began preparations to leave Vancouver, the command of the post was temporarily turned over to Chief Trader Alexander Caulfield Anderson. He was relieved in March, 1853, upon the return of Chief Factor Ogden.

In September, 1853, Ogden was joined in the administration of Fort Vancouver by Chief Factor Dugald Mactavish, who during that year was made a member of the Board of Management of the Oregon Department. After Ogden's death in September, 1854, Mactavish remained in sole charge of the fort until about the end of June, 1858, when he was succeeded by Chief Trader James Allan Grahame. As a clerk during Outfit 1853/54 and as a chief trader during subsequent outfits up to and including that of 1857/58, Grahame had handled the routine management of Fort Vancouver under the superintendence of the departmental officers. Between 1858 and June, 1860, he served both as a member of the Board of Management and as manager of the post. [11]

Fort Vancouver and the Indian Wars

By the time the United States took over the region in 1846, the focus of political, economic, and social life in the Oregon country south of the forty-ninth parallel had largely shifted away from Fort Vancouver to the American settlements. But for a number of years the various establishments and storehouses of the Hudson's Bay Company continued to contain the largest single stock of food, merchandise, and, particularly, firearms in the area. Thus, in times of crisis, the settlers were quite likely to turn to the Company and to Fort Vancouver for assistance.

The post came back briefly into public attention at the time of the Whitman Massacre at Waiilatpu late in 1847. For eight days the Indians snuffed out lives and destroyed property. Fourteen persons were killed and fifty-three others, chiefly women and children, were made prisoners. Word of the disaster reached Fort Vancouver on December 6, 1847. James Douglas and Peter Skene Ogden realized that action must be taken before the Indians should learn that the Americans were preparing to send troops to avenge the murders.

Ogden and sixteen employees of the Hudson's Bay Company set off at once for Waiilatpu, where, after much negotiation, he was able to ransom the captives. Many of the released persons were brought to Vancouver, where they were given shelter for a brief period before being sent on to the care of their countrymen in the Willamette Valley. The rescue was made entirely at the initiative of the Company's officers and as an act of humanity. No compensation was ever asked or received by the firm for the services of its employees or for the ransom goods.

During the Indian wars of 1855-1856 it was feared that the savages would carry hostilities down the Columbia to the Vancouver area. Fort Vancouver was the only sizable, walled defensive work in the vicinity, and a number of settlers sought shelter behind or in the shadow of its palisades. It is stated that even some families of members of the United States military garrison at Vancouver were housed at night within the pickets of the trading post. [12]

Decline of the Fur Trade

The difficulties under which the Company operated in the region south of the forty-ninth parallel after 1846 were considerably increased by the open resentment against its presence expressed by many inhabitants of the area, particularly by those who coveted its lands or who desired to obtain a portion of the trade enjoyed by the firm. This hostility was not long in being reflected by the actions of public officials, both on the Pacific Coast and in the national capital.

By an act of June 5, 1850, Congress extended over Oregon Territory the law regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians, an action which had the effect of limiting commerce with the natives to citizens of the United States. The Company, however, claimed that the right to trade with the Indians was one of the "possessory rights" guaranteed it by the Oregon Treaty and was able to stave off enforcement of the law.

Several other attempts were later made by United States officials, particularly by Isaac I. Stevens, governor of Washington Territory, to end the trading rights of the Company. But the firm protested vigorously, and the United States was constrained, "as a matter of practical diplomacy," to permit the old commerce with the Indians to continue. [13]

Unfortunately for the Company, the possession of the right to trade did not mean that the trade flourished. The fur trade, on the lower Columbia at least, had been on the decline for a number of years before 1846 and continued to diminish as settlements increased. Figures for the years 1840 to 1850 reveal that, for the posts south of the forty-ninth parallel as a whole, business shrank about two thirds during that period, from about £13,000 to approximately £4,500.

The Whitman Massacre in 1847 and the Cayuse War which followed cut off normal communication by water with the inland posts and were very harmful to the trade. The Indian wars of 1855-1856 again interrupted navigation and resulted in the abandonment of Fort Walla Walla, Fort Boisé, and Fort Hall. These posts were never reoccupied by the Company.

In August, 1854, the United States began a program of negotiation to gather up the Indians of Oregon and Washington and to concentrate them on reservations. The execution of this policy left no Indians with whom to trade, except at Fort Colvile and its dependencies, the Kootenai and Flathead posts. Although the fur trade at Colvile and several other northern posts continued for a number of years, and even increased at Colvile during the late 1850's and early 1860's, it was to the general merchandising business that the Company looked for its chief profits.

The General Merchandising Trade

Despite its reduced importance as a depot and despite the decline of the fur trade, Fort Vancouver continued as a profitable trading post for more than a decade after 1846. This prosperity was largely due to the general merchandising business, which continued to expand with the population. During the California gold rush, particularly, the Hudson's Bay wholesale and retail stores enjoyed a booming trade. One employee of the firm later estimated that for Outfit 1849/50 the profits "at and around" Fort Vancouver were about £22,000. Sir George Simpson was somewhat more conservative in 1852 when he stated that the profit on transactions at Fort Vancouver exceeded £17,000 in 1849. [14]

The changing character of the business after 1846 may be seen by the fact that in 1854 Governor Stevens of Washington Territory described the Company's trade as "now almost entirely mercantile and carried on with the settlers." The so-called Indian trade of the Company, he said, was "the ordinary trade of country stores, and for cash." During 1853 the firm imported two ship-loads of assorted goods, one from New York and the other from London. A "considerable" portion of these cargoes was sold on commission at Portland, Oregon City, and other localities. [15] From what little information is available, however, it would appear that during the latter part of the 1850's, increased competition and other causes reduced even the merchandising trade at Fort Vancouver.

Disputes over Land Claims

The hostile attitude of the populace and of certain public officials toward the Company was most evident in controversies which arose in regard to the firm's land claims. Up to about 1849 the Hudson's Bay Company was fairly successful in keeping squatters off its lands at Fort Vancouver, and only a few settlers were able to maintain a show of occupation in the face of the evictions, performed either under legal process or, sometimes, by force, by Company employees. But between 1849 and about 1853, a large number of settlers swarmed onto the tract near the post, and by the latter date practically all of the land claimed by the firm had been taken up under the Donation Law. In 1850 Clark County, Oregon Territory, went so far as to lay out its county seat on the river bank virtually next door to the fort. About the only lands preserved from the settlers were those within the borders of the United States military reservation, which was formally established around the post in 1850; and some of the squatters even claimed lands within the reservation.

As each settler took up his land, he appropriated to his own use such of the Company's buildings, fences, and other improvements as happened to be on his claim. Particularly annoying to the officers at Fort Vancouver was the loss of the timothy crop. The Company had gone to some trouble to sow large tracts of land above and below the fort in timothy grass. It took several years before the crop "came to anything," and the yields were at their peak when the settlers moved in, cut the hay, and sold it for twenty-five dollars a ton in summer and fifty dollars a ton in winter.

The Company protested vigorously against these "aggressions" and "encroachments," and the British government lodged numerous representations in Washington, but without much result. United States officials in general took the view that such "trespasses" were matters for the courts. Knowing the temper of the populace, the Company's officers despaired of receiving fair treatment before the local tribunals. Therefore they could only protest and retreat—and keep account of their losses with a view to demanding compensation from the United States. [16]

For a number of years after 1846, the United States Government respected the possessory rights of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver to the extent that the public surveys were not extended over the lands claimed by the firm. In a letter to the surveyor general of Oregon Territory, dated July 30, 1852, Chief Factor John Ballenden defined the limits of the Company's land claim in the vicinity of the fort as they were understood by the firm's officers at that time. Included in the claim was the present Hayden Island. The boundaries set forth by Ballenden apparently were recognized by the United States General Land Office for several years.

But in 1855 the surveyor general of Washington Territory was ordered by the commissioner of the General Land Office to run the survey lines "up to actual settlements of the British claimants." When Chief Factor Dugald Mactavish pleaded that he had no authority to fix the precise limits of the firm's claims at Vancouver, the surveyor general began to run the lines over all of the land claimed by the Company. Meanwhile, the General Land Office modified its policy and decided to extend only township lines over the Hudson's Bay claims. [17]

The royal license by which the Hudson's Bay Company enjoyed exclusive British trading privileges in the Oregon country expired on May 30, 1859. In common with many persons both on the Pacific Coast and in Washington, the General Land Office took the view—convenient but erroneous—that the Company's rights and existence in Oregon and Washington had ended with the license. On September 29, 1859, the acting commissioner of the General Land Office officially informed the surveyor general of Washington Territory that the possessory rights of the firm had expired and directed him "to extend the line of the public surveys over the tract of country in question." About a year later, on September 20, 1860, the surveyor general reported that he had "to the great satisfaction of the settlers, subdivided the land (about 33,000 acres) claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company, on the lower Columbia, which included the town of Vancouver, Fort Vancouver, and some sixty or seventy donation claims." [18]

Condition of Fort Vancouver in 1860

The removal of the Company's main depot from the Columbia, the decline of the fur trade, the growth of a strong economy among the American settlements, and the "encroachments" of settlers and governmental bodies upon the lands and property of the firm all had a disastrous effect upon Fort Vancouver. Some idea of the extent of the decline in the importance of the post can be obtained by comparing the number of employees before the Oregon Treaty with that in 1860. A visitor to Fort Vancouver in 1845 reported that there were about two hundred men on the Company's rolls at the establishment. A more detailed Company estimate made during the next year gave the number as 197 salaried employees in addition to the officers. Chief Factor James Douglas later gave a slightly different figure. He said that in 1846 there were 16 officers, 215 servants under articles of agreement, and a large number of native employees who were not under formal contract. When the Company left Vancouver, in 1860, there were only about fourteen officers and servants of all grades at the establishment. [19]

The statistics concerning the Fort Vancouver farm tell the same story. In 1845 there were about 1,200 acres under cultivation at the post, and the livestock included 702 horses, 1,377 cattle, 1,581 hogs, and 1,991 sheep. By 1860 the farm had dwindled to a miserable remnant of its former self. East of the fort the firm cultivated two fields containing about fifty acres; in front of the stockade were two small enclosures containing about twelve acres; and the garden consisted of about four acres. The Company had managed to protect a few cattle and horses from the depredations of the settlers, but practically all the fields outside the military reservation had been fenced in by squatters, and there remained no place for the firm to pasture its animals. [20]

Fort Vancouver Military Reservation

The final retirement of the Hudson's Bay Company from Fort Vancouver was brought about by the "encroachments" and the hostile attitude of the United States Army. The interest of the military authorities in the trading post and its vicinity dated back to May 13, 1849, when the United States steam transport Massachusetts dropped anchor in the Columbia off Vancouver and fired a salute to the fort. Aboard the vessel were Companies "L" and "M," First Artillery, sent from the East Coast to establish garrisons in the Oregon Territory. The next day the soldiers established a camp on the bank of the river, but on the twenty-first, with the approval of Chief Factor Ogden, they were moved to the top of the bluff behind the fort.

Captain Rufus Ingalls, Army quartermaster, arrived from California toward the end of the month and at once made preparations for the construction of buildings to house the troops. On June first he executed an agreement with Ogden for the rental of certain structures from the Hudson's Bay Company and the purchase of lumber. This agreement also provided that all improvements erected by the Army, including "temporary additional buildings," were to be considered the property of the United States. [21] With this preliminary out of the way, the erection of a number of substantial structures on the brow of the bluff went rapidly ahead.

Without the help of the Hudson's Bay Company, officers of the Quartermaster Department later admitted, the difficulties of founding the military post would have been "almost insurmountable." Chief Factor Ogden not only rented buildings to the Army and supplied lumber, but he cashed drafts, made Indian labor available, and furnished horses and boats "at a moderate compensation" and at times when it "inconvenienced the company to do so.". [22]

Later in the year a large detachment of the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, under the command of Brevet Colonel W. W. Loring, reached Vancouver after an overland march. But since there was not yet sufficient housing to accommodate them at the new post, the Rifles went to Oregon City for the winter. In the spring of 1850 they returned to Columbia Barracks, as the establishment was called, and settled down as the post garrison. Colonel Loring served as commander of the Eleventh Military Department, embracing Oregon Territory, and also, on occasion, as commander of Columbia Barracks.

Captain Ingalls and other representatives of the Quartermaster Department had been quick to recognize the advantages of Fort Vancouver as a supply depot. The same features which had made the site attractive to the Hudson's Bay Company also appealed to the military authorities. In the fall of 1849 General Persifer F. Smith, commander of the Pacific Division, which included the Tenth and Eleventh Departments, visited Vancouver. He was much impressed with the agricultural possibilities of the region. "The largest potatoes, turnips, onions, beets, and radishes I have ever seen, grow on the Columbia," he reported to the Adjutant General's office. Fort Vancouver, he added, possessed "every requisite" for the principal garrison, depot, and center of all the "military concerns" of the department "for a long time." He believed that the Army could employ to advantage the buildings, farms, and mills erected by the Hudson's Bay Company, and he urged, as a matter "of great importance to public interests here," that the United States purchase the rights and property belonging to the Company. [23]

In October, 1850, Colonel Loring, acting under the direction of General Smith and under authority of a letter issued by Secretary of War W. L. Marcy, January 29, 1848, directing the laying out of military reservations at posts on the route to Oregon, declared the establishment of a military reservation of about four miles square surrounding the "Military Post near Fort Vancouver." The reservation was declared subject "alone" to the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company as guaranteed by the Treaty of 1846. [24]

Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden was consulted before this move and is reported to have given it his approval. He is said to have made the "oft repeated remark" that there was an abundance of room for both the Company and the Army. In fact, Ogden knew that without some such arrangement the lands of the firm at Vancouver would all quickly pass into the hands of the settlers who were crowding in on every hand. It was later stated by Captain Ingalls that at the time the reservation was declared, the question of the ultimate ownership of the soil was never raised. [25]

Later correspondence by military authorities on the Columbia reveals that the Army, likewise, had been at least partly moved to take action in the matter because of the claims and encroachments of the settlers. In urging the confirmation of the reservation by the President in 1853, Colonel B. L. E. Bonneville stated that the conflicting claims of the citizens, the local government, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Army to the land about Fort Vancouver were a "constant source of irritation." The confirmation of the reserve, he said, would completely exclude all other claimants than the Army and the Company, and would give the courts some basis to "throw around us the protection of the Law." Such action, he added, "would settle the whole subject" until after the Hudson's Bay Company was "purchased out, when the reservation can be reduced to any limits, or removed altogether." It would almost appear, therefore, that some Army officers, at least, considered the military reservation chiefly as a means of protecting the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company against encroachment. [26]

The settlers who had taken up claims near Fort Vancouver and, particularly, the commissioners of Clark County, Oregon Territory, who had laid out a county seat within the limits of the new military reservation, were not long in contesting the action taken by Colonel Loring. Petitions soon bombarded the office of the Secretary of War, and as a result an order was issued in 1851 to reduce the reserve to a quarter section in extent. Protests by officers on the spot, however, prevented the execution of this order. But finally, in conformity with an act of Congress, approved February 14, 1853, the Secretary of War on October 29, 1853, ordered the reservation reduced to 640 acres. During the next year, therefore, Colonel Bonneville made the required reduction, surveyed the reservation, and marked the new boundaries. [27]

Chief Factors Ogden and Mactavish raised no objection to the new survey but made it clear to Colonel Bonneville that the Company waived none of its rights as guaranteed by treaty. They considered the reservation to be of a temporary nature and said that the Hudson's Bay Company would consider itself free to expel the military post if such action should later be deemed necessary.

The reason for the firm's lack of objections is not difficult to determine. At about the same time the managers of Fort Vancouver conveyed their sentiments on the subject to Colonel Bonneville, they likewise called to his attention a certain Mr. Willis, "sheriff of this county," who had commenced a building near the river bank south of the fort and upon whom the Company's notices that he was trespassing had had no effect. "We beg to ask your assistance in this matter," wrote Ogden and Mactavish to Bonneville, "and hope you will take the necessary steps to put a stop to the proceedings of Mr. Willis, with as little delay as possible." [28]

Relations Between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Army, 1850-60

For a number of years after the establishment of the military reservation at Vancouver, the relations between the Company and the Army were friendly and mutually beneficial. The presence of the military post brought much business to the firm's shops and mills and served to protect from encroachments such of the Company's fields and improvements as lay within the reservation boundaries.

The harmony existing between the Company and the military authorities is well illustrated by an event which occurred in 1850. In the spring of that year the requirements of the public service necessitated the occupation by the Army of a field, about seven acres in extent, which lay about a quarter of a mile north of the fort and upon which the firm was raising wheat. On May 28, Captain Ingalls and Chief Factor Ogden concluded an agreement by which the Army was granted permission to remove the fence around the enclosure and to occupy as much of the field as necessary simply upon payment of the value of the crop then growing on the land. There was no quibbling about the ultimate ownership of the soil and no demanding of rent for the ground. [29]

With the passage of the years, however, this friendly relationship began to fade. The Company, on the one hand, evidently began to take a more sanguine view as to the possibilities of making good its claim to the actual land occupied by its establishments south of the forty-ninth parallel and began to value its property more highly. Also, there perhaps was the feeling that the United States Government could be encouraged to settle the matter of the claims more quickly if it were forced to pay for the privileges it enjoyed upon the Company's lands.

On the other hand, the military authorities tended to forget that they had occupied the site of the reservation with the consent and permission of the Hudson's Bay Company and came to believe that they occupied it by right. They came to regard the buildings and improvements of the Company as encumbrances which should be cleared from the reserve.

The changed attitude of the parties involved began to be evident in about 1856. In September of that year Captain Ingalls had need of the ground occupied by an abandoned and very dilapidated corral belonging to the Company. Although he knew that Chief Factor Mactavish, then in charge of Fort Vancouver, valued this old structure "as a landmark of the possessory rights of the Company," he nevertheless requested permission to demolish it and occupy the site for the public service. Chief Trader James A. Grahame, temporarily in command of the Hudson's Bay post, replied in a polite but firm manner that he was forced to protest against this "evident trespass" upon the privileges of the firm, but hoped that "the present misunderstanding may not interrupt the very friendly relations that have always existed between us."

During the summer of 1857 Captain Ingalls again approached Mactavish, this time for permission to erect a wharf and storehouse on the bank of the river "at or near" the Company's Salmon House. The matter was referred to James Douglas and John Work, who as members of the Board of Management of the Western Department, with headquarters at Victoria, had the authority to act on the subject. The two Board members replied that they were not disposed to take any responsibility in the matter, as they knew the directors of the Company were "extremely averse to having their valuable property frittered away by such fruitless concessions." They pointed out that since 1846, one concession of right had followed another until, between squatters and concessions, there remained "but the wreck of our once flourishing settlement at Vancouver." They offered, however, to sell the Salmon House and the ground on which it stood for not less than $30,000, or to rent the property for not less than $1,500 per year.

Before this answer had been received, Captain Ingalls informed Mactavish that "in any event" he would construct a storehouse "in a proper place." He also continued with the erection of a public wharf despite Mactavish's protests that such action constituted a "direct trespass" and the warning that the Company might seek to recover damages for the unauthorized use of its property.

When Captain Ingalls and Lieutenant Colonel T. Morris, commanding the military post at Fort Vancouver, learned of the reply from Victoria, they were highly indignant at what they termed the "unexpected" reversal of the Company's policy. They pointed out that the question of the ownership of the soil had never been raised previously and that the Army had always respected the firm's possessory rights. But, said Ingalls on September 23, 1857, in a letter to Mactavish, the opinion of the Army was that the Company was entitled "only to what it actually occupies and uses in the natural exercise of its functions under its charter and as guaranteed by the treaty of 1846." Furthermore, said the quartermaster with heat, though erroneously, the charter was due to expire in a few years, upon which event the Company's right south of the forty-ninth parallel "must cease." Under these circumstances, he added, it was not to be expected that "the United States will consent to buy its own soil."

The Army's position was summarized by Captain Ingalls as follows: "We have always been our own masters in the selection of building sites, and all lands that are now abandoned by the Hudson's Bay Company as well as all that was vacant within the limits of the present reservation, on our arrival here in 1849, we claim and hold as part and parcel of the post. The jurisdiction over this reserve, with the exception of your stockade and enclosures, has been constantly in the hands of our commanding officers; and had it been wished to put up a Storehouse on the beach or elsewhere, we should certainly have done so at any time without reference to the Company, but of course we would have been careful to molest none of its rights."

During the next two years the controversy dragged along with ever-increasing bitterness. The military authorities continued to erect buildings and fences, and on one occasion demolished an old and abandoned shed belonging to the Company. Chief Trader James A. Grahame protested against each of these moves on behalf of the firm, but generally without other effect than to shorten the tempers of the Army officers involved. "I do not recognize any authority on the part of Mr. Grahame, to interfere in matters which concern the police and protection of this Reservation," commented a commander of the post after one of the Chief Trader's protests.

In one instance, however, the Company's complaints seem to have brought about some changes in the Army's plans. During the late 1850's it was decided to erect an ordnance depot at Vancouver, with permanent buildings to house an arsenal. But the Company objected to the move, and the protests were "so far respected" that the officer in charge of the depot was directed to construct only temporary buildings. [30]

Matters came to a head during the spring of 1860. Needing land for, among other things, a drill ground for a battery of light artillery, Brigadier General W. S. Harney, commanding the Department of Oregon, ordered a board of officers to appraise the improvements belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company in the area south and west of the old fort. A line of stakes was set up beginning about eighty yards east of the Catholic church and running to the river; and it was General Harney's intention to clear all of the ground in the reservation west of this line. The board of officers made its examination on March 1 and reported that the tract in question contained four or five hundred yards of fence and eight or nine dilapidated and decayed buildings claimed by the Company

Being informed of General Harney's plans, John M. Work, in charge of the trading post in the absence of Chief Trader Grahame, protested most vigorously. On the same day upon which the board of officers conducted its examination, Work informed the military authorities that to clear the ground would deprive the Company of the use of fields already leased out for the year and would force Kanaka William, "one of the Company's oldest and most faithful servants," out of the house he had occupied for more than ten years.

Two days later General Harney tersely replied through his adjutant that "the Hudson's Bay Company is not recognized as having any possessory rights in the soil of the military reserve at this place, in consequence of the expiration of their charter as a trading company on this coast." On March 5, Captain Ingalls told Work to remove all the improvements on the land in question or the Army would do so. Kanaka William, he added, could occupy an old house near the Catholic church "while the Company is closing up its affairs at this place."

Evidently surprised to hear that the Hudson's Bay Company was leaving Vancouver, Work decided to submit copies of his correspondence with the military officials to the "principal officers" of the firm. Meanwhile, he told Harney, "I can only submit to what seems to me to be an extraordinary and unwarrantable neglect and violation" of rights secured by treaty "on the part of those whose predecessors were tenants of the Company, on the same land upon which it is now proposed to make forcible encroachments."

General Harney at about the same time evidently began to have some fears as to the possible consequences of his course of action, because on March 5 he transmitted copies of his correspondence with the representatives of the Company to Brigadier General T. S. Jesup, the Army's Quartermaster General in Washington, D. C. General Jesup was firmly convinced that the Hudson's Bay Company's claim at Vancouver was a "stupendous fraud," and he forwarded Harney's account of the affair to the Secretary of War with the comment that the possessory rights of the Company "could not under either grant, treaty or law extend beyond the term of its charter."

Probably acting upon the recommendation of General Jesup, Secretary of War Floyd officially stated on April 30, 1860, that "The Hudson's Bay Company is not recognized as having any right, by law or treaties to land which it has occupied by virtue of its charter" south of the forty-ninth parallel, "its right of occupancy having expired." Floyd further directed that the Company's occupancy "of any part of the Military reserve at Fort Vancouver will, at once, be terminated, and all improvements removed excepting such as may be useful for the military service." Copies of this order were forwarded to General Harney on May 10.

Evacuation of Fort Vancouver by the Hudson's Bay Company

Before Secretary Floyd's directive reached Vancouver, however, events had already brought the Company's representatives on the spot to a decision to give up the old post on the Columbia. Since John Work had refused to remove the Company's improvements as requested by Captain Ingalls, the Army proceeded to "police the grounds." Between March 12 and March 26, the fences and buildings in question, including the house of Kanaka William, the hospital, the stable, and the "cow-house," were destroyed. Other fences were moved back "a considerable distance" toward the pickets of the fort.

On March 25 Chief Trader Grahame returned to Fort Vancouver and was appalled to see what had occurred during his absence. He immediately reported the facts to the Company's chief representative in North America and suggested that "it would be better for us to retire north of 49° at once rather than remain here on sufferance to be carved to pieces according to the arbitrary caprice of General Harney or any other official; and I feel fully convinced that even were we to do so, entering a protest and filing a claim for damages, our position prospectively as regards remuneration, would be much ameliorated." He added that his situation at Vancouver was becoming more irksome, trying and unprofitable every day."

On April 12 Grahame made another "solemn protest" to Harney in the name of the Company and requested, for the information of the firm and the British government, a copy of any authorization for the General's summary dismissal of the rights of the Company. General Harney replied that no claim of the firm within the reservation was recognized and added that any privileges permitted the corporation at Vancouver since May 30, 1859, had been "conceded by the courtesy and forbearance of the Commanding General." His adjutant went on to state that, "I am further directed to communicate to you that the style of your correspondence with these Head Quarters is considered improper and objectionable, and unless changed will receive no attention in future."

Early in May, 1860, A. G. Dallas, President of the Council of the Hudson's Bay Company in North America, visited Vancouver. In view of the hostile attitude of the military authorities, he determined to withdraw entirely from the region south of the forty-ninth parallel. On May 10 he notified General Harney of the firm's intention to vacate Fort Vancouver and the adjoining lands within a month or two, as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made. "During this period," he added, "I presume, we may rely on your further courtesy and forbearance."

Dallas further expressed his surprise that officers of the United States would make an interpretation of a treaty right without some formal intimation of the fact being made by the United States Government to that of Great Britain. He once more protested against the "aggressive acts" on the part of the military and declared that the United States would be held liable for the damages received. [31]

General Harney was evidently quite pleased to hear that the Company was planning to remove itself from Vancouver. On May 10 he offered to the firm "every facility" of the military post "in the fulfilment of this intention that may not be to the prejudice of the public interests of the United States." [32] Captain Ingalls was similarly gracious, proffering the full use of the Government wharf, storehouse, and other facilities. [33]

Whether or not the Company availed itself of these offers is not known, but the officers of the firm wasted little time in winding up the affairs of the establishment. Goods in shops and stores and all moveable equipment, including much of the machinery from the gristmill, were prepared for transport to Victoria. The steamer Otter left with the first "full freight" of goods on May 7, and she evidently made two subsequent trips.

On June 14, 1860, the vessel was ready to sail for Victoria with the last load of the Company's property. On that day Chief Trader Grahame turned a large bundle of keys belonging to the fort buildings over to Captain Ingalls and announced that he was sailing in the Otter in half an hour. [34] With him went all the Company's employees at Vancouver except Robert Logan and W. F. Crate, who remained behind at their own request. [35]

Diplomatic Action Concerning Fort Vancouver

While the Company's representatives at Vancouver were carrying out the evacuation of the old fur-trading post, protests against the "aggressions" of the military authorities were being lodged with the United States Secretary of State by the British government. Copies of the correspondence between the Army officers and the firm's agents concerning the determination to clear the ground in the southwest sector of the military reservation were sent to the directors of the Company in London, by whom they were referred to the British Foreign Office.

The Hudson's Bay Company informed the Foreign Secretary that, upon the recommendation of Chief Trader Grahame, it was disposed to abandon all its interests south of the forty-ninth parallel "rather than be subjected to the degradation of being turned out piecemeal," providing that such action would not weaken the position of the British government in protesting the measures taken by General Harney.

At the suggestion of the Foreign Secretary, however, the firm decided to await the result of "one more representation" to the United States before abandoning Fort Vancouver, "upon the understanding that if such further application should not be attended with success, the Company will then, with the approbation of Her Majesty's Government, withdraw from all their property in American Territory, and seek through Her Majesty's Government compensation from the United States for the loss they may sustain in so doing." As a result, instructions were sent late in May, 1860, to the Company's agents at Vancouver not to withdraw without orders to that effect from London. But by the time these directions reached the Pacific Coast, Dallas had already moved the Company's effects to Victoria.

On May 25, 1860, Lord Lyons, the British Minister in Washington, addressed a note to the United States Secretary of State, Lewis Cass, directing attention to the actions of the military authorities in the Department of Oregon and calling upon the United States Government to "arrest the proceedings." On June 7, Cass replied in a most conciliatory manner. "The President," he wrote, "has learned with regret the occurrence of any circumstances which, in the opinion of her Majesty's Government, would seem to impair the faithful execution of any provisions of treaty of 1846."

The Chief Executive, added Cass, "does not recognize the right of any subordinate of any service to decide upon questions affecting the diplomatic engagements of this Government," and as a result, "orders have been immediately despatched to the commander of the military division of Oregon, which will prevent effectually any interference with the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, until their rights under the treaty shall be amicably adjusted between the two Governments." Any servants of the Company who might have been dispossessed by the Army were to be reinstated upon their lands, and reasonable compensation for any losses sustained in consequence of military orders would be "cheerfully" made upon proper proof. [36]

As a matter of fact, the orders issued to the commander of the Department of Oregon as the result of Lord Lyons's protest were a good deal less stringent than Cass's letter to the British Minister indicated. Indeed, in view of the fact that the Secretary of War had endorsed Harney's actions and had, on April 30, himself directed the removal of the Company's improvements at Vancouver, little in the way of a reprimand could have been expected. On June 7, 1860, the Secretary of War simply directed the commander of the Department of Oregon to suspend execution of the instructions of April 30 until further orders from the War Department. [37] As far as can be determined, these were the only orders upon the subject ever sent to the military authorities in Oregon.

Although sent by telegraph and Pony Express, these orders of June 7 reached Vancouver too late to have any effect upon the withdrawal of the Company. Upon their receipt, however, Colonel George Wright, who had succeeded General Harney in the departmental command, suspended all destruction of the firm's buildings and improvements at Fort Vancouver. [38]

End of the Company's Tenure at Vancouver

As late as August, 1863, no further orders concerning the relations between the Army and the Hudson's Bay Company had been received by the military authorities at Fort Vancouver. As one officer pointed out at that time, under the instructions of June 7, 1860, there was nothing to prevent the return of the Company to the old fort. [39]

Indeed, for a period after the evacuation the firm appears to have maintained a token occupation. Writing to the secretary of the Company on July 19, 1860, Dallas stated that "you will have learnt that Vancouver has been already abandoned, with exception of the gatekeeper. We therefore to all intents and purposes occupy the fort, only at a smaller cost." [40]

But evidently this attempt to keep up the appearance of tenancy was soon discontinued. As shall be seen, some of the buildings of Fort Vancouver were temporarily occupied by the Army after the Company left. Gradually the buildings were destroyed or fell into decay, and in or about 1866 a conflagration removed practically all traces of the old fur-trading post. [41]

Hudson's Bay Company Claims, 1846-1869

Almost from the moment of the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846, officers of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company expressed a desire to sell their rights and property south of the forty-ninth parallel to the United States. During 1848 the firms engaged an agent to press the matter in Washington; but in spite of the very remarkable opportunities for financial gain offered to that individual should he succeed in obtaining a generous settlement, no sale was made. Discussions and diplomatic negotiations concerning the topic continued between Great Britain and the United States at frequent intervals during subsequent years, but an agreement could not be reached. During most of the negotiations the companies insisted upon a price of $1,000,000 for their rights, but at one point, in 1855, they authorized Governor Simpson to accept $300,000 if better terms could not be obtained.

The trouble between the Company and the United States military authorities at Vancouver in 1860 served to bring the subject once more into diplomatic channels; but the claims of the two companies and the controversy over the northwest water boundary became linked together in the discussions between the governments, and negotiations continued to drag along without a definite decision being reached. Finally, in 1863, it was found possible to consider the matter of the companies' claims separately, and a treaty was drawn up and signed on July 1, 1863, which provided that each country should appoint a commissioner and that these two men should examine and decide upon all claims arising out of the third and fourth articles of the treaty of 1846. If the commissioners should fail to agree upon any point, they were to appoint an arbitrator whose decision was to be final. In case the commissioners could not agree upon an arbitrator, the selection was to be made by the King of Italy.

Under the terms of this treaty, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company presented to the joint commission claims which, as amended, amounted to the tidy sum of $5,449,936.67. Over $1,200,000 of this sum represented the Company's estimate of the value of its lands and improvements at Vancouver.

The gathering of testimony concerning the value of the lands, rights, and improvements of the two companies occupied several years; and the resulting evidence, when printed, occupied about 2,400 pages. Closing arguments were not submitted until 1869, and on September 10 of that year the commissioners filed their opinions and award, made without recourse to the services of an arbitrator. The amount awarded the Hudson's Bay Company in return for the transfer to the United States of all its possessory rights and claims under the Oregon Treaty of 1846 was $450,000, while the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company received $200,000. Although an attempt was made by Congress to deduct taxes said to be owed by the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company to Pierce County, Washington Territory, from the sums awarded, the full amount of the awards was paid to Great Britain in two equal installments, one in 1870 and the other in 1871. With the extinction of these claims, the long and eventful story of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver came to an end. [42]

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Last Updated: 18-Feb-2008