Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ze End . . .of April's A to Z Blogging Challenge

Here we are, once again at the path of accomplishments behind us, farewells for today, and ahead, who knows what awaits?

This last month for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge, I've revisited the research underlying my current novel-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, now in the editing stage. In the process, I've made some discoveries, dug a little deeper into what affects my characters, and reaffirmed my nerdish love of books.

A few discoveries:

--Dr. John Rae, that Arctic explorer who discovered the last remains of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated party lost in the ice, actually wintered over at York Factory in 1845, the time of my book. Because he dared to report his findings, that Franklin's crew resorted to cannibalism in their desperate efforts to survive, he was ostracized and his exploration of Arctic areas unrecognized until very recently. I visited his tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral and saw his house when we visited the Orkney Islands.

Dr. John Rae's Tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral (Camp 2009)

--Country wives were protected somewhat, but their treatment still shocks me. Sometimes the men who 'married' these Metis and native women simply abandoned them and their children; other times, they arranged new husbands. Sometimes the men respected their wives for their entire marriage. I haven't quite figured out how to honor the history of these women. Sylvia Van Kirk's book, Many Tender Ties, added depth to this sad aspect of fur trading history.

--I could probably fall back into research to find again what I have forgotten, but that would delay the 'finishing' of this story for another year or two. And, after all, is it the history or the story of Catriona and Dougal that I want to tell?

Voltaire once said something like, "Sometimes the quest for perfection gets in the way of accomplishing what is good." He said it in French and more succinctly (the best is the enemy of the good). 

My commitment to write as well as possible for this A to Z challenge pulled me away from writing/editing Rivers of Stone. Now, May begins and I shall resume. Each of my books has taken about three years to write. This is the third year for Rivers of Stone, and my goal is to finish this year.

New A to Z people I've met this month and thoroughly enjoyed their posts:

Go forth, A to Z bloggers! May your writing and reading nourish each day!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for York Factory

Full circle. York Factory, the fur trading headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company's Northern Department is where my novel, Rivers of Stone, began.

Catriona, disguised as a boy, and Dougal, her husband, landed here when the annual ship arrived from Britain late in the summer of 1842. 

They met an interesting array of historical personages, including James Hargrave, the Chief Factor, and his wife, Letitia, a gossipy letter-writer some 15 years younger than her husband, who has given us pretty clear pictures of what life was like at that isolated fur trading post.

Situated in the middle of Cree country, York Factory was near enough to Hudson's Bay to be affected by every storm that rose over its waters. In the winter, Polar bears and wolves scampered on the ice, hunting for unsuspecting sea otters. In the summer, this main supply depot was pretty much surrounded by marshland. Workers sank to their ankles in mud and had to walk five miles to gather firewood. Everyone dreaded the black flies and mosquitoes.

Letitia Hargrave described York Factory as surrounded by ". . . a desolate waste of green swamp grass and small scrub as far as the eye could see" (McGoogan 52).

York Factory in 1853 (Wikipedia)
By the 1840s, York Factory was an fenced outpost of some 30 buildings built of wood, with the main depot and guest houses in the center. Along each side, a hospital, doctor's house, bakehouse, cooperage, library, various fur and provisions stores, and quarters for officers and servants. In the center, the Company flag flapped from a tall pine (Newman 50).  

But the lives of those who lived there year round were complicated by boundaries of class and race. In the winter, Letitia Hargrave might dine with the 'gentlemen' and officers, but through the summer, when the men ate outside, she dined alone. 

James Hargrave had a piano brought for his new wife; she was rare, a European wife with a servant from the Orkney Islands in a land of country wives. In the earlier years of the fur trade era, such wives, both Metis and tribal, were prized. The marriages were arranged by the father of the young woman and the husband to be. Property was exchanged (typically horses), and the husband promised to honor his wife all his life (Brown 76). But gradually, such marriages were seen as an impediment to promotion by ambitious clerks far from home. 

Letitia befriended such a country wife and wrote of Mrs. Gladman that she had been 'married' when she was 12 to a Mr. Stewart: ". . . She was dragged out of her mother's room and sent away with him & he beat & maltreated her til life was a burden" (MacInnes). After nine years, Mr. Stewart left her, and she 'went with' Mr. Gladman. Letitia continues,  ". . . from what she says, the ladies here have a custom of smothering their babies" (MacInnes).  I've read elsewhere that some tribal families hid their daughters and/or their children when the traders visited.

Tomorrow marks the last day of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, with an entry for the letter Z. I wonder what zat will be?

Some references: Peter C. Newman, An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay CompanyJennifer S. H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country; and Morag MacInnes, "Letitia Hargrave in the Nor'Wast," Frontiers Magazine

Another helpful read is Michael Payne's The Most Respectable Place in the Territory: Everyday Life in Hudson's Bay Company Service, York Factory, 1788 to 1870 (found at a used book store!).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for the XY Company in the fur trade era

Originally I was going to write about the XY Company, that early fur trading company set up in 1797 to compete with the Montreal-based NorthWest Company.  
The Northwest Company labeled its fur packs with NW; the XY Company labeled its fur packs with X and Y, the letters that followed W. 

Those were rough and tumble days, and the XY Company did not last long. The fur traders from these two companies built competing posts, schemed, fought, and outbid each other with increasing amounts of rum and brandy. The rivalry out in the field for furs was matched by equally intense battles for profit within these two companies. The end of the short-lived XY Company came in 1804 when it merged with the NorthWest Company, but the newly merged NorthWest Company continued to fiercely compete with the Hudson's Bay Company. 

When the Hudson's Bay Company first established York Factory as the hub of its fur trading operations on the edge of Hudson's Bay itself in Upper Manitoba, those early officers and gentlemen with their apprentices and networks of fur traders were content to let the furs come to them for trading and then loading on the annual ship from England. Competition from the NorthWest Company changed that complacency.

This historical summary sounds pretty sedate, compared to the harsh realities of life in the fur trade, well matched by rowdy meetings by the managers to set policy. After the merger, by 1810, the NorthWest Company had nearly 2,000 employees and 1,000 canoes (Morrison 36). 

The Beaver Club in Montreal, where 'wintering partners' of the NorthWest Company met to set policy began with 5 toasts. Following each toast, the glasses were hurled into the fireplace. Morrison reports that a bill from one of the hotels shows "thirty-one members and guests consumed twenty-nine bottles of Madeira, nineteen bottles of port, fourteen bottles of porter, and twelve quarts of ale, plus a quantity of gin and brandy" (37). She quotes one attendee as saying, "By four o'clock in the morning . . . we could all give the war whoop as well as Mackenzie and McGillivray . . . " (37).

In 1821, another series of negotiations led the Hudson's Bay Company to merge with the NorthWest Company and acquire its posts west of the Rocky Mountains, significantly expanding its control of fur trading lands. The HBC, concerned about American and Russian expansion in the region, worked hard to solidify its position in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps the U.S. would not have stretched "from sea to shining sea" without this intense competition between the NorthWest Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. 

John McLoughlin
Source: Wikipedia
And John McLoughlin.

For McLoughlin was the powerful Chief Factor at HBC's Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1846. He welcomed those American immigrants who arrived nearly broken by the harsh journey west. 

The Hudson's Bay Company rebuked McLoughlin again and again for being too generous with food and temporary lodging, but McLoughlin turned no one away. He did encourage them to settle south of the Columbia River, honoring the HBC's assertion that the boundary between the U.S. and Canada should be set at the Columbia River. Those immigrants settled along the Columbia and down into the Willamette Valley, along with retired voyageurs and McLoughlin himself, who later became an American citizen.

Oregon Country/Columbia District 1818-1846
Source: Wikipdia
Click map to see larger version
The disputed area shown in the map to the left takes up nearly 75% of the state of Washington, west and north of the Columbia River as it flows down from Canada to the sea.

Arguments about where the boundary between Canada and the U.S. should be were finally settled not by gun but by diplomacy. The Americans, faced with potentially two wars, one over its northern border, and the other over its annexation of Texas, and its southern border with Mexico, finally drew the line at the 54th parallel, well above the Columbia River the Canadian government wanted as its southern border. Neither country recognized the sovereign rights of tribal peoples beyond a token nod.

Hudson's Bay Company employee Richard Lane, in the very same fur brigade traveling west that included Canadian artist Paul Kane, carried the official boundary papers west in 1847 (Aha! Right in my story, Rivers of Stone). The rest, as they say, is history. 

Tomorrow takes me back to York Factory, nearly the last entry for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge. It's been an amazing month with many new blogs to discover. 

Interested in more about John McLoughlin? This is one of my favorite sources, rich with chatty excerpts from letters and journals of the time: Morrison, Dorothy Nafus. Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far Northwest. Oregon Society Historical Press, 1999, 640 pp.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W = Weather

My grandfather used to say, "Watch the weather," as he scanned that line of hills between earth and sky. 

When DH and I first moved to the Inland Northwest (eastern Washington State), we walked out one fine sunny fall day to explore the neighborhood. At least the weather was fine until those storm clouds moved in. The rain poured down so hard, we were soaked in moments. The temperature plummeted. We began to shiver as we ran back towards home; the wind and rain continued to buffet us. At home, we were dry, warm, safe.

I've seen serious weather just twice. Once at Atlantic City, as a large thunder storm moved up the east coast, maybe morphing into something worse. And once somewhere in Minnesota, as we drove west through a tornado.

And the car lifted off the road
Minnesota, 2007 (Camp)
Sometimes I wonder what the weather was like for those fur traders who traveled across Canada or settled at one of the outlying posts. When Letitia Hargrave, wife of the Chief Factor, arrived at York Factory, she burst into tears. That may have been related to the three-month voyage from home, the hordes of bugs that greeted her at the end of the summer, or the isolation of the post itself. 

But when winter came, everyone bundled in layers and layers of clothing lined with furs. At first the buildings at York Factory had been built of thick walls of hand-quarried stone, but the winters were so cold, those stones cracked. Even the rum froze. I've camped out in the winter when our first act in the morning was to brush the snow off the water jugs. Now, if we can see our breath when we wake up, we head to motels.

But at York Factory, the average low is 20 degrees F, warming up to 28 degrees F by May. In 1846, the ice did not clear from Hudson's Bay until June. James Hargrave, Chief Factor then, described York Factory weather as "nine months of winter, varied by three of rain and mosquitoes" (McGoogan 52).

That's a long time to huddle close to the fire in fur-lined jackets, or to go hunting in the depth of winter for food. One 19th Century hunting trip at York Factory ended badly when an apprentice boy simply wandered off in the snow. In the spring, they found the boy's hat made of fox fur. Not even his bones remained.

So what do thoughts of weather have to do with writing? How do writers make the settings of their stories come alive without thinking about those times of we shivered through storms?  What does survival mean but a chance at redemption, another chance to make anew all that is good?

We're nearing the end of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Tomorrow, the X factor for us all.

An excellent book that takes us back to York Factory in the 19th Century is Ken McGoogan's Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer who Discovered the Fate of Franklin

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V = Voyageurs

The voyageurs. Those intrepid workers who rose before dawn to begin the day, often not stopping before 8 or 9 pm at night. These seasonally hired men traveled along the rivers and waterways of Canada by canoe and York boat. 

In the late summer, they carried mail, trade goods, and passengers from the annual ship from Europe south and west to isolated posts. In the spring, after ice melt, the voyageurs carried the all important furs east for shipment to Europe. They paddled both against the current and with it, depending on the season and the direction the rivers flowed. I imagine the voyageurs thought often of the weather in the early spring and late fall, when ice might clog or freeze the rivers.

These voyageurs had incredible stamina. Chosen for their sheer strength, they were short, often bow-legged from long hours in those canoes, and brawny from paddling those 14-20 hour days. They sang to set the rhythm of their paddles.

They also loved tobacco and marked their time on the river with breaks called "pipes." Even directions would be called out, for example, "4 pipes to Fort Carleton."

Most wore their hair long, tied back with head scarves that served as padding for towlines when they pulled heavily loaded boats through shallow waters. Portages around rapids often required the men carry the cargo in 90-pound packs. Two such packs were considered a standard load to carry. No wonder the men preferred to run the rapids.

Voyageur's violin, sash, and travel accordian
Glenbow Museum, Calgary (Camp 2015)
The voyageurs also wore incredibly bright red sashes, wound around their waists that served as pockets for knives as well as back support. I actually purchased one in my travels through Canada last summer. 

Independent and rowdy, quick to joke, drink, fight, and sing, these men loved to gamble -- on dog fights, canoe races, or how many packs a man could carry at one time. 

Peter C. Newman, in Caesars of the Wilderness, notes, ". . . they eagerly signed up for unimaginable toil that cracked their backs and ruptured their intestines but never broke their spirit" (26).

These voyageurs forged close relationships with many tribes throughout Canada, and learned how to survive in the wilderness. Marriages "in the style of the country" led to the M├ętis -- children born of Native women and French and British men who made their own mark on Canadian history.

I can't go back to the 1840s, but this painting by Francis Anne Hopkins shows how the voyageurs slept at night under their canoes, close by the river. Notice how they huddle under their blankets, the gear they brought, their paddles and pots.  

Frances Anne Hopkins, "Voyageurs at Dawn" (1871)
Source: Wikipedia
Many died along the river, nameless, their place of death marked with a white cross. Railroads began to replace the route of the voyageurs in 1880's. An era ended, but the stories of their courage remain.

The Descent of the Fraser River, 1808,
from a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys
Source: Wikipedia
This is the last week of April's A to Z Blogging Challenge. Jump in to find out what others are writing. Tomorrow, the letter "W" -- which for me might be the weather, a formidable adversary for the fur traders, or more snippets from Paul Kane's Wanderings.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U = Uncertainty and Firewater

As I continue thinking about the fur trade era, I thought today's topic might be the Upper Fort Garry, that jumping off post to the west, located where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge. Paul Kane visited here on his way west in 1846.

Instead, I waffled. Perhaps 'uncertainty' would be a better starting point. 

At many points in traveling from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, the fur traders slept with uncertainty, especially as they traveled through Blackfoot Country and the Plains, where long-held hostilities between the Cree and the Blackfoot made night raids and outright fights possible. Not all Hudson Bay Company posts were secure. Paul Kane reports in his journal that their clothing was stolen in the night by such a raiding party, when few of the brigade had clothing to spare.

But then I found this snippet in researching a little more about the Blackfoot people, a topic that teases me since my grandmother once said I was certainly of the Blackfoot tribe. I was never sure what she meant.

According to Peter C. Newman's classic study Caesars of the Wilderness, the term 'firewater' came about when fur traders began to exchange rum for furs in the early 1800's. 

Of course, competition was intense between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Trading Company. I've read elsewhere that the Hudson's Bay Company took the higher ground, not wishing to sell alcohol to the natives. Perhaps. Newman suggests that American traders had large, military forts to protect them when the results of drinking led to a rampage. In Canada, the trading posts were small, understaffed, and militarily barely defensible. As the demand for alcohol increased, trading became more profitable because the ability of Indian traders to negotiate decreased. 

Back to the firewater. Newman reports that the Nor'Westers (the Americans) would mix 9 gallons of 132-proof Caribbean rum with 30 to 70 gallons of water, depending on the market. For the Cree, they used 3 to 4 parts water; for the Blackfeet, the traders used 7 to 8 parts water (110). Very quickly, natives learned to test the watered rum by spitting on a fire. If the fire flared up, the proof was good. If the rum had been watered down too much, the fire would go out. 

And that's how the term 'firewater' came about.

Alcohol was also an issue for the fur traders -- isolated posts, drinking as a reward, tots as rewards for hard work or holidays. Hmmmn. I have seen the devastating effects of alcohol during my growing up years, when uncertainty ruled each weekend. I can only imagine the 19th Century in Europe when clean water was routinely tainted. Those fur traders must have had a taste for alcohol.

See Peter C. Newman's Caesars of the Wilderness for a fascinating study of the fur trading era. Also, if you are interested in which term is preferred when referring to native peoples, see Dennis Gaffney's post, "American Indian or Native American."

Tomorrow, we followers of the Blogging A to Z Challenge will write something related to "V" in this last week. I don't know yet what I will write about . . . maybe the voyageurs.

Upper Fort Garry 1884
Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tinker

As I continue editing Rivers of Stone, I remember my grandfather's hands. He could fix anything. Watches. Cars. Tents. He invented a switch he could use from his chair that turned off the sound on the television, long before remotes were available. 

He hunted, fished, and hiked in the wilderness. He didn't sew. That was women's work. And he didn't sing. But he loved books and anything to do with the environment, which he was convinced we humans were ruining as fast as we could. He would have loved global warming as that would have proved his theories.

He would have fit right in with a fur brigade, for that tinkering was a survival skill. 

The ability to 'make do' probably was influenced by him growing up dirt-poor on a farm in Missouri (he called it 'Miz-rey'). He ran away from home when he was 16 to become a cowboy, out west.
Frank and Sigrid Henry
About 1920 in Montana

Then he met my grandmother. They married, and he became one of the first forest rangers right around World War I when the Army wouldn't accept him because one of his eyes was flawed.

He took me, a girl, hunting. I learned how to find my way in the woods, how to skin out a deer, and how to tinker, though I mostly tinker with words.

I thought today I'd write about voyageurs, but instead, I wrote about my Grandfather. He lived to be 100.

Have a good rest tomorrow. Next week we polish off the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. And next week, I will write about the voyageurs. How did your grandparents influence you?