Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

D is for Dalles des Mortes

Maybe twenty summers back, I went whitewater river rafting, a three day trip down the Salmon and Snake Rivers. 

The roughly eighteen of us, plus three guides, loaded up with safety equipment, piled into those puffy little 3-man rubber boats, and were handed oars. We launched on the river, a large, flat supply boat behind us. Of course, we hit white water. We rowed furiously, shouted, and laughed. At night, we feasted, and, after telling stories around the campfire and watching the stars, we slept in tents. Allen and I talked in low voices. Would we survive another day?

I didn't consciously remember that trip when I began writing Rivers of Stone three years ago until I started reading about the approximate 4,000 miles the fur brigades traveled from York Factory in Upper Manitoba to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. By boat, canoe, horse, and snowshoe. Depending on the river, sometimes against the current. 
Paul Kane about 1850 (Wikipedia)

In 1846, Paul Kane, the Canadian artist, traveled with the west-bound fur brigade. After the long journey across the Canadian plains, stopping at Fort Edmonton, and crossing the Rockies, his party met with a contingent from Fort Vancouver at Boat Encampment. 

On November 16, they brushed snow off their boats to finish the last 1,200 miles. 

That day, they safely passed a stretch of the Columbia River nicknamed the Dalles de Mortes -- French for Falls of Death. On November 24, further down the Columbia at Grand Rapid, they lost a canoe, but no lives. Such deaths were fairly common, marked with a rough cross made of tree limbs. By December 8, they passed the most dangerous stretch of the Columbia and exchanged snow for rain as they neared Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver with View of Mount Hood, 1855
Source: Wikipedia 

I was only on the Snake and Salmon Rivers for three days in the summer time. I remember paddling as hard as I could as our little rubber raft raced toward a solid wall of rock. Once, our raft overturned. I remember the taste of the water, the shock and relief as we were rescued.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to travel across Canada and down through Washington Territory to Fort Vancouver, such a long journey, for over three months, safely past the Dalles des Mortes, only one among many such falls along the wild rivers the fur brigade traversed.

Read more about Kane's journey in his book, Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Artist or Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's Paul Kane's Great Nor-West, or Isaac Cowie's classic, The Company of
Adventurers


Stop by the Blogging A to Z April Challenge to explore what others have written!