Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Lane, Mary and Richard, and that twisting research lane we follow.

When Paul Kane traveled west to Fort Vancouver, the leader of the brigade was an Englishman named Richard Lane. Lane had been entrusted with not only the documents resolving the 1846 border dispute between Canada and the U.S., but also the infamous otter furs, an annual gift to the Russians to ensure trade.

Lane was relatively new to the Hudson's Bay Company, arriving at York Factory in June, 1838, and transferring down to Red River by September where he stayed as an accountant until 1845, some 7 years.  Sir George Simpson sent him next to Fort Vancouver, promising Lane he could return to Red River in 1846. Why?

These are the facts. But I'm having a harder time finding out the story behind these surface facts.

Lane did return to Red River in 1846 to marry Mary (Marie) McDermot, daughter of prominent trader Andrew McDermot and his wife Sara McNab, a Métis with whom he had 17 children.

Annie McDermot
Source: Destination Winnipeg
Click for larger view.
Mary, then 30, and Richard (also 30), then joined Kane's party to travel over the Rocky Mountains. They must have known each other in those years Richard Lane spent in Red River. Kane admired Mary's skill with snowshoes as they traveled over the Rocky Mountains, but, as far as I know, he did not paint her.

I did find some lovely stuff about their wedding for Mary's mother Sara loved to dance. Métis weddings could last several days of feasting and dancing. Paul Kane should have painted this (I'm imagining a Peter Bruegel type scene).

I did find a photograph of Annie McDermot (b. 1830), Mary's sister, who may give a sense of what Mary looked like as a young woman. 

Portrait of a Half-breed Cree Girl
Source: Kane's Wanderings of a Young Artist
Click for larger view.
Another side issue is how Europeans romanticized and yet exploited the Métis and native women they met as seen in this painting by Paul Kane of a young Metis woman he met at Fort Edmonton and later painted. 

Cunnewa-bum (whose name means 'She That Looks at Stars') holds a fan. Her innocent gaze, some critics say, suggests flirtation, but I don't see that, but her name is lost when retitled as "Portrait of a Half-breed Cree Girl" in Paul Kane's Wanderings of a Young Artist.

In my story, Rivers of Stone, would Paul Kane have recognized Catriona as a woman in the grubby boy who traveled with him, given his romantic vision of women?

Richard Lane's story ends sadly with alcoholism and suicide some 30 years after the death of Mary in 1851.

But in the 1840s, and possibly before, the Hudson's Bay Company echelon viewed marriages between Europeans and Métis or native women (in the style of the country) as impediments to future promotions. Some men put aside their country wives. John Hargrave admonished a colleague to wait, as he had done, and not undertake such a marriage. And some men (including Sir George Simpson) said nasty things about the women they loved and left behind in short-term liaisons. When those precious European wives arrived, they often lived in isolation, unwilling to include the native and Metis wives in their company. 

After probably two many hours of reading and research this morning, I found a sumptuous new book on Paul Kane by Arlene Gehmacher, Paul Kane: His Life and Works (available as a free PDF download).

Now, back to work on revising and editing Rivers of Stone. Tomorrow's entry for that April A to Z Blogging Challenge will be "M" for Mount St Helens. Now what would a volcanic eruption have to do with Rivers of Stone?

Check out what others have posted for A to Z HERE.