Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for One-Pound-One

If I were traveling by canoe or York boat along the Saskatchewan River to Fort Edmonton in the 1840s, I would have been impressed by Rowand's Folly, a three-story house built for Chief Factor John Rowand. 

John Rowand (1787-1854), originally from Montreal, began working in the fur trade when he was 16 as an apprentice clerk. His passions? Hunting bison and riding horses. When he was 23, Rowand had a disastrous fall from a horse, resulting in a broken leg. He was rescued by a young Metis woman, Louise Umfreville. From that point, he walked with a limp, earning the nickname, "One-Pound-One."

Rowand contracted a 'country marriage' with Louise and was gifted a herd of horses as a dowry -- which added to his prestige among the Plains Indians. John and Louise remained together until her death in 1849.  He called Louise " . . . my old friend, the mother of all my children . . ." They had at least five children. 

John Rowand
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
John Rowand was a short, rather large man with an explosive temper, and was considered a strict taskmaster. A visiting priest tried to convince Rowand that one of his workers was sick. Rowand replied, "Any man who is not dead after three days sickness is not sick at all." It's no surprise that he died of a heart attack when he intervened in a fight between boat builders and voyageurs.  

One challenge in writing historical fiction that involves what Ken Follett calls historical personages is this: How do I capture the sense of this man, without knowing him?  

In my current work-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, John Rowand is a minor character as Paul Kane and Cat stop off for a few days at Fort Vancouver on their journey west. 

Here's a snippet as Kane and Cat attend a formal dance at Rowand's Folly, late in 1847:

   One of the voyageurs stumbled against Rowand's daughter, Marguerite, who was dressed in yellow silk trimmed with fur. Rowand shoved the man to the floor, nearly at Cat's feet. "You blackguard! Think you to despoil my precious daughter?"

   The music stopped. All eyes turned to Rowand.

   "There's no harm done, sir," called Kane.

   "Get that man out of here," hissed Rowand. "He needs a whipping."

   With a courtly bow, Kane approached Margaret Rowand and invited her to dance. He offered his hand and led her ceremoniously on the floor, somewhat dwarfed by her imposing size, for she mirrored her father in bulk. Yet no one laughed. Instead, they applauded the couple's graceful sway to the music. Cat sighed. When will I wear such a dress? She snorted. As if I ever did.

   She made her way out onto the open parade ground, leaving the noise of the party behind her. Above, a full moon appeared encircled with white. Cat felt as if she were in a small city, yet she knew outside the fort's palisade, they would face near a thousand miles of wilderness before they reached Fort Vancouver. She rubbed her face with her hands. One day at a time. Bend, don't break.

Rowand's Folly, Residence of Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton
Source (Wikipedia)
Click to see larger image.
This month, inspired by the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, I'm writing about the research for Rivers of Stone as I finish up final edits. Check out what others are writing HERE.  Only 11 letters to go!