A Servant of “The Company"
A further chapter from Jason Allard’s exciting story of pioneer life in British Columbia
JASON O. ALLARD
As related to B. A. McKelvie
TWO things were constantly impressed upon me as a boy by my father, Ovid Allard, the veteran fort-builder and Indian trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company. One was that I should never pocket money that did not belong to me, and the other was not to make a promise that I could not fulfil.
“You see,” he would explain, “if you are busy and put money that is not yours in your pocket you might forget it later, and someone might imagine that you were dishonest. It only takes a moment to put it in the cash box. And never waste a man’s time by making him wait for what you’ve romised.”
It was this last lesson that led to my being apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1866.
I was my father’s only assistant at Fort Yale, and when he was absent, I had charge of the post, although not yet eighteen, being carried on the books of the establishment as a temporary employee. It happened that I was left in charge of the place in the spring of the year during a visit to Victoria by my father. I was busily engaged one day in serving the wants of different miners who came to the store, and consequently did not pay much attention to a tall, spare man witn large mustachios who idled about watching me work. He said nothing, but kept smoking a cigar and watched all that I did.
After the morning rush of business I went about the task of straightening the stock on the shelves, and was so engaged when a miner from up the river came in. He asked the cost of a number of articles and, seeing that I was only a boy, sought to beat me down in the prices. I answered courteously that I could not sell for less than I had quoted, but would do my best to give him good service.
“Well,” he remarked, “I am in a hurry and I want service. What will the goods on this list cost?” and he produced a long penciled memorandum of his wants. I totaled it up and told him that it would amount to $263.
“How soon can you have the goods ready?”
“In an hour.”
“All right,” and he paid the bill.
As soon as he was gone I started to work to parcel up the merchandise and had it ready and waiting for him upon his return, much to his astonishment and delight.
All the time, the tall stranger sat on a box smoking and never uttered a word. When the miner left with his horse packed, the man rose from his seat and introduced himself.
“I am Chief Factor McTavish,” he said, “and I’m pleased—very pleased—with the manner in which you have been conducting yourself. Are you regularly in the service?”
“No sir.” I replied, “Just a temporary employee.” “Well, well, this must be attended to,”
he answered. ^--
When my father returned a day or two later, Mr. McTavish insisted that I become apprenticed. I did not favor the idea, as I had ambitions of becoming an independent trader, but my parent insisted that I accept the offer of service in the company to which he had given thirty years of his life. So it was arranged, and I was bound to the Hudson’s Bay Company for three years.
“The ordinary term which the ‘gentlemen’s sons’ from England serve is six years,” explained the chief factor,
“but as your son has been brought up to the trade he will only have to Serve half the time, a great concession.”
I was sent to Victoria for a few months to learn bookkeeping from the good fathers at St. Louis College.
His First Appointment
\ Æ Y! WHAT a change from the Victoria I remembered as a very small boy in the days before the gold excitement! Where there had been stockades and frowning bastions were business houses of brick, while comfortable homes occupied the former fields. It was the largest place that I had ever seen and I do not think that London would impress me as much today as did that tiny town of Victoria in 1866.
Conditions in the two Crown colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island were at a low ebb. The expense of maintaining two governments was heavy, and while Cariboo was producing a great deal of gold, there were thousands of disappointed men who had wasted their resources in futile combing of the hills and streams for the elusive metal.
The old governor—the Good Governor as Sir James Douglas was called—had retired with the merited honor of knighthood and was living in retirement. His force of character, strength and courage were found wanting in Governor Frederick Seymour, of New Westminster, who proved to be not so strong a man. Governor Arthur Kennedy of Vancouver Island was powerless to accomplish anything at all in the matter even if he had wished to do so.
So it was that when I arrived at Victoria, the matter of the union of the two colonies was the principal topic of discussion and this was effected a few months later. For some inexplicable reason the weaker of the two men, Seymour, was chosen to remain as governor of the united colony of British Columbia.
But to return from the political to the personal. I was met at the dock on my arrival by an official of the Hudson’s Bay Company who exclaimed a moment later, “Oh, I intended to make some purchases but failed to do so; would you secure these things for me?” and he gave me a list and some money.
At the time it seemed to be a strange proceeding, but of course I complied without comment. It was not until long after that I discovered that it was intended to test my bargaining ability. I was closely watched all the time and the manner in which I acted when buying was reported upon. Such was the thoroughness of the Company’s system; and it was a proper one too, for employees were entrusted with the conduct of many important matters and it was well that their abilities should be fully appreciated.
After a short stay at Victoria I was told to report at Fort Sheppard at the junction of the Pend d’Oreille and Columbia Rivers. Today, only a heap of stones marks the place where Fort Sheppard stood. The old chimney that for years marked the site after the buildings had been destroyed by fire, has collapsed, I am told. But in my day it was a brave little post. Unlike the majority of the Company’s forts it did not have a stockade or artillery mounted in bastions, but .yvas surrounded by a picket fence. ? .
Fort Colville, forty-five miles to the South, in United States territory, was the headquarters of the district. It had been established in the days when the flag of the Company had flown over Old Oregon, and when the boundary was settled by arrangement with the United States, it was continued in operation. Fort Sheppard was erected in the late Forties, I believe, just north of
the line, in British territory.
I joined the brigade
going in from Fort Hope over the hills and through the valleys to Keremeos. This old trail had been used in the days before the famous Cariboo Road was carved through the canyons above Y ale, opening a new route into the interior. The party was in charge of Roderick McLean, the commander of the Keremeos post, but his orders were to continue right through with the supplies for Fort Sheppard and the establishment at Wild Horse Creek, in the East Kootenay district near the present city of Cranbrook.
A great sight it was to see one of those old brigade trains of sixty or seventy, or even more, horses laden with merchandise heading over the hills for the isolated outposts of civilization, only to return in a few weeks bearing bundles of furs harvested from the wild life of the forests.
Joseph Hardisty was in charge of Fort Sheppard when I arrived. He was brother-in-law of Donald Smith, then an important figure in the councils of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and later to achieve distinction through the Empire as Lord Strathcona. Hardisty was a nice enough man but was more or less unfamiliar with the country or its methods, having been stationed for a considerable time at the Company’s post in the Sandwich Islands. This was his first “wintering” command.
Our train reached the fort to find it in considerable commotion, as no furs had yet been packed for shipment. McLeod proceeded on his way, leaving me behind. Most of the people at the fort were new recruits, and there was no one who understood how to pack pelts properly for shipment.
“How about young Allard?” asked one of the men. “He may know how to bale them.”
“What?” exclaimed Hardisty, “that boy !”
“Well, ask him, no one else knows how.”
“Can you bale furs?” demanded the officer turning to me.
“Yes, sir, I’ve been brought up in the service,” I replied with a touch of boyish pride.
“Thank God,” was the relieved expression of the post commander. “Get to work, then.”
I soon had a press made and by the time the brigade returned, our furs were ready to go out. This won for me the favor of Mr. Hardisty, but I had yet to win the favor of Chief Factor Angus Macdonald—and that in an entirely different manner.
Trial by Ordeal
CHIEF FACTOR MACDONALD was the officer in command of the district, and a wonderful man he was, too, with his great, broad shoulders, tremendous strength, unwavering eye and great black, bushy beard. A remarkable family were the Macdonalds of the Hudson’s Bay service. Ranald, nephew of Angus, whom I knew quite well, was the first white teacher in Japan. It would take too long to tell, at this time, the story of this amazing man and his wonderful adventures in captivity, and how his imprisonment was one of the factors that led to the opening of that hermit kingdom to the commerce of the World—but he was one of the family.
I was sent to Fort Colville to work on the books, it being part of my duty to look after the accountancy at both forts. I shall never forget my arrival there. Old Angus ruled over his domain like an old Highland chieftain. He was a great sportsman and would only keep athletes about the place. He would arrange the lists and sit like some old Scottish king of a thousand years before, delighting in the combat. A recruit sent from the coast to the district could make his choice; he must either race, wrestle or fight some champion of Macdonald’s choosing—and the loser was banished to the Pend d’Oreille, Wild Horse Creek, Keremeos or other distant post. Only champions could remain close to the person of the Laird of Colville.
It so happened that although I was small of stature, I was very quick and active, and in addition I had picked up considerable of the sciences of wrestling and boxing from the sportively inclined miners at Yalç,
When I reached Fort Colville and stabled my horse Macdonald looked me over carefully from beneath his bushy eyebrows.
“Can ye run-n-n?” he burred.
“A little, sir.”
“Umph! Can ye fight?”
“A little, sir.”
“Umph! Can ye wrestle?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
Mrs. Macdonald and his daughters crowded about the old gladiator. “He’s too small,” exclaimed one of the girls. “Don’t make him fight, he’ll get hurt.” This made me angry. My pride was injured. “I’ll fight, run, or wrestle to the best of my ability,” I exclaimed.
“Fine,” and he rubbed his hands together in high glee. “Here,” and he motioned to a young man, “Can ye beat him running?”
“I’ll try,” and in a few moments the race was on. I ran as I never ran before, for the young ladies were watching me and they had pitied me. The distance was right around the fort—and I won, to the intense delight of old Macdonald, and—I hoped—to the surprise and pleasure of the girls. But my success meant the discomfiture of my antagonist, who had to pack up and leave for one of the outlying posts.
Suffice it to say that I successfully came through the other endurance trials, beating a man much heavier than myself at wrestling and winning Macdonald’s approbation for my dexterity as a boxer. And so I won the friendship of the great Angus Macdonald—a friendship that remained until he himself was beaten by Father Time and went to the Post beyond this life.
When a few days later I left again for Fort Sheppard, it was with the admonition that I return soon, as he expected to have another bruiser for me to tackle. Incidentally he did, a big hulking United States soldier from the military garrison, but all the chap had was strength and size. He was clumsy and awkward, and I managed to keep clear of his swings and wear him down.
Fort Sheppard was built on a gravel flat, about fifty or sixty feet above the river. It consisted of the officers’ quarters, a building for the workmen, store and warehouses. Just why it had never been fortified I do not know, for the Indians were about as mean a lot as I had ever encountered. It was only due to their chief, a fine fellow named Grégoire, that they did not give us real trouble. He ruled his tribe with a rod of iron, and established a code of laws for his people which he strictly enforced. He was a friend of the whites and frequently dined, not only at our table, but also at that of the chief factor at Fort Colville.
An Unpleasant Customer
T WAS not long in finding out what sort of Indians we had for neighbors. There was a young fellow at the fort named Fred Lenfesty, who was anxious to become Indian trader when the man who occupied that position was transferred to another establishment.
“Well Fred,” I told him when he asked my opinion of his fitness for the work, “you must be very careful in dealing with Indians. Never have two prices for an article, and never under any circumstances let an Indian think you’re afraid of him.”
Fred obtained the position, and for a week or so everything went well. Then one day as I was working at my deri' an old Indian medicine-man who spent much of his time sitting on the floor of the office near me reached up and tugged at my trouser-leg and pointed out of the door. I looked up and saw Fred running for dear life across the fort yard with a big Indian named Kee-as-tem in hot pursuit. The Indian was brandishing a long-bladed knife.
I made a grab for my revolver but missed it; and then, as I sprang for the door, I tried to reach an ebony ruler but failed, so plunged out into the yard empty-handed. I raced after the pair as hard as I could and caught up with the Indian when he was only about a yard behind Fred. The big Redskin turned and made a thrust at me, but I was expecting it and was too quick for him.
I dodged to one side and catching his wrist, I wrenched the knife from his grasp, threw it on the ground and broke the blade by stepping on it. Then I booted the Indian out of the gate and down the pathway to the river.
That night, as I was walking across the yard about dusk, I felt something fly past me, grazing my coat. I looked down and as I did so, an arrow struck the inside of my coat which I had opened. I instantly knew that it was Kee-as-tem who wanted revenge for the kicking I had given him. I ran for my rifle, but when I returned he was nowhere to be found.
It was a year before I heard of that Indian again. Then one day his squaw came to me and told me that he was sick with a big lump on his abdomen. She wanted me to “look in the big medicine book” and then come and see him. He was camped just below the fort. I refused, telling her that he had tried to kill me, and I would have nothing to do with him. She went away, but returned half an hour later saying he was sorry and wanted me to prescribe white man’s medicine.
“Here’s my chance,” I said to myself, and I agreed to do as he wanted. I secured a tin of mustard, and with it made a mustard plaster nearly a yard square. Putting my revolver in my belt in case of treachery I went to see the invalid. He was in some pain from a growth of some sort on his stomach.
I covered his entire body with the plaster and told him that he must keep it there until the sun was in a certain position, which would be about three hours. Then I left him.
Half an hour later the squaw came and asked if he could remove the plaster as it was burning him. I refused. She came back again, and once more I refused; but when she came the third time I consented, and accompanied her to her bellowing spouse, for you could hear him for a quarter of a mile. I removed the plaster and when I saw his blistered hide, I knew that I had my revenge. I gave him a bottle of olive oil and left him. When Kee-as-tem was able to travel, he left the locality and never came back as long as I was about there.
I “doctored” another Indian, an Iroquois from the east, who threatened me while he was drunk. He wanted rum and I gave him some—with the addition of a generous helping of croton oil. After that, he was a strict prohibitionist until he met his death some time later by drowning.
A Breach of the Rules
TN 1867 I was given charge of the
Company’s store at Wild Horse Creek, where there had been a gold stampede two years before, and which was still yielding a large amount of precious dust.
There were two stores at Wild Horse Creek; or rather, one at Wild Horse for the miners, and another at Tobacco Plains for the Indians. Michael Phillips had been in charge of both, but as another man was required I was sent to take over the Wild Horse Creek stock. Later, Phillips resigned and I had charge of both.
There were many amusing and interesting times at the diggings, but space will not permit recital of them. One in-
cident, however, will bear telling, as I was guilty of upsetting all the traditions of the grand old Company from the time of its inception in 1670.
According to the Company’s rules, a man in charge of a post below the rank of chief factor could not make purchases involving more than £50—or, roughly, $250. I had a stock worth approximately $8,000, and this I disposed of to the miners, who were outfitting for the season, in a week. It was too late to send down to the coast and get another stock in from Victoria. I heard that some American pack trains were on the way in from Walla Walla; so I saddled my horse and rode off to meet them. I bought the whole outfit for $23,000 and gave orders for payment on the Company at Victoria.
Such a thing had never been heard of before. That fall I was surprised to see several of the members of the Board of Management from Victoria and a stranger coming up the trail. The stranger proved to be an official from England who was at the coast. All looked very serious.
They came into the store. “So you are the young man who has broken all the rules and precedents of the Company?” exclaimed the stranger by way of greeting.
“I don’t know about that, sir?”
“Didn’t you buy several pack trains and give bills on the Company for $23,000?” he demanded.
“Ruinous, ruinous,” he almost shouted, and then, “Where is all this stuff you bought, where is it?”
“I haven’t got it, sir.”
“What? You haven’t got it! Where is it then?”
“I sold it all, sir—at 200 per cent profit?”
“What’s that? What did you say? Two hundred per cent!” and a smile spread over his countenance. “Sold it all for two hundred per cent profit,” he muttered, “Ah, you’re the kind of a young man we want in the service,” and he patted me on the shoulder.
It was while making a trip from Wild Horse Creek to Fort Sheppard that I had one of the most trying experiences in my whole life. I was bringing down about $6,000 in currency and had the money and my revolver in the saddle-bags.
Going up the trail over Mt. Sheppard, which was fifty miles from the fort, I got off to ease my horse a bit. The animal took fright. I ran after him but he kept just ahead of me, and the harder I ran, the faster he went. Hour after hour he kept on. It was daylight when we started the mad race—for it was a mad race. I should have let him alone and he would have gone a little way and then probably would have stopped to graze. But the money was in the saddle-bags and my revolver was there, too. If I had had the weapon I would have shot the brute, so I just kept on running all day; nor did I catch up with and capture him until dusk of a long summer day, by which time we were almost at Fort Sheppard. I had run nearly fifty miles.
A Little Matter of Customs
I WAS in charge at Wild Horse for about a year and then I was recalled to take over Fort Sheppard, and Mr. Hardisty took up his quarters at Wild Horse.
I will never forget the day that I arrived back at Fort Sheppard. It was to find Mr. Hardisty in great excitement. The trail from Fort Hope through to Fort Sheppard was blocked with windfalls, and the Company’s brigade, under Mr. Hardisty’s brother, had started through United States territory. He had neglected to enter the brigade at the U.S. customs and obtain the necessary escort. Word of this had been forwarded to the U.S. customs officer at the Little Dalles on the Columbia, below Fort Sheppard, and he was preparing to seize the train.
“Jason,” exclaimed Mr. Hardisty, “if you can save that pack train you’ll get one hundred pounds.”
“All right,” I agreed, and set to work to scheme some way of getting it through.
There were several gamblers who were hanging about the establishment. I approached them and asked if they would like to" play a game. They would.
I furnished them with money and told them to go to the Little Dalles and engage the customs officers in a game, and that if they saw me come into the rough shanty that served for a hotel, not to recognize me.
I next saddled my horse and rode down the trail. This was on the opposite side of the river to the hotel. I went to some Indians there and made certain arrangements with them and then crossed over to the other side. I found the customs men and my friends the gamblers engaged in a game. I greeted them all and bought several rounds of drinks, spilling my own. When I saw that the liquor and the lure of the game had control of the officials, I ordered a room, went to it and continued out through the window. I ran down to the river and made a signal and an Indian came across for me in a canoe. On the other side my horse was saddled and waiting. I sprang to the saddle and headed down the trail as fast as the animal could go. After several hours riding I came up with the pack train just making camp.
“Quick,” I shouted, “pack up and get going as fast as you can.”
In a few minutes we were under way. It was just breaking daylight as we passed the Little Dalles, and saw the customs officers on the other side shaking their fists at us—for my arrangement with the Indians had been to bring across every boat, canoe, raft or anything capable of bearing a man, and they had done so.
The brigade—worth anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 was saved, but I never obtained my reward to this day. I expected that the hundred pounds would be placed to my credit with the Company, but evidently Hardisty never did so, and when I later left the service I found that such was the case.
A Mistake and its Sequel
ANOTHER incident of those happy days gave me quite a reputation about Fort Colville as the “Cheese King.”
My time was divided between my command at Fort Sheppard and my accountancy work at Fort Colville. It was at the latter place that Macdonald one day had me write out orders for the requirements of the fort.
“Put down 2,000 pounds of bacon,” he said, and I did.
“And 2,000 pounds of beans and 2,000 pounds of flour,” and so the ordering proceeded.
“Allard,” he said finally, “I think I would like a little cheese: better put down 200 pounds of cheese.”
When the order was completed, I gave him the book and he glanced over the list and signed it. We kept a black copy.
When several weeks later the long pack train approached, it was larger than I expected. The drivers started to unload the animals.
“What’s that?” queried the chief factor, indicating a package.
“Cheese,” I replied after investigation. “And that?”
“And those over there, they look to be much alike?”
“Good Lord, man,” he shouted, “how much cheese did you order?”
“Two hundred pounds.”
“Two hundred pounds—two hundred pounds! Get the book, there’s hundreds of pounds of it.”
When I ran for the book, it was to find that there had been a slight mistake. I had added an extra cipher and had ordered a full ton of cheese.
llacdonald was furious. He stormed and he raved, but he had signed the order. “Get the damnable ètuff out of my sight,” he finally bellowed, and I did so.
Where to put it—that was the question. I was just as anxious as he was to have the cursed stuff hidden. I ran into the warehouse and in my haste knocked over a barrel, an empty rum barrel. There were a score of them—just the thing.
I had the cheese carted into the warehouse, knocked in the heads of the barrels and, having filled them with cheese, had them placed in a corner of the big building and covered over with sacks.
That was the last I heard of cheese for months. One night, however, at supper Macdonald complained about the eternal sameness of the fare. “I’d like a change occasionally,” he said. “By the way, Allard, haven’t you some cheese?”
I acknowledged that I had.
“Where is it?”
“In the warehouse. You told me to put it away and I did.”
“Well, bring some.”
When I complied with his order and he had tasted it, a smile spread over his face. “My, what wonderful cheese!” he cried. “It’s the best I’ve ever tasted,” and he smacked his lips. “Here, Allard, have some.”
As soon as I tasted it, I knew the secret of his smile, for it was wonderful and no mistake. The flavor of the rum had impregnated the cheese and the combination was delicious. I’ve never come across such tasty cheese since.
And nothing would do but generoushearted old Macdonald must invite the officers from the U.S. garrison to sample the wonderful cheese. They too declared that never had they eaten better. “It’s Allard’s cheese,” boomed the chief factor when asked where he had procured it. Certainly he would sell some, and he instructed me to do so.
Never have I heard of such a run on cheese. The garrison demanded cheese, the odd visitors to the district wanted cheese, and the settlers and miners came to the fort to buy this wonderful product. It was not long, as might be expected, before the last barrel was emptied, and then the complaint and indignation of Macdonald were terrible to behold, and for the second time I was made miserable over that unhappy consignment.
IT WAS these American army officers who led to my leaving the Company’s service. I was young and rather flattered by their company, and I fear that their influence over me was none of the best.
Roderick Finlayson, chief factor in charge of the Western Department, and a grand old man if ever there was one—straight and honorable, and with a kindly interest in the young men of the service, had shown more than a passing regard for me. I was a good penman, and when he would come to our district on his tour of inspection he would bring with him important documents to have me copy for forwarding to London.
While I was so engaged one day at Fort Colville, several of the young officers from the garrison called me from my work, and as a result I made an error.
“Jason, my boy,” said the old gentleman in a kindly tone, “I fear you are letting those officers distract you,” and he proceeded to question me about my companionship with them.
Foolish youth that I was, I resented this proper and kindly interrogation.
“I’m afraid that we will have to transfer you to Keremeos,” he said at last.
“I won’t go,” I retorted hotly.
“Jason, you know what that means,” was his quiet answer. “You know the rules of the service.”
“Yes, and here is my resignation,” and I hastily wrote it out.
The old chief looked at me for a moment, and there was pity in his voice when he spoke, “My boy, think of what you are doing. Think of what your good father, my friend for thirty years, will think of this.”
“I don’t care,” I answered, “I did not want to enter the service, but he made me.”
In vain did he try and advise me, as a father might his son, but I would not listen. The next morning he came again to me and offered me my resignation back, insisting, however, that I must go to Keremeos. Again I refused, and so my resignation was accepted and I quitted the service of the Company where, if I had remained, promotion would have been speedily mine. I later discovered that it was intended to send me for a period to Keremeos, and then I was to be given Kamloops, one of the best posts in the service west of the Rockies.
I already had been shown great preferment, having at the age of nineteen been placed in full charge of a fort with men who had grown gray in the service of the Company under my charge, but I was too headstrong to appreciate my opportunities—and that is the common failing of youth.
Editor’s Note: This is th-e third of a series of articles by Mr. Allard and Mr. Mr Kelvie describing the former’s pioneering experiences in British Columbia. The fourth and concluding article will appear in an early issue.