Saturday, June 30, 2012

Did Fort Vancouver blacksmiths make beaver traps?

To most of the volunteers in the Fort Vancouver blacksmith shop, the answer is obvious: Of course they made beaver traps. It was their stock in trade. Any visitor to the smithy (that term refers to the building, not to the person who works there) can touch a beaver trap that was made in the shop by reenactors, see how it works, and hear the story of how iron bar stock imported from England was transformed into traps for distribution to the Company trapping brigades and traded to European-descended and native trappers.
            As with many things it turns out to be a little more complicated. Evidence suggests that early in Hudson's Bay Company's time at  Fort Vancouver all or most traps were probably made on site, in the blacksmith shop. As time went on, and clearly by the 1840s, more traps, and perhaps most, were made in factories in England and shipped to Fort Vancouver to be traded directly or distributed to Company trapping brigades.  Making beaver traps on site probably continued, but may have given way increasingly over time to importing them from England ready to be used. There was surely plenty to keep blacksmiths busy supporting construction projects, the farming and sawmill operations, ship repair, and similar activities.
In order to determine what to order on annual supply ships the HBC conducted inventories of the stock on hand in the Spring of each year. Clerks were careful to list goods imported from Europe separate from country made articles produced on site in Columbia District workshops. The inventory for 1832 listed 36 beaver traps among the country made items on hand in the Indian Trade Shop(1) at Fort Vancouver, valued at 11 shillings each.(2) In the inventory for 1841 the list of country made items included “24 beaver traps.” Among the inventory of imported goods on hand at Fort Vancouver in Spring 1843 were “64 beaver traps complete with chains.” The inventory of country made items on hand in Spring 1844 listed “21 beaver traps.” Among the imported goods on hand in the Fort Vancouver Indian Trade Shop in the Spring of 1844 were “43 beaver traps complete with chains.”(3) Are we confused yet?
     One thing seems clear: by the 1840s both country made and imported traps were commonly in use.
The inventories are useful, but limited: They list stock on hand, but not the quantities imported from England in any given year, nor the amounts sold or traded in any given year. But there is a full listing available of “Goods shipped from London aboard the Barque Brothers and received at fort Vancouver in 1844 for the Columbia Department Outfit 1845.”(4) For anyone interested in the material culture and economic history of Fort Vancouver, it is an amazing document, listing thousands of individual items in that single shipment, along with the quantity, per unit cost to the Company, and the total value of each item group. I’ll be mining it for other blogposts in the future, but for now I’m looking at page 1,408. Between 41 ¾ dozen “assorted children’s toys” and 1/2 dozen “japanned tin snuffer trays” I see 700 beaver traps without springs @ 2 shillings 9 pence per unit, total cost £96.5.0; followed by 200 pairs of springs for beaver traps @ 2 shillings 11 pence per pair, total cost £11.13.4. It’s hard to tell how many new traps needed to be acquired in the Columbia district in any given year, but that sounds like a lot of beaver traps. If one trapper needed, say, 7 traps for his yearly outfit, then 100 trappers could be equipped from that single shipment from English factories in 1844.
What about the cost of these items so central to HBC’s fur trading corporate identity? The 11 shillings for a country made trap in 1832 compares to 5 shillings 8 pence for a factory made trap in 1844 (combining the cost of a pair of springs and the cost of the trap without springs). For any business that was focused on the bottom line, the choice of suppliers would have been obvious.
(1) Accounts for the Fort Vancouver Indian Trade Shop, which included branches at Ft. George (the former Ft. Astoria abandonded by HBC in 1825 but reopened in 1829) and Ft. Umpqua (established in 1832) were kept separate from accounts for Fort Vancouver Depot. We might think of the Depot as the regional distribution and collection center for the entire Columbia District while the Indian Trade Shop, also located at Fort Vancouver, was the retail trading post for the lower Columbia, Willamette Valley, and southwestern Oregon.

(2) Compare this to the trade value of one prime beaver pelt in 1837 of 10 shillings, reported in the blogpost entitled “How much was a beaver pelt worth?” below. The 1832 inventory also lists country made beaver traps on hand at Ft. Langley, Ft. Nez Perce, and other interior posts, at the same per-unit cost. It is included in “Account Books 1832-34," HBC Archives B.223/d/16-40, which is on microfilm reel IM 617 in the Fort Vancouver NHS Library.

(3) Extracts from these inventories are in John A. Hussey, Fort Vancouver Historic Structures Report, vol. 2, Chapter 2.

(4) The full list of the 1844 shipment is in Lester A. Ross, “Fort Vancouver, 1829-1860: A Historical Archaeological Investigation of the Goods Imported and Manufactured by the Hudson’s Bay Company,” (Typescript, Fort Vancouver NHS, 1976), pp. 1,384-1,410. In his main text (p. 1,115) Ross provides archaeological evidence that traps and trap parts were both country made and imported, and provides illustrations of artifacts showing both origins, pp. 1,120-1,137. But Ross does not comment on a possible shift from one to the other source over time. If Archaeological evidence indicates that country made traps were more common than imported traps, that could be the result of the origin of most of the archaeological evidence: the site of the blacksmith shop where country made traps were actually made. We might expect that most imported traps went from supply ships to trading posts to beaver ponds on mountain streams, bypassing the blacksmith shop--and the archaeological record--altogether.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Since animal pelts were the driving force of Hudson's Bay Company operations, it seems odd that we don’t have more information on how many, of what species, were harvested over time. The beaver was the prime target and surpassed all others, but they may have accounted for less than half of all skins taken in the Columbia District, of which Fort Vancouver was HBC’s headquarters from 1824 to the mid-1840s. We don’t hear much about the lowly muskrat in the heroic lore of the fur trade, but in some times and places it was not far behind the beaver and was right up there with the otter in overall numbers taken. In one of the few years for which we have a fairly complete listing of the furs shipped from Fort Vancouver the muskrat, in fact, pulled ahead of the beaver.(1)
            On November 20, 1843 Chief Factor John McLoughlin signed a list of items sent to London on the HBC ship Vancouver. The shipment consisted of furs, hides, and other items harvested or received in trade over the entire Columbia District, and collected at Fort Vancouver for tabulation, final packing, and shipment. Some were from Outfit 1842(2) that had arrived at Ft. Vancouver too late to make the ship a year earlier, but most of this shipment were returns for Outfit 1843.
            The table below shows the contents of the November 1843 shipment, with the animal species ranked in descending order:

ANIMAL         NUMBER(3)
Muskrat                  17,438                    
Beaver                    14,820                    
Marten                      9,449                    
Mink                        7,671                    
Deer                         2,161                    
Wolf                         1,904                    
Bear                          1,828                    
Raccoon                   1,663                    
Land Otter                1,028                    
Sea Otter                     214                    
Fisher                          668                    
Fox                              756                    
Lynx                            551                    
Badger                         523                    
Wolverine                    195                    
Seal                             169                    
Goat                              72                    
Elk                                   4                    
Mountain Lion                4  
TOTAL                  61,118                    

The following items were also from across the Columbia District and included in the same shipment:
Castoreum                                     236.5 lbs (How many beaver glands to get this much?)
Beaver Coating                              177 lbs
Feathers, goose & partridge          341 lbs  (How many feathers in 341 pounds?)
Isinglass                                        325 lbs
Pieces of various animal skins      116
    (partial or damaged)

So how much was all this worth?
 Chief Factor McLoughlin assigned a value for this entire shipment of £36,348.16.2 (36,348 pounds, 16 shillings, and 2 pence). My favorite online inflation calculator, Measuring Worth, suggests that would be roughly £2,780,000 today, or in today’s dollars something like $4,420,000. Four million four hundred and twenty thousand dollars.

(1) It should be kept in mind, however, that the average muskrat is much smaller than the average beaver, so it would take many muskrat pelts to make as much fur for felt as could be obtained from one beaver. According to one HBC list, in 1843 and 1844 one prime beaver pelt in the Columbia District was equal in trade value to 15 muskrat pelts; John A. Hussey, Fort Vancouver Historic Structures Report, vol. 2 (see note 3 below for access and retrieval link), p. 57.

(2) The HBC term Outfit referred to what today we could call the fiscal or business year, which normally ran from June 1 to May 31. In some years the furs and other items collected at a given trading post (called returns in HBC terminology) for a given Outfit might not make it to Fort Vancouver in time to be put aboard the annual ship to London until the following year, but for accounting purposes returns were recorded in the Outfit year in which they were received.

(3) Source: John A. Hussey, Fort Vancouver Historic Structures Report, vol. 2 (1976), chap. 1, available online at:
This digitized version has the advantage of being searchable on any text string, but has no page numbers. This same information also appears on pp. 33-34 of Hussey’s typescript of April 1976:
This page-by-page scan can be downloaded to your hard drive, but cannot be searched except with that old scanning tool—your eyes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Who worked at Fort Vancouver?

Many visitors seem to be impressed by how many people made up the community in and around Fort Vancouver during its heyday as the headquarters of Hudson's Bay Company’s Columbia District. Or maybe this is an impression reinforced in the craft shops, where volunteer blacksmiths and carpenters reenact and interpret the role of the laboring classes. 

     One number that appears here and there in NPS informational material is the total population of the Village, the collection of habitations extending from the boat basin on the bank of the Columbia river up along the western side of the Fort proper. We are given to understand that there were "upwards of 600 inhabitants" at the high point, with appropriate emphasis on the ethnic diversity of the Village population dependent in some way on HBC activities, but which lived outside the stockade.(1) That figure, of course, includes women, children, and probably some free trappers, Native relatives, and others who do not appear in HBC employment records.

     So if there were as many as 600 people in the Village, how many were on the HBC payroll? And what jobs were represented?

     I was recently browsing in HBC archival material available here on microfilm, and came across a series of tables laid out in rows for job titles and columns for each HBC establishment west of the Rockies. These “Abstracts of Servants in the Columbia Department,” are yearly listings of all the contract employees (Servant in English, Engagé in French) for all the HBC installations in the Department.(2) Note that the Commissioned Gentlemen or Officer class, which included the ranks of Chief Factor, Chief Trader, and the Captains of Company ships, are not included in these numbers. The table below summarizes the information for the 1840s, showing all Company personnel in the Servant class for the entire Columbia Department, then the total number just for Fort Vancouver itself, and the number of those who were in job classification of "Laborer." As you see, about 3/4 of all Servants/Engagés  at Fort Vancouver were classed as Laborers, with no further distinction:

            Columbia Dept.            Fort Vancouver(2)
Year           Total                   Total          Laborers
1840            545                     134            103 (77%)
1841            609                     174            145 (83%)
1846            560                     198            155 (78%)           
1847            549                     161            116 (72%)
1848            513                     147            110 (75%)

Some of the details in these tables are hard to recover due to faded ink and fuzzy microfilm, and trying to present them all would soon result in a confusion of data, or number overload. The table for 1844 is in darker ink and a steady hand, and I recorded the complete list of Servants by job title(3) for the entire District, to get an idea of how they break down:

1844                      Columbia Dept.          Ft. Vancouver(4)
Clerks                                 27                       5
Postmasters                        11                      4
Ship’s officers                     10                       0
Interpreters                          15                       0
Guides                                  3                        0
Boutes*                              16                        2
Laborers                            424 (71%)        170 (85% of all Servants at the Fort)
Blacksmiths                        10                        5
Boatbuilders                         8                        1
Carpenters                            4                        1
Coopers**                            8                        3
Sailors & sloopers              40                         3
Stewards                              5                         1
Millwrights                           1                          1
Apprentices                        17                        3
TOTAL SERVANTS       599                    199 (33% of all Servants in the Department)

* “Boute” was the French Canadian term for the steersman in charge of a York Boat. As an HBC job title it indicates what we might call a crew chief of such a boat, requiring more experience and command presence than the rank-and-file paddlers, who were in the Laborer category.
** Coopers were skilled craftsmen who made and repaired barrels of various sizes and kinds, in which many items were shipped over long distances.

In addition to the large proportion of Servants lumped in the Laborer category, it is interesting to note that Clerks, Postmasters, Ship's Officers, and Interpreters, even though they were what would be called today non-manual or white collar employees, and at Fort Vancouver they normally had living quarters inside the stockade, were Servants like all the rest. Among the men in the crafts, there were more Coopers than Carpenters in these years. And half of the Blacksmiths in the entire Columbia District were based at Fort Vancouver.

It would also be useful to have yearly salaries for the various job titles, but that information is not in these lists.  More research.

(1) If you have not explored the Park website lately, it's certainly worth another look. It has a new layout and lots of information, even if you need to click through a several links to get to where you want to go. If you start from the home page the pathway to an impressive array of Historical Studies, most of which are PDF files you can download to your own computer, is:  History & Culture --> Collections --> Research --> Online Publications --> Historical Studies. Sort of like a digital version of archaeology.

(2) The catalog designation in the HBC Archives is B.223/z/l. But if you’re using the microfilm of the archival material in the Library of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located in the upper floor of the Fur Warehouse building, this material is on Reel No. 1M1672, “Miscellaneous Items, 1824-60,” right after the profit-and-loss figures for 1849 and 1850, and before a series of individual wage accounts of ship crewmen.

(3) This is a complete list of the job titles that show up in these tables. Others might have spent most of their time in specific tasks, in which they gained some skill and expertise, but they were lumped into the Laborer category. Whatever generic tasks they actually worked at, laborers were often called "middlemen" in HBC personnel records, from the time when most of them occupied the middle positions in canoe crews.

(4) These numbers are for the Fort Vancouver Depot, referring to the administrative unit of the headquarters post for the Columbia Dept. Also located at Fort Vancouver but administratively separate was Fort Vancouver Indian Trade, which in 1844 employed 13 Servants, including 3 clerks and 10 Laborers, who handled trade at what we might think of as the retail level in the lower Columbia River (Ft. Vancouver and Ft. George--previously Astoria, and southwestern Oregon (Ft. Umpqua).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How was the northern border of California set?

A good number of visitors to Fort Vancouver seem to wonder why it flew the British flag (inside the HBC flag). That often brings mention of the the Treaty of Joint Occupancy of October 1818, including the usual phrase, “from the ridge of the Rockies to the Pacific, and from California to Alaska.” If the visitors are from California one of my favorite questions is to ask them if they know when the northern border of California was set, and how. So far I have not had a correct response. It seems to be one of those questions that isn’t a question until it is asked. The answer, it turns out, has more to do with Seminole raids from Florida into Georgia than it does with surveying a line across the Siskiyou Mountains. The quick version:
            In March 1818 Andrew Jackson took it upon himself to invade northern Florida in what is called the first Seminole war. At the time Florida was under Spanish possession, but hardly control. Spain was exhausted from a destructive decade of the Napoleonic wars, during which most of its American colonies had declared independence. There were few Spaniards living in Florida and it was more trouble than it was worth to Spain, which was ready to trim its losses and give it to the USA. “But wait,” the Spaniards in effect said to the Americans, “While we’re putting those useless swamps and troublesome Seminoles in your hands, let’s settle the poorly defined border between the Louisiana territory you bought from France in 1803, and our Mexican colony to the west.” US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Spanish Foreign Minister Luis de Onís began trading proposals, resulting in the Adams-Onís treaty of February 1819 which established the border shown in the red line in this map:
 The treaty set the northern border of what became the states of Utah, Nevada, and California at the 42nd parallel of north latitude. That line was more than 300 miles north of Sonoma, Spain’s northernmost settlement in California, which probably seemed to the Spaniards like plenty of buffer zone.
            Before the 1819 treaty Spain still claimed rights in principle over the entire west coast of North America, based on a papal grant dating from 1493. They had tried to make good on that claim as far north as Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in 1789-90, but the intruding British managed to chase them off, and they pulled back to central California. By the Adams-Onís Treaty the king of Spain gave the United States, “all his rights, claims, and pretensions to any Territories, East and North of the said Line, and . . . renounces all claim to the said Territories forever.” That was the first basis in international law for a claim by the United States to a piece of the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and the adjacent mainland--Lewis and Clark in 1805 and the Astorians in 1811 had no prior legal basis for being west of the Rockies.  So the treaty with Spain that fixed the California border also provided a legal precedent for eventual US claims in its dispute with Great Britain over Oregon Country/Columbia District, finally settled in the Oregon Treaty of 1846.
            Here’s an interesting tidbit: The first Spanish proposal in the back-and-forth had a line extending from the ridge of the Rockies along the 41st parallel to the headwaters of the Willamette River, then following the Willamette north to its mouth (present site of Portland), and from there down the Columbia to the Pacific.* If that proposal had been accepted and then held, and if the British had later managed to make the Columbia river the southern border of their Canadian colony, then the people in West Portland (and everyone on the west side of the Willamette River) would be speaking Spanish, people in East and North Portland would fly the Stars & Stripes and celebrate the 4th of July, and the population of Vancouver, WA and Seattle would be saying "aboot" and welcoming William and Kate as the future king and queen of their country. The USA would have had no territory bordering anywhere on the Pacific Ocean. But that didn’t happen.

* William E. Weeks, John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1992), p. 161.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How much was a beaver pelt worth?

One of the questions I get now and then from visitors to Fort Vancouver is some version of “how much was a beaver pelt worth?” This is even more important if we consider that in trade with natives and trappers a common unit of value within the HBC trading network was the "made beaver" meaning the value of a prime adult beaver pelt ready for market. It might seem strange given the importance of beaver pelts in the whole HBC story, but the answer is harder to find, and more difficult to understand in modern terms, than we might think. It involves, first, what monetary value might have been put on beaver pelts in British currency, and how such a number changed over the two centuries from 1670 to 1870 when HBC's main focus was the fur trade. There was also change from place to place: We can’t assume that a pelt turned into York Factory on Hudson’s Bay was given the same value as a similar beaver skin traded at Fort Vancouver. Once we have a figure in British currency, most of us would like to have that converted into U.S. dollars. Since the old adage that “a dollar isn’t worth what it used to be” is all too true, we would also like to know the rough equivalent of the dollar value then with the dollar now. People who brought furs to HBC often received trade goods in return rather than monetary credit, so it would also be useful to know how much those goods cost the Company to acquire. And this is all at the first level of getting furs from those who trapped them, not considering how much HBC received for each pelt in the wholesale fur markets of London or New York. The difference between what they paid out to acquire a fur, and what they received when they sold that fur that eventually went into a felt hat, minus their operating expenses, determined HBC’s profits.

I wouldn’t string you along this far without providing at least a start at an answer. To do that I need to give a little background on my source: William A. Slacum.  Slacum was a purser in the U.S. Navy whose trip to the Pacific Northwest was commissioned by President Andrew Jackson. For his travels he adopted a civilian persona and the profession of trader, either to help pay for the trip, or as cover to its true purpose of reconnaisance ordered by the US government, or both. After traveling across Mexico he made it to Hawaii where he hired a ship, the "Loriot"  with its crew, purchased enough supplies to appear to be a trader, sailed for  the Columbia River, and stayed in this area from late December 1836 to early February 1837.
Slacum’s report was published as John Forsyth and William A. Slacum, “Slacum’s Report on Oregon, 1836-7,” Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 2 (June 1912), pp. 175-224. Here is a passage from page 191:

“The price of a beaver skin in the ‘Columbia district’ is ten shillings, $2, payable in goods at 50 per cent on the invoice cost. Each skin averages one and a half pound, and is worth in New York or London $5 per pound; value $7.50. The beaver skin is the circulating medium of the country.”

Lots of stuff in these few lines: 1) The “made beaver” unit functioned as a sort of currency. 2) The value of a made beaver in the Columbia District in 1837 was 10 shillings, or half of one British Pound. 3) The exchange rate with the U.S. dollar was 5 shillings to the dollar, or one £1= $4.00. 4) Once the furs reached the wholesale fur markets of New York or London they were measured in bulk by weight, not by the individual pelt. 5) A pelt that cost HBC $2 at Fort Vancouver would bring something like $7.50 on the wholesale fur market. Finally, 6) Slacum mentions the important detail that the value of the goods the Company exchanged to obtain the fur was calculated at what HBC paid for those goods, plus a 50% markup. For example, let’s say a trapper wanted a point blanket. He brought in a prime beaver pelt, worth 10 shillings. The trader said “You’re in luck. This 3-point blanket is worth 10 shillings, exactly the value of your pelt.” But the Company paid just 6 shillings 8 pence for that blanket, and added 50% on its cost to come up with the 10 shillings trade value.(1) HBC made money at both ends—on the trade by which it acquired pelts, and on the sale of those pelts to the brokers who sold them to the hat makers.

So how much would $2 in 1837 be worth today? There are inflation calculators online to do the heavy lifting here. My favorite is Measuring Worth because it explains how the various results are derived, and gives some hints on how to interpret them. (It also provides historical conversion rates from British £ to American $.) Long story short, the $2 value of a beaver pelt of 1837 would be something like $48 today. And the $7.50 that HBC might have received in London works out to about $176 in today’s money.

I’ll close by asking anyone who has more information on this topic, or can suggest other sources that might provide a basis for responding when Fort visitors ask “how much was a beaver pelt worth?” to let me know, either via the comment box below or by direct email to tomholloway62(at)   Of course, any other questions or comments are also welcome.
(1) This is a hypothetical example for purposes of illustration. For more on what HBC paid for point blankets in 1843, see the posting on "The HBC Blanket Capot: Tradition Continues" above. And for more on what a Native trapper could receive in trade goods for one Made Beaver see the posting on "What was a 'Made Beaver' worth?" above.

"Fort Facts" document online

For a while now I've been tinkering with a document that includes information about Fort Vancouver, particularly the reenactment blacksmith shop and carpenter shop, with some context on the history of the Hudson's Bay Company, the Park site, and related matters. The piece is called "Fort Facts" with the subtitle "Useful Interpretive Information for Craft Shop Volunteers at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site." Anyone can access the document by clicking on THIS LINK.
          Or you can download it in PDF (Portable Document Format) by clicking on the arrow to the right of the PDF version listed with other documents stored here .

         This started as an effort to provide volunteers in the craft shops with information they could use in talking to visitors, and/or responding to questions those visitors often ask. It is a series of bits and pieces of information presented as bullet points and grouped by topic, not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of any given subject area. At the end there are a few items for suggested further reading, for anyone who would like to find out more.

          Anyone interested in finding out what other online information is available on Fort Vancouver, the Columbia District/Oregon Country, and the Hudson's Bay Company activities west of the Rockies on the first half of the 1800s would do well to take a look at a more recent posting on this blog, "Fort Vancouver Online."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where was HBC's sawmill?

In the literature relating to Fort Vancouver there seems to be some uncertainty as to the site where the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) built their water-powered sawmill, which was in operation as of 1828. Reproductions circulate of a painting by John Mix Stanley dating from c. 1853, showing the mill beside a stream next to a bluff:

 But the location is not further identified.
      If you travel on the old Evergreen Highway along the Columbia River, about 6 miles east of Fort Vancouver and just east of the present Interstate 205 bridge, you will find a large sign between the highway and the railroad track, across the road from the existing Columbia Springs Trout Hatchery:

It seems that whoever placed this sign was fairly certain of the location of the sawmill, and the distance from the Fort jibes with 19th-century accounts.
   The bluff depicted in Stanley's painting is still visible above the stream, but the construction of the trout hatchery (by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s) has drastically altered the landscape and probably obliterated most of whatever archaeological evidence there might be for the old sawmill.
          More on the early history of the Fort Vancouver sawmill can be found in the Cultural Landscape Report on the Park's website.

          There is an excellent article on the history of the Fort Vancouver sawmills in the HBC magazine "The Beaver," which has been digitized and made available online. The article by Donald Clark is called "Sawmill on the Columbia," published in June, 1950. Just click on the title to read it and/or save it to your hard drive.

Why the name?

I think most bloggers either spend a lot of mental energy coming up with a unique and figurative name for their blog to capture the essence of what they want to accomplish, or else they give the effort a name that is descriptive, stodgy, and commonplace. I wrung my hands for a while in search of the perfect blog name, and ended up somewhere between capturing an essence and stodgy description. I hope it's obvious that the "fur fort" part refers to Fort Vancouver in the fur trade era, without appropriating the name in a way that might lead anyone to connect this in some formal or official way with the US National Park Service or the  Fort Vancouver National Historic Site . The "fun" part is meant to suggest that I intend this to be informal, informative, and useful for those interested in these matters, without a lot of the ponderous academic jargon and complication that we see in the sort of historical writing that allows serious scholars in one ivory tower to talk to serious scholars in other ivory towers, but which leaves out or turns off a lot of the general public. The "facts" part, however, means that I hope to keep up the standards of accuracy and objectivity that historians strive to achieve when the write about the past. It does not mean that I want to stick strictly to listing "facts" in isolation, with no effort to provide some context or to understand what those facts mean in connection to other information and things we care about or want to know more about. Also, as Alex Trebek might appreciate, the name I came up with is alliterative--by using four short words that start with the same sound it's fairly easy to remember, in case anyone wants to go back for more, or share the name with others who might be interested.


This blog will focus on historical information related to Fort Vancouver, the Hudson's Bay Company headquarters in the Columbia District (as HBC called the Oregon country), the territory from the ridge of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and from Russian-held Alaska (southern border at 54 degrees 40 minutes north latitude) to Mexican California (northern border along the 42nd parallel of north latitude). The time focus is from 1824, when HBC moved its Columbia District headquarters to the Vancouver site, to 1846, when the boundary between US territory and British-held territory was fixed at the 49th parallel, and HBC moved its District headquarters to Ft. Victoria, on Vancouver island. But the time span is flexible on both ends, starting with European exploration of the northwest coast of North America in the 1770s and ranging down to about 1860, when the last HBC employees left the site of Fort Vancouver. (Note that Fort Vancouver, now surrounded by the city of Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia river, is related to the much larger city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada only by their shared name. The first settlement at what is now Vancouver, B.C. dates from 1862.)