Selecting a Character
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ART. III. Living History — Selecting a Character

Being a discussion of some characters to portray during reenactments.

A character can be a very useful tool to re-enactors. If you have a firm idea of what kind of person you are going to portray, and from what period, it can help you avoid confusion that could lead to costly or embarrassing mistakes in your portrayal. Over the summer many club members have asked for pointers on what kind of character they should try to depict. To help answer their questions, the following is a portrait—in very broad strokes—of some of the characters of the fur trade before 1821.

Mountain Man

One of the most popular characters in the U.S. is the American Mountain Man or 'buckskinner'. Such a look is characterized by a complete wardrobe made from buckskin, usually in an Indian style—war shirt, breech-clout, leggings, moccasins, etc., with a fur hat and lots of quillwork or beadwork.

This look tends to be what people can drift into when they first get into living history, especially since we get much our information from the States.

There is nothing wrong with depicting a mountain man. Just remember that mountain men were American free trappers, (not traders, part of the reason the Indians hated them so much), and they date to the 1830's. Any mountain man who successfully evaded the Blackfoot and their allies and made it as far north as Rocky Mountain House or Fort Augustus with his load of furs would doubtless become a major celebrity — as far as I know, none of them even tried.

In general, traders in the Northwest did not 'go native' or even wear native dress, as this quotation from the Mandan journal of Mr. Charles McKenzie (July, 1806) illustrates :

'I heard my name called at the door of the lodge by a voice which was familiar, and enquiring if I was within. I hastened to the door, dressed as I was in the Indian costume, and was much surprised at seeing Mr. Charles Chabollez, [Jr.], Mr. Alexander Henry [the younger], and Mr. Allen Macdonel [sic], accompanied by three men. Their first salutation was a reproach at my dress...' (cited in Henry, 346)

Alexander Henry the Younger has this interesting comment about another man who was in the Mandan villages in 1806 :

'This man [Canadian Rene Jussaume] has resided among the Indians for upward of fifteen years, speaks their language tolerably well, and has a wife and family who dress and live like the natives. He retains the outward appearance of a Christian, but his principles are much worse than those of a Mandan.' (Henry, 333)

While at the Old Fort William Rendezvous this summer, we learned that while many people start out as 'buckskinners', they tend to abandon the mountain man character as they learn more about our history. Of the 250 participants, I can only recall three who were in buckskins — two were outstanding buffalo hunters from America, and one man had an excellent Mandan costume.

Background : A Tale of Two Companies (more or less)

To understand the characters in the Northwest fur trade, it is necessary to know a little about the two main interests in the fur trade before 1821 — the Hudson's Bay Company ; and the Montreal-based traders, such as the North West Company, XY Company, and other 'pedlars from Quebec'. Each group had a very distinctive corporate culture that defined the roles of everyone in their respective companies.

In 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company was granted a monopoly on the fur trade from all the land draining into Hudson's Bay. This was called Rupert's Land and is most of modern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northern Ontario. The HBC had little competition in the fur trade in these areas at first, but slowly French traders worked their way inland from Montreal to the Great Lakes and then inland as far as Saskatchewan. The French fur trade was curtailed during the Seven Years' War, but within a decade after the Conquest of 1760 the French routes were being used by Montreal traders again. The Montreal-based traders often had partnerships. One partner was in the canoe trading with the Indians and another partner would be in Montreal organizing the trade goods and selling the furs. Around 1776, more and more of these small partnerships joined up to form the North West Company. (The North West Company was so named because they traded in the 'North West', which extended from modern Thunder Bay to the Rocky Mountains.)

Voyageur : Pork-eater (Mangeur du Lard)

The 'pork-eater' was usually a French farmer's son who signed up to work for a summer as a voyageur. They usually did not go farther west than Rainy Lake (Lac la Pluie), and returned to Montreal before winter set in. They were called pork-eaters because they subsisted on rations provided by the company : salt pork, hardtack biscuits, and some dried peas. In the North West Company, voyageurs' wages included 'equipments' as well as money. A pork-eater was equipped with a pair of trousers, a shirt, and a blanket (Mackenzie, 83). The shirt and trousers would be the usual sort worn in Lower Canada at this time. As well, pork-eaters would supply any additional clothes they wanted or needed. Shoes might be home-made moccasins or stout ox-hide shoes. Handkerchiefs, a waistcoat, belt, hat, and additional shirts and trousers might be brought along.

Voyageur : Hivernant, Homme du Nord, North Man

Anyone travelling west of Rainy Lake from Montreal could not return to Montreal before winter set in. Voyageurs who spent the winter in the Northwest considered themselves to be tougher than the pork-eaters. After all, pork-eaters did not have to survive the harsh winter in a wilderness full of savages, far from the comforts of hearth and home. Hivernants (winterers in English) prided themselves on their bravery, strength, and endurance. Hivernants were paid more than pork-eaters, and got two pairs of trousers, two shirts, two handkerchiefs, and two blankets as part of their wages. Each year brought some 'summer men' to the Northwest posts. These were voyageurs who were about to spend their first winter in the interior. By and large, the hivernant was the seasoned voyageur of the Northwest. He saw many friends and acquaintances die — drowned, frozen, starved, stabbed, or 'busted a gut' two thousand miles from home. He may have put down roots in the North West. He may have had a country wife and children, and have Indians for close friends and in-laws. Although he and his family got clothing free from the NWC every year as part of his wages, he wore the moccasins his wife made for him, and his pipe bag and shot pouch and so on may have been decorated with his wife's beadwork or quillwork. When he was ready to retire from the Company's employment, he may have received permission to stay in the Northwest with his family as a freeman, trapping beaver and trading them to the Company. Or he might return home to Lower Canada.

Orkney Canoe Man

The Hudson's Bay Company had two main classes of employees : officers (management, in modern terms) and servants. One of the most important groups of servants in the HBC were the Orkney canoe men.

The HBC had little success recruiting Canadians to paddle their canoes. Instead of voyageurs, the men paddling HBC canoes were 'canoe men', mostly recruited from the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. (The Orkney port of Stromness was the last port of call for HBC ships before crossing the Atlantic.) Life in the Orkneys was tough and cold, and the Orkneymen proved themselves more suited to the conditions in Rupert's Land than Londoners. Orkneymen were considered more sensible and hardworking by their English employers than the rash and indolent French Canadians. Orkneymen were also seen as likely to smuggle and too prone to protect each other from the Company.

An Orkneyman was recruited for a five-year term of service, and had no living expenses during that period, since food and housing were provided by the HBC. A canoe man might start out his first term of service with the firm intention of saving every penny of his modest salary and coming home with a nest egg. He would often start out at a post on Hudson's Bay. When he had more experience, he might move to an inland post. He would try to pinch every penny he could. He might fall in love with an Indian or mixed-blood woman and get married (with or without the blessings of the Company). At the end of his term, he could return to the Orkneys with his nest egg. If he decided to stay on, he would get a bonus for signing on for another five-year stint and could build up enough money for a comfortable retirement back home.

The laborers and canoe men were provided with cotton shirts, frocks (large overshirts used to keep clothes clean during dirty tasks), and trousers made of Russia duck (cotton canvas?) or Russia sheeting (a linen twill also used for tents). The duck and Russia sheeting trousers were especially important for the workers at the inland posts. They were also supplied with 'blue common cloth', possibly for making waistcoats and jackets. Some HBC posts had tailors who sewed clothing for the Indian trade and for the men (Johnson, 97, 118, 125). HBC policy was always firmly against clothing their servants' wives and children at company expense. This suggests that country wives of Orkney canoe men would be more likely to dress in the Indian style than their NWC counterparts, due to the expense of dressing them in the European manner.

Tradesmen

Skilled workers were needed at the posts for many special tasks. Tradesmen ('mechanics') were paid more than canoe men and laborers. At the North West Company's major fort at Grand Portage, tradesmen were allowed the same rations as wintering partners, clerks, guides, and interpreters, but they weren't allowed to eat with them in the Great Hall (Mackenzie, 98).

Tradesmen generally had several roles. They would help at the fort along with the other men. They would also use their skills to make trade goods and articles needed by the fort. Blacksmiths made trade goods such as awls, fire steels, and gun worms, and did work for the fort and traders, such as making & repairing hinges and axes, making nails, and repairing guns. Coopers were needed to make kegs for the Indians to take away liquor in. Tailors sewed coats and other clothes for the Indian trade, and made clothes for the traders when they had free time. Carpenters were brought in for major construction jobs like building Fort William. Boat builders made boats for both the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company after about 1795.

Tradesmen dressed similarly to voyageurs, but because they were paid a little better than the voyageurs, they may have dressed a little better. For safety reasons, they would have been more inclined to wear shoes instead of moccasins. They would also be likely to wear a leather apron, 'frock' (smock), or both, to protect their clothes while working at their trade.

Company Clerk

Both the British and Montreal-based companies needed clerks to keep track of credit extended to individual Indians and to make sure that the trade goods were shipped to the right posts. To be a clerk, you had to be able to read, write, and do sums, which set the clerks apart from the voyageurs. Clerks were paid more than the canoe men, voyageurs, and laborers, and might find themselves in charge of a small fur post once they had enough experience in the fur trade. In the North West Company, clerks were called commis and could become wintering partners one day. Many Orkneymen could read, write, and figure, and some were promoted from canoe men and laborers to clerks (most notably, William Tomison, who rose to be in charge of all HBC operations in Rupert's Land). But the HBC was run out of London by a Governor and Committee of shareholders, so an HBC clerk did not have the same hope of advancing to the top of the company as his NWC counterpart.

Both companies considered their clerks to be gentlemen, and they were expected to dress and act the part. They tried to follow the fashion of the middle- or upper-class English. Clerks would be able to afford more clothing and slightly more expensive fabrics than their workers. In 1793 (and possibly earlier), NWC clerks had their clothing supplied by the company. Old Fort William says that a list from 1821 of clothing supplied to a clerk consisted of the following : 1 gray cloth jacket, 2 pairs gray cloth trousers, 1 fine corduroy jacket, 1 pair fine corduroy trousers, 4 fine cotton shirts, 2 cotton pocket handkerchiefs, 2 black silk handkerchiefs [probably for stocks], 2 pairs worsted hose [wool stockings], 2 pairs fine imported shoes, 1 London plated hat, and 1 cap (if appropriate). Clerks might also sport some expensive accessories, such as a pocket watch, sword, silk handkerchief, or a pistol or brace of pistols. A clerk's country wife would likely be well dressed to reflect her husband's status, and she would be less likely to wear Indian-style dress.

References to part I

Henry, Alexander. New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest, the Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry and of David Thompson, 1799-1814. Elliot Coues, ed. Ross & Haines, Inc. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1965.

Johnson, Alice (ed.) Saskatchewan Journals and Correspondence, 1795-1802. Hudson's Bay Record Society : London, 1967.

Mackenzie, Alexander. The Journals and Letters of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. W. Kaye Lamb, ed. Cambridge University Press : London, 1970.

Part II

As mentioned in Part I last issue, a character can be a very useful tool to re-enactors. In last issue, some suggestions were made on how to portray an American mountain man, and some more typical Canadian fur trade characters: voyageurs (pork eaters and hivernants), Orkney canoe men, tradesmen, and clerks. These people made up the majority of the Europeans in the fur trade. The characters discussed in this issue are less typical than last issue's characters because they were never as numerous. For example, the North West Company employed 17 guides, 45 clerks, less than 71 interpreters & guides, and 771 voyageurs in the Northwest in 1798 (Mackenzie, 83).

NWC Montreal Agent & HBC Chief Factor

These gentlemen were the lesser nobility of the fur trade. They were at the top of their companies' hierarchy in the fur country. The NWC's agents conducted the company's business in London and Montreal. They brought in the trade goods from England, stored them (at their own expense) in Montreal, and then prepared and shipped each season's trade goods to the fur country (Mackenzie, 79). Every summer the North West Company sent two agents from Montreal to their main inland post on Lake Superior. The agents met with the wintering partners who had returned to Lake Superior with their furs to discuss business. They didn't go further west than Grand Portage or Fort William. Most of the agents, such as Alexander Mackenzie and Duncan MacGillivray, had already spent their time in the fur country and were not keen on experiencing any more hardships on the trail than necessary. Tales are told of agents being carried ashore by voyageurs so as to keep their feet dry, of the obscene comfort of a feather bed carried in the canoe, of dinners served on fine china, and much more. It is hard to say how much is true and how much might be tall tales, but it must be remembered that for each of an agent's luxuries, some furs or trade goods had to be left behind, which would tend to limit excess.

At the Hudson's Bay Company, a similar role was filled by the Chief Factor (also called a Factor or Governor). Chief Factors were in charge of the most important posts, such as Samuel Hearne at Churchill and Joseph Colen at York. As noted last issue, HBC officers routinely defied the London Committee's rule against marrying Native women (sometimes even having polygamous marriages), while they kept their men from marrying openly. The chief factors were also responsible for inland operations until 1786, when the London Committee of the HBC gave that responsibility to a new position, the Chief Inland. For some time, there was conflict between the Governor of York Factory and the Chief Inland, due partly to company politics (after all, the Chief Inland was taking away his power) and partly to a personality clash with the tough new Chief Inland, William Tomison.

These gentlemen of the HBC and NWC had access to the latest goods and fashions from London and Montreal, and they had an important social position to uphold. Their dress would reflect this ; they would likely wear the best clothing they could afford. (The agents were much better paid than their HBC counterparts.) The exception seems to have been William Tomison, who was not opposed to performing manual labor alongside his men. He seems to have had a set of fancy clothes which were for special occasions, since David Thompson says 'He had a scarlet vest which he put on on his arrival at York Factory, took off when he left and carefully folded and laid by for the next occasion...' (Thompson, 51). Of course, Tomison was usually inland, far from the pretensions of the major HBC forts.

NWC Wintering Partner & HBC Chief Trader

In the North West Company, a clerk could aspire to become a wintering partner with a share in the company, and responsibility for conducting company business in the Northwest, and day-to-day responsibility for operating an important post. These men were also known as proprietors or bourgeois. (Bourgeois also seems to have been a general term for anyone above the rank of clerk, especially if they were responsible for a post.) Some men who successfully reached this pinnacle were Alexander Henry the younger, David Thompson, and John Macdonald of Garth. In the 1790's, there were fewer than ten wintering partners in the whole North West Company, but the number seems to have increased as the NWC expanded in the early nineteenth century. Wintering partners were wealthy men — a single share in the company was worth £1,000 or more, and senior wintering partners might hold two shares.

The HBC's chief traders had similar responsibilities at a lower scale of pay. Chief Traders generally had a minimum of thirteen years of experience. William Tomison, Malchom Ross, and Peter Fidler all eventually became chief traders.

In both companies, these positions required a lot of experience, and so they would usually be held by family men. In fact, their Native or mixed-blood country wives could be very helpful to them in their work, and chief traders' marriage ties with Natives were often good for trade. (Both companies also occasionally 'fast-tracked' promising young men of good background, e.g. Alexander Mackenzie, Joseph Colen.)

Like their superiors (above), the wintering partners and chief traders did all they could to make life comfortable for themselves. The HBC's William Tomison defended his import of 'a small box of crockery ware' because he was embarrassed to have his NWC guests 'take a glass of wine or a Cup of Tea out of a tin pot more especially as when they treat us we see Silver, China, and Glass on the Table...' (Tomison's italics ; Johnson, 126). They usually had a house of their own at the post, unlike the men and clerks, who often were allocated a single private room ('apartment') in a larger building or had to live barracks fashion. Of course, their house also doubled as an office for post business. And in the NWC, the interior decor might end up being rather picturesque, because wintering partners watched for 'curiosities' to collect and display when they retired to Montreal, such as buffalo horns and skins, Native articles, and so on (Mackenzie, 445). They probably dressed fairly well (although not necessarily in the latest fashions) with fine clothes for Sunday, holidays, and social occasions, and sturdier clothes for travelling and working.

Interpreter, Guide, Hunter

Both companies relied on guides, interpreters, and hunters who had invaluable local knowledge. These people might be Native, mixed-blood, or, less commonly, European, and women would sometimes work as guides and interpreters (Van Kirk, 64-65). At Grand Portage, the guides and interpreters messed in the Great Hall with the clerks and partners of the North West Company, a privilege denied to voyageurs and tradesmen.

NWC guides were responsible for guiding a brigade of four to six canoes on leaving Lake Superior ; they were paid more than the other voyageurs and were supplied with more clothing, tobacco, etc. It was a very important position ; all the canoes in their brigade were 'obliged to obey [the guide] ; and [he] is, or at least intended to be, a person of superior experience...' (Mackenzie, 99). Guides made sure that their brigades did not get lost along the way, and that hazards and obstacles were avoided in the safest, most efficient way. HBC guides, leading canoes from the Bayside and inland posts, had similar responsibilities.

When straying from the usual routes, both companies' traders recruited Native guides. Sometimes these people had never seen a European before, and they did not wish to travel with the traders. Naturally, they felt that they were being kidnapped. They would attempt to escape at night, or react with disbelief when traders actually allowed them to leave, usually a few days' travel later. Other Native guides were regular employees of the company, who were paid a good wage to lead their charges along unfamiliar routes.

Interpreters were also vital for trade. Fur traders picked up a working knowledge of Native languages fairly quickly (Thompson considered Cree the easiest to learn, and Sarcee the most difficult), but good communication was good for business. Also, the sheer number and variety of Native languages meant that traders likely couldn't speak all the languages that they needed. For example, Alexander Henry the younger was fluent in French and Ojibway, the language his country wife spoke, and he knew a little Cree. This was good when he was working in southern Manitoba, but when he was sent to Fort Vermilion in Alberta, he needed to know Cree and Blackfoot, and Ojibway was only of limited use. So he would have needed an interpreter who would be able to translate Cree or Blackfoot into English or French or Ojibway. This might be a trader's Blackfoot country wife, a free Canadian who had lived in Cree or Blackfoot country long enough to learn the language, or a well-traveled Ojibway or Blackfoot or Cree Native, to name a few possibilities. Like guides, interpreters were well paid. When Natives were hired, the term of employment and wages were settled upon hiring, and usually an advance was given.

Sometimes a post would have someone on staff who was an experienced hunter. Usually, however, Natives or free Canadians were the only ones skilled enough to supply the post with the winter's supply of meat. Winters were always difficult and anxious times ; starvation was not unusual. A hunter would be engaged in late fall to supply the post with enough meat to fill the ice house or glaciere (an ice-filled cellar). Hunters would agree to spend the winter within a few days journey of the post, hunting for large game for the post's winter food supply. The hunter's progress would be watched nervously, with messengers going to and from the hunter's tent to see how things were going and bring back fresh meat. The skill of the hunter would determine whether dogs and horses would end up on the post's menu in early spring. Hunters knew how dependent on them the post was, and sometimes demanded extra wages a few weeks after they had been hired, in addition to the advance that they had received.

Free Canadian

A free Canadian, or freeman, was usually a North West Company hivernant or HBC servant who had fulfilled their contract with the company and wanted to remain in the fur country. If the company gave permission, the freeman would be allowed to stay and hunt beaver and trade them to the company (usually his old employer). Freemen might wish to stay in the Northwest in order to stay with their families, or because they didn't wish to return to Lower Canada or the Orkneys for other reasons.

Most freemen were former employees of the NWC or the short-lived (1800-1804) XY Company. Usually they were treated on much the same terms as the Natives were. Like Natives, the freemen would be advanced a certain amount of equipment before the fur-hunting season, and then would trade the furs they had trapped. They would also trade food to the posts.

Some bourgeois had very negative views on freemen. Alexander Henry the younger frequently complained about them in his journal. 'Troubled with those mongrel freemen and Indians all day...they have neither principles, nor honor, nor honesty, nor a wish to do well ; their aim is all folly, extravagance, and caprice ; they make more mischief than the most savage Blackfeet...' (Henry, 613). However, Henry did get valuable intelligence from a freeman, who in 1808 warned him that the Cree wanted to block Henry's canoes so that the Blackfoot would not get arms and ammunition (Henry, 495)

Not all freemen were Europeans or interested in hunting beaver. A number of freemen were mixed-bloods. Also, some freemen traded different items from furs to the companies. One freeman made salt in the area of The Pas, Manitoba, for sale to west-bound voyageurs (Henry, 469-471), while another, J. M. Boucher, lived seven days' travel from Fort William and traded bread from his oven to the hivernants in return for leather and buffalo robes. Later, he moved to Portage des Chiens and expanded his business, selling eau-de-vie and sausage at a little tavern (Henry, 219, 219n).

The lot of a freeman was an uncertain one. Without the support of a post behind them, they wore more exposed to risks such as attacks from Natives and starvation. Until the Red River settlement was established, they seem to have lived a fairly nomadic life, travelling with the Natives or a few other freemen. They may have been more likely to adopt some aspects of Native dress, such as buckskin garments, for economic reasons. More successful freemen might maintain their voyageur style of dress with little change, by trading with the fur posts.

Soldier

Since August 1812, Lord Selkirk had been trying to establish a settlement on the Red River near modern Winnipeg. The North West Company opposed this HBC-backed scheme, and repeatedly scared off his settlers. After the War of 1812, he found the ideal settlers : the Swiss de Meuron regiment. In 1816, under Selkirk, the de Meurons traveled to the NWC's inland headquarters and captured it after a siege. That winter, they captured two other NWC posts, and in the spring of 1817 the de Meurons marched to Red River to beat their swords into plowshares.

Settlers & White Women

In April 1806, Marie-Anne Gaboury married a voyageur who had just returned to Lower Canada. He probably had intended to settle down, but Jean-Baptiste found the settled life more difficult than he'd expected, and that summer he decided to return to the Northwest as a free Canadian. His new bride didn't want to be parted from him that soon, so she went with him. She never went back. Marie-Anne Lajimonière (also spelled Lagimodière) was the first white woman to permanently settle in the Northwest. (See Part I for details about Isabel Gunn a.k.a. John Fubbister, who was also in the Northwest at this time.) It took another six years before more European women came to the Northwest to live.

Lord Selkirk wanted to help Scots emigrate to America. In 1812, the HBC gave him a large land grant at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The North West Company saw the settlement as a threat. In August 1812, a number of Scottish settlers, including eighteen women, came to live in Selkirk's Red River settlement. By 1815, almost 350 Scots had come to Red River. Friction between the settlers and the NWC men grew. On June 22, 1816, after an armed clash had left more than twenty people dead, the settlers fled to Norway House at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. In May 1817 they returned, accompanied by the soldier-settlers of the Swiss de Meuron regiment. The Red River Scots and Swiss were the nucleus of the first permanent European settlement west of Lake Superior.

Country Wife

The North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company had markedly different attitudes toward marriages between their men and Native women. The London Committee of the HBC forbade marriages until the early 1800's, but also forbade their officers and servants from bringing European wives to Rupert's Land. The result, as previously mentioned, is that the rules were constantly broken. Officers would openly take one or more Native wives, while servants had to be more covert. The NWC, on the other hand, welcomed the trade ties and Native skills that marriages to Native women brought. They allowed engagés, clerks, and bourgeois to marry, and provided their employees' families with the necessities of life. The HBC's London Committee, on the other hand, considered their employees' families a needless expense, and took care that the HBC would not be burdened by them.

Eventually there was a substantial population of mixed-blood children from these marriages. The HBC called these children 'citizens of Hudson's Bay' ; the children of Native (often Cree) mothers and Nor'wester fathers were the Métis. In 1806, the NWC forbade marriages to Native women when mixed-blood women were available. Exceptions were made when matches with Native women were good for trade. This was to reduce the now-considerable expense of supporting the Métis population living at their posts.

Marriages in Rupert's Land and the Northwest were 'according to the custom of the country' ; the first missionary would not arrive in the Northwest until 1818. Instead, the weddings took place according to Native tradition, usually with little ceremony. But these marriages were considered valid within the fur trade, and it wasn't until the 1820's that a growing number of outsiders began to question their legitimacy, and to attack the marital status of the 'country wives'.

Country wives often adopted European-style dress. Between 1790 and 1810, wives of Nor'westers are repeatedly described as wearing a short gown, shirt, petticoat (skirt), leggings and moccasins (Van Kirk, 37, 39; for more details on the dress of country wives, see 'Women's Dress in the Fur Trade', Northwest Journal Vol. II, pp. 14-16). In the HBC, officers' private orders for London goods include requests for information on the latest fashions and orders for fashionable fabrics and trimmings.

Country wives performed a host of invaluable services for the fur posts. They made moccasins, snowshoes, maple sugar, and pemmican, planted and harvested potatoes, gathered berries, paddled and guided canoes, interpreted unfamiliar Native languages, pitched tents, cleaned and scrubbed the fur posts, snared small game, netted fish, and much more. (For an excellent overview of the role of women, especially country wives, in the fur trade, read Van Kirk, listed below.) There was also a darker side to the life of the country wife ; some were beaten by their husbands to the point where they tried to hang themselves (Henry, 252, 487).

References

Henry, Alexander. New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest, the Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry and of David Thompson, 1799-1814. Elliot Coues, ed. Ross & Haines, Inc. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1965.

Johnson, Alice (ed.) Saskatchewan Journals and Correspondence, 1795-1802. Hudson's Bay Record Society : London, 1967.

Mackenzie, Alexander. The Journals and Letters of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. W. Kaye Lamb, ed. Cambridge University Press : London, 1970.

Thompson, David. David Thompson's Narrative, 1784-1812 Glover, Richard (ed.). Champlain Society : Toronto, 1962.

 

Copyright 1994-2002 Northwest Journal ISSN 1206-4203.  May I copy this article for my class?

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