Historic Words and Fibers

History resonates in every Fort Umpqua Days celebration as people come from many places to share a glance back to the early days of Elkton, Oregon. The reconstructed British Hudson’s Bay Company fort provides a centerpiece for the gathering. This year a number of reenactors came to give the fort even more authenticity.

Reenactor Karen “Many Voices” Haas spinning

In the above photo reenactor Karen Haas, who describes herself as a weaver of words and fibers, spins yarn on a drop spindle while wearing period dress, such as you might have seen in the days of the original Fort Umpqua.

This is the period of my two published books, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. But the drop spindle is a device so ancient that I describe a character using one in an upcoming book that goes back roughly 3,500 years. I was glad to watch Karen spin with a drop spindle so I could see how she made it spin. This will help me describe how my ancient character spins with hers. More than one of my characters can be called weavers of story and thread. I think they share an affinity with Karen “Many Voices” Haas.

I had a chance to visit with Karen Sunday afternoon when she stopped at my booth where I was selling my books. After I closed up shop I went down to the fort with my daughter Carisa to see some of the reenactors, and there was Karen outside a Hudson’s Bay Company tent (it must have been an HBC tent because they were waving an HBC flag). And she was spinning. We recognized each other and it took me a moment to realize what exactly she was doing. But there it was. She was working a drop spindle. Every once in a while she would put the spindle against her billowy skirt and stroke her hand across it to keep it turning. Then she would reach up again and make sure the yarn was coming out in an even thread. An amazing process. So ancient. So elegant in its simplicity, yet no doubt requiring considerable skill and practice.

With that we wrapped up another Fort Umpqua Days enjoying a delightful glimpse into our past. Thanks to Karen for showing us one significant thread of that story.

Back to the Fort

It’s time for Fort Umpqua Days again. It happens every Labor Day weekend in Elkton, Oregon. So step into the past there on Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1, and have some fun. There will be music, food, crafts, books (I’ll be there with mine), and of course the reconstructed fort.

Cannon at Fort Umpqua. Photo by Robin Loznak.

Hold your ears. Mountain men will be there with their black powder rifles. And others from bygone days. Even cannons maybe. Folks at the reconstructed fort will offer some rich history of the area with the realism of places restored to their former charm. If you check out this restoration of the fort’s store (below) you may find someone with a story about the Hudson’s Bay Company that built the original fort during the heyday of the fur trade in Oregon back in the 19th century. They might tell you that this was the company’s southernmost outpost. And they might explain how the trade worked and what some of those items on the shelves are, and the pelts on the wall.

Store in the Fort

It all happens just west of Elkton at ECEC at 15850 Hwy 38 and down the hill at the fort. I’ll be in one of the vendor booths near the butterfly pavilion with my books that fit right into that past, stories of pioneers and the fur trade in the mid-19th century, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. I hope you’ll stop by.

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150 Years!!

Martha’s Century Farm, whose story I told in my book A Place of Her Own, just hit the 150-year mark today.

On this day of April 24, 150 years ago, Martha A. Maupin purchased a farm on her own, according to the document filed in Douglas County, Oregon, from H. M. Martin To M. A. Maupin, which reads in part:

This Indenture made the 24~ day of April 1868 between Howard M. Martin & his wife Margaret Jane Martin of Elkton precinct, Douglas County, State of Oregon, of the first part and Martha Ann Maupin of the said County and State of the Second part Witnesseth that the party of the first part for and in Consideration of the sum of One thousand dollars lawful money of the United States to them in hand paid at or about the unsealing and delivery of these presents by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained sold transferred and Conveyed & by these presents do transfer and convey unto the party of the second part her heirs and assigns, forever, all the following described premises to wit Donation Land Claim No. 46 beginning at . . . containing 320 acres more or less situated in the above County and State To have and to hold . . .

A copy from the first page shows the flowery handwriting of the day (I did my best to transcribe that and took a bit from the second page).

As told in the book, this purchase was no small matter for a woman in 1868. Martha had lost her husband a year and a half before and either could not or would not depend any longer on the aid of family and friends. She chose to make a home for her children and herself. However, she didn’t have the $1,000 she needed to buy this property. A man in nearby Scottsburg had the money to loan her, but he would not negotiate with a woman. Her son Cap, thirteen years old, had to negotiate for the money, but he was too young to own the property. It became her farm, owned by her alone, 320 acres along the Umpqua River.

Now, 150 years later, it has become mine, the second woman in the family to own and operate it. I’ve had it for about 10 years now.

In 1968 the property qualified as an Oregon Century Farm, having been in the family for 100 years. Now it has been in the family for 150 years and will qualify as a Sesquicentennial Farm.

A big day for Martha’s farm. I’d like to think she would be pleased.

For more of Martha’s story, you might want to check out the book, if you haven’t already. You can ask for it at your local bookstore or see the sidebar for more options.

Sounds and Scents of History

Photo by Robin Loznak

Big booms ricocheted across the smoky air this weekend as Elkton, Oregon, celebrated the annual Fort Umpqua Days event near the reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Company fort along the Umpqua River, and Robin caught one of the cannon blasts with his camera. Historians tell us the Native Americans used to keep the brush down with fires every fall, so maybe that smoky air is historic too.

Folks enjoyed another successful event despite some heat and smoke. Locals and visitors gathered over the Labor Day weekend to explore the area’s historic past and have a good time, while vendors offered food and wine, crafts and books and more for sale. In the evening Cathy Byle directed the pageant of historic vignettes–a little longer on fun than fact.

A Hudson’s Bay Company man by the name of Mark stopped by my booth Sunday where I was selling my books that focus on this period of history. He bought a copy of The Shifting Winds, which has scenes set at Fort Vancouver, the HBC headquarters north of the Columbia River–where Vancouver, Washington, stands today.

Fort Umpqua was the southernmost outpost of the HBC in those days. Both forts have been reconstructed with great attention to accuracy of detail. So you can visit and get a real sense of the history, stepping right back in time.

Folks like Mark enjoy dressing the part, and it’s not unusual to see a few mountain men wandering through.

Smoke from surrounding fires clouded the skies the first day and actually kept us a little cooler than expected. But Sunday afternoon a much thicker haze moved in, along with a sweltering heat. By the time I got home it was in the upper 90s and I couldn’t even see the higher mountains across the river.

The smoky fall days may be historic, but I’ll be glad when a good rain comes to clear the air.

I snapped the above photo off my back deck when I got home Sunday. The photo at right shows the missing mountains on a clear day–just so you know they’re there.

 

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Fort Umpqua Post Script

So, what if history got it wrong?

After last week’s rollicking Fort Umpqua Days celebration, I take a long look at our sturdy reconstructed fort on the Umpqua River in Elkton, Oregon, and I recall a question from one of the customers who came by my book-selling booth during the event.

“Is Fort Umpqua in your books?”

I had to say no, but it might have been–if I could have reconciled sources.

Fort Umpqua Gate

Muddied waters

My issue arose from the date Fort Umpqua fell. History has an answer, but it seems a little murky to me.

For starters I’d like to quote Stephen Dow Beckham in his Land of the Umpqua, a fine presentation of local history published in 1986. On this subject of Fort Umpqua’s demise he writes on page 58:

The fort burned on November 15, 1851, while the commander or chief trader, Johnson E. King was at Fort Vancouver. King had just brought in his annual load of furs and was ready to leave with fresh supplies for the Umpqua when word of the disaster came by letter. The company kept up three more years of trade in southwestern Oregon, presumably working out of an outbuilding at the site; then it terminated operations. [My bold.]

Beckham sources his statement with a letter in the HBC archives written December 20, 1851, by a John Ballenden to Archibald Barclay. Ballenden was an HBC officer briefly posted at Fort Vancouver to help wrap up Company affairs there after the boundary settlement that gave the United States the land. Barclay was an HBC Secretary in London.

But what if history got this wrong?

Ft.Ump.gardens-2 (2)My experience in researching these early periods has shown me that history can be difficult to pin down. Even contemporary accounts don’t always agree.

That word presumably in the above quote gives me pause. Did assumptions lead to wrong conclusions?

A couple of things have come together to make me question this.

What did Martha know?

I have access to an account that disagrees with accepted history. It comes from Florence McNabb, the granddaughter of Martha Maupin, whose story I tell in A Place of Her Own. Florence wrote a 75-page manuscript of Maupin family history which I used extensively in writing Martha’s story. But I didn’t use one of Florence’s vignettes because it disagreed with history. To give a timeframe for this, Martha and Garrett moved from Lane County to Douglas County in December 1864 and rented a cabin on the Henderer place near Elkton until sometime after Garrett’s death in 1866, well after the supposed demise of Fort Umpqua.

Yet Florence writes:

It was while they were still on the Henderer place that there was an Indian scare and all of the families were told to come to the Umpqua Fort. The fort was built on the banks of the river in the summer of 1836 and was the early trading post of the Hudson Bay Co. It was well built with logs standing on end to form a stockade with several log cabins inside. 434-fort-umpqua-interiorOriginally the land owned by the Hudson Bay Co. comprised 640 acres and several dozens of stock. . . .

On this occasion the families remained in the stockade and the well-armed men went to their respective homes to tend to their livestock. The Indians never did attack but they could be seen early in the mornings and again in the evenings. . . .

After about a week, shut up with children and short tempered mothers, they decided to return to their own homes, coming back to the fort to spend the night. . . . One lady remarked that she would rather fight Indians than to spend another night with that bunch.

“This was told to me by my mother,” Florence wrote, “who had heard it from Martha Maupin.” Yes, Martha.

Now, that could have made an interesting scene in my book, but I didn’t want to go against history.

British habits

ShiftingWinds_EcoverA new thought began to stir, arising out of my own recent research into the history of Fort Vancouver, the British Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters of the Fort Umpqua outpost. Prior to my presentation at Fort Vancouver this summer of my new book The Shifting Winds I went back into the two huge volumes that describe research the preservation team did in order to reconstruct an authentic replica of this British headquarters.

Ft.Vanc.Report (2)I was amazed at the continual construction going on during the years the British maintained Fort Vancouver. The first Fort Vancouver was built in 1824-1825 on the hill above the Columbia river bottom. When the British changed their minds about that location in 1829, they just picked it up and moved it a few miles closer to the river. When that new fortress proved to be too small they just moved the walls over, added to them, and doubled the size.

When the first home of the commander began to crumble due to decaying roof and walls, they tore it down and built a new one in a better spot within the walls.

Fort Vancouver Big HouseThis is the commander’s house, the Big House—no small cabin to be thrown up in a few afternoons.

613.Ft.Vanc.McLoughlin Sitting RoomAnd the interior was exquisite.

Ft.Vanc.stockadeOther buildings were routinely torn down and replaced. And those picket walls kept moving—a little bit here, a little bit there.

alan-cropIt seems the British Hudson’s Bay Company men would rebuild at the drop of a tall beaver hat.

Why not Fort Umpqua?

So if tiny Fort Umpqua burned down and the Hudson’s Bay Company still had business to conduct on the site, why wouldn’t they follow custom and rebuild that? Ballenden’s letter to Barclay, the author Beckham’s source above, was written a month after the fire and would not reflect Company decisions afterward. My family’s story (told by Martha herself, no less, although received secondhand) suggests a fort still stood when they sought refuge sometime between 1864 and 1866.

Accepted history also tells us that the historic 1861 flood took away the burnt remains of Fort Umpqua, leaving nothing. Is this fact or conjecture? Is it possible that a more substantial fort stood against those flood waters, one that the Hudson’s Bay Company had rebuilt and maintained after the 1851 fire? Up north, when the British finally left their Fort Vancouver headquarters to the Americans, the walls and buildings disintegrated in this wet, rainy land without continual maintenance. We have photos and reports to substantiate that. Was this the more likely end to Fort Umpqua also, as new American owners no longer needed this former British outpost?

Unraveling the story threads

Book cover - A Place of Her OwnSmall tidbits of information—notes in letters and journals—often guided the team that reconstructed the elaborate Fort Vancouver headquarters. If I had believed in Florence’s tidbit, I could have brought the Fort Umpqua outpost into my story and had one more tense scene for Martha. And I could have smiled and told my customer, “Yes, yes, it’s in this one.”

Just saying.

Beckham, Stephen Dow. Land of the Umpqua: A History of Douglas County, Oregon. Roseburg, OR: Douglas County Commissioners, 1986.
McNabb, Florence Maupin. The Maupin Family. Undated, unpublished manuscript.

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Fort Umpqua Days Fun!

Two beautiful days brought good crowds to the Fort Umpqua Days annual celebration in Elkton, Oregon, on Labor Day weekend. People from as far away as Kansas City came by my booth to buy books. I was surprised to learn that my first customers Sunday were from Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb about a 10-15-minute drive from my daughter’s home in Fairway.

Pioneers and mountain men roamed the grounds of ECEC, the Elkton Community Education Center where the event took place, and the occasional harrumph of black powder rifles down at the fort ripped through the air, giving us a start.

Fort-Umpqua-Days1At the evening pageant the deputized sheriff caught the suspects in the stagecoach gold robbery, and photographer Robin Loznak caught them on camera as the sheriff led them away. Justice done in the “Mystery on the Elkton Stage,” the 13th annual Echoes of the Umpqua pageant, ably directed by Cathy Byle.

As many as 100 community members work to put on these somewhat historic dramas. I have fun serving on the writing team, but did only a small part this year due to the distractions with my new book coming out. Cathy and Linda Warncke did most of the writing and the actors, kids and adults, brought it to life with their own interpretations, all good for plenty of laughs.

Fort-Umpqua-Days-2It wouldn’t be ECEC without the butterflies, this being the well-known “butterfly place,” and Robin’s gift with wildlife photography led him to the Butterfly Pavilion to capture this shot of a Monarch having a sip.

From the opening parade to the BBQ lunches and music and fishing contest and local craft booths (where I spent the days) to the pageant and activities down at the fort, folks seemed to have a great time.

I was delighted that my writer friend Lynn Ash shared my book-selling booth on Saturday. I sold and signed copies of my Shifting Winds and A Place of Her Own, and Lynn sold and signed her Route from Cultus Lake and Vagabonda. We both had good sales and many wonderful conversations.

434.fort umpqua interiorFt.Ump.Inside 76So another successful Fort Umpqua Days has come and gone. The fort turns quiet for a little while. The Hudson’s Bay Company flag still flies, but business in the storehouse waits for another day.

Memories dream on after a glimpse into the past, some truer than others.

Ft.Ump.Inside 68COMMENT

Reviving Fort Umpqua

Tomorrow the people of Elkton will bring the old Fort Umpqua back to life with a flourish in their annual Fort Umpqua Days celebration. Folks from around the state and beyond will join in the fun, whether history buffs, reenactors, the simply curious, or those just looking for a good time or a good buy. Welcome to the party.

Ft.Ump.Inside 69Activities in the palisade walls will run from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4. While things are happening down at the fort, a lively market behind the ECEC library will offer crafts, books, and other items for sale. I’ll be there both days with my books set in the fur trade and pioneer era, and my friend Lynn Ash will join me with her books Saturday.

Ft.Ump.Inside 63Something new this year: The second building reconstructed at the fort, shown above, now has furnishings displaying living quarters where the Hudson’s Bay Company men lived. The rustic but comfy interior gives an idea of the kinds of gear they had–the typical Hudson’s Bay Company blanket, animal-skin rug, moccasins.

Ft.Ump.Inside 67The simple table setting illustrates the difference between the simplicity of life here in the southernmost outpost of the Company and the finery back at headquarters.

Ft.Ump.Inside 66No Spode china here, like that enjoyed by the senior officers at Fort Vancouver.

This project in Elkton has been a work in progress for several years, and as I mentioned in a previous post or two the reconstructed fort found its home a little downriver from the original.

When history buffs, modern mountain men, academics, and reenactors began contemplating the project, they discovered that the original site was not available. So this location down the hill from the Elkton Community Education Center was offered as an alternative.

If you drive south from Elkton on Highway 138 you’ll see a historical marker on your right which points out the original location of the fort across the river. The setting has many similarities, and the new site was selected.

Ft.Ump.Inside 77After the palisade walls went up, volunteers constructed the first building, the Company store and storehouse. Come inside and you’ll find the treasure that brought the British Hudson’s Bay Company into the region.

Ft.Ump.Inside 73The beaver pelt.

Ft.Ump.Inside 71There’s a touching table where you can stroke your fingers over the furs and feel how soft they are.

The sad news for the beaver was that his soft inner fur could be made into exquisite felt for the popular hats of the day.

That made the pelts extremely valuable and trappers combed the creeks of the wilderness to find them. Competition grew fierce between the British traders and the American mountain men, and rumors of war stirred as Britain and the United States shared the Oregon Country while London and Washington tried to come to terms on a boundary.

Ft.Ump.Inside 75Trappers, both white and Native American, could trade their furs for goods here in the Company store. Or today you can ask a knowledgeable young helper your questions about the history of the fort and the fur trade. Tomorrow and Sunday they’ll be dressed for the part in period costume, adding to your sense of stepping back in time.

Following the activities at the fort and market each day, the traditional historic pageant will be performed at the amphitheater, both nights. That’s always fun too as we play with history. I have the pleasure of serving on the writing team for that. Others did the lion’s share this time, but I had fun doing my little bit.

For more information on daily activities see the Fort Umpqua Days website.

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Fort Umpqua Farming

Visitors to the fort during Fort Umpqua Days this coming weekend will be drawn back in history through several activities for children that commemorate the fort’s importance as a historic agricultural site. These children will water the garden, make cornhusk dolls, grind corn, and sort beans from the fort’s gardens of heritage vegetables. And they’ll make apple cider from fruit out of the fort’s heritage orchard.

Ft.Ump.orchard signAs usual they’ll have plenty of 1800s games to play. And after they try samples of tasty food that workers at the original fort might have eaten, they can lead their parents out to take a look at the large gardens and orchards surrounding the reconstructed fort.

My books, The Shifting Winds and A Place of Her Own, tap into this same era, so the celebration has special meaning for me. I won’t get down to the fort during the day between 10 am and 5 pm because I’ll be up near the butterfly pavilion selling books in my booth, offering my own look at these intriguing times. On Saturday my writer friend Lynn Ash will join me to sell her travel memoirs, The Route from Cultus Lake and Vagabonda, describing her own pioneer spirit as she goes camping solo around the country.

Ft.Ump.gardens-1 (2)Like the Fort Vancouver headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade operation in the West, Fort Umpqua was a trading post, not a military fort, although both forts had tall picketed walls for protection. And the people who worked there had to sustain themselves in this wilderness.

The Oregon Country in the 1800s lay far from suppliers in eastern North America and Britain, so the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of this western region, placed self sufficiency high in the order of business. He chose a broad plain north of the Columbia River for the Company headquarters site of Fort Vancouver because he needed a fertile place to grow food to feed employees.

So it’s not strange that when he proposed a site for an outpost in the Umpqua region he wanted a place that could grow orchards and gardens for food.

Ft.Ump.gardens-2 (2)Company trappers in the Umpqua had been using a couple of temporary sites, and in 1832 McLoughlin assigned the French Canadian Jean Baptiste Gagnier to supply those. But McLoughlin sought a more permanent outpost. Gagnier selected a site, but McLoughlin, wanting a second opinion, sent his son-in-law William Glen Rae down to be sure the place had enough suitable land for growing vegetables.

Gagnier had in fact found a lovely open meadow with the fine treelined Umpqua River on one side and scattered oaks and swaths of fir forest crowning the hills on the other. The rich bottomland soil would grow fine vegetables and fruits from orchards and possibly vineyards.

Ft.Ump.orchardRae proceeded with the fort, dubbed Fort Umpqua, and the Company maintained this post for fifteen years, from its construction in 1836 until 1854, their southernmost outpost in the entire Oregon Country.

Once the United States acquired the area after the 1846 boundary settlement with Britain, the British cut back on business south of the new border, but they kept a trader at the site until 1854. The fort burned in 1851, but they stayed on, working out of some kind of structure for three more years. By that time the meadow thrived as an agricultural center.

Of course, all this happened a short distance upriver from the Fort Umpqua structures and plantings you see today. More on that in my next blog post. But that small factoid does nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the annual Fort Umpqua Days at ECEC, happening this next Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4.

Beckham, Stephen Dow. Land of the Umpqua: A History of Douglas County, Oregon. Roseburg, OR: Douglas County Commissioners, 1986.

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Black Powder Men

A popular event at Fort Umpqua Days in Elkton, Oregon, is the gathering of black powder men, reenactors who come out with their muzzleloaders to exhibit their prowess at shooting these early weapons and to share stories of historic Fort Umpqua times. That’s Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, and I’ll be there with my own books where you’ll find old-time black powder men, especially in The Shifting Winds. Update: See also a story in the The News-Review about a brigade of reenactors of 19th century trappers who camped at Fort Umpqua last weekend on their way to California as the Hudson’s Bay Company trapping brigades might have done back in the day.

First Mountain Man jpgSome of today’s black powder folks call themselves mountain men, and there may have been a few mountain men who passed by Fort Umpqua in its prime, like the man at left painted by Andy Thomas, artist, who dubbed him “The First Mountain Man.”

However, the term mountain man generally refers to the American trappers who did in fact work in the mountains, over in the Rockies.

Jed Smith was an early American mountain man who passed through the Umpqua region years before the fort’s construction, when he led an exploratory expedition of fellow trappers from the Rockies west by way of California.

Jed didn’t fare well in the Umpqua. The Umpqua Indians attacked him and his men, killing many of them, and stole all their furs. Jed ultimately made his way north to Fort Vancouver, where Dr. McLoughlin treated him hospitably.

Hudson’s Bay Company men recovered Jed’s furs and McLoughlin paid him a fair price for them. Jed so appreciated McLoughlin’s decency he swore he wouldn’t trap in the Oregon Country, leaving beaver there to the British. Although British and America trappers collided occasionally along the Continental Divide that marked the west edge of the undisputed U.S. territory of the Louisiana Purchase, the British for the most part were left alone in the Oregon Country, which was supposed to be jointly occupied by Britain and the United States.

Only when the trade died in the Rockies did American mountain men push on west. That’s when Joe Meek and my fictional Jake Johnston of The Shifting Winds headed to the Willamette to become settlers.

Mt. ManMountain men typically wore buckskins as many black powder reenactors do. So did British trappers who went out with the trapping brigades. Ken Putnam of Drain, Oregon, poses with me in his mountain man garb at the 2015 Fort Umpqua Days.

Frontiersmen who hunted in the wilds found the buckskin, or deerskin, to be sturdy and protective in the rugged brush where they sought game. In the Rockies it had the added advantage of availability. American trappers worked and lived with Native American tribes who wore buckskin themselves, often beautifully crafted by the Indian women who also became wives of many mountain men.

The weapons changed over time. In the early years the muzzleloader would have been a flintlock rifle, perhaps a Kentucky long rifle, but the long barrel proved awkward for the mounted trappers. They soon opted for a shorter barreled half-stock with bigger bore. About the same time this “mountain rifle” became popular the flintlock was being replaced by the percussion rifle, which was easier to load quickly–important when you had only one shot per loading.

Then gunsmiths Jacob and Samuel Hawken came up with the clean-lined plains rifle known as the Hawken rifle, and that became the mountain man’s rifle of choice. My character Jake Johnston takes great pride in his sleek Hawken rifle he brought out of the Rockies with him.

During Fort Umpqua Days you can expect to hear the deep harrumpf of muzzleloading rifles echoing across the hills as modern-day black powder men slip into a past where expertise with those weapons could be a matter of life and death.

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HBC Outpost Ready for Celebration

the fort 2 (2)Nestled on the bank of Oregon’s Umpqua River, this replica of the British Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Umpqua will come to life in a couple of weeks for the annual Fort Umpqua Days celebration at Elkton. The event will run all day Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, and I’ll have a booth there to sell my books.

Fort Vancouver Big HouseJust last month I stepped into the historic past of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, touring the commander’s house, shown at left, among other structures there. So I see this Umpqua outpost with new perspective.

I’ve attended Fort Umpqua Days celebrations every year since I returned to the family farm near Elkton in 2009, joined the writing team for the event’s pageants, and had a booth the last two years there to sell my first book A Place of Her Own. Still, I feel a difference this year after my event at Fort Vancouver in July where I presented my new book The Shifting Winds, which has many scenes at that HBC headquarters.

Before the Fort Vancouver event I wrote a series of posts for this blog called “The TRUE Shifting Winds,” giving an overview of history leading to the days of my book and the fort’s part in it. Fort Umpqua doesn’t appear in the story, but for me the enhanced sense of Hudson’s Bay Company history wraps Fort Umpqua into the fold.

622.John McLoughlin Daguerreotype - creditDr. John McLoughlin, shown at right, commanded the efforts of the British HBC fur trading empire in the Oregon Country and had been at Fort Vancouver only a year or so when he decided to push south through the Umpqua basin with brigades of trappers.

Those expeditions into the southern region became annual events–and rather colorful. Author John A. Hussey quotes Editor Alice Bay Maloney in describing them:

At the head of the brigade rode the leader, a chief trader [or clerk] of the Hudson’s Bay Company, astride a strong limbed Nez Perce horse and armed to the teeth with the best weapons of the day. Directly behind him rode his Indian wife gaily attired in the finest London broadcloth, with a wide-brimmed, feather-trimmed hat atop her wealth of long, shining black hair…. All the men were clad in deerskin….

Hussey adds a description of the brigade by an unnamed priest who wasn’t quite as impressed: “‘The brigade,’ he wrote, ‘is a hideous assemblage of persons of both sexes, devoid of principles and morals,’ and possessed of ‘revolting exteriors.'”

In any case it was during one of these expeditions that members of the brigade selected a site on the Umpqua River they thought would be a good outpost for trade with the local tribes. McLoughlin, concerned about competition from American trappers, wanted to clear the area of beaver and establish a strong foothold.

434.fort umpqua interiorThe Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Umpqua in 1836, and it served the Company well for more than a decade, even after the boundary settlement between Britain and the United States gave the land to the U.S. in 1846.

The photo at left shows the interior of the reconstructed Fort Umpqua with the HBC flag flying again.

In the next two weeks I’ll write a few more posts about the Hudson’s Bay Company trade in the Oregon Country and about the reconstruction of their southern outpost as the Fort Umpqua Days celebration nears.

Hussey, John A. Champoeg: Place of Transition. Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society, 1967.
Maloney, Alice Bay (ed.). Fur Brigade to the Bonaventura, John Works California Expedition, 1832-1833 … San Francisco, CA, 1945.

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