THE war with Great Britain came to a close with the Treaty of Ghent in December, 1814. It was a peace without victory, and all captured territory, places, and possessions were to be restored to their former sovereignty. Astoria was not mentioned in the treaty, but in negotiations immediately subsequent a demand for its return was made by the United States. The British Government demurred on the ground that Astoria was not captured territory, since the valley of the Columbia was “considered as forming a part of His Majesty’s dominions.” Eventually, by a liberal construction of the term “possessions,” Astoria, built by an American, was restored to the United States, but the question of the ownership of Oregon was left open.
Neither nation at that time had any real sense of the value of Oregon nor anything but the vaguest idea of its possible boundaries. Great Britain did not then, or later, herself lay sovereign claim to the whole region. Her attitude was less aggressive than defensive; she desired to protect the British traders in their rights. Since the question of title had been mooted, in 1818 a convention provided that the two nations should jointly occupy the country for ten years. So began the Oregon dispute, which in course of time led perilously close to a third war with Great Britain.
Before the Joint Occupation Treaty of 1818, some effort was made by John Jacob Astor and his friends to have the status quo ante bellum clause in the Treaty of Ghent construed to cover his lost property at Astoria; but his arguments could hardly be convincing when it was disclosed that the North-West Company had paid however inadequately for everything received. Astor’s heavy losses on the Columbia and at Michilimackinac through the war made him feel bitter. He never forgave McDougal for having sold his furs to the Nor’westers because, if the furs had been seized, he could have recovered their value under the treaty. The American Government could not collect salvage for John Jacob Astor, but it could assist him in another way. At his instigation Congress passed a law forbidding alien traders to operate within the bounds of the United States except as engagés of Americans. This law was en-acted in April, 1816. It served to keep British traders out of the territory about the Missouri and off the southern shores of the Great Lakes, but it could not, of course, touch the Nor’westers in their operations beyond the mountains. They still occupied Astor’s forts by right of purchase. So the curfew knell which Astor had sounded for their especial benefit rang for the most part unheeded. No doubt it was discussed ironically at the suppers in the Beaver Club of Montreal when Astor appeared in that town to buy furs.
Astor was willing, even anxious, to send out more traders and ships to the Pacific Coast and to begin his daring scheme all over again. He had a spirit nothing could daunt, and his dream was worth any cost and all effort. But he realized that without support from his Government he could not hope to drive the Nor’westers from Oregon. Had he been granted his request for one military post on the Columbia with fifty soldiers and the rank of lieutenant for himself, he would have proceeded, even by arms, if need be, to make John Jacob Astor the master of the world’s fur trade. But the American Government was not minded to take any step contrary to the spirit of the treaty just entered into with England. The war, and the international agreements resulting from it, had made Astor’s dream impossible of fulfillment. His affliction, however, was proportionately less than that of his partners and employees, if life be reckoned above money. In the massacre of the Tonquin’s crew, in the wreck of the Lark, in the loss of life among the Overlanders by hardship and Indian wrath, not less than sixty-five men had perished. The partners, including McDougal, received nothing for their two years of toil and peril in the wilderness.
With his Pacific Fur Company dissolved and the business of his Southwest Company his partner-ship with the Nor’westers in the Mackinaw trade suspended by the war, Astor was obliged to con-fine his activities to his American Fur Company. To establish a western department at St. Louis, from which to send out his own traders into the fur country of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, was his immediate necessity if he wished to survive as a fur merchant. Here was Astor hoisted by his own petard. The Nor’westers, at their rollicking suppers, might well jest at the statute of 1816 which Astor had instigated against them; for the Missouri Government, influenced by the St. Louis traders, used that statute to bar Astor from St. Louis and to permit the seizure of his goods and furs on the river on the pretext that, as British traders chiefly formed the personnel of his company, his business was unlawful. It was not until 1822 that he finally secured a foothold in St. Louis.
Meanwhile the Nor’westers, having got them-selves into a sea of trouble, were obliged to strike their colors. Their piratical activities in the North had stabbed fully awake the drowsy old Hudson’s Bay Company. The old Company had suffered many outrages from its rival. Not only were its brigades robbed on the march, but some of its trading posts were attacked, its furs and supplies carried off, and its servants wounded or killed by the lawless Nor’westers.
It was in 1811 that Lord Selkirk, a Scotch noble-man, purchased shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company and acquired a vast tract of that Company’s lands as a preliminary step in his scheme to found a colony on the Red River. In August, 1812, the first colonists arrived and set up their huts on the site of the present city of Winnipeg. The colony was soon beset by the Nor’westers. Failing to discourage the settlers by peaceable means, they resorted to violence, which culminated in 1816, in the killing of the Governor of the colony and twenty settlers. Finally Lord Selkirk himself, armed with powers as a Justice of the Peace, and accompanied by a number of disbanded soldiers who desired to take up land, set out from Montreal to the Red River. He escaped the Nor’westers’ hired assassins lying in wait for him, made a number of arrests at Fort William, and he sent the culprits east for trial. Thus it came about that John Jacob Astor, buying furs at the North-West Company’s depots in Montreal, had the satisfaction of seeing in the clutches of the law some of the dare-devil gentry who had thwarted him.
The riotous conduct of the Nor’westers and its results were made the subject of parliamentary inquiry in Great Britain in 1819; and two years later the North-West Company was absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was a victory for Law and Order. The Nor’westers were strong men and they had done great things in the wilderness. Their Alexander Mackenzie had followed to the Arctic Ocean the great river which bears his name, and he was the first Anglo-Saxon explorer to cross North America overland to the Pacific. Their Simon Fraser had discovered the Fraser River and passed down its roaring waters almost to the sea. Their David Thompson was the pioneer explorer of the whole Northwest and of the Columbia River from its source to its junction with the Snake. Through such men as these, and through violent, hardy men who knew no virtue save courage, had they conquered the wilds. But even in the wilds they could not defy the law. Beating against that rock, their company lost its existence.
So it was that the old Hudson’s Bay Company, the ancient “Company of the Adventurers of England,” established law and order in the Oregon country and raised over the forts built by the Astorians and appropriated by the Nor’westers the old banner with the letters H. B. C. in its center.
Hither, to Robert Gray’s river, came to rule the man who is now known as the Father of Oregon or the King of Old Oregon. John McLoughlin was of Irish and Scotch blood and a Canadian by birth. He was born in 1784 in the parish of Rivière du Loup far down on the St. Lawrence River. For a time he practised medicine in Montreal. Later he went to Fort William as resident physician, developed an interest in the trade, and joined the Nor’westers as a wintering partner. He was not of the same quality as the roisterers who gathered at Fort William. The uprightness of his character, the distinction of his bearing, and his dignified and kindly manner would have found fitter place from the first in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
It was as an officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company that John McLoughlin was to come into his own and to make for himself a name imperishable in the annals of Oregon. He was not quite forty when he arrived on the Columbia, a man of striking appearance, about six feet four inches in height, broad-shouldered a commanding figure. His piercing glance, overhanging brows, and broad fore-head swept by a plume of white hair, won for him the title of “White Eagle” from the Indians. His official rank was Chief Factor, but his subordinates called him “Governor.”
This man was to rule for twenty years as the autocratic monarch of the Pacific Northwest. It was a régime of equity in trade and of personal morals. McLoughlin took to wife the Indian widow of Alexander Mackay, who perished on the Tonquin, and adopted Mackay’s children. He set the example of marital fidelity and compelled every man in his employ who had taken an Indian wife to conduct himself as if State and Church had united them for life. He was, indeed, State and Church in Oregon. His moral force dominated white men and Indians alike.
In 1825 McLoughlin abandoned Fort George, or Astoria, and made his headquarters at his new Fort Vancouver, up the river about six miles north of the mouth of the Willamette. Fort Vancouver was an imposing structure, as befitted the Capitol of a primitive realm. It was built in the shape of a parallelogram. Its dimensions were 750 by 500 feet, and it was enclosed in a stockade of closely fitted timbers twenty feet high. Within the walls the space was divided into two courts with a number of wooden buildings facing on them. There was a powder magazine built of stone. McLoughlin’s house stood in the center of the enclosure facing the huge gates. It was a large two-storied mansion of logs containing, besides the private rooms for himself and his family, an imposing dining room, a general smoking room, and a visitors’ hall. Some of these rooms were decorated with mounted elks’ heads, skins, Indian cedar blankets and baskets, and other ornaments contributed by admiring natives. In the court, at each side of the mansion’s doors, stood two cannon with piles of balls. Below the fort on the edge of the river stretched a growing village of cabins. Here lived the married laborers, servants, voyageurs, and hunters; and here also, in time, were built a hospital, a boathouse, a storehouse for cured salmon, barns, a mill, and a granary and dairy house.
Cultivation of the land from the fort to the river was begun at once, and gradually a farm extended on all sides and along the Columbia, about nine square miles in all. McLoughlin realized that the forts west of the mountains must be supplied with foodstuffs from some point within their own territory, as the cost, the risk, and the delay occasioned by the transportation of food by land and by sea from the eastern coast were too great. Accordingly, besides planting grain and vegetables, he imported a few cattle from California as soon as a vessel could be procured in which to bring them north. In time the King of Old Oregon could look from the upper rooms of his mansion over fifteen hundred cultivated acres and beyond to a grassy prairie where roamed more than a thousand cattle. There were dairy farms on the mainland and on Wapato Island in the mouth of the Willamette; on this island were the dairy buildings from which products were shipped north to the Russian posts. On the south side of the Columbia where the Willamette empties itself there also gradually rose a few rough dwellings, spreading southward along the banks of the smaller stream. These were set up principally by voyageurs whose years of fighting white water were done. McLoughlin encouraged the old servants of the company to farm. What-ever these small farms produced above their owners’ needs found a ready market among their neighbors and the Indians.
This was the real beginning of settlement in Old Oregon, out of which the States of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and part of Montana, were after-wards carved. The story of this farthest “West” is a romance of the fur trade. The “Wests” between the Appalachians and the Rockies were first settled by bold and restless men who went into the wilderness and battled with the Indians for land. The fur trader truly had been there before them, for he was always the first man to enter the Indian’s country, but he had founded no settlements. In Old Oregon, however, settlement was begun before ever a white-covered wagon crossed the plains. The beginning of Oregon City was in the first cabins raised and the first garden patches planted by old servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Settlers seeking homes, of the same kind as those who reared villages in Kentucky and Missouri and Ohio, were to come later; but, when they came, they were to find a wilderness already yielding to the plough. They were to see neat cabins, arranged so as to outline narrow streets, and patches of planted grain, and to hear the tinkle of the dairy farm and the whir of gristmills and sawmills. Here, only, the fur trader did not pass with the beaver and the deer, leaving the land and the forest untouched. Even in the story of its first settlements, then, Old Oregon is still the romance of the fur trade. And it was John McLoughlin’s idea the planting of these tiny hamlets and farms where the aged voyageurs and hunters might settle down to safe and useful living, instead of being cast forth as human driftwood when their best days as brigade men were past.
McLoughlin’s chief lieutenant was a young man whom he had brought from Fort William with him. “Black Douglas” was the sobriquet bestowed on this tall handsome youth with the dark skin and raven hair. James Douglas, afterwards prominent in British Columbia, was, like his chief, a Highlander born far from Bonnie Scotland. It was in Demerara, British Guiana, in 1803, that Douglas first saw the light. At twelve or fifteen years of age he accompanied an elder brother to Montreal, where he presently became an apprentice in the North-West Company.
Another man in McLoughlin’s ranks was Peter Skene Ogden, brigade leader and explorer. Ogden also had been a Nor’wester; and, like McLoughlin, he was born in Quebec. He was a rather short, rotund man with a high voice and a merry round face. He always had a jest for any one who would listen and was inordinately fond of practical jokes characteristics which made him a striking contrast to his two dignified friends, Douglas and McLoughlin.
From Fort Vancouver McLoughlin sent out his brigades east, north, and south, and directed them to set up new trading posts. He sent Douglas to Fort St. James, on Stuart Lake in New Caledonia; and forts were erected throughout that northern territory as far as the Stikine and Taku Rivers. It was a far cry from these northern outposts to another erected about the same time on the Umpqua River in southwestern Oregon. Centrally situated in the interior on the Colville River, arose Fort Colville. This was an important post, a sort of clearing house or bookkeeping headquarters for the accounts of the whole country. The clerks from the lesser posts brought their accounts to Fort Colville to be audited and transcribed for the annual report which was sent across country by the annual express brigade to Norway House on Lake Winnipeg.
From Fort Vancouver went out all the supplies for the northern forts west of the mountains. The route followed to the interior posts, roughly speaking, was by canoe and barge up the Columbia to Fort Okanogan, thence by horse to Kamloops Lake, then by water again down the Thompson River into the Fraser to supply Fort Langley near the mouth of the Fraser. To reach the northern posts in New Caledonia the brigades usually took to horse at Kamloops and rode the two hundred odd miles up the Fraser to Alexandria, where again they dipped upon the surface of that river and poled and towed upstream about 150 miles to Fort George at the mouth of the Nechaco, thence by the Nechaco River to the fort on Stuart Lake. The earliest brigades traversed more of the way by water, with sometimes long and hazardous portages.
Southward, the brigades under Ogden or Tom Mackay went into California. And eastward Ogden led his men beyond Salt Lake. He was presumably the first white man to see Mount Shasta and the headwaters of Sacramento River. He discovered the Humboldt River. He penetrated into the desert of Nevada. He explored Idaho, a part of Utah, and tracked through the rugged country between the Snake and the Colorado.
In the Rockies and east of them Ogden’s brigades met and clashed with the men of the American Fur Company in which now, as partners, were Ramsay Crooks, John Clarke, and Robert Stuart and with General Ashley’s men from St. Louis, or the Rocky Mountain Traders, as they were called. Manuel Lisa was dead and the Missouri Fur Company was bankrupt; but Lisa’s partner, Andrew Henry, had formed a new company with Ashley. The Rocky Mountain men paid the Indians double the Hudson’s Bay Company’s prices for furs and, defying the laws of their Government, they opened a fountain of rum in the wilderness in their effort to starve Ogden off the ground. They lay in wait for the H. B. C. brigades, or set the Indians on to attack them, and pirated their furs. It was war to the knife. The Blackfeet and Shoshones, profiting by the lessons thus inculcated in them, developed a fine impartiality towards all white traders and robbed all alike. One year they stole 180 beaver traps from Ashley’s men. Ogden had his revenge, too, when some St. Louis traders were caught by snow in the hills. The Indians, under his influence, refused to make snowshoes for them until Ogden had bought at his own price the furs which they had hoped to market in St. Louis.
The use of liquor gave the St. Louis traders a large advantage over the H. B. C. men, for Mc-Loughlin prohibited rum as an article of trade; but ultimately they suffered for it at the hands of the Indians to whom they had taught the vice of drunkenness. The Rocky Mountain Traders and the American Fur Company fought each other as bitterly as they fought the Hudson’s Bay Company. Twice, at least, Rocky Mountain Traders who had been pilfered by rivals or Indians staggered, stripped and starving, into H. B. C. forts and asked for succor. McLoughlin’s men received the unfortunates hospitably. They sent one man safely home to the Mandan country under escort. In the other case they dispatched a brigade to recover the furs and to lay down the law to the thieving tribe. Though they did not let the trader take out the furs, they paid him for them the market price and sent him also safely on his way.
It has been urged by some writers that the Indians were stirred up to violence by the Hudson’s Bay Company, not only in their attacks on traders but later in the massacre of American settlers in Oregon. That charge is well answered by the facts concerning settlement and trade in New Caledonia and Rupert’s Land (now Canada), where, under the Company’s rule continued for two centuries, trade was carried on and, later, settlement took place without a single massacre initiated by Indians. In Oregon, McLoughlin carried out the policy of the Company, which had a fixed price for furs and which meted out the same justice to an Indian as to a white man. If a white man had exhibited an Indian scalp in Old Oregon he would have been tried formally and hanged.
The fur brigades which went out east, north, and south from McLoughlin’s rude castle on the great river were small armies under tried captains. A brigade would consist of fifteen or twenty-five white men, fifty or more Canadian, Indian, or half-breed trappers, and enough horses to supply each man with three. It was McLoughlin’s policy to send the wives and families on the march with the men. The women cooked and dressed skins in the camps; and their presence acted as a deterrent, to those wilder spirits among the men who would have met war with war but for this responsibility. To the tribes the presence of women was always a sign of peaceful intent. The northern brigades bound for the upper Fraser set off in spring by water. Canoes and barges were launched upon the river to the singing of the voyageurs. The horse brigades for the south and east took the trail in autumn. A bugle called the men into line on the day of the march, and Highland pipers played them off. “King” McLoughlin, in his long black coat and his white choker, with his white eagle plume floating in the breeze and his gold-headed cane in his hand, stood in the gates to give them Godspeed. In every brigade there were fiddlers, and sometimes a Scot with his bagpipes went along to rouse the men in a black hour with The Cock o’ the North.
Frequently McLoughlin and his wife rode out at the head of the Willamette brigades. The King’s presence was dearly coveted by the men, and Mrs. McLoughlin delighted in these excursions which broke the monotony of life under a fixed roof. The lady of Fort Vancouver sat upon a gaily caparisoned steed with bits of silver and strings of bells clinking along her bridle reins and fringing her skirts. Her garments were fashioned of the brightest colored cloths from the bales at the fort and she wore ” a smile which might cause to blush and hang its head the broadest, warmest and most fragrant sunflower,” while at her side, also handsomely arrayed, “rode her lord, King of the Columbia, and every inch a king, attended by a train of trappers under a chief trader each upon his best behaviour.”
In addition to the H. B. C. trade by land, there swiftly grew up on the Pacific an overseas and coastwise trade. The overseas trade was chiefly with China. On the coast, vessels plied between Fort Vancouver and San Francisco, where the Company had a trading post, and between Fort Vancouver and the Russian posts in Alaska. These ships also carried supplies to the Company’s forts on the northern coast. The Russian Fur Company did not like the proximity of British posts, and it induced the Russian Government to rescind the right of other than Russian vessels to navigate Russian streams. The Russian territory was held to extend farther south than McLoughlin’s Fort Simpson on the Nass River, just north of the present Prince Rupert. The dispute ended, as far as the H. B. C. was concerned, in the lease by the Company of a strip of the Alaskan coast, lying between Cape Spencer and Fort Simpson, for a rental of two thousand sea-otter skins yearly.
In this year (1839) the H. B. C. had a fleet of not less than half a dozen vessels sailing at regular seasons from Fort Vancouver. Among these was the Beaver, the first steamer on the Pacific coast. The Beaver had left London in 1835 as a sailing ship, rounded the Horn, and dropped anchor before Fort Vancouver in 1836. Here she was fitted out with machinery and became a steamboat. The Beaver lived to a ripe old age in the coast trade and was wrecked at last in the narrows at the entrance to Burrard Inlet. There, until a few years ago, the hulk lay impaled on the rocks below Stanley Park and could be seen by passengers on the great ocean liners entering and leaving the harbor of Vancouver, British Columbia.
McLoughlin urged his company to purchase the whole of Alaska from Russia. And, as the spirit of revolt blazed up in California, he pointed out the ease and advantage of acquiring that country also. He sent his son-in-law, Glen Rae, to San Francisco with funds and with instructions as to how to gamble in revolutions for the advantage of the H. B. C. This plan met with disaster when Glen Rae met with a certain beautiful Carmencita and forgot all else. That is one of the stories. The other is that Rae picked as winner, among several revolutionary factions, the one which was doomed to be last under the wire. He achieved nothing but the loss of the Company’s funds, and he shot himself rather than return and tell the whole truth to the “King” in Oregon.
But whether his plans went well or ill, Mc-Loughlin did not lose the serenity in which his power was rooted. Not the whole strength of the Hudson’s Bay Company could have made Mc-Loughlin a king whose rule was unquestioned if his had not been a kingly spirit. Men who had brawled and roistered and known not the name of law under the Nor’westers’ régime now stepped softly.
The daily life of the King and his courtiers and his motley subjects in the feudal realm of Old Oregon is worth a passing glance. There is nothing like it in the United States today, nor was there ever anything like it during the pioneer days in other parts of the country. Nowhere else on American soil have white men gone in numbers of a hundred or more with a train of employees and built forts and houses, tilled fields, set up mills, and herded cattle in the midst of the red man’s country, to be received by the natives not only as friends but as rulers.
The keynote of life at Fort Vancouver was work. On the Sabbath, men rested and worshiped; but there was no idling on week days. A huge bell, mounted in the court on three poles and sheltered from rain by a small slanting roof, rang at five in the morning to rouse officers, clerks, and laborers to the day’s duties. At eight it called them in from the fur houses, mills, and fields to breakfast, and at nine rang them out again to their toil. At noon it sounded for dinner, and an hour later for work again. At six o’clock it announced the evening meal and the end of the day’s labor. The King rose with his subjects, for McLoughlin kept an active supervision over the various operations at headquarters. He was also for some years the only physician in Oregon, and many were the demands upon his skill, for men who had been out in the sleet and cold of the hills or in the long rains of the coast winter frequently came home with rheumatic pains and fevers.
We are inclined to think of the life in that farthest West as a barren life for a man of intellect and culture such as McLoughlin. But that view is erroneous. McLoughlin’s chief officers were men of his own stamp. He himself had studied his profession of medicine in Paris and had spent some time in Great Britain; and among his comrades in Oregon were university men from Oxford and Edinburgh. Books and conversations on serious topics, such as history and international relations, in which subjects these men were well versed, were their relaxation. The brigades from Hudson Bay and sailing ships brought the London Times, however late, and also volumes of history, biography, travel, and agriculture. The classics could be found on the shelves in the living room of the Big House and the modern poets were there, as well as the novels of Lord Selkirk’s friend, Walter Scott. From time to time the ships brought distinguished visitors from the Old World, and sometimes such visitors came overland. A few of these were men of science, like Nuttall who had first ventured into the wilds with Lisa’s brigade, and David Douglas, the Scotch botanist whose name was given to the northwestern fir tree. Globe-trotters and big game hunters of that day also came to Fort Vancouver. All guests were warmly welcomed to King McLoughlin’s rude castle for as many weeks or months as they chose to remain, and horses and servants for their personal use were assigned to them.
McLoughlin’s chief interest apart from trade was agriculture. He had engaged a scientific Scotch horticulturist named Bruce, who was making experiments with both indigenous and imported plants. Bruce coaxed the wild strawberry plant to produce a large luscious berry and the wild rose to expand its blossoms. His apple trees, grown from seed, flourished. He failed, however, to persuade the Californian fig and lemon trees to endure the Oregon winters. King McLoughlin took the greatest interest in these experiments, and in the growing season hardly a day would pass without a visit to the frames and beds where Bruce was matching his science against the climate and the habits of wild plant life.
Another point of interest in the establishment was the large smithy where tools and machinery were repaired and where hatchets and axes for trade, as well as for the use of the fort’s laborers, were made.
If in imagination, on a tranquil summer evening, we stand with the King of Old Oregon on the bank of the River of the West, we may read there the prophecy of Oregon’s future destiny in the world of modern commerce. From the little sawmill comes the hum of the saw and the drumlike sound of green timber planks dropping upon the wharf, for the Company’s bark lying at anchor will carry a cargo of lumber to the Sandwich Islands. So we have a tiny glimpse of the beginning of the vast timber trade of the north Pacific coast. Far down, the river is black-dotted with long highprowed cedar canoes, and the air blowing up stream brings a sound of many voices in chorus. It is a sound too shrill for melody, but the wild, piercing “oh-ah we-ah ! ” has in it something in keeping with the blood-hued flare across the west-ern sky and with the drench of colored light which envelops the river and tips the somber forest with fire. The Indians are singing their Song of the Catch, as they float down to the bay to fish. In their canoes are spears with bone hooks and some with iron hooks now, since the opening of the smithy and nets woven of cedar and grass fibers. They will drop their weighted nets, stretching each net between two canoes, and some of the men in both canoes will hold an end of the net while the other men paddle. In this fashion they will sweep the waters and snare the salmon that rush thickly into the river. The first fish caught will be offered in thanksgiving to the Creator of all things. After this ceremony has been performed the other salmon will be split and boned and hung up to dry in sun and smoke on racks erected along the shore and on the rafters and roofs of the houses. When winter draws near, the dried fish will be marketed to the tribes of the interior. Thus, primitively, these Indian fishers and barterers forecast the salmon trade which, in the future, shall contribute so large a part of the wealth of Oregon. The tinkle of bells as cows are driven up to the milking, the young fields of grain and vegetables, and the little spirals of smoke above the cabins announce that this is a country of yielding earth, a pleasant land for homes. These farms and cabins, planted at McLoughlin’s behest, not only forecast the acres of grain fields and apple orchards, the stock ranches and the hamlets and cities of homes which constitute the Oregon of our day, but they mark the beginning of the end of Old Oregon and its King. In the coming democracy of the soil his feudal kingdom is to pass away.
As the King reenters his castle, the great bell tolls the end of a day’s work. Officers, guests, clerks, brigade leaders, gather in the huge dining rooms.
The autumn brigades have not yet departed, so some forty men sit at the tables tonight; and there are enormous roasts to feed them.
In the group immediately about McLoughlin are James Douglas, Ogden, Tom Mackay, the Payette whose name endures in Idaho, Nuttall the botanist perhaps, or a British army officer on leave, and maybe an American trader who has fought the fur battle unsuccessfully in the mountains and has been forced to throw himself upon McLoughlin’s mercy, such as Nathaniel J. Wyeth, with whose little band Nuttall crossed the Rockies. A piper stationed behind the King’s chair plays while hungry men, bronzed and hardy from a life in the open, make amends to their stomachs for lean days in the desert lands and for supperless nights when they tightened their belts and lay under their blankets in the snow-choked passes. The memory of famine gives zest to the dinners at the Big House. Between courses Ogden, with twinkling eyes, cracks his jokes. Then Tom Mackay, the irrepressible story-teller whose Indian blood shows in the imagery blended with his humorously bragging recitals of the games he has played with death beyond the mountains, begins a tale with his invariable formula: “It rained, it rained! it blew, it blew! and my God how it did snow!” And McLoughlin, pouring the one small glass of wine which he allows himself, laughs. He laughs as a King may who knows not one traitor nor poltroon in all his realm. If this is the evening of his reign, there is a glow upon it warmer than the red of sunset and kindled by a spirit stronger than wine.
As we conjure up the scene of the evening meal in the Big House, we are reminded of illustrations we have seen in books about medieval Scottish life. The huge room with its two wide stone fire-places, its bare timbered walls and log rafters, and following the line of the walls, its long tables weighted with steaming platters where twoscore men feast by candlelight, seems to be the replica of the banquet hall in the rude castle of some Highland chieftain in the days of Bruce. Here, too, we easily distinguish the chief, for his demeanor bespeaks the man who earns his right to command by his deeds. And, when we consider the points of likeness which the clan system and the primitive code of the Scotch Highlanders bear to the tribal system and code of the red men, we can understand how it was that the Highland factors and brigade leaders of the great fur companies triumphed over their rivals and held the friendship of the Indians. Each brigade was as a separate division of the clan under a petty chief; and all these chiefs were subject to the head of the clan. The Indians understood this system be-cause their own confederacies were formed on much the same plan. With them, also, the chief must prove his right by his deeds by good deeds or evil deeds, if so be that they were strong deeds. The American traders they regarded only as traders and as friends or foes, according to their mood. But the Scots were chiefs of tribes, after the fashion of Indian chiefs.
The man who sits at the center of the banquet table in the Big House, with two tall candles lighting up the platter of roast venison before him and the kilted piper standing behind his chair, is not only Chief Factor John McLoughlin, head of the white clans in the western division. He is Chief White Eagle, head of the tribes; and in the gossip, story-telling, and song which enhance the feast of venison and salmon in the red men’s huge lodges this night, White Eagle’s name and strong deeds, his eye and word of command, and his great stature, are the favorite themes. Honorable and mighty are the tribes who have White Eagle for their chief !