Uncharted Territory: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau


MAPS. KNOWING WHERE WE
ARE ON THIS EARTH. POWERFUL INFORMATION THAT
OPENS UP NEW WORLDS. 200 YEARS AGO, CANADIAN
EXPLORER, FUR TRADER AND SURVEYOR DAVID THOMPSON
MAPPED THE UNCHARTED VAST INTERIOR OF WESTERN
NORTH AMERICA. HE RETRACED THOUSANDS OF
ANCIENT TRIBAL TRAILS. “HE’S AS MUCH A MAPMAKER
OF THE CANADIAN IMAGINATION AS HE IS A SURVEYOR
AND CARTOGRAPHER.” THOMPSON WAS LIKE
A HUMAN MAP-QUEST. ARMED WITH A SEXTANT,
HE SPENT DECADES IN THE WILDERNESS
TRAVELING 55,000 MILES BY SNOWSHOE, HORSEBACK,
DOGSLED, AND CANOE, USING THE STARS TO
MAP ONE FIFTH OF THE CONTINENT,
1.5 MILLION SQUARE MILES. “THERE WERE TIMES WHEN IT
WAS 20-30 DEGREES BELOW ZERO”
“HIS MIND, WAS THIS BIG COMPLEX MIND WORKING ON A
LOT OF CYLINDERS” IN SALISH, HIS NAME
WAS KOO KOO SINT, THE MAN WHO
LOOKS AT STARS. “THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY
SPECIAL AND UNIQUE ABOUT USING A SEXTANT, LOOKING AT
THE STARS, LOOKING TO THE HEAVENS TO FIND
YOUR WAY ON EARTH.” THOMPSON MAPPED AS FAR
NORTH AS ATHABASCA, SOUTH TO THE MISSOURI,
FROM HUDSON BAY. TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN. EVEN LEWIS AND CLARK USED
ONE OF THOMPSON’S MAPS. THOMPSON, SOME THINK,
WAS THE GREATEST LAND “WHETHER IT’S THOMPSON
SKETCHING MAPS OR WHETHER IT’S THOMPSON SKETCHING
MOUNTAINS, OR THOMPSON SKETCHING THESE WONDERFUL
SUCCINCT POETIC STATEMENTS ABOUT THE PEOPLE AND
THEIR LANGUAGES AND THEIR INTERACTIONS, HE’S
VERY RELEVANT” IN 1807, THOMPSON CROSSED
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE INTO UNCHARTED TERRITORY. HE WAS SEARCHING FOR THE
COLUMBIA RIVER, THE INLAND NORTHWEST PASSAGE FROM THE
ROCKY MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA. FOR FIVE YEARS, THOMPSON
EXPLORED THE COLUMBIA PLATEAU,
ITS RIVERS, AND THE UNIQUE
PEOPLE WHO LIVED THERE. OUR STORY CENTERS
ON THIS UNIQUE TIME. ♪ ♪ VOYAGEURS SINGING
IT’S A COLD MAY MORNING ON THE NORTH SASKATCHEWAN RIVER. BATTLING HEADWINDS, THE
2008 DAVID THOMPSON BRIGADE IS RETRACING A RIVER
HIGHWAY FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS TO LAKE SUPERIOR. “THESE RIVER HIGHWAYS
LED TO CANADA AS WE KNOW IT. AND, IT’S POSSIBLE TO GO
FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS ALL THE WAY TO THE
ATLANTIC, ALL THE WAY TO THE HUDSON BAY”
THE FUR TRADE WAS BUILT ON THESE RIVER HIGHWAYS. TRADE GOODS WERE
BROUGHT IN, FURS WERE BROUGHT OUT,
ALMOST ALL BY WATER. IN ENGLAND, HIGH FASHION
FELT HATS, WERE MADE OUT OF THE BEAVER FURS. EXTREMELY VALUABLE AND
OFTEN PASSED FROM FATHER TO SON. THE VOYAGEURS, PRIMARILY
FRENCH CANADIAN, WERE THE BACKBONE OF THE FUR TRADE. THE VOYAGEURS WRE LABORERS,
THE HEAVY LIFTERS EXPECTED TO WORK
16 HOURS A DAY, PADDLING 55
STOKES PER MINUTE. THE BIRCH BARK CANOE WAS
THE TRANSPORTATION OF CHOICE. “IT WAS THE SEMI TRAILER
OF THE DAY, THERE’S JUST NO QUESTION ABOUT IT. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT A 25′
BOAT, FOUR FEET ACROSS THE BEAM, IT WAS ABLE TO CARRY
A TON AND A HALF OF TRADE CARGO”. THE NORTH AMERICAN FUR
TRADE WAS BOOMING THE YEAR DAVID THOMPSON WAS BORN. BORN IN LONDON IN 1770,
DAVID THOMPSON WAS RAISED BY HIS WIDOWED MOTHER
IN THE TOUGH PART OF WESTMINSTER. AT SEVEN, HE ENTERED THE
GREY COAT CHARITY SCHOOL, DEDICATED TO EDUCATING
POOR CHILDREN. “IF YOU WERE SMART YOU GOT
YOU GOT ON A HONOR’S TRACK, SO HE WAS TAKING
TRIGONOMETRY WHEN HE WAS 12, 13 YEARS OLD AND
GETTING GOOD AT IT. ” THOMPSON LEARNED THE BASICS
OF PRACTICAL NAVIGATION, THE USE OF A QUADRANT
AND CROSS STAFF AND STANDARD METHODS FOR
DETERMINING LATITUDE. “THE HUDSON’S BAY CO. KNEW ABOUT THESE CHARITY
SCHOOLS AS DID THE BRITISH NAVY AND THEY WERE LOOKING
FOR PEOPLE WITH SURVEYING SKILLS. ”
IN 1784, TWO STUDENTS WERE APPRENTICED TO THE HUDSON’S
BAY COMPANY FOR SEVEN YEARS, TO WORK IN THE NORTH
AMERICAN FUR TRADE. ONE RAN AWAY. THE OTHER WAS 14 YEAR
OLD DAVID THOMPSON. “IT MUST HAVE BEEN PRETTY
SHOCKING TO LAND ON THE SHORE OF HUDSON BAY, WHICH
ALONE IS A PRETTY RUGGED PLACE, LET ALONE THE KIND
OF PEOPLE HE WAS SURROUNDED BY”
“.BEING THRUST INTO AN ALIEN LANDSCAPE WHILE STILL AN
ADOLESCENT. LEARNING CREE, LEARNING
PIEGAN, LEARNING FRENCH, COMING TO KNOW THE LANDS OF
THE PEOPLE OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA FIRST HAND. ”
WITHIN MONTHS THE ALIEN LANDSCAPE FROZE. “THERE WERE PEOPLE THAT
FOLDED UP UNDER THE PRESSURE OF BEING
ABOVE THE TREE LINE. HE NEVER COMPLAINED
ABOUT BEING COLD. HE GOES OUT AND LEARNS HOW
TO HUNT POLAR BEARS, AND PTARMIGAN AND FISH AND
LOOKS AT MOSQUITOES, AND I MEAN HIS BOUNDLESS
CURIOSITY DEVELOPED AT THE GREY COAT SCHOOL IS GIVEN
A WHOLE CONTINENT TO FLOURISH. ”
THE FUR TRADE WAS BOTH A NATIVE AND EUROPEAN WORLD. “WE MAKE A MISTAKE IN
THINKING THAT WE LIVE IN A MULTICULTURAL AGE,
BECAUSE IF WE LOOK BACK AT THE WORLD OF THE WEST,
IN THE LATE 18TH AND EARLY 19TH CENTURIES, WE HAVE THE
ABORIGINAL PRESENCE AND THERE IS SO MUCH DIVERSITY
ALREADY JUST WITHIN THAT WORLD. SO YOU’RE HEARING ALL THE
NATIVE LANGUAGES, YOU’RE HEARING ENGLISH,
GAELIC, FRENCH, IT’S JUST SUCH A
FANTASTIC TAPESTRY OR MOSAIC OF CULTURES. ”
AT 17, THOMPSON WAS SENT WEST TO WINTER WITH THE
BLACKFEET AT A WINTERING CAMP NEAR CALGARY, ALBERTA. ” AND THAT’S WHERE HE MET
SAUKAMAPPEE AND KOOTENAI APPE, THE GREAT WAR
CHIEF, AND SOKATOW THE CIVIL CHIEF. SO, HE FORMED A
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PIEGAN, HE LEARNED
THEIR LANGUAGE” “THERE’S 5 WHITE GUYS IN
A WINTER CAMP OF ABOUT 25 HUNDRED BLACKFEET, BUT
THE BLACKFEET ARE VERY HOSPITABLE TO THEM, AND
THEY TAKE THIS YOUNG TEENAGER AND PUT HIM IN THE
TENT OF AN ELDER WHICH WAS VERY GRACIOUS THING TO DO
SO HE COULD LEARN SOMETHING DURING THE WINTER”
DAVID THOMPSON JOURNAL: WE WERE LODGED IN THE TENT OF
AN OLD MAN. HE WAS FULL SIX FEET IN
HEIGHT, ERECT, AND OF A FRAME THAT SHOWED
STRENGTH AND ACTIVITY. I SAT AND LISTENED WITHOUT
BEING IN THE LEAST TIRED” THE ELDER WAS A CREE
NAMED SAUKAMAPPEE. NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, THOMPSON
LISTENED TO SAUKEMAPPE TELL STORIES. “SAUKAMAPPEE LIVED A LIFE
PROBABLY AS INTERESTING AS THOMPSON’S. HE WITNESSED THE
INTRODUCTION OF THE HORSE TO THE PLAINS. THE INTRODUCTION OF
FIREARMS TO PLAINS WAR WARFARE. HE WITNESSED THE
SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC. AND HE WAS ABLE TO RELATE
ALL THAT TO THOMPSON AND THOMPSON IN TURN COULD
RELATE IT TO US. ” “IT’S REALLY EASY TO SEE
HIS EDUCATION TO WESTERN NORTH AMERICA
BEGINNING IN THAT TENT. ” “DAVID THOMPSON HAD THE
MISFORTUNE TO BREAK HIS LEG AND IT WAS
SO SWELLED THAT I FOUND IT A DIFFICULT
MATTER TO SET IT. WHATEVER THE CONSEQUENCE
MAY BE IS YET UNCERTAIN,. . BUT SHALL HOPE
FOR THE BEST. — WILLIAM TOMISON
HUDSON BAY COMPANY 1789” THOMPSON LEARNED
PRACTICAL ASTRONOMY WHILE RECUPERATING FROM A BROKEN
LEG WHEN HE WAS 19. HE STUDIED UNDER PHILIP
TURNOR, THE BEST GEOGRAPHER IN THE NEW WORLD
AT THE TIME. “BUT IF YOU GO THROUGH HIS
JOURNALS, THEY’RE FILLED WITH ASTRONOMICAL
OBSERVATIONS AND TAKEN DOWN IN THE MOST
METICULOUS MANNER. IT WAS A LABOR
OF LOVE FOR HIM. HE WOULD GET UP IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT TO LOOK AT THE STARS. I MEAN YOU REALLY HAVE TO
BE COMMITTED TO SOMETHING TO DO THAT. AND HE WOULD TAKE READINGS
AGAIN AND AGAIN, OF A SINGLE PLACE AND THEN
AVERAGED THEM OUT TO TRY TO PINPOINT THAT ONE SPOT ON
THE SURFACE OF THE GLOBE. IT’S ALMOST SOMETHING IT
SEEMS HE WAS COMPELLED TO DO. ”
IT’S A VERY SMALL WORLD OF PEOPLE WHO HAD
THIS SKILL, AND THOMPSON, WHO IS COMING FROM NOWHERE IS IN
IT, AND HE CAN DO IT AS GOOD AS ANYBODY”
DENNY DEMEYER IS A LAND SURVEYOR AND A MEMBER OF
THE SURVEYOR’S HISTORICAL SOCIETY. “THE EARLIEST DEFINITION
OF SURVEYING WAS CALLED PRACTICAL ASTRONOMY, SO
WE WERE ALL PRACTICAL ASTRONOMERS ONCE
UPON A TIME” DEMEYER COLLECTS 200 YEAR
OLD SURVEYING EQUIPMENT. “THIS IS A 10 INCH LATTICE
WORK SEXTANT OF THE TYPE USED BY DAVID THOMPSON, IT
WAS MANUFACTURED IN LONDON. SEXTANTS WERE USED TO
MEASURE THE ANGLES BETWEEN CELESTIAL OBJECTS AND THE
HORIZON TO LOCATE ONES POSITION ON THE GLOBE. “THE LARGE PROBLEM EVERYONE
HAD WAS ESTABLISHING LONGITUDE. LATITUDE WAS FAIRLY EASY TO
ESTABLISH AND THEY HAD BEEN DOING THAT SINCE
THE 1500S, BUT LONGITUDE, HOW FAR
EAST AND WEST YOU WERE, WAS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT
TO DETERMINE. ” THOMPSON USED MERCURY
POURED INTO A TRAY TO CREATE AN
ARTIFICIAL HORIZON. OTHER TOOLS INCLUDED A FOUR
FOOT ACHROMATIC DOLLOND TELESCOPE,
A WATCH, A THERMOMETER, THE LATEST EDITION OF
THE NAUTICAL ALMANAC, AND OTHER REFERENCE TABLES. AFTER THOMPSON’S
APPRENTICESHIP, HE CONTINUED TO WORK FOR
THE HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY. BUT AT AGE 27, THOMPSON
ABRUPTLY LEFT THEIR EMPLOY. AFTER 13 YEARS OF SERVICE,
HE WALKED TO THE NEAREST NORTH WEST COMPANY POST
AND SIGNED ON WITH THE COMPETITION. “HE FELT HE WASN’T GETTING
ENOUGH ENCOURAGEMENT TO GO ON SURVEYS. THAT THE HUDSON’S BAY CO. HAD A MEAN AND SELFISH
POLICY, WHERE THE NORTHWEST CO WERE MORE
LIBERAL MINDED. ” “THOMPSON DID NOT GIVE
HUDSON’S BAY A YEAR NOTICE AND THAT WAS CONSIDERED
VERY BAD FORM” “WILLIAM TOMISON WROTE
THAT IF HE EVER MET DAVID THOMPSON, HE WOULD BE
TEMPTED TO PULL HIS EARS OFF, SO THERE CERTAINLY
WERE PEOPLE WITHIN THE HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY THAT
WERE VERY ANGRY WHEN DAVID THOMPSON LEFT.” UNLIKE THE HUDSON’S
BAY COMPANY, THAT WAS CONTROLLED FROM
AFAR IN LONDON, THE NORTH WEST COMPANY
WAS BASED OUT OF MONTREAL. THE PARTNERS, USUALLY
SCOTS, SHARED IN THE PROFITS. THOMPSON’S FIRST ASSIGNMENT
WAS AN AMBITIOUS ONE,. SURVEYING TRADING POSTS
FROM THE GREAT LAKES TO NORTH DAKOTA. IN 10 MONTHS HE
COVERED 4,000 MILES. ON THAT JOURNEY, THOMPSON
TOOK THE FIRST ACCURATE LONGITUDE OF AN IMPORTANT
MANDAN VILLAGE TRADING CENTER IN NORTH DAKOTA. HE INTERVIEWED ELDERS,
GATHERING IMPORTANT TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE ABOUT
THE UPPER MISSOURI. ” HE’S COMBINING TRIBAL
INFORMATION AND OUTDOOR SKILLS THAT HE’S
LEARNED IN HIS APPRENTICESHIP WITH
EUROPEAN STYLE WRITING AND MAP MAKING AND IT’S QUITE
AN ENGAGING MIX. AND HE GOES BACK AND MAKES
A MAP OF WHAT HE CALLS THE BEND OF THE MISSOURI”
THOMPSON’S ‘ BEND OF THE MISSOURI’ MAP ENDS UP IN
THE HANDS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON. ” JEFFERSON MAKES SOME
HANDWRITTEN NOTES ON THIS MAP OF THOMPSON AND ITS NOW
IN OUR LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. THE TWO NOTES THAT
JEFFERSON WRITES ON THERE ARE MR. THOMPSON’S
LONGITUDE FOR THESE VILLAGES IS,
AND HE KNOWS THAT’S IMPORTANT, AND THAT IS
WHERE LEWIS & CLARK END UP SPENDING THEIR FIRST
WINTER, IT’S THE PERFECT STOPPING POINT AND THEN ON
THE OTHER SIDE IN REVERSE IT SAYS THIS MAP BELONGS
TO CAPT. LEWIS. ” “ON THIS DAY I MARRIED
CHARLOTTE SMALL … DAVID THOMPSON,
JUNE 10, 1799” AT 29, THOMPSON MARRIED
CHARLOTTE SMALL AT ILE A LA CROSSE , A TRADING
POST ON THE CHURCHILL RIVER. OF MIXED BLOOD, CHARLOTTE’S
MOTHER WAS NAHATHAWAY CREE AND HER FATHER, A
SCOTTISH FUR TRADER. “THEY KNEW THAT THESE KINDS
OF RELATIONSHIPS THAT THEY FORMED WITH NATIVE WOMEN,
WOULD NOT QUALIFY AS MARRIAGES. THERE WERE NO MINISTERS
AROUND, THERE WAS NO CHURCH. THEY DIDN’T VIEW THEM AS
MARRIAGES IN THEIR EYES” “THE FUR TRADE DOESN’T
WORK WITHOUT THEM. THOMPSON ALWAYS
TRAVELS WITH WOMEN. HE IS DEPENDING ON THEM. AND HE HAS A MIXED BLOOD
WIFE JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE DOES. ”
“MY LOVELY WIFE IS OF THE BLOOD OF THESE PEOPLE,
SPEAKING THEIR LANGUAGE AND WELL EDUCATED IN THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE, WHICH GIVES ME A GREAT ADVANTAGE. ”
“THE TRADERS ALWAYS RECOGNIZED THAT THESE
CONNECTIONS WERE IMPORTANT, THAT THEY NEEDED
CONNECTIONS IF THEY WERE GOING TO SURVIVE. ”
“BECAUSE YOUR MOST LIKELY TO TRADE WITH YOUR BROTHER
IN LAW OR YOUR SON IN LAW THAN YOU ARE GOING TO A
COMPETITION WHERE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY KINSHIP TIES. ” IN FALL OF 1800,
THOMPSON AND HIS NEW WIFE, CHARLOTTE, ARRIVED AT
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE. THE POST, BUILT A YEAR
EARLIER, STOOD UPSTREAM FROM A STRING OF POSTS ON
THE UPPER SASKATCHEWAN. ALTHOUGH THE MOUNTAINS
WERE BARELY IN VIEW, THE INTENTION WAS CLEAR. THE FUR TRADE WAS MOVING
WEST, HEADING FOR THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS. THE NOR’WESTERS WANTED TO
ATTRACT THE TRADE OF THE KOOTENAI,
A TRIBE ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS. “THE KOOTENAI ARE THIS
REALLY COMPLEX TRIBE AND ONE OF THE FEW TRIBES
THAT’S LIVING BOTH PLAINS CULTURE AND PLATEAU CULTURE
TOGETHER, WHERE UPPER KOOTENAI PEOPLE GO BACK AND
FORTH ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS. ” THE KOOTENAI ARE AN ANCIENT
PEOPLE, WHO’VE LIVED ON THE COLUMBIA PLATEAU FOR
OVER 10,000 YEARS. ” OUR LANGUAGE IS AN
ISOLATE LANGUAGE, THE KOOTENAI LANGUAGE, THERE IS
NO OTHER LANGUAGE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH
THAT IS LIKE IT. ” “WE’RE ALL UPNUCKANICK,
THAT’S THE TRUE TERM OF WHO WE ARE UPNUCKANICK”
AT THAT TIME, THE PIEGAN, BLOOD AND BLACKFEET
DOMINATED THE NORTHERN PLAINS. “THE PIEGAN FOR GENERATIONS
HAVE BEEN SAVVY ABOUT PROTECTING THEIR
INTERESTS”. THEY ACTED AS MIDDLEMEN
BETWEEN THE FUR TRADERS AND TRIBES WEST OF
THE MOUNTAINS. ” I WATCHED AS
THE KOOTENAIS SWAPPED THEIR BEST HORSES AND DRESS
FURS TO THE PIEGAN FOR OLD KETTLES AND BROKEN TOOLS. PETER FIDLER, HUDSON’S
BAY COMPANY 1792″ ” THE PIEGAN AND THEIR
ALLIES THE BLACKFOOT AND BLOOD DIDN’T REALLY LIKE
THE FACT THAT THOMPSON WANTED TO MOVE THROUGH THEM
AND TRADE DIRECTLY WITH GROUPS LIKE THE SALISH THE
KOOTENAI AND ALL THOSE TRIBES ON THE WEST
SIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS. ” ” THEY SEE EUROPEANS IN
MUCH THE SAME WAY AS THEY WERE ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING
OTHER FIRST NATIONS, NOT NECESSARILY AS FRIENDS OR
FOES, BUT AS POTENTIAL THREATS, OR AS
POTENTIAL OPPORTUNITY. ” WHEN THE KOOTENAI TRIED TO
TRADE DIRECTLY WITH THE EUROPEANS, THE PIEGAN
HARASSED THEM AND TRIED TO STEAL THEIR HORSES. DAVID THOMPSON JOURNAL:
OCTOBER 16, 1800 ” I CAN NOT HELP BUT ADMIRE THOSE
BRAVE UNDAUNTED KOOTENAI. WHEN THE YOUNG PIEGAN MEN
SEIZED THE HEADS OF THEIR HORSES, THEY ALL ACTED
AS IF BY ONE SOUL, BENT THEIR BOWS,. AND PREPARED TO MAKE
THEIR OPPRESSORS QUIT THEIR HORSES OR SELL
THEIR LIVES DEARLY” THE KOOTENAI WANTED THE FUR
TRADERS TO BUILD A TRADING POST IN THEIR HOMELAND. ANXIOUS TO TAP THIS NEW
SOURCE OF FURS, THE NORTH WEST COMPANY DECIDED TO
EXPAND THEIR BUSINESS ACROSS THE ROCKIES IN 1806. THOMPSON, RECENTLY NAMED A
PARTNER IN THE COMPANY, WAS PLACED IN CHARGE
OF THE EXPEDITION. “MR. DAVID THOMPSON
IS MAKING PREPARATIONS FOR AN ATTEMPT TO
CROSS THE MOUNTAINS, PASS THROUGH THE COUNTRY
AND FOLLOW THE COLUMBIA RIVER TO THE SEA. .. JAMES BIRD, HUDSON’S
BAY COMPANY 1807” THE COURSE WOULD FOLLOW AN
ANCIENT KOOTENAI TRAIL, UP THE SASKATCHEWAN, OVER
THE ROCKIES INTO KOOTENAI COUNTRY. IT’S TODAY’S HOWSE PASS. THOMPSON WAS NOW 36,
CHARLOTTE 21, WITH THREE CHILDREN UNDER
THE AGE OF SIX. THIS EXPEDITION WAS
CAREFULLY PLANNED. AN ADVANCE PARTY, LED BY
JACO FINLEY, WAS DISPATCHED TO IMPROVE THE KOOTENAI
TRAIL ACROSS THE DIVIDE. “IT’S DESCRIBED AS
LEADING AN EXPEDITION OVER, BUT YET THERE’S ALREADY
PEOPLE OVER THERE, AND THERE’S PEOPLE BRINGING UP
HORSES BEHIND THEM TO KEEP THEM SUPPLIED. IT’S THIS LONG STUTTERED
SEQUENCE OF CACHING MATERIALS AND WAITING
FOR THE SNOW TO MELT AND GETTING THE GUIDES
HE WANTED IN PLACE. IT’S MUCH MORE LIKE
AN ASCENT ON MT. EVEREST WHERE YOU HAVE BASE
CAMPS AND YOU HAVE STUFF COMING UP AND YOU HAVE
PEOPLE WHO KNOW THAT THEY AREN’T GOING TO SUMMIT, BUT
THEY’RE PART OF THE TEAM. ” BY THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY,
THE ICE WAS BREAKING UP ON THE SASKATCHEWAN. EIGHT VOYAGEURS WERE
PICKED FOR THE EXPEDITION. TWO SEPARATE GROUPS
TRAVELED TOWARD THE ROCKIES. CLERK FINAN MCDONALD WITH
FIVE VOYAGEURS, HEADED UPSTREAM IN THEIR
PACKED CANOE. THOMPSON AND THE REMAINING
THREE RODE THROUGH THE WOODED FORESTS, LEADING
A STRING OF PACKHORSES. CHARLOTTE AND THE CHILDREN,
ALSO RODE OVERLAND ALONG WITH TWO OTHER FAMILIES,
TRAILED BY A BUNCH OF CAMP DOGS. “AND HIS CREW IS SO STEADY,
THAT YOU SORT OF DEVELOP THIS AFFINITY AND GET THIS
FEELING THAT IT’S NOT JUST THOMPSON. SO AGAIN, HE’S SORT OF THIS
ROLLING TRAVELING CIRCUS. ” THOMPSON’S DAILY WEATHER
REPORT SEEMED TO REFLECT HIS OPTIMISM
FOR THE JOURNEY. “A FINE DAY”,
“A VERY FINE DAY”, “A DAY WITH FLYING CLOUDS”
THOMPSON: “I HAD A VERY EXTENSIVE VIEW
OF THE COUNTRY. HILLS AND ROCKS RISING ONE
BEHIND ANOTHER, HIGHER AND HIGHER TO THE SNOWY
SUMMITS OF THE MOUNTAINS. NEVER BEFORE DID I BEHOLD
SO PERFECT A RESEMBLANCE TO THE WAVES OF THE OCEAN
IN THE WINTRY STORM. ” FOLLOWING JOCKO FINLEY’S
MARKED PATH UP THE OLD KOOTENAI TRAIL,
THE PARTY CLIMBED TO THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE,. WHICH THOMPSON CALLED
THE “HEIGHT OF LAND. ” ” THE ROCKIES ARE VERY
INTIMIDATING, AND HE’S NOT A MOUNTAIN GUY. HE’S CUT HIS TEETH
IN THE PRAIRIE. AND IT’S JUST SO
DISORIENTING TO GET UP INTO HIGH MOUNTAINS. ”
JUNE 15, 1807 “THE SNOWS ARE NOW RUSHING DOWN WITH
THE NOISE THAT WE CAN HARDLY PERSUADE OURSELVES
IT IS NOT THUNDER – WE HEAR IT AT LEAST EVERY HOUR. ”
“IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN IN THE ROCKIES DURING SPRING
RUNOFF, IT’S EXCITING. THERE’S A LOT OF NOISE,
THERE’S A LOT OF STUFF COMING DOWN, THERE’S A LOT
OF WATER RUNNING, IT’S HARD TO DO ANYTHING. EXCEPT STAND THERE
AND BE IN AWE OF IT” THE TRAIL UP WAS RELATIVELY
EASY, BUT GOING DOWN THE WEST SLOPE OF THE ROCKIES
WAS A DIFFERENT MATTER ALTOGETHER. DAVID THOMPSON: “THE HORSES
ROLLED DOWN SO OFTEN, AND RECEIVED SUCH VIOLENT
SHOCKS FROM THE TREES AS TO DEPRIVE THEM FOR
A TIME OF MOTION. ” DURING THE STEEP DESCENT,
THE NOR’WESTERS WERE FORCED BACK AND FORTH ACROSS THE
RAGING BLAEBERRY RIVER, WILD WITH RUNOFF. ” AND HE’S GOT VOYAGEURS
THAT ARE SWIMMING ACROSS HOLDING ON TO HORSES MANES
OR TAILS, WHO HE’S WORRIED ABOUT BECAUSE NONE OF
THEM CAN EVER SWIM. HE NEVER MENTIONS
CHARLOTTE, HIS WIFE OR HIS KIDS AGED 5, 3, AND 1. I MEAN IT’S REALLY HARD TO
IMAGINE HOW THEY’RE GETTING ACROSS WITHOUT
BEING IN DANGER. ” THE DENSE TRAIL, POORLY
CLEARED BY JACO FINLEY AND HIS MEN THE SUMMER BEFORE,
WAS PRACTICALLY IMPASSABLE. THOMPSON WAS
FURIOUS WITH JACO, HIS MEN EXHAUSTED. THOMPSON REPORT: “THE
ROAD WAS NOWHERE CLEARED ANY MORE THAN JUST TO
PERMIT JACO AND HIS FAMILY TO SQUEEZE THROUGH IT WITH
THEIR LIGHT BAGGAGE, AND IT IS OF THE OPINION OF EVERY
MAN WITH ME, THAT JACO OUGHT TO LOSE AT
LEAST HALF HIS WAGES” IN LATE JUNE, THOMPSON’S
PARTY REACHED THE BANKS OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER, NEAR
GOLDEN, BRITISH COLUMBIA. “HE HITS THE COLUMBIA AT A
VERY BEAUTIFUL PLACE WHERE THE BLAEBERRY
COMES INTO IT. IT’S THIS WIDE VALLEY,
WITH LOTS OF WETLANDS” SINCE THE HEADWATERS OF THE
COLUMBIA RUN NORTH FOR 300 MILES BEFORE CURVING SOUTH,
THOMPSON HAD NO IDEA HE’D FOUND THE HIGHLY SOUGHT
AFTER GREAT RIVER OF THE WEST
THE REMAINING LINK TO A NORTHWEST PASSAGE. THOMPSON’S FIRST PRIORITY
WAS TO FIND THE TRIBES AND ESTABLISH TRADE. HE MOVED HIS PARTY SOUTH,
UPSTREAM, LOOKING FOR THE KOOTENAI, BUT THEY WERE
NOT THERE TO MEET HIM. TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE,
THERE’S NO FOOD, AND THE BIRCH BARK IS TOO THIN
FOR BUILDING CANOES. “HE KNOWS THE RULES HAVE
CHANGED BUT HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND HOW. HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND
WHAT THE NEW RULES ARE. ” “CROSSING OVER THE
MOUNTAINS, IT’S A DIFFERENT ECOSYSTEM. IT’S TIED TO THE PACIFIC AS
OPPOSED TO THE ATLANTIC. YOU’RE NOT DEALING WITH
CULTURES DEPENDENT ON THE BISON OR THE
CARIBOU AS HE KNEW. ” THOMPSON JOURNALS:
JULY 19, 1807 “THE COUNTRY IS EXTREMELY
POOR IN PROVISIONS, NOTHING LARGER THAN A CHEVERUIL,
AND WE ARE IN ALL 17 MOUTHS TO FEED”
” AT THE TIME, IF YOU’RE LIVING ON THE PRAIRIE,
THERE’S 50 MILLION BUFFALO AND 50 MILLION PRONG HORN
ANTELOPE. SO HE HAS A VERY
STEEP LEARNING CURVE” THOMPSON JOURNALS:
“THE MEN WERE NOW SO WEAK, THAT HOWEVER WILLING,
THEY ACTUALLY HAD NOT THE STRENGTH TO WORK. ”
” I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO SEE THOMPSON FLIPPED FROM
THIS THIS HYPER COMPETENT INDIVIDUAL TO SOMEONE WHO
NOW IS FACING STARVATION ON A REGULAR BASIS. ALL OF A SUDDEN, NOW HE HAS
TO STEP BACK AND BECOME THE STUDENT .” A BAND OF KOOTENAI
FINALLY ARRIVED. THOMPSON JOURNALS:
“THE KOOTENAI SAW OUR FAMISHED LOOKS AND ASKING NO QUESTIONS,
GAVE EVERYONE A SUFFICIENCY TO EAT, WHICH WAS MOST
GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED. ” THOMPSON BUILT THE FIRST
TRADE POST AT THE SOURCE LAKES OF THE COLUMBIA, JUST
ABOVE LAKE WINDERMERE. HE NAMED IT KOOTENAI HOUSE. TODAY, PARKS CANADA
ARCHEOLOGIST BILL PERRY AND HIS CREW, DIG FOR 200
YEAR OLD ARTIFACTS AT THE HISTORIC KOOTENAI
HOUSE SITE. “DAVID THOMPSON WAS IN THE
MIDDLE OF A FUR TRADE SO HE WAS TRADING WITH A LOT OF
NATIVES SO WE’RE EXPECTING A LOT OF NATIVE CAMP SITE
ACTIVITIES OVER HERE” KOOTENAI HOUSE CONSISTED
OF THREE BUILDINGS WITH PALISADE WALLS
FOR PROTECTION. THOMPSON’S JOURNAL:
” 30 PIEGAN MEN ARE ON THERE WAY HERE. ” THEY HAVE IT IN
THEIR POWER TO BE VERY TROUBLESOME TO US AND EVEN
TO CUT US OFF;” THE PIEGANS ARE HIGHLY JEALOUS OF THE
KOOTENAIS HAVING A POST FOR TRADE AMONG THEM. ”
“THE LAST THING THE PIEGANS WANT TO HAVE IS GUNS IN THE
HANDS OF THE KOOTENAI. WHEN THOMPSON STARTS
LOOKING TO CROSS THE MOUNTAINS AND TRADE GUNS
DIRECTLY TO THE KOOTENAI, THE PIEGAN SEE HIM
AS AN ARMS DEALER. YOU ASKED A MOMENT AGO, WHY
DIDN’T THEY KILL HIM, THEY THOUGHT ABOUT IT,
DON’T THINK IT DIDN’T CROSS THEIR MINDS,
BUT IT IS A COMPLICATED SITUATION YOU SEE,
BECAUSE THE PEOPLE THAT EMPLOY THOMPSON ARE THE
SAME PEOPLE THAT PROVIDE THE PIEGAN WITH THE
BLANKETS AND THE COPPER POTS AND THE GLASS BEADS
AND THE GUNS ” IN TRUTH, THOMPSON TRADED
FEW GUNS AND NO ALCOHOL WEST OF THE MOUNTAINS. “BECAUSE HE KEEPS
TRACK OF EVERYTHING. HE’S ALWAYS COUNTING
WHAT HE HAS. AND IF YOU LOOK AT THOSE
TRADE LISTS THERE ARE HARDLY ANY FIRE
ARMS INVOLVED. I MEAN THERE ARE JUST TINY
NUMBERS BECAUSE THEY ARE SO HEAVY TO CARRY AND HE HAS
TO CARRY EVERYTHING FROM LAKE SUPERIOR. MOST OF THE TRADE GOODS
WERE DIRECTED TOWARD WOMEN; AWLS FOR PUNCHING HOLES,
FLINT AND STEEL FOR STARTING FIRES, COPPER
POTS, SEWING NEEDLES, WOOL BLANKETS AND LINEN SHIRTS. IN EARLY FALL, 1807,
THOMPSON WAS READY TO EXPLORE, OR WHAT HE CALLED,
“GOING ON DISCOVERY”. “THE ELDERS THAT HE’S
DEALING WITH, THEY SAY YOU CAN’T GO. WELL, HE SAYS, WHY CAN’T I
GO, YOU’VE GOT TO WAIT FOR UGLY HEAD FOR HE’S THE
GUIDE WITH THE POLITICAL SKILLS AND THE LANGUAGE
SKILLS AND THE INTEGRITY TO SHOW YOU AROUND. I MEAN, YOU CAN’T JUST GO
FROM ONE NATION TO ANOTHER. ” UGLY HEAD, IS A KOOTENAI
CHIEF, SO NAMED BECAUSE OF HIS UNUSUAL HEAD
OF CURLY HAIR. “THERE ARE ALL THESE DOORS
AND UGLY HEAD IS THE GUY THAT HAS ALL THE KEYS AND
IS GOING TO OPEN THE DOOR THAT HE WANTS TO. ”
“THEY’RE GIVING HIM INFORMATION ON A PIECE BY
PIECE BASES, A LITTLE BIT AT A TIME, HE HAS TO EARN
THAT TRUST” CHIEF UGLY HEAD AND HIS
WIFE TOOK THOMPSON ON HIS FIRST REAL “DISCOVERY”
OF THE AREA. ” AND THEY START RIDING
UPSTREAM ON THE COLUMBIA, AND THEY RIDE ACROSS THE
CANAL FLATS PORTAGE, WHICH IS A ONE-MILE PORTAGE THAT
TAKES YOU TO KOOTENAY RIVER, AND THOMPSON IS
JUST SORT OF BLOWN AWAY. IT’S FABULOUSLY BEAUTIFUL
COUNTRY AND THEY GO DOWN TO THE ST. MARY’S RIVER,
AND UGLY HEAD GOES “WELL I
LIVE IN BONNERS FERRY I WANT TO TAKE THIS SHORT CUT
OVER THE MOUNTAINS TO GET THERE, LET’S GO”… AND HE POINTS TO THESE
MOUNTAINS THAT ARE ALREADY COVERED WITH SNOW AND SAYS
IT WILL JUST TAKE A FEW WEEKS. THOMPSON IS INTIMIDATED BY
THE MOUNTAINS FOR SURE. HE’S WORRIED ABOUT
CHARLOTTE AND THE KIDS BACK AT KOOTENAI HOUSE BECAUSE
SO FAR THERE HAVE BEEN MORE BLACKFEET THAN KOOTENAIS
AT KOOTENAI HOUSE THOMPSON RETURNED TO SPEND
HIS FIRST WINTER ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS
AT KOOTENAI HOUSE. ” BOTH CANADIANS AND INDIANS
OFTEN INQUIRED OF ME WHY I PASSED WHOLE NIGHTS WITH MY
INSTRUMENTS LOOKING AT THE MOON AND STARS. I TOLD THEM IT WAS TO
DETERMINE THE DISTANCE AND DIRECTION FROM THE PLACE I
OBSERVED TO OTHER PLACES, NEITHER THE CANADIANS NOR
THE INDIANS BELIEVED ME; FOR BOTH ARGUED THAT IF
WHAT I SAID WAS TRUTH, I OUGHT TO LOOK TO THE
GROUND, AND OVER IT; AND NOT TO THE STARS
“NOT ONLY NATIVE PEOPLE BUT HIS OWN FRENCH-CANADIAN
EMPLOYEES WOULD COME TO HIM AND ASK HIM TO SOMEHOW
CONTROL NATURE FOR THEM. RAISE A WIND FOR US, MAKE
THE GAME COME TO US. THEY ALL THOUGHT THAT WHAT
HE WAS DOING WHEN HE WAS OBSERVING THE SKIES WAS
SOMEHOW SEEING WHAT WAS HAPPENING FAR AWAY, OR
SEEING INTO THE FUTURE” THOMPSON FOUND TIME TO WORK
ON HIS MAPS DURING THE WINTER. HE’D DRAW NUMEROUS SMALL
CHARTS, USING COORDINATES AND COMPASS COURSES FROM
HIS SURVEY NOTEBOOKS. LATER THE CHARTS WERE
LINED-UP AND CONNECTED, FITTING TOGETHER LIKE
TILES ON A FLOOR. THOMPSON’S FIRST YEAR WEST
OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS WAS CLOSE TO BEING HIS LAST. THE SMALL NUMBER OF FURS
COLLECTED CAST DOUBT ON THE COMMERCIAL VALUE
OF THE COLUMBIA. THOMPSON, FRUSTRATED,
WROTE LETTERS BACK TO HIS PARTNERS SAYING THE
KOOTENAI DID NOT UNDERSTAND COMMERCIAL LEVEL TRAPPING. “TO HIM, HE WANTS EVERY
FAMILY TO GET A PACK OR TWO PACKS OF FURS, THAT’S
BETWEEN 60 AND OVER 100 BEAVER, EVERY WINTER
FROM NOW ON FOREVER. THEY CAN’T UNDERSTAND THAT. THAT’S ONE OF THOSE
CULTURAL DISJUNCTS THAT DON’T MAKE ANY SENSE. WHY WOULD YOU TRAP
THAT MANY BEAVER? ” THE PLATEAU TRIBES
TRADITIONALLY GAMBLED, DANCED AND SPIRITUALLY
RESTORED THEMSELVES IN THE WINTER. “HE IS ALWAYS GOING CRAZY
HARANGUING THEM TO GO TRAP, IT’S WINTER, THE PELTS
ARE PRIME, WHY AREN’T YOU TRAPPING? AND THEY GO, OH WE CAN’T. WE HAVE TO SPIRITUALLY
RESTORE OURSELVES, THIS IS WHAT WE DO IN THE WINTER. WE WORK ALL YEAR SO THAT WE
CAN NOW DO THE THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO US. AND HE SEES THIS DEEP
SPIRITUALITY AS AN ESSENTIAL PART
OF THEIR CULTURE. ” IN SPRING 1808, THOMPSON
AND FOUR VOYAGEURS RETRACED HIS SHORT TRIP OF THE
PREVIOUS FALL AND CONTINUED SOUTH, DOWN STEAM ON
THE KOOTENAY RIVER. THIS TIME, THOMPSON RODE
IN A CANOE WITH A COMPASS, RECORDING EACH SMALL
CHANGE OF DIRECTION WHILE ESTIMATING THE DISTANCE
IN FRACTIONS OF MILES. THE PARTY CROSSED THE 49TH
PARALLEL IN WHAT IS NOW NORTHWESTERN MONTANA. TO BRING IN MORE BEAVER
PACKS, THOMPSON PLANNED TO RENDEZVOUS WITH A GROUP OF
KOOTENAI GUIDES, THEN MOVE SOUTH TO OPEN TRADE WITH
THE FLATHEAD IN MONTANA. BUT WHEN HIS GUIDES DID NOT
APPEAR, THE NOR’WESTERS CONTINUED DOWNSTREAM ALONE,
CROSSING OVER THE STEEP DANGEROUS PORTAGE
OF KOOTENAI FALLS. 23 YEAR OLD DAN BLACKBURN,
A PROFESSIONAL KAYAKER, GREW UP ON THE
KOOTENAI RIVER. “WHEN I STARTED KAYAKING
THAT WAS MY MAIN GOAL IS TO GO OVER KOOTENAI FALLS,
BECAUSE I HEARD PEOPLE COULD DO IT. IT’S A MILE AND A HALF OF
WORLD CLASS WHITE WATER” TODAY, KOOTENAI FALL’S
WATER LEVEL IS CONTROLLED BY LIBBY DAM, IN MONTANA. BUT IN THOMPSON’S DAY THE
WATER WAS FREE FLOWING; MUCH STRONGER
THAN IT IS TODAY THREE HUNDRED FEET ABOVE
THE RIVER, OVER SHARP ROCKS, BLACKBURN WITH A
FRIEND PORTAGE KOOTENAI FALLS, FOLLOWING THE
SAME TRIBAL TRAIL THAT THOMPSON’S PARTY USED
SO MANY YEARS AGO. DAN BLACKBURN:
“WE’RE BASICALLY SEEING THE SAME THINGS, IT’S A
REALLY COOL FEELING TO THINK BACK THAT FAR, PRETTY
HUMBLING. ” THOMPSON: MAY 6, 1808
“OUR HEIGHT AT TIMES WAS ABOUT 300 FEET
ABOVE THE RIVER, THE LEAST SLIP WOULD HAVE
BEEN INEVITABLE DEATH. EACH MAN HAD TWO PAIRS OF
SHOES ON HIS FEET, BUT THEY WERE CUT TO PIECES. ”
THAT MAY, THE NOR’WESTERS ARRIVED AT BONNER’S FERRY,
IDAHO; THE HOME OF UGLY HEAD’S PEOPLE. IN THE SUMMER OF 2008,
TRIBAL LEADERS AND HISTORIANS SET UP AN
ENCAMPMENT NEAR THE SPOT THE KOOTENAI AND THOMPSON
SHARED IN THE SPRING OF 1808. “I HAD THIS VISION ABOUT
AN ENCAMPMENT AND THE INFLUENCE THAT DAVID
THOMPSON HAD ON THE KOOTENAI PEOPLE AND VICE
VERSA, AND HERE WE ARE. ” TIM RYAN AND OTHER TRIBAL
MEMBERS SHARE THEIR KNOWLEDGE. “THE NATURAL WORLD OUT
THERE, THE FORESTS ARE KIND OF LIKE OUR CHURCHES. ”
RYAN MAKES ITEMS USED BY HIS NATIVE ANCESTORS WITH
THE SAME MATERIALS AND HAND-MADE TOOLS. ” MY PRIORITY IS TO LEARN
THESE SKILLS AND ASSURE THAT THESE SKILLS ARE STILL
PRESENT WITHIN OUR CULTURE AND THAT THEY’RE
STILL PRACTICED” THOMPSON USED BONNER’S
FERRY AS A BASE AND PADDLED NORTH TOWARD KOOTENAY LAKE,
THE HOME OF THE FLAT BOW BAND. “KOOTENAY LAKE USED TO
BE THE HEARTBEAT OF OUR PEOPLE, THE FLAT BOW AND
ALL THE STREAMS AND RIVERS THAT FLOWED INTO KOOTENAY
LAKE, IT WAS LIKE ARTERIES” FOR GENERATIONS, WAYNE
LOUIS’S FAMILY HAS LIVED NEAR KOOTENAY LAKE
IN BRITISH COLUMBIA. ” WHEN IT USED TO FLOOD, IN
THE OLD DAYS BEFORE DAMS WERE PUT IN, THIS USED TO
BECOME ONE BIG DELTA, THIS WHOLE VALLEY. THIS WHOLE VALLEY
ONE BIG DELTA TO NAVIGATE THE DELTA,
THE KOOTENAI DESIGNED THE DISTINCTIVE
STURGEON-NOSED CANOE. “THE ELDERS USED TO SAY
WHEN YOU GOT TO THIS STAGE THIS RESEMBLED A
SKELETON OF A STURGEON. IT DOES BECAUSE THE SNOUTS
THERE, HERE’S RIBS AND BONES. AT HIGH WATER TIME WHEN THE
BULL RUSHES WERE UP, THESE CANOES USED TO BE ABLE TO
NAVIGATE THROUGH THE BULL RUSHES. ”
THOMPSON ADMIRED THE STURGEON-NOSED CANOES. “WHEN DAVID THOMPSON CAME
UP HERE, HE CAME UP HERE IN MAY. THAT WAS THE
HIGH WATER TIME,. ..AND HE TRAVELED THE ROUTE
UP HERE, THE RIVER, AND HE WENT ALL THE WAY UP TO THE
HISTORIC WATER LEVEL, IT’S CALLED KOOTENAY LANDING. ”
NEAR THAT POINT, THE KOOTENAY RIVER HEADS WEST
JOINING THE COLUMBIA. THOMPSON DID NOT
INVESTIGATE FURTHER, BUT INSTEAD HURRIED BACK TO
A FLOODED BONNER’S FERRY HOPING TO TRADE WITH A
GROUP OF FLATHEAD WHO WERE SUPPOSEDLY ON THEIR WAY TO
THE KOOTENAI ENCAMPMENT. MAY 17, 1808 “HERE WE RECEIVED
THE DISAGREEABLE NEWS OF THE FLAT HEADS BEING UNABLE
TO COME HERE ON ACCOUNT OF THE FLOODING OF THE
COUNTRY, THUS ALL MY FINE
HOPES ARE RUINED” IN A LETTER, THOMPSON
EXPRESSED HIS FRUSTRATION AT BEING CUT OFF FROM THE
TRIBES BY WINTER SNOW AND SPRING FLOODS. THOMPSON JOURNAL MAY
17, 1808: “THE FLATHEADS WERE ONLY 12 DAY’S MARCH
FROM US LAST WINTER AND THE LAKE INDIANS ONLY 6 DAYS
AND YET BOTH ARE COMPLETELY SHUT UP BY MOUNTAINS AS IF
THEY WERE ON THE OTHER SIDE,
AND THE WATERS RISING IN THE SUMMER HAVE NEARLY THE
SAME EFFECT. THOMPSON COULD WAIT NO
LONGER FOR THE FLATHEADS. HE HAD A LONG TRADE RUN TO
MAKE BACK TO LAKE SUPERIOR. AFTER RECROSSING HOWSE
PASS, HE DROPPED CHARLOTTE AND THE KIDS OFF WITH
RELATIVES AT BOGGY HALL, AND THEN CONTINUED
DOWN THE SASKATCHEWAN. PERHAPS BECAUSE OF THE
PIEGAN THREAT, CHARLOTTE NEVER AGAIN TRAVEL WEST
OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS. IN THE SUMMER OF 1809,
THOMPSON DECIDED TO BUILD A TRADE POST MORE CENTRALLY
LOCATED TO THE PLATEAU TRIBES. HE CLOSED UP KOOTENAI HOUSE
AND MOVED HIS ENTIRE PARTY DOWN THE KOOTENAI RIVER,
SOUTH OVER THE GREAT ROAD TO THE FLATHEADS,. TO A LARGE TRIBAL
ENCAMPMENT ON LAKE PEND OREILLE. THOMPSON JOURNAL:
SEPTEMBER 9, 1809 “THEY ALL SMOKED, 54 FLAT HEADS,
23 POINTED HEARTS, AND 4 KOOTANAIS – IN
ALL ABOUT 80 MEN. THEN THEY MADE US A
HANDSOME PRESENT OF DRIED SALMON AND OTHER
FISH WITH BERRIES” “THEY TAKE HIM TO THIS
AMAZING MIXED TRIBAL ENCAMPMENT NEAR HOPE, IDAHO
WHERE EVERYBODY IS, ALL THE FLATHEADS AND KOOTENAIS AND
KALISPEL, BUT ALSO OKANOGAN AND SANDPOINT AND COEUR
D’ALENE AND NEZ PERCE, I MEAN EVERYBODY’S THERE”
THE ENCAMPMENT WAS LOCATED AT A PLACE CALLED INDIAN
MEADOWS ON THE BANKS OF LAKE PEND OREILLE. THOMPSON BUILT KULLYSPELL
HOUSE, NAMED AFTER THE KALISPEL PEOPLE
THAT LIVED THERE. THE KALISPEL WERE ALSO
CALLED THE PEND OREILLE BY THE TRADERS. THE KALISPEL, ARE ONE
OF MANY SALISH SPEAKING TRIBES. ” THE ENTIRE NORTHWEST
CONSISTS OF THE SALISH SPEAKING PEOPLE, WHO OUR
ELDERS SAY CAME FROM ONE LARGE GROUP AT ONE TIME. THOSE DIFFERENT BANDS THAT
ARE LOCATED IN OTHER AREAS ARE OTHER TRIBES NOW. WE REFER TO THEM AS THE
KALISPEL, THE SPOKANES, THE COEUR D’ALENE, THE
OKANOGANS, SUSHWA” DAVID THOMPSON JOURNALS:
” I SPENT MUCH OF THE DAY TRADING WITH THE INDIANS
WHO BROUGHT ABOUT 130 SKINS. SIXTEEN CANOES OF POINTED
HEARTS PASSED US AND CAMPED WITH OTHER FLATHEADS”. BUSINESS WAS BOOMING. AT TIMES, ENTIRE DAYS
HAD TO BE SET ASIDE FOR TRADING. IN THE MIDST OF ALL THIS
ACTIVITY, THOMPSON DECIDED TO ‘GO ON DISCOVERY’ AND
TRACE THE PEND OREILLE’S COURSE TO THE COLUMBIA. HE RODE WEST, FOLLOWING THE
PEND OREILLE RIVER TO A KALISPEL VILLAGE, NEAR
CUSICK, WASHINGTON. ” THE OLDEST MAN ACCORDING
TO CUSTOM MADE A SPEECH AND A PRESENT OF 2 CAKES
OF ROOT BREAD,. ” THE ROOT BREAD WAS MADE
FROM CAMAS OR EETOWOY. ON HIS LATER MAPS, THOMPSON
LABELED THIS AREA EETOWOY PLAINS. TRYING TO FIND A SUITABLE
TRADE ROUTE TO THE COLUMBIA PROVED DIFFICULT. THOMPSON BORROWED A
KALISPEL CANOE AND HEADED DOWN RIVER,. ..ONLY TO BE STOPPED BY THE
STEEP CLIFFS OF BOX CANYON. ” AND THOMPSON INSTEAD OF
PUSHING ON THROUGH AND GETTING TO THE COLUMBIA,
WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN A COUPLE DAYS WALK, TURNS
AROUND AND GOES BACK. ” THOMPSON LEFT A CREW TO
WINTER AT KULLYSPELL HOUSE,
THEN FOLLOWED THE CLARK FORK RIVER UPSTREAM TO THE
OPEN COUNTRY WHERE MANY SALISH BANDS WINTERED. THERE HE BUILT SALEESH
HOUSE, NEAR THOMPSON FALLS, MONTANA, AND
SPENT THE WINTER. ” AND IT’S REALLY A
REMARKABLE WINTER, THAT’S WHEN HE DOES HIS
SALISH WORD LIST” THOMPSON DEVOTED 26 PAGES
OF HIS JOURNAL LISTING 1,000 ALPHABETIZED ENGLISH
WORDS HE WANTED TO LEARN IN SALISH. “THEY TELL A LOT MORE ABOUT
THOMPSON THAN THEY TELL ABOUT THE SALISH INDIANS. JUST IN THE “A”S, ITS
LIKE ABANDONMENT, AMBUSH, ANXIETY, ANXIOUS. IT’S A VERY FUNNY LIST
THOMPSON WAS ABLE TO GATHER 400 SALISH EQUIVALENTS. IN MAY 1810, THOMPSON
DISPATCHED JACO FINLEY TO BUILD A NEW POST AMONG
THE SPOKANE PEOPLE. SPOKANE HOUSE WOULD
COMPLETE A CIRCLE OF TRADE IN WHAT THOMPSON CALLED THE
BETTER PART OF THE COUNTRY. LEAVING FINAN MCDONALD IN
CHARGE OF SALEESH HOUSE, THOMPSON TOOK THE FURS TO
LAKE SUPERIOR, EXPECTING TO REMAIN IN THE
EAST FOR A YEAR. THOMPSON LETTER TO
SIMON FRASER: DECEMBER 21, 1810 ” MY DEAR FRASER. I AM GETTING TIRED OF SUCH
CONSTANT HARD JOURNEYS; FOR THE LAST 20 MONTHS I HAVE
SPENT ONLY BARELY TWO MONTHS UNDER THE SHELTER
OF A HUT, ALL THE REST HAS BEEN IN MY TENT, AND THERE
IS LITTLE LIKELIHOOD THE NEXT 12 MONTHS WILL
BE MUCH OTHERWISE” “HE’S BEEN IN THE WOODS FOR
A LONG TIME NOW AND HE’S HOPING TO TAKE A YEAR OFF,
WHICH IS WHAT YOU ARE ALLOWED AS A PARTNER AND
GET UP WITH HIS FAMILY AND JUST RELAX. ”
BUT, THOMPSON DID NOT GET HIS SABBATICAL. THOMPSON LETTER TO FRASER:
DEC. 21, 1810, “THE AMERICANS, IT
SEEMS, WERE AS USUAL DETERMINED TO BE
BEFOREHAND WITH US IN THE COLUMBIA IN SHIP
NAVIGATION. THE AMERICAN WAS JOHN
JACOB ASTOR, A NEW YORK ENTREPRENEUR. HE’D STARTED THE PACIFIC
FUR COMPANY, AND WAS TRYING TO ENTER THE
WESTERN FUR TRADE. HIS SHIP, THE TONQUIN, WAS
SAILING AROUND THE HORN TO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA,
WHILE A SECOND OVERLAND PARTY WAS RETRACING LEWIS
AND CLARK’S ROUTE TO THE WEST. “JOHN JACOB ASTOR IS
LIKE DONALD TRUMP. HE’S GOT BUSINESS DEALS
ALL OVER WITH EVERYBODY. INCLUDING THE
NORTH WEST CO.” A YEAR EARLIER, ASTOR HAD
OFFERED THE NORTH WEST COMPANY, ONE THIRD INTEREST
IN HIS PACIFIC VENTURE. ” AND IT SOUNDS LIKE A
PARTNERSHIP BUT IT’S SO, CONVOLUTED THAT YOU CAN
TELL IT MIGHT NOT WORK” WITH THE AMERICANS
INVOLVED, THOMPSON COULD WAIT NO LONGER TO COMPLETE
HIS EXPLORATIONS DOWN THE COLUMBIA RIVER AND
DETERMINE WHETHER IT WAS NAVIGABLE TO THE SEA. HE NEEDED TO GET BACK WEST. BUT THE PIEGAN
HAD OTHER IDEAS. THEY HAD SET UP A
BLOCKADE AT HOWES PASS. “THE PEIGAN THREATENED
DURING THE BLOCKADE, THAT THEY’RE GOING TO KILL ANY
WHITE MAN THEY FIND WEST OF THE MOUNTAIN, AND THEY’RE
GOING TO MAKE DRIED MEAT OUT OF THEM. BELIEVE ME, THE HUDSON’S
BAY CO, THE NW CO. TOOK THAT THREAT SERIOUSLY”
ALEXANDER HENRY – ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE:
” THIS AFFAIR OF HIS CANOES BEING STOPPED BY THE
PIEGANS HAS INDUCED HIM TO ALTER HIS ROUTE AND
ENDEAVOR TO OPEN A NEW ROAD. AND IN SUCH RUGGED COUNTRY
THE BLACKFEET INDIANS WOULD NEVER DARE TO ENTER. ALEXANDER HENRY-ROCKY
MOUNTAIN HOUSE-1811″ THOMPSON HAD BEEN SEEKING
AN ALTERNATE ROUTE ACROSS THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
FOR SOME TIME. HE’D HEARD PROMISING
REPORTS OF A CROSSING AT THE HEADWATERS OF
THE ATHABASCA RIVER. BUT A WINTER CROSSING OVER
ATHABASCA PASS, WOULD BE DIFFICULT,. REQUIRING DOG
SLEDS AND SNOWSHOES. “THE PROBLEM FOR HIM REALLY
IS THAT BY GOING FROM THE SASKATCHEWAN TO THE
ATHABASCA HE’S IN A NEW FUR TRADE DISTRICT AND THE
VOYAGERS WHO HE TAKES WITH HIM AREN’T USED TO
WORKING FOR HIM. SO ALL THE OLD FAMILIAR
NAMES AND THE GUIDES HE’S GONE BACK AND FORTH WITH
ALL THESE YEARS ARE NO LONGER WITH HIM. AND THESE NEW GUYS THINK
THAT HE’S CRAZY, AND NONE OF THEM HAVE BEEN ACROSS
THE PASS BEFORE, AND HE WORKS THEM TOO HARD, AND
HE’S MAKING A WINTER CROSSING. SO THERE ARE ALL THESE
REASONS FOR THINGS TO GO WRONG”
THOMPSON JOURNALS: “DU NORD THREW HIS LOAD
ASIDE , SAYING HE WOULD NOT HAUL IT ANY MORE ALTHOUGH
HE HAS ONLY 80 POUNDS AND TWO GOOD DOGS, IN MY
OPINION HE IS A POOR SPIRITLESS WRETCH. ”
“THESE GUYS ARE SCARED AND THERE’S A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT
OF SNOW, AND THE TEMPERATURE WARMS UP FROM
30 BELOW TO 30 ABOVE IN ABOUT 36 HOURS. THE SLEDS START TO SINK,
THEY CAN’T FIND ANY FOOD, THE VOYAGERS ARE BEATING
THE DOGS TO DEATH.” THOMPSON JOURNALS
JANUARY 14, 1811 -: “THE COURAGE OF PART OF MY
MEN IS SINKING FAST. THEY SEE NOTHING IN ITS
PROPER COLOR, FEAR GATHERS ON THEM FROM EVERY OBJECT.” CANADIAN OUTFITTER WENDY
BUSH HAS BEEN DRIVING DOG TEAMS IN THE BACK COUNTRY
MOST OF HER LIFE. “SLED DOGS,” BUSH SAYS,
“ARE A STRONG PART OF HER CANADIAN HERITAGE. ”
” EVERY FAMILY HAD A DOG AND THEY HOOKED THAT DOG UP AND
PULLED THEIR TOBOGGANS WITH FIREWOOD OR WHATEVER CHORES
THEY HAD TO DO SO IT WAS A VERY CANADIAN THING TO DO
FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS, TO USE YOUR SLED DOG”
IN THOMPSON’S TIME, DOG DRIVERS DIDN’T RIDE, BUT
RAN BESIDE THE DOGS, HELPING TO DIRECT THE
TOBOGGAN OVER SNOW AND ICE. ” SO HE MADE HIS OWN SNOW
SHOES AND HIS TOBOGGAN. THAT’S PRETTY TOUGH GOING
TO BUILD YOUR OWN GEAR” TO CELEBRATE THE CENTENNIAL
OF CANADIAN NATIONAL PARKS,
BUSH, USING HER OWN SLED DOGS, RETRACED THOMPSON’S
HISTORIC 1811 CROSSING OF ATHABASCA PASS. “WE HAD BEEN TRAVELING IN
THE BACK COUNTRY OF JASPER NATIONAL PARKS FOR A NUMBER
OF YEARS SO WE WERE IN GOOD SHAPE AND OUR DOGS WERE
WELL TRAINED AND WE HAD LOTS OF MODERN EQUIPMENT. THOUGH REGARDLESS OF MODERN
EQUIPMENT, THERE ARE HAZARDS OUT THERE AND YOU
CAN STILL FALL IN THE WATER IF YOU MAKE A MISSTEP AND
DRAG YOUR DOG TEAM WITH YOU” THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“THE DESCENT WAS SO STEEP THAT THE DOGS COULD NOT
GUIDE THE SLEDS, AND OFTEN CAME ACROSS THE TREES WITH
SOME FORCE, THE DOGS ON ONE SIDE AND THE SLED
ON THE OTHER” BY THIS TIME, FOUR OF HIS
MEN HAD PLAINLY HAD ENOUGH OF THOMPSON,
AND THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL. THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“DU NORD WITH THE FORT DE PRAIRIE MEN, HAVING
LONG BEEN DISPIRITED AND USELESS
AS OLD WOMEN, TOLD ME HE WOULD RETURN, AND I WAS
HEARTILY TIRED OF SUCH WORTHLESS FELLOWS”
” EARLY HISTORIANS REPRESENTED THAT AS A
MUTINY AND EVERYBODY LEAVING. BUT IN HIS JOURNAL, WHICH
HE’S KEEPING AT THE TIME, HE SAYS, I’M GLAD TO BE RID
OF THESE GUYS, I DON’T LIKE THE WAY THEY TREAT THE
DOGS, THEY’RE EATING TOO MUCH, THEY’RE JUST A PAIN. GIVE ME THESE GUYS
THAT ARE DEPENDABLE” THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS THE
TREES WERE SMALL, THERE WE WERE MEN,
BUT ON THE WEST SIDE WE WERE PIGMIES, IN SUCH
FORESTS WHAT COULD WE DO WITH AXES OF TWO
POUND WEIGHT? THOMPSON, AND HIS REMAINING
THREE MEN, DUG IN FOR WINTER AT THE TOP BEND OF
THE COLUMBIA RIVER; AT A PLACE THOMPSON NAMED
BOAT ENCAMPMENT. FROM THIS VANTAGE POINT,
THOMPSON COULD HAVE TRAVELED DOWNSTREAM
TO THE PACIFIC. BUT, HE HAD A LARGE LOAD OF
TRADE GOODS TO DISTRIBUTE TO HIS POSTS ON THE
COLUMBIA PLATEAU. “SO HE SPENDS SIX WEEKS
BUILDING A NEW KIND OF CANOE THAT IS SPLIT CEDAR
PLANKS SEWN TO A REGULAR FRAME WITH SPRUCE ROOT
WATAP, AND HE JUST DOES A BEAUTIFUL JOB OF IT. ”
AT HIS HOME OVERLOOKING LAKE PEND OREILLE, BOAT
BUILDER BILL BRUSSTAR IS BUILDING A REPLICA OF DAVID
THOMPSON’S CEDAR PLANK CANOE. ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE
MOUNTAINS, THE NOR’WESTERS HAD STRUGGLED TO BUILD
CANOES, BECAUSE THE BIRCH BARK WAS SO THIN. BUT THOMPSON DESIGNED
SOMETHING NEW. ” BUT HE STARTED OUT WITH
A BOTTOM BOARD, THE KEEL BOARD, THAT WAS
17 INCHES WIDE. HE WANTED TO BUILD THE
WHOLE BOAT IN ONE BOARD ALMOST, 17 INCHES WIDE IS
REALLY WIDE AND HE BROKE IT IN HALF. FOR TWO DAYS AFTER THAT
THERE IS NOTHING BUT NUMBERS, THAT’S ALL HE DID
WAS TOOK NUMBERS AND HELD IT INSIDE. DAVID THOMPSON: ” WE WORKED
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CANOE, BUT SPIT IN TWO LIFTING
IT UP BEING TOO THIN TO SUPPORT IT’S OWN WEIGHT
AND WAS THUS SPOILT. ” “HE ENDED UP WITH A BOARD
SIX INCHES IN THE MIDDLE AND HE NARROWED IT DOWN TO
THE BOW AND STERN TO TWO INCHES AND HE CURVED THAT
BOW ALL THE WAY UP TO A TWO FOOT ARC. A TWO FOOT ARC FOR THE BOW
AND A TWO FOOT ARC FOR THE STERN. SO, HE USED ONE
SINGLE BOARD. HE HAD TO SPLIT THE ENDS OF
THEM IN HALF, SO HE HAD A TWO INCH BOARD LIKE THAT
AND HE CUT IT IN HALF, SO IT WOULD TAKE THAT BEND. ”
BRUSSTAR SEEMS TO BE LEARNING AS MUCH ABOUT THE
MAN AS THE CANOE. “YOU GET A MUCH CLOSER
IDEA OF WHAT ACTUALLY WAS GOING ON IN THOSE DAYS,
‘CAUSE THE PROBLEMS I HAD, HE HAD THE SAME. ”
OVER THE NEXT 12 MONTHS, THOMPSON WOULD BUILD AT
LEAST NINE CEDAR PLANK CANOES, CONTINUALLY
IMPROVING ON HIS DESIGN. MEANWHILE, A THOUSAND MILES
DOWNSTREAM, THE SAILING SHIP THE TONQUIN WAS
ANCHORED AT THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA. ASTOR’S MEN HAD ALREADY
STARTED BUILDING FORT ASTORIA. MARK WEADICK, AND HIS GROUP
OF FUR TRADE RE-ENACTORS, PADDLE AROUND THE
CONFLUENCE OF THE LITTLE SPOKANE AND SPOKANE RIVERS. BETWEEN THE TWO RIVERS, ON
THIS FLAT, TRIANGLE SHAPED PENINSULA, SPOKANE HOUSE
WAS BUILT BY JACO FINLEY IN 1810. BY THE TIME THOMPSON
ARRIVED, THE POST HAD BEEN UP AND RUNNING FOR A YEAR. FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THE
SPOKANE HAD GATHERED HERE TO CATCH AND DRY FISH. “SPOKANE HOUSE WAS ON THE
MIDDLE SPOKANE PEOPLES CAMPGROUND, IT WAS IN THERE
AREA, AND IT WAS WITH THEIR PERMISSION THAT JACKO
FINLAY AND HIS CREW IN 1810 WERE ABLE TO CONSTRUCT
THE FIRST SPOKANE HOUSE. THERE WAS IN THOSE DAYS A
TREMENDOUS CHINOOK SALMON FISHERY THAT CAME
UP THE FALLS” THOMPSON CALCULATED THE
LONGITUDE OF SPOKANE HOUSE AND RECORDED IT
IN HIS JOURNAL. IT WOULD BE THE FIRST
EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON. AFTER A TWO MONTH DETOUR,
THOMPSON WAS FINALLY FREE TO EXPLORE THE MIDDLE
AND LOWER COLUMBIA. HIS PARTY TRAVELED NORTH
ON THE ILTHKOYAPE ROAD, TO KETTLE FALLS ON THE
COLUMBIA RIVER, WHERE A LARGE NUMBER OF THE
ILTHKOYAPE OR COLVILLE WERE FISHING. THOMPSON JOURNALS:
“THE SALMON ARE FROM 15 TO 30 POUNDS WEIGHT HERE,
THEIR FLESH IS RED AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY WELL MADE. ”
AFTER YEARS OF EFFORT, ON JULY 3RD, 1811
THOMPSON WITH HIS CREW AND TWO SANPOIL SET OFF
FROM KETTLE FALLS ON THEIR VOYAGE DOWN THE COLUMBIA
TO THE SEA. DAVID THOMPSON TRAVELS:
“IMAGINATION CAN HARDLY FORM AN IDEA OF THE WORKING
OF THIS IMMENSE BODY OF WATER UNDER SUCH
COMPRESSION, RAGING AND HISSING, AS IF ALIVE. ”
“IGNUS, THE IROQUOIS, WHO HE HIRED TO BE THE
STEERSMAN GOT BOUNCED RIGHT OUT OF THE CANOE. IT WAS THAT POWERFUL, AND
NONE OF THESE GUYS CAN SWIM. SO THEY DO THIS CRAZY
FRENETIC RESCUE AND GET IGNUS ON SHORE AND SQUEEZE
ALL THE WATER OUT OF HIM” AT THE TIME, ABOUT THREE
HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES OF THE COLUMBIA HAD
BEEN CHARTED. BY THE END OF THE SUMMER,
THOMPSON WILL HAVE SURVEYED THE REMAINING NINE
HUNDRED MILES. DAVID THOMPSON:
“THE COLUMBIA PRESENTED MUCH STEEP ROCK, OFTEN IN
STEP LIKE STAIRS OF 20 TO 30 FEET PERPENDICULAR. ”
TRAVELING WITH THE CURRENT, IT TOOK THOMPSON JUST TEN
DAYS TO GET TO THE PACIFIC. “IT’S ABOUT 700
RIVER MILES. HE STOPS AT EVERY VILLAGE
ALONG THE WAY AND DOES HIS LITTLE RAP, I’M COMING
TO TRADE YOU KNOW. YOU SHOULD TRAP BEAVER,
I’LL BUILD A TRADE HOUSE HERE. HE SAYS THAT AT EVERY
VILLAGE THAT HE COMES TO AND HE STILL MAKES
IT IN 10 DAYS. ” THOMPSON MET 150
FAMILIES OF SANPOIL,. NEAR THE SANPOIL RIVER. “THEY ALL,
FORMED A LINE IN AN ELLIPSIS; THEY DANCED WITH
THE SUN IN A MINGLED MANNER,
ALL THEIR DANCES ARE A KIND OF RELIGIOUS PRAYER”
HE MET METHOW, JUST BEYOND THE
OKANAGAN RIVER, AND, 120 FAMILIES OF
SINKAUSE, AT ROCK ISLAND NEAR WENATCHEE. “THE WOMEN ADVANCED ALL
ORNAMENTED WITH FLLETS AND SMALL FEATHERS,
THEY SMOKED WITH THE MEN”
THOMPSON SMOKED WITH 62 SAHAPTIN SPEAKING MEN,
THE WANAPUM, NEAR PRIEST RAPIDS. AND THERE WERE THE YAKIMA. THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“THESE PEOPLE, ARE MAKING USE OF THE SEINE NET, WHICH
IS WELL MADE FROM WILD HEMP, WHICH GROWS ON THE RICH LOW
GROUNDS. ” AT THE DALLES CULTURE
PATTERNS CHANGED FROM PLATEAU TO COASTAL. THE THREE HUNDRED FAMILIES
CAMPED THERE WERE SPEAKING BOTH SAHAPTIAN AND
CHINOOKAN LANGUAGES. DAVID THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“THE CHIEF CAME AND INVITED ME TO HIS HOUSE,. THE INSIDE CLEAN AND WELL
ARRANGED HAD SEPARATE BED PLACES FASTENED TO THE
WALLS THAT RAISED ABOUT 3 FEET ABOVE THE FLOOR”
THOMPSON FELT STRONGLY THAT THE LANDS OF THE COLUMBIA
THAT HE HAD SURVEYED BELONGED TO GREAT BRITAIN. WHAT THOMPSON CALLED A
‘SATISFACTORY BOUNDARY’ FOR CANADA, INCLUDED MUCH OF
TODAY’S AMERICAN NORTHWEST. THOMPSON JOURNAL:
“HERE I ERECTED A SMALL POLE WITH A HALF SHEET OF
PAPER WELL TIED AROUND IT, …KNOW HEREBY THAT THIS
COUNTRY IS CLAIMED BY GREAT BRITAIN AS PART OF
ITS TERRITORIES” ON JULY 15, 1811,
THOMPSON’S PARTY ARRIVED AT THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA
RIVER, AT FORT ASTORIA. ALEXANDER ROSS, A SCOT
CLERK FOR THE PACIFIC FUR COMPANY
“WE WERE RATHER SURPRISED AT THE UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL
OF A NORTH WEST PROPRIETOR AT ASTORIA. MR. THOMPSON. HE CAME DASHING DOWN THE
COLUMBIA IN A LIGHT CANOE MANNED WITH EIGHT IROQUOIS
AND AN INTERPRETER. ” THE ASTORIANS FOUND
THEMSELVES IN AN ODD SITUATION. THOMPSON CLAIMED THEY WERE
PARTNERS, BUT TO THEIR KNOWLEDGE, NO JOINT
AGREEMENT HAD TAKEN PLACE. THEY DANCED AROUND EACH
OTHER NOT KNOWING WHETHER THEY WERE FRIEND OR FOE. LATER, THE PARTNERSHIP
DID INDEED FALL APART. BY THE END OF THE SUMMER,
THOMPSON HAD SURVEYED THE ENTIRE COLUMBIA RIVER FROM
ITS HEADWATERS TO ITS MOUTH. ONE OF HIS MOST
MEMORABLE CONTRIBUTIONS. PADDLING HARD ON LAKE
SUPERIOR, THE 2008 DAVID THOMPSON BRIGADE WILL SOON
COMPLETE THE FINAL LEG OF THEIR JOURNEY
TO FORT WILLIAM. THOMPSON TOO, RETURNED
EAST, CROSSING THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS FOR HIS FINAL
TIME, AND RETIRING FROM THE FUR TRADE IN 1812. FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS,
THOMPSON WORKED ON HIS MAPS OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA. IT WAS AN ENORMOUS
UNDERTAKING, USING HIS SURVEYS AND DISCOVERIES
FROM THE LAST 20 YEARS. “HE STARTS WORKING
ON HIS GREAT MAPS. SORT OF MAGNUM OPUS TO SHOW
IN ONE GRAND CANVAS WHAT HE’S BEEN DOING WITH
ALL OF HIS LIFE. ” ONE OF THOMPSON’S WALL SIZE
MAPS WAS HUNG IN THE DINING ROOM AT FORT WILLIAM TO BE
USED BY TRAVELERS HEADING WEST FOR THE NEXT
FOUR DECADES. “HE LIVED DURING A TIME
THAT REALLY SAW THE TRANSFORMATION OF
WESTERN NORTH AMERICA. SO WHEN HE WAS BORN IN
1770, EUROPEAN PEOPLE KNEW VERY LITTLE ABOUT WHAT WAS
SOUTH AND WEST OF HUDSON’S BAY. BY THE TIME HE DIED IN
1857, THE WEST WAS BEING PREPARED FOR
EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT. SO, HE’S A FIGURE WHO
EXPERIENCED ALL THAT, AND IN SOME SENSES WAS
THE AGENT OF THAT. ” HIS EXPLORATIONS OPENED
WHAT WOULD BECOME THE PRIMARY TRADE ROUTE ACROSS
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS TO THE PACIFIC. THIS INLAND NORTHWEST
PASSAGE WAS THE LAST LINK OF A FUR TRADE HIGHWAY
CONNECTING A CONTINENT FROM SEA TO SEA. HIS TIRELESS MAP WORK
REALIZED THE DREAM THAT HE EXPRESSED IN A LETTER TO
A FRIEND AFTER HIS FIRST WINTER AT THE SOURCE
LAKES OF THE COLUMBIA. DAVID THOMPSON’S LETTER: I
WISH TO HEAVEN YOU COULD BE TRANSPORTED BY SOME GENIIS
TO SEE HOW THIS COUNTRY IS FORMED. ♪ ♪

100 thoughts on “Uncharted Territory: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau

  1. Now I understand! He borrowed my great grandfathers canoe and never came back. I'll let his relatives know where he went.

  2. One amazing achievement of Thompson, not understood even by his biographers: In addition to learning many languages, he collected vocabularies with the same systematic discipline he used in astronomy, and came to the conclusion that they could be classified by families and subfamilies. His classification was entirely correct. His methodology was a generation ahead of his time… the basic step of identifying the Indo-European family of languages had not yet been done, and that is conventionally considered the beginning of comparative linguistics. Unfortunately, his biographers, not happening to know much about the history of linguistics, have not noticed the significance of Thompson's achievement. This documentary mentions only one small part of this work. … personal note: one my cats is named after Thompson, and he is a dedicated explorer.

  3. I dont believe the natives did not observe the skies,,,bullshit

  4. these videos like this always seem to make the europeans better. And they should have just murdered them as they came along,,,,

  5. puke,,omg,,,,,mentions rumpbump???you just lost me,,I hate this video,,,fuck you asshiles

  6. What a fascinating documentary Thompsons life's work. None of us here imagine how difficult life was back then. What was amazing to me, how much distance he covered on foot or by water. Clearly journey into British Columbia was a pond land that was untouched by man. You got to wonder what that must have been like for all those involved.. I just can't help to wonder about his trek and all the new things he saw and heard. Did he see or hear anything he could not explain? Did any of his native guides talk to David about the boss of the mountains and forest. I just wondering if any of his writes site a creature or creatures he couldn't explain.

  7. I live just a few miles from the Columbia River ,,, and about 23-30 miles from Canada … Every time i drive to town ,I have to flash back to what the early people saw ,,, Have a lot of history right here ,,, I feel lucky, just to be able to live here ,,, Right here in heart of fur trade country ,,, Colville and Kettle Falls ,Washington ,,, Please don't tell the left coast ,,, I would hate to see ,, here ,, become Cali-fornicated

  8. If only they could see the Future what we did to the native people and their land they would turn in their graves with disgust. 🦂

  9. KSPS, you Rock, Jim and Co. Jim T., former student assistant, 2005-06, now retired in Mexico.

  10. Nets made of "Wild hemp" that grew throughout the flatlands. Gee, what were they smoking all those times? More hidden history.

  11. This is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a very long time I'm just glad I found it I would like to see more of this type of documentaries can't get enough of those old photos of the equipment the tribal people all that's just great

  12. The David Thompson story was deliberately suppressed for over 100 years since the early 20th century, the 1900s, even further back to the late 1800s. Why ? one might ask, and by whom. Not for the stated falsified reasons. The suppression was perpetrated by Americans because the Thompson story is a Canadian history story that disproves the long held false claims by Americans about Americans Lewis & Clarke being the first white men to cross the continent east to west and 'map' their journeying using the 'scientific methods of surveying'. Indeed, as this documentary all too briefly states, Lewis and Clarke used Thompson's maps to find their way west. It is a tremendous joy to see in recent years that Thompson is finally getting his so well deserved credits.

  13. gov. propaganda.
    hitler got the death camp idea from americas (canada is guilty as well, both governments moreso than the people obviously) genocide program against the tens of millions of people that already had lived here for millenia when we "discovered" it.

  14. Hi i was born in 1941 in Northern Utah as a kid went out on camping adventures into Idaho it was wild grizzly bear mountain lion country rafting down Bear river we were mountain men haha all great kids stuff David Thompson was one brave pioneer tanks for the {posting…………… Edwin John Thompson…

  15. Why have I not heard of David Thompson before now? This is a very well done documentary. It’s just before the Lewis and Clark expedition. The book about that; Undaunted Courage is one of my favorites. Some of these people were incredible. They speak very highly of the natural splendor, bounty and indigenous cultures they encountered – North America as a garden of eden. I’m not so naive to think that there has ever been life without conflict and hardship, but if humanity ever came close, it was pre-Caucasian America.

  16. yeah thanks for your hospitality and generosity, now will you piss of to the reservations, so that we can own your lands, the attitude is always survival of the fittest, and they started it, never any remorse or sense of guilt for their behavior, and they call these, people, the savages ? and in 500 years they've turned the continent into one big rubbish tip, how is that better than what was there ?

  17. there are similarities to viking explorers, who used the rivers as the main means of getting from A to B and again the canoe making very similar to viking design of trial and error, and again the bow and arrow and spear, makes you wonder did the native americans and vikings learn from each other ? the vikings did get to america, although historians are very reluctant to admit that, and archaeologists are just as terrified to admit origins beyond 1000 years because of peer pressure. it's the same with UFOs and polynesians ie they were to primitive to make boats

  18. the flatheads so called because of the deliberate cranial flattening when babies, not normal development of the skull

  19. good information but unfortunately sponsored by the people causing the pollution, to me that's hypocrisy ie tar sands pipe line fracking etc

  20. …..”Thompson never mentions Charlotte and his three, small children, who were attempting to cross a raging river, only his men”….That’s because Thompson couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about his half-breed “wife” and children….The narrators give way too much slack to this guy (saying, “He really needed a native wife to do business out there..” (neglecting the FACT that it was more for the SEX he “married” her—and that ALL of these British explorers promptly dumped their “wives” before heading back home).,..The guy was a user.

  21. David Thompson or his real name Dafydd ap Thomas a great explorer from a proud Welsh family to one of the greatest nations on earth.

  22. So, when he was 29 years old, he married a 13 year old girl. Today, he would be on the sex offender list. Just saying ….

  23. I love history and early American exploration, and I don't think most ppl realize how young a nation we really are in the US.  It is also crazy how much change the modern world has had in just 120 years.  Before the early 1900's things were not that different than they were in the 1700s, but since then the technology has been gang busters, and not all for the better IMO because we are not anywhere near as reliant on one another as we were, and many millenials can hardly communicate without a keyboard, and their substance as compared to the Greatest Generation isn't even a comparison.  Weak puff cakes with no depth to them.  I am turning 50 in 2 weeks and I am glad to have been a kid in the 70s and a teen/young adult in the 80s because the US seemed to have more unity where as now every group seems to want their US citizenship while still waving the flag of their home Country, and if they love it so much they should have stayed put!

  24. Extremely annoying repetitious chanting and shitty frontier music…over and over and over…

  25. What this doc missed is Thompson and life partner had about 10 children and he didn't abandoned them and go back to Englan like many traders. anyone who enjoyed this should read about Peter Fiddler who was almost as prolific map maker but got little credit.

  26. 30:18 " We're basically seeing the same things …." lol. Nope. Ahhh the self delusion and ignorance. U have no clue white boy.

  27. commenters argue "this guy was better than that guy", "that guy was better than this guy"
    SHUT UP & GET EDUCATED They were pioneers, nothing more, nothing less.

  28. a river is a hywy , its fast down stream , but its the best way into an threw wilderness ,map or no ,its about note taking publishing your notes , this is kewl , c ya

  29. I've canoed some of the upper North Saskatchewan R. from Nordegg crossing to Rocky (Mountain House). It is good. That old river still flows, as it has for millenia, out from under the glaciers and ice fields. We had the privilege of meeting Bill Mason on the other side of the mountain, though we didn't know who he was at the time. Even so, I was at the time impressed that I had crossed the path of a true gentleman … one of the great men.

  30. We ARE and HAVE BEEN a multicultural society – you are telling lies to the younger generations coming up to make them think this is a new idea.

  31. would like to see/read herstory/family'n'such~~~~this is a high-quality production centered around the male hero~~~I'm a man of men, and i honor the female side'o'the tracks~~~pls sport the other side of media

  32. Can u image being 14 and learning all of this so fast , what drove him so hard , his bravery must have shown on his face and actions , his Indian peers must have been mesmerized by his person ,his communication must have been conveniencing, and commanding, a power beyond our imagination

  33. fantastic documentary- the landscapes, the paintings, the canoes- wow! Phenomenal story too. Thank you for posting this

  34. I see a lot of hearty snow shoe clad , pink cheeked modern Canadian re-enactors that need to get back to work at their local Tim Hortons restaurant.

  35. BUT WAIT, I thought all white men were Devil's, and all natives were Savages¿ However it appears to me We all faired very well along side one another.
    That was until an enemy to Both of us krept in among us, to Murder,to Rape,and to Steal !
    And by the way; my hat is tipped and my knee at bow to David Thompson, his Wife and all The Native Tribe's hear in The Land Of The Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus The Christ!

  36. Very interesting. Thanks!!! It sounds like Canadians posting here are mad at Americans because Lewis and Clark are more important to us than Thompson is. For Gods sake, people… Thompson is more important to Canada because Canada is the Area He mapped the most. Lewis and Clark mapped the most in the USA. Why are you all looking for things to be pissy about? Life is filled with endless beautiful and good things…. try thinking about these things instead of making up a petty reason to feel negative emotions that does nothing but hurt you?

  37. That was a fantastic film, I have acquired a 1938 copy of "The Native Tribes of British Columbia" authored by Alice Ravenhill. It is so nice to gain further knowledge of the Pacific Region and why we could use additional documentaries of these prehistoric and primitive people to further define how, when and where they migrated from? Excellent representation of David Thompson!

  38. I grew up in the kootenays watching this makes me home sick as many of the places spoken of are places I’ve been rivers ive run in my canoe

  39. His final years were spent in poverty… now to me that's cruel, because Thompson literally opened up the areas which made his bosses filthy rich. You think those bosses would have gave him a pension of sorts for his final years. Anyways, 'Shadows of David Thompson' is a PBS show, worth a look.

  40. the arrogance leaves me speechless. uncharted my eye, first nations people already knew how to get around. I will admit though, documenting such a vast theft is a big accomplishment .

  41. Dam ,,,,them were some men,,,I'd hate to try to find a group of people to redo there travel,,

  42. thank you Victor Pearson – for the tip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJC4YZfJLXA

  43. Beaver pelts… translation : jj Astor’s way of starving out the natives… when that didn’t work they switched to buffalo.

  44. Clean is all you can say no white trash English tearing it into dump grounds of hateful lyrs

  45. Oh they did let give back to those who loved it more then they did

  46. Typical Brit. Lol
    A little late to claim anything.
    The Lewis and Clark expedition had already reached the Pacific by land.
    Lewis and Clark,
    May 14, 1804 – Sep 23, 1806
    By the time Thompson died in 1857, much of the West was already settled by Americans.
    And, that includes the Oregon Territory.

  47. 10:00 I'm enjoying the Scots fiddle music… One doesn't often hear something like a Strathspey/Reel in a TV show unless it is in a show specifically about Scotland. 👍

  48. The people got along well Indian & white man then came along 1859 The Origin of Species & wholesale slaughter of native "savages" as Darwin called them the rest is history. Hudson Bay Trading Co. Was owned by the East Indian Trading Co. Who owned the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed where he conceived his philosophy to justify British exploitation of its colonies. The plague of evolution subconsciousness.

  49. New worlds indeed. Pioneers of the past, Pioneers of the future. Walk Soft

  50. Interesting documentary and some impressive cinematography! Thanks for posting.

  51. There is a Thomson Falls, Montana. Is it named after this explorer?

  52. Why would you trap that many beavers? Greed, that is why we are in the state we are now. Greed, pure greed.

  53. I'm from Spokane, and I didn't know that Spokane was the first European settlement. Very interesting documentary.

  54. It's amazing how many "historial documentaries" are historically innacurate. You can't blame Candians for being Politically Correct. They are so busy standing in line for "healthcare" theyhave plenty of time to make shit up

  55. Canadian Socialism began the day Thompson decided that Jocko and hi sfamily were tougher than he, and thought he should dock Jocko's wages to punish him for not taking into account that Thompson and th erest were snowflakes

  56. The ultimate "tariff" DOn't cross these mountains or we'll kill you..yet…Canadian decry Trump…all this proves is that NOTHING has changed in 300 years

  57. Skin Boats & Canoes populated the Americas on the cusp of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic.

  58. Awesome, I watched it twice! I LOVE this stuff… I spend hours on Google Earth trying to figure out these river routes. Just one question… how did he "write back to his bosses"… how did any mail get through when they were just discovering where they were… how could they have specified a return address, how could he have scheduled meetings at places he'd never been to yet? WONDERFUL documentary… EXCITING tales… right up there with Kit Carson, Lewis and Clark and the Shackleford expeditions.

  59. Lewis and Clarke have the Columbus privilege. They get credit for something they didn't do. Many Europeans and European descendants had seen the plains and northwest territory before them. Lewis and Clarke actually had very detailed maps they took with them. How else would they have known in such great detail what Indian tribes and their locations were. How else would they have been able to split up and rejoin at such precise spots at precise times without "knowing" the routes. Just like Columbus, they were just the latest in a long line of folks that had been there and done that.

  60. This land is beautiful and real Americans should want to keep it this way. There’s too much unrestrained capitalism goin on.

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