A Free Man Part 2

In his book, Fur Hunters of the Far West, Alexander Ross ( one of the first explorers of the Columbia and later sheriff of the Red River Colony), very aptly describes the different classes one would find at a fur trade post.  He describes the fur trader himself as being caught between two worlds. Because he lived removed from society for lengths of time, he was easily parted from his money and would lose it readily. If he did save money and went into society he became disgusted with the greed he saw there.  In the end his wealth seldom did him any good and he did not live into old age.

The virtue of the Canadien is extolled, for no one was better suited to the labour of voyaging than he and he deserved “the highest praise”.

There was a difference however, between the “Freeman” and the “half-breed”. The Freemen were generally Canadiens who were no longer under contract to the Hudsons Bay Company and had been improvident with their money. Not wanting to return home in their old age, they would  spend the rest of their days with the natives, there to be joined by wild young men who had “ all of their faults but none of their good qualities“.   That description reminds me of the “coureurs des bois” who left Montreal 100 years before and never returned except to turn the city into a debacle of drinking and violence. Ross goes on to state that “there cannot be a better test for knowing a worthless and bad character in this country than his wishing to become a Freeman”.

The inter-racial marriages between the traders and aboriginal women so fondly looked upon by current society had one major fall-out, the abandonment of male children when the father returned to Quebec.  Yes, the wife could return to her own people but as he grew the boy was caught between the two cultures, often ending up with the bad traits of both. This made worse by the fact that the wealthier were not allowed to work.  The half-breed,  “grows up in every respect the pure Indian; with this difference, he is more designing, more daring and more dissolute.”   After this description, Ross goes on to talk about how the boy cannot find a place in either world. He is too educated for the native way of life and too restless and wild for the white way of life.  He has spent his life with little control and cannot settle. His behavior alienates both sides of his family and he ends up in bad company, his inheritance trickled away. His prospects are actually better if he is from a lower class because he will find some kind of employment and be healthier in general.  Ross implores the establishment to take a hand in the lives of these boys, likely for naught. I pity the hard-working mother who was also a victim in this.

Source Material: Pages 296-301 of Fur Hunters of the Far Northwest; A Narrative of Adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains. Published in 1855, Smith, Elder and Company. Accessed 15-01-2018, Google Books https://tinyurl.com/y88x3s5j

A Free Man

In 1824, Alexander Ross was assigned by HBC Governor George Simpson to head an expedition into “Snake Country” . The Snake River runs off of the Columbia River in Washington State and travels south and eastward.

Snake River Map Wikimedia Commons

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp or “Baptiste” as he was known, joined the expedition as a trapper. While the main party gathered at Flathead Post (near present day Sanders, Montana), he was at “Prairie de Cheveaux, the council ground of the Salish Nation. (Journal of Alexander Ross, Snake Country Expedition, Feb 10, 1824). He is noted in Bruce Watson’s “Lives Lived West of the Divide”.

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp-Lives Lived West of the Divide Bruce Watson

Ross speaks about the incident with the Peigan Indians (Blackfoot)  in his Journal of the Snake Country Expedition,

JB Beauchamp meets the Piegans Alex Ross Snake Country Ex. 1824

Reminds one of a western movie doesn’t it? Who this particular Jean Baptiste is I cannot say for certain. There are several voyageur records for Jean Baptiste Beauchamp for the years between 1794 and 1817 some for the HBC and there is a record for that name born in Pointe aux Trembles, Quebec in 1771 and dying in Louisiana in 1815 . That person married in Missouri in 1795, making him a strong possibility. Again, down the line from Jacques Beauchamp, original settler in Quebec and another removed cousin for me.

Baptiste crops up again in Alexander Henry’s book “The Saskatchewan and Columbia Rivers”. Henry had traveled with Thompson from Lake Winnipeg to Vermilion Alberta.

JB Thompsons Man

We next find Baptiste joining up with  Peter Skene Ogden after Simpson became disgusted with Ross’s outcome in Snake Country.

Baptiste in Ogdens Exped

Ogden descended from a British loyalist family of good repute but had a violent temper himself.  He joined the North West Company in 1809, his first post at Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan then an important supply depot on the fur trade route. This interests me because my grandmother’s family, the Daigneault’s were trappers in the area.  Watson states that he thinks Baptiste was from Saskatchewan.  He then states that Baptiste was in Spokane (1823) at the time Ogden was made Chief Trader by the HBC in spite of the fact that he had bloodily murdered an Indian for trading with them. Simpson felt he was just the man to accomplish the goals of the company now merged with the Northwest Company in an attempt to end the deadly competition between the two. Simpson initiated a “scorched earth policy” whereby Ogden was to bring back as many furs as possible, leaving none for the Americans. During the expedition Baptiste was on, 23 freemen defected to the Americans. I am going to take a wild guess and include him in this number.

In the late 1840’s Ogden was in charge of Fort Vancouver where ironically, another ancestor of mine, Joseph Ovide Beauchamp was working as a blacksmith. What are the odds?