Posts Tagged ‘Fur Traders’

Angus Mac Donald

July 9, 2012

Image from the University of Montana

I don’t know if this is the same Angus  Mac Donald in the following poem, but the Angus Mac Donald pictured above  also lived an interesting life.



When Arctic was a wilderness,
E’er foot of Pioneer
Had trod upon the velvet moss
That draped her golden lair;
When forest monarch reigned supreme
O’er mountain, lea, and dale,
E’er winter’s crested, crystal sheen
Was streaked with silver trail.

A white-winged sloop approached the coast,
Then fringed with gorse and teak,
Old Angus Mac., with miner’s pack,
Mushed up her glacier’d peak;
The red man’s snarling, wolfish cur —
The bear, and antler’d king,
With growl and wail, near camp and trail
Did nightly anthems sing.

In manhood’s prime, with giant’s frame,
Herculean bone and brawn,
Piercing the sylvan God’s domain
Into the frigid zone.
Thewed was he like the polar bear,
Living in glacier’d cave,
For fortune’s weal, with heart of steel,
He fought the Arctic wave.

Through forest wild, and herbage dense,
He moved and moved and moved,
With silent care toward the star
His spirit sought and loved;
Through endless waste, o’er mountain dome,
From surging ocean brine —
From Ketchikan to plot of Nome
He mushed and builded shrine.

Among the first to pierce the hue
Of Arctic circle’s ray,
The first to ride a bark canoe
O’er Yukon’s surging spray.
His camp-fires were the first to glow
In valley, dale and glen,
He broke the first trail through the snow
With white man’s moccasin.

When savage sought to take the life
Of wives and children dear,
He fought the red man knife to knife
And drove him to the rear;
In Wrangel camp, through winter’s cold,
Defended he the white,
When demon’s yell brave hearts did quell,
He ever fought the fight.

Through blinding mist of sleet and snow,
He paced from dark till dawn,
Each weary hour along the shore,
Protecting white man’s spawn;
Thus night by night, and day by day,
Did he the vigil keep,
Through rain and snows, without repose,
While others slept sweet sleep.

Beneath two flags he fortunes sought,
And fortunes whiled away;
Like other men he sold and bought
The pleasures of the day;
And be it said that never man
On whom the cruel fate
Had filled with dirt the golden pan
Turned hungry from his gate.

But sun of life moves on his course,
And Angus, old and gray,
With broken health and empty purse,
Is treading in its ray;
The days that’re gone and days that dawn
Are memories and care,
With broken health and vanished wealth,
He moves toward his star.

But not the star of which he dreamed
In cycles past and gone,
When golden sun rays on him streamed
From dawn till balmy dawn.
But will our flag — the Stripes and Stars —
Forsake his silver head?
Forsake the son who forged her crown,
And weaved her silken thread?

Fairbanks Daily Times (Failbanks, Alaska) Dec 24, 1912

Image from the Hudson Bay CompanyLearning Center


From Scots in the American Northwest:

Angus MacDonald from the Isle of Skye entered the service of the HBC in 1838 and proved so skillful in obtaining Indian furs that in 1852 he was appointed head of the extensive Colville district, including all traditional posts north of Walla Walla, Washington, far into British Columbia. MacDonald held this position until 1871, when the HBC finally gave up its last posts in the United States, and lived the rest of his life as an American in Montana Territory.

At HistoryLink, an essay about Christina McDonald, Angus’ daughter, includes some fascinating recollections:

Angus MacDonald from the Isle of Skye entered the service of the HBC in 1838 and proved so skillful in obtaining Indian furs that in 1852 he was appointed head of the extensive Colville district, including all traditional posts north of Walla Walla, Washington, far into British Columbia. MacDonald held this position until 1871, when the HBC finally gave up its last posts in the United States, and lived the rest of his life as an American in Montana Territory.


Christina McDonald, the second child of Angus McDonald  and his wife, Catherine Baptiste (1826-1902), was born on September 20, 1847, near the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Hall (present-day Idaho), where her father was employed as a clerk. A native of Scotland, Angus McDonald had immigrated to Canada in 1838 to work in the fur trade and had served his apprenticeship in the Snake River country, where he met Catherine. Christina later wrote: “My mother was of mixed blood. Her father was an Iroquois Frenchman, long in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Mother was a cousin of  Eagle-of-the-Light the Nez Perce chief” (Williams, Daughter, 107).


Looking back on her relationship with her father, Christina explained that “as I grew older, I became his special companion and acted as interpreter for him most of the time” (Williams, Daughter, 109). Fluent in at least four languages, she became a valuable asset in his business dealings throughout the Northwest. She kept the books for him, and would accompany him and the company brigade to Kamloops each year to deliver furpacks, carrying the records in a buckskin sack. The first part of the journey was along a trail up the Kettle River (present-day Ferry County), and at one point the horses had to be swum across and a raft built to carry the goods.


Read the complete essay at the link above.

Evidently, the Museum of Northern Idaho has a book for sale about Angus McDonald  [review excerpt]:

Quirky exploits, life and death challenges, his wide-ranging celebrity status, intimate victories and continental-sized disappointments were all enjoyed by this frontiersman from Ross-shire, Scotland. Included in this was a marriage to Catherine, a young Métis girl of royal Nez Perce lineage, and McDonald’s rotation through Hudson’s Bay Company’s York Factory, Fort Colvile, Fort Hall and Fort Connah. Throughout the book, author Steve A. Anderson “has allowed the unique and sympathetic voice that emerges from McDonald’s narratives, poetry and native stories, to throw light on the unheralded richness of the time” notes Bruce M. Watson, Canadian biographer and author.

In this description, it does sound like it could be the same Angus MacDonald as in the poem, however, in  a Google review, I found the following:

McDonald has been confused with others of the same name for a century. Anderson has clearly separated this Angus form the others in very scholarly fashion.

Jacob Fournais “Old Pinau” Dies at 134 Years-Old

March 20, 2009


Death of a Man 134 Years Old.

(From the Kansas City, (Mo.) Journal.)

On Saturday evening last the oldest man in the State, if not the oldest man anywhere, died in Kansas City.

His name was Jacob Fournais, but know to everybody who knew him at all, as “Old Peno,” (or Pinau). — Nobody knew his exact age, not even himself, but he was known as an old man when men now four-score were children.

He was a Canadian Frenchman by birth, but for more than half a century was a hunter and trapper in the employ of the Fur Company, one of the French voyageurs, as they were called — most of that time with Major Andrew Dripps, the father of Mr. Charles A. Dripps, and father-in-law of Mr. William Mulkey, at whose house he died, and where he has been kindly and affectionately treated for the last thirty years.

He was never sick and only a few minutes before he died was walking about the room. He said to the family in the morning, that he would “never see the sun go down again,” and just before sunset, the machine stopped — the old man was dead.

He said he was working in the woods on a piece of land he had bought for himself, near Quebec, when Wolfe was killed on the heights of Abraham. This was September 13, 1759, and from what he told of his life previous th that he must have been over 21 years of age.

Thinking he might have confounded Wolfe with Montgomery — 1775 — we questioned him very fully, but his recollection of names and incidents were too distinct to leave any doubt, and the same account had been given to others before we saw him.

Another event which he remembered well, and which he seemed to always look upon as a good joke, was that, during the occupation of New Orleans by General Jackson — 1814-15 — he had been refused enlistment, “because he was too old.” The old man often told this with great glee. He must then have been about 80 years old.

Thus, taking everything into consideration, and we have been careful ever since we knew him to get all the facts about him we could find — from Major Dripps, the Chouteau family, Jim Bridger, Tim Goodale, Bent, Jim Beckwith and other old mountaineers — we put his age at 134 years.

He went from Canada to where Pittsburgh now is, thence down the Ohio in keel-boats, and was in New Orleans, it seems, in 1814.

Before this, however, he accompanied the expedition of Lewis and Clark, in their explorations of the Missouri and the discovery of the Columbia river in 1804-7. His experience during that trip, making him a valuable man to the Fur Company, he was afterward employed as we have stated, until thirty years ago; being then worn out and too old for active service, he came here to spend the evening of his life with the family of the man he had so faithfully served for so many years.

The last thirty years of his life were passed in quiet and comfort. — He preferred living by himself, and always had his own house, where he kept his pipe and tobacco pouch and such things as were articles of comfort to him, mostly such as he had from his residence with the Indians, not forgetting his rosary and a few religious pictures which hung above his bed. He was very neat in his person, clothes, and housekeeping, and up to the day of his death attended in summer to his tobacco plants and his cabbages. One of his great desires was to see a railroad, and when the first locomotive came screaming into the bottom which was in full view of his home, he was nervous as a child until he visited it. —

The wife of Mr. Mulkey, who has been his constant attendant from her childhood, took him down one day to the depot, where he had an opportunity to examine it, and saw it move away with a heavy train attached. — He expressed himself as satisfied, said he “could tell God he had seen a railroad,” and has never since expressed any curiosity on the subject.

Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana) Aug 1, 1871

More on Fur Traders and Trappers HERE.

In the book, Forty Years a Fur Trader, Andrew Dripps is mentioned on pages 416-417, in the chapter, “Sketches of Indian Agents.” The book can be found on Google Books, or click the link above.