From the book A Pour of Rain, by Helen Meilleur, 1980. "Stories from a West Coast Fort." from the log book of Fort Simpson.

Early life, in a fur trading fort.


The fur trade was now centered around forts built by the trading companies.
Circa 1836...

The Indian's keep stealing the pickets!

Pickets were the first concern of the blacksmith's axes and a prime concern of all Fort Simpson's personnel until the stockades were abandoned in the latter 1800's. You might think that when squared logs up to two feet across were planted in the earth, with crosspieces and braces, they would be permanent.

But no, those huge stockade pieces were as impermanent as willow wands in the face of their enemies. The walls of Jericho won everlasting fame because they tumbled once but the stockades of Fort Simpson were in a constant state of tumbling.

Rain, rain and more rain.

The most insidious enemy of the pickets was rain. In Port Simpson, rain not only "falls on the place beneath," it also washes over the ground and settles in a quagmire under the ground. In the low-lying areas of the fort, the footings of posts could rot in two years, toppling their twenty feet of solid height.

Storms, vicious enough to flatten a section of pickets, occurred indiscriminately throughout the year but the extreme tides that came ravening ashore, belonged to the equinoxes. When they were blown inland by gales, they lashed at the stockades, hurling pickets and crosspieces out to sea.

The Indians stole the squared logs regularly. They needed them for building purposes and, more urgently, for firewood. They had little sense of future and other than storing food, no instinct whatever for preparing for the winter. Even in my day, no one went out from the village for wood until the weather turned unbearably cold. Then, what they brought back was green and water soaked and produced only smoke when it could be induced to burn at all. Naturally, they regarded the Hudson's Bay stockade and garden fence (built of only slightly shorter pickets) as the Great Spirit's answer to their cold misery.

Stealing the potatos.

During the summer they had no need to steal the pickets. Then they merely pushed them down so they could gain entry to the garden to dig Hudson's Bay potatoes which the Great Spirit had also supplied against their hunger. They were adept at grabbing seagull eggs from the nest and making off before the gull mother could attack, so it is no wonder that their raids of the pickets were so successful. Hardly had a fence been completed around the first garden patch when Mr. Work wrote, January 16, 1836, "...commenced getting short Pickets and ribbons to enclose our Potato field as we find we are not able to keep the cedar fencing from being destroyed and burnt by the Indians." The change made little difference to the natives and for the next twenty-two years a succession of journal-keepers wrote exasperated notes concerning their losses.

The solution: hire Indian watchmen.

Then Mr. McNeill, the Resourceful, commented, "Indians stealing pickets, say fifteen per day," and accepted the challenge. He hired two Indian watchmen to be responsible for the pickets. The scheme worked as efficiently as most McNeill devices. The following January he recorded, "We have not as yet lost one garden picket. All former winters from 200 to 300 were stolen."

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