[Jack Nisbet] : Well, I guess we have to go back to the fact that he’s from England, he was born in London and because of the American Revolution ended up serving an apprenticeship in the fur trade with the Hudson’s Bay Fur Company on Hudson’s Bay. He got there in 1784 and early on he was a kid of 14 then, but by the time he was in his
6 late teens he had spent a winter with the Blackfoot near Calgary, Alberta where it is today and really had gotten straight in his head what the tribes were like, he’d learned a couple of languages, he knew he wanted to make maps, he’d been through a lot of canoe and horse work and danger and he knew all about the natural history of the Canadian shield, really a curious man. He started trying to come across in the year 1800 and really getting to the Spokane house was where he was headed for the whole time. He was trying to set up a going fur business west of the Rockies that made money for the Northwest Fur Company who he had joined in 1797. [Professor Hirt]: And they sent him out here to explore a region that was pretty much unknown to Europeans. Indians knew it of course, but for Europeans it was terra incognita. [Jack Nisbet]: He said himself out here really the Kootenai ’s came across in 1790 and were begging the Northwest Company to come set up a trade house, that they had furs, that they wanted guns so that they could compete with the Blackfoot and Thompson was all for it. The Northwest Company was a partnership and they shared profits, but some partners were more equal than others, and Thompson was one of the group who decided he wanted to go across and another man, Duncan McGillivray was also with him and he was powerful and they started trying in 1800 and failed and they couldn’t figure out how to get around the Blackfoot who were just extremely powerful and did not want them to trade guns to their traditional enemies, the Flathead and the Kootenai. So he had to explore, he had to bide his time, he had to go through all of these economic ups and downs that the fur trade went through during the Napoleonic wars and then in 1806 he got his chance. He came across House Pass and came down to where Golden, British Columbia is now and we could take a look at a map and I could show you how that got him to Spokane. [Jack holds map of David Thompson’s route to Spokane] Okay, the year is 1807 and Thompson had sent some men before him as he always does, scouts, French Canadians, half breeds, Iroquois there’s always somebody in front of him, but in 1807 he comes across, comes over house pass here and comes down to where the Blaeberry hits the Columbia . This is the 49 th parallel and the international boundary did not exist then. This is the Rocky Mountains angling like this. So Thompson hits the Columbia River. If we was an American explorer he would just hit the Columbia River and try to go to the ocean, but he’s not, he’s a businessman and the Kootenai’s have told him to go upstream and find where they are so they can get in on some beaver. So he goes that way, establishes a trade house. The Flatheads are a numerous tribe in good beaver country
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- Fall '19
- fur trade, Columbia River, The Columbia River