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We have already said that the whole country is intersected by ranges of mountains. Most of them are loftier than our loftiest Alpine ranges, and some are supposed to equal, or even to exceed, the highest Andes. One consequence of this is, that the climate is severe except in the south-western valleys, where it is tempered by the neighbourhood of the sea. Another is, that only a very small portion of the land is capable of cultivation. The best portion is the valley between the Kalmet Mountains and the Pacific, a strip about eighty miles broad and three hun. dred long, watered by the Columbia, and by its tributaries, the Cowlitz on the north, and the Willamet on the south. But even of this Oregon Felix, Mr Greenhow states that only from one-eighth to one-tenth is cultivable. Further to the west the land rises into elevated plains, sometimes of rock and sometimes of without wood and almost without vegetation, intersected indeed by rivers, but rivers which briny no fertility. • The • banks,' says Captain Wilkes, of the Upper Columbia are al

together devoid of any fertile alluvial flats, destitute of even • scattered trees; there is no freshness in the little vegetation

on its borders ; the sterile sands reach to its very brink; it is • scarcely to be believed until its banks are reached, that a mighty • river is rolling its waters past these arid wastes.'* Towards the north, a higher latitude and a still greater elevation render the country still less fit for the abode of man. But even here some fertile valleys are to be found. And Mr Dunn describes the lower part of Vancouver's Island as, on the whole, the most habitable portion of this in hospitable territory. I

But though generally incapable of tillage, the south-western part contains some districts not unfit for pasturage, and others which are rich in timber. The rivers are full of fish, and the northern part abounds, or till lately did abound, with furred animals.

Until the last three or four years, the only use made of it by civilized men, has been as a mart for the purchase of furs and skins. The earliest adventurers in the North American fur-trade appear to bave been the French Canadians. At first, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the wild animals were plentiful and the Indians numerous and powerful, the white traders remained in their towns on the banks of the St Lawrence, and were satisfied with the skins brought to them by the hunt

As this supply diminished, and as the Indian tribes were thinned and cowed by the destructive proximity of civilization,


* Vol. iv. p. 429.

Dunn's Oregon, p. 242.

the traders found it necessary to penetrate the wilderness, and barter with the hunter on his own territory. The bold men who engaged in this traffic had to encounter every form of hardship and danger. They had to deal with savages, selfish, cruel, and treacherous; intellectually, and, bad as the whites were, perhaps morally, their inferiors—beings with whom they had no sympathy, towards whom their only relation was a mutual struggle to kill

, to overreach, or to plunder. Under such circumstances, and in a country without law or public opinion, the coureurs des bois, as the French fur-traders were called, degenerated—as civilized men exposed to such influences always will degenerate-into intelligent beasts of prey; uniting the foresight, the perseverance, and the powers of combination of the White, to the rapacious and unscrupulous ferocity of the Indian. The remedy adopted by the French government was, to prohibit all persons from entering the Indian territory without a license; and to make the continuance of the license depend on their conduct.

In 1669, an association was formed by Prince Rupert to prosecute an English fur-trade; and in 1770 its members were incorporated by charter, under the title of the Hudson's Bay Company. To this Company Charles the Second granted, as absolute lords and proprietors, all the lands on the coasts and confines of the seas, lakes, and rivers within the Hudson's Straits, not actually possessed by the subjects of any other prince or state, and the exclusive right of trading with the inhabitants. And the charter proceeds to threaten all who may intrude on their privilege with the forfeiture of ship and merchandise, half to the Crown and half to the Company.

In 1749, nearly eighty years after the creation of the Company, an attempt was made to deprive them of their charter, on the ground of non-user; and it certainly appeared that they had done but little. They had at that time only four small forts, occupied by 120 men. Their exports for the ten preceding years had amounted only to £36,000, their expenses of management and establishment to £157,000, and their imports to about £280,000; so that their net profit was about £8000 a-year.* At this time the value of the furs annually imported from Canada into Rochelle, amounted, according to the rate fixed by the Company, to £120,000, or more than four times as much. †

* Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, reprinted in 1803. Vol. ii.


215. † Anderson. Vol. iii. p. 237. VOL. LXXXIII. NO, CLXV.


In 1763, Canada was ceded to England. Having been under the sovereignty of France in 1670, it was not included in the Company's charter. The vast western regions were now open without the necessity of a license; and the fur-trade was prosecuted at first by individuals, and afterwards by associations, which all, ultimately, were consolidated in the North-West Company. Of this great Company--of its wealth, its power, its feudal discipline, and its feudal magnificence— Mr Washington Irving has given a vivid picture in the introduction to his • Astoria. The Hudson's Bay Company, with the characteristic inactivity of an ancient body protected by charter, remained quietly at their posts, like the earlier French traders, and purchased the furs which the Indians brought to them. The North-West Company explored the forest, the mountain, and the lake, frightened the Indians by their power, destroyed them by supplies of spirits and of arms; and for a time were almost masters of the continent between the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian lakes. But the fur-trade, even when best managed, bas always been a decaying trade, the reproduction of wild animals never equalling their consumption. Conducted as it was by traders and Indians, anxious only for immediate gain, who killed indiscriminately the male and the female, the full-grown and the cub, it became more destructive, and yet less productive, every year. As their original huntinggrounds were exhausted, the North-West Company pushed their parties and their posts towards the west. About the year 1806, they are supposed to have first crossed the Rocky Mountains, and to have established posts on the northern head-waters of the Columbia. About the same time they advanced north into the territories of the Hudson's Bay Company, which at length had also found it necessary to establish posts in the interior. In 1812, that Company for the first time made an attempt to exercise their rights of colonization. They sold a tract on the shores of Lake Winnipeg and of the Red River to Lord Selkirk, who planted there the germ of a considerable colony. The North-West Company, with the unscrupulous ferocity which a life among savages seems to produce among the members of even the most civilized nations, for some years waged a partizan war against the Hudson's Bay posts. Sometimes they merely drove away their inhabitants by force, or by cutting off their means of support; sometimes they waylaid and destroyed them on their route; and at length, in the year 1814, they organized an expedition against the Red River settlement, which, after a civil war of two years, ended in the defeat and massacre of the governor, Mr Semple, with his immediate companions, and the expulsion of the survivors.

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It was now obvious that the contest between the companies would produce the ruin of one or of both ; and a successful attempt was made to consolidate them. But this alone would not have been a remedy. The experience of a century bad shown that the indiscriminate admission of civilized men as traders into the territory of the Indians, is destructive to the morals of the former, and not only to the morals but to the existence of the latter. It has been tried by the French, it has been tried by the English, and it has been tried by the Americans; and in every case the natives have been swept away by war, disease, and famine; and the whites have exhibited a frightful mixture of all the vices of civilized and savage life. I have heard it re

lated,' says Mr Wyeth, himself an American, among white • American trappers as a good joke, that a trapper who had said

that he would shoot any Indian whom he could catch stealing • his traps, was seen one morning to kill one ; and on being ask• ed if the Indian had stolen his traps, he answered—“ No; but • he looked as if he was going to.”

An Indian was thus wan• tonly murdered, and white men laughed at the joke.'*

The union of the two great companies, though it would bave cured the mischief of their competition, would have stimulated the enterprise, and let loose the evil passions of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of private adventurers. To prevent this, and also to subject to the influence of law the British traders who might be allowed to visit the Indian territory, the 1 and 2 Geo. IV. cap. 66, was passed.

That Act, after reciting that the animosities and feuds arising from the competition of the Hudson's Bay and North-West Companies had for many years past kept the interior of North America in a state of continued disturbance, enacts—that it shall be lawful for his Majesty to give license to any company or persons for the exclusive privilege of trading with the Indians in any part of North America, not being part of the territories of the Hudson's Bay Company, or of any of his Majesty's provinces, or of any lands or territories belonging to the United States. The Act then gives civil jurisdiction to the Courts of Upper Canada over every part of America, not within the existing British colonies, and not subject to any civil government of the United States. It enables his Majesty to appoint within these limits justices of the peace, and to give them civil and penal jurisdiction, not extending in civil suits beyond £200, or

* Mr Wyeth's Memoir. Report on Territory of Oregon. 25th Congress, 3d Session, Report 101.

in penal cases to death or transportation. Cases beyond these limits are reserved for the Courts of Upper Canada.

In pursuance of this Act, charters had been granted to the Hudson's Bay Company, . for the exclusive trading with the

• • Indians in all such parts of North America to the northward

or to the westward of the territories of the United States, as • shall not form part of any of the British provinces, or of the * territories of any European power.' The charter requires the Company to provide for the execution of civil and criminal processes over their servants, and to frame and submit to the Crown rules for conducting the trade, which may diminish or prevent the sale of spirituous liquors to the Indians, and promote their moral and religious improvement. And it declares, that nothing contained in it shall prevent his Majesty from establishing any colony within the territories in question, or from annexing them to any existing colony.

It will be observed that the charter contains no clause authorizing the Company to form settlements. Not only have they no power to grant lands, but they have no power even to hold them. The charter gives them as against all other British subjects, but only as against them, the exclusive right of trading with the natives, according to regulations to be approved by the Crown; and it requires them to deliver up their own servants to the jurisdiction of British tribunals. This is the whole amount of the privileges which it grants, and of the duties which it imposes. They cannot acquire for themselves the property, or for the Crown the sovereignty, over a single acre.

This, however, does not apply to the vast region comprised in their original charter of 1670. In that region they are lords of the soil, and it is there therefore, on the banks of the Red River, that they have formed their principal establishment. In that remote colony there are now more than 5000 persons-a Roman Catholic Bishop, a Cathedral, and seven or eight other religious ministers. The Company sell their land at 12s. 6d. an acre, and the plantations extend for fifty miles along the river.* From thence their posts are dotted about from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They are in general stockades, with little wooden bastions at the corners, capable of holding a travelling party of thirty or forty persons, but seldom tenanted by more than four or five permanent inhabitants. The largest is Vancouver on the Columbia, about ninety miles from its mouth, and accessible by vessels of not more than fourteen feet draught. It

Simpson's Travels, chap. vii.

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