The Lifeline of the Oregon Country: The Fraser-Columbia Brigade System, 1811-47

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UBC Press, Jun 1, 1998 - History - 304 pages
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"Furs is what brings us," remarked an early trader in the Oregon Country, adding, however, that "the difficulty of getting the necessary supplies will continue to operate against it," located as it was, "on the worst side of the Rocky Mountains." Fortunately, the discovery in 1805 by Lewis and Clark that the Columbia River was navigable by canoe or boat to the Pacific led to the logistical linking of the New Caledonia and Columbia Districts by means of the Fraser-Columbia brigade system. First used in 1811 by the North West Company, this transport system of North canoes, Indian pack horses, and Columbia batteaux eventually became the lifeline of the fur trade of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department until 1847, when the route was severed by the extension of the Canada-US border along the forty-ninth parallel to the Pacific.

In The Lifeline of the Oregon Country, James Gibson compellingly immerses the reader in one of the most intractable problems faced by the Hudson's Bay Company: how to realize wealth from such a remote and formidable land. The personalities, places, obstacles, and operations involved in the brigade system are all described in fascinating detail, stretch by stretch from Fort St. James, the depot of New Caledonia on the upper reaches of the Fraser River, to Fort Vancouver, the Columbia Department's entrep t on the lower Columbia River, and back.

Never before has such a rich collection of primary information concerning the fur trade supply system and the constraining role of logistics been so meticulously assembled. The Lifeline of the Oregon Country will prove indispensable to historians, researchers, and fur trade enthusiasts alike, and is an important contribution to our understanding of the economic history of the Pacific Slope.


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About the author (1998)

James R. Gibson is a historical geographer at York University. He is the author of the award-winning Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast 1785-1841 (1992), as well as of Imperial Russia in Frontier America: The Changing Geography of Supply of Russian America 1784-1867 (1978), and Farming the Frontier: The Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country 1786-1846 (1984).

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