Fur Traders

In its ongoing effort to make each of its fur trading posts self-sufficient, the Hudson’s Bay Company introduced cattle to the Interior of New Caledonia in the 1830s. Fort Kamloops probably had cattle by 1831, and the natural advantages of the country for stock raising would have encouraged the importation of more. Because of Fort Kamloops’s strategic location on the brigade trail, it was essential to produce enough cattle for both the passing fur brigades and its own employees. The Fort journals for the 1850s record significant activity in raising cattle and horses. Employees were busy harvesting hay, moving animals from one pasture to another, branding horses and cattle, castrating calves and horses, building stables, and killing oxen. By 1859, Fort Kamloops was slaughtering eight head of cattle every ten days to supply the needs of passing gold miners.

A painting of Fort Kamloops in 1846. Click to enlarge,
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Painting "Fort Kamloops, 1846" by Tod. PDP00170 Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

Compared to the open-range practices of the Spanish-speaking stockmen to the south, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stock-raising methods were labour intensive. Whereas the Spanish stockmen let their cattle roam year round on the ranges of California, the Company herders shifted their cattle seasonally in an effort to preserve the grassland ranges. They put up hay to keep their livestock through the winter months, and, unlike the Spanish, practised calf castration and branding. By the 1850s, the Company at Fort Kamloops used local Shuswap Natives as herders, drovers, agricultural workers, and packers. The Natives’ experience in raising horses, their proximity, and their willingness to work made them the logical choice to care for and drive the cattle. The Fort Kamloops journal refers to a man named Auxime, probably a native Shuswap, who took over the cattle responsibilities.

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