Part 4 of 5

At Fort Vancouver after twenty years of peaceful trade with the Chinook, and other tribes in the region, Simpson, partially angered that Dr. John McLoughlin was entertaining visiting Americans —as Narcissa Whitman— in the elegant Chief Factors quarters, and extending credit to Oragun pioneers, ordered a bastion built to hold eight cannon to defend the palisade from “hostile threats.”

      Another element at play in this historical drama was the English Commissioned Gentlemen looked down their noble noses at French-Canadian “engagés, who made-up of most of the fort’s employees— doing everything considered to be manual labor.

      Once a young man from Canada signed on with the HBC, that became his life, and it was a cruel, harsh, and unfair existence. Gentlemen and their families lived a comfortable, somewhat elegant life inside the fort. Laborers fortunate enough to have found a Chinook “wife” willing to subject herself to scorn by both her own people, and strict Roman Catholic attitudes, lived in tents or crude huts outside the palisade walls.

      Even further down a English social scale described suggested by Sir George Simpson, head of Hudson’s Bay Company’s North American North American operations, as “Sandwich Islanders, who jabbered a medley of chinook and their own vernacular.” These Hawaiian contract laborers had been tricked, or outright hijacked, to find themselves sentenced to living under snowy and rainy skies, even further away from the shelter of the fort. Residents up the Columbia River of Washington and Oregon today living alongside a Kanaka Creek, or the Owyhee River that flows through Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon, are often surprised to find those are Hawaiian names, spelled phonetically.

      Upon “retirement” the engagé worker had a choice of paddling across the continent, once again, perhaps to go home to his real wife, abandoning the native mother of his children, or to take up an HBC land grant, and become a “sharecropper” who owned his soul to the company store. The fact that Vancouver, Washington has the largest “colony” of Hawaiians outside of the islands suggests the Kanakas were not offered the same pension plan.

      So many retired engagés settled south of the Columbia on “French Prairie,” in what is now Oregon, that this was to become a political problem when it came time to decide in a democratic vote who the “European” citizens of Oragun —which is spelled exactly as locals still pronounce the name— would accept as holding legal title of the land they laid claim to through a lot of hard work and suffering.

      The choice was not the simple one —Canada, or America?— found in accepted grade school textbooks. Empire builder Sir George Simpson considered the territories “owned” by the “The Bay,” to be a governing entity. His English class arrogance was such that he felt it was his duty to manipulate, dictating through a very small group of “gentleman” who knew best, to control the lifestyles and lands of the free citizens of Oragun —otherwise know as, “rabble.”

      What happened was that all Scots remember the Battle of Culloden, the French the Battle of Quebec, and Americans were very aware that Mexican dictator Santa Anna at San Antonio issued a “no quarter given” command— that created the Republic of Texas. Thus the scene was set, though not a shot was fired, for Fort Vancouver to become Canada’s Alamo.

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