The Napping Blanket & Dr. McLoughlin

Jan 31, 2014 | 1 comment

HBC Blanket

HBC Blanket

For as long as I can remember, the small red blanket with its one black stripe has been considered “the napping blanket” in our house.  My father had purchased it in the early 1930s on one of his first trips up to the Pacific Northwest.  I always understood that it was a Hudson Bay blanket and that the three narrow lines called “points” were an indicator of its trade value in terms of beaver pelts.  Not quite true, I’ve since learned.  The points had to do with the size and weight of the blanket — only an indirect sign of its value as an item of trade.

Ours is a small blanket and, rather than the “point” lines running parallel to one another, they are crisscrossed making a sort of teepee symbol.  Someday I’ll do some research to find out what that means.  I suspect it indicates that this small blanket was made for souvenir purposes and not as a replica of the old trade blankets that were in use as early as 1780 by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC).

Meanwhile, I’m reading Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far Northwest by Dorothy Nafus Morrison.  It’s a hefty 642-page book based largely upon Dr. McLoughlin’s correspondence during the time that he served at Governor of The Columbia District for HBC (1824-1846) with his headquarters at Fort Vancouver.


“Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far West”

For much of that time period he virtually ruled all of the territory east of the Rocky Mountains from what is now the Canadian border in the north to the present-day Oregon/California boundary.   The Fort’s influence reached from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands, and from Alaska into Mexican-controlled California.  At its height, Fort Vancouver watched over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600 employees.

For many settlers Fort Vancouver was the last supply stop on the Oregon Trail before venturing forth to set up their homesteads.  The Columbia District’s policies, procedures and interface with the rest of the world were formulated and carried out under the direction of McLoughlin.  His influence in settling Oregon Territory is incalculable.

It is a fascinating book about a larger-than-life character.  Reading it during the time that Nyel and I are also reading James Swan’s The Northwest Coast or Three Years on Shoalwater Bay  (for the Community Historian Project) is especially informative.  Swan arrived here in Willapa Country in 1852, not long after McLoughlin had left Fort Vancouver to help establish Oregon City.  Swan has high praise for the HBC, particularly for their humane treatment of the Indians of the area.

As far as I can tell, McLaughlin and Swan never met, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Swan had an HBC trade blanket or two.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Thanks for the book recommends. I am always happy to learn about volumes having to do with NW history.


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