Hudson's Bay Company

Nethers and Runners: A Flavorful Tale of Northwest Milling Origins

This summer brought an opportunity for our extended family to spend several days at Curlew Lake in north central Washington near the town of Republic. Located about twenty miles from the Canadian border, Curlew Lake is magnificent place to fish while enjoying the music of the wind in the towering pines and joyful shouts of young explorers along the shoreline. My son, Karl, and I decided to also investigate the story of Ft. Colvile, the old Hudson’s Bay Company post located near Kettle Falls northwest of Spokane. This area marked the location of the region’s first farms and the historic grist mill that produced the first flour on the upper Columbia. (Note that the present town of Colville, as well as the 19th century military fort of that name, are spelled with two “l’s,” while the old fur trading post preserved the original spelling of namesake Scotsman Andrew Colvile.)

Left: Hudson’s Bay Company “Myers” Mill on the Colville River (looking southeast) near present Kettle Falls, Washington

Left: Hudson’s Bay Company “Myers” Mill on the Colville River (looking southeast) near present Kettle Falls, Washington

Same location today (looking southwest)

Same location today (looking southwest)

We learned that Hand-burr (buhr) milling equipment was used to produce the first flour at Ft. Colvile until a water-powered gristmill was built in 1830 several miles south of the fort at Myers Falls on the Colville River. Workers laboriously chiseled a pair of millstones from local granite, and the original stones are now housed at Spokane’s Museum of Arts & Culture. The early mills used two granite grinding stones with canted grooves cut in the rock so grist would be crushed rather than smashed between the stationary nether (bottom) and runner (top). As the runner turned, the grain gradually moved out more finely in the furrows to be thrown out at the edge as flour.

This crude milling required considerable time and produced an oily, starchy germ (which causes flour to become rancid) and whole wheat mixture of protein-rich gluten, fibrous bran, and vitamins. Other products used for “flours” and cereal included brans (outer skins or husks), shorts (bran and germ), and middlings (endosperm and bran). Five bushels of wheat weighing about sixty pounds per bushel typically yielded one 200-pound barrel of flour. Larger areas were soon under cultivation at two nearby company farms that yielded 3,000 bushels of wheat, corn, barley, oats, buckwheat, and peas in 1832. A second, more efficient gristmill was constructed near the original Ft. Colvile structure in the late 1840s and became operational in 1850 to enable substantial distribution of company flour to New Caledonia and the Snake River country.

Rob Smith,  Historic Hudson’s Bay Company Flour Mill

Rob Smith, Historic Hudson’s Bay Company Flour Mill

Ft. Vancouver’s first grist mill used a small hand-turned stone and was apparently located near the sawmill about 1828. Little of the original fur trading post remains in present Vancouver, Washington, but a magnificent living history recreation and museum are located along the Columbia River in the southwest part of the city. A larger mill at Ft. Vancouver made of locally quarried stone was operating in 1834 but powered by a slow-moving oxen or horses so provided barely enough flour for local needs, though pioneer missionary Samuel Parker considered it “of excellent quality.” Millwright William Crate’s water-powered gristmill was completed in the spring of 1839 on Mill Creek and could grind and bolt about sixty bushels of wheat per day, or 10,000 bushels annually.

Quern (Hand-Burr) Milling

Quern (Hand-Burr) Milling

The sonorous sound of rotating stones accompanied by the rhythmic clacking and splashing from the enormous wheel played pleasantly throughout the valley. A visitor to the fort wrote that the mill’s “deep music is heard daily and nightly half the year” in order to process the previous year’s harvest, which also came via wheat bateaux and barges from farms of Willamette Valley settlers. Rev. Parker noted in 1836 that the French Prairie “hunters turned farmers” McLoughlin had charitably aided were producing “first quality” wheat and found a ready market at the fort where it was traded for imported molasses, cocoa, salt, rum, claret, and Chinese tea.

Ft. Vancouver, Ft. Colvile, and Ft. Nez Perces (near present Pasco) soon came to employ a host of voyageurs, farmers, herdsmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, tailors, and other laborers. They regularly worked from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. six days a week at these remote outposts where they raised such heritage grains as White Lammas wheat and Scots Bere barley. Ohio native and wagon train leader Lansford Hastings described bustling Ft. Vancouver in the 1840s as a place of “diligent and incessant plying of the hammer, sledges and axes, and the confused toiling and ringing of bells, present all the impetuous commotion, rustling, tumultuous din of a city life, in the oriental world.”

Palouse Colony Farm Scots Bere (July, 2018)

Palouse Colony Farm Scots Bere (July, 2018)

A Weekend Trip to the George Washington Inn and other Pacific Northwest Agricultural Heritage Sites

President Washington entertaining his guests. Wife Lois is on the left.

President Washington entertaining his guests. Wife Lois is on the left.

My wife and I recently returned from a remarkably enjoyable weekend trip visiting some amazing sites related to agricultural heritage right here in the Pacific Northwest. We began at the George Washington Inn, Dan and Janet Abbott's five-star B & B located on the ocean between Sequim and Port Angeles. The Inn is a full scale replica of Washington's Mt. Vernon and Dan is passionate about America's colonial heritage in every way, including farming techniques for the living history farm he is developing. The last week of July the Pacific Northwest Colonial Festival will be held on the scenic grounds of the George Washington Inn. We had the special privilege of meeting President Washington himself (acclaimed reenactor Vern Frykholm) at breakfast and served him some Palouse Heritage Colonial pancakes made with our own landrace grain flour, which he pronounced as, "Just like Martha makes!" 

The George Washington Inn, located between Port Angeles and Sequim

The George Washington Inn, located between Port Angeles and Sequim

Richardsons' Oat Pancakes

Richardsons' Oat Pancakes

Fry's Bakery

Fry's Bakery

Following a delightful time with Dan and President Washington, we continued on across the water via the Blackball Ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, where we were treated to a wonderful tour of the vicinity's agricultural heritage by Foster and Natasha Richardson who farm near Mill Creek, British Columbia. We dined on the most scrumptious oak pancakes--more like a cake actually, at Victoria's Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, and also toured Fry's Bakery, operated by friends of the Richardsons. Our principal destination was Hatley Park Castle, located about ten miles west of Victoria, which is the home of BC's Royal Roads University and three-time host of Queen Elizabeth on her trips to British Columbia. Royal Roads occupies the former grounds of the Hudson's Bay Company's Colwood Farm. Some of the province's earliest grain was raised at Colwood and adjacent Craigflower Farm, and evidence of these places' agrarian heritage can still be seen in Craigflower's manor house and the Colwood Farm stone dairy building. 

Our trip was another reminder of the rich agricultural heritage we have here in the northwest, and further inspires us to continue restoring those healthy and earth-friendly landrace grains from our past. People like George Washington and fur trade farmers thrived on them, and so should we!

Hatley Park Castle

Hatley Park Castle

Steins, Vines & Grinds: Washington's Story of Craft Beer, Wine, and Coffee

The Washington State History Museum's long-awaited exhibit on the region's remarkable beverage heritage opened on January 20, 2017 as "Steins, Vines & Grinds: Washington's Story of Craft Beer, Wine, and Coffee." Over one hundred guests attended the opening festivities that featured opening remarks by Washington State Historical Society Executive Director Jennifer Kilmer and Ryan Pennington of Chateau Ste. Michelle, one of the exhibit's principal sponsors. 

I (Richard) serve as vice-president of the state historical society and museums so was also on hand to enjoy the fellowship and samples. Author Robert Foxcurran also attended from Seattle and presented me with a copy of his new book, "Songs Upon the Rivers," which is an extensive history of the mixed blood French and Indian Metis who were among the founders of Hudson's Bay Company posts at Ft. Vancouver, Ft. Colville, and Ft. Walla Walla. 

It was truly a wonderful event celebrating our love of beverages here in the northwest! Here are some photos from the night.
 

Ryan Pennington, Chateau Ste. Michelle Director of Communications; Richard Scheuerman, WSHS Vice-President; Jennifer Kilmer, WSHS Executive Director

Ryan Pennington, Chateau Ste. Michelle Director of Communications; Richard Scheuerman, WSHS Vice-President; Jennifer Kilmer, WSHS Executive Director

Robert Foxcurran, author of "Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Metis"

Robert Foxcurran, author of "Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Metis"

Chicken & Barley Soup (Canadian—New Brunswick

“Hudson Bay” White Lammas Wheat

“Hudson Bay” White Lammas Wheat

French Canadians were early Palouse Country explorers and many settled in the Walla Walla area (“Frenchtown”) and Oregon’s Willamette Valley were retired workers for the Hudson’s Bay Company at Ft. Vancouver and other posts maintained by “The Honorable Company” throughout the Pacific Northwest. HBC Governor Sir George Simpson personally brought the region’s first commercially raised grains— English White Lammas, on his first personal inspection of Columbia Department operations in 1825. 


Chicken & Barley Soup (Canadian—New Brunswick)

½ teaspoon pepper

1 cup carrots sliced

1 bay leaf

½ cup celery chopped

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons fresh parsley cut

½ lbs. chicken 

10 ounces frozen peas

2 quarts water

 ½ lb. mushrooms sliced

½ cup pearl barley  

2 tsp poultry seasoning

1 med onion chopped

 

Combine chicken, water, barley, onion, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, paprika, and bay leaf in large kettle and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer approximately 1 hour until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from broth. Cook chicken, remove meat from bones and dice. Add carrots, celery, and mushrooms to broth. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return diced chicken to soup mixture with peas and parsley; cook until heated through.