The Life of Richard Stanislas Grant (1822-1852)

By Penny Grant, January 7, 2013. Updated June 29, 2013 and January 15, 2014.

 

Introduction

Richard Stanislas Grant was the eldest son of Richard Grant (1794-1862) and his wife Marie Anne Breland. Richard Grant (the father) is most famous for being the Chief Trader of the Hudson Bay Company’s trading post at Fort Hall, Idaho. In contrast, Richard Stanislas Grant is relatively unknown. He is important to this website because he is Mike Grant’s great great grandfather, By all accounts, he was brave man who died young as the result of the "wild west approach" to business competition in those days.

 

For clarity, in this story I’ll refer to Richard Stanislas Grant as “Richard Grant” and to his father as “Captain Richard Grant.”

 

Early life

Richard Grant was born in Fort Edmonton (also known as Edmonton House) in 1822. This was one year after the merger of the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company, rival fur-trading companies in North America.  Fort Edmonton was an important fur trading post on the route between London (via the Hudson Bay) and Fort Vancouver on the Pacific Coast (now Washington State.) Richard was baptised on August 21, 1825, at Rocky Mountain House.

Richard’s youngest brother was John Francis Grant (1833-1907). John is a fairly well-known historical figure both in the United States and Canada. This is because, at the end of his life, he dictated his detailed memoirs to his wife, Clotilde Bruneau. These memoirs have been published both in the US and in Canada. John Francis Grant’s life spanned 74 years of remarkable change in Northwest North America. Like us, he was forced to adapt to many enormous political, social and economic changes. He was sometimes wildly successful and sometimes a terrible failure. In the US, John Francis Grant is known as Johnny Grant, creator of the immense Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. In Canada, he is known as John F. Grant, a Metis leader in Carman, Manitoba – who was not impressed by his fellow-Metis leader, Louis Riel.

 

Richard Grant had a second brother named William Charles Grant and a sister named Jane or Jeanne Marguerite Grant.

 

The Grant family seem to have been happy in their Fort Edmonton home where Richard and the other children were born. Captain Richard held the fairly senior position of Clerk at the post. Food seems to have been plentiful. Despite the harsh Alberta climate, wheat, barley, vegetables and potatoes were raised at the fort. However, there was probably no fruit – just wild berries in season. It is easy to imagine the Grant children playing freely together in vast prairie outside the fort. In his memoirs, John F. Grant says that Richard and William were fast runners - like “deers on the plains.”

 

Sadly, in 1835 Marie Anne Breland, the children’s mother, died unexpectedly. Marie Anne was the daughter of Louise Umphreville, a very important Metis woman in Fort Edmonton. After Louise’s husband Pierre Breland died, she married John Rowand, Chief Factor of Fort Edmonton. He adopted Marie Anne and Louise’s other children.

 

When his mother Marie Anne died, Richard was only 13 years old. The family was taking an afternoon walk along the North Saskatchewan River when she suddenly collapsed and died. At first they couldn’t believe it and thought she had just fainted. Their heart-broken father, Captain Richard (who became a Chief Trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company the following year) eventually took the children to Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, to be raised by their grandmother. Their grandmother’s name was Marguerite Grant and she was also a widow. Captain Richard Grant had himself grown up in Trois-Rivieres.

 

The family travelled from Fort Edmonton to Montreal in birch bark canoes. They were probably part of the annual fur brigade during which the Hudson’s Bay Company shipped the season’s furs back to the east. The trip took them three months.

 

Once they arrived at Trois Rivieres, John and Jean stayed with their kindly grandmother while their older brothers Richard and William were sent to college at Nouveau College in Nicolet across the St Lawrence River. In his memoirs, John describes Richard as being “quiet and old fashioned.” This may have been because Richard was seven years older than John and he sometimes scolded his younger brother for his rough and tumble behaviour. Richard’s education was probably in French. However, there seem to have been quite a few people of Scots descent living in Quebec at that time – so he probably also spoke English.

 

In 1845, Richard’s brother William Charles died in Trois-Rivieres. The cause of his death is unknown. He was only 20 years old.

 

In 1847, when Richard was 25 years old, he married Emilie Levreault de Langie – a well-educated, 29 year old French Canadian woman from Trois-Rivieres. That same year, his grandmother also died.

 

Move to Fort Hall, Idaho

Later in 1847, Richard, Emilie, and John left Trois-Rivieres to go to Fort Hall (in present-day Idaho), where their father Captain Richard Grant was by then the Chief Trader in charge of the area. Richard’s sister Jeanne was the only member of the family left in Trois-Rivieres. Sadly, she died in childbirth not long after the others had left. This family was no stranger to heart ache – but such deaths were not uncommon in the days before modern medicine. 

 

The journey to Fort Hall from Trois-Rivieres took the travellers three months. They travelled by stage coach, rail, steamboat, canal boat and wagon train. It is likely that Father Augustin-Magloire was one of their travelling partners.  Richard borrowed some money from the priest on the way. When he got to Fort Hall, his father was not happy to have to repay it.

 

Richard, Emilie and John arrived in Fort Hall in early August, 1847. They were greeted by Captain Richard and his third wife, Helene McDonald Kittson. Also, there to greet them was a whole new family – Captain Richard and Helene’s three daughters - Helene Wilhelmena, Julia Priscilla and Adelina - plus Eloise Jemima Kittson who was the daughter of Helene and her previous husband, William Kittson. James Cuthbert Grant, the son of Captain Richard and his second wife, Sarah (aka Indian Woman At Oxford House), was probably also there when they arrived.  For those of us who believe that nuclear families (consisting of mom, dad and a couple of kids) used to be the norm, this should be an eye opener. Families have always had to muddle along when parents died or left. Blended families are not new. They were the norm in the “old days.”

It is evident from correspondence, that Captain Richard Grant was interested in procuring a position for his son, Richard, with the Hudson's Bay Company.  However, he was not able to do this. In the old days, Hudson’s Bay Company officers, like Captain Richard, generally came into the company by investing their own capital to start up trading. Eventually they might be promoted to the rank of Clerk, Chief Trader (in charge of an individual post) or even Chief Factor (who sat in council with the Governors and was the head of a district.) Chief Traders were entitled to one share in the profits or the losses of the Hudson’s Bay Company – a substantial sum in those days.

 

However, by 1847, the fur trade was in decline and trading in the Fort Hall area was changing from trading goods with Indians for furs to trading goods with the emigrants moving west to Oregon and California. The first group of emigrants on, what would become known as the Oregon Trail, had arrived at Fort Hall in 1841 led by famed mountain man Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick. The group had split into two parties when they reached Sheep Rock just past Soda Springs. One party headed south to Utah and California. The other party headed northwest toward the Oregon Territory. Since there was no wagon trail to Oregon at that time, they left their wagons at Fort Hall and continued on with pack animals. However, by 1847, a steady stream of wagons was arriving at Fort Hall during the summer months. There they were able to buy provisions for the next leg of their journey.

 

In 1849,  two years after Richard, Emilie and John had arrived in Fort Hall, Captain Richard decided to send John to Fort Vancouver (in what is now Washington State) to be trained by James Douglas, who was the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company Columbia District at that time. James Douglas went on to become the Governor of Vancouver Island – a position he combined for some years with his high ranking office with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

 

The group going to Fort Vancouver in 1849 consisted of John, ten men, and thirty horses. They left in early January.  Later, at the base of the Blue Mountains in Oregon, they were joined by Captain Richard, Richard, about sixteen more men, one hundred horses, and supplies for inland posts.  The trip over the Blue Mountains was always an arduous one and this time was no exception.

 

When the group arrived in Fort Walla Walla (now eastern Washington State), they heard the news of the California Gold Rush.  This was very exciting – a new opportunity for young men to strike it rich. By the time they had reached Fort Vancouver, Richard and John had decided they would join the gold seekers.  Interestingly, in Fort Vancouver, they were eight hundred miles from California and eight hundred miles from Fort Hall. It was also eight hundred miles from Fort Hall to California. They decided that, rather than proceeding directly to the gold fields, they would return to Fort Hall for Richard’s wife Emilie and his one and a half year old son, Joseph Richard Grant. From there they would go to California. 

Establishment of Freighting Business
However, when they returned to Fort Hall, they decided not go to California after all. In his memoirs, John states that he had received some trade goods from his father.  On their way back to Fort Hall, he traded these with the Indians. Once at Fort Hall, John says he decided he was satisfied with that country. Since Fort Hall was on the emigrant routes, he also started trading with the Oregon and California Trail emigrants and with gold gold seekers heading for California. Eventually John traded his way up to owning vast stocks of horses and cattle and became the owner of what is now known as the Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Montana.
 
When Richard returned to Fort Hall, he and Emilie went into the freighting business. Another son, Louis Joseph was born in 1851. In the story Emilie later told to her grandson, she and Richard lived near Fort Hall. Richard rode a black horse while she rode a buckskin or cream coloured one. It appears that there were many freighters on the Oregon and California Trails about this time. Emigrant diaries report hardly passing a day without meeting traders.

 

Richard and Emilie were probably in partnership with Captain Richard and Richard’s half brother Cuthbert James Grant (no relation to Cuthbert Grant, famous Metis leader in Manitoba). Their main business was a wagon freight line from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Fort Walla Walla.  Salt Lake City was south of Fort Hall on one of the emigrant trails to California. Fort Walla Walla was northwest of Fort Hall on the Oregon Trail.  

 

The area where Richard, Emilie, John and their father Captain Richard were trying to make a living was known at that time as the “Oregon Country” by Americans and the “Columbia Department of the Hudson Bay Company” by the British. It had been under joint American and British control from 1818 to 1846. In 1846, the Oregon Treaty was signed between the United States and Britain and everything south of the 49th parallel (except Vancouver Island) was given to the United States. Although this treaty had been signed the year before Richard, Emilie and John arrived at Fort Hall, it seems that things did not change much for Hudson’s Bay Company for the first ten years. However, as the years went by, the area became more lawless. There were a growing number of  skirmishes and massacres between the Indians and white people who were moving into the Indians’ territory. It is even suggested that some of the massacres (such as the 1859 massacre of the Miltimore Party) probably involved white “land pirates” who master-minded this ambush.

 

Richard and Emilie’s wagon freight route cut through this territory. The distance today by highway is 590 miles or about 900 km. Until 1840 the route had only been passable on foot or on horseback – no wagons. However, by the time Richard and Emilie were running their freight business, the trail was passable for wagons and was also travelled by settlers who were moving from the Eastern United States to Oregon and to California. The most difficult part was crossing the Blue Mountains of Oregon.

 

In the early days of the freighting business, when the roads were bad, Richard would unload part of the cargo from his wagons at the side of the road and cover it with tarpaulins - while he hauled his wagons out of mud or proceeded on with a partial load. The Indians did not disturb it. Although Richard was only in his 20s, they called him the “Great White Father” and were friendly. At this time, his brother John lived with the Indians and was married to several important Indian women.

 

After the signing of the Oregon Treaty, when there were so many people passing through, the area became more lawless, Richard had to build small huts along the trail to protect his goods from theft by white men and Indians. The huts had a glass window and a door.

 

Untimely Death

According to Grant family documents, on one unfortunate occasion, curious Indians who had never seen glass windows before pushed their heads through the window of a hut  and cut their faces. They were hurt, embarrassed and angry. Egged on by competing packers, they apparently trailed Richard for some months - hoping to repay him for their injuries. One day as Richard was fording either the Salt River (Wyoming) or Bear River (Idaho), a young brave shot him in the back of the neck. Some have said with a slingshot but that now seems unlikely.

 

Despite his injuries, Richard tried to return to his home near Fort Hall. John’s memoir does not explain how Richard died, just that he died after a three month illness. It says, "I was now alone in earnest. I missed him, for when I had any trouble with my father, I went to see Richard and told him about it. He was my comforter; we loved one another: what was Richard's was mine and what was mine was his. We always agreed together, and while he was sick I traded for him...His death left me very lonely." In 1852, Richard died of his injuries and was buried near the river. He was only 30 years old.

 

When the flooding river in Idaho threatened Richard’s grave, friends removed his remains and buried him on higher ground. During the intervening years, the town of Soda Springs was settled.  Richard Grant’s grave in Soda Springs Fairview Graveyard was marked by a large lava rock.

 

Killer never found

At the time of Richard Stanislas Grant's murder, there was no law in, what was to become, the State of Idaho. Although the area had been given to the United States by the United Kingdom under the 1846 Oregon Treaty, it was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln declared the area part of the Idaho Territory (including Montana and most of Wyoming.) It was not until 1890, that the actual State of Idaho was established and Idaho became part of the Union. During the 17 years prior to the Territorial period, the only the rules were those enforced by the Hudson Bay Company (with headquarters in the United Kingdom), the individual wagons trains crossing the area on their way to Oregon and California, and the various tribal codes. The vigilantes, secret societies designed to fill the gap in law enforcement, were not established until later. For example, Granville Stuart's "Stuart's Stranglers" were established in 1884 in Montana. Moreover, there were no newspapers during these years to record events such as Richard Stanislas's murder. As a result, no-one was ever charged or brought to justice for his murder. In fact, unless new information turns up in the HBC records ro personal diaries of the era, we may never be enlightened about what happened.

The family carries on

Emilie and her two sons eventually moved to Prince Edward Island where Emilie married Jerome McNeil in 1863. Later, when her sons were grown up, they all moved to Manitoba to join John F. Grant who had by then established himself as a Metis leader in the Carman area near Winnipeg. Although he was a Metis, John was not sympathetic to Louis Riel and was actually imprisoned briefly by Riel.

 

Richard Grant’s son, Louis Joseph Grant, had a son named Richard Seymour Grant. It was to Richard Seymour Grant that Emilie told her stories about the horses and the freighting company.  

 

In the early 20th century, Richard Seymour Grant moved his family (Louis Seymour and Mable) from Manitoba to Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

Louis Seymour married Vera Josephine Smith in Vancouver and they became the parents of Marilyn Cameron, Michael Louis Grant and Peter Richard Grant.

 

This makes the hero of our story, Richard Stanislas Grant the great great great great grandfather of Henry and Charlie Grant of North Vancouver, Jordan and Brendan Smith of Halfmoon Bay, and all their Cameron second cousins.

 

Richard Stanislas Grant’s life was hard and fairly short. He did his best to survive the difficult and changing times in which he and his family lived. His brother loved him and so, I’m sure, did his wife and sons. His wife and children carried on bravely after his death. Although he is not a major historical figure, his descendants remember him as an early pioneer in western North America – a person we should honour and respect.

 

2013 Grant Reunion

In August, 2013, some of his descendants went to Soda Springs, Idaho to place a stone marker on his grave next to the original lava rock.

 

 

The information for this story comes from:

·        Gerhard J. Ens’ “A son of the Fur Trade: the Memoirs of Johnny Grant,”

·        Anita Grant Steele’s website http://www.william-grant-of-trois-rivieres-genealogy.ca/biographies.html (accessed on November 9, 2012)

·         a letter dated 3-19-35  from Frederick Shaw of Oakland ,California, to Mr. T.C, Elliott of Walla Walla, Washington. This letter includes the story of Richard’s freighting business and his untimely death - as told by Emilie to Richard Seymour Grant when he was a boy.

·        Information on Fort Edmonton, Fort Vancouver, the Hudson’s Bay Company, James Douglas and the Oregon Treaty comes from Wikipedia.

·        Information about the Oregon and California Trails comes from “”National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide: The Tangle of Trails Through Idaho” published by the National Park Service, US Department of the Interior.