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HAPHAZARD HISTORY: The amazing life of Julia Rivet Ogden

At the southwestern end of Lac La Hache is found the old pioneer cemetery

Barry Sale

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

At the southwestern end of Lac La Hache is found the old pioneer cemetery.

Near the middle of this graveyard is a plot with a stone that reads: “Julia, wife of Peter S. Ogden C.F.H.B.C.

Died Jan. 21, 1886 aged 98 years” (C.F.H.B.C. stands for Chief Factor, Hudson’s Bay Company). This grave holds the remains of a very remarkable and courageous woman with a fascinating life story.

Julia Rivet was born in 1788 in the vicinity of present day Spokane, Wash. She and her mother were members of the leadership clan of the Flathead First Nation, a subgroup of the Interior Salish people. Julia’s mother was widowed a few years later, and she subsequently took up with a French Canadian explorer and trapper, Francois Rivet.

He had been a scout and interpreter with the Lewis and Clark expedition, and had remained in the area trapping and trading. Julia took on the name of her stepfather, but otherwise had a very traditional Indigenous upbringing.

Julia married a young Flathead warrior when she was in her mid teens. He was killed in a skirmish with another tribe, and Julia returned to the lodge of her mother and stepfather as a 19 year old childless widow.

She live with them for more than 10 years before meeting Peter Skene Ogden, the young Hudson’s Bay Company trader posted to Spokane House.

In 1819, when she was 31 years old and he was 29, she became his country wife. This union cost Ogden dearly — he spent half his life’s savings on 50 horses which he traded in ceremonial fashion for her hand, but he had his mind set on this marriage and was not to be dissuaded, no matter what the cost.

Julia willingly adopted Ogden’s two sons from a previous country marriage, Peter and Charles.

She also made it clear to him that she would not be left behind during his expeditions and explorations.

In their 35-year marriage Julia had six children, three boys and three girls. She accompanied her husband everywhere, children in tow, facing cold, starvation, attacks, sickness, and other crises along the way.

She assumed a full share of duties and more, setting and breaking camp, preparing meals, skinning and drying furs, and assisting with medical problems for both men and horses.

Many stories are told about Julia’s courage and bravery during these travels. One such story took place in the early spring of 1825 near what would eventually become known as the Ogden Valley in Utah. Young Charles was having breathing problems, and Julia needed goose grease to which she would add medicinal herbs to create a salve.

She shot a goose on an island in the middle of the river, but nobody would volunteer to swim across the river to get it.

The expedition members, including her husband who could not swim, watched in astonishment as Julia jumped in, struggled against the current, and returned with the 15-pound bird, her neck encrusted with ice.

Charles recovered fairly quickly after receiving the medications, and Julia somehow avoided even getting a cold.

Another story occurred later on that year, in May.

By this time, Julia was not only a mother to Peter and Charles, she also had two children of her own — Cecilia and Michael, who was just eight months old.

There was a tense confrontation when Ogden’s HBC group ran across a large number of American trappers.

A brawl ensued, along with some gunfire, fortunately with no fatalities.

READ MORE: Rich history behind the Evans place near Williams Lake

A large number of Ogden’s men decided to defect to the other side, taking horses, gear and furs with them.

After the incident, Julia discovered that the horse Michael had been strapped to was missing.

She didn’t hesitate, jumping onto another mount and riding directly into the American camp.

There, ignoring the rifles and handguns pointed directly at her and the shouts to shoot her down, she grabbed the reins of the horse carrying her baby and also the reins of another horse laden with pelts and rode back out.

Both sides were amazed at her nerve, and she emerged completely unharmed, but Ogden and the remainder of his company had to flee the area for their lives.

After completing several expeditions in what is now Washington, Oregon, northern California, Utah and Idaho, Peter Skene Ogden was promoted to the HBC’s New Caledonia District to the north (now known as British Columbia).

Just before setting out, one of the children, a boy, died of a stomach ailment on Jan. 5, 1831.

By 1834, Ogden had been named Chief Factor for the district, and was stationed at Fort St. James on Stuart Lake. There, their last son, Isaac, was born in 1839 when Julia was 51 years old.

Ogden referred to her affectionately as “the Old Lady” even though he was two years her junior.

By 1847, Ogden had been appointed Joint Chief Factor (along with James Douglas) at Fort Vancouver, Wash.

He and Julia remained there until 1854, when his health began to decline rapidly. They retired to the home of their daughter, Sarah-Julia and her husband Archibald McKinlay (sometimes spelled McKinley) in Oregon City.

Peter Skene Ogden passed away on Sept. 27 of that year at the age of 64.

Julia, however, was to live another 32 years. In 1862, the McKinlay family decided to come north to take up land at the southwestern end of Lac La Hache. Archibald McKinlay had also worked with the HBC and was very impressed with the area and its potential.

So it was that in 1863, Archibald, Sarah-Julia, their three sons, their two daughters, Sarah-Julia’s half brother Charles, and 75 year old Julia made their way north on horseback and covered wagon. They travelled from Oregon City to Walla Walla to Penticton to Fort Kamloops and thence to Lac La Hache, arriving in early May.

They constructed a large log dwelling, a store and several outbuildings.

The big log home became the 115 Mile House on the Cariboo Wagon Road, and the McKinlay family remained on this land for the next 79 years.

The store was run by Sarah-Julia and her mother, and the roadhouse was operated by the now grown McKinlay children.

The roadhouse prospered, becoming well known for its good meals and clean beds.

The store and trading post did a brisk business and was known for its honesty.

READ MORE: The origins of Columneetza

The ranch did very well too, supplying beef dairy products and grain to the goldfields to the north.

Once the 115 Mile was running well, Archibald McKinlay and his brother in law Isaac Ogden raised and trained fine racehorses and operated a quality horse race track, part of a large racing circuit in the Cariboo.

As for Julia, she lived to the amazing age of 98, dying peacefully in her sleep. She was buried in the McKinlay family cemetery, later to become the Lac La Hache pioneer cemetery, in 1885.

No pictures are known to exist of Julia, whose life saw amazing experiences and adventure. She was a woman of two cultures who witnessed incredible changes in her long and memorable life.

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