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Posted: Jan 4, 2005, 17:11

Historical view of David Thompson…A follow up to the story of Margarite


Last week we learned of Margarite and the 24 years she spent traveling with David Thompson. Now we journey into the life of Thompson, the man who mapped 1.5 million square miles of land mass in the Northwest United States and Canada.

There are monuments to David Thompson located in Boundary County recognizing his contributions to this area. Have you seen them?

David Thompson, with the help of his wife and Margarite, made major anthropological contributions during his career by journaling the culture and mores of 50 Native American tribes. He also discovered the source of the Columbia and Mississippi rivers, and was the first white man to traverse the length of the Columbia River.

He established the Kullyspell House on Lake Pend Oreille and Saleesh House on the Clark Fork River; ensuring a place of commerce and trade for the regions around the area. He traveled 50,000 miles from the Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean, and achieved his personal goal of creating a master mapping of 1.5 million square miles that included Canada and the northwest United States.

After 20 years of working on the map, the North West Company of Merchants kept it hidden in their main office to avoid letting it fall into the hands of competitors. It wasn’t until after Thompson’s death that the map was found in an office of the Canadian Pacific Railway by J.B. Tyrrell, a Canadian historian and surveyor, who later chronicled Thompson’s life and declared him the “greatest land geographer who ever lived.”

Christened David ap Thomas (David son of Thomas), David Thompson was taught navigation and mathematics in preparation of joining the Royal Navy. However, a treaty was signed between the United States and Great Britain in 1783 that virtually ended the fighting. So, he was bound into the private employ of the Hudson Bay Company and sailed from his family and England, in 1784, at the age of 14. Eventually, Thompson worked for the North West Company and became know as “the Original Northwester.”

In his spiritual “determination,” as well as in appearance, he was likened to John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. He was, perhaps, the only white trader who refused to trade liquor to the natives, and he was often set apart from men and chided for saying his nightly devotions.

It is recorded that natives observed him spending so much of his time taking observations of the sun, moon and stars with such equipment as the brass compass, thermometer, telescope, and parallel glasses they believed him to have “the powers to see people all over the earth and to tell the future.” After he told them he was “trying to determine distances and directions of varying places on the earth,” they replied. “If this were true you would be looking at the earth.”

Unappreciated for his gigantic efforts, Thompson left the Hudson Bay Company after being criticized for letting his “scientific efforts” interfere with his trading. Later, the British Government refused his request for a pension, so he died in poverty after having to sell even the life long tools of his trade for relief. In 4,000 pages of writing, his last journal entry said, “This day borrowed two shillings sixpence from a friend. Thank God for this relief.” Just three months after he died, his wife Charlotte, followed him in death.

A special thanks to Karen Standal who inspired this series of stories. Karen’s unique content and fascinating subject matter continues to capture more than the Canadians. She’s not only “telling tales out of school” but in schools, too! This Bonners Ferry resident is a local bard (storyteller) who has honored requests to perform in four states and Canada where she weaves her magic as a storyteller and poet.

On the Winter Season
By Karen Standal

This is the nestling season,
Where nature lays a white cloak,
And nestles and presses the seeds into the ground,
That will sprout this great promise of life in the spring.

This is the reflective season.
It is the quiet time.
We need to teach our children this.
We need to be still and listen

The facts about David Thompson and his wife, Charlotte, were found in the book, The Original Northwester, David Thompson, and the Native Tribes of North America, by Roland Bond, Spokane House Enterprises, Nine Mile Falls, WA, 1970. The book is available at the Boundary County Public Library.

To see the story of Margarite.


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