Our first recorded crime occurred shortly after the first fur traders entered the country. Peter Pond, who built the first white man’s house, as far as we know, was the accused.
Pond was one of the toughest and most shrewd traders on the prairies before he came north. He had been an army officer in the American Revolution, accustomed to give orders and have them obeyed. He had killed a man in a duel in the East but this was not considered a crime. However, he came to Montreal after Quebec fell to the British.
Being the first white man over the Methye portage, after he had joined the Northwesters, he claimed the Athabasca country as his own — or his Company’s. Actually there was a third company, the American Gregory-McLeod Company of Detroit in which Alexander Mackenzie was a partner at the time. The Pond interests got along all right with the Bay Co. but at Lac La Rouge the Detroiters sent in a man, Etienne Waden, to build a post near Pond’s. At first, although he resented a “free trader” — which the Bay in turn considered Pond to be — Pond was lonely and tried to get along with Waden, but Waden continually provoked Pond. It was inevitable. There was a fight. Pond or one of his men fired a shot. Waden was wounded and died a few days later. Pond was taken all the way to Montreal for trial, there being no police or magistrates in the north then. He was acquitted. It was unlikely that there were any witnesses taken as to testify.
Pond returned to Fort Chipewyan, which certainly was his territory. Again the Gregory McLeod company moved into his area, and sent a man named Ross to be chief trader. This was a mistake in judgment, because Pond had been allowed to buy into the first Northwest Company, but Ross was refused, so he went over to Gregory-McLeod with a grudge against Pond. The American company supplied Ross with more and stronger rum and more attractive trade goods. Pond, old in the trade, and expecting to go quietly on trading without too much trouble had to go out to get furs from the Indians who had been his faithful customers for years. It has been intimated that John Ross was also interested in finding a way to the Pacific, a project Pond had been working on for years and from which he hoped to gain fame and fortune. A fight had to occur, sooner or later, for both men were “asking for it”. In a scuffle with two of Pond’s men, Ross was shot and killed. Alexander Mackenzie, also a Gregory-McLeod man, brought the word back to the Northwesters headquarters at Grand Portage on Lake Superior. It was relayed to Montreal.
Simon McTavish, head of the Northwesters at Montreal had heard that the English (The Bay) was getting ready to send troops in for the Bay Company to take over the Athabasca territory by force. McTavish, growing to immense wealth on Northwest furs, had to stop the row at all costs.
So two things happened. He had to get the Gregory-McLeod Company into the Northwester’s Co-operative. In this he succeeded but he had to take young Alexander Mackenzie along with the company. Not that Mackenzie was a poor trader. On the contrary! But he was also a wealthy, dynamic and clever young Scots partner that might endanger the other ambitious traders in their steady push toward being head of the company. So he shipped Mackenzie off to the furthest north post, Fort Chipewyan, with orders to send Pond out for trial.
Mackenzie arrived with the returning brigades in the fall. He and Pond got along well enough all winter, while Mackenzie picked up all the information Pond had been able to gather while he made a map of the area. Mackenzie found Pond’s manners a little offensive. Besides Mackenzie, from a family noted for its love of books, found the illiterate Pond somewhat ignorant. However, Pond did not seem to resent his young successor who was later noted for being able to handle men.
In the spring brigade Pond went off for the second time to be tried for murder at Montreal. He is reported to have gotten off on a technicality that the courts of Canada did not have jurisdiction in the northwest, which did not belong to Canada then. Suspicion pointed a finger at Pond. After all, twice is too much. Pond never returned to the north. Eventually he quarreled with the company again and went back to the United States. Not many men, even in the North, got off on two murder counts!
It is noteworthy that if Pond were guilty and feared being convicted in a day when hangings were the order of the day, an experienced traveler like Pond must have had numerous chances to escape during either of the two three-thousand mile escords to Montreal.