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Donald McLean (fur trader)

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Title: Donald McLean (fur trader)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: McLean, John Andrew Mara, Chilcotin War, Klattasine, Nicola (chief), Bonaparte Indian Band, William George Cox, Johnny Ussher, Mission Ridge (British Columbia), Allan McLean (outlaw)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Donald McLean (fur trader)

For other people named Donald McLean, see Donald McLean (disambiguation).

Donald McLean (1805 – July 17, 1864) was a Scottish fur trader and explorer for the Hudson's Bay Company and who later became a cattle rancher near Cache Creek in British Columbia's Thompson Country . McLean was the last casualty of the Chilcotin War of 1864. He was the father of outlaw and renegade Allan McLean, leader of the McLean gang.


McLean was born in 1805 in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland. He joined the Hudson's Bay Company in 1833 as an apprentice clerk in the company's Western Department. In 1835 he accompanied expeditions to the Snake River country west of the Rockies led by Thomas McKay and John McLeod. He was assigned to Fort Colville, under Chief Trader Archibald McDonald in 1839, and in 1840 was transferred to Flathead Post. Two years later, he was sent to the New Caledonia Fur District in now north-central British Columbia, and was at times in charge of Forts Chilcotin, Babine, and McLeod. He also worked at Fort Alexandria under Donald Manson.

McLean was appointed a chief trader in 1853, taking charge of Thompson's River Post (today's Kamloops) in 1855 and expanding its cattle and horse herds and managing relations with the indigenous population. He gained a reputation both for fairness and severity. During McLean's rule, the first gold were brought into the fort by local Indians. The news which was carefully guarded, but eventually touched off the Fraser River Gold Rush.

McLean was known as "Samadlin" to his Indian customers and friends, which was a corruption of Sieur McLean, how his French-Canadian employees addressed him.. McLean's brutal practices - he was an adherent of an informal company policy known as the "Club Law" - and numerous insubordinations led to his recall to regional headquarters in Victoria in 1860. He reisgned in 1861.

During his tenure at Thompson's River Post, Mclean had established a ranch in the hills northwest of Cache Creek. He now moved there with his family, ranching, prospecting, and running a roadhouse on Cariboo Road.

During the Chilcotin War of 1864, McLean assisted in hunting for the Chilcotin leader Klattasine. Chafing at being under the command of Cox, McLean set out on his own from the expedition's encampment near Puntzi Lake to track Klattasine through the country around Chilko and Taseko Lakes.


The lake, creek and Indian reserve at McLean's ranch near Cache Creek are now named for him; so is Mount McLean, the highest summit on Mission Ridge on the north side of Seton Lake just west of Lillooet.

In the decade after his death, McLean's son by his Indian wife Sophia, Allan McLean, went on a rampage with his brothers Charley and Archie and a friend named Alex Hare. They killed constable and gold commissioner John Tannatt Ussher whilst resisting arrest. The McLeans were captured and brought to the British Columbia Penitentiary for trial by Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie (who had also tried Klattasine). They were convicted and were hung for murder in 1881.

Among McLean's many descendants, Mel Rothenburger, former mayor of Kamloops, is a writer in BC history, including a book on The Chilcotin War.


  • entry
  • The Chilcotin War, Mel Rothenburger
  • Nemaia: The Unconquered Country, Terry Glavin, Transmontanus Books
  • The Chilcotin War, Mel Rothenburger, Heritage House Publications
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