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R. M. Patterson, canoeing author

Jul 22, 2023
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Portland, Oregon
In another thread I mentioned the works of R. M. Patterson, most famous as the author of his adventures and exploration on the Nahanni River in 1927, which I'm sure many members here know of. I did a cursory search for his name here on CanoeTripping.net and turned up very little, though I could have missed some. I'm starting a new thread here so it's easier to find as a separate topic than where I posted originally.

The works of R. M. Patterson I know about are:

The Dangerous River: Adventure on the Nahanni (some later editions are titled just "Dangerous River")
The Buffalo Head
Far Pastures
Trail to the Interior
Finlay's River
Those Earlier Hills

I happen to have all the above as paper copies, but I don't know if any are still in print. Some if not all are now available in digital format, though quality of included images is usually poor. I have not purchased any of the digital editions yet so don't know how they compare. My interest in them is mostly just for easier searches for terms and topics he covers.

Another "exploration" book that R.M Patterson had a hand in (wrote the introduction and some editorial comments) is the journal of Samuel Black and his exploration in 1824, searching for an easier Northwest Passage route, going upstream on the Peace River from Rocky Mountain House and turning up the Finlay River then portaging to the upper Stikine near Chapea Rapids. This journal was lost for well over 100 years, finally put together from three pieces located in the early 1950s and published as a volume of the Hudson's Bay Record Society in 1955. It was only available as numbered copies in hardcover by private subscription. To my knowledge it is available used only and fairly expensive. I located a copy back in the early 1990s and it cost me $75 then. I was interested in this mainly as I hoped to do a run on the Finlay back then. I never made it, and I'm too infirm now for a trip of that difficulty. Anyone interested can Google "blacks rocky mountain journal 1824" and find a few copies still available right now (8-17-2023) listed from about $50 to near a couple hundred. One has to be fairly dedicated at those prices. As hinted, this is the edited handwritten notes of Samuel Black from his 1824 journey. Ray Patterson wrote an introduction to this HB Record Society edition, and there does appear some notes (mostly footnotes?) by him within the text. He was at most a very minor editor, though likely the most knowledgeable canoeist on the team.

For those who are interested in Ray Patterson, there is a biography of him by David Finch, published in 2000. I hadn't run across it before this and just took delivery of a used copy of it myself, haven't read yet, so can't attest to quality of the book. Someone else may have already read it and be able to do so. Please chime in. Those interested can search for "R. M. Patterson: A life of Great Adventure" by David Finch.
Also of interest is "Nahanni Journals: R.M. Patterson's1927-29 Journals" edited by Richard C. Davis.

Of note, the fact that Patterson did not reach Virginia Falls by canoe and paddle alone on his first journey, as is described in The Dangerous River.

I'll have to see if I can find a copy of Davis's treatise. I didn't know about it. Thanks for mentioning. I know that Ray had help getting up to Virginia Falls and above. He describes getting up as far as Rabbit Kettle Lake, mostly through his thinly disguised handling of the location of Hole in the Wall, which is in that area.
I'd heard of R.M. Patterson and his Dangerous River book, but had no idea he'd settled down to ranching for a time in his life. That is until I came across Buffalo Head in an antiques shop in the little town of Nanton Alberta on a family trip there several years ago. It seemed a coincidence too extraordinary that I was standing lost in a book that described an adventurous life a century before and less than 100 kms away. I got lost in that book and treasured it. We drove around the eastern slopes and foothills exploring, Buffalo Head making my vacation there all the more special.
IIRC I sent the book to a good friend who was interested in horses and ranching.

I'd heard of R.M. Patterson and his Dangerous River book,
The first book of Patterson's I ever ran across was Finlay's River, which I checked out of the library when I was in college. It was the only title of his they had if I remember correctly. I ran across Dangerous River much later, and as a matter of fact have run the Nahanni twice now. I ran across the other titles of his in the later '90s and picked up a set then, except for Those Earlier Hills, which wasn't published until 2008. Like you, Odyssey, I've run across books in the weirdest places. I was trying to find out something about fur trade history, don't remember the exact topic now, and ran across a new book in some antiques shop locally here, not a place anyone would expect to find such a title, that covered the exact info I was looking for at the time. Crazy place, crazy timing. Heck, I never go into antique shops, but did that one!
For those interested, David Finch's biography of Patterson is now available for digital borrowing at Archive.org

Also available is Richard C. Davis' publication, Nahanni Journals

I've recently been in communication with both authors regarding the cover image of Davis' book...

The image dates to after late June 1927 when Patterson exchanged his 18 foot long canoe for a smaller 16 foot Chestnut Prospector at Fort Simpson. The photo is significant because it is one of the earliest known photos of confirmed Chestnut Prospector, introduced by the company in 1923. The photo shows the post-fire decal in use in at this time as well as how early Prospectors had heart-shaped decks and seats of woven cane seats. Later Prospectors had semi-circular decks and wooden slat seats.