Relive history

// Ft. Nisqually’s Brigade encampment offers visitors a peek at 19th century life

Begin a personal journey to Fort Nisqually Living History Museum at this year's annual Brigade Encampment Aug. 8-9. Journey back to the year 1855 and experience why the fur brigades from east of the Cascades camped here.

For more than 20 years, this event has served to preserve this part of history. "Our mission, and the reason to keep history alive, is this: History is not dates and events. History is people," said Jill Stephenson, museum store manager. "We want to inspire our visitors to explore, discover and connect. Their stories are our stories."

Education specialist Mike McGuire noted that having a better understanding of past events will give people a better understanding of future events.

"Besides, living history is just plain interesting," he added. "How did people solve the problems of housing, eating, working? Maybe there is something the modern person can learn by experiencing the daily activities of our ancestors. These people were resourceful and hard working."

More than 100 volunteers will recreate the arrival of the Hudson's Bay Company's (HBC) 1855 fur brigades to this post. The camp brings the sights and sounds of early Washington Territory back to life. Enjoy entertainment ranging from a ladies' tea to dancing to the music of bagpipes.

Historically, the HBC sent brigades of trappers into the interior of the Northwest to trap during the winter. The bales of furs, called "returns," arrived at the Pacific shore around the end of June. Until the boundary agreement of 1846, establishing the 49th parallel between the United States and what is now Canada, the brigades would return to Fort Vancouver, (present day Vancouver, WA) on the Columbia. After 1846, the HBC struggled to find an all-Canadian route to the Pacific, a route that went through the Canadian Okanagan. In 1855, the HBC made the decision to send the interior brigade further south to Fort Nisqually, which was not normally done. Thus, the arrival of the 1855 interior brigade to Fort Nisqually was not the norm.

The brigade encampment offers something for the whole family including the fur trappers' races, which allow the public to watch members of the brigade pit their skills against each other in, among other things, throwing a tomahawk at  a target, starting a fire with flint and steel, setting a trap and firing a musket.

The popular "Engage for the Day" program allows kids to participate in various activities. Ribbons are displayed at camps where a skill is being demonstrated. When they have tried that skill, kids get a bead. Some of the skills from past years include: Chinook jargon, identifying animal tracks, spinning wool and flint-and-steel fire starting. When kids have earned a specific number of beads, they sign a contract making them an "engage," or worker for the HBC.

The kids' out station, where visitors participate in hands-on activities, is accessible any time the fort is open, not just during the Brigade. People can try 19th century games and activities such as climbing bear, quoits, cup and ball and Jacob's ladder. During Brigade and other events, even more games are available to play, including graces, rolling hoop and battledore.

This event is for all ages. Activities are from 11 a.m.  to 5 p.m., and the location is wheelchair accessible. However, it is mostly outside and, especially in the camp area, is not on smooth ground.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is located in Point Defiance Park at 5400 N. Pearl St., #11. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for senior/military/student, $5 for youth. For more information, contact Fort Nisqually at (253) 591-5339, send e-mail to or check out their website at


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