Born on April 6, 1845 in India, William Cornwallis King started working for Hudson’s Bay Company when he was 17 years old and became chief trader at 51, in 1896. He retired in 1903. King trained as a clerk at Upper Fort Garry. One of his assignments was shooting pigeons for the officers’ mess — “a funny kind of job,” he wrote — and he reported that “Pigeons were so thick in the country at this time that they darkened the skies in passing.”
King found copying letters and accounts to be boring but when he changed the spelling of words to make little jokes (prey instead of pray, for example), his superiors were less than impressed. He described the Red River settlers as:
…a kindly lot and very hospitable. There were no newspapers in those days, and travellers who brought news were heartily welcomed. When one was sighted, a man or woman would stand on the trail in front of his or her house and, with cap or apron, wave him in. […] Visitors to the Red River homes were given a place at the body of the long, scoured deal table, which was always open to governor or officer, trader, Métis, or whoever chanced to pass. From his place at the head of the table, with his family around him, the Red River host was his own man, proud and genial. He recognized no social distinction, but gave hospitality to all.
Red River Jigs were popular and, while many of the clerks enjoyed them, King did not:
I must say that I did not enjoy the fighting that went on amongst the women when their men were monopolized. This form of entertainment was strange to me. I got ragged by the other clerks for being a “stuck up blue blood.” After the dances, however, the women appeared to forget their quarrels. On the whole, they were a neighbourly lot, lending anything they possessed, from food to cradles, to one another.