McBean, William
b. 1806-03-20(?)
d. 1892-04-10(?)
William McBean was born in Canada somewhere between 1806 and 1807. McBean served as Clerk at various Hudson Bay Company Forts, but is most remembered for his position as Chief Factor of Fort Walla Walla in 1846.1 McBean was the Métis son of a prominent HBC trader and a Chippewa woman and married Jane Boucher, a 14 year old Métis girl in 1834.2 By the time of his marriage to Jane, McBean had worked as an interpreter, Postmaster, Apprentice Clerk, and Clerk in New Caledonia until 1844 -- all four of their children were born throughout New Caledonia.3
By the mid 1840s, McBean was in the position of clerk in charge at Fort Umpqua and remained there until he was given the position of Chief Factor at Fort Walla Walla in 1846. McBean served in this position throughout the infamous and tragic Whitman Massacre until 1851 when he resigned from the HBC.4 During the “Indian Wars” of 1855, McBean and his wife left Fort Walla Walla and settled in Frenchtown where later, under the 1862 Homestead Act, they claimed 650 acres.5 It is unclear when McBean died, some say it was on 10 April 1872 and others claim that it was not until 1892; regardless, McBean continued to assist in various catholic institutions until the time of his uncertain death.6
Due to McBean’s position at Fort Walla Walla, he was the first to give an account of the massacre to the “Board of Managers” of the HBC on 30 November 1847, in which he named six Cayuses who he believed to be the ringleaders of the murder.7 By 1850, McBean had given another list of 14 names of whom he believed to be guilty -- most of the people on this list were innocent of any crime. Throughout the events of the Whitman Massacre and the aftermath, McBean became inhospitable to anyone coming into the Fort, claiming to be overwhelmed by his fear.8 Although, historian Jean Barman simply describes McBean as a bigoted Roman Catholic of narrow view and very common education.9 In the aftermath of the war, McBean made quite a few retalitory actions against the Cayuses.10
  • 1. Jane Boucher, French Town Historic Site.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Living History Performance: William McBean, Fort Walla Walla Museum.
  • 7. Chapter twenty-two: The Whitman Massacre, in Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of the Old Oregon, vol.2, 233 and 239.
  • 8. Ibid., 275.
  • 9. Jean Barman, French Canadian Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Northwest, (UBC Press, 2015), 281.
  • 10. Chapter twenty-two, 269.
Mentions of this person in the documents
Organizations in this document

Hudson's Bay Company

Places in this document

New Caledonia

The Colonial Despatches Team. McBean, William. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/mcbean_w.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)