The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 6

1

THE THOMPSON AND FRASER RUSH

Contrary to popular opinion which centres all B.C. history on the Europeans of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, the Fraser River rush began with a discovery by an Indian on the Thompson River.  Governor Douglas wrote to Colonial Secretary Labouchere in 1856,

“Gold was first found by an Indian on the Thompson River 1 mile below the Nicomen.   He is since dead.   The Indian was taking a drink out of the river.   Having no vessel he was quaffing from the stream when he perceived a shining pebble which he picked up and it proved to be gold.   The whole tribe forthwith began to collect the glittering metal”

William Peon, the chief of the Fraser Band, set his people to work gathering the gold, and took $500 worth of flakes and nuggets he had found to Chief Trader Mc Lean at Ft. Kamloops.   Mc Lean, a brutal man who hated Indians, refused to buy the gold declaring he had no means to weigh such small quantities.   On his reporting the find, however,  Governor Douglas ordered him to buy all gold brought in, and sent him a supply of long handled iron spoons to enable the Indians to extract the nuggets from the underwater crevices.

Chief Peon, on being rebuffed by Mc Lean, took the tribe’s gold to Ft. Colvile, in the Washington Territory, and presented it at the general store operated by Francis Wolff, a discharged American soldier, some miles southeast of the HBC post   The fact that Chief Peon took his gold all the way to Colvile, an 800 mile round trip,  rather than the 80 miles down the Fraser to the HBC post at Hope is instructive.   Chief Peon had learned that the Americans, in this case, Wolff and his partner J. T. Demers, would pay more for gold than the stingy HBC’s $12 per ounce.   

The Columbia and Pend Orielle placers were by that year nearing exhaustion and being sold to the industrious Chinese who would work patiently for another ten years.    Wolff and Demers, excited by Chief Peon’s new find, recruited 18 prospective miners from their cronies, outfitted them with supplies from their store, and set out for the Thompson River country where Chief Peon had said he had found his gold.   The party took the old Indian trail that led from Kettle Falls on the Columbia, up the Kettle River valley past Rock Creek.   At the forks they continued up the West Kettle River to Kettle Bar, near what is now the Spruce Grove Cafe on the Monashee Highway.    Crossing into the Shuswap drainage past Mc Intyre Lake, they descended Cherry Creek to the Shuswap River which led them to the Thompson and Ft.Kamloops.    At least one other packer and another party of miners followed the same route, and were on the Thompson with Wolff and his men that year. 

The Thompson River Indians opposed the American miners’ attempts to take over their placer grounds.   Governor Douglas, who preferred that the mining be done by Indians, wanted no Americans at all on the Thompson.   The danger of annexation exercised his mind.   He “..admire(d) the wisdom and foresight of the Indians” and instructed Mc Lean at Kamloops to restrain the Indians (from violence)  and discourage the Americans.   More than this he could not do, as the British had set up no government at all for the mainland territory; no one had legal powers there.    Wolff’s party persevered, and in the spring of 1858 Wolff was in The Dalles with $5,000 of gold he had recovered from the Thompson.    Governor Douglas, for the HBC, had sent in February 800 ounces of gold to the San Francisco mint.  The arrival of that gold spread the news in California and a rush began.2    

In California, by 1858, the placer mines were nearly exhausted, and the miners, unable to make the “ounce a day” which was considered by them a decent return, were restless and bored.   The stagnant situation at the Mother Lode mines was much as Mark Twain described in his The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County.   The men of ‘48 and ‘49 who had struck it rich had gone home to buy farms and businesses.   The remainder who had drunk or gambled away their stakes, or never achieved much at all, were at the dead point of betting on frogs or how many flies would settle on a dead dog.   

When the news broke of the strike on the Thompson and Fraser, it generated wild excitement; here was a second chance for the unsuccessful and the improvident.   The irrational “gold fever” struck at once.   Newspapers reported a general exodus, stage coaches crowded with miners headed for the Fraser although the roads ran only to Chico and Red Bluff.   Some went via San Francisco and chartered vessels for Victoria.   Others hoping to avoid the British customs duties, chose the inland route.  One paper recorded 250 miners bound for the Fraser on foot by the inland route passing  through Oroville, California  on the way north, moving at “… a perfect rush, whooping and yelling as they pass along the road…”    A party of 500 French Crimean War veterans, mounted and armed, and divided into companies in military fashion, were on the road north via Shasta, Klamath Lake and Peter Ogden’s old route to The Dalles on the Columbia.   

It could not have happened at a worse time for the Indians.    During that summer Governor Stevens of the new Washington Territory had held a Council at Walla Walla where he had met with the Columbia Basin Chiefs, and maneuvered them into signing a series of treaties which ceded certain Indian lands to the government, and set aside certain large tracts as Indian homelands or reservations from which whites were barred.   But even as the ink on the treaties dried, armed and bellicose miners, hurrying north from California and Oregon to join the Thompson rush, entered those lands now closed to them.   They arrogantly dug up the creeks for gold, shot the Aborignals’ game, and abused the Indian women.    Finding that the signing of the treaties was followed by even greater incursions and depredations than before, the Chiefs lost all trust in the promises of the whites, closed their lands, and prepared for war.

A GOLD RUSH THROUGH A WAR

Invading miners were shot by Indians in the Yakima Valley, and the U.S. troops sent to punish them were defeated by the Indians at Toppenish.   Open warfare began.   General Wool, commanding the army’s Department of the Pacific had issued an order in 1855 closing the lands east of the Cascades to white settlers, 

“No emigrants or other whites, except the Hudson (sic) Bay Company, or persons having ceded right from the Indians, will be permitted to settle or remain in the Indian country, or on land not ceded by treaty, confirmed by the Senate and approved by the President of the United States.

“These orders are not, however, to apply to the miners engaged in collecting gold at the Colville mines.   The miners will, however, be notified that should they interfere with the Indians, or their squaws, they will be punished or sent out of the country.”

The exemption of the miners probably had a shaky basis on remarks made in 1853 to General Alvord at the Dalles by the Chiefs of Yakimas, Cayuses, and Walla Wallas, that,

“They always liked to have gentlemen, Hudson(sic) Bay Company men or officers of the army or engineers pass through their country, to whom they would extend every token of hospitality.   They did not object to persons merely hunting, or those wearing swords, but they dreaded the approach of whites with ploughs, axes, and shovels in their hands.”

These chiefs of 1853 had never seen the bellicose California miners in full cry; they soon would.    Possibly General Wool chose to identify the miners as “gentlemen.”    From his post in San Francisco, he should have known better.    

  In 1858, with white settlement still forbidden, and the war in progress, The Dalles was the main outfitting centre for the inland route.   It was reached from Portland and the Pacific by sternwheel steamer with a short portage at Cascade, and from inland California by trail from Shasta via Klamath Falls.    At The Dalles, a regular  “hurrah camp,” as Charles Frush called it, pack trains and wagon trains prepared to strike out into the largely unknown and now definitely hostile country of the Columbia Basin.   To the end of May, 300 men were estimated to have passed through The Dalles headed north, and another 400 to 500 were fitting out for the trip.  Bands of Cayuse and Nez Perce Indians had brought herds of horses, and were offering them for sale at The Dalles to the miners.   Then the news came that Colonel Steptoe and his men had been defeated by the Indians in the Palouse country to the east.    The army was attempting to quell the Indian hostilities that had begun with the depredations of the Columbia River rush in 1855; at the same time armed Californians were forming into bands at The Dalles, preparing to move into the Indian lands, even though a war was in progress.    

  The Indian’s changed attitude of 1858 was reported by a party of miners who encountered them at the mouth of the Yakima River.   They were told that the important Indian chiefs had met, and decided that the soldiers and “Bostons” (Americans in the Chinook jargon, a trade language) should not pass, but that the French and the Hudson Bay men could.     The years of cultivation of fair and friendly relations with the Aboriginals by the Hudson’s Bay Company and their French-Canadian employees were evident here, as were the outrages and sorry history of pillage and rape by the Americans, individualism’s dark side.

While some of the miners turned back at the news of Col. Steptoe’s defeat, and the determination of the Indians to block them, most pressed on grouped in armed companies, usually with an Indian or an ex- HBC man as guide.    The passage of the Mc Loughlin party to the Thompson was perhaps the most difficult.

It was led by David Mc Loughlin, son of Dr. John Mc Loughlin the former Chief Factor at Ft. Vancouver, 36 years of age, and one who had known the Columbia country intimately from his years with the HBC.   The McLoughlin Brigade consisted of 150 to 185 men, with 400 horses and mules carrying provisions for three months.   They had among them, 90 to 100 rifles and 20 to 25 other “heavy arms.”    Most were from California and included Oregonians, Frenchmen, Metis, and “camp followers,” as in any quasi military expedition.

They left The Dalles on July 5, and reached Walulla, or old Fort Walla Walla, after several days march along the river.  But even before reaching Walulla, stealthy Indians had managed to drive off some of their horses.   This  horse stealing by night had been a recognized practice among the Northwest tribes for more than a century.   Horses would be stolen from the whites or from other Indians, and then sold back to their owners as a regular thing.   Then, if possible, the horses would be stolen again, and again resold.   Among the Indians it was a recognized honourable vocation, a means of acquiring wealth and prestige.   The HBC custom was to mount guard on their horses at night, pursue any thieves, and insist on restitution which was generally forthcoming.   The American fur traders had done the same.   The miners, however, too intent on getting to the gold fields in the quickest possible time, seldom pursued thieves; rather they frequently shot any lone Indians as presumed thieves, violating the traditional ethics of the Aboriginal Northwest.    Thus, for the Americans, once the miners entered the west, implacable Indian hostility would result, and the U.S. Army would have to be be called upon to quell the outraged Indians.

On July 13, the Mc Loughlin party left Walulla to head north on the old HBC trail David Mc Loughlin knew so well.    They kept to the right bank of the Columbia, hired the local Indians to ferry them across the Snake river at its confluence with the Columbia, and continued along the shore to the White Bluffs landing.   From there they took the HBC trail northeast to Scootenay Springs, and headed north, around the eastern nose of the Saddle Mountains to Moses Lake, a route that afforded grazing for the horses and mules. 

The HBC trails were well marked,  some miles of them still survive along the benches back of Okanagan Lake in British Columbia.    The trails were about four feet wide, pounded into the ground  by the hooves of thousands of horses and pack mules for half a century.   Each trail had several diverging routes for use in different seasons.   The fall and  winter routes were the shortest, along the river and lakesides.   The Spring and Summer routes had to avoid the soft, marshy ground and the swollen creek mouths carrying the runoff from the high mountains behind.   They were located higher up on the gravel benches on dryer ground, and where the creeks afforded easier crossings.    Crucially important were the grazing meadows.    A Hudson Bay Fur Brigade of 400 or so horses and mules, could strip the forage from the grasslands in a single  passage.  Campsites and trail detours were therefore arranged to access the best and deepest meadows along the route.  As well, springs that might be flowing in June and July, would frequently be dry by September, and detours would have to be made to permanent water sources for campsites.

For the Mc Laughlin party, the trail from Moses Lake struck across the plain to Soap Lake, the south entrance to the Grand  Coulee.   They followed the chain of lakes and marshes up the Coulee, being spied on by fifty Sinkiuse Indians under Qual- chan, hoping to give battle or steal the miner’s horses.   The Indians found the Mc Loughlin party too large to attack, but followed, hoping for an opportunity to steal some horses.    In the account they gave later on, the Indians observed one persistent straggler, a Mr. Hillburn, in the party, lagging behind the main body each day.    They decided not to kill him hoping that if the party saw that one of their members could follow behind in safety, they would relax their vigilance.    David Mc Loughlin, however, was too experienced to allow any slackening of discipline; the horses were well guarded, and the Indians gave up.  As an expression of their frustration, before they turned away they crept up behind the party and shot the straggler at what is now Dead Man’s Spring, just south of present Coulee City.   As it was determined by the Indians that Qual-chan’s bullet killed the Californian, he was entitled to the scalp, the man’s horse, and his equipment.

While the Mc Louglin party made their way up the Grand Coulee, the chiefs of the Chelan, Sinkiuse and Okanogan Indians conferred and decided to join all their forces to do battle with the miners.   They agreed to meet at the mouth of the Okanogan River to spy on the party and decide on a place to ambush it.   The HBC trail climbed  out of the Grand Coulee by Barker Canyon and led across the rolling tableland of the Columbia Plateau to Foster Creek and down to the Columbia a short way upstream from Fort Okanogan and the mouth of the Okanogan River.   Here Chief Moses and his Indians met them in parley.    Moses was in a vengeful mood since his brother Quil-ten-e-nock had been killed by miners turned back earlier that spring near the mouth of the Wenatchee River.   He now chose to believe that the killers were in the Mc Loughlin party.   

A parley was held lasting all night with Mc Loughlin, the canny trader, offering to pay the Indians to ferry his men across the the river to the fort.   Finally Moses agreed, but stipulated, that once across the river the miners would be subject to attack and killed.

The next day the miners were ferried over, while the packstock swam the Columbia, some few being swept away and seized by the Indians.    Now in imminent danger, Mc Loughlin formed an  advance and a rear guard of 25 heavily armed men each.   The entire party stretched out for a mile on the HBC trail north.   The Okanogan river flows through a narrow canyon between present Riverside and the rail siding of Janis.   There, at the mouth of Tunk Creek, the Indians set up their ambush.   They felled trees across the trail and piled up rocks for a breastworks on the bluffs above the river.   Francis Wolff, who was in the party, recounts what happened,

“We entered the mouth (of the canyon) with the guard in advance and had proceeded about 100 yards when one of the men noticed some wilted bushes and thinking strange of it went to examine them when the Indians behind it suspecting that we had noticed their ambush, fired.   Then shots came from the sides and rear of us, evidently trying to drive us into the Canyon.   Men threw themselves from their horses and those not killed or wounded retuned the fire.

My horse on which I had my cantenas (a money box) with $2000 gold dust … got away from me and ran up the canyon about 75 yards toward the Indians.  I went for him, and got him and returned to our line.”

The miners were trapped by the Indians in the narrow canyon, and spent an anxious night.   The Indians made an attempt to burn them out by setting fire to the grass and brush, but the miners made rafts and ferried their baggage across to the west bank of the river where they could climb the canyon wall and escape.  The horses on the following day we led to a ford downriver and brought across, and the party proceeded for a couple of miles and camped.    While some made litters for the five wounded, others returned to the canyon to find the Indian positions abandoned.   They buried their three dead and returned to camp. 

On the following day, the party made another ten miles north and camped, making a protective circle of packs around them.   Again the Indians returned to try to stampede the horses, but only succeeded in running off a few.   A parley with the war chiefs was held and  Mc Loughlin arranged a  kind of treaty.   Tobacco, blankets and other gifts were given to the chiefs who promised no more shooting., and the party was given permission to pass.    Still, the Chiefs could not promise to control some of their more eager warriors.  The next night more shooting broke out, and the Indians made another attempt to drive off horses.   Francis Wolff had arranged with his partner at Colville that a band of cattle would be driven over the Colville Trail to join  the McLoughlin party at Osooyos Lake to supply meat for the miners.   When they were but four miles from meeting,  the Indians stampeded the cattle and drove them off.    Miners of the Mc Loughlin party, testing the Similkameen River for gold, found some of the Indians drying meat from the stolen cattle and captured them.    One, however, escaped and told the other Indians that the captives were to be hung.  Another conflict seemed inevitable, when Chief Trader Angus Mac Donald, from Ft. Colvile, arrived with an HBC party, taking furs to Ft. Hope.   Mac Donald had been told  by the Indians that his party would be attacked and two “Bostons” killed if the captive Indians were not released.   Again the Indians were specifically targeting the Americans in the party, not the French or British.   It was the Americans who had been identified by the Sinkiuse as malefactors and murderers.    American bad behaviour in the Washington Territory probably resulted from the large percentage of Mexican War veterans among them.   In California, the Americans had only to intimidate the Indians there who had been demoralized and made dependent on a white society by decades of Mission indoctrination.    Only in the Shasta country, beyond the reach of the Mexicans, had the Americans encountered armed resistance by the Indians.   For most of the miners this fierce opposition by the Sinkiuse and Yakimas acting as Nations and owners of the land, was a shock and an outrage.   They attempted to intimidate what they believed was a degenerate society; the Indians, to their consternation, fought back.   

Mac Donald who had the respect of the Sinkiuse who knew him well, promised that if the Americans would release the Indian captives, he would accompany the party to the Thompson and ensure their safe passage.   This was done, the captives were let go,and the party reached the Thompson River unmolested.   The Americans later complained, that all through the trip, the French packers and the Metis had kept almost entirely out of the fighting.   Of course.    Steeped in the traditions of the HBC, they could see that it was the belligerent Americans who had outraged the Indians, and the American Army which was conducting a war against them.     The most prudent course was to not ally oneself with this Yankee policy of intimidation and conquest. 

Another party of miners on the same route left an inexcusable trail of blood and destruction behind them.   Herman Francis Reinhart recalled that after crossing into British territory about the beginning of July in 1858,

For a few days we traveled along with great care, constantly on the lookout for an Indian attack.

We crossed several nice streams and fine looking farming and grazing land, and got to the British line…   In a few days we got to Okanogan Lake.   Our advanced guards saw some Indians just leaving their camp and cross the lake in their canoes in fear of us.   The boys saw a couple of their dogs at their old camp ground, and shot them down, and they saw some old huts where the Indians had stored a lot of berries for the winter, blackberries and nuts, fifty or a hundred bushels.    They helped themselfs to the berries and nuts, filling several sacks to take along, and the balance they just emptied into the lake, destroying them so that the Indians would not have them for provision  for winter.   I and a great many others, expressed the opinion that it was very imprudent and uncalled for, and no doubt the Indians would retaliate.   But they only laughed and thought it great fun to to kill their dogs and destroy and rob them of their provisions.   Most everyone but those who had done it disapproved of the whole affair.

“The next night we camped on the bank of Lake Okanogan, which is about 150 miles long and from one to six miles wide.   Next morning a man named White, of Company B, could not find his horse.  Some of his friends helped hunt for it, but as the train went on the men were coming down the hill, and someone fired a shot at White, and some men above him on the hill saw some Indians trying to cut White

off from his companions.   The men called to White to go down as the Indians were after him.   So they gave up the horse, and did not look any more for the train had already started on.

“We traveled along the lake all day and camped on the banks at night.   Every morning after we left camp some Indians would come across the lake in canoes and look over our camp grounds to look if we had left or thrown away anything (sometimes we threw away old clothes, hats, shoes, shirts, or old blankets or crusts of bread or meat, and they would come and get them after we left…  That morning the advance guard planned to punish the Indians if they should come to camp a usual after we left. So right after breakfast some 25 men concealed themselves in a gulch close to camp, and the train went on as usual.  We were passing along a high trail close to the lake and we soon saw three or four canoes start to come across from the other side, with seven or eight Indians in each canoe, to go to our camping place.   I  had gone with the train some one and one fourth to one and one half miles, when we heard some shooting.    I stopped to listen and counted over fifty shots.  In course of  half an hour our advance guard that had formed the ambush came up to us and related how they were all lying down in the gulch, to be out of sight, and they got talking to each other and forgot about the Indians to be ambushed, and they were surprised as well as the Indians, for the Indians had landed and were coming toward camp right where the white men lay concealed.   They had no idea of danger from the whites, so some whites happened to raise up to see if the Indians had landed yet, when behold! the Indians were within eight or ten feet from him, and they did not see the whites till they all raised and made a rush for the Indians with their guns and pistols all ready to    shoot.   As soon as the Indians saw the whites, they were so frightened that some turned back and ran towards their boat, some fell down on their knees and begged for (them) not to shoot, as they had no arms at all, and they threw up their hands and arms to show that they had nothing.   But the whites all commenced to fire and shoot at them, and ran out to the lake after those who were getting in their canoes, and kept shooting till the few that had got into the canoes got out of the reach of their guns and rifles.   And lots jumped into the lake was not in the water before they could swim out of reach of their murderers- for they were nothing else, for it was a great slaughter or massacre of what was killed,  for they never made an effort to resist or fired a shot, either gun or pistol, or bows and arrows, and the men were not touched, no more than if they had shot at birds or fish.   It was brutal affair, but the perpetrators of the outrage thought they were heroes, and were the victors in some well-fought battle.   The Indians were completely dumfounded to see a lot of armed men when they expected no one, and ran toward their canoes to get away, and the Indians knelt down and begged for life, saying they were friends.   There must have been 10 or 12 killed and that many wounded, for very few got away unhurt.   Some must have got drowned, and as I said before, it was like killing chickens or dogs or hogs, and a deed Californians should ever be ashamed of, without counting the after consequence.   We traveled on, but many of us expected some revengeful attack.

“We could hear Indians, nights, and saw smoke and signals of lights and smoke on every hill and in every direction to each other in the mountains some forty or fifty miles away.  About a week after the Indian slaughter, in the night ( the guard had seen Indian tracks in the evening close to camp) the guard brought in two Indians.   A mass meeting was called and the Indians were questioned by an interpreter.   They were friendly Shuswap lake, British Columbia, Indians on their way to Colville, in Washington Territory (one of their wives lived there)  and with the permission of the old chief Nick at the Fort   Kamloops or Thompson on Shuswap Lake.   He was on his way to visit his wife; they had walked into camp without fear or evil intention.   They said they had been at the Hudson Bay store at Fort Thompson and old Nick’s tribe were friends to the English, French and scotch living there, trapping and many were married to Indian squaws.  At first our men were for taking them out and shooting them right off for spies, expecting we would be attacked, but they kept denying , and said they were good, peaceable Indians…

At last we came to the conclusion to take them back with us as prisoners to Shuswap Lake, and took their arms from them and always kept guard over them.

“One morning Company F (Dancing Bill’s) took leave and went ahead.    They said we did not travel fast enough for them.   Next day a part of the French company started on ahead.   They thought they would do better by not traveling with the bloodthirsty Americans.   They understood the Indians better than us, and by their intermarriage with the Indians, expected the Indians on and around the Thompson River would favor them with what they knew of the locality of the gold. 

“Some new discoveries had been made north of the Canoe Country, or above the forks of the Fraser river..  Sidolia, the Italian, wanted me to go; he still had all three of our horses.   I told him to go on, and after I got to the Fraser River, I could come up to where he was.   Next night the French company had only gained about one and one half miles, and after they had camped an old Frenchman that had traveled with us a day or two in the Cascade mountains…had left a partner in our train, Company B, and he concluded to come back to his partner, stay all night, and catch up to the balance of is company early in the morning before they packed up, and then go on with them again.   So at break of day he started ahead to catch up to the part of the French company he was going with, but after going about half  way the Indians intercepted him and killed and shot him through the head, three or four shots, and his body was all shot full of holes.  They stripped him and rolled him out of the trail into a gulch alongside of the trail.   He had a shotgun; they took that, and no one, it seems, heard the firing at either ours or his camp.  We started after breakfast and some of our advance guard saw the blood in the road, and Indian footprints or tracks, came to look close, and followed the blood.   A few yards below, they found the body, still quite warm he could not have been dead twenty minutes.  So the train stopped and we loaded his body, naked, across a riding saddle, and some men led the horse, and other held on the body, went over the point of the hill where he was killed.

“When we saw the body, we knew the old Frenchman and sent some horseback men ahead to hurry and stop the French train or company to bury their man.   It took us three or four miles to catch up to where they had stopped, and we all stopped and dug a grave and buried him.   He was perfectly helpless and harmless.    

“We kept on till we came to Fort Thompson.   The Indians kept on the hills and making smoke signals all night, and kept speaking to each other in their own language.   Our two prisoners said they were Okanogan Lake Indians, and had been following us ever since the slaughter of the Indians at the Lake.   They had killed the old Frenchman and were trying to get the Indians on the Thompson River to help them kill us all, but the Indians around the Fort were a sort of civilized, and under old Nicholas, and he was a good Catholic, and Capt. Mc Lean of the Hudson Bay Company Fort was his friend   The friendly Indians were all Catholics and had priests at the fort.

“The next day at noon we camped right opposite the fort.   There were lots of houses, the first we had seen after leaving Fort Okanogan.   It made us feel more cheerful and more like civilization, and here the French Company parted from us.   We kept down the Thompson River to [Kamloops] Lake , where we had to cross over with rafts and canoes, and swim the horses and mules.   Some would have to be held up by the the heads and out of the canoes.   It was a wide, rough place to cross.   Some ten or twelve head of horses were drowned and strangled by not being held up properly at the crossing of the lake.

“Old Nicholas the head chief of the Indians around that country, came to see us about the two prisoners we had brought back from Lake Okanogan.   He was an old man about 65 or 70 years old, wore a stove pipe hat and citizen’s clothes, and had a lot of medals of good character and official vouchers of good conduct for many years.   He was quite angry and said he was surprised to see 300 men take two Indian prisoners and bring them back two or three hundred miles because we thought they were spies, and it was mighty little in us and did not show great bravery.   And about the Okanogan Lake massacre, that it was brutal, and he could not think much of the Bostons, or Americans, that would do the like.   Some of our boys were awful ashamed and some angry to hear an old man tell them so many truths, and some were mad enough to kill him for his boldness in his expressions to us all.   But it was fact none could deny, and Maj. Robinson (Maj. Mortimer Robertson) let the to prisoners go.   I think some of the men gave them some clothing and provisions, with some money to satisfy them for their loss of time and trouble.”

“Major” Robertson (there is no record of his title in any of the Territorial militias) was, like Francis Wolff, making a business of leading parties to the Fraser mines.   In addition to his fee for leadership, he used the armed parties he recruited as an escort to guard the provisions he was taking to the placer grounds.   On arriving at the Fraser, he disbanded the company and set up a store to sell his supplies to the miners at starvation prices.     

In the summer of 1858, as the miner’s brigades were passing north to the Thompson, the U.S. Army received reinforcements and a double campaign as mounted to end Indian hostilities.  Major Garnett with 350 men left fort Simcoe (near present Goldendale) and  moved through the Yakima and Wenatchee River valleys up the west side of the Columbia to fort Okanogan.   Of the 25 Indians wanted for attacking miner’s parties, Garnett’s men “executed” ten and reported the rest had fled either north to the British Possessions or east to the Blackfoot country across the Bitteroots.

Colonel Wright’s men at the same time moved north out of Fort Walla Walla with 700 men into the Palouse defeating the Indians in battles at  Four Lakes and Spokane Plains.   Capturing the Indians’ horses in these battles, Col Wright had some 700 animals shot, depriving the Indians of their ability to steal them back, and reducing them to moving on foot.   Qual-chan, and others who had come into Wright’s camp to parley with him were seized as leaders of the “insurrection” and immediately hung.   

Some eight to ten thousand miners went up the inland trails to the Thompson and Fraser Rivers that summer, by contemporary accounts.    And most returned down the same route in late Fall, to spend the winter in Walla Walla, Portand or the Dalles.   The cost of provisions, packed in over the trails, was just too great to make over wintering on the placer grounds practical.  The U.S. Government was petitioned by the miners to provide Army protection along the trail to the Thompson south of “Forty Nine.”    In response, the Army sent Major Pickney Lugenbeel with two companies of infantry to establish a fort in the Colvile area to protect the miners and the American Boundary Commission which was to arrive the following year to survey and monument the border.   The fort, originally, “Harney’s Depot,” became known as “Pinkney City” and later, “Fort Colville.”    As with “Okanogan,”  and  “Kootenai,” the Americans chose to deliberately adopt a non-British spelling,  symbolic of the closing of the border between British and American soil.   The British Boundary Commission, when they arrived, set up a headquarters and barracks on the banks of the Columbia, four miles north of the HBC post, Fort Colvile.   This, after their departure, would be named Marcus, after the merchant who supplied them, Marcus Oppenheimer.        

The Colville Indians, Sinixt (Lakes), and Kootenais tribes had traditionally traveled up the Columbia and other rivers in the summer to hunt and fish in the Lakes and rivers of the Kootenay District.   They wintered in the drier and sunnier grasslands around Colville.   After the rushes of 1855 and 1858, the miners followed their example.   The Pacific Tribune (Olympia) of July 8, 1865 reported of Pinkney City,

“The permanent population of the place consists of about ten whites, ten Indians, the same number of Chinamen, and from seventy-five to one hundred Cayuse horses.   During the winter, however, it is usually the headquarters of quite a mining population from the Kootenai and Columbia, at which time it is said to be very lively.”

Thus the American miners and prospectors in the Northwest duplicated exactly the Mexican miner’s technique of wintering in warm and sunny Chihuahua, and moving north across the border in the spring to explore the empty lands for gold.   The town of Colville which was to grow up next to the American Army post and replace Pinkney City, became their Chihuahua City, with comfortable and steam heated hotels as a wintering haven.   The more primitive mining camp hotels would heat only two rooms in the winter: the lobby and the bar.   Guest rooms were for sleeping only, with the blankets piled on thickly in winter.   Upon arising, residents would hurry downstairs to claim a chair in front of one of the two roaring wood stoves.   It made for a long and cramped winter.

  Successful miners turned their gold into small hotels like these in the wintering towns, Colville, Spokane Falls, Walla Walla, installed steam heating plants, and put up their cronies for the long winter  season, often on credit.   The lodging and board bills would be redeemed by the transfer of a mining claim or a portion of it to the hotel owner.   In this way Eastern Washington businessmen would gradually became unintentional investors in mines as they were being discovered in Stevens County and across the line in British Columbia.    The presence of bored and idle miners and prospectors throughout the Washington Territory winters ensured, as had the Mexican miners in Chihuahua City, a lively time.

One thought on “THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 6

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