THE BIG BEND RUSH
By the end of 1864 the placer grounds on the creeks flowing into the upper Kootenay were becoming exhausted. The miners of the day reckoned that $10 per man per day was a decent return. Anything less was termed “not white men’s diggings” and was sold to the patient Chinese who had been entering British Columbia from the first Colonial days. These Chinese, working in groups, would pay from $2,000 to $7,000 for a good claim, and work it for years down to barren rock. A few companies were formed by Montana or Washington merchants with the resources to bring in and build water wheels and machinery, particularly on Perry Creek, and continued extensive work through the Seventies. But the single, restless miner was eager to move on whenever a rich strike might be reported.
In 1861 those Colville miners working the Columbia and Pend Orielle bars were finding their returns diminishing, and proposed an expedition to ascend the Columbia to prospect for further gold occurrences. However, the Kootenais and Sinixt (Lakes) Indians who had been told that the boundary line then being surveyed across the mountains would keep “the Bostons” from crossing into their lands, were hostile. Skirmishes had already occurred on the Pend Orielle. The Indians told the miners that any attempt to move farther up the Columbia would be opposed by force.
On September 14, 1861, Gold Commissioner William George Cox, at Rock Creek, received the following letter, reproduced in the original orthography,
“September 6, 1861, Dominick Flat – 12 miles above Ft. Colvile
“Comissioner Cox – Sir
“We the undersigned miners at this river is anxious to prospect the upper Columbia River – the Indians are oppose to miners going high up than Pen De O’Reelle River – What the miners wishes is for you to come on to the river and make some arrangement with the Indians so that miners can go up the river in safety – We are perfectly satisfide that withan the power that is vested in you it will be impossible to do any mining to any advantage untille some arrangement is made with the Indians – Hoping that you will view the matter in the same light that we do we sign ourselves yours respectfully”
The letter was signed by seventy miners including Jolly Jack Thornton, Dancing Bill (Latham, of the murderous Okanagan Company in 1859), and Dutch Charley, Tenas (little) George (Runnels), Whistling Bill, Wild Goose Bill (Wilbur Condit or Condon). These were all Americans from near present Brewster, Washington. They were contemptuously called squaw men by the farmers and ranchers of the Territory for having taken Indian wives and living in a state of boozy intimacy with the aboriginals along the Columbia. These men had participated in each of the gold rushes as they had occurred, Rock Creek, Similkameen, Colville, Fraser-Thompson rivers, Cariboo. Dancing Bill operated a ferry at the site of present Bridgeport. Tenas George Runnels was a man of some education and had his Indian marriage to Skocom Analix confirmed by U.S. law in 1872. He was the author of poems and ballads and was stockman, storekeeper, as well as a prospector, and located the Mountain Lion claim in the Republic Camp in 1896. In 1904 he kept a store and horse ranch at Keller and was involved in the silver mines there. His best claim he called the Iconoclast, a clue to character of the man and his cronies. Many of these squaw men were self exiled refugees of conscience from the moral hypocrisy of a society that preached rectitude and practiced greed. No doubt many had fled prosecutions they chose to feel unjust, and had taken their pseudonyms for the sake of anonymity in the west.
Cox had dealt with such men before. In 1861 a Indian at Rock Creek had murdered a French Canadian, Pierre Chebart, and as a Colonial Official. It was Cox’s duty to seize the culprit and take him to New Westminster to be tried, 200 miles distant by crude horse trail. The Indian had confessed to his Chief who turned him over to Cox. In a quandary, and with no one to assist him, Cox pushed him over the border at Osoyoos where the squawmen, acting as vigilantes, promptly marched him to a pine tree and hung him, relieving the Gold Commissioner of a difficult case.
Now the men who had rendered such rude service some months before were asking his assistance. Cox at once went to Fort Shepherd where the miners met him, and put their case. He reproached them for their efforts to push the Indians off the Pend Orielle by force, and pointed out that in that case six Indians with nothing but bows and arrows had driven them from their claims. If they attempted to ascend the Columbia they would have to use the most conciliatory behaviour with the Indians they might meet. As well, any depredations they might commit would be rigorously dealt with by a British Magistrate as soon as one could be appointed for the district.
He then traveled to Kootenay Flats (below present Creston) to meet the Kootenais and Sinixts, and enjoin them to keep the peace. The miners and the Indians would have equal government protection, he promised, but the Indians must refrain from liquor, and “do not steal, no matter how tempting the opportunity may be.” He also urged the Indians to disregard the harsh language the Americans used, “they sometimes speak so to me.”
On the Ninth of October 26 miners in seven boats left Fort Shepherd for the upper Columbia, accompanied by the Sinixt Indians, Mocklain and Qui-Qui-lasket, as observers to report any misbehaviour. Cox then went down river to Marcus where another group of miners met him in Wheelock’s Restaurant and questioned him closely on what arrangement had been made with the Indians. Cox made the same speech that he had to the Pend Orielle miners, cautioning them strongly, and then returned via the Kettle River to his station at Rock Creek. On the 19th of October, he heard from the Kootenais Indian, Teneese, that coarse gold had been discovered some miles above Boat Encampment at Big Bend.
After his report was read in Victoria, Cox was sharply reprimanded by Governor Douglas for seeming to bind the government to protect the Americans. Old Squaretoes, still apprehensive of annexation, feared that should the miners be attacked by the Sinixt Indians, the Americans would take it as evidence that the Colonial Government was unable to protect U.S. citizens in its territory and might send in a military force from Fort Colville to guard the miners and police the region. Since this was precisely what had been happening in the many gold fields south of the line for twenty years, the Governor’s anxiety had some basis.
The Colville miners went up the Columbia that fall, followed, on Nov. 20 by William Fernie and eleven others. This second group was halted by ice on the Columbia on December 15. They then proceeded on foot to within 3 miles of present Revelstoke, and wintered there. Their ascent of the river so late in the year was deliberate. Extreme low water in the Columbia comes in March and April when the gravel bars are exposed and placering can take place. By June the river is in flood, the bars underwater, and only lesser creeks can be worked. By going in late in the year, they would be on the bars when the water went down.
In succeeding years a few Colville men continued to prospect the Big Bend country with inconclusive results. However, when the British Boundary Surveyors brought in their specimens of gold from the Upper Kootenay River in the fall of 1862, all thought of the Columbia was abandoned, and the rush the next spring was to Wildhorse. Wildhorse boomed, but not everyone was successful. By 1864 Wild Horse miners were returning to those previous discoveries on the Big Bend. There, in that year, placer ground, richer than previously discovered, was found, and when the miners came out in the fall, the news was spread. Colville and Marcus merchants ordered in new stock and prepared for a new stampede. In September, these merchants had a six wagon train on the road from Wallulla with 50,000 pounds of merchandise, costing them 15¢ per pound for haulage.
The Cariboo Rush had passed its peak in 1864. Men were leaving the diggings, and the merchants’ warehouses of Victoria and New Westminster were overstocked with goods. The news from the Big Bend filled the small Colony with hope. The difficulties of packing over the Dewdney Trail, “An unbroken chain of horrors,” as one traveler had termed it, had not captured the trade of Wild Horse. But transportation into the Big Bend would not require the use of that dreadful Dewdney Trail. Supplies could go by steamer to Yale, on the Fraser, and then up the Cariboo Wagon Road to Cache Creek where there was a branch road leading to Savona’s on Kamloops Lake. From Savona’s boats could carry men and supplies up through Kamloops Lake and up the South Thompson River to Shuswap Lake. At Seymour Arm on the lake there was that old HBC trail that George Turner’s party had followed, across the mountains to the Big Bend . This could be brushed out, and an All-British route would be ready for the miners.
In the Okanagan a feckless idler, the British Captain Houghton, had taken advantage of his army discharge to take up a veteran’s land grant at the head of Okanagan Lake. Charles Frederick Houghton was born at Castle Glasshare, Kilkenny, Ireland. When his cousin, Lord Houghton was killed in the Crimean War, Charles inherited his commission. He went into the army and rose to the rank of Captain, never getting to the Crimea, before being mustered out in 1863. Along with his two friends, Forbes and Charles Vernon, he emigrated to British Columbia to stake out the military grant of land he was entitled to as a discharged soldier. The three friends liked the look of the country at the head of Okanagan Lake and Captain Houghton staked his grant along Coldstream Creek. He then went to Victoria to record his claim. When Houghton had left England the Emigration Commission had advertised that a grant of 1440 acres of Crown Land would be available to officers. But by Governor Douglas’ proclamation of January 1, 1863, which was not published in England, military settler’s grants in British Columbia had been reduced to 300 acres. Believing he was entitled to the grant he expected to receive on leaving England, Captian Houghton wrote the Duke of Cambridge in England asking that his claim be put before the Foreign Office for resolution. In his letter he cited the great expense he had gone to in hiring labourers and packers to carry his belongings and provisions, including furniture and farm implements up the Cariboo Road and by pack train from Cache Creek to Kamloops and Okanagan Lake. Apparently, pressure brought from England influenced the B.C. Legislative Council, and in 1864 it recommended to Governor Douglas that Captain Houghton’s original grant, now grown to 1500 acres, be approved. However, his going over the Governor’s head to friends in England did not please James Douglas. When, in February 1864, Captain Houghton found a stake on his land set by Gold Commissioner W. G. Cox in 1861 marking the corner of the Kalamalka Indian Reserve, he wrote the Colonial Secretary urging that the reserve be done away with stating it was “too valuable to be left as such.” Governor Douglas left a handwritten note on this letter directing that the reserve be maintained as such.
Clearly, Captain Houghton needed to ingratiate himself with the Governor to acquire title to his full 1500 acres. When the Big Bend news broke in 1864 he proposed to the Governor that he be funded to lead an expedition to explore a route from the Okanagan cattle ranches to the Big Bend so that local ranchers could get in on the demand for fresh meat. In August 1864, the inept Captain Houghton set out with his neighbour, Vincent Duteau, and spent two months “exploring” before returning without having found “the gold diggings.” There was a fairly straightforward route via Cherryville, Mable Lake and a broad, low pass to Three Valley Gap leading to the Columbia at Revelstoke, which Walter Moberly’s party examined in the following year as a possible route for the Great Coach Road to the Red River Settlement, but the Captain did not seem to have been able to find it.
In April of 1865 he was off again with Vincent Duteau and another neighbour on his search. This time it seems that he was trying to find the Indian trail that Gold Commissioner Cox had reported existed up Cherry Creek to the Columbia. But while Commissioner Cox, who had excellent relations with the Indians, would likely have had no trouble locating the trail, Captain Houghton dismissed his Indian packer at the Monashee Silver mine, and pressed on with his neighbours. By his letter to Governor Douglas he claimed to have reached the ridge running southwest from Monashee Mountain, where he was obliged to take shelter from a late April snowstorm. His report asserted that he could see both Okanagan Lake and Lower Arrow Lake from his viewpoint, a complete impossibility. Further, he claimed he could see the sought-for pass directly below him. However, alleging frozen feet, he then turned back, having seen a route, but not tested it.
Judge Haynes, writing from Fort Shepherd in 1865 where he was laying out town lots, mentions that Turnbull and Homan of Walter Moberly’s party seeking a route for Coach Road from the Pacific to Lake Superior, had stopped with Captain Houghton at the head of Okanagan Lake and took directions from him to reach the pass he had seen from Monashee Mountain. Turnbull and Homan crossed the Monashee then via Cherry Creek, the Indian trail, and the Captain’s pass, reaching the Columbia, and travelling down it to Fort Shepherd to replenish their supplies.
The persistent Captain Houghton got up a third expedition in 1866, this time actually finding his pass, and blazing the trail to Lower Arrow Lake. He named his trail head on the beach “Killarney” to honour his birthplace. But like the Dewdney Trail, reaching Wild Horse as its miners were leaving, Col. Houghton was too late. By 1867 the Big Bend was over, and there is no record of a single cow making the crossing in the Sixties or Seventies. One conclusion could be that Captain Houghton and his neighbours, Vincent and Nelson Duteau, were simply prospecting for gold at government expense.
In the spring of 1865, 200 miners who had worked the Wild Horse the summer previous, and believed its placers to be worked out, made their way north from Walla Walla to the HBC Fort Colvile. Encouraged by Chief Trader Angus Mc Donald, they bought boats, and paddled their way up the Columbia, testing the creeks on both sides on their way. Gold showings were found at Joseph Morell’s diggings at the mouth of the Pend Orielle, on the Salmon (Salmo)
River, the Slocan River, the Incomappleaux (Fish) River, and particularly on all of the Columbia River bars above the Illecillewat River (Revelstoke). At Death Rapids, 65 miles above present Revelstoke, bars were found paying 25¢ to $1 per pan, and skillful panners were making $100 a day. These were termed “poor man’s diggings,” as the gold was close to the surface and the bars could be worked with pick and shovel.
This news got out quickly as men returned to Colville to replenish supplies. Except for the few rich mines, the remaining Wild Horse miners deserted to the Big Bend country of the Columbia that summer, and soon there were 5000 men working its creeks and bars. Going and coming, the Columbia and Arrow Lakes were full of rafts, canoes, home made boats, looking almost like the Fraser seven years before. The excitement was so great that the entire garrison at the U.S. Army’s Fort Colville deserted, taking their weapons with them with which they fired a triumphal salute when they reached the diggings. These desertions across the border were common during the years of the American Civil War. The Regular Army troops that had manned the western posts had been sent to the battlefields of the East and their places taken by reluctant “Terrotorial Volunteers,” mostly idlers and petty thieves drafted in the western territories. Unhappy with military life and without the stimulus of battle, desertions across the line were frequent.
Both Colonies made preparations for the rush of men expected in the spring of 1866. Having learned from the Fraser rush of 1858, and the Wild Horse Rush of 1864, which had enriched American merchants, but found most of the Island and Mainland merchants unprepared, they this time made elaborate preparations to cash in. B.C. and Victoria merchants that winter flashily advertised the Big Bend in San Francisco as “The Greatest Gold Field Yet!,” and two vessels were subsidized to run miners up from San Francisco to Victoria where they would catch one of Captain Irving’s or Captain Moore’s steamers for Yale and the Cariboo Road. Funds were appropriated to improve the wagon road from Cache Creek to Savona’s, and the HBC built the small steamer, Marten, at Chase’s Ranch (now Chase, B.C.) on the South Thompson River where boat timber was available. When she was launched, she was taken down to Savona’s on Kamloops Lake and her machinery installed. On May 26 she made her maiden run under Captain William Mouat, from Savona’s to Seymour City at the head of the Seymour Arm of Shuswap Lake. She arrived at Seymour City on the 27th. Already, in anticipation of the miner’s rush, a growing town with six saloons, thirteen stores, five bakeries, three restaurants, eleven shoemakers, two breweries, and a coffee and doughnut stand, all awaited the free spending miners. When, at sunset, the Marten came in sight with the first load of gold seekers, the entire population abandoned their suppers and crowded to the dock to cheer the miners. Blacksmiths fired continuous anvil salutes, and a cask of HBC rum was broached with free drinks for all. Contracts were let to brush out the old HBC trail from there to the Columbia. Billboards were erected to advertise the route, newspaper reporters were briefed; all was ready for a business-managed and orderly Gold Rush in the best British manner.
All of these preparations were calculated to draw the Americans to the carefully prepared British route, in place of the unruly and improvised rush up the Columbia from Walla Walla of the year before. If all went well, the incoming miners would find British stores and British merchants on the diggings, ready to provision them when they arrived.
When spring came, the miners came with it, thousands of them. Many arrived much too early before the snows had melted, and crossed Kamloops Lake on the ice. “Thousand Dog Joe” made a small fortune hauling supplies with his dog sleds up the frozen river and lakes to Seymour Landing. In April Walter Moberly, a man more dependable by far then the inept Captain Houghton, got to Seymour to brush out the old HBC trail and construct bridges over its creeks. He found the place full of men impatient to cross the Monashees to the Columbia. “Old Bill Ladner” had gone on ahead on the snow, cutting his own trail, and arriving first at Big Bend with a sledge load of supplies which he sold to the overwintering miners there at starvation prices.
However, the Americans were not going to let the British Columbians have this rush to themselves. In Portland, Captain John C. Ainsworth was closely following the news from British Columbia, and hoped to repeat the profits his company had made in 1858-59 with their boats on the Fraser. His Oregon Steam Navigation Company made preparations in early 1865 to be ready with its own American route to the new diggings. In late Spring, once the snow had gone, Ainsworth sent Captain Leonard White who had been running boats on the Upper Snake, to Colville to build a steamer to serve the new rush. In August, 1865, the keel of the sternwheeler Forty Nine, was laid in Marcus, the settlement that had grown up around the British Boundary Commission barracks. Captain Ainsworth took the boiler and engines with 12” x 48” cylinders out of his beached Willamette. River steamer, Jennie Clark, and sent them by ox drawn wagons from the landing at Wallulla to Marcus, where they were installed in the Forty Nine. The light, shallow draft western river steamers were expected to pay off their construction in three trips to the bonanza camps. In rough service they were not expected to have long lives. When they were beached, the boiler, engines and steam capstan would be removed and installed in another steamer. The same set of engines would over their lifetime propel some three or four different steamers. The Forty Nine with its second hand machinery, was 96 feet long by 18 wide, 219 gross tons, and had engines for a boat twice her size. News of her construction reached Fort Shepherd and the magistrate there anxiously wrote the Colonial Secretary,
“A steamer is now being built near Ft.Colvile by a company represented by one, Captain White, which will, I am told, be ready to start in about six weeks. I would beg for instructions as regards U.S. steamers running up here.”
On December 9, 1865, Captain Leonard White, First Mate Albert Pingston, Purser Charles Briggs, and Engineer Washington Eldridge, began the sternwheel steamer era on the Upper Columbia by winching their boat with her steam powered capstan through the Little Dalles Rapids. A cable was run out and made fast to a big yellow pine on the cliff. Then steam was fed to the capstan engine and the boat winched her way up through the turbulent water. Loaded with miners eager to get to the diggings in style, the Forty Nine crossed the border into British Columbia the next day and proceeded upstream.
In the low water of December, Captain White had to line the Forty Nine through Rock Island and Tincup rapids with the capstan. Passing the mouth of the Kootenay River, he took his boat into the broad waters of Lower Arrow Lake. Up the past forest clad mountains plunging steeply into the water, they steamed, entirely alone in this mountain fastness. However, when they reached the narrows between Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes, (present Burton) Captain White found his passage locked by early winter ice. Again the miners wanted to be on the placer grounds during the April low water so they unloaded their supplies and put them on improvised sleds. They then set off on foot, pulling their sleds up the river ice to make the rest of the 150 miles, and winter on the placer grounds. . Captain White turned the Forty Nine downstream, and beached his boat for the winter at Little Dalles, a few miles above Marcus.
As soon as the ice went out in the spring of 1866, Captain White set out again with the Forty Nine and a full load of 73 miners, merchants, and their freight on April 15. Among the passengers were Dan McCulloch, James May, George Weaver, D. Carley, Old Man Minnetto, Hauser (for whom the town of Howser was named), Downie (of Downie Creek), the merchant Marcus Oppenheimer with his stock of goods, Neuberger, Ben Bergunder, William Fernie (who had been foreman on the Dewdney Trail), and Nels Demars (later to settle at Nakusp). In addition, the Colville packers, Wade and Gardiner were aboard with their pack string to take the freight from the landing at La Porte to French Creek, charging 40¢ per pound. Passage on the Forty Nine cost $50, with freight carried at $200 per ton. The passengers were fed, but the sleeping accommodations were extremely primitive. Stipendary Magistrate H. M. Ball, inspecting the boat as it cleared customs at Fort Shepherd, described it to his superiors, as “a mere shell with powerful engines”
Moving cautiously up the uncharted river and lakes, it took Captain White ten days to steam as far as La Porte, at the foot of Death Rapids, 60 miles above present Revelstoke. Except for Old Bill Ladner, they were the first men in. The HBC trail from Seymour was still blocked by snow, with Walter Moberly and his crew still at work on it.
Captain White discharged his passengers and freight, and returned down river at once to board more waiting miners. Most of those passengers on that first trip up the Canadian Columbia did well. Dan Mc Culloch, picked a creek, gave it his name and took $27,000 out of it. Downie named his creek, and it proved to be one of the richest in the Big Bend. Ben Bergunder set up his store in a tent and was soon joined by R. Lamphere. These Colville merchants, resupplying themselves by subsequent trips of the Forty Nine, dominated the Big Bend trade with the largest stocks, the best prices. When the HBC trail over the Monashees was finally opened, the New Westminster and Victoria merchants, with more costly transportation, proved to be ineffective competitors.
On her second trip to the Big Bend, the Forty Nine carried 87 men and 25 tons of freight. Charges for merchandise from Portland to the the mines were 21¢ per pound: 3¢ Portland to Walla Walla, 8¢ Walla Walla to Little Dalles, and 10¢ Little Dalles to Death Rapids. The Forty Nine paid for herself that first season, but by late summer the number of penniless miners wanting passage out began to outnumber those going in. The Big Bend, which had looked so promising was proving a bust. The placer deposits, while rich, were shallow, and most of the gold was lodged in crevices on the bedrock. The bedrock in the Big Bend creeks was vertical and its crevices could only be opened by hard rock mining techniques and the use of steam pumps to keep the holes pumped dry. The simple placer miner with his pan, had to find a good gravel bar or give up. It was Captain White’s absolute policy not to carry any man upstream who did not have sufficient supplies to carry him through the season, but he also took downstream gratis any man going out broke. It became the rule on the isolated Canadian Columbia that you did not abandon a penniless miner on the beach.
Alerted by the reports of the men of 1865, the Colonial Government sent in Magistrate O’Reilly to take charge. He came in across the snows on the Seymour City trail to find that the Forty Nine had delivered her first passengers and freight a few days earlier. Some 1200 men were already on the various creeks. When he tried to hire a constable, Magistrate O’Reilly found that the $2.75 daily pay allowed a constable by the Colonial Government was less than the cost of a single meal in the Big Bend camps. Nevertheless, O’Reilly found his new district,
“…perfectly quiet and free from outrage of any sort.”
By the end of that 1866 season it was clear that except for some closely held diggings on Downie, Gold and French Creeks, the Big Bend was bust. About three quarters of the men leaving the diggings as the first snows came in November, could not pay their fares on the Forty Nine to Little Dalles. The Forty Nine Company (named for the steamer) and a few other companies had the resources to bring in pumps and boilers to run them, and sink shafts below the rivers to mine out the gold bearing bedrock. But the average placer miner could not afford such an operation, and headed back to the diggings at Wild Horse, or reputed new easy diggings in Idaho and Montana.
The year following, the Forty Nine made fewer trips to Downie Creek, but a new strike on the lower Kootenay River’s Forty Nine Creek (again, named for the steamer), a few miles west of present Nelson, brought a demand for passage to the mouth of the Kootenay, and a trail was cut to the new diggings. Richard Fry, one of the early miners on Forty Nine Creek reported that for the next three years,the creek was paying $4 to $5 per man per day. Not a bonanza, like some of the best spots on the Big Bend, but enough to hold a small group of miners and induce further prospecting in the area.
Although, the Big Bend failed to support a scheduled boat service on the Canadian Columbia for the Americans, the British Columbians failed dismally to cash in on even the glory days of the boom. The trip from Victoria or New Westminster was costly, long and arduous by boat, stagecoach, steamer and pack horse. Little trade went by that route; the wagon road from Walla Walla to Colville and Little Dalles and the Steamer Forty Nine took the biggest share. The townsite of Seymour City, laid out at government expense as a trading centre for the Kootenays, was abandoned in 1867. The Hudson’s Bay Company post closed, boarded up its windows and doors, and took all its stock back to Kamloops. In a few years the encroaching forest had covered the site, leaving scarcely a trace. Today, hikers on the Seymour trail are amazed to find near the summit, a pile of polished slate slabs. They were intended for a pair of billiard tables to be set up at one of the Big Bend camps. The packers, taking them over the trail on their mules, had been met by miners coming out with the news that the Big Bend was a bust. The packers dumped their slates there and then, and turned around.
With little business for the HBC steamer Marten, she was sold to the Kamloops merchants J.A. Mara and W. B. Wilson who ran her on the North and South Thompson delivering supplies to the settlers. In 1879 she was wrecked on a rock and sunk.
Governor Seymour had done his best to save the Big Bend trade for the British Columbia merchants, but for the second time, Kootenay geography had worked against him. The elaborate preparations were largely wasted, the money invested in the townsite and commercial establishments lost. A depression seized Vancouver Island, businesses closed, people were “blue with consternation.” As a money saving measure the two nearly bankrupt colonies were united. The two bitter disappointments at Wild Horse and Big Bend were to prejudice the mercantile community and the government against the Kootenays for the next forty-five years. The Cariboo, all the coastal businessmen remembered, had made them rich, Wild Horse and the Big Bend had been borrasca. They would take out their frustration by turning their backs on Kootenay, leaving it to the merchants of Colville and Spokane Falls to risk their money there.
This was probably shortsighted, for while the population of the Kootenays was declining precipitately in the Seventies, that of Northeastern Washington was increasing. In 1860 Northeast Washington Territory claimed 279 persons, plus Chinese, Indians, the men of the Boundary Commission and the Military Road builders. By 1870, that number had doubled to 519, and to ten times that by 1880 with 5,507 residents. By comparison in 1875 the Kootenay district cast but 32 votes in the Provincial Election, and in 1878 there were only 47 names on its voter’s list. These numbers reflect only British Subjects in Kootenay; there were probably twice as many Americans present, plus several hundred Chinese still working the bars of the Columbia and the Wild Horse Creeks.
When the two colonies of Vancouver Island in British Columbia were united in 1867 as a money-saving measure Peter O’ Reilly was appointed magistrate for the Kootenay district and R.T. Smith appointed member of the Legislative Council which was supposed to advise Governor Seymour. In 1868 voting “No” on an address to the Queen to join British Columbia to Canada were all three Kootenay officials, O Reilly, Cox, and Smith. As educated colonial civil servants, they would have lost their positions if B.C. joined Canada, and been replaced, they feared, by coarse Upper Canada Methodists.
In December 1868 Edgar Dewdney was selected to represent the district. However either by negligence or the badness of the trails, Dewdney was not notified of his appointment until late 1869, missing the entire year of council sessions. It probably made little difference. Once the Big Bend excitement was over, the Kootenays were off the Colonial agendas.
When British Columbia was united with Canada in 1870, an elective Legislative Assembly was convened. In the first elections in 1871, John A. Mara, businessman of Kamloops, and Charles Todd were chosen to represent Kootenay, serving until 1875. From 1875 until 1878 Arthur W. Vowell and Charles Gallagher sat for Kootenay. From 1878 until 1882 it was Gallagher, and Robert L. T. Galbraith of the Wild Horse ferry.
From 1866 until 1868, Captain White kept the Forty Nine running up the Columbia to service the well financed mines on Downie and French Creek. But by 1869 most of the miners had left the Columbia and the Forty Nine made but two trips that season. Broken in health and weakened by disappointment, Captain White beached his boat and left for the Coast to die.
His mate, Albert L. Pingston, took over the boat and operated her whenever a call came for a load of supplies and machinery to be delivered up to the Downie Creek mines which were still in operation. On one of those trips in 1869, he had the misfortune to run her onto a rock below Downie Creek (thereafter known as Steamboat Rock.) and smash a hole in her light hull. Pingston beached the boat in a shallow backwater below present Revelstoke, and sent to Captain Ainsworth in Portland for instructions.
For Captain John Ainsworth the Big Bend boom was over, and the Forty Nine, which had more than paid for herself, was now a liability. He wrote Captain Pingston,
“…as far as our interest in the boat is concerned, we are willing to dispose of it, or do most anything in reason that would enable the boat to be raised, except it be to pay out any money…”
But Captain Pingston, not so easily discouraged, patched up the Forty Nine with his own resources, relaunched her, and continued to make trips whenever cargo or passengers offered. His first trip in 1871 carried but seven passengers, six of whom were Chinese; clearly, the Americans had abandoned all but two of the creeks to the more industrious Orientals. On another trip that year, the Forty Nine was hired to carry supplies up the Columbia to Walter Moberly’s survey party which was seeking a route for the Canadian Pacific Railway. But these hired trips became more and more infrequent. From the point of view of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, the Forty Nine’s machinery was idle except for a few weeks of the year. Since it could be profitably used on the Snake River where the gold camps on the Clearwater were in need of service, the Forty Nine was dismantled at Little Dalles in 1879, and her boiler and engines hauled off in wagons to the Snake River to be installed in another steamer.
Nothing whatever remains of Marcus or Little Dalles today. Both are submerged under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. A financial panic in 1873 dried up the source of capital with to develop mines. The Kootenays emptied of miners except for a few small parties of Chinese. Brush grew over the trails, the creek bridges collapsed or were washed away by the spring runoff. When British Columbia entered Confederation in 1870, the Yale – Kootenay district was allowed to sent one member to Parliament in Ottawa. The nomination convention was held in Yale in 1871. Captain Houghton, the inept explorer, came over from Vernon to stand for election. Only two registered voters could be found; the miners had not heard or could not be bothered to attend. With two votes cast, Captain Houghton took the nomination and was elected by acclamation.
Some sense of what that remote and empty region was like in the Seventies can be found in Lieutenant Symon’s report to Congress of 1881.
“The Little Dalles is situated by river fifteen miles south of the point where the Columbia crosses the British line, and about twenty-six miles above Kettle Falls. The cañon of the Columbia is here deep and narrow, and no bottom lands lie along the river. The Dalles are caused by a contraction of the channel, the limestone bluffs from which the banks of the river are formed projecting into the stream, and damming back the water into a deep, quiet stretch above. The fall here is inconsiderable, and I believe the place could be improved for navigation during the low and medium stages of the river by clearing away some of the projecting points of the bluffs and small rick islands in the stream.”
Sounding almost like a contemporary nostalgia piece, Lieutenant Symons continues, (remember, this is 1881):
“Years ago, when the excitement about the gold mines on the upper waters of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers was at its height, a steamer was built here (actually at Marcus, there was not yet a wagon road to Little Dalles) and ran from the Little Dalles up the rive for a distance of about 225 miles to Death Rapids, transporting supplies and carrying passengers. This steamer, the “49,” during low stages of the water, used at times to be taken down to Kettle Falls, going through the Little Dalles, and being lined back over them. The tree was pointed out to me which she used to make fast in ascending the rapids.
“A good portage road now exists around these Little Dalles.
“The road to the Little Dalles leaves Fort Colville and follows down (up is meant) the valley of Mill Creek to its junction with Echo Valley, up which it goes as far as Bruce’s ranch. From this latter point it bears westward through a gap in the hills and reaches the Columbia River by an easy descent, and follows along its left bank to the rapids. During the old mining excitement (i.e. 1864- 1866) quite a town was started here, which has been completely destroyed by fire, the principal vestige of its former grandeur being the numerous signs still remaining along the road telling travellers where to buy their merchandise.
“The road is very good all the way, the principal travellers over it being the Chinamen who are
engaged in mining on the upper river and who go to Colville for their supplies…
“The country through which the navigable portion (of the Columbia) flows is mountainous as a
general thing. There are, however, large areas of rather level ground especially along the enlargements of the river known as the Arrow Lakes. I have been informed that along these Arrow Lakes lies one of the finest belts of timber known to man — cedar, white pine and fir of large size and of the most excellent quality growing in abundance…
“Concerning the interior of the country away from the river in this extreme upper portion very little is known.”
While Lieutenant Symons was musing on Northeast Washington’s first ghost town, the absent miners had been drawn to new camps in Idaho and Montana. Two or three successful and well funded operations continued hydraulic mining in the Wild Horse region, and the Chinese worked the scantily yielding creeks and bars of the Big Bend abandoned by the Americans. With the Forty Nine dismantled on the beach at Little Dalles, it is believed that the Chinese rowed their way each spring up the Columbia 260 miles to their diggings, captained by Albert Pingston. But for these summer incursions, the great empty land was once again as the fur traders had found it in 1805, remote, densely forested, hemmed in by high mountains, and once snow had closed the trails, and ice the lakes and rivers, a formidably difficult place to winter.
The Colonial Government, having spent so much to access the Wild Horse and Big Bend mines, and to so little effect, was content to leave the Kootenays to its Indians. In 1870, the Kootenays, which had briefly supported a population of 5,000 during the mining rushes of the ‘60s, comprised in the words of the Langevin Report, only “103 white males, 5 white females, 2 coloured males, 139 Chinese males.” Of these 6 were in agriculture, none in manufacturing, 20 in trading, and 222 in mining. By numbers, if anything , it was a Chinese district.
All through those empty Seventies, snows smashed the deserted miner’s cabins, bears and coyotes scavenged the abandoned campsites, the ubiquitous devil’s club, alder and snowberry reclaimed the laboriously cleared ground, we had our first ghost town at Seymour City, Washington had its at Little Dalles, and the Kootenays were once more virtual wilderness that the Fur traders had found in 1811.
5 thoughts on “THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 10”
It is amazing, how much hardship so many people took upon themselves to dig gold. I mean only very few of all these thousands of people hit jackpot. It is interesting they called the coming of the miners “stampedes”, these rushes must have been real frenzies.
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Greed is unfortunately a great source of motivation for action.
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Ah! I found a reference to Arrow Lake in this account. Is it the same Arrow Lake you occasionally post pictures of?
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Indeed, we live right in the area the author is writing about.
Again, very interesting read.
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