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THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 14

5

POLITICS AND RAILROADS

Canada had come into existence in 1867 as a confederation of the Eastern Colonies, independent of Britain, although its citizens remained British subjects.   Union with the new Canada was seen as one solution to the depressed economy in British Columbia.   Once the miners had departed from the Cariboo, Wild Horse and Big Bend, the flow of gold ceased, and many of the businesses supplying the miners failed.   There was a net out-migration from the Colony.

Protectionist sentiment in the U.S. had imposed a 10 per cent duty on imports from B.C., and the lumbermen, farmers and fishers of Oregon and the new Washington Territory were supplanting British Columbia in the California markets.   In 1854  the San Francisco lumber firm of Pope and Talbot had come north to set up the first steam sawmill in the American Northwest at Port Gamble on Puget Sound.   To allow B.C. lumbermen to compete in the U.S. market, the government’s royalty on timber was lowered, beginning a practice which continues to this day: letting U.S. market conditions determine the price British Columbia loggers pay for trees.

As well, the Colonial status was now seen as a hindrance to progress, an obsolete and inefficient form of government unrepresentative of the people’s wishes.   It was absurd to have all political decisions subject to ratification by London and the 6 months it took to get a question to the Colonial Office and a reply back.  The great trade centres of British North America were on the Atlantic seaboard; B.C. customers were in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii, still an independent kingdom), Hong Kong, 5000 miles to the west and the modest settlements of Oregon and the Washington Territory.   If a wagon road could be built to link British Columbia with Lake Superior, B.C. merchants believed they could then enter into partnerships with the great eastern houses.   Walter Moberly was given the job in 1864 of surveying a route for a coach road over the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains and east toward the new nation of Canada.  In 1868, Joseph Truch, Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for the Colony, presented a Minute to the Colonial Assembly, An Overland Coach Road to Canada.  In it he outlined three possible routes and recommended one that would go by the Cariboo Road  to Cache Creek, its branch to Savona’s; by sternwheel steamer to Eagle Pass Landing (Sicamous); over the Eagle Pass to Farwell’s (Revelstoke); up the Columbia around Big Bend and over Howse Pass to the navigable North Saskatchewan River.   From there sternwheel steamer would be used down the North Saskatchewan and Saskachewan Rivers to Lake Winnipeg, and by the Red River cart road from Fort Garry to Fort William on Lake Superior where lake boats connected to Toronto and Montreal.   Truch thought of the project as a coach road only, as the many transfers from wagon to boat and back to wagon would make the shipment of freight uneconomic; it could better be sent by ship around the Horn.   

The chief sentiments animated those British Columbians who sought union with the Canada were the wish for representative government, and the hope of profitable trading partnerships with the east.   Above all, it was essential that a union with Canada “must be to the material and pecuniary advantage of this Colony,” Dr. Helmken insisted in the Legislature.  Amor de Cosmos, representing the populist view, envisioned a more radical kind of democracy,

“I would not object to a little revolution now and again in British Columbia, after Confederation,

if we were treated unfairly; for I am one of those who believes that political hatreds attest to the vitality of the state.”

Among the opponents of Confederation with Canada were those who would lose their Colonial appointments.   Judge Haynes, speaking for the appointed officials asked that some means be found to place them “…in safety, in view of the changes likely to take place on this Colony entering Confederation.”   The officials of the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well, were opposed to union, reluctant to lose their commercial ascendancy.    They would, however, make no common cause with the other anti-confederationists, whom they regarded as effete and snobbish drones.   There was also, among most British Columbians, a disdain for and dislike of  Canadians, who were found to be joyless and heavy Methodists, grasping and materialist.   To be obliged to accept these crude social inferiors as the Senior government, and lose their direct contact with Her Majesty and her Ministers was an intolerable thought for Anglophiles.   

With opinion divided in British Columbia, Governor Musgrave, who had succeeded Governor Seymour, suggested to the Colonial Secretary in London that, “If a railway would be promised, scarcely any other question would be allowed to be a difficulty.”   Like the idea of the Great Coach Road, a Railway from Montreal to the Pacific was to politicians but a line on a map, something that could be casually turned over to the Engineers for execution.    This was serious politics, and no one questioned the expense, the formidable mountains to be crossed, the availability of financing.   How sincere was this promise of a railway remains an unanswered question.   The suggestion seems to be that, should British Columbians appear likely to reject the terms of union with Canada, the promise of a railway, that red line on a map, would swing the vote in favour of confederation.   Once B.C. was in, the question of actual construction of such a work could be addressed, and its practicality and timing considered.   

In British Columbia, however, the railway was seen as real, an actual timber and steel line of unbroken track, a functioning link with the commercial centres of the east.  The railway, infinitely more than political union with the despised Methodists, would link its merchants with prosperous Eastern houses, and rescue the Colony from bankruptcy which now loomed since the gold diggers had departed.    

The terms of union were agreed on by the British Columbia and the Canadian delegations, and the proposal went to Parliament in Ottawa for ratification.   The terms provided that the Dominion of Canada would assume the Colony’s debt, and that the new Province of British Columbia would be granted an annual subsidy of $216,000.   Half of this sum was supposed to be a payment for a Provincial grant of a “Railway Belt,” 40 miles wide, along the route of the proposed track.   The future sale of these  Railway Belt lands were to pay for the construction of the line.   The railway construction was to be begun within two years, and be completed by ten.   Further, Canada would pay the salaries of the Lieutenant Governor, the judges, would maintain a postal service, a telegraph service, customs, militia, a penitentiary, and a geological survey.  Those Colonial officials who would be displaced would receive Canadian pensions, and the new province was to introduce responsible government whenever that might be desired by the inhabitants.

South of the border, however,  another railway was being projected for the Northwest, the American Northern Pacific line which was to run from Lake Superior to Puget Sound.   In the deliberations of the U.S. Congress the Northern Pacific was seen as a line which would open the Northwest of British North America to American annexation.   In  July, 1866, before the Confederation of the Canadian Colonies, Congressman, General N.P. Banks, introduced his Northern Pacific railroad bill to provide for, “…the States (sic) of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West, and the territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan and Columbia (sic) are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States.” On December 9, 1868 Senator Ramsey of Minnesota moved a resolution that asked, “ That Canada, with the consent of Great Britain, shall cede to the United States the districts of North America west of Longitude 90º on the conditions following…”

     Senator Ramsey proposed that the U.S. should pay the HBC $6,000,000 for its claims and rights.   The U.S. would also assume the debt of British Columbia to the amount of $2,000,000, and that the Northwest Territory should be organized into three territories with the same rights and privileges and government as the Montana Territory.    Further, the U.S. government should guarantee dividends of 5% on the stock of the Northern Pacific Railroad.   It is obvious that in the American mind the Northern Pacific Railroad was to be built to exploit the British as well as the American Northwest.  The resolution was passed and sent to the Railroad Committee for detailed consideration.   In their report, released in February 1869 the Committee noted that:

“The line of the North Pacific (sic) runs for 1500 miles near the British possessions and when built will drain the agricultural products of the rich Saskatchewan and Red River Districts east of the mountains, and the gold country of the Fraser, Thompson and Kootenay Rivers west of the mountains…  The opening by us of a North Pacific Railroad seals the destiny of the British possessions west of the 91st Meridian.   They will become so strongly Americanized in interest and feelings that they will be in effect severed from the new Dominion and the question of their annexation will be but a question of time.”

It was the view of politicians in the U.S. that the Northern Pacific Railroad was to Americanize the Canadians, while to the Canadians, the proposed Canadian Pacific Railway was to Canadianize those difficult British Columbians.   It is not at all evident that the Canadians in Ottawa followed the railway debates in the U.S. Congress.   From whatever they thought of the proposed Northern Pacific Railway, they seemed to suppose that Great Britain would not permit it to enter British Columbia.

But from the beginning, doubts were expressed, both in Ottawa and B.C., that the railway promise was sincere.   Building the railway would require a country of but 3 million to build two thousand miles of track to link up with only 10,000 Europeans and perhaps 30,000 Aboriginals.  It seemed to the hard headed, and the Canadians were certainly these, that it was a mad enterprise.   Nevertheless, south of the border, on February 15, 1870, the Northern Pacific began building  west from the head of Lake Superior headed for Puget Sound.   The next month debate on the motion for Union with Canada.   In the British Columbia Assembly Dr. Helmken expressed his deep misgivings, and suggested that if the Canadian railway were not in place in ten years, the Province would demand compensation and have good cause to secede.    He may well have been thinking that the Northern Pacific would be completed by then and ready to extend its tracks across the border into British Columbia.     

In Ottawa Parliamentary ratification of the terms of union was not automatic as had been assumed at the start.  Debate began on April 1, 1871.   Two weeks previous the Northern Pacific began construction on the western end of their line, by grading north from Kalama on the Columbia toward Puget Sound.   Whatever the Canadian parliament decided, the American railway would soon be in place to capture B.C. trade.   In Ottawa the opposition Liberals argued that the railway promise would bankrupt the country if built.   The governing Tories were unwilling to be bound by that ten year promise.  Debate began on April 1, 1871, and the government found itself in difficulty with its own members at once over that promise to begin construction in two years and complete it by ten.   Joseph Truch, who was a member of the Legislative Council of B.C. proposed to win over the recalcitrant  government members by softening the promise.   He apparently told the caucus that the people of B.C. would not hold them precisely to their promise, a statement which he had no authorization whatever to make.  Publicly he produced a masterful equivocation: British Columbians, he said, were a reasonable people and it would be a fallacy to assume that they would demand the railway promise “ to be carried out in the exact interpretation of the words themselves, regardless of all expectation.”   Truch was a British Colonial Officer, and these words reflected the genteel mendacity with which the British had for a century been administering their colonies.

Back in British Columbia, however, Truch’s statement was considered treasonous.   He had sided with the hated Ontarians, and betrayed B.C.   But the weasel words had worked.   The Union was approved, Truch was rewarded by being appointed Lieutenant Governor of the new Province of British Columbia in place of Amor De Cosmos who would have been the popular choice.

By betraying B.C. aspirations, Truch had accomplished two things, he had achieved union, and he had kept the populist leader from power in Victoria.    He had done the will of Great Britain and the Ontarians.   As Lieutenant Governor, Truch represented the members of the old HBC hegemony in British Columbia, and he attempted to govern it in the manner of the old Colonial despots, Simpson and Douglas.   He used his power as Lieutenant Governor to pick an utter non-entity, John McCreight as Provincial Premier, when again, the choice should have gone by popular will, to Amor De Cosmos.   And in a further perversion of his powers, Truch insisted on sitting in on all Cabinet meetings.    This would not be tolerated in Britain, nor anywhere else, and it was a bad beginning to a Provincial government which was to perpetuate in future legislatures, a tyranny of the government over the opposition.

In choosing union with Canada, the majority of British Columbians had opted for political change, for representative government.   What they had gotten, thanks to Joseph Truch’s betrayal, was the old Colonial system of appointed officials domineering over elective representatives.   The force for change, however, was stronger than Truch expected.   At the end of 1872, the ineffective Mc Creight was forced out, and Truch had to grit his teeth and call on De Cosmos, the only candidate with the confidence of the Legislative Assembly, to form a government.   De Cosmos took over and refused absolutely to hold a cabinet meeting with the Lieutenant Governor in the room.   Truch was obliged to distance himself, and finally, painfully, representative government was allowed to begin functioning in British Columbia.

Interior B.C. was, except for the old Colonial officers, quite untouched by the union with Canada.   The Langevin Report for 1870 stated that the Kootenays had 103 white males, 5 white females, 2 coloured males, 139 Chinese males, no Chinese females.   Aboriginals were not recorded. Of these 249 persons, 6 were employed in agriculture, none in manufacturing, 20 in trading, and 222 in mining.   The occupation of the one missing person is not recorded; perhaps this was the magistrate.     The HBC traders at Fort Shepherd and Tobacco Plains, the miners, some thousand or so Indians, and a judge comprised the population, the majority of which was Chinese.   Probably most of them had not heard of the Union.

  The Union was a fact, however, and the District of Yale-Kootenay was to send one member to the Dominion Parliament.   No one but Captain Houghton could be bothered.   Now, in 1871, he made his way to Yale on horseback to the nomination convention.   But astonishingly, there could be found but two eligible voters in Yale willing and able to participate. Nor was there any other candidate.   Captain Houghton was nominated by a vote of 2 to 0, and elected by acclamation.   It is doubtful if anyone in Kootenay, knew or cared.     

The Provincial Legislature continued a contentious body.   There were no political parties in British Columbia at this time.   In the Colonial Administration the Colonial Council had divided always into the majority of appointed members, representing the Governor, and the minority of elected members, the opposition.   Now, with a fully elected house, the members broke into local factions, which carried on the old quarrel between the two colonies, the Vancouver Island members opposing the Mainland members.   Those few from the Interior opposed both Coastal interests.    

In Ottawa B.C’s six members had no party affiliation, but were bound to support Prime Minister Mc Donald whose government had promised the railroad.   By the terms of Union, railroad construction was to begin by 1873.  The year came; there was no sign of construction.   Amor De Cosmos, who had promoted Union, and fought for it so vigorously, was now in trouble.   He went to Ottawa to lobby for the promised railway.   But the problem for Mc Donald and his Conservatives was to find someone to finance this extremely costly undertaking.   The efforts to put together a syndicate of wealthy men resulted in a corruption scandal that brought down the government.  The new Liberal government under Mc Kenzie was firmly set against building the railway until it could be afforded.   He suggested to a desperate De Cosmos that the terms of union be renegotiated with the railway time clause eliminated.    De Cosmos was devastated; he was now the man who had led B.C. into a union with a government which was refusing to honour its promises.    The best De Cosmos could get from Mc Kenzie was an immediate $1 million cash loan, and a further cash grant in lieu of the promised drydock.    But for these he had to agree to let the Dominion government indefinitely postpone the railway.

De Cosmos returned to B.C. to find a Legislature and a people wholly opposed to any changes whatsoever in the terms of union until Mackenzie should publicly and unequivocally promise the railway.   Now one of those salutary little revolutions that De Cosmos had previously favoured, took place.   A mob, insistent on presenting their demands for a referendum on any changes to the terms of union, stormed the legislature chanting, “We’ll hang old De Cosmos on a sour apple tree.”   Disorder followed.   Clubs were brandished, guns were drawn, the Legislature was thrown into tumult.   Although no blood was spilled, De Cosmos was obliged to lock himself in his room for safety, and the Speaker hastily adjourned the house and fled the assembly.

A victim of the “political hatreds attesting to the vitality” of British Columbians, De Cosmos resigned his seat in the legislature, but kept his seat as a Dominion member of parliament, and fled east to orderly Ottawa.    When the B.C. Legislature met again, it acknowledged the wishes of the people that the mob had represented, and passed a resolution that no change could be made in the terms of Union without the consent of the electorate.

With De Cosmos’ departure, Anthony Walkem became Premier and spokesman for the forces against the mendacity of Ottawa.   However, a split appeared in the pro railway forces, whether innocent or manipulated cannot be determined.    As the province was spilt politically between the Island and the Mainland, the railway supporters split as well.   Two routes for the Railway had been proposed, one would be a northerly route, reaching salt water at Bute Inlet, cross by boat (or improbably by a very long bridge) to Vancouver Island, and proceed by rail down the Island to Victoria.    The other route, equally formidable, would come down the Fraser canyon and reach tidewater at Burrard Inlet with a ferry connection to Victoria.  Premier Walkem chose the Bute Inlet route, since that would make Victoria the terminus of this transcontinental railway, while the Fraser Canyon route would put the terminus and its port on the Mainland.

The Imperial Government, which was responsible for introduction of the railway promise into the terms of union, now feared that separation was a real possibility if something substantial were not offered the disaffected Canadians of British Columbia.   It certainly did not wish to reassume the financial burden of the bankrupt Colony.    A compromise was proposed.   An immediate start was to be made on a railway to link the two Island cities, Victoria and Nanaimo, and railway surveys were to begin on the mainland.   A wagon road and a telegraph line were to be built from the Red River to the Pacific.   It was promised that $2,000,000 were to be spent annually on railway construction, but no firm completion date was mentioned.   These were the Carnarvon Terms from London.

This compromise could have been accepted by both parties in Ottawa and would have got the Dominion government out of an embarrassing spot.  For, if B.C. separated from Canada, the Americans stood ready to purchase her with their own Northern Pacific railway line which, delayed by mismanagement and failure of financing, was slowly creeping toward completion. In 1874 its trains were running from Portland to Tacoma, although the line through the Rockies was still to be built.  In Ottawa the influential Liberal, Eward Blake was implacably opposed to any subsidies whatever to the Pacific Province, and was quite willing to see it secede if that would preserve financial prudence.   Blake’s opposition tied MacKenzie’s hands and the Carnarvon Terms were rejected by the Dominion Senate. 

As a shamefaced sop to B.C. Mackenzie and Blake offered a cash payment of $750,000 as compensation for delay in beginning the railway.   This offer was greeted with intense suspicion by British Columbians and the Walkem government.   The cash offer could be interpreted as a payment for future as well as past delay.  Accepting it could be seen as releasing the Dominion government from its promise.   Standing on these principles, the offer was rejected in 1876, and a resolution was passed calling for secession from Canada.   The then situation in B.C. was intolerable; in joining Canada the province had been obliged to give up its chief sources of revenue, the Customs and Excise collections, to the Dominion government.  Without a revenue, B.C. was reduced to subsisting on humiliating handouts from Ottawa.   Without the railway there was no hope of integration into the Canadian economy which could have saved it.

With B.C.’s rejection of the cash grant and its threat of separation, the Liberal Government in Ottawa lost its nerve and dithered.   De Cosmos angrily attempted to insert an amendment into an unrelated bill calling for work on the Esquimalt to Nanaimo railway to begin at once.   Only six eastern members joined the British Columbians in voting for the amendment.   This vote made it clear to B.C. citizens just how little regarded they were in central Canada.   Their threat of separation had been met with casual indifference.   The Walkem government was  disgraced and driven from office.  It had stood on principle and refused the cash offer.   It had threatened separation, and Canada had not cared.   

Andrew Elliot, a former Colonial magistrate, took over as Premier.   His government was as ineffectual as Walkem’s.   The citizens of British Columbia were in a foul and angry mood and ready to lash out at anyone.    The Government in London had the Dominion Governor General  make a Viceregal tour in the old Imperial way, with smashed wine bottles and flag raisings.   The populist faction of the citizenry were unimpressed.   They erected the traditional arches festooned with fir boughs to welcome the Marquess of Dufferin, but pointedly hung signs on them threatening secession if the railway were not commenced at once.   His Excellency, equally pointedly, refused to pass under any arches so placarded.   Amid all this archaic symbolism, the situation worsened.   In 1878, De Cosmos rose in parliament to utter a new threat.  If the railway were not begun at once, British Columbia would have no other alternative but to seek annexation to the United States.   De Cosmos hated Americans from his time in California.   He made the threat, which only spite would have made him carry out, to try to make parliament understand the depth of feeling and legitimate anger of his constituents.   Parliament’s response was little more than a yawn.

In British Columbia the feeble Elliot government fell, and Walkem came back, promising to solve the railway impasse.   British Columbia had but one card to play, that of secession.   On August 9, 1878 Walkem moved an address to the Queen, asking Her Majesty, in light of the broken promises of the Dominion Government, to grant British Columbia the right to withdraw from the union and receive compensation for the defaulted pledges.   The motion passed, 14 to 9.

But at this point Walkem lost his nerve.    Instead of sending the message to London where it would have elicited some sort of action, he weaseled and sent it to the Dominion Secretary of State in Ottawa for forwarding to Her Majesty.   This made it clear to the MacKenzie government that the message was just one more threat directed at it, and not a serious move to separate.   MacKenzie’s government simply “mislaid” the Address to the Queen, and it was never transmitted.   Shortly after, MacKenzie’s government was defeated and Mac Donald was back with his Conservatives and a new National Policy in which the Railway to the Pacific was a major plank. 

The decade of political turmoil and mendacity of the 1870s had all been quite absurd.   The Province of British Columbia had for six years begged, cajoled, threatened and gone to the brink of secession over the railroad with the Dominion government.   Now, with a simple election, the railroad was to be built.  It should not be thought that the MacDonald had announced  his railway policy to mollify British Columbians, or to redeem the promise of 1870 as the residents of the Pacific Province believed.  Mc Donald had cleverly annouced the railway as a  National Project that would project the commercial interests of Ontario and Quebec onto the Pacific Coast so that they might enter the lucrative Asian trade.   This was the Conservatives’s railway policy, an expansion of Central Canada’s power to the Pacific; the wishes of 10,000 British Columbians were quite insignificant in Ottawa.

Amor De Cosmos, who had been politically destroyed by the railway issue, rose in bitter anger in the house in April of 1879 to excoriate the members of both parties for five years of hostility to British Columbia.   In wild sarcasm he challenged them to do in fact what for five years they had done by indifference, moving a motion to exclude B.C. from Canada.    British Columbia, he said, “has been called an excrescence, and incubus, has been accused of endeavouring to gain something from this Dominion without any equivalent.   I ask the honourable members who say they wish to get rid of this province, to second the motion.”   The house was silent.   Not even one of the five other B.C. members would second De Cosmos’ motion.   He concluded with the angrily prophetic  statement,  “The people of British Columbia have as little faith in one side (party) as they had in the other.”    De Cosmos, now eclipsed, had expressed the bitter judgment of the people of B.C.: the Dominion government, under whatever party, would never be trustworthy.    They wanted a Canadian commercial front on the Pacific, but they would never be willing to pay the price for the union of British Columbia.   It is a distrust of the Ottawa government, and an anger at central Canada that subsists in B.C. to this day, and is regularly exploited by Provincial politicians of all parties.     

The actual construction of the long promised railway was, if anything, even more difficult and frustrating than the five years of political wrangling over whether it was to be built at all.   First, the Dominion government had to find that syndicate of wealthy men able to raise the funds for 1900 miles of construction through an uninhabited country, four mountain ranges and six hundred miles of solid and barren rock north of Lake Superior.   Sir Sanford Flemming, who had surveyed the route through the tumultuous Seventies, had estimated it would cost $100 million, an astronomical sum for a country of but four million.

The wealthy banker George Stephen, whom MacDonald had with difficulty persuaded to lead the syndicate to built the CPR, held out for concessions without which he absolutely refused to undertake the project.   

First, was a monopoly clause in the contract, prohibiting any other railway from building between the CPR and and the U.S. border.   This was directed at the Northern Pacific Railway which had been completed in 1883 and had become the de facto link between British Columbia and Canada.   One took a steamer from Victoria or New Westminster to Tacoma, rode the Northern Pacific to St Paul, the Milwaukee Railroad to Chicago and the Grand Trunk to Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.  All freight went in bond via this route as well and U.S. line was planning an extension north up the Red River Valley to Winnipeg.    The Dominion Government could enforce this prohibition in the empty Northwest Territory where it had sole authority.   In Ontario and British Columbia, MacDonald promised to have the Dominion Government disallow any Provincial Railway charter for a line in this CPR claimed territory.    This promise was redeemed  in 1883 when the B. C. legislature authorized the American Ainsworth Syndicate with mines on Kootenay Lake, to build a 40 mile portage railway around the falls and rapids on the Lower Kootenay River.   The Dominion Government found the Ainsworth’s railway to be essentially an entry of the Northern Pacific into the lands promised the CPR as its exclusive territory.

Second, the syndicate insisted on a cash subsidy of  $25 million and a land grant of 25 million acres along the right of way.

Third, that whoever built the railway should “run it forever.”

Fourth, that the syndicate would receive those portions of the railway already built or contracted for by the government.

These were enormous gifts, but the undertaking was even more enormous.   By its completion in 1885, it would very nearly bankrupt the syndicate, and nearly defeat the government as more and more loan guarantees had to be made to keep the work from collapsing.

No one knows to this day what it cost; $150 millions is a probably a good guess.

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 11

8

THE ‘SQUAWMEN’

Throughout the era of the fur trade on the Columbia, the first half of the Nineteenth Century, the traders and factors comprised the small group of men who were the intermediaries between the Europeans and the Aboriginals.   They knew the Indian languages, many of them had married Indian wives, and were instrumental in keeping relations between the races peaceable.   With the withdrawal of the HBC north of the line of 1846, their place as traders, trail guides, and interpreters went by default to those American frontiersmen who had come north from the California gold fields to participate in the Fraser-Thompson gold rush and who remained after it subsided.   Their more squeamish and racist fellow Americans used the ugly name of “squawmen” to refer to them.  With their Indian wives, their living in a state of boozy intimacy with the Aboriginals, and their habit of extravagant boasting, they were deplored by the “better classes.”    Still, these knowledgeable men were essential as intermediaries with the aboriginals, doing what they had learned to keep the peace permitting unhindered settlement of the great Columbia Plain and the river valleys running northward into British territory.

Each of these men had a similar history.   All had participated in each of the gold rushes as they had occurred, Rock Creek, Similkameen, Colville, Fraser-Thompson rivers, Cariboo, Wild Horse and Big Bend.   All had learned on the placer grounds that while a very few might strike it rich and go home wealthy men, most would return from the gold fields with very little more than it had cost him to outfit himself for the expedition.   Those who had packed in provisions to the camps and sold them for a huge profit, did consistently go home with most of the miners’ gold.

Money, and lots of it, was dependably to be made in packing in supplies and selling them to the hungry miners.  These “squawmen” quickly learned these economics of the gold rush.   Then,   usually with a few Indian relations as helpers, they turned to profitably guiding parties of miners to the gold bars, to packing in supplies, and to operating improvised stores at the camps.

When the gold bars were exhausted and the miners went home, the “squawmen” took up ranches along the creeks in the Columbia Basin or opened small stores along the boundaries of the Indian Reservations to trade with the Aboriginals.

  Dancing Bill Latham, who had led a company in that bloody passage to the Thompson,  operated his “Eureke” ferry at the site of present Bridgeport.   Tenas George Runnels was a man of some education.    He 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 successful prospector.   He located the rich 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 the man and his cronies.    Most of these rough “squawmen” were self exiled refugees of conscience from the moral hypocrisy of a society that preached rectitude while practicing  greed.   No doubt many had fled prosecutions they felt unjust, and had taken their pseudonyms for the sake of anonymity in the west.

Since much of the settlement of the Columbia Basin in the hands of these “squawmen” from 1859 until the coming of the railroad in 1883, it will be of interest to describe the life of one of them in some detail

Samuel Wilbur Condit (Wild Goose Bill) was born in Orange, New Jersey in 1835.    No formal education is recorded, and Samuel left home at the age of 17 for the gold fields of California.   His departure may possibly have been a necessary flight, for on arriving in California, he changed his name to “Bill Condon,” and was known by that name from then on in the west.   The family records in New Jersey state: “Lost at sea en route from British Columbia to California.”    This is distinctly odd.   In 1852, the year of his arrival in California, “British Columbia” did not exist.    The family must have received a mistaken report of Samuel’s demise some years later.   Possibly from Samuel himself, if he had had compelling reasons for leaving home and wished to discourage inquiries.

Samuel, “Bill Condon,” came north to the Washington Territory about 1860.    After blowing two gold mining stakes on high living in San Francisco, he had joined the thousands heading for the Thompson-Fraser rush by the inland route.   In 1861, with Dancing Bill Latham, Tenas George Runnels, and others he was in the first party of miners to ascend the Columbia in British Columbia to the Big Bend gold fields.   After that boom subsided, he took a job packing supplies to the mining camps for a merchant in Walla Walla.    On a trip with his pack train, probably in 1864 or 1865, into the Wild Horse camp he found the stores there already amply stocked with the very supplies he was carrying.   Rather than sell at a loss, he started west with his train on the Dewdney Trail for Okanagan Lake where, he had been told, there were many Chinese on the gold creeks.    This could have been at Mission Creek or Cherry Creek. or possibly Fairview.   Accompanied by his Indian helper, Little Jimmy, he reached the Chinese miners, sold his goods, and then headed south for the Washington Territory.   On the way, still in British Columbia, he came on a small pond with a flock of geese, and began shooting them for provisions.   But the fowls proved to be domestic geese, or wing clipped wild geese, and their owner, a very angry woman, came storming after him, demanding compensation.    From that time on Bill Condon was known everywhere in the Columbia Basin as “Wild Goose Bill.”

On his trip back to Walla Walla he came across the well watered valley of upper Goose Creek at present Wilbur, Washington, and noted it as a spot in this arid Columbia Plateau where farming could succeed.    He took up land there and when the gold rushes tailed off, and there was little demand for pack outfits, he sold his, and began farming in that little valley at Goose Creek in 1875.

Owen Wister, the author of The Virginian, put Wild Goose Bill in a story published in Harper’s Magazine in April, 1894, called The Promised Land.  It was based on what his friend, Guy Waring, told him of Wild Goose Bill at whose ranch on Goose Creek he had stayed in 1884.     Waring had there listened to Bill Condon’s extravagantly embellished stories of his exploits during  the gold rush days,and passed them on to Owen Wister.   In Wister’s story Bill Condon appears as “Wild Goose Jake,” depicted as a lurid character who lived by selling  liquor to the Indians.    There is no record of Wild Goose Bill having done so, but the use of liquor to promote  trading transactions with the Indians was common enough during the period.   It had been standard practice for a drink of whiskey to seal a trade deal during HBC days, and the Aboriginals frequently asked for the traditional drink in later days before they would begin to trade.

Owen Wister’s tale was probably not familiar to the settlers moving into the Big Bend region in the 1880s and 1890s, but its sensational depiction of the “squawmen” as drunken, lawless scoundrels must have influenced Midwest opinion of the Frontiersmen they might meet in the West.   And the farmers moving into the Big Bend after the completion of the NP Railroad, were almost all Midwesterners. 

When the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1883, Sprague became the shipping point for the Big Bend and Okanagan country.   Gold had been discovered at Conconnully and silver at Ruby City; miners were bound for those points.   The trail from Sprague to the Okanagan passed through Wild Goose Bill’s ranch.   He saw a chance here to improve it to a wagon road, set up a toll ferry on the Columbia, and build a store there to supply miners, reservation Indians from across the river, and farmers entering the region. 

In 1885 he constructed his ferry across the Columbia at Alameda Flat at the foot of what is now Strahl Canyon Road.   He had a boat big enough to carry one team and wagon built at Layton and Wolford’s sawmill on Hawk Creek and floated down to his site.   This first ferry was propelled by oars and took the traveler across to Saddle Horse flat on the north bank.   From there the Indian trail went up past Omak Lake to the settlement of Omak on the Okanagan River, and from there up the Salmon River to Conconnully and the mines.   The next year Condon improved his ferry by bringing a steel cable up the trail from Sprague and stringing it across the river.   A larger scow was built at Hawk Creek and hung on this cable, as a reaction ferry, using

the current of the river, to push it across.

In the summers of 1887 and 1888, Henry Bair, Gerhart Jurgensen and Frank Robinson, apparently working for Condon, made improvements to the trail to make it usable for heavy freight wagons.    With the mining excitement at Conconnully and Ruby City, a new county, Okanagan, came into existence, and Bill Condon’s road and ferry were the shortest route from the railroad.   No road existed up the Columbia at that time, the many rock bluffs plunging steeply into the river made one impractical.   There was the old Hudson’s Bay Company fur brigade trail from White Bluffs through Moses Lake, and Soap Lake and over the Big Bend plateau to Foster Creek which was followed to the Columbia at present Bridgeport, where Dancing  Bill  Latham, operated his “Eureke” ferry, but Bill Condon’s was by far the shorter route.    

Merchandise for his store on the south bank of the Columbia and for the miners at Conconully, was offloaded from the NP trains at Sprague and put on two ton four horse freight wagons.   It was 107 miles from there to Condon’s Ferry.   The first day’s travel brought them to Coffee Pot Lake, west of present Harrington, approximately along the route of todays’s highway 23 and Coffeepot Road.    On the second day they would reach Wild Goose Bill’s ranch (Wilbur), and on the third day, to Park Springs in Northrup Canyon, descending into Grand Coulee.   The fourth day would take them across the Grand Coulee and out following Wallace Canyon (named for Robert V. Wallace who drove freight teams on this route for Bill Condon), and turning north at Wilson Butte to follow Strahl Creek down to the River and Bill Condon’s ferry and store.

Condon charged $30 per ton for merchandise shipped over this road and paid his teamsters $35 a month, good wages for the time.    His store stocked items for the Indians on the Colville Reservation across the river.   As regulations forbade non-Indian businesses from operating on the Reservation, Condon’s store was well sited to capture their trade, just a ferry ride across the river.  He stocked the usual flour, beans, tea, sugar, bacon, overalls , utensils, farm implements, blankets, calicoes, and other articles required by the Aboriginals.   The Indians seldom had any money with which to buy, but the Indian Department which controlled them, permitted them to sell livestock that they had raised from herds introduced by the Government.   By taking these cattle in trade for merchandise, Bill Condon would increase his herd at his ranch.   Far from being a drunken brawler, as depicted by the sensationalist Owen Wister, Wild Goose Bill had become an astute businessman.

Bill had married Julia, a Coeur d’Alene Indian woman, and they had two sons, George and Billy.   Julia eventually left him, the circumstances unknown, and he married again, this time Mary Ann, from Chief Moses’ band across the river.   They had one child, Charlie, tragically  disabled in body and mind from an accident in infancy.   Those who knew him all said Bill was very fond of the boy and gave him all the consideration and care he was capable of.     This union with a relative of Chief Moses was of inestimable value in his trade with the Reservation Indians.   

The Northern Pacific Railroad began building its Washington Central branch line into the Big Bend country from Cheney in 1888.   The next year the rails reached Bill Condon’s ranch on Goose Creek.   Instead of calling the town which was to grow there “Goosetown,” the surveyors chose  “Wilbur” at the urgent suggestion of J. H. Robertson who had located there as a blacksmith in 1887.   This was taken from the name Bill Condon used on his land titles, “Samuel Wilbur Condit.”    Though uneducated, Bill Condon knew that the use of any but his legal given name on a land title could invalidate it.

The Columbia Townsite and Investment Company, a land holding subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railroad,  concluded an agreement with Bill Condon, the owner of the land,  by which for his gift of half the lots in the Wilbur townsite, they would guarantee a railroad station, graded streets, and the management of the new town.  It was a standard, railroad contract, probably identical to those negotiated with the other towns on the line, Reardan, Almira, Hartline and Coulee City.    These railroad townsite contracts were a continuing scandal in the west.   Instead of following the engineered survey across the Big Bend country with its nearly level grades, the Washington Central management zigged and zagged its line, up hill and down, to connect those sites, like Bill Condon’s “Goosetown , where the railroad’s townsite company would receive the land gratis from its owner, having only to grant him title to the odd numbered lots.    If the owner of a site along the surveyed grade demanded to be paid for his land, the railroad would bypass him, routing its line to a more amenable land owner, and establishing the townsite there.   The present line, operated by the Palouse and Coulee City Railroad, is still considered a difficult operation by its train crews.   With its roller-coaster profile required to connect the cooperating townsites, it requires four or five diesel units to haul freights of less than fifty cars.

At this time, Bill Condon divided his time between his ranch and the Ferry at Alameda Flat.   When he was in Wilbur,  Mary Ann or her younger sister, Christina, looked after the ferry and store.   With the arrival of the railroad, new people were moving into the Wilbur area to take up farms.    They were socially conservative Midwesterners, frosty Methodists and Presbyterians.   As such, they had scant toleration for the notorious “squawmen,” having no understanding at all of pioneer conditions in that previous Indian country.    Now, with whites outnumbering Indians, the inevitable reversal took place.   The Aboriginals, previously essential participants in the fur trade, and later valued packers, and horse and cattle raisers, were becoming  a minority, and as an Aboriginal minority, despised by the newcomers.   The old timers, who had married Indian women and raised families with them, were regarded henceforth as dangerous and uncouth men, assumed to be lawless and guilty of various past crimes.       

One of these women told historian, Celon Kingston,

My husband brought Bill (Condon) home to dinner one day and before we were ready to sit down Bill pulled up his chair and began to take what he liked from the various dishes.   He seemed so out of  place that I asked my husband not to bring him to dinner again.   I  knew he had his good qualities, but he surely lacked good manners.”

Bad table manners, a fondness for whiskey, an Indian wife, and a presumably lurid past made the “squawmen” socially unacceptable in the newly transplanted Midwest small town society.

Out on the isolated ranches there were other opinions.   Robert Wallace relates,

“It was about the first of December, 1886, while I was working for Bill Condon that I was caught with a heavily loaded four-horse team in a snowstorm some ten miles from Bill’s ranch.  The sun had gone down and the wind blew violently in my face; the air was full of rain, sleet and snow.   I had no blankets and I knew I had to find some sort of shelter.   There was only one settler, a man named Brown in the country round about and I wasn’t acquainted with him but when I finally reached his place I asked them if they could take me in for the night.   I was refused at first because they didn’t have room in their little barn for my four-horse team but when they learned I was working for Wild Goose Bill, their attitude completely changed.   They turned their own stock out into the storm and put my horses into the barn.   Then I was taken to the house, given a good supper, and they made up a bed for me.

“Mrs. Brown told me why they felt they had to do this for me.  ‘This last summer,’ she said, ‘after we moved over here my husband fell sick and for a long time he was unable to do anything.   Our supply of provisions got lower and lower until there was almost nothing in the house left to eat and I didn’t know what to do.   Then one day  very rough looking man came up to the house.  I didn’t know who he was but he said he was Wild Goose Bill and that he had heard we had a sick man in the house.  He    came in and talked with us and soon found out how things stood.    He told us that we could have anything we wanted over at his place.   We had no money but that didn’t make any difference.   We got     flour, meat, sugar, beans, and coffee, etc., and after a while my husband got well again and we were on our feet once more.   That’s why we will always do anything we can for Wild Goose Bill or any of  his outfit.’”

Other men who knew Wild Goose Bill described him as they knew him.   Major Gwydir, Indian Agent on the Colville Reservation from 1887 -1890, remembered,

“Tall, gaunt and slightly stooped, invariably wearing a red bandanna knotted loosely around his neck, and a slouch hat… Impulsive and generous, warm in his friendships and bitter in his enmities, quick to anger but ever ready to acknowledge errors and to make reparation — these were the characteristics of William Condon, or as he was familiarly known, Wild Goose Bill.”

Holgar Jurgensen, another acquaintance,  said,

“Bill was a very good friend and a very bad enemy.   He was not a very large man– I think he weighed about 160 pounds — but he was sinewy and quick.   I wouldn’t call Bill a drinking man because he never got drunk — still he used to drink a good deal.”

In 1894 for some reason unrecorded, Bill Condon’s wife, Mary Ann, left him.   Bill persuaded a young woman of 25, Mrs. Millie Dunn, whose family had moved into the area,  to go to the ferry and look after the housekeeping and his crippled and mentally deficient son, Charlie.   Mrs. Dunn had a six year old son, James, by her first marriage which had ended in divorce.   At this time she was separated from her second husband and was suing him for divorce.   Bill Condon, a man of 60, fell in love with this young woman and proposed that she marry him as soon as her divorce should be granted.    But Millie Dunn had no wish to marry old Bill Condon and spend lonely months at the ferry looking after the incompetent Charlie whom she thought to be, with his brain damage, an unfit companion for her own son James.   Instead, once Bill Condon had left the ferry for Wilbur,  she decamped,  going to live with a cowboy, Jack Bratton, in his cabin on the Hollis-King horse ranch.   With Bratton in the cabin lived Barton Park, a young man of 19, from Lorene, Washington.   

When Bill Condon returned to the ferry to find that Millie Dunn had left him, the desperate love of an old man for a seductive young woman threw him back on that obsolete frontier code he had so long lived by.    He wrote out his will, providing for the crippled Charlie and his other two sons.   He then started out for Jack Bratton’s cabin accompanied by his friend Bert Woodin who was married to Millie’s sister.    Woodin’s wife had gone to Jack Bratton’s cabin to warn her sister that Bill Condon was coming for her,  and that he was an impulsive and  determined man.   She wanted Millie to come back with her to Wilbur where she would be safe.

However, Millie, an equally determined woman, felt that the lovesick Condon would not hurt her and she would be able to talk him out of anything desperate.

Jack Bratton, the cowboy,  had none of Millie’s bravery.   He left the cabin to hide out until the affair should be concluded.   The young Jack Parks, however, stayed, and told Millie Dunn he would protect her.   He lay hidden in a curtained bunk with a rifle and revolver and waited.   The young boy, James, was playing on the cabin floor.    

Condon and Woodin drove up in a cutter.  Bill Condon got out at once and burst into the cabin without knocking.   He picked up the boy, James and set him on a box, asking him if he would like to come back and live with him, giving the boy some candy.   Then he told the boy to get behind the iron cookstove so he wouldn’t get hurt when he went over to talk to Millie Dunn.

Condon asked Millie if she was going to marry him.   Millie told him firmly, “No.”

According to the boy, James, Bill Condon then said, “All right, then, damn you, I’ll kill you!” and fired.   Millie threw up her arm to protect her face and received the bullet in her forearm.   At that moment Jack Parks sprang out of his bunk where he had been concealed, and began firing at Bill Condon.   Condon fired back, backing out of the door, but was hit, and fell out into the snow, dead.    Parks, badly wounded, went to the door, and with Millie Dunn standing beside him,  fired at Bert Woodin who was some distance away, hitting Woodin in the heel.    Parks then collapsed, kneeling beside his bunk saying to  Millie  “I’ve done all in this world I can for you.”   He then died, his head on his arms. 

Millie Dunn, though wounded in the arm, wrapped up her boy, and carried him on foot through the snow to the nearest neighbours two miles away.   From there they were taken to Wilbur where the veterinarian, George Wilson, dressed her wound which healed satisfactorily.   Jack Bratton returned after the affray and spent the night in his cabin with the two corpses.   When asked by a neighbour if that was not a fearful thing to do, Bratton is said to have replied, “I would rather stay with Condon dead than alive.”

One wishes for a photo of Millie Dunn; she must have been a remarkably captivating woman to cause two men to die for her.   Condon’s will left the ferry to his first son George, and the sum of $5.50 to his second son, Willey.   The remainder of his estate was to go to the crippled and feeble-minded Charlie with provision that on the death of Charlie, the remainder was to pass to the school fund of Wilbur.   When Charlie died four years later the provision that the Condon estate should pass to the School Fund was contested by Charlie’s mother, Mary Ann.   The Superior Court ruled in favour of the School Fund but the Washington Supreme Court reversed the ruling, holding that Bill Condon’s will had not specifically stated that Charlie’s inheritance was limited to his lifetime, and for that reason his nearest kin should inherit Charlie’s property.   This reversal of what the ex-Midwestern Wilbur residents felt was a good and generous intent, was deeply resented, with the lawyers and a Indian woman being the beneficiaries rather than public education in Lincoln County.

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 10

5

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.

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 9

4

THE WILD HORSE RUSH

THE WILD HORSE RUSH

The Two Boundary Commissions, British and American, arrived on the Columbia in 1860, to build their barracks, the Americans at Pinckney City next to the U.S. Army camp, the British just north of the HBC post at Fort Colvile on the Columbia. Sections of boundary were assigned alternately to British and American surveying crews, and in 1861 they went to work.

The British Boundary Surveyors were the first to report finding gold. When they returned to their barracks in the fall of 1862 they brought specimens of gold in quartz which they had obtained from from the upper Kootenay River Indians.   Once again, it was the Aboriginals  who produced the gold for the Europeans to “discover.” 

When these samples were displayed in Colville, the prospector’s hotels emptied into the streets at once. A throng of wildly excited men demanded information.The gold was examined, the surveyors repeatedly questioned as to where it had been found.   Partnerships were instantly formed, parties organized to exploit the new strike in the spring. Prospectors sought grubstakes from local merchants, a grant of supplies for the coming season, with the merchant to receive half of what might be found. The larger parties were organized with a leader and regulations as to what size of claim was to be allowed, the days of work (Sunday was universally established as a day of rest), and the duties of each member on the trail and at the diggings. Merchants sent off orders for provisions and supplies to come up from Portland by boat to White Bluffs (opposite the present Hanford Nuclear Site) and from there up the wagon road to Colville. The town took on a look of excited prosperity, all based on what the miners hoped to find the next summer.

When the snows melted off the mountains in April of 1863,  Robert. L. Dore led the first party out of Colville up the wagon road to Pend Oreille where an old HBC trail led north.  Five hundred men, from Colville and from Walla Walla, were on the trails that spring, and the Wild Horse rush was on. The route was across the open grasslands to Pend Orielle Lake.   From there the miners went up the Pack River, crossed the low divide to the Kootenay River where rafts or crude boats had to be made to effect a crossing.   One of the men, Edwin L. Bonner, bought a piece of land at the crossing from Chief Abraham, established Bonner’s Ferry, and settled down to collect tolls.   

Once across the Kootenay the trail crossed Serviceberry Hill to the Moyie River, and over the height of land to Joseph Prairie (present Cranbrook). From there open grasslands led down to the Upper Kootenay River where John Galbraith saw his chance and built a ferry to carry miners across.  Wild Horse Creek was a few miles farther on, up river.

It should not be thought that all on the trails were miners.   Many were merchants who were veterans of other rushes and had seen what extraordinary prices provisions could command in an isolated mining camp.   Daniel Drumheller tells of his trek to Wild Horse.   

“…we were receiving flattering reports of the rich placer discoveries on Wild Horse Creek in the East Kootenays of British Columbia.   I bought a half interest in a pack train from Charley Allenberg… we bought our goods, packed our animals and started for Wild Horse Creek…. When we reached the Kootenay River… I met E.L. Bonner, R.A. Eddy, Dick Rackett, and John Walton, all old friends of mine… when they reached the Kootenay River they saw a chance to make some money by building a ferry boat.   They had a whip saw with them and were engaged in sawing lumber to build the boat… Bonner and Eddy both accumulated large fortunes.   

“We finally reached our destination, Wild Horse Creek, B.C., June 15, 1864… and found about 1,500 miners already on the ground,and about 200 straggling miners arriving daily.   We built a little   shack of logs a few rounds high and covered it with canvas and then opened up a little store.   My partner, Charlie Allenberg, was more merchant than packer, so he took charge of the store.   I sold out little pack train and then devoted myself to prospecting and mining.

“When I was ready to go prospecting I met an old California placer miner by the name of Steve Babcock.   I asked Mr. Babcock what he thought of the camp.   He said he had done some prospecting, but found nothing, and believed the diggings were going to prove quite limited.   The camp was on the widest part of a high flat or bar.    This bar as about one mile in length and its widest place was 300 yards.   The creek running along this side of the bar was the richest ground in camp.

“One morning Babcock and I took our mining tools and what grub we could pack on our backs and started to go out about six miles to prospect a stream called Stony creek.   We had only proceeded a hundred yards when we stopped to arrange our packs.   We were then near the upper end of the bar on which the camp was built.   When we had our packs arranged, I said to Bab:

“’I’m a poor packhorse and why not prospect this bar before going further.’

“Bab consented and said he had several times in mind to sink a hole in this bar.   Without further ceremony we went to work.   The bar at this point was perhaps 330 feet wide.   We put down five prospect holes to bedrock across this bar about 50 feet apart.   It was from four to six feet to bedrock.   We found but very little gravel in any of our prospect holes even on the bedrock and no gold.

“The bedrock was of slate formation, craggy and checkered with deep seams.   Neither Bob nor I had any experience of mining on that kind of bedrock.   After finishing our fifth hole we went out and prospected Stony Creek, but found no gold.   We were gone about 10 days, and on returning to camp, when we came in sight of our five prospect holes, hundreds of men were standing around then.    I said to Babcock that very likely some drunk had fallen into one of our prospect holes and broken his neck.   When we approached these men I asked one of them I know what was causing all the excitement.   He said:

“”Haven’t you heard the news?”’  I said, ‘No.’   When this man was able to speak again he said:

“”This morning Jobe Harvey, the barkeeper, was looking down into one of your old prospect holes and saw something glittering  in a deep crevice in the bedrock.   When he got it out it proved to be a nugget of gold weighing $56.’

“We were too late to secure a location.   This bar produced more gold than all the balance of the camp.”

On arriving, the Colville prospectors fanned out, checking all the creeks in the vicinity.   They found they were not the first on the ground.   A party of  lawless Montana men were already present.  They had come in via the trail from Flathead Lake and the Tobacco Plains.   Many of these were violent men who had been ordered out of Montana by the various “Vigilance Committees.”  While they had been wintering at Frenchtown, near present Missoula, a mixed breed Indian from the Findlay band in the East Kootenay came to visit the French settlement.   With him he had some gold nuggets he said he had picked up out of seams in the bedrock in a small stream flowing into the Kootenay River 40 miles above present Fort Steele.

The prospectors hired this Indian to lead them to the place, leaving Frenchtown the First of March.   When the men reached Wild Horse Creek they left their exhausted horses with three of their men, Pat Moran, Mike Brennan and Jim Reynolds.   The rest walked upriver to Findlay Creek but found little gold.   In their absence, the three men left behind with the stock began prospecting on the open sections of Wild Horse creek.   Four miles upstream in a box canyon they struck rich ground.    At once they held a miner’s meeting and drew up laws to govern size of claims and the means to hold them.   “Uncle Dan Drumheller,” tells what happened next,

“There had been a great feud existing between the miners from the east of the Rockies and those from the west… and there was a free-for-all fight in a saloon.   One man, Tommy Waker, was killed.   Overland Bob was hit over the head with a big hand spike and a fellow by the name of Kelly was stabbed with a knife in the back.  “A mob was quickly raised by the friends of Tommy Walker for the purpose of hanging Overland  Bob and East Powder Bill.   Then a law and order organization numbering about 1000 miners, of which I was a member, assembled.   It was the purpose of our organization to order a miners’ court and give all concerned a fair (hearing).   The next morning  we appointed a lawyer by the name of A. J. Gregory as trial judge and John Mc Clellan sheriff, with authority to appoint as many deputies as he wished.   That was the condition of things when Judge Haynes, the British Columbia (Gold) commissioner,  rode into camp.

“’Fifteen hundred men under arms in the queen’s dominion.   A dastardly usurpation of authority, don’t cher know,’ remarked Judge Haynes.   But that one little English constable with knee breeches, red cap, cane in his hand, riding a jockey (English) saddle and mounted on  a  bob-tailed horse, quelled that mob in 15 minutes.”    

This “English constable” was John Carmichael Haynes, rancher at Lake Osoyoos, appointed Gold Commissioner for southern British Columbia and sent 300 miles east via a long detour into Washington territory to Wild Horse to issue miners’ licences, register claims, collect duties and the gold export tax.   In his report to the Governor he confirmed a thousand men on Wild Horse and Findlay Creeks.   As “Uncle Dan” reported, they had drawn up the mining laws of the district to regulate the work and avoid disputes.   These were accepted by  Haynes and enforced by his constable.   But however cooperative the miners were in matters of mining and criminal law, they were extremely reticent about the amount of their takings, since they wished to evade, if possible, the export tax on gold.     Governor Douglas had imposed a tax of 50 cents per ounce on exporting gold in a vain effort to compel the miners to sell their dust and nuggets to the HBC post at Tobacco Plains for forwarding to New Westminster.   

Again as had happened on the Fraser, the miners, in absence of local authority, drew up their own laws and appointed their own officials.   But once a self-assured representative of Colonial authority manifested himself and demonstrated probity, and ability to keep the peace, the Americans were quite willing to accept his rule.    Except, of course, in that matter of the “un-American” gold export tax.   On that, the Magistrates and Gold Commissioners had to accept the pragmatic dictum that only those laws can be enforced, which the citizens are willing to have enforced.

In the fall all but a few of the men headed back down the trails to the Washington Territory to share their take with the merchants who had grub staked them, pay their hotel bills, and find a warm room for the winter.   For the few that stayed on the placer grounds, the winter was trying.   Flour cost $2.50 per pound, tobacco was $15, and opium, quite legal, and the widely used remedy for “cabin fever,” went for $12 an ounce, nearly as much as gold.   The two supply trails, one to Colville, the other running southeast across the Tobacco Plains into Montana and east to Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River, were open during good weather in the winter as the dryer Rocky Mountain Trench was spared the deep and impassible snowfalls of the Columbia and Kootenay Lake districts.   By the end of May supplies were being packed in at $.28 per pound.   As well, the previous year’s miners were returning to take up their claims and locate new ones. 

Good locations the summer of 1864 were paying $60 per day.   With the news out and pack trains coming in from both Montana and Colville, food was plentiful.      Haynes, named Magistrate in 1864, through his constable, issued twenty-two traders’ licences, twelve liquor licences,and over six-hundred miners’ licences.   In the month of August alone, the revenues amounted to over $11,000, of which more than half was customs duties.   By fall, a sawmill had been packed in pieces and assembled to saw flume and cabin lumber.    Several sluice companies had dug ditches, and built flumes to bring the water to the best locations.   These  companies, with five to twenty-five men, each, were taking out from $300 to $1000 per day.  The gold was remarkably pure, going for $18 per ounce.   A town called Fisherville had spring up, then had to be moved the next year, as gold was discovered underneath it. 

The Colonial Secretary, A. N. Birch was sent (via Washington Territory)  by Governor Douglas to investigate.   On his return he carried the Government receipts, seventy-five pounds of gold, to New Westminster.

More miners stayed over the second winter, but the food situation again became difficult.   The B.C. constable stationed there wrote Judge Haynes at Osoyoos on Dec. 1,

“Provisions are becoming scarce already.   Flour is $65 per hundred pounds, and little left.”

The winter of 1864 – ‘65 was severe, and the remote camp at Wild Horse was not prepared for it.   The Colonial official wrote,

“There are no more than 300 men remaining here.   I  yesterday recorded 12 claims on a creek called “Canyon, ” about 200 (miles) from here.   Many have returned after much hardship, not one of whom succeeded in reaching the new diggings.”

By spring the situation was serious.   The constable wrote on April 1,

“The winter is one of unusual length and severity.   Mr. Linklater of the Hudson’s Bay Company reports more snow than for twelve years previously in residence at Tobacco Plains.   Upwards of 200 head of cattle have perished there and many packers have lost their trains.   We now have 500 men in camp.   No breaches of the peace.    Mr. Waldron reports that of two men starting before him (on the Walla Walla trail) one died from frost-bite, and the other will probably lose his legs.   Money is scarce; provisions scarcer.  In another week, not a pound of food can be purchased at any price; $100 would not purchase a sack of flour today.   The last flour sold at $1 per lb.   All that is left is a little bacon at $1.25 a pound.   Some twenty pounds of  H.B. rope tobacco brought in today was sold in twenty minutes at $12 per pound, a hundred more would fetch the same.”

At these prices merchants were eager to get in a pack train of supplies and set up a log store.   The profits to be made from a mining camp exceeded any other sort of enterprise and no digging was involved.   It was especially galling for Victoria and New Westminster merchants to read these reports from the Kootenay country where men desperate for provisions were being supplied entirely and at huge profit from the Montana and Washington Territories.

A few weeks after the above report, the first miners of the new season arrived.   The Wild Horse official wrote Commissioner  Haynes,

“Four men from Flathead Lake (Montana) arriving yesterday tell me of a train of goods there waiting to get in.   The goods were brought from Fort Benton on the Missouri to Flathead.   If they do not arrive, and with beef cattle, in the  promised  twelve or fourteen days… we shall suffer semi-starvation. Many are now reduced to bacon and beans without flour, and not a few are without food of any kind.”

It may be wondered, that these hardy men in the midst of a country, plentiful in game and fish, should face starvation.   This was typical of all the gold camps.   In their obsession with gold, miners gave every waking hour to pick, shovel and pan, washing out the gold.   When creeks froze in winter, they would be out whipsawing lumber to construct flumes to bring the runoff water in the spring to their claims to flush the gold bearing gravels into their sluices.   Miners were not “mountain men,” living off the country.   Almost all of them were townsmen, accustomed, winter and summer, to living off purchased provisions.   Fish and game they would buy from the Indians when they brought them to the camps, but sparing time to grow a garden or to hunt or fish, while their fellows might get a lead on them in digging the bars, was unthinkable.   The miner with lard buckets full of gold dust and nuggets under his bed, considered himself a rich man, purchasing his provisions, and scorned those who produced them.   It was the madness of greed, and was repeated in every gold camp in the West.

The cool heads, of course, observed all this, took note of the fact that while a few miners came out in the Fall rich, most, like Uncle Dan Drumheller, lost money on their prospecting expedition, spending every ounce of gold they panned on costly provisions. A merchant with a pack train of supplies and particularly liquor, could not lose money in a gold rush; most prospective miners did.

In 1865, with the Cariboo District on the decline, Gold Commissioner O’Reilly was sent to Wild Horse instead of Barkerville.   Fisherville became a town of 120 houses and some 1500 to 2000 men were in the district.   The Victoria Ditch was completed at  cost of $125,000 to bring water to 100 dry claims, and shafts were being sunk through the gravel as much a 80 feet to reach the bedrock where the gold lay.   

1865 was the banner year for Wild Horse.   Government revenues reached $75,000.   The New Westminster Government under its new Governor Seymour, prodded by the merchants who wanted to get in on the trade, sent out two parties to locate an all-British route to Wild Horse.    One party, led by George Turner, former Royal Engineer, started from Kamloops, and went up the South Thompson River to Shuswap Lake.   They then took the old HBC trail from Seymour Arm to Death Rapids, just below the Big Bend of the Columbia River.  The intention was to brush out the old HBC trail up the Columbia past Windermere Lake and down the Kootenay to Wild Horse.   However, the party ran out supplies at Big Bend and had to turn back, noting that local Indians were finding a little gold near the mouth of the Canoe River.

The other party had better luck.  Led by J. J. Jenkins, they took the Dewdney Trail from Hope to Similkameen, visited Judge Haynes at his Osoyoos Ranch, climbed Anarchist Mountain and descended to the now largely deserted diggings at Rock Creek.   Almost all of its miners had moved on, either to the Cariboo or Wild Horse.   Jenkins and his men pushed on over the Boundary Range, down into the Kettle River Valley, past Christina Lake and over the Rossland Range to the Columbia at Fort Shepherd.  Their route tip-toed just north of the border, in many places using the swathes cleared through the timber by the Boundary Surveys.    From Fort Shepherd, they crossed the Columbia, ascended Beaver Creek and crossed the high Kootenay Pass to the Kootenay River Flats.    The river came across the border from the U.S., so they were obliged to climb the mountains again and cross to the Moyie River where they struck the miner’s Colville – Wild Horse trail.

Jenkin’s route was adopted by Governor Seymour, and money was appropriated  to have Edgar Dewdney extend his Hope to Osoyoos trail to Wild Horse, four feet wide and 400 miles long.   But as a counter to the American routes, this extended  Dewdney Trail was a laborious grind.  Climbing the Cascades out of Hope it crossed Hope Pass at an elevation of 5900 feet.(1799 meters).    Obliged to stay north of the border, the trail crossed the Okanagan Range at 4000 feet ( 1220 meters), the Boundary Range at 4200 feet (1281 meters), the Rossland Range at 5300 feet (1616 meters), and the Kootenay Pass over the Bonnington Range at 6000 feet (1830 meters).  This meant that the trail was closed by snow most of the year, really only usable from July through October.   American trails, running up the river valleys from the Washington Territory crossed nothing higher than the gentle 3400 foot (1037 meter) height of land between Moyie Lake and Joseph’s Prairie.   This gave the American pack trains an 8 month’s season as against a four month’s season on the Dewdney Trail.   On the Dewdney trail from Fort Shepherd to Wild Horse one of the the HBC pack trains was 14 days on the trail and lost six horses on the way.   Its use was practically limited to HBC supply trains for the Tobacco Plains post and the comings and goings of Colonial Officers.    The Americans had the river crossings on the Colville and Walla Walla trails covered by ferries.  None existed on the Similkameen, Okanagan, Kettle, Columbia or Lower Kootenay on the British route.  To cross, an Indian had to be found and his canoe hired.   The Dewdney trail did, in a laborious fashion, link New Westminster to the Columbia and Kootenay regions, but it is doubtful that any but a few Magistrates and Constables ever took it twice.    And the Kootenays, as before wide open to the  American merchants, remained connected to the Coast, the government, and the British commercial establishments only by a 400 mile horse trail.

In a vain effort to keep miners supplies and provisions from coming in via the Washington and Montana trails, the Colonial Government sent in Constables to collect the customs duties and gold export tax.   At Osoyoos, Magistrate Haynes, a local rancher, had two constables and a collector of customs to intercept pack trains on the old HBC trail from Fort Okanogan.   At Fort Shepherd on the Columbia, one constable was stationed.   At Rykerts, on the Kootenay River north of Bonner’s Ferry, one constable.  At Wild Horse, a magistrate, two constables and a collector.   At Galbraith’s ferry, on the Colville/Walla Wall trail, one constable.  At Tobacco Plains, watching the Montana trail, one constable.    These twelve men were expected to guard and area the size of Ohio, plus 300 miles of border.   Remarkably, they did, keeping order and collecting at least some of the duties as required.    A letter to the Colonial Secretary praises their  vigilance, but of course, that is what they wished their superiors to hear. 

“In fact it is almost impossible to evade duties, as there are but three trails by which goods can be imported (to Wild Horse) — one by Tobacco Plains, one by the junction on the Moyie, and one from Colville to Fort Shepherd, all of which converge about twenty miles from the mines.  The long, low stretches of land on the Kootenay, flooded during the summer months, and the unbridged and unfordable Kettle, Goat and Salmon (Salmo) Rivers render the (Dewdney) trail almost impassible, and travelers and pack trains are obliged to make a detour of 160 miles through American territory, by Colville, Spokane Prairie and the Pend d’Orielle (sic), meeting the Fort Shepherd (Dewdney) trail at the Junction on the Moyie River, about sixty miles from the mines. Until this detour is made unnecessary, colonial merchants, on account of the increased pack distance charges and the American bond system, cannot establish mine branches (stores at the mines) and compete with Walla Walla.   These obstacles prevent the unfortunate people here from having any regular mail system.   There is no communication of any kind in winter, and even in summer they receive an Express but four times.    

There were urgings to the Colonial Government to attempt to keep the Dewdney Trail open in winter, at least from Hope to Osoyoos.   Post houses were recommended every ten miles, to shelter the traveler and his animals.   However, the Colony had assumed a crushing debt in building the Cariboo Road, and had no wish to spend money on another rush which might prove short-lived.   The Dewdney Trail remained a fair weather route, and dubious even then.    Judge Haynes wrote from Fort Shepherd on May 3, 1866,

“The trail between this place and Kootenay (Wild Horse) is, owing to snow, impassible for animals and by all accounts it will, in its present unfinished state,  be more so by high water.   Dewdney’s Trail; between this and Boundary Creek (the section from Rock Creak to the Columbia) is as yet impassible owing to snow.”

Notwithstanding the presence of some 5,000 armed miners, rabid with gold fever, all reports attest to the lawful behaviour of the men once a magistrate and his two constables were sent in.   To the south, Montana was in the throes of vigilante justice, with murders and extralegal executions frequent.    The Buffalo Hump camps in Idaho were unruly and murderous, and only the Army, it seemed, was keeping the peace in eastern Washington.   Still, when Colonial Secretary A. N. Birch arrived on  tour of inspection in 1864 he found,

“…the mining laws of the Colony in full force, all customs duties paid, no pistols to be seen, and everything quiet and orderly.”

Magistrate O’Reilly in 1865 was obliged to arrest three Americans for bringing in and circulating counterfeit gold dust, but he reported in his summary  for the year,

“It is gratifying to be able to state that not an instance of serious crime occurred during the past season, and this is perhaps the more remarkable if we take into consideration the class of men usually attracted to new gold fields and the close proximity if the Southern Boundary, affording at all times great facilities for escape from justice.”   

O’Reilly did, however, admit in his report that he had received but $6,900 in export duties on gold, which he suggested represented but a fifth of the gold actually taken out.   The conclusion is, that although the Americans were perfectly willing to submit to a fair and incorruptible administration of the criminal law by men they respected, they reserved to themselves the right to evade laws which had no counterpart in the U.S.    The American placer miners on the Columbia, the Thompson, the Fraser, and the Wild Horse, were willing to have the criminal laws and their own mining regulations enforced by British authority, but when it came to a charge on their gold,  a relict of that ancient “Quinto,” they, like the Mexicans, probably like miners worldwide, would evade it if they possibly could.  

At Wild Horse a final irony was to come.    As the Indian labourers under foreman William Fernie, were completed the final section of the extended Dewdney Trail from Joseph’s Prairie to Wild Horse in 1865, they found an almost deserted camp.   The Wild Horse miners had decamped to a new bonanza.    The Big Bend Rush was on.    The Dewdney Trail, a hopeful artery of commerce on paper, had been an utter failure on the ground. 

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 7

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CHAPTER SEVEN

ROCK CREEK, CARIBOO, AND TRAILS TO THE INTERIOR

British Columbia has from the beginning understood itself in quasi-Colonial terms.   It built a commercial and political centre located in its lower left hand corner, the Island and the flood plain of the Fraser River.  Behind this was a great, largely empty hinterland behind the formidable barrier of the Cascade Mountains, still today called, in the Colonial usage, “The Interior.”    Only the Fraser penetrates that barrier, through an unnavigable canyon so precipitous that the original Indian foot trail required the traveler to find hand holds on rocks and shrubs to keep him from slipping down the cliffs to the tumbling waters below.   Horse passage was impossible, a canoe was almost certain death unless lined through with ropes.

But beyond the great, green wall of the Cascades lay a vast land of wet and dry valleys, of rolling grasslands and of the boreal forests of the North.   This land, nine parts of the Province, lay open to entry and exploitation from the South, from the Washington Territory, up the easy river valleys of the Columbia and its tributaries, the Okanagan, the Kettle and the Kootenay.   The Hudson’s Bay Company, until cut off by the treaty of 1846 and the loss of the lands south of “49,” transported its furs and provisions, by pack train and freight canoe down these river valleys to the Pacific.   

After the boundary was drawn, the HBC sent A.C. Anderson in 1846 to find a wholly British pack route from Fort Kamloops to the new depot at Fort Langley on the lower Fraser.    Anderson explored a number of possible routes for a Brigade Trail.   He went up Harrison Lake and through the Seton Lakes to Lillouette on the Fraser.    On his return to Kamloops he went up the Coquihalla River and explored the possibilities of a Nicolum Creek, Sumallow Creek, and Skagit River route for a crossing to the Tulameen River.    However that route crossed Punchbowl Pass at 5300 feet and would be closed by snow most of the year.

Anderson settled on a year round route from  Kamloops to Nicola Lake, and down the Coldwater River to Spences Bridge; this bypassed Kamloops Lake where perpendicular granite bluffs precluded a lakeside trail.    From Spences Bridge his trail ran down the Thompson to the Fraser, and down its left bank as far as Boston Bar.   As the canyon below that point was impassible, he ran his trail up the Anderson River on the east to a point where he could cross the ridge between the Anderson and Fraser and regain the big river opposite Spuzzum.   From there a horse trail could be built along the river bank to Ft. Langley.    This Anderson River Trail was used by three brigades in June, 1848, one from New Caledonia, one from Kamloops, and one from Fort Colvile, when the outbreak of the Cayuse war made the old trail down the Columbia unsafe.  However, their passage was a difficult one and the brigades lost 70 horses and 25 packs of merchandise on the precipitous slopes.

In 1848, Henry N. Peers built Fort Hope for the HBC, and explored up the Coquihalla for a shorter route to Kamloops which had been suggested to him by an Indian, “Old Blackeye”.    Blackeye’s trail went up the river past Nicolum Creek and turned up Peers creek about 4 miles further up the Coquihalla.   From the headwaters of Peers Creek it crossed Manson Mountain at 5600 ft., a steep scramble.    The trail  ran along Manson Ridge, then dropped into Soaqua Creek  and through the alpine meadows Peers called “The Garden of Eden” to a low pass into Vuich Creek, and down it to the Tulameen River.   Blackeye’s trail cut across the bend of the Tulameen via Lodestone peak and came out at Otter Creek, and up that creek, which at its upper end opened out into the rolling country of the Fairweather Hills.   An easy grade led down to Nicola Lake and Anderson’s trail to Kamloops.

Although this trail was a summer only trail with its high passes, it avoided the tricky ledges of treacherous shale rock above the Thompson River where so many horses had plunged to their death.   Peers had not finished brushing out Old Blackeye’s trail in 1849, so the Fur Brigades from the Interior used the Anderson River trail on the way down and returned by way of Peer’s and Old Blackeye’s trail, completing the work on it as they passed through.   There was now a practical all-British summer route, but a winter and spring communication between the Coastal communities and the Interior could only be had via the treacherous Anderson River trail or by going through the U.S.

In 1859 a gold discovery was reported on the Similkameen River, and another by Canadian Adam Beam at Rock Creek.   To the fury of Colonel Moody of the Royal Engineers, Governor Douglas directed that the Indian, “Skyyou,” a famous bear hunter, should explore the mountains back of Hope for a reputed new pass direct to the Similkameen.    On the fifth of June Douglas went himself to Hope to question the bear hunter who impressed Douglas by drawing a very creditable map of the region showing rivers, mountains, passes, and the buildings of the whites.   There was already an HBC Brigade trail from Hope to the Similkameen which crossed Hope Pass, but this route included the westbound  scramble down Manson Mountain with loaded pack horses, and according to Susan Allison who met one of these Brigades on the trail, was a most hazardous crossing.  It was the practice of the HBC to bring twice as many horses as needed, in the expectation that many would be lost on the way.   Lieutenant Palmer in 1860 reported the slope of Manson Mountain was still littered with horse bones.   

The Governor was criticized in the press for entrusting the exploration to an Indian,

“It is a notorious fact that when a road is to be located or a district explored, a magistrate, a constable, a Hudson’s Bay servant,  or peradventure, an Indian, is sent out to explore and report on the same, and after the location is decided upon, the Chief Commissioner with his staff or Royal Engineers is instructed to make the road.”

Governor Douglas’ opinion on the Royal Engineers was given by his friend, Donald Fraser in the London Times,

“…At the rate they have hitherto progressed it would take 50 years to complete the road they have begun…  The fact is that soldiers cannot be expected to do this sort of work.   The impedimentia they carry with them, the costliness of their provisions and of their transport, the loss of time in drilling and squaring them, make them the most expensive of laborers.   They do their work well, it is true, better than civilians; but for all that it is a mistake to set them at it   Soldiers we want and must have, but a cheaper soldier than a Sapper or a Miner or Engineer would answer our purposes better.”

After reviewing all that Skiyou could tell him of the mountains between Hope and the Similkameen, Governor Douglas offered to grubstake a mining party to prospect the Canadian Similkameen.    John F. Allison, a California miner led the expedition which departed from Hope on June 26, 1860 on Skiyou’s trail which crossed Hope Pass and descended Whipsaw Creek to the Rouge (Upper Similkameen) River.   Allison reported  to Douglas a month later that they explored 12 miles up the Tulameen River and found diggings yielding $6 per day to the hand.   When this news was received at Hope three new parties of would-be miners were formed and left for the Similkameen on August 6. 

THE ROCK CREEK RUSH

In 1859 gold was discovered, both on the Similkameen, south of 49 by a member of the U.S. Boundary Commission and at Rock Creek, just two miles north of the border, by Adam Beam, a Canadian in October.   A small rush of Americans from Walla Walla and The Dalles came up the Columbia and Okanagan Valleys to these camps.   Since the end of the Fraser rush Victoria business had been stagnant.   Their newspapers hopefully seized on this new discovery as another Fraser River boom.

          THE BEST NEWS YET

                  ROCK CREEK A SUCCESS

          From $20 to $ 200 per day to the hand

At once Governor Douglas got complaints from the Victoria merchants that the Yankee traders were provisioning these men, and a direct supply route was needed.   Rock Creek was but two miles from the boundary which was totally ignored by the American miners and merchants who paid no customs duty.   Indeed, there was no official nearer than Kamloops to collect the sums due.

Governor Douglas appointed Peter O’Reilly Gold Commissioner and sent him to Rock Creek to enforce the Colonial law.   The Rock Creek miners, however, knowing that they were just a short hike from American soil, ignored O’Reilly.   When he demanded that they take out miners’ licences and file their claims with him, they showered him with verbal abuse and pelted him with stones.   At this, O’Reilly prudently retreated to Victoria via Kamloops, Lillooet and Harrison Lake and reported a “Rock Creek War.”   Governor Douglas, who was learning how to deal with the turbulent Americans, put Rock Creek on his itinerary for his Fall tour of the Interior. 

He left on August 28 and travelled by way of the Harrison Lake – Lillooet trail to  Lytton, the Nicola River, to Vermillion Forks which he renamed “Princetown,” and then on to the trouble spot, Rock Creek.   What he saw alarmed him; the whole of the Southern Interior was wide open to American exploitation, and U.S. ranchers were moving across the border to graze their cattle on British grass.   He appointed John Carmichael Haynes from Yale as Magistrate for the area and ordered that a customs post be set up at the north end of Osoyoos Lake.   Then  he crossed Anarchist Mountain to the trouble spot of Rock Creek.   

The Governor came into camp in full uniform accompanied by a new Gold Commissioner, William George Cox, and clerk, Arthur Busby.    He found a full mining camp with stores, saloons and a hotel in operation, all supplied by pack trains from The Dalles.   Three hundred American miners assembled in a saloon to hear what he would say.   Governor Douglas began with good news.   He promised a wagon road would be built to the camp from Hope and that the Kettle river would be bridged.   After the cheers subsided, he delivered a warning: they must now  comply with British law, take out miners’ licences from Commissioner Cox, and pay duty on all provisions brought in from the U.S.   If they failed to do this he would return with 500 British Navy marines and compel their submission.   Then he asked them to make way for him to the door where he wished to shake each of them  by the hand as they filed out of the saloon .   This gesture met the instant approval of the miners and the Governor was applauded to the door.  As the Governor returned  via the HBC Trail from Similkameen to Hope he met Edgar Dewdney working on the new Hope – Princetown trail, and asked what it would cost to convert it to a wagon road.   To connect the mines with the Coast, Douglas proposed a “Queen’s Trail”, 70 miles long, be blazed and brushed out from Hope to Vermillion Forks (Princeton.) 

The contract for this trail, which would follow Skiyou’s route, was given to Edgar Dewdney and Walter Moberly, both trained surveyors.   Again, Col. Moody was furious that the contract had not been given to his Royal Engineers, and the hostility between himself and Governor Douglas increased.   To mollify Moody, and yet not reduce the speed of trail building to the methodical, if thoroughgoing pace of the Engineers, Sgt. Mc Coll was assigned to supervise the actual construction of the trail.   His work was superb; at no point did the grade exceed 8 per cent (eight feet of rise per 100 feet of distance) a slope exceeded today by many Provincial Highway mountain crossings.   However, whether owing to Sgt. Mc Coll’s diligence or Dewdney and Moberly’s inexperience in the west, the money ran out while they were still only part way down Whipsaw Creek.    Moody assuaged his anger at Governor Douglas by hurrying over the trail to preempt 200 acres west of Vermillion Forks.   Four other Royal Engineers also filed land preemptions in the expectation that Vermillion Forks would become the centre of a prosperous mining district.    

John Allison, who had begun ranching in the Similkameen, was disgusted with the slow progress of Dewdney, Moberly and Sgt. Mc Coll.  He informed Governor Douglas that he had found a new and lower pass over the Cascades.    Douglas authorized him to blaze a trail over this pass.   Allison reported he cleared 36 miles of trail in 4 days, nearly half the distance.  This was the Allison Pass trail, (called “Skatchet [Skagit] Pass” by Gustavus Epner in his 1862 map).

Another Cascade crossing had been established in 1859 by the American merchants in Bellingham.    To eliminate the dangers the California miners were running in crossing the Strait of Georgia from Victoria to the Fraser River in Indian canoes and homemade boats, they hired Captain W.W. De Lacey to construct a trail on American soil (so far as possible) to the Fraser and Thompson River diggings.    This Whatcom Trail, ran from Bellingham through Lynden, then up the Vedder and Chilliwack Rivers to Chilliwack Lake.   At the time this was supposed to be in American Territory; the boundary was not yet surveyed.   But even after the boundary was monumented, the customs officers were stationed at Langley, some miles distant, and miners using the Whatcom Trail would not encounter them.   Liquor and provisions could thus be sent to the mines free of the 10% duty Governor Douglas had imposed.   However, Captain De Lacy, in continuing the trail up the Chilliwack River was obliged to ascend Brush Creek to cross Whatcom Pass at 5000 feet to reach the Skagit River.   His trail then ran up the Skagit ( back into British Columbia as it turned out).   He ran out of money somewhere near Nepopkum Creek, and turned back to Bellingham in failure.   There he found offered for sale to the miners, the map that A.C. Anderson had published in 1858 showing miner’s routes to the Fraser Diggings.   On that map De Lacy discovered that just a few miles from the end of his work, he would encounter Anderson’s 1849 Brigade trail running to the Thompson River.    He rushed back with fresh supplies and tied in his trail with Anderson’s    The Bellingham Bay merchants then advertised their Whatcom Trail to the Thompson and Fraser Rivers via the Skagit and circumventing British Customs.    But in spite of their efforts, it was Hope, not Bellingham, that became the gateway to the mines and the Whatcom trail received little use.   No doubt a good many miners heading back to San Francisco with their gold took the route from Hope up the Similkameen trail to its intersection with the Whatcom Trail, and that route to Bellingham to avoid the export tax on gold.

In 1863, De Lacy turned up in Wyoming exploring  the South Snake River.

Captain W. P. Grey leaves us an account of crossing the Cascades, probably on the HBC trail.

“When I was 13 years old we moved to British Columbia.  This was in 1858.

“In the summer of 1860 we crossed the Mountains to the Similkameen River to prospect for gold.

We found gold on the south fork (the Tulameen).  Father built two rockers, and for the next two months we kept busy.   At the end of that time our supplies were running very short.   I was (15) years old, and father decided I was old enough  to assume responsibility, so he sent me to Fort Hope to secure supplies.   

“There was only an Indian trail, but I  knew the general direction.   I had to ford streams and cross rivers, but  I had learned to swim when I was 8 years old, so that didn’t bother me.   As we were short of provisions, I took only two sandwiches, thinking I could make the 140 miles in two days.  I had a good riding horse, and I was going to ride from daylight to dark.   I had not gone over 20 miles when a rather hard character in that country called “Big Jim” met me in the trail.   He stopped me and said, “Have you got anything to eat?’   I told him I had only two sandwiches.   He said, ‘I haven’t had anything to eat in two days.  Hand me those sandwiches.’   I looked at him and concluded it was safest to give him the sandwiches.   He bolted them down, and grumbled because I had no more.   He was on his way out to Fort Hope but his horse was almost worn out. I wanted to go by, but he wouldn’t let me.   He said, ‘Oh, no you don’t – we will stay together for company.   Your horse is a good deal fresher than mine and I may need him.’

“As we made our way across a high cliff his horse lost its balance and fell, striking the rocks more than 200 feet below.   He made me get off my horse and mounted mine.   We rode and tied from there on in to Fort Hope.   It took us four and half days, and all we had to eat during that time was a fool hen he knocked down.  My clothes were almost torn to shreds.

“When I got home, I went in the back door.   My mother saw me.   She raised her hands above her head and said, ‘Oh Willie, what has ahappened to your father?’   I told her my father was all right, but I was nearly starved.   I secured two horses and loaded them with bacon and beans, rice and other supplies, and started back for our camp.   When some prospectors in town learned that we were making $10 a day to the man, they followed me to our camp. 

THE CARIBOO

As the rich bars of the Fraser and Thompson became exhausted, the miners who had done well headed back to California, while others who had not found success worked their way slowly upriver, testing the creeks and bars.  They found small returns, but not enough to keep them from continuing up river.    By 1860 they were 400 miles north of Yale at the mouth of the Quesnel, and still finding workable bars.    But following the Quesnel upstream and over a low divide, they came on Williams, Lightning, and Antler creeks, and all turned out to be spectacularly rich in placer gold.    Takings of $20 per day were reported;  the news went out,  and a new rush was on.

When the bulk of the American miners on the lower Fraser had left the two colonies for San Francisco in 1859, the boom deflated and business stagnated.   The merchants had full warehouses in Victoria and New Westminster but no buyers.    When the news of the Cariboo strike came, there was an instant determination to profit from it and revive the economy.     Governor Douglas directed that a wagon road be constructed to the new diggings and gave it the highest priority.    The detachment of Royal Engineers under Col. Moody were then at work out of Hope converting  the Similkameen trail to a wagon road as the Governor had promised the miners to Rock Creek.   Now they were pulled off and sent to Yale to  construct the formidably difficult sections of the new Cariboo Road from Yale to Boston Bar, and along the Fraser past Spence’s Bridge.    This was some of the most difficult road construction ever undertaken in North America.   A 18 foot right of way had be blasted out of sheer bluffs and supported on log cribbing and trestle work over ravines and steep bedrock declivities.

An early traveler remarked of this section, ”No mud between Yale and Spence’s Bridge.   Nothing to make mud..”   Civilian contractors took contracts for the remainder of the work which could be done by ordinary hand labor.   Construction began in 1860 and was complete to Barkerville, the mining center of the Cariboo by 1866.    At Spuzzum, Joseph Truch called on Andrew Hallidie who built the San Francisco cable car system, to come to B.C. and build the Alexandra suspension bridge across the Fraser for him.    Truch collected tolls on this and the Spence’s Bridge, becoming both a rich man and Commissioner of Lands and Works of British Columbia.

  From Spences Bridge Gustvus Blin Wright built the next 280 miles to Soda Creek where a steamer connection was made.   From Quesnelmouth another section of  road was run into the mining district, again built by G.B. Wright.   The tolls on the Cariboo Road were $3.00 per ton on leaving New Westminster, plus $7.40 per ton to cross the Alexandra Bridge, $44.80 per ton collected at Lytton and another $7.40 to cross Spence’s bridge across the Thompson, a total of $62.60 per ton.   On small shipments the charge was 30¢ per pound, which was dropped in 1864 to 15¢. 

With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 American miners enlisted or were drafted; few came north.   This made the Cariboo Rush the first truly Canadian gold rush.   For the first time large numbers of Canadians came west to take the road up to Cariboo and learn the techniques of placer mining.

The California and Oregon miners swept up in the draft for the Union forces were usually sent to the western frontier posts as “Volunteers,”to replace the trained regular troops who were wanted on the battlefields of the east.    In succeeding years, these drafted American miners, bored with the monotony of frontier duty, were prone to desert and head north into British Columbia whenever a new strike was announced.   These deserters made up the largest part of the American contingent in Cariboo.

The Cariboo road, though virtually bankrupting the cash starved colony, was an immediate success.    A fast stagecoach service was provided by  Barnard’s Express, and a government run Gold Escort with armed men was instituted to bring out the miner’s gold safely and deposit it in a colonial bank.  Most miners saw this, however, as an HBC sponsored scheme and preferred to send their gold out by Barnard who was able to transfer it directly to San Francisco banks.   Ox drawn wagons carried the freight at a slow walking pace.    On the steep and narrow section blasted out of rock, with a three ton limit on Joseph Truch’s Alexandra Bridge, wagons were hitched singly.    When they reached Boston Bar they were doubled up on the 22 foot road surface and pulled in tandem the the rest of the way.   

The richness of the Cariboo, far surpassing the Fraser-Thompson diggings, attracted American capitalists as well.   The Portland, Oregon triumviate of Captain John C. Ainsworth, Simeon Reed, and Robert Thompson, who dominated  the lower Columbia with their Oregon Steam Navigation Company, determined to get in on the Cariboo as well.   Captain Ainsworth had already taken over Fraser River transportation in 1859 with his fast and powerful boats.   Now the OSN Company put their sternwheeler, Colonel Wright, on the run from Celillo, at the head of the Dalles rapids on the Columbia, to White Bluffs, where the old HBC trail, now used to supply the Army post at Fort Colville, terminated.   But was it possible to get across the line  into British Columbia with boat transportation?   Captain Ainsworth proposed to follow the gold seekers north, and establish an all-water route from Portland, Oregon to Kamloops, B.C.   From Kamloops a steamer could connect on Kamloops Lake to Savona’s Landing and a good wagon road led from there to the Great Cariboo Road.   If he could get boats to Kamloops, Captain Ainsworth proposed, he could seize the Cariboo trade for Portland.

The gold discoveries on the Similkameen and at Rock Creek were encouraging to the Ainsworth  Syndicate.   As well, small diggings were opened on Mission, Cherry, White Man and Harris Creeks in the Okanagan.   In the winter of 1860 the Ainsworth Syndicate had Captain W. H. Gray began construction of a boat on Osoyoos Lake, just south of the boundary line.   Trees were felled and pit sawed by hand into lumber which was hauled to the lake.   The vessel was 91 feet long with a 12 foot beam and built wholly with hand tools: saws, hatchets and chisels.   The hull was caulked with wild flax (Linum lewisi) mixed with yellow pine pitch.    She was launched on May 10, 1861, and used on the Okanagan river to supply the Rock Creek and Similkameen miners. The Ainsworths planned to install locks at Okanagan Falls to pass the boat through into Dog (Skaha) Lake and on into Okanagan Lake.   From the head of Okanagan Lake a canal and locks were to lift the boat over the low height of land into the Shuswap River at Enderby.   A run down the Shuswap and Thompson Rivers would bring it to Kamloops.

With the nearest railroad a thousand miles away at St. Joseph, Missouri, the thinking in the Northwest was still fixed on water transport.   No one was sure a rail line could be financed and built to the Pacific Coast.    The U.S. Congress was being lobbied by the Portlanders for canals and locks around the obstructions in the Middle Columbia at Bonneville and Celillo, and  the Army Engineers were examining the feasibility of clearing the Upper Columbia for steamboats.   In British Columbia the Ainsworths could not expect government assistance to build canals and locks that would siphon off the trade to the U.S.   If the Okanagan boom developed into a major rush, the Portlanders intended to construct the works themselves.   The Okanagan Rush, however, was over quickly, with no major goldfields found.   Except for Rock Creek, the miners moved on, and the small steamer was brought down the Okanagan and Columbia Rivers, passing all the rapids successfully, to Cellilo.   Her machinery was removed there and she served as a sailing craft for many years after on the run between Walulla and Celillo.   The name of this vessel has unfortunately been lost.

The Cariboo was the richest of the gold fields with perhaps 22 millions taken out in comparison to the million and a half taken out of the Fraser-Thompson.   Again a sawmill, Baylor’s, was packed into the gold fields in pieces and set in up at Antler to supply flume boards.   With only wagon transport to the Coast, sawmilling in the interior depended on the local miners’ market.   As at Yale when the mines closed, the sawmill shut down.  The immense timber resource of B.C. save that on tidewater, awaited cheap rail transportation to foreign markets.   To the coastal merchants Cariboo, and the road that had plunged the Colonies so deeply into debt, symbolized the Interior for years, as the source of wealth and speculation for Victoria and New Westminster.

The small strikes on Similkameen and at Rock Creek, Mission and Cherry Creek in the Okanagan were ignored as trivial, and while a branch was built off the Cariboo Road to serve Kamloops, the Cascade trails remained unimproved and the wagon road never reached more then fifteen miles out of Hope.  The promising townsite of Princetown was abandoned and filed on as a cattle ranch.   American ranchers drove herds of cattle and horse up the Okanagan to sell in Cariboo.  Judge Haynes collected duties at the border and kept the peace with a constable at Osoyoos, and Gold Commissioner Cox issued miner’s licences at Rock Creek, but that was all. Southeast B.C. was wide open for exploitation by the Americans whenever they should return from their war.     

  When the veterans did return from the war in 1865 there was great agitation among the Irish ex-soldiers to join the Fenian Brotherhood and invade British North America as a blow against the British and a means of calling attention to the Irish grievances.    In 1866 a report reached Victoria that 40,000 Fenians in San Francisco were preparing to invade British Columbia.

In response the Colony of Vancouver Island raised a militia of 180 men.   Fortunately the San Francisco Irish, though they paraded and cheered bellicose speeches by William D’ Arcy, let it go at that and the Vancouver Island militia was never tested.    In 1868 the Fenians were marching again and the British Admiralty notified Rear Admiral Hastings at Esquimalt of a suspected Fenian attack on Vancouver Island with the object of abducting Governor Seymour and holding him for hostage in exchange for Fenian prisoners in Irish jails.    Another group in Butte Montana was to invade the Kootenays and seize the gold of the Big Bend.   Neither of these threats materialized, and the Big Bend gold was long gone, most of it already in the United States. 

The Fenian threat and the extremely modest forces available to counter it: the British naval vessels, a tiny Island militia and, east of the Cascades, only a few hundred scattered miners and ranchers, once again made clear how vulnerable to invasion from the south the Colony was.   In the following twenty years the American expansionists would take Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Cuba (for a time), and the Phillipines into their empire.   The distraction of the Civil war and the lack of a U.S. naval base on the Pacific, probably saved British Columbia from annexation.

THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 4

5

CHAPTER FOUR

THE ORIGINS OF WESTERN MINING

Although a few of the Americans moving west in the 1840s had seen gold panning practiced along the the mountain streams of North Carolina and Georgia, it was the Mexicans who were the first miners in the west.    A great silver rush began in Mexico in 1543, and in the next ten years more silver was produced than had been seized in the Spanish Conquest.   Mexico had a school of mines from 1792, while up until 1849 the United States had not a single public assayer.

In the European monarchical tradition, gold and silver were “Royal Metals,” belonging to the Crown.   Miners might be licensed to extract them, but the Crown would then take from them  its “Royal Fifth.”   This seizure was bitterly resented, and miners sought to evade it in whatever way they could.   Within the settled parts of Mexico, a discovery of mineral had to be “denounced” to the local authorities, the equivalent of staking a claim.    And from that moment the miners were subject to close supervision to ensure that the “Quinto,” or “Royal Fifth” did not escape the Crown.    A wealthy or well connected mine owner might induce the authorities to look the other way by judicious bribery, but poor miners with no influence at the Vice Regal Court were  subject to harassing  exactions by local authorities as well as the forfeiture of the “Quinto.”    They had but one recourse.   

The Court of Spain had drawn the “Rim of Christendom” at the boundary of Arizona and New Mexico with Sonora and Chihuahua.    The lands north of that line were declared to be “in partibus infidelorum,” the lands of the infidels.    These lands were to be entered only with military escort to protect the traveler from hostile Aboriginals, and in the case of miners, to seize their “Quinto” for the Crown. 

To evade these forfeitures, a system of clandestine mining in the frontier regions evolved.

Each spring, quiet groups of Mexican miners would set out from their wintering places at Sonora or Chihuahua City to slip over the “Rim of Christendom” without escort, and once in the Indian lands, would hire Apache Indians as guides and interpreters to secure peaceful passage through the Aboriginal lands.    These clandestine Mexican miners moved surreptitiously, avoided contact with the American fur trappers, and mined in total secrecy, closing their workings at the end of each season, so that others would not find them.    Old Spanish/Mexican workings have been found in all of the Southwest states as far north as Utah and Wyoming.

When the gold seekers of 1849 entered California they found the Mexicans already in place, washing the gold from the gravel bars of the Sierra.   James Marshall is credited with the “discovery” of gold in California, but the clandestine Mexican miners had been quietly removing California gold for some time.  The same was true in Colorado in the 1870s; the Mexican miners were already on the silver deposits when the Americans arrived, and were the only ones who knew how to extract silver bullion from its ores.     The Americans learned their mining techniques from the Mexicans, but it was not in their nature to adopt the characteristic Mexican secrecy about their work.    There was no “Quinto” in America; minerals found in the earth could be claimed in full by the man who dug them.   In the absence of existing regulations, the California miners made their own “Miners Law,” establishing number and size of claims permitted each man, days of work — Sunday was sacrosanct — and the means whereby claims might be held, sold or leased. 

When the California miners heard the news of a gold strike in British Columbia and headed north, they were to cross, at the 49th Parallel, another rim, the “Rim of Republican Institutions,” and enter into a British possession, where the Monarchical Doctrine still held: gold and silver were “Royal Metals,” and belonged absolutely to the Crown.

The tiny Colony of Vancouver Island was then ruled by “Old Squaretoes,” Chief  Factor James Douglas, of the  Hudson’s Bay Company, which operated the only stores Governor Douglas permitted to exist.    As well, he was Agent Manager for the Puget Sound Agricultural Company which operated the HBC farms and ranches.  Further, as Land Agent for the HBC, he was the sole seller of lands in the Colony.   The Colonial Office had sent out Richard Blanshard as Colonial Governor, but poor Blanshard had found that there was no Governor’s house for him; he had to board and room at the HBC post.   As he was not an employee of the HBC he had to pay the full 300% markup on any purchased.    As well, Governor Blanshard found he had no servants, no police, no judge, nothing whatever with which to set up an administration.   After an ineffectual year in which he was barely tolerated by the HBC, and without a private fortune,  he acknowledged defeat and went back to England.    James Douglas, “Old Squaretoes,” was then named Governor by default.   Thus, with all the economic power in the colony absolutely in his hands, Chief Factor Douglas now had all political power delivered to him as well.    He ruled with a legislative council he had appointed, consisting of himself, John Tod, former HBC Chief Trader at Fort Kamloops, and Captain James Cooper who had begun farming with some Kanaka labourers brought from Hawaii.   There was also a single immigrant in the colony, Captain Grant, who began farming outside Victoria.

It was tight little company Colony, 3000 miles from Hong Kong, the nearest British base, and 2000 miles from Canada over a wilderness which had only foot trails and canoe routes for communication.    San Francisco was its market for hides, dried fish, potatoes and livestock, and the Colony functioned as an economic satellite of California, only politically British. 

There was scant immigration.   Governor Douglas, and the Colonial Office, fearing American annexation, if U.S. settlers poured in to set up their own government as they had in Oregon, framed the immigration rules specifically to keep out Americans.   To discourage them, the price of land was set at £1 (appx. $5) per acre, with a minimum purchase of 20 acres.   For every hundred acres purchased, the settler must bring with him at his own expense “five single men or three married couples” to work the land.   It was a Squire and Tenant society that the Governor Douglas sought to reproduce in his colony, a little England.   But at the same time, any English freedman could step across the 49th parallel, become naturalized as an American, and select land in Oregon or Washington for 25¢ per acre.   And this was what many HBC employees, having completed their term of service, chose to do.   There was no profit in freedmen farming Vancouver Island; the HBC’s Puget Sound Agricultural Company was furnishing all the local market could absorb; an independent farmer had no market unless he exported his produce to the U.S. or Hawaii.

  The HBC indentured labourers on the Company’s farms and mills earned £17 per year (about $85), while the going rate for free labor was £70 ($350) per year.  As a result, many of them deserted to the American Territories.   The Colony was loosing as many immigrants as it gained; the immigration policy was a failure.   “Old Squaretoes” apparently liked it that way.    He was absolutely in charge, and was determined his Colony should stay as it was: British, orderly, and respectful of its betters.    Only one factor could change that, the Americans, and Governor Douglas feared and hated them.

GOLD

  To the south, in California  by 1850, were tens of thousands of restless miners whose claims were no longer yielding “an ounce a day,” the minimum deemed sufficient to support one man.   They were beginning to filter north, seeking new gold fields.    There had been reports of gold finds in the Queen Charlotte Islands, north of the Colony.   On August 18, 1850, the unfortunate Governor Blanshard had written to Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey,

“I have seen a very rich specimen of gold ore, said to have been brought by the Indians of Queen Charlotte’s Islands.”

The HBC officers at Fort Simpson had got hold of some California nuggets and had asked the Indians if they had seen anything similar.   The Indians said that they had, and some weeks later an old Indian woman came in with a 21 ounce specimen of gold in quartz.   The next year, following the Haida Indians’ directions, the HBC men found at Mitchell Harbour on the west coast of Moresby Island, a vein, 6 inches wide in quartz, striking northwest, parallel with the coast.   The HBC men had come prepared with powder and chisels and blasted out the vein.  But the Haida Indians, quite naturally supposing themselves to be the owners of the mineral, would rush in after each blast, pick up all the gold they could, and carry it off with cries of triumph.   They defended their right to do so with drawn knives, and harassed the HBC men at their work.    The handful of company men felt this work was proving to be too hazardous, and after sone days work, fearing bloodshed, they withdrew.

However, the news of gold on the Queen Charlottes leaked out and in 1851 two ships set out from Puget sound with 60 American miners headed for the Queen Charlotte discovery.

The Queen Charlotte Islands were not part of the Vancouver Island Colony.   They were claimed by the British and the HBC had the exclusive right to trade with the Haida who lived there, but beyond that, Douglas had no legal authority.   The Puget Sound miners found small pockets of placer gold, but harassed by the warlike Haidas, and disappointed by their meagre takings, gave up.

The following year Governor Douglas learned that six ships had set sail from San Francisco with 500 men bound for the Queen Charlottes.   He communicated his anxiety to the Colonial Secretary in London,

“These vessels are chartered by large bodies of American adventurers, who are proceeding thither for the purpose of digging gold; and if they succeed in that object, it is said to be their intention to colonize the island, and establish an independent government, until by force or fraud, they become annexed to the U.S.”   

The six ships were real and bound for the Charlottes, but any plan to colonize the island was most probably Governor Douglas’ hostile fantasy.   Placer gold miners have very seldom been colonists.    The Californians’ object was to find gold, to dig it, and to take it back to San Francisco to spend in high living.   The idea that they might try to colonize a wilderness of islands where there was not a thing to buy with their gold, was absurd.    Governor Douglas obviously wanted to exclude all foreigners from the gold fields, and he was angling with the Colonial Office for authority to do so.

          The Colonial Office, not wishing to anger the Americans by excluding them, but concerned that some authority be placed over these nomadic miners, made “Old Squaretoes” Lieutenant Governor of all the British lands west of the Rockies, but it specifically required him to treat all nationals equally with the British.   With this new authority, Governor Douglas hastily imported a set of Australian mining regulations and proclaimed them for the Queen Charlotte Islands.   The doctrine of the “Royal Fifth” had lapsed in England, but precious metals were still the property of the Crown and could be mined only by licence from the Queen’s representative.

The Australian regulations now proclaimed for the Colony, the islands, and the mainland, required a miner to pay the government $3.00 per month for a license to mine gold, and claims could be no greater than 12 ft. by 12 ft., one to a man.

To further discourage the Americans, Governor Douglas recruited HBC men to go north at once, establish themselves on the vein and face down the Haidas.   When the U.S. ships arrived they found the one vein of gold taken over by the HBC men, and unable to find any other deposits, they sailed for home, not bothering to put in at Victoria to pay their licence fees.   The danger past, Governor  Douglas and his tight little colony lapsed back into the accustomed somnolence of English colonial gentlemen.

 

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