Shaving Saloons and Beards of the BC Gold Rush

tufts2
tufts were commonly worn before 1850

By the mid-1850s, beards were popular. In 1857, a journalist strolled through Boston’s streets, conducting a statistical survey: of the 543 men he tallied, no fewer than 338 had full, bushy beards, while nearly all the rest sported lesser facial hair of various sorts. Only four were “men of the old school, smooth shaven, with the exception of slight tufted promontories jutting down from either ear.”

Doctors encouraged men to grow beards as a means of warding off illness, especially sore throats. It was believed that a thick beard would capture the impurities in the air before they could get inside the body.

Many different styles of beards were seen – flowing beards, stubby beards – as well as many types of moustaches.

In 1858 the South Australian Advertiser printed: “Some men wear beards, whiskers and moustaches; others shave the whiskers and beard and leave the moustache; whilst others preserve the moustache and part of the beard but eschew whiskers!”

beard1
a beard style of the mid 1800s

The word ‘whiskers’ typically referred not only to bushy cheek growths—to massive sideburns and muttonchops, but also to a ‘wreath beard’ or ‘chin-strap beard’. Check out my portrait of packer Joel Palmer. In the mid 1860s many men imitated the look of the Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, known for his ‘mutton chop’ style, where whiskers broadened across the cheeks and met in a moustache. Thomas Hibben wore this style of mutton chop. Another style known as ‘Piccadilly Weepers’ – very long, comb-able, pendant whiskers – came into being in the 1860s.

The Royal Engineers who came to British Columbia in 1858 all had long full beards. Many of the gold miners probably didn’t have time to trim their beards either.

From an article printed in the British Colonist “A miner’s experience on the Pacific Slope” Thomas Seward recalled the summer of 1858 when he was digging for gold on the Fraser River:

Our life at this period was so monotonous it is hardly worth describing, one day exactly resembling another. Rising with the sun and cooking our breakfast of beans, boiled over night, making our bread of water and flour in our gold pans, frying, perhaps, a salmon or slice of bacon…Dinner at twelve showed no change of bill of fare, and supper followed in its footsteps with striking fidelity. The life was a hard one, certainly, but I was not unused to it, and as a pretty energetic worker, rocking out sometimes as many as 400 buckets in a day…

On April 21, 1859, it was reported that Queenborough (which later became known as New Westminster) consisted of two wharves, fifteen houses, two restaurants, two bakers, a grocer, and a barbershop.

Some later advertised ‘shaving saloons’. Here is an ad from a Halifax newspaper in 1860:

shavingsaloon

Fred Paine on Johnson Street (four doors down from Wharf Street) advertised himself as one of the first to shave and cut hair in Victoria. His advertisement which was printed in the British Colonist in 1863 gives his prices which Americans would have been familiar with – 2 bits meant 25 cents and 1 bit was 12.5 cents (12 cents and one half penny).

Cutting Hair…. 2 bits
Shaving…. 1 bit
Shampooing….1 bit
Dressing…..2 bits

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Shoemakers and Sore Feet in the Fraser River gold rush

At the onset of the Fraser River Gold rush, most people were still making their own shoes and boots to save money.

In 1856, a popular book was published, “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” which showed how to make a shoe that would cost half as much as a store-bought shoe. All that was needed was a pre-cut sole, fabric for the upper, thread and needle.

There were two main methods of making shoes by hand – ‘turned’ and ‘welt’.

The turned method was for shoes with a lightweight upper and flexible sole. Women’s slippers or light dress boots would be made using the turned method. A popular style of shoe for women in the 1850s was the gaitor or Congress boot, either laced or with elastic sides.

gaitor boot for women
gaitor boot for women

 

The welt method used an insole, outsole, uppers, and a leather strip called a welt. The shoemaker positioned the welt between the upper and insole and sewed them together with one seam along the inner edge of the welt. A thin narrow shank and wood shavings filled the space between the insole and the outsole to add stability to the shoe. A heel was added.

Heavy boots and cheaper shoes, such as brogan, were held together with either pegs or nails. Pegged shoes did not have stitch indentations on the bottom of the outsole since each had its own peg. It is interesting to note that the nails used for constructing shoes left round holes while the pegs were square and left square holes that often skewed to a diamond shape over time. Pegged brogans were often made with a midsole which was a full layer of leather. These made the shoes durable but heavy. Brogans were almost heelless so they were hardly made for walking. Wellington boots had heels but weren’t meant for hiking either.

When the gold rush miners had to walk vast distances every day just to get to the Fraser River gold diggings, they soon started making their own footwear, including moccasins. Here is an excerpt from Herman Reinhart’s diary:

“I never suffered so much in my life as on that trip to the Fraser River. My ankles…would swell up so that I could hardly get along, but I had to drag on anyway. I made me moccosins of carpet from a saddlecloth I had, and I would have to put on a new sole every night after I got into camp. How glad many of us were when we…could sit down and rest our sore feet.”

In February 1858, the Mechanics Magazine published “Certain improvements in the construction of heels for boots and shoes,” by W. Westley.

“These consist of forming an entire or partial rim of metal the shape and height of the heel and the inside of which is filled up with gutta percha, scrap leather, or wood, through which holes may be made for attaching the heel to the boot or shoe. The metallic rim may be be japanned, or covered with steel around the bottom edge; or the rim itself will be made of cast iron, chilled on the under edge, to prevent rapid wearing away.”

A breakthrough in technology came in 1862 when the McKay Stitcher was invented. This machine, based on an earlier invention by shoemaker Lyman Blake, sewed the soles of shoes to the uppers without a welt. A lining then covered the seam that went through to the inside of the shoe. This prevented wear of the stitching thread. The shoes made on this machine came to be called “McKays.”

parts of a Wellington boot
parts of a Wellington boot

Here is a page from my upcoming graphic novel on the Fraser River gold rush. In the first panel I drew a Wellington boot which was commonly worn in the 1850s.

20hermanstory

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Backpacking food on the BC gold rush trail

What did gold seekers eat on the way to the gold diggings? In 1862, there weren’t many roadhouses because the Cariboo Waggon Road was just being built. Most of the gold rush miners were backpacking food if they were to survive the long journey from Victoria to the camps in the Cariboo region. Carrying food on one’s back could get really heavy. That’s why compressed, dried vegetables were so appealing – that even stands true for today’s hikers.

advertisement for dried vegetables March 27, 1862
Victoria advertisement for dried vegetables March 27, 1862

This advertisement from the British Colonist reads:

Dried Vegetables. On hand and for sale a few cases of Superior Dried Vegetables.
From their extreme portability, these are very desirable for conveyance to the Mines.
A small case weighing about 100 lbs. only containing nearly 1800 rations. They sold
for a very high price in Cariboo last year. For sale by JANION & GREEN.”

In 1846, a few years before the French Revolution, the head gardener for King Louis-Philippe invented a process by which kiln-dried vegetables, herbs, and fruits could be compressed. It turned out that this invention, which vastly reduced the original weight and bulk of the food, was a valued necessity during the Crimean War (1853-1856) when both British and French troops had to keep well fed and travel at the same time. The vegetables were mixed, dried and compressed under rules laid down by the International Anglo-French Military & Naval Medical Commission. The renowned chef Alexis Soyer was the Chief Inspector of Army Cookery.

Vegetables were cleaned, washed, peeled, sliced and slightly steamed before being dried in kilns and on trays where they exposed to hot dry air. Once dried they were mixed according to the proportions suggested by the military commission:
Potato: 40
Carrot: 30
Cabbage: 10
Turnip: 10
Seasoning herbs (onion, leek, celery, parsley, parsnip, etc): 10

The vegetables were then compressed by machine to one-eighth of their original bulk into molds where they were formed into square slabs almost an inch thick and grooved so they could be divided evenly afterward at the rate of one ounce per ration.

The Hudson’s Bay Company imported compressed dried vegetables especially onions which were considered good for the stomach when made into soup. Also onions were considered a good remedy for those who had drank too much liquor.

fruitpack
1862: Backpacking food on the gold rush trail
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Gold fever comes to Victoria a.k.a. Tent Town

Outside the walls of the HBC Fort Victoria, a tent town sprang up. John Keast Lord of the Royal Engineers observed bartenders and monte-dealers plying their trade in large canvas shelters, “ablaze of light, redolent of cigars, smashes, cobblers, and cocktails.”

Tent town Victoria
Tent town Victoria

The Hudson’s Bay Company first took some gold dust and nuggets to be assayed at the San Francisco Mint in February 1858. By the end of April, ships were heading north to Victoria.

Steamers (sternwheelers or sidewheelers) began making round trips between San Francisco and Victoria in ten days, taking 500 passengers and full freights north each time.

From the Knickerbocker Magazine in New York:

Many of the steamers and vessels went up with men huddled like sheep — so full that all could not sit or lie down together…

The goldseekers arrived to find out there wasn’t any accommodation for them. So they pegged up wedge-shaped canvas tents, lean-tos and other make-shift shelters.

Lekwungen Territory

Across the way was a Songhees village. This was part of the larger Lekwungen Territory. The Songhees were comprised of several local groups who collectively referred to themselves as Lekwungen. They lived in houses with single-pitch shed roofs over horizontal plank walls parallel to the waterfront.

Monte: a card game that became popular during the California gold rush. It was originally played in Mexico and brought north after the Mexican War in 1847. Players bet on the turn of the card by the dealer.

Smash: gets its name from mint leaves which were ‘smashed up’ in the shaking of ice, whiskey and sugar. Goldseekers preferred to drink their smashes quickly; not sipped.

Cobbler: a cocktail made with either brandy or whiskey and slices of fruit, sugar, and ice. Cobblers were often served with a straw so one didn’t swallow any pits.

Here is my page from my graphic novel I’m working on, “Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.”

Can you spot the figure standing next to the San Francisco Mint?

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Fort St. James – the hub of New Caledonia

Before the Fraser River Gold Rush, the Hudson’s Bay Company ruled New Caledonia (British Columbia) like a company town.

Fort St. James on Stuart Lake was considered to be the hub of fur trading activity and the fort’s chief factor was responsible for the entire New Caledonia. Chief K’wah of the Dakelh was considered by the HBC to be a key ally.

By the time James Douglas started working at Fort St. James, there had been several attacks and reprisals between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the neighbouring Dakelh. Douglas’ first assignment was to make sure that Fort St. James had enough fish. Salmon was the staple diet, not just for the Dakelh but also for the HBC workers and their families.

Although it seemed on the surface that the HBC had a good relationship with the First Nations, on further reading it becomes apparent that in fact the HBC allowed their chief factors to mete out punishment as they saw fit. Sometimes they were equally harsh with their own voyageurs and clerks who were basically stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to wait for the next brigade trip to get away.

An illustration of this prevailing attitude occurred in 1828, when James Douglas took it upon himself to deal with the alleged murderer of an HBC employee, when the Chief Factor, William Connelly (Douglas’ father-in-law), was away.

In his book, “The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (formerly New Caledonia)” Father Morice (1859-1938) wrote:

For some reason, the nature of which cannot now be ascertained, two young men had killed two of the Company’s servants… One of them had already paid the penalty of his crime by being secretly slain by the Company’s people, who had burned his remains in such a way as to suggest an accident as the cause of his death. Several years elapsed when, in the summer of 1828, his survivor, Tzœlhnolle [or Zuthnolly], hazarded a visit to the Stuart Lake Indians. These, however, he found to be absent to a man, and of the women-folk left in the camp only one is mentioned, who had but lately been delivered of a child. Mr. Connolly was likewise away, having gone down to [Fort] Alexandria to take up the outfit for the following year, so that Mr. Douglas was left temporarily in charge of the place.

On being told of the presence of Tzœlhnolle, that gentleman [James Douglas] immediately took with him a few of the fort men, armed with hoes and other garden implements, and made for the untenanted lodges of the Indians.

Douglas fired at him with his blunderbuss (a type of short musket) as Zuthnolly tried to get away.

…the [musket] ball went wide of the mark, whereupon, with hoes and the remnants of a camp-fire near by, his assistants stunned the Indian and reduced his lifeless body to the condition of a shapeless jelly. Then, by order of Douglas, they passed a stout rope around his neck and proceeded to drag him in the direction of the fort.

“The man he killed was eaten by the dogs; by the dogs he must be eaten,” declared the inexorable clerk.

James Douglas and murder at Fort St. James
James Douglas and conflict at Fort St. James
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Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

There was increasing conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) in the years before the two fur trade companies merged.

Fur traders working for the HBC criticized the company for being slow to respond to situations while the NorthWest Company ran roughshod over them.

1816 was a bad year. In Athabasca (north Saskatchewan), the HBC was short of provisions but they faced open hostilities from the NWC. As a result, 16 HBC employees died of starvation. At Red River, 22 settlers including Governor Robert Semple were killed in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.

Lord Selkirk, whose idea it was to establish settlers in the area, against the wishes of the HBC, travelled to the North Westers’ headquarters at Fort William. In retaliation of the massacre, Selkirk and his private army seized the fort and arrested several of the partners.

The NorthWest Company had a strong position in the Athabasca area but there were mounting problems within the company ranks.

At Ile á la Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan, both the companies had forts there. The NorthWest Company had Fort Black and the HBC named theirs Fort Superior. Here both sides engaged in guerilla warfare.

Peter Skene Ogden was one of the young Northwesters accused of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile á la Crosse, where the HBC’s post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817. James Douglas was named by the HBC for harassing those at Fort Superior.

Both of these men later went on to become Chief Traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, James Douglas became the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and a key political figure in the Fraser River Gold Rush.

In my graphic book, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush, I have included a biography of James Douglas, including his time in the fur trade.

Conflicts between NWC and HBC
Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

 

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Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory

After weeks of paddling and rock climbing down the Fraser River, Simon Fraser reached Musqueam territory. Musqueam means People of the River Grass. The grass (pronounced m-uh-th-kwi) was found at the mouth of the Fraser River. At the bottom panel (A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush) you can see some of this river grass. Simon Fraser passed by the impressive longhouses painted with designs in black, red ochre, and white.

Most likely, Simon Fraser passed by c̓əsnaʔəm (ts-suss-naam) the largest Musqueam village that dates back about 5,000 years.

One can almost imagine the shouts of relief and joy (and the occasional musket blast) as the crew finally reached what they had hoped would be the mouth of the Columbia River. But, their joy was short-lived when Simon Fraser realized, according to his compass, that they were much further north. In fact, they had reached the Strait of Georgia. Simon Fraser didn’t realize that they weren’t far from the open ocean.

Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory
Simon Fraser reaches Musqueam territory (A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush)
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Food of the Fraser Canyon: Salmon Oil and Saskatoon Berries

During their epic journey in 1808, Simon Fraser and his Northwest Company crew were treated to the food of the Fraser Canyon,  including salmon oil and salmon eggs.

Salmon was a major source of fats and oils. How did they extract the salmon oil? This was done by pounding out a rock to form a large hollow. Next, the hollow was heated with hot rocks from a fire. When the hollow was hot enough to boil water, the rocks were removed and replaced with salmon heads. The salmon heads boiled there for a day and then it was allowed to cool down. A yellowish layer formed on top, similar to cream on a milk pan. This was skimmed off. Below that was the salmon oil which was then scooped into salmon skin bottles. All the bones that were left were soft enough to chew. The oil was stored for winter use.

Children would snack on the soft salmon bones from the hole after they had been cooked down.

Simon Fraser also enjoyed salmon eggs, which was considered a delicacy. People buried salmon eggs in the ground in birch bark baskets. They were kept in the ground until early Spring after the ground had thawed. These were often served with dried Saskatoon berries, noted for their sweet flavour.

Dried salmon was sometimes stored in underground cache pits. These cache pits were dug within their winter homes (dome shaped structures with roof entrances) and lined with grass and pine needles. In other places, dried salmon was kept in wooden boxes on raised platforms or in a tree. The boxes had spaces to allow for the wind to circulate around the fish.

Here is a page from my graphic novel in progress: A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush:

Food of the Fraser Canyon
Food of the Fraser Canyon – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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Coast Salish Villages on the Fraser River

On his trip down the Fraser River, Northwest Company explorer Simon Fraser encountered many Coast Salish villages with longhouses. There was a longhouse in the central Fraser Valley which was over 200 metres long. Simon Fraser also noted another longhouse at Musqueam behind a palisade that was over half a kilometre long.

Coast Salish villages often consisted of a series of interconnected longhouses, forming what appeared as a single structure sometimes for hundreds of metres long. Within these longhouses, place and space were divided according to a family’s status. The most prestigious occupied the largest and most defensible quarters.

House posts were carved with the family’s spirit helpers or the heroic deeds of prominent ancestors. A change in the family’s status meant usually meant that the house post would move too. Moving a house post was not an easy thing to do, but not uncommon when families split up and moved on.

The Sto:lo population consisted of about 3,500 people in the early 1800s. The natives lived in a clearly regulated environment, with the river dictating their life cycle. The river people consisted of numerous tribes, including the Katzie, Coquitlam, Whonnock, Nicomen, Pilalt, and Tait; the largest tribes, however, were the Musqueam, Kwantlen, and Chilliwack.

This is a page from my upcoming graphic novel I’m working on, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.

Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush
Simon Fraser’s trip – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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1808: Mutiny on Simon Fraser’s expedition

Simon Fraser’s expedition nearly dissolved into mutiny. It wasn’t long before the voyageurs came to the conclusion that this route wasn’t the best one after all. The river was so treacherous that their birchbark canoes were falling apart.

The voyageurs weren’t pleased at the prospect of carrying everything on their backs and borrowing canoes from the Native tribes they encountered along the way.

As Fraser’s expedition progressed down the river the Carrier and Secwapmec people warned him that the river he was following could not be navigated by canoe. Fraser, however, did not believe them.

If Fraser had listened to them, he would have learned that the best way to the coast was to follow Seton and Anderson Lakes from the junction of the Fraser River and Seton River, to the portage at Pemberton and then to follow the Lillooet and Harrison Rivers south to the coast. This route was the one that the Stat’imc had used to trade with coastal Ucwalmicw for centuries.

But Simon Fraser pressed on to a village called Camchin, at the confluence of two great rivers. This was the site of the future gold rush town of Lytton.

Below is the second page from my graphic novel that I’m working on, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.

Mutiny on the Fraser River
Mutiny on the Fraser River – Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel
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