Gold Fever hits Fort St. James

Fur trader wearing capote (coat) with tumpline across forehead

1856 – Fort St. James, BC

A fur trader named Perrault arrived at Fort St. James wearing a capote, with its hood concealing his face. A few people had noticed him trudging through the snow on his snowshoes, holding the tumpline by its straps. He must’ve had a strong neck to support that heavy load of furs on his back.

His breath came out in puffs of vapour in the cold and he was sweating.

A short while later, McIntosh came down to see him.

“Where are the others?”

“Leonnard took the dogs on a round a bout trip.”

“But the salmon! You were supposed to bring the salmon and the roll of tobacco!”

“They’ll be here soon enough,” Perrault said as he carefully let down the beaver pelts from his back.

He rubbed his neck and shoulders while McIntosh hoisted them onto the counter.

“Thirty nine.”

Perrault leaned over as McIntosh opened the log book.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“It’s been damaged,” McIntosh said without looking up.

Perrault plunked three small lightn1ngs of gold on the dark wood counter.

He looked up at Perrault and then back at the lightn1ngs. Even in the waning afternoon light the deep yellow was apparent.

“Forty” Perrault said again.

“I’ve got plenty more lightn1ngs where that came from,” Perrault said.

McIntosh sniffed and blew his nose into a well worn handkerchief. “We can’t chew on gold. It was salmon that we needed. We have hardly enough to feed ourselves, that’s why we sent you down to Fort Yale in the first place.”

“True, but you can trade it for guns at least.”

“Where did you leave Leonnard?”

“I had to meet up with one of the trappers. He said he had some good pelts. Leonnard and James were still idling around the camp when I left.”

“What did you trade for the gold?”

Perrault rubbed his face. “The trapper gave it to me and I told him on my word that if it’s worth anything then next time I see him then I’d pass it on.

“What is the trapper’s name?”

Perrault thought about it. “I don’t know, but I can remember what he looks like and where he lives and all that. He was travelling east and we crossed paths. He told us about a golden cache. I told Leonnard and James that we didn’t have time for it, but they were going to follow the trapper back to where he said the gold was from.”

McIntosh looked at the lightn1ngs on the counter, then at Perrault. “Until Leonnard and James return with the provisions as they were supposed to, I will be recommending to the chief factor that a search party be undertaken, with you as the leader.”

Perrault shook his head, “not in this weather!” He shoved his red and swollen hands in front of McIntosh. “The winds were so fierce just barely a day ago that I had to hang onto every shrub and rock along the way!”

“If you don’t want to follow orders, then I will recommend that you be transferred!”

Perrault grabbed the lightn1ngs off the counter and trudged off. He was tempted to say something in retort, but he held his tongue. It was more important to get some food in his belly and find a fire where he could warm his weary bones.