Overlanders of 1862

heading west I sketched
an ox as it ploughed forward
pulling the red river cart
without effort
passing buffalo bones piled high
we bagged ducks on the trail
trading for bison and berries
the days were long
I lingered over the pages
drawing, observing
along undulating hills
thirsty under the hot sun
wandering off in search of water

I remember the moment
the ox tried to run away from its cart
scattering goods, breaking
its harness
after crossing marshes, mudholes and creeks

crossing the Assiniboine on a scow
no grass to eat on the other side
oxen left behind
at Fort Edmonton
for mules and pack horses

men in mud to their waist
with shoulders to wheels of mired wagons
rough sketches
hauling on lines to prevent
carts and animals from running
down steep embankments

roasted skunk, food gone
guns, ammunition, belts
traded for salmon
at Tête Jaune Cache
gold pans and pick axes unwanted
two months passed
I put away my sketchbook

the group divided, unsure
swift with rafts and canoes
along the Fraser or along the
North Thompson River
each trying to get to Fort George
lives lost
horses killed for food
I cannot sketch the pain

“Overlanders” was the name given to large organized groups who headed overland from Fort Garry, across the prairies and over the Rocky Mountains to the Cariboo where gold had been discovered in 1862.  One of the leaders of a large group of Overlanders, Thomas McMicking of Queenston, Canada West (Ontario) submitted his trip diary to the British Columbian newspaper which published it in November, 1862.

William George Richardson Hind (1833-1889) was an artist and Overlander. His drawings and watercolours of this crossing helped historians to understand and appreciate this unique part of Canadian history. You can view Hind’s sketchbook online at the Public Archives of Canada. Previously, his brother, Henry Youle Hind, who was a surveyor and academic, had led government exploring expeditions to the Labrador region and the prairies.