What happened to Sapper James Duffy

Billy Ballou's Express

Billy Ballou's Fraser River Express

Every time Billy Ballou came to Victoria, he stopped by the British Colonist newspaper and had a chat with the publisher and editor, Amor de Cosmos.  Ballou didn’t care how or why someone would make up a name.  He was more concerned in getting his message across.  Cosmos relied on him for word on what was going on in the gold diggings and Ballou saw an opportunity to get his own message out and air his grievances.  They both disliked the current government.

Even though it was about ten degrees warmer in Victoria, Ballou still wore his thick coat. He looked around taking in the changes. New streets had cropped up where there used to be houses.  As if to prove the point, he spied a family carting their possessions followed by a couple of men rolling their house along.

The floor boards squeaked with each step he took.  Ballou sat down in front of Cosmos’ desk covered in printing paper. Cosmos wearing a heavy apron, yelled hello from around the corner.

“How is Rock Creek?” Cosmos asked as he took off his apron and settled down at his desk.

“It’s still the richest gold diggings in the colony.  Dunbar has been having a rough time of the road though, and he tells me that he’s about had enough.  I told him his contract is for one trip a month and he said he won’t do it. Not unless he’s paid more, but the governor won’t budge.”

“Hmm. How is the road?”

“It’s in rough shape according to Dunbar. He says if it weren’t for him and his mule train going back and forth, no one would know where it went.  But the snow is deep, almost thirty feet in some places, so I don’t blame him for wanting a respite from the delivery.”

“What about the government mail service?”

“It won’t be running.  I did the last Express run for January.  It’s too icy to get anywhere or do anything.  Any miner that’s got himself stuck there probably is saving his money for food and liquor.  Provisions are high at Similkameen and Rock Creek and just as scarce. Mail has to be the last thing on their minds. What does the governor want us to do – get killed falling through the ice? Rock Creek is completely frozen and you can only go so far on the Similkameen without encountering blocks of ice. It’s one of the fiercest winters I’ve lived through.  Just as I was heading down the whole regiment was carrying one of their own down to New Westminster. Froze to death on the Harrison trail.”

Cosmos eyes widened. “One of the Royal Engineers?”

“A sapper named Duffy from the Columbia detachment.  Someone said he was sent down there for supplies in the middle of a snowstorm.” Ballou shook his head, “it’s a helluva way to go. They probably would have buried him there had it not been for his wife, Alice I think her name was. She put the boots to old Moody.”

Cosmos furrowed his brow. “What about the others in his party?”

“It’s all hush hush. But I can tell you there are some rumours flying around.  One of my packers heard that the others had left Duffey on the trail to stay with the equipment or supplies while the others went ahead for help.  He had lost his rank as Corporal over some new trail he surveyed for the Governor along Cayoosh Creek last fall.  His superiors claimed they didn’t know a thing about it when Colonel Moody got the report and exploded. I doubt Duffy’s superiors were in the dark but they blamed the whole thing on him and demoted him to Sapper.”

Cosmos scratched out some notes. “It sounds as though Mr. Douglas wanted to undermine the authority of Colonel Moody.  I was present at a Royal Engineers gathering at the Fort and I can tell you it was a relief when one or both was absent; such was the tension between the two of them.  The next time I have the opportunity, I will ask the Governor of his role in all this.”

Ballou stood up from his chair, “I’ll be looking forward to reading about it. You can tell him Ballou never lost a packer.  I deliver the mail but not at the expense of someone’s life.”

Ballou left and strolled down the street.   He knew he would have to let someone in government know about the undeliverable mail, but it could wait knowing he had done the right thing.  He opened the door to the American Saloon and stepped inside.

Sapper James Duffy and the Cayoosh Creek Trail (from royalengineers.ca)