Jonathan Scott’s Gold Rush Tobacco

1865 was going to be a banner year for Jonathan Scott, he was sure of it. Row upon row of his tobacco plants were growing tall under the hot Lillooet sun. Every acre of the six hundred that he had purchased on the benchland they called Parsonsville was worth every penny he had paid. The soil was rich and fertile.  In time he had built two drying sheds and a press.  Each bunch of leaves was picked and sorted and dried. He had some help but he was the one to do most of the work; spinning and rolling the tobacco into a rope.

At first there were a few trials and many errors but on the occasion that a miner complained about one of his plugs, he handed over a new one. The miners let it be known they wanted something to chew on the trail that would provide enough saliva for a good string of spit.  His plugs were good and his pouches of loose leaf didn’t have any stems or sticks and they weren’t like chewing on grass. The taste was good and the spit was even better.

Chewing tobacco was his staple product but he wanted to start his own brand of cigars. He hadn’t thought of a name for it but something to remind him of his Kentucky heritage and his new home in the west.

One day in June, a middle aged man knocked on the door looking for work. His said his name was Hugh Nolan and he walked with a slight limp.  Men with limps weren’t an uncommon sight; there were so many suffering from pains in their legs on account of their bad diet.

“I could use some help with fixing up this barn. This tobacco is going to be flue-cured, so I’m going to need some small fire pits built on the floor.”

“You provide the saw and hammer and consider it done,” Nolan said with a tip of his hat. He wore high-topped calfskin boots with a low heel like a lot of stagecoach drivers and Scott wondered what happened that he would be willing to labour in a tobacco field.

For the next few weeks, Nolan occupied himself with fixing the barn. He was friendly with most of the people in town and when he wasn’t working on the shed, Nolan was playing cards with some of the stagecoach drivers from the BX Express.  His limp didn’t improve much.

Scott concentrated on making pouches to take with him to Barkerville.   He had built a press which he used to pack down several bunches of tobacco leaves. Several times a day he checked in at the barn to see how the repairs were coming along and the fires were burning. From there he removed any stems and sticks that were still around. He put his nose to one of the bags and breathed in the earthy aroma.  Each bag smelled a bit different but they were all pleasant to the senses.

He experimented with blending some leaves from a couple of wild tobacco plants with his own Burley variety to see if that resulted in a better taste.

Scott told Nolan of his plans to head to Barkerville. Nolan in turn surprised him by asking for his money and making a hasty exit. For a man with a limp, he travelled quickly.

Luckily, Kemble the bootmaker offered to keep an eye on the tobacco leaves. Scott had given him lots of business considering he had one foot larger than the other, besides he figured the tobacco leaves were dry enough that he didn’t need the smouldering fires anymore.

In the evening, Scott looked at his ledger for the second time that day. Despite the gold rush he had several accounts outstanding and he could name at least three druggists and two saloons that behind on paying despite their requests for more tobacco. Only one of them had responded to his letter requesting payment informing him that they were now ‘importing fine segars’ and would not be ordering his chewing tobacco in the future.

Scott left Lillooet early the next morning and began a four day journey to Barkerville by stagecoach.  After the constant swaying of the coach it was a relief to lie down on a solid bed.

At Cottonwood roadhouse, Scott read the Cariboo Sentinel from cover to cover. There was an odd notice about an escaped convict from Portland who may or may not be using crutches. Above that was a letter to the editor which he read twice:

Sir, The Cariboo mining season is fast drawing to a close, and it behooves all who have accounts outstanding to have them collected. The merchants generally on this creek it will be admitted have aided to perhaps an indiscreet extent the miners by giving them credit, and as the time for payment to the lower country merchant is at hand it becomes absolutely necessary for the merchants here to get in their bills from this community. I regret to say that they find this no easy matter, not from the want of ability on the miners to pay, but simply from there being an unwillingness on the part of the County Court Judge to enforce payment of the money due merchants. I would be the last to urge anything like harsh measures towards any part of the community, but merchants should be protected and assisted by the Judiciary of the country instead of thwarted. Even when we get a judgment from the Judge we cannot get an execution, and then we are set at defiance by men who have the money and won’t pay. I think, sir, in cases where it can be shown that men are able to pay there should be no false delicacy manifested by the Judge to protect the trader, without whom this country never would have been prospected. It is only justice to the “honest” miner to make the “dishonest” meet their liabilities, for the moment merchants are prevented recovering their just debts from that moment they will shut down on all alike. I trust, sir, that the ventilation of this subject will have a good effect in stimulating our very highly esteemed Judge to protect the merchants, and thus prevent them all going into bankruptcy.

Yours, A Merchant

Scott closed the paper and pulled at the ends of his moustache. This wasn’t good. He had been counting on getting money so he could hire more pickers as his business expanded.

A ringing sound could be heard from outside the window. He stood at the window with his hands in his pockets and looked out at the mule pack train horses, some with bells around their necks, waiting to be relieved of their large sacks of cargo. He wondered how much gold was in them. Of all the wealth leaving the gold diggings, it was a shame to see that the merchants were having so much trouble collecting.

Just as he was about to drift off to sleep he heard a commotion in the hallway and someone banging on his door. Scott jumped out of bed and opened the door to see a uniformed constable.

“Are you Scott?”

“Yes.”

“You’re an American, I can tell. Do you have crutches? Ever used them?”

Scott shook his head. “What is this about?”

“We’re going to send you back to Portland, Mr. Scott.”

Scott used all his powers of persuasion to convince the constable that he was not the escaped convict he assumed him to be.

As proof of that, the officer asked to see Scott’s boots.

“They were made by Mr. Kemble the bootmaker in Lillooet.”

This seemed to spark a further round of questions until the constable was satisfied and left. It was useless trying to get any sleep after that. The next morning at breakfast, one of his fellow stagecoach passengers asked him about the incident.

The answer struck him then. The constable had asked about Kemble the bootmaker and if he had made any riding boots with a low flat heel. He could think of one person that dragged a low flat-heeled riding boot and that was the man who called himself Nolan.