Gold Rush Careers: Packers

The following advertisement appeared in the British Times Colonist on January 4, 1862:

P. Smith & Co. Packers Over the Douglas & Lillooet Route Are still Packing and Forwarding to LILLOOET And are Prepared to Forward 250 Tons per Month AT MODERATE RATES. All goods marked in our Care will be received and forwarded without delay.

P. SMITH & Co. Packers, Douglas and Lillooet, B.C.

During the gold rush, merchants relied on packers to carry food and supplies either by mule, horse or sometimes camel. The routes that the packers followed went through difficult and treacherous terrain.  In the early days, the packers would follow the Hudson Bay Brigade Trails. The Douglas to Lillooet route was a trail that was carved out by miners and involved many portages.

The Hudson’s Bay Company employed skilled Mexican packers from as far away as Sonora in Mexico.  Later, these same packers worked during the Cariboo gold rush, with the advantage that they were already familiar with the fur brigade trails.

Here is some recollections from a gold rush prospector:

“Pack trains went out from Walla Walla into Boise, and also from Walla Walla clear over the international boundary up into British Columbia, carrying supplies for fur traders, hunters and prospectors. With my brother who came up to this country with me, I located a ranch near Walla Walla and I left him in charge of it. I came in to town one day and found an auctioneer who went by the name of Tea Garden in the act of selling a horse. I had $20 to pay for one, and I got this one for $17.50.

“With my blankets and enough food for the trip I set out for Boise, then a placer gold camp. I spent the summer there working at ground sluicing and then returned to Walla Walla, where I sold the ranch and went into packing, which I followed for several years. We got as high as a dollar a pound for supplies of different kinds in the interior, and our route was through the Spokane country or into northern Idaho and down the Kootenai River across the international boundary to Wild Horse, British Columbia.

“The Hudson’s Bay Company in the early days had a monopoly of the trading business in this country, but when I arrived the independent American traders were driving the Hudson’s Bay men out of the territory. A pack train would consist of 30 or 40 mules or horses with a head packer and about five other men, including a cook for the outfit. The horses would carry about 300 lbs. each, the weight depending on the kind of merchandise. One trip I made too late in the winter and was caught by heavy snows and cold weather. Instead of turning my horses out on the Kootenai Meadows, I tried to make the journey back to Walla Walla. I bought feed for my horses at stations along the way for a dollar a pound, but they nearly all died. I started with about 40 and got into Walla Walla with seven or eight.