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.