The high cost of provisions at Quesnel Forks

In the summer of 1859, Benjamin Macdonald, Jim May, Thomas “Dancing Bill” Latham, John Rose and William Ross Keithley were among the eager miners who reached the gravel delta at the junction of the North and South Forks of the Quesnel River (now called Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers).

“Dancing Bill” Latham hit paydirt just three miles above Quesnel Forks and other nearby streams were named after the miners whose method of marking their claims was to name the creeks after themselves: Dancing Bill’s Gulch, Rose Gulch, Rose Bar, Morehead, Hazeltine, Sellers, Keithley,  Weaver, and Harvey Creeks.

At the end of 1859, a town rose up and became known first as ‘Forks Canal’ and eventually Quesnel Forks.

What was the Cariboo like in 1860?

Here is a letter written from Quesnel Forks liquor merchants, Hiram Robinson and James Sellers to Sutton and Helmering, wholesale liquor and cigar dealers at Fort Hope:

May 21, 1860

“Gents: We received your favor of May 13th; was glad to hear from you. All well here; have been here about four weeks. Robinson has been at Horse Fly since we came to the upper country. We rather slipped up on that operation; Horse Fly proved a failure. We only took part of our stock to that place; the remainder arrived last week by pack train, French Ned, safe and in good order. We shall locate about three miles from the Forks of Canal. On the south branch of Rose’s Bar, I think the chances are good for a good trade. I started mining—got a very good claim, but sold out yesterday for five hundred dollars, clear of all expenses. Johnson the butcher, George Weaver and Dave Potts have claims on the same gulch, and are all doing well.

The miners here are striking good diggings daily and I do think that we will have plenty of diggings daily and I do think that we will have plenty of diggings for any number of miners who may come up. The great drawback to this country is the great difficulty in getting to it.

Provisions are very high, staple articles rating about 70 cents per pound, and are considered low at that rate, in comparison to what they have been. When I first arrived here all kinds of supplies were scarce, and rating at about $1.50 per pound. That was the principal cause of so many persons leaving here for the lower country. They could not stay and prospect without considerable money.

Prospecting is expensive, being confined principally to ravines and gulches, but in nearly all cases successful where persons have had the means to give it a fair trial.

There are any quantity of one horse whiskey sellers from Oregon and Similkameen. We have no doubt but that we will do well.

Signed Hiram Robinson and James Sellers

Ps. I forgot to give you a description of the character of the gold we get; it is all coarse. Dave Potts & Co. have taken out the largest pieces as yet, some of them over fifty dollars solid gold—I believe three pieces—and quite a large number of nuggets weighing from 20 to 40 dollars. Besides this, a number of other companies have taken out nearly as large pieces.”