Story Sunday: Trouble in Fort Yale

Every Sunday, I’ll be posting stories from my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories. Here’s the first part of “Trouble in Fort Yale”:


Gold Commissioner Horatio Ricketts penned a brief note to the Governor. The steady patter of autumn rain on the roof echoed in his head. His sinuses were plugged and his eyes watered. He blew his nose into a handkerchief.

  Another case of murder occurred here last Wednesday. I held an inquest in the new log building. It is of sturdy construction and the jailer has moved all of the prisoners to his side of the building. The court house will occupy the other half. I am sure it will be well used. I was compelled to go to Hill’s Bar this morning to settle disputes with mining claims and visit Andrew Scranton in response to his complaint.

Ricketts gripped his quill pen as he recalled the meeting with Scranton. As soon as he had stepped out of the canoe at Hill’s Bar, Scranton began assailing him with accusations in a loud voice for the benefit of some gold miners clustered nearby. It was clear Scranton was pleased with the effect he was having on the politics of Fort Yale. Ricketts responded with a few verbal barbs of his own.

Mr. Scranton has negatively influenced the other miners. I told him the documents pertaining to his claim will be forwarded to your office when I receive sealing wax and the official seal.

Scranton’s criticisms were being published in the Victoria newspaper with such regularity that the Governor was needling him for answers. Scranton focussed his accusations on Ricketts’ issuance of water licences and mining claims, knowing the Governor was preoccupied with revenue from both. Ricketts barely had time to respond to one accusation when another was received.

British Columbia had officially existed for a mere two months. Nothing had changed or improved; murders were almost a daily occurrence and yet in his role as revenue officer and assistant chief gold commissioner, Ricketts was supposed to deal with serious crimes just as though they were simple issues. How was he supposed to retrieve money from all these prospectors? It was an absurd task considering that there were roughly three thousand in the town itself and at least twice the number camping out on the numerous banks of sand upwards of Fort Yale.

He remembered the day in September when the Governor stood on the stump of a newly cut tree and pointed at Ricketts standing in the crowd and said he would be responsible for doling out parcels of land as well as collecting taxes and levies. He didn’t recall hearing any cheers at that announcement.

Since then Ricketts had become very busy dealing with the troubles in Fort Yale. People were gambling and drinking and disputes frequently spilled out onto the street. Jacob Nuttall, the new Justice of the Peace, was supposed to deal with criminal incidents, but instead he spent most of his time undermining Ricketts’ reputation.

In response to the complaints about the land owned by Ricketts and Co., Ricketts reminded the Governor the stakes in question most likely belonged to E. King. King controlled several saloons in Fort Yale.

 I have advised Mr. King to settle the matter raised by Justice Nuttall regarding the saloon license. Mr. King’s customs paper for the liquor was received in good order.

Satisfied that he had addressed all the issues raised by the Governor’s office, Ricketts folded his letter just as his wife Sarah walked through the door.

“I went to visit Mrs. Drake and guess who I saw departing rather quickly?”

“Who?”

“Andrew Scranton.”

Ricketts looked up, “whatever would he be visiting the Drakes for?”

Sarah smiled, “apparently he’s quite taken by their daughter and Mr. Drake thinks highly of him.”

Ricketts narrowed his eyes. “Andrew Scranton has become a complete irritant. Drake’s attitude towards Scranton is cause for grave concern. If it weren’t for the Governor’s insistence, I would not buy any supplies from his store!”

“It’s important that we keep up good relations with the Drakes. He is after all the chief factor of Fort Yale and he does wield a great deal of influence.”

“I commend your attitude. In the meantime, I must get this letter to Ballou’s Express.”