Category Archives: Short Stories

Historical short stories that take place in British Columbia

The Trial of Justice Nuttall: Showdown at Hill’s Bar

Here is the final segment of “The Trial of Justice Nuttall” from my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cranton returned to Hill’s Bar where Justice Defries and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Defries asked as he steadied the canoe.

Scranton shook his head, “stubborn and foolish. He has underestimated his opponent. Tell Constable Trimble to bring Marvin here if he wants to testify. We’ll hold the trial here at Hill’s Bar.”

Justice Defries nodded, “I’ll write up a summons right away.”

At nine o’clock the next day as large flakes of snow fell, Trimble delivered the summons to Marvin.

Marvin read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Nuttall’s hut and banged on the door wearing his oversized mittens.

“Hello! You only have to knock once,” said Nuttall from behind the door. He opened it a crack.

“Marvin? What now?”

Marvin held up the paper, “they want me to come to a trial in Hill’s Bar!”

“Come inside and we’ll talk.”

It was warmer inside but not by much and Marvin kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

Nuttall read the paper. “This is absolutely absurd! I cannot believe that Defries would do such a thing! Where is that Constable Trimble? He failed to follow my orders!”

Nuttall instructed the jailer to bring the constable to the courthouse immediately.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the log building and Trimble stood there with hunched shoulders as he waited for Nuttall to enter.

“You must remove your hat when I enter the court, Constable!” Nuttall almost shouted.

Trimble did as he was told and exposed his pink ears.

“You failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this colony.”

“But sir, Justice Defries instructed me to summon Marvin! Those were his orders.”

“Am I not your superior?!”

Trimble gave this some thought and then he answered. “No.”

Nuttall nearly blew up. His shouts brought the attention of the jailer who came running into the court.

“Put Trimble into the jail at once!”

Trimble protested loudly as the jailer pulled him from the room.

Nuttall thought about what had just happened as he pulled his military issued sword from its sheath. How could people be so turned against him? It was a plot to overthrow British rule! He was sure of it. But what proof did he have? If he penned a letter to the Governor, he would just reply back that he should be able to handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small fur trading fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the colony.

Later that afternoon, Scranton and nine others from Hill’s Bar strode along the main street of Yale. Several people along the way observed the men, each of them carrying guns and knives in plain sight. No one challenged them or asked them where they were headed.

Nuttall was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, when the door opened with a bang and Scranton and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Nuttall. I, Andrew Scranton and the nine others with me have been given the title of special constables.”

Nuttall stared at them open-mouthed. “On what grounds do you arrest me?”

Scranton brought his face close enough that Nuttall caught a whiff of stale alcohol. “You’ve unlawfully detained Constable Trimble, who we are now going to release.”

Nuttall was pulled aside while Scranton and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked the door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Trimble.

“All of these men are freed!” Scranton shouted.

YaleMainStNuttall tried to leave the room but Scranton’s men roped his wrists together and led him down the main street amidst the shouts and jeers from miners who still missed their saloons. Nuttall felt the sharp point of his own military sword against his back as he walked reluctantly forward.

By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self-praise.

Breathless from running, Dr. Chipp shouted “Scranton! If Mr. Nuttall is to get a fair trial then I have to attend as a witness.”

Scranton relented and let the Vigilante member take a seat beside Nuttall who sat in the middle of the canoe with his military hat askew.

Chipp reassured Nuttall that he would pay for any fine. “Scranton likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Nuttall said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw as the canoe glided forward with every stroke. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Justice Defries who read out the charges with occasional hints from Scranton himself.

“Defries!” Nuttall shouted. “This is a complete travesty of justice!”

“Mr. Nuttall, you are in my court.” Defries responded as he kept his head down and read out the charges.

Nuttall’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as he listened to Scranton’s lecture. Justice Defries ordered him to pay the fine of fifty dollars.

Dr. Chipp paid the fine for Nuttall as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale just as the last sliver of daylight was fading.

Chipp said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Nuttall scarcely heard them; he was still shaking with rage.

Just as soon as Nuttall reached his hut, he rushed to find paper and ink and set about writing letters to the forts downriver.

In each of the letters he transcribed word for word which he remembered Scranton utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“All there is in this so-called colony of yours is forts. We’ll take Fort Yale and then go downriver and capture Fort Hope and retreat with our plunder into Washington Territory.”

With those words written, Nuttall appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire colony is in peril!” he wrote.

Nuttall described his ordeal and wrote “Justice Defries aided Andrew Scranton and the Hill’s Bar mob. Please send the army to Fort Yale at once.”

Finishing his signature with a flourish, Nuttall tied string around each paper in the fading candlelight and opened the door in the cold night to find someone to deliver the messages.

The Trial of Justice Nuttall: Trouble at the Saloon

Here is part 2 of my story “Trial of Justice Nuttall” from my book Mayhem at Rock Creek and More Gold Rush Stories

SaloonIt was the beginning of December and the miners were getting restless. The temperatures had dipped below freezing and the sluice boxes were full of ice.

George Allsop entered Foster’s Saloon and demanded a drink. Foster asked for money up front because his tab was unpaid. Allsop flew into a rage and drew his gun. Instantly, Foster took out his own gun from behind the counter and shot Allsop dead. Nobody was really concerned at first. Anywhere else, Foster could have claimed self-defence, but not here in the British colony.

The next day, Justice Nuttall was back in Marvin’s barber chair gloating over his new decision.

“I’m closing all the saloons that haven’t been properly registered.”

Marvin paused with his scissors above Nuttall’s head. “You closed all of them?!”

“I have to show who is in charge in this town, Marvin. The Foster Saloon was unlicensed as are the other twelve. Gold commissioner Ricketts has been too long at the helm, profiting from all of these illegal saloons. This is an opportunity which fell into my lap and I intend to take advantage of it.”

Marvin started cutting Nuttall’s hair. He’d already heard about Foster’s escape to Hill’s Bar but he asked Nuttall about it anyway.

“Foster wasn’t there when I went to make my arrest but to guarantee that he doesn’t stray too far I arrested his assistant.”

Marvin furrowed his brow, “what does Foster need him for? Foster probably left the saloon with his money and headed to Hill’s Bar. He’s one of Scranton’s ‘Law and Order’ men.”

Nuttall clenched his hands into fists, “Scranton again! I’m going to see to it that both he and Foster are arrested!”

There was no use in telling Nuttall that by closing all of the saloons, there would be more trouble in a town where people were already agitated and restless. The saloons were still closed on December 24, 1858 when the Christmas dance was held.

Marvin went there wearing his best suit and a clean pair of boots. Marvin was dancing when he heard shouts in his direction. It seemed two men were determined that Marvin was not going to be a happy man.

Marvin told them to go elsewhere. “You’re in British Columbia and I’ve got every right to be here.”

The two men took that as a taunt and a scuffle ensued. Marvin was tossed outside and onto the hard snow. Marvin’s head hurt but he got to his feet and yelled at the closed door. He was angry and upset. How could those two throw him out like that?

The next morning he dropped by Nuttall’s hut and found him standing by the fire. Marvin took off his hat and pointed at his wrapped head.

“Sir, I want to file a complaint against two of Scranton’s ruffians.”

Nuttall stepped forward, a look of concern on his face. “Who are they? I’ll have them arrested at once, especially if they’re friends of Scranton’s.”

“Green and Biggs are their names. You’ll find them at Hill’s Bar.”

“Leave it with me Marvin. In the meantime, do you need the services of Dr. Kilburn?”

“No thank you, sir. I’ve got years of practice helping injured folks.”

After Marvin left, Nuttall sent for Constable Trimble.

“Trimble, go to Hill’s Bar and arrest Green and Biggs for the assault of Walter Marvin.”

Constable Trimble found Green and Biggs playing cards with Andrew Scranton at the Hill’s Bar Saloon.

Scranton waved the constable away. “I’ll go talk to Nuttall.”

An hour later, Scranton knocked on Nuttall’s door and entered. The furnishings were minimal he noted. There was only one small table and upon this Scranton dropped a small bag of gold dust.

“I’ve come to talk to you about Green and Biggs,” Scranton began.

“And who are you to be barging in here? You’re not a constable!”

Scranton stood at his full height. “A reasonable man would be interested in bargaining. What’s to be gained by arresting these two men?”

“Take your gold dust and leave,” Nuttall said through clenched teeth. “I won’t be bribed.”

Story Sunday: The Trial of Justice Nuttall

Inside Fort Yale’s only barbershop, Justice of the Peace Jacob Nuttall sat in a chair facing a rough-hewn wall while Walter Marvin applied a greasy mixture to his face.

“Those men I told you about, one of them came around yesterday demanding a shave. He said if I drew even a drop of blood with my razor then he’d shoot me!” Marvin held up his razor as if to emphasize the point.

“Did you remind him that British law applies here?”

“I didn’t say a word but I charged him double!”

“Have you heard anything more about Justice Defries of Hill’s Bar?”

“Nothing so far. Judge Defries is under the thumb of Scranton. Whenever Scranton wants something he just yanks on Defries’ nose ring and he comes,” Marvin shook his head.

Nuttall frowned. “How can this Andrew Scranton have so much influence? I fail to understand.”

Marvin smiled, “he’s been a politician for a long time. Some say he used to be a lawyer or a judge with high hopes until he got on the wrong side of the Vigilante Committee in San Francisco. His friends got him out of there and up here to Fort Yale.”

Barber Pole -people went to barbers not just for a haircut

Barber Pole -people went to barbers not just for a haircut

Nuttall turned his head and Marvin shaved the other side.

“It’s challenging enough to have these lawless miners around and now Scranton has to drag his party politics up here to our colony. Do you think he’s intent on this American manifest destiny?”

Marvin straightened up, “Scranton could round up some miners for a militia—back home I’m sure half of them already belong to one. The only lucky thing is Scranton has enemies here and that’s why he’s had to stick to his camp down the river. Yet he’s been trying to make friends with Mr. Drake; I saw them having a friendly meeting in Foster’s Saloon.”

Nuttall gave this some thought. He had assumed Drake to be a loyal British servant, but perhaps he should be wary of him. Drake was a fur trade company man and had close ties with the other forts along the Fraser River. It was possible that Scranton was gathering intelligence.

“Hmm. Very interesting. Dr. Kilburn has also cast some doubt on Scranton’s character.”

“That’s no surprise considering Kilburn is a Vigilante. If the Vigilante Committee had their way, Scranton would have hanged in California. It must irk Kilburn to see Scranton walk around Fort Yale as a free man. It bothers me too, come to think of it. Folks like me have only just seen their freedom and the politicians down there want to take it away again. That’s why I’m up here, happy to be freezing in the name of Queen Victoria!” Marvin laughed.

Nuttall handed a few coins to Marvin.

“If there is any trouble, keep me advised,” Nuttall said as he put on a military hat from an army he once belonged to and opened the door.

“There’ll be trouble alright, you can be sure of that. You have a good day, sir.”

Marvin pulled the door shut against a blast of frigid air. It was going to be a long cold winter he thought to himself as he stoked the fire in the corner.

Two weeks later, there was trouble just as Marvin had figured.

This is the second story featured in my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek & more Gold Rush Stories

Story Sunday: Sweet Pickles and Fine Wine

This is the second half of the story, “Trouble in Fort Yale”

The following week, the Ricketts hosted a dinner for the Nuttalls and Edwin McCreight, the new Chief Inspector of Police.

TableFoodThe small wooden table was filled with hot dishes and Ricketts went to great lengths to have a wide selection of desserts, jellies and puddings as well as expensive wine brought up by his good friend King. Edwin McCreight ate heartily while Margaret Nuttall and Sarah kept up a pleasant banter. Ricketts distrust of Nuttall was unchanged and the smiles and forced laughs did nothing to diminish their mutual dislike.

McCreight recounted the sinking of the ship that was to bring him to North America and his tale of survival with only the clothes on his back.

“I am quite out of money at the moment so I am grateful for your excellent meal.”

Nuttall chuckled, “you know where to come if you want sweet pickles and fine wine.”

Ricketts ignored the remark. “Getting adequate funds from the Governor is quite a difficult task, but one must persist. Did the Governor inform you as to your new duties?”

McCreight nodded agreeably. “By the way, the Governor gave me a letter which I was instructed to pass on to you. It concerns your lot.”

“My lot?” Ricketts fought to maintain his composure.

“Yes, it seems that there is no record of your having purchased a lot.”

Ricketts could feel his neck redden. Nuttall smiled as McCreight handed him the letter.

Ricketts had no sooner finished reading the Governor’s familiar signature, when there was a knock on the door. It was one of King’s saloon keepers with an urgent message. All eyes were on Ricketts as he rose up from his chair and followed the man outside.

“King needs to see you sir, said it was urgent. By the usual spot.”

The dinner finished shortly thereafter with various parties making a hasty retreat to the door.

Ricketts put on his hat and headed to Moore’s Saloon where King kept his office. He had a good idea what King wanted to discuss. One of King’s trusted couriers had been arrested in Lytton by the Justice of the Peace, James Flott for shooting another man. All of the liquor was confiscated. This would have dire consequences on King’s profits.

Nuttall followed at a distance, keeping close to the buildings. He watched the side door of the saloon open as Ricketts approached.

King’s eyes darted around as he beckoned Ricketts inside and shut the door.

“I thought you said you could release Bole? He’s in jail and Justice Flott has all of my liquor.”

Ricketts scowled, “Why didn’t you bring up the issue with Flott? Lytton is in his jurisdiction and there is no oversight in his area unlike here where every miner who isn’t busy prospecting has made themselves busy writing complaints to the Governor!”

“Flott was lying on the floor, drunk. There wasn’t much point in dealing with him then, was there? I didn’t have all day to wait for him to become sober. He’s got two or three men who do his bidding and they wouldn’t let me get past.”

Ricketts shook his head, “I’m afraid at this time I cannot afford to do such a thing. McCreight is about to take over the jail as part of his duties and he’s already arranged for a constable to travel. I can’t release the man without raising the ire of Nuttall.”

“I saw Nuttall skulking around earlier. I hope he won’t put another dent in my profits. The saloons have had a steady business up to this point but I can’t guarantee you’ll get your share unless I can recover that liquor.”

Ricketts wasn’t swayed. “McCreight is sharing a room with the jailer for lack of decent accommodation. Bole will be travelling with the constable soon enough. There is plenty of wilderness between here and New Westminster to get lost in. I’m heading up to Lytton next week. I’ll talk to Flott then.”

King offered him a bottle of fine whisky and Ricketts took it. He knew he shouldn’t; it only increased King’s expectations, but it was there for the taking.

Ricketts kept glancing over his shoulder as he walked back, sensing a pair of eyes watching him.

excerpt from Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories

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?”


“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.”

Book of BC Gold Rush Short Stories just published

Gold Rush Short Stories

Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories

My new book of BC gold rush short stories has just been released on Amazon! Mayhem at Rock Creek & more Gold Rush Stories includes:

  • Trouble in Fort Yale
  • The Trial of Justice Nuttall
  • Rations in a Prosperous Land
  • Captain Hovie’s Messenger
  • The Molasses Letter
  • Disputed Claim
  • Justice Arrives in Lillooet
  • Mayhem at Rock Creek

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?”


“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.

Murder at Wild Horse Creek

When they discovered gold in Wild Horse Creek, it was kept such a secret that it was just a rumour at first.

The Hudson’s Bay Company knew about it because the Kootenay tribe had traded gold nuggets at the fort as early as 1857 when the honourable Company expressed interest in acquiring gold. Like any secret, it attracted interest and as other gold bearing streams in Idaho and Washington became more challenging, gold seekers like John Galbraith set their eyes on the area north of the border.

Gold seekers followed the Kootenay River north to where the rumours swirled around at Wild Horse Creek.  By the summer of 1863, hundreds of American prospectors were following the river north.

By the time John Galbraith arrived, there was a town called Fisherville. It wasn’t a town in the proper sense; quite unlike some of the towns in eastern Canada where he was from. There were shanties from logs, shakes and bark or whatever else was lying around but everything looked like it could be dismantled with a good kick. There were two saloons that could withstand a strong wind and a hotel that was operated by a woman they called Axe Handle Bertha.

He handed over his money to Bertha who showed him a room that looked as though it had been used that same day.  He stayed one sleepless night at the hotel listening to doors slamming and drunken men arguing.  He woke up early the next morning and ate lukewarm bacon and boiled cabbage. Then he gathered his belongings and set out with his gold pan.

Galbraith spent the better part of the morning walking along a well-worn trail beside Wild Horse Creek. There were men with gold pans and some with shovels full of gravel they put into rockers.

“Where can you stake a claim?” he asked one of the miners.

“Not around here.”

Galbraith trudged on with his gold pan tucked under his arm.  There were a handful of men on either side, some with guns at the ready, eyeing him warily.

As he walked by he caught snippets of conversation.

“stolen in the middle of the night.”

“there’s going to be hell to pay – a real western necktie party.”

Galbraith shuddered at the thought of a lynching. At one point in the river there weren’t many people about and none of them seemed vigilant.  He got out his pan at the river’s edge and rested it just under the water and shook it vigorously with a slight circular motion. His eyes focussed on the bits of gravel as he raised and lowered the lip of the pan into the water. Just as he thought he spotted some coarse yellow grains in his pan, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“You see that point up there by the boulder at the bend? That’s our claim from here to there.”

Galbraith turned around to see who was talking, a gruff bull-headed man with a large droopy moustache.

He looked to see where the man was pointing to but it all seemed very hazy.

“Yeast Powder Bill has the point beyond that to the boulder about a mile up.”

Galbraith shook his head, “I don’t see a stake in the ground. Do you have a record of it with the gold commissioner?”

The man gave a sharp laugh, “there doesn’t need to be. That’s the way it is.”

Galbraith trudged back to town empty handed. There were two saloons on the street and he stepped inside one of them. There was an Irish flag nailed to the exposed log behind the bartender and a ceramic figure with a Gaellic expression underneath. There were several men playing a lively game of cards on an overturned keg.

“C’mere and close the door behind you. Those damn flies like my beer too much.”

Galbraith drank some beer and asked about the man who had ordered him off the river.

“That would be Overland Bob, or so he calls himself. He and Yeast Powder Bill and his group have laid claim to just about every square inch of the river.  It isn’t right I tell you, there’s nothing but Americans here. They want to see us starve out and now they’re accusing our Tom Walker of going through their damn rockers and picking out the gold!” The bartender slammed his fist down on the counter.

Galbraith commiserated as the bartender, Crowley, ranted and told him the story of how he had paid every penny he had to take one of the ‘Ghost Ships’ to the new world and worked his way west. Crowley had been to every gold rush camp along the way and met quite a few unsavoury characters but none as bad as Yeast Powder Bill.

“He’s ruling this place like a feudal lord here in this fly infested swamp ridden bush nowhere near civilization. It’s a good thing we have a lively group of friends here, we make sure we stick together.”

“Friends of Ireland?” Galbraith asked. He had heard about these clubs from his brother Robert who had said that the Fenians as they were known, were stirring up trouble and harassing government officials in Canada East.

The conversation was interrupted by Tom Walker, who was one of the young men playing cards.  He had made friends with some of the Kootenays, he said and they had allowed him and a couple of others to pan for gold but there was still a simmering conflict with Yeast Powder Bill.

Galbraith figured as long as there as gold in Wild Horse Creek then gold seekers would be willing to pay good money to see that their horses or mules were safely transported across the Kootenay River just below where Wild Horse Creek empties into it.  He wrote a letter asking for permission to set up a cable ferry and in the meantime, he set to work building a wooden raft and then making rope with bark, hemp and any other fibre he could find.

One sunny afternoon in August, he heard someone had found a nugget that weighed 36 ounces. There was a lot of talk and excitement at first. It was hot and the air didn’t move an inch even when the sun turned down onto the horizon and the liquor was flowing, the heat didn’t dissipate.  Crowley was irritable and sweaty as were all the miners swatting flies. It didn’t take long before fights broke out.

Galbraith took a shortcut past the back of the hotel where he saw Gunpowder Sue fanning herself. “It’s so hot you would think there has to be thunder somewhere,” she said.

“There are some clouds over there, but I don’t think –“

Suddenly gunshots exploded and people yelled and shouted. Galbraith peered around the corner and saw Yeast Powder Bill and Overland Bob being chased down the street while Crowley leaned over Tom Walker who was lying on the ground, his shirt ripped and bloodied from gunshot wounds.

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda Part 2

Edgar Dewdney official portrait as Lieutenant Governor (Govt of BC)

Edgar Dewdney wouldn’t back down. He was the one with the contract he argued, they were there to do the work. No amount of reasoning or yelling would get the Sappers to budge. They stood there with their shovels and axes, waiting for word from their commander, Lieutenant McColl.

“We have a vast knowledge of building roads,” McColl said. “It’s far better to bring the route further away from the river, as I had previously suggested. You have chosen to ignore my good advice and the result is your own doing.”

“I will take this issue to the Governor.”

When he arrived at Fort Victoria, he outlined his story to Douglas’ clerk who gave him some advice on how to present his case to the Governor. “Emphasize the fact that the Royal Engineers won’t work with you at all.”

After modifying the events, Dewdney explained the dramatic story of his harrowing escape to Governor Douglas who sat impassively behind his desk.

“You’re still under a contract to finish the road. If you cannot complete the road, then you will have to forfeit all the monies plus interest.”

There was silence for a moment while the gravity of the situation hit home.  “I have every intention of fulfilling my obligations.”

“Good.  Then you will get back to work.”

Dewdney made his way to the Union Hotel and drank several glasses of spirits as he thought about a solution to his woes.  What was he to do? He couldn’t work with the Royal Engineers and yet what he really needed was enough money to be able to hire some men to work under him.  He could write home and ask his father to arrange for a bank draft, but it was a route he’d rather not take.  On the other hand he could see if he could find someone who would want to enter a partnership.

Just as the thought began to take shape in his mind, he heard a loud clattering noise. Someone had thrown some gold nuggets at the large mirror that hung behind the bar.

“I can’t hawk this gold for nuthin’” the miner yelled out to nobody in particular.

“Why not?” Dewdney asked.  He was curious despite the man being obviously drunk.

“Why? They’re charging four lousy percent to get a dollar.”

“I’m sure someone could do better than that, do you have any more gold dust?”

The miner leaned away from him and laughed.  “You can get some yourself at Rock Creek, that’s where I’ve just been.”

“Rock Creek?  I have the contract to build a road from Fort Hope to Rock Creek,” Dewdney said proudly.

“Could’ve used a good road when I first came, I don’t know if it makes too much of a difference now that most of us are heading out.”

The miner’s words affected him over the course of the next few days and his appetite diminished with worry.  He placed an advertisement in the newspaper but there was no response from anybody.

“Most of the folks are coming here to find gold,” the bartender said sympathetically.

As the days wore on, Dewdney realized that the Royal Engineers had withheld his payment and he went to see James Douglas.

“I can’t finish the project until I receive the money,” he said.  He was expecting Douglas to go into a tirade but he was preoccupied with a report to E.B. Lytton concerning his shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company that he had yet to relinquish.

“I’ll grant you some time off from completing this road if you can be of some assistance to me in this matter,” Douglas said.

Dewdney was more than glad for the opportunity and over the course over the next few months he made use of his father’s political contacts while earning enough money to keep him at a comfortable lodging.

Almost a year to the day he had abandoned the trail, he received a message from Douglas’ clerk that there was a railroad engineer who had stopped by looking for a government job.  His name was Walter Moberly.

Dewdney went over the plans and talked about his contract while Moberly listened with intense interest.  He didn’t tell him about the Royal Engineers and how they had taken over; he didn’t know himself how far they had developed the road.

It was the end of May by the time everything was arranged and a work crew was hired.  The Royal Engineers had built the trail as far as Princeton and beyond that a large valley spread out ahead of them.  Eventually a routine was settled on and everyone was ready to start grading and shovelling five o’clock every morning.

By the end of July, all was well until they encountered the first large mountain that rose abruptly from the lake below.  A couple of the workers decided they’d had enough and abruptly left. When the other workers were out of earshot, Moberly said to Dewdney, “let’s forget wasting time with making sure the road is wide enough, we’ve got to finish this thing before everyone else quits and heads to the Cariboo.”

Dewdney thought about this.  James Douglas had already made a trip to Rock Creek; how likely was it that he would come again? On the other hand, if all the workers left to go to the gold diggings then the trail wouldn’t get finished and he would be on the hook.

They encountered few miners as they headed eastward but Dewdney was so preoccupied with mapping the trail and getting the coordinates just right that he didn’t put it into perspective.  Moberly was becoming more and more restless as the trail wore on and the others in the work crew were becoming dissatisfied with the same fare of hard tack and canned beef.  Dewdney himself reminisced about wearing a clean shirt that hadn’t been boiled to the texture of tough canvas.

At the end of August, they came along the Kettle Valley to Rock Creek and they walked past one empty cabin and then another. There was nobody in sight. The rush was indeed over.

“Here’s the end of the road,” Moberly said and fired his shotgun in the air.

Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda

“How did you come to know Mr. Lytton?”

“My father is a close friend of Charles Kerneys-Tynte, who as you know is a respected Member of Parliament. Subsequently, he introduced me to the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton. So here I am,” Dewdney gave a half smile.

“We are a new colony and there is much to do in the way of town planning which the Royal Engineers are busying themselves with,” Douglas scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could be the Colonial contribution to the planning of our newest settlement at New Westminster.  It would be good to have someone who could report to me what those Royal Engineers are up to.”

Pleased with himself, Dewdney went back to his hotel and with the help of one of Douglas’ staff, he procured an outfit similar to the one worn by the Sappers consisting of serge trousers and a serge shirt with pockets.

The next day, Douglas brought him to the wharf where Colonel Moody was about to board the steamship for the Fraser River.   Moody barely looked at Douglas while he introduced Dewdney.  On the ship, Moody told Dewdney to meet him after supper.

“I understand that Mr. Douglas wants you to help with the town’s layout,” Moody said without preamble. “This is all very good you understand, but seeing as you’re a civilian, you will be paid as such. Furthermore, you will report to me as your commander, not Mr. Douglas.”

“What salary will that be?”

Moody’s eyes flickered for an instant. “It depends on many factors, our budget for one.  I will let you know soon enough.”

He didn’t see Moody for the next three days so Dewdney took it upon himself to start surveying.  He didn’t have any equipment with him other than his sextant so he borrowed a telescope from one of the Royal Engineers.

He was hammering a wooden post into the ground when one of the engineers came around with Moody.

“I see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Moody said.

Dewdney stood up. “This would make a great road, don’t you agree?”

Moody looked around. “It’s too close to the Fraser River at this point. The river is known to rise precipitously with the summer freshets.  If you care to look at this draft, I believe this would make an excellent seaside park.”

Dewdney looked the two soldiers up and down.

“I believe the Governor’s instructions were to plan roads and that is what I intend to do. Look at this mess!” He gestured with his arm at the jagged stumps and fallen trees lying as far as the eye could see.    The first opportunity he had, he wrote a note to Governor Douglas, requesting to have better accommodation.

Within a couple of days, he received an encouraging reply asking for more information.  Over the course of the next few weeks,   Dewdney proceeded with his own plans and submitted them to the governor’s office for approval.

Several letters were exchanged back and forth and he noticed that Moody and his men left him to do his own planning without any further interference.  One morning, in the middle of June when the sun was shining after several days of rain, Dewdney was summoned to the main house for a meeting with the colonel and his lieutenants.

They were all silent when Dewdney arrived and none of them offered any greeting of any sort. Moody looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.

Moody surprised him by being conciliatory and commending him for his work so far.  “The governor has been so pleased with your plans that he has officially approved them.”

Dewdney smiled, “I’m very pleased to hear that sir.”

“I’m also offering you a proposition.  As you know we are in need of hay for the horses and I understand that there is excellent hay to be had from the valley east of here. We are quite willing to increase your salary substantially.”

Dewdney nodded as he listened to the terms of this offer.  The pay was substantially more than what he was currently earning as an engineer and he couldn’t help wondering if this was just a scheme to get him out of the way.

At the end of August, Dewdney was told the contract for hay had finished and he was no longer needed.  He took the next steamer to Victoria and asked to speak with the Governor.  He was told the Governor was busy and after walking around the house several times, he spotted Douglas puffing on his pipe in the garden, with his brows firmly crossed.

Normally, he would have waited for a more opportune moment, but Dewdney hadn’t heard from the Governor and he was getting anxious.

Unlike Moody, Douglas didn’t mind small talk and he wasn’t immune to flattery so Dewdney used both.

“I’ve just come back from Rock Creek,” Douglas said after a time.  “We can’t be having all these gold seekers travelling back to the American side of the border with all that gold dust. There’s a need for a good road there from Fort Hope. Do you think you could commit to it? I’m considering putting it out to tender.”

“Yes! I would be very eager to embark on such a project, your Excellency.”

“The Royal Engineers will be doing the bulk of the work of course. I don’t have much use for them but at least England is paying for them.  Everybody keeps saying there is so much gold out there but we’re not collecting revenues like we should.”

“If I were granted the tender, could I hire my own workers?”

“There is no guarantee that you will receive it, but if you think you can afford to do so, go ahead.”

The conversation left him doubtful, and on the advice of one of Douglas’ clerks, Dewdney submitted a proposal with the lowest possible bid.

He had pictured in his mind a road 12 feet wide, bridged and graded to allow wagon travel.  He didn’t know then that it would be the worst months of his life.

Not all the money was forthcoming as he had hoped; instead he was given a much smaller portion that would hardly cover his own needs rather than the supplies for a project of this scope. At Fort Hope he met some of the Sappers he was assigned to oversee.  Several of them had been with the border commission and brought along various types of astrological equipment.

Beyond Fort Hope was a river that cut through the mountains.  Dewdney proposed they follow this river. The idea seemed straight forward enough until it was realized the plateau above the river soon became a series of ledges.

“We’ll have to blast this out,” Dewdney said.

Immediately, the response was negative.

(to be continued)