Category Archives: Short Stories

Historical short stories that take place in British Columbia

Surviving Pine River

Pine River

May 15,1860

“Goodbye,” Chloe whispered to her husband, Edward. His eyes were barely open and there was a sickly pallor about him. She could smell the illness that had spread from his wounded hand. Chloe knew she had to get help soon, or Edward wouldn’t live.

She was weak with hunger. It had been so long since they had enjoyed a meal; she had tried to get food but it had been a difficult winter. First there were the storms. It had been a brutally cold winter and Edward’s musket had become irreparably damaged. At the time he had been still optimistic that they had enough provisions to see them through until Spring, but then a tree fell on their canoe, breaking it in half. Edward set about trying to repair it but to no avail. She wanted to help him build a raft, but he insisted that he do it alone. “It’s important to rest,” he told her. Weak and tired, Edward was chopping a branch from a tree to use for the raft, when the axe slipped and nearly severed his hand. Chloe did her best to help him, but his suffering continued.

Chloe took the baby in her arms and held her small, frail body against her own.

Seven and a half weeks ago, her baby had been born, fat and healthy in their cabin. Edward had celebrated the event by writing a note in his diary. “March 31, 1872. “Born this day a girl with vocal cords in fine working order.” Every day, as Chloe counted and portioned out the dwindling supplies.

When they were still building the cabin, Edward would get out his diary and read aloud  what had happened a year ago on a certain date. It was almost a year since they first met in her traditional territory. The sight of white men passing through was becoming a familiar one so she wasn’t surprised when she first caught sight of Edward in a canoe. She remembered how he smiled at her and waved with his paddle. At that moment, his canoe had become stuck on the shallow bottom and he wobbled the canoe from side to side. Her brother Jean offered him a long pole with which to propel his canoe forward and the Englishman was effusive in his gratitude. He came ashore and they struck up a conversation.

His name was Edward Armson and he was from England, bound for the “gold diggings” in British Columbia.

“My wife died last year,” he lamented. “All my family is deceased except my sister.”

Chloe felt sorry for him. Jean asked him how he planned to make a living. “You can only pan for gold when the water is low. At certain times of the year, you have to do other things like trapping. Do you trap?”

“I’m good at hunting, but I’ve never trapped before. I’ve heard the gold diggings are quite prosperous, aren’t they?”

Edward stayed around for several days and after which it became clear that Chloe wanted to be with him.

“Why don’t you come too, Jean? We can see the country together.”

Jean agreed and the three of them set out in a canoe, with Edward in the front, Chloe in the middle and Jean at the back to steer.

Over time, it became apparent that Edward wasn’t an outdoor person like Jean or Chloe. He was a good student though and he was eager to learn.

By the time they reached the Peace River in the early spring, Jean decided that he wanted to explore the country on his own. Edward and his sister would be fine, he thought.

“Meet me here next Spring when the last of the snow has melted,” he had said. Edward wanted to set a specific date, but Chloe knew what her brother meant.

The river was free of ice and the snow had finally melted. This day had finally come.
As she held the baby her trembling arms, she saw the last of the snow had finally gone. The snow that had hidden food from their sight and kept them cold had melted to reveal wet, muddy earth. She imagined her brother was out there somewhere.

She stood still for a moment then walked forward, one step at a time. She had to keep going, she told herself. She couldn’t look back at the cabin. The sun was a faint shadow through the leafless limbs of the trees, but it was a cloudless sky and it lifted her spirits.

The raft was still there, tied to a tree. For a few moments, she rested and checked the baby’s blankets, making sure no cold air could possibly chill her. The baby’s eyes were closed. She had become silent and gaunt like the rest of them. Chloe kissed her tiny fingers, hoping her warm breath would feed her. Then she climbed onto the raft, holding the baby closely.

Chloe stood up and pushed the raft forward with a long pole. It took all her strength.  The raft was swaying beneath her feet. Watching her baby closely, she pushed the raft forward again. A tremor suddenly went through her body as she lost her balance, falling backward into the water.

Her clothing was so heavy it weighed her down. Using all her strength she tried to pull herself from under the water. Finally breaking through to the surface, only to see the raft caught in a current and quickly disappear down the river and around a bend. The last sight of her helpless child made her try to swim faster, but the raft had vanished from sight.
Jean was thinking about his sister Chloe and brother—in-law Edward as he paddled up the Peace River in his dugout canoe. The last of the snow had melted, it would only be a matter of time before he saw them both. He wondered if their trapline was productive. It had been a cold winter and the pelts would have been thick. Every so often he would glance down the river, half expecting their canoe to come in sight but there was only a group of buffleheads in the distance.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something unusual. Standing up, he could see a raft that was being pushed along haphazardly by the current. There was something on it too. Strange, he thought.

Jean got into his canoe and a minute later he had paddled to the raft and had pulled himself alongside where he was at eye level with a small bundle. Curious, Jean stretched over the raft with one foot in his canoe and reached for the tightly wrapped blankets and lifted it towards himself. He held his breath as lifted a cloth that covered the face of a baby.

Forgetting about the raft, Jean paddled with determined strokes towards his camp and carried the baby to where the campfire was still burning. He poured water into a pot and while it boiled, he quickly prepared a mallard duck he had just shot that morning and plopped it in the water watching the fat and grease bubble. When it was cool enough, he took a spoonful of liquid and let it sit on the baby’s lips. To his amazement, the baby’s lips moved and the duck broth disappeared. He gave her spoonful after spoonful and she swallowed each one.

The baby was still too weak to cry. What could he do? Gathering the baby close to him, he got in the canoe and paddled to where he had remembered seeing an Indian encampment.

They were still there and he called out a greeting in Chinook as he approached. Suspicious at first, they relented when he showed him the small baby. At first they thought it was sick but after delicately unwrapping the child, they talked amongst themselves and decided the baby was just hungry.  One of the women in the group gathered the small dark-haired baby in her arms and started nursing the infant.

The Indian women were full of questions, but Jean could only give them limited information about discovering the baby hours earlier on a raft. He thanked them and left.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Jean waited around for Edward and Chloe but there was no sign of them. Worried, he decided to venture down the Pine River and see if he could find them.  Where the Pine River merged into the Peace, there stood a fur-trading post put there in the last century, or so he had been told.

The birch trees were just starting to show some signs of new foliage he noticed as he paddled downriver. He kept a close eye on the shoreline, looking for a gravel beach or some sort of landing. He didn’t think that they were too far from the mouth, but he kept paddling onward.

Up ahead was a cluster of branches that must have been carried along with the current. As he approached, he saw a piece of red cloth snagged on a branch.

Jean brought his canoe closer and took the cloth. Just as he was about to get back into his canoe, he noticed some sticks near the shore that had become piled up and saw a piece of black leather. It was beyond his reach.

Bringing his canoe ashore, out of the corner of his eye he noticed faint deer tracks still visible in the soft sand. Glancing back on the spot he had noticed before, Jean found the piece of black leather. Reaching his hand into the ice cold water, Jean lifted a leather boot.

It belonged to his sister.
After he buried his sister, Jean sat on the beach and thought about her sad fate. What had happened? He should have come around in the winter, even if it meant making his way along the ice. She was all the family he had left and now she was gone. Where was Edward? How could he have let this happen?

He lit a fire and ate some of the food he’d brought with him. Then he slept under his canoe.
Around midnight, he heard some wolves howling on the opposite side of the river, their voices echoing off the high rocks.

The next morning, he awoke before dawn and got back into his canoe. He knew what he was looking for and he paddled steadily until the shore flattened out again.

There was a stand of birch trees along the shore and luckily their foliage was still small enough that it was easy to see beyond them. As he scanned the area, his eyes caught a large dark shape.

A huge pine had blown down, crushing the roof of the log cabin and obliterated the door.
Jean removed enough branches so that he could gain access to the interior. The door came away in his hands and he stepped inside.

Against the back wall was a make shift bed on which lay Edward. What had happened to Edward? Part of his hand was missing. A baby’s rattle was on the floor next to a square package wrapped in birch bark. He picked them up. There wasn’t anything else to retrieve. He blocked the front door as he had found it and left.
Jean went down to the river and washed himself. He untied the string from the birch bark and saw a leather-bound book. It was Edward’s diary. The script was so cursive it was hard to read at first, but the entries were short and to the point.

He read about their daily struggles, trying to find enough food. For several weeks, Edward had constrained himself to one meal a day in order that Chloe would eat enough. They named the baby Lily. She was a healthy child, he wrote. He noticed how the writing style changed from thick strokes to barely discernible lines. In the last page, Edward wrote:

“I am dying, effects of accident. Write Barstow and Blake, Solicitors, London, England. Wife and baby weak from starvation. Will try to meet Jean.”

Jean felt a lump in his throat as he paddled up river. Five days later, Jean found the Indian encampment and inquired about Lily. She was putting on weight, they said. He handed one of the elders the diary of her late father. They promised to give it to Lily when she was old enough.

He was going to return next year, he told them. Jean was going to paddle east to Saskatchewan. From there, he would find one of the Hudson Bay forts and give them a message to forward to Barstow and Blake, Solicitors in England.

Handbook to the Gold Fields

June 1858

Amid the excited crowd gathered at the wharf in San Francisco, Rube Rains held the last copy of “The Hand-book and Map to THE GOLD REGION of Frazer’s and Thompson’s Rivers” by Alexander C. Anderson – late Chief Trader Hudson Bay Co’s service

Two days later, Rains walked aboard an overcrowded ship with his mining provisions. Everyone was talking about gold as they lined up to buy tickets on the next ship bound for Victoria.  There were people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions gathered together for the sole purpose of the pursuit of becoming rich. As an actuary, Rains hoped he would be among the percentage that would succeed.

The steamboat swayed and rocked forward with the waves. When he wasn’t being pitched about he found a small area to read the handbook.

Alexander Caulfield Anderson had several pages of words in the trading language called “Chinook” which Rains found interesting. Every now and then he shut his eyes and tested his knowledge before looking at the page.

“What are you reading?” someone asked.

“I’m learning a few phrases in Chinook in case I need to acquire a canoe.” Rains held up the handbook.

The two chatted for a bit and Rains learned his name was Silas Crane, a seasoned gold prospector from the California gold rush.

Over the course of the trip, Rains read aloud snippets from the handbook to a small crowd of gold seekers.

“Frazer’s River discharges itself into the Gulf of Georgia, a little to the north of the 49th parallel. At the distance of 160 miles from its mouth, it is joined by Thompson’s River, a large stream flowing eastward. Here, and in its immediate vicinity, the diggings which are now creating so much excitement, have been in progress since last Summer.”

Rains looked up and saw the other men were mulling over this fact.

He continued reading:

“Horses are not procurable here, nor if procurable, is the country suited for their subsistence. The navigation of the Falls at high water cannot be accomplished; nor indeed, is the upper portion of the river to be navigated without difficulty at that stage.
At the lower, stage, these difficulties are so far modified that they may be overcome by portages; but it is to be premised that a certain amount of skill and experience in canoe navigation is a necessary condition of the undertaking.

Rains looked up. “How many here have paddled a canoe?”

“Paddling the canoe is easy, just a case of dipping the oar into the water, nothing to worry about.  I can’t believe they don’t have horses up there, though. It would sure make packing supplies much easier,” Crane said.

When the ship dropped anchor at Fort Victoria, Rains was pleasantly surprised to find  comfortable lodging. It was hard to imagine anything about the hardships that lay ahead of them while staying in this bucolic village.

The first order of business was to purchase a mining licence for five dollars from the Hudson Bay Company. For an extra fee they converted his American money into British coins. He was persuaded to buy food supplies including some dried pemmican and tobacco for possible barter or exchange. Fortunately, Rains had brought with him a pan and a pickax which were rumoured to be in short supply.

After spending more money than he’d anticipated, Rains decided he wouldn’t have enough for a ticket on a steamboat. Instead, he went down to the beach where large cedar canoes were lined in a row with several native paddlers on the beach offering to take prospectors as far as Fort Langley. Rains tried a few words in Chinook but the man spoke English well enough that it wasn’t necessary.

Rains and two other gold seekers boarded a large canoe. There was more than enough room for their supplies and the paddlers set off.

Before long, they started singing and paddled with the rhythm of the music. The canoe pulled forward easily and within a short time Vancouver Island became scarcely visible.
One of the paddlers shouted out instructions to another and with swift, well-practiced movements, a sail was erected and turned in a direction that propelled the craft forward at an even greater speed.

Rains marvelled at the way the sleek craft sliced through the dark blue seawater; it’s speed rivalled that of any steamboat.

They were about half way across the strait when the signal was given to bring down the mast and the waves started rolling forward pushing the nose of the canoe upward. Rains and the others held on while one of the paddlers grabbed a cedar bailer and tossed it in his direction.

“Tlil-a-sit!” He gestured.

Rains took it from him and started bailing. Silas Crane took his tin mug and did the same.
Crane was laughing to the point of being hysterical, raising his cup to see how fast the rain could fill it. “Shall we toast the Queen?” he shouted as the downpour started.

Rains nodded grimly as he pulled his hat down. His teeth were chattering almost uncontrollably.  By the time they reached the mouth of the Fraser, the clouds had blown away and his clothes began to dry in the steady breeze.

“It’s almost as wide as the Mississippi,” marvelled Crane.

Rains looked around as the canoe sped past a sand bar. Just ahead was another canoe and in the distance was the inky grey streak left behind by the steamer.
After two more hours, the canoe pulled up to the edge of a fine gravel shore. In the distance was a large bastion behind an imposing palisade.

Fort Langley, BC 1858 (from "Trading Beyond the Mountains" by Richard S. Mackie)

The paddlers jumped out first, followed by the prospectors. Rains straightened his cramped legs and leaped towards dry ground. Fort Langley at last, he thought to himself.
Upon entering the gate, he could see several sturdy buildings made with large timbers.  Looking around he noticed how quiet it seemed. He had been expecting a town not a place that was scarcely inhabited.

Where was everybody?  Where the canoes he had spotted earlier along the river?  Rains caught up with the others who were talking to a cooper with a few staves at his feet.
It turned out the cooper was interested to know where they were heading.

“Up the Fraser river?  You’re going to have a hard time getting past the Falls,” Rains heard him tell the others.

“We have a map of the route to take,” Rains said as he approached.

The cooper and the others turned to look at Rains as he pulled out the handbook and showed him the map.

With a gnarled finger, the cooper followed the dotted line, nodding his head from time to time.

“You’ll want to take a canoe to Fort Hope and then this route that goes along the Coquihalla River northeast to Fort Kamloops then west along the Nicola and the Thompson.”

He paused for a second, “I’ll be darned – they’ve marked Ballenden’s grave on here.”

“What happened to him?” Crane asked.

The Fraser River is surrounded by tall canyons, the likes of you probably haven’t seen before.  There’s Black Canyon and Hell’s Gate and the only way you can get through there is clinging to those rock faces with your bare hands.  The natives have their own way of  getting down to the river and do their fishing but if you want to bring any supplies around at all, you have to go inland.”

The cooper leaned on a spade and Rains watched as the others set down their packs.
“Back in ’48 the Company taking supplies on a new trail from Fort Kamloops to here, but it wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. Horses had a difficult time of it – too steep. The fellow who wrote this book, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, well he was stuck with the task of finding a better route for the Company, so he found this route which was only used a few times.

There was a group of them heading up but too many horses for so few men. I knew there were going to be problems, having taken the route myself once. You’ve got to get every horse one by one down the steep embankment to a bridge by the river but each step is precarious.

At that time of year there’s always a large number of Indians who congregate along the banks of the Fraser at that time and you wondered if someone was going to take advantage of the situation. There is no game along there you know, just fish and a lot of times the people go hungry before the fish come along again.

As I was saying, on this one trip the group took some time leaving Simon’s House on the west side of the Fraser. Some of the group got way ahead and the others got stuck behind and the rain was coming down. The horses were slipping and sliding under the weight of their packs and some of them were straying off the trail completely trying to find something to eat. Each man was to look after at least ten horses and it was a trouble to look after them all. By the time they reached camp at the foot of Big Hill it was past night fall after some grub had been served. Some people were upset about it, seeing as there was no food for them or their horses. The next day Ballenden was found shot dead and the Company man said he’d shot himself.”

There was silence for a moment, the Rains asked the question on everyone’s mind:

“Do you believe he shot himself?”

The cooper looked away for a moment and then cleared his throat.

“Ballenden was a good lad and a lot of people were sorry to hear he went like that. Let’s put it this way, the trail will drive you mad, for sure. If you can get through marching up to the gold fields as they say, then you’re an honourable man.”

With that, the cooper left them thinking about things. Then Crane jumped up, “I’m going to find us a canoe for Fort Hope.”


Note: Tlil-a-sit is a Chinook word meaning bail out

Hill’s Bar Mob (part 2)

It was the beginning of December and the miners were getting restless. The temperatures were dipping below freezing and the sluice boxes were full of ice.

Bernard Rice entered Foster’s saloon and demanded a drink. Foster asked for money up front. Rice had too many unpaid drinks and wasn’t welcome.

Rice pulled out a gun and waved it around. Foster pulled out a gun from behind the counter and shot Rice dead.

Nobody was really concerned at first. Anywhere else, Foster could have claimed self-defence, but not here.

The next day, Whannell was back in Dixon’s barber chair gloating over his new decision.

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

Dixon paused with his scissors hovering above Whannell’s head. “You closed all of them?!”

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

Dixon started cutting Whannell’s hair. He’d already heard about Foster’s escape to Hill’s Bar but he asked Whannell 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.”

Dixon furrowed his brow, “what does Foster need him for? He probably left the bar with his money to Hill’s Bar. He’s a Law and Order man.”

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

There was no use in telling Whannell that by closing all the saloons, there would be more trouble in a town where people were agitated and restless.

Even when Dixon went out to get some food for himself at the diner, he saw the glum faced people shuffling along, looking miserable.

The saloons were still closed on December 24, 1858 when the Christmas dance was held. Dixon went there wearing his best suit and a clean pair of boots.  He arrived with some Nlaka’pamuth women he had met.

Dixon was having a good time, dancing with the ladies when he heard shouts in his direction. It seemed two ruffians were getting jealous and were determined that Dixon was not going to be a happy man.

Dixon told them to go elsewhere, “you’re in British Columbia and I’ve plead allegiance to Queen Victoria.”

The two men took that as a taunt and a scuffle ensued with Dixon being tossed outside and onto the frozen mud of the street. Dixon’s head hurt but he got to his feet and yelled at the closed door. He was angry and upset. How could those two jerks bully him like that?

The next morning he dropped by Whannell’s hut and found him standing by the fire.

Dixon took off his hat and pointed at his wrapped head.

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

Whannell 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 McGowan’s.”

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

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

“No thank you, sir. I’ve got years of practice helping injured soldiers and the like.”

After Dixon left, Whannell sent for Constable Hickson.

“Hickson, go to Hill’s Bar and give this warrant to George Perrier. I’m ordering the arrest of Burns and Farrell for the assault of Isaac Dixon.”

Two hours later, Hickson presented the warrant to George Perrier who went in search of Ned McGowan.

“McGowan, what should I do?”

McGowan was sitting at the saloon playing cards. “I’ll go talk to Whannell.”

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

“I’ve come to talk to you about Burns and Farrell,” McGowan began.

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

McGowan 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,” Whannell said through clenched teeth. “I won’t be bribed.”

McGowan returned to Hill’s Bar where Perrier and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Perrier asked as he helped steady the canoe while McGowan disembarked.

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

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

Hickson returned to Yale the next day – the last of the daylight was already ebbing away and he didn’t see the rush.

At nine o’clock the next day, Hickson rode in a canoe to Yale with the summons for Dixon.

He was halfway to the barber shop when he ran into Dixon on the main street and served him the paper.  Dixon read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Whannell’s hut and banged on the door.

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

“Dixon? What now?”

Dixon 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 Dixon kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

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

Whannell gathered up his sword and put on his hat. Half an hour later, Constable Hickson was spotted talking to Yates, the HBC clerk.

“Hickson! You are to come to my court at once!”

Hickson followed Whannell at a distance and arrived at the “court” – a sparse room with only a bench for Whannell to sit at and no heat.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the room and Hickson stood there hunched as he waited for Whannell to enter.

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

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

“You’re under arrest Mr. Hickson because you failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this Crown colony.”

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

“Am I not your superior?!”

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

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

“Put Hickson into the jail at once!”

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

Whannell stood and drew out his sword, slashing the air in front of him. 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 Governor James Douglas, he would just reply back that he could handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small HBC Fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the Crown colony. Its situation was a tenuous as its physical location was precarious; clinging to the side of the deep Fraser Canyon.

McGowan and nine others from Hill’s Bar disembarked from two canoes and strode along the main street. 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.

Whannell was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, talking to a few miners who had a few complaints when the door opened with a bang and McGowan and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Whannell. I, Ned McGowan and the nine others with me, have been given the title of special constables and are here to carry out the orders of Justice Perrier.”

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

“You’ve insulted her majesty and you’ve unlawfully detained Constable Hickson, who we are now going to release.”

Whannell, knowing he was outnumbered, had no choice but to step aside while McGowan and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns all aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Hickson.

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

Whannell tried to leave the room but McGowan’s men prevented him from doing so, instead they roped his wrists together and led him outside and down the street with one of them pointing his own sword at his back.

There were shouts of encouragement from some of the passersby but there were mostly insults hurled at Whannell by miners still missing their saloons. By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self praise.

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

McGowan relented and let the Vigilante member climb on board and take a seat beside Whannell who sat with his military hat askew. The others snickered at his appearance.
Using this opportunity to lecture to his prisoner, McGowan said words which caused Whannell’s heart to race.

Thinking that Whannell was worried about the outcome of the trial, Fife reassured Whannell that he would pay for any fine. “McGowan likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Whannell said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Perrier who read out the charges with occasional hints from McGowan himself.

“Perrier!” Whannell shouted. “This is a complete fraud!”

“Mr. Whannell, you are in my court.” Perrier didn’t look at Whannell as he read out the charges.

Whannell’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as McGowan gave a ten minute lecture on Whannell’s failings. He was almost shaking with rage as Perrier read out the fine of fifty dollars.

Fife paid the fine as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale.  Fife said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Whannell scarcely heard them.

Just as soon as Whannell 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 McGowan utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“all there is in this so-called Colony of yours are 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, Whannell appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire Colony is in peril!” he wrote.

There wasn’t enough time or space to talk about his ordeal but he did write that “George Perrier was colluding with Ned McGowan and the Hill’s Bar mob.”

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

In less than ten days, troops from the Royal Engineers would arrive in Yale along with Colonal Moody and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie.  McGowan’s war had begun.

The Hill’s Bar Mob

Yale, BC

December 6, 1858 – Fort Yale, BC

Peter Brunton Whannell sat in the barber chair facing the rough hewn wall in front of him. He took off his military cap and carefully placed it on the floor, next to his sword. Some people said he was preoccupied over wearing his military uniform all the time, but he wasn’t adequately paid as Justice of the Peace of Fort Yale. Besides his tall riding boots had proved useful in the muddy streets in the fall and now that winter was fast approaching, they kept him warm.

Isaac Dixon, the barber, applied a greasy mixture to Whannell’s 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!”

“Hmm. And did you remind him that British law applies here?” asked Whannell.

“I didn’t say a word until he got out the door but I charged him double!” Dixon held up his razor as if to emphasize the point.

Dixon drew the razor along Whannell’s cheek, humming as he did so. Whannell sat still but he wasn’t relaxed.

“Have you heard anything more about Perrier?” Whannell asked.

“Nothing new, but then again that doesn’t mean that there’s anything good about no news. Judge Perrier is under the thumb of McGowan. Whenever McGowan wants something he just yanks on Perrier’s nose ring and there he comes.” Dixon laughed.

Whannell frowned. It was disturbing that his counterpart across the Fraser River in Hill’s Bar was being influenced by a former Californian politician.

“How can this Ned McGowan have so much influence? I fail to understand.”

Dixon 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. They wanted him to hang for some crime or another but his friends got him out of there and up here to Fort Yale.”

Whannell turned his head and Dixon shaved the other side.

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

Dixon straightened up, “McGowan isn’t much of a miner and it wouldn’t take much for someone to round up some miners for a militia – back home I’m sure half of them already belong to one. The only lucky thing is that McGowan has enemies here and that’s why he’s had to stick to his camp across the river, although he’s been trying to make friends with the HBC factor Ovid Allard. I saw them having a friendly meeting in Foster’s saloon.”

“Hmm. Very interesting. Dr. Fifer, has also cast some doubt about McGowan’s character.”

Dixon snorted. “That’s no surprise considering Fifer is a Vigilante. If the Vigilante Committee had their way, McGowan would have hanged in California. It must irk Fifer to see McGowan walking around up here a free man. It irks me, come to think of it. Folks like me have only just seen their freedom and the politicians down there keep wanting to take it away again. That’s why I’m up here, happy to be freezing in the name of the Queen!”

Whannell took out a couple of coins and handed them to Dixon.

“If there is anything you need, consider me your friend and ally,” Whannell said as he patted Dixon on the shoulder.

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

Whannell put on his military hat and with sword in hand, went out the door leaving a cold blast of air behind him. It was too bad Whannell insisted on wearing that outrageous uniform, thought Dixon. It didn’t give the least amount of credibility; instead he had become the butt of jokes.

As Dixon stoked the fire in the corner, he thought about what Whannell had said about McGowan dragging his party politics up to Yale.

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

(to be continued)


The Canyon War

August 19, 1858

Running hard, David didn’t have time to admire the natural beauty of the trees and the small creeks that lay before him. He viewed each one as an obstacle; something someone had passed before him. If he stopped, he could hear his stomach rumbling.

“Follow the trail,” Captain Snyder had said as he passed David a piece of paper, folded into quarters.

“You must get word to Chief Spintlum that we must meet and make peace.”

Snyder watched as David took the piece of paper and tucked it inside his coat. Then David turned and headed off jogging along the HBC Brigade Trail.

It was narrow and in parts, winding, obvious in same places and obscure and hidden in others. According to Snyder, it was forty miles from here to the “Forks” where the Thompson River merged with the Fraser River. That was the seat of Chief CexpentlEm.

David respected Captain Snyder even though he, like most of the miners who had volunteered to join the “Pike Guards” militia were just doing so in order to defend their mining claims.

There was a small creek to his right and David stopped to bend down and drink. The water was refreshingly cool and he splashed the water against his face and neck. He should have noticed the basket in the water but he didn’t. He didn’t see the smoked salmon flung against the rocks. He smelled something. A burnt smell that was seemingly at odds with the rest of the surroundings. Then he looked again and saw the charred remains of a cache of food. He groped around and picked up some smoked salmon, dusting it off with his fingers. It wasn’t tough like he thought it would be, it tasted good.

Someone had come along and destroyed this place. Underneath a pile of charred wood was some more smoked salmon and other food. What a waste! And to think of how hungry he had been. Who would have done such a thing?

He was from Minnesota originally and through a series of adventures, he had found himself in Washington State near Yakima when he first heard about gold being discovered in the Fraser Canyon.

He’d never been this far north before and he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay in this foreboding place.

When he had arrived in Yale a scant three weeks before he was thinking he ought to turn around. It was a lawless place where arguments turned ugly in an instant. The only thing more plentiful than gold was liquor and there was lots of it.

Going through the rapids in the Fraser Canyon

The narrow confines of the Fraser Canyon made the mining dangerous. There was only one way out and one way in. The rise and fall of the Fraser was unwelcome as it was unpredictable. Miners scrambled and fought over the exposed gravel bars while the rush of water smashed fully loaded canoes against the rocks.

Everyone like him had a story to tell of near misses and losses. You had to find a lot of gold to make it worthwhile to even afford food and supplies. Everyone was supposed to only buy supplies from the HBC but there wasn’t enough of anything to go around so merchants were coming up selling anything for whatever price they could get away with.

One night, things came to a head. Someone had come around and nearly killed Chief Kowpelst down by the river.

The Hudson Bay Company said that they were taking the side of the natives but it was clear they didn’t have the clout to do much. What could a handful of HBC clerks do against several thousand miners?

It was no wonder then that some of the chiefs started taking matters into their own hands. They started kicking the miners off their claims and blocking the canyon.

Several militia groups were formed to retaliate. As far as the miners were concerned, they were there to make money from finding gold. Besides, whose country did this area belong? One of the journalists from San Francisco, raised the point that the Hudson Bay Company had been given a decree to run its business here but that didn’t give it moral authority to create laws by which the miners had to abide.

Not everyone wanted to live in a lawless place like Yale; Snyder appealed for miners to join his milita, the Pike Guards and make peace. David was one of them.  There were other men like him too; they just wanted to make some money and bring it home, wherever that was.

David turned and ran, tripping over a tree root. Picking himself up, David found himself looking into the eyes of a young man, about the same age as himself.

“CexspentlEm” David said. “Captain Snyder wants to meet with him.”

The young man seemed somewhat perplexed, so David took out the white flag Captain Snyder had given him and offered it to the young man. He shook his head and took a step backward.

“CexspentlEm,” David repeated.

The young man disappeared into the bush and David looked around, seeing no one. If he’d known then that the Nlaka’pamux considered the white flag to be a sign of death, not truce, then he would have given up showing it.

As it was, he encountered a few other natives along the way and they all had the same wary reaction.

Richard Willoughby

Richard Willoughby and his militia had come over from Yakima through the Okanagan Canyon. There were over a hundred volunteers with Willoughby and if they didn’t come with their own breech loading rifle then they were loading and firing.

The natives with their HBC issued muskets didn’t stand a chance and Willoughby could hear the shots reverberate across the canyon. His group hardly suffered any casualties.

Willoughby decided that the group should travel up the Thompson River. There was some arguing about this but Willoughby was determined to stick to solid ground. At Okanagan Lake, there was plenty of food for the taking and Willoughby and his men took what they needed.

He knew that it was mostly fear that stuck them together. It was too risky for a couple of miners to go off on their own and start panning for gold.

He would gather them around and draw lines in the dirt.

“This here is the Nicola River, that’s the one we’re going to follow up to Fort Kamloops and then from there we’re going to travel west along the Thompson River.”

No one knew what lay before them but they didn’t need any reminders of what lay behind them. Nightmares, carnage.

Fort Kamloops came and went and then Willoughby and his crew were pushing east along the Thompson River, up the Bonaparte River for a while.

The gold wasn’t so plentiful and the men were eager to get to the Fraser Canyon.

“We want to go where the gold is!” they said.

Willoughby caved in. He wanted to get rich just as much as they did and frankly he was getting tired of their company anyway. He hadn’t come up north to run his own army. He wanted to find gold and lots of it.
David woke up at the first glimmer of light and started on foot again. His feet were sore in his shoes and one of the soles was becoming loose. He had eaten the rest of the smoked salmon the night before and this morning there was nothing but he was supposed to be close to Kamsheen, where the Thompson River met the Fraser.

It was early, probably before five in the morning when he ran past a group of sleeping miners. Guns were everywhere. Were these the ones Snyder had mentioned? Or were they a new group?

A twig snapped beneath his feet and someone stirred. David heard someone yell and he pulled out his white flag. Suddenly a shot was fired just missing his arm. The bullet blasted a hole through the cloth. He dropped it.

He ran faster now, crashing through the bush. He was off the trail now but he had to hide.
David held his breath even as his chest heaved. He knew the rifles, knew how far the bullets could travel.

He came to the edge of the bush and was about to keep going forward when he realized the earth had come to an end. Looking below he saw the winding ribbon of a river. There was no way down except to jump and he wasn’t prepared to do that.

Crawling along the edge, David scrambled forward as the the bushes tore at his clothes. He listened for more shots. There were none.

It was too early in the morning and he could imagine them sitting around eating some grub. It made him angry.

Where was the trail? It was too far west. He would have to somehow get back to it before they started.

Setting off again, David realized he would have to run up an embankment and around. It was a risky venture, of being exposed, but then there was nothing else to do. The earth was drier here he noticed and his footprints easily marked. He took off his shoes and dropped them into the bush.

There was a small trail that kept winding around and he followed it. At least it was going in the right direction.

He never heard anything until he had turned the corner and there sitting on a couple of flat rocks were three native men.

Two of them stood with legs apart and arms at their sides.

David swallowed hard and said, “CexpentlEm?”

The man sitting got up and looked at him inquisitively.

“Captain Snyder wants to meet CexpentlEm to make peace.” David said as he pulled out the piece of paper that the interpretor had given out.

The chief turned the paper over in his hands and read it. Then he folded the piece of paper and gave it back to David. “The soldiers, they were shooting at you?”


Chief Cunamista talked with the others and then turned to David. “Come with us. We will take you to meet him. First we will wait.”

He followed them into a small scrubby area and crouched down as they indicated. Through the leaves, David could see below, the militia men were marching.
(A few days later, Captain Snyder met with CexpentlEm and on August 21, 1858, they signed an understanding of peace and CexpentlEm sent sons of chiefs to accompany the militia as it went down the Fraser Canyon back to Yale, thus ending the Canyon War).

Cataline’s Camels on the Cariboo Road

Jean Caux "Cataline"

Long before the Cariboo Road was used by wagons, it was a narrow trail. To get supplies from Yale to Barkerville was a daunting task that would take a month’s journey to complete with pack animals such as mules and horses.  In 1862, someone had the idea that camels would make the job easier. This fictional story features real Cariboo packers Jean Caux, known as Cataline and his long time assistant, Ah Gun.

Ah Gun had never seen an animal like it and there were two of them. Two double humped camels standing in the way, staring down his mules.

Now that they weren’t moving he could feel the hot sun. He could sense the mules discomfort too – the constant flicking of their tales as the flies buzzed around.

Gun took off his hat and wiped his brow.  Couldn’t they follow orders? They were supposed to be behind him and his horse.

It was almost noon and they were a quarter way up a steep hill high above the Fraser Canyon.

mule packing barrels

Gun had let the mules and camels stop for a rest just twenty minutes ago, but now the path was too vertical to pause for breath. It was one of those steep grades that required you to lean forward and each step was a small victory over the previous one. The horse knew well enough never to look down and the mules always walked cautiously focussed at the ground in front of them.

There were six mules behind Ah Gun and his horse, each one of the mules were loaded down with boxes of supplies heading for Barkerville. Some of the boxes contained dynamite and mercury. They were each carrying about 350 pounds. Enough to blow a hole through the canyon. Two things that the gold miners were using in their quest to find gold at all costs.

Most of the time, the mules behaved themselves and although each one had its own personality, he knew which ones to separate and which ones liked to travel together. In this way, peace and productivity was maintained.

The presence of the camels changed this dynamic. The camels resented having to follow his horse, yet he couldn’t keep them travelling in the middle of the pack.

Gun had been doubtful, the night before in Yale when Cataline had brought around the two camels.

“Bactrian camels for a thousand dollars each,” Cataline said proudly, patting each of them on their flanks.

“Have they been trained?” Gun asked.

“Well trained. A bit mischevious or so I’ve been told but they can easily carry 500 pounds.”

Gun had been working with Cataline for almost twenty years and he trusted him entirely.

This time was different.  The cook for the team was well in front riding the bell mare, the one that took the lead swimming across any rivers they encountered.

Behind Ah Gun were another eight mules with Ernesto, the other cargo packer but he was out of view.

Mules liked to travel in close proximity and the camels despised it; charging at the mules.
One of the larger camels and his shoe wobbled underneath him, causing him to slip. careened into the camel behind it causing its pack to slip.

A cacaphony of sound followed and Gun turned in his saddle to see what was going on.
It was as if the camels were having no more of this hill climbing and were marching forward, pushing two of the mules backward, perilously close to the edge.

Gun slipped down from his saddle and ran over to the camel with a piece of rope in his hand. Ordinarily, he could easily lasso a horse but a camel’s neck made it an impossible task.

He should have seen it coming but he didn’t. All of a sudden he felt a bone crunching kick to his thigh that caused him to almost double over.


Gun spat on the ground and grimaced in pain.

The camel turned and began slipping and sliding on the loose gravel.
Despite his injury, Gun hobbled down the outside of the path and grabbed onto the nose strap of one of the mules just as it was about to drop one foot over the side.

In all his years he’d never lost a single mule and he knew if he lost one then he’d have to make himself scarce; these animals were worth far more than a cargo packer like him.
Gun pulled hard on the rope that tethered the mule to the cargo. He had packed every animal himself, ensuring that the load was evenly balanced. There was no way that he was going to lose anything.

Gritting his teeth, Gun slipped a rope under the nose strap and pulled it tight.
How was he going to pull the mule away from the precipice? The animal looked frightened, he could see the whites of its eyes.

One of the things he had always been taught was to never tie a mule to another least one animal slipped down a cliff dragged the whole train with it.

The mule bleeted, his neck strained forward, its back leg scrambling in thin air still trying to find a foothold.  All of a sudden one of the camels pushed itself in the way.

Ah Gun let out a stream of oaths and profanities in Chinese that must have sounded familiar to the camel or at least it understood.  Without warning, the camel lowered itself on its front legs as if expecting him to jump on its back.  Thinking quickly, Gun tied the rope around the camel’s middle and coaxed it around to rise up.

Nothing happened for a second or two and once again, the mule started slipping backward.

Once again, he yelled out in Chinese and this time the camel straightened up and edged up the hill, pulling the mule inch by inch.

He heard Ernesto yell up from the bottom, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent canyon.

Gun yelled back. Everything was okay.

The Last Camel in BC

Gold Fever hits Fort St. James

Fur trader wearing capote (coat) with tumpline across forehead

1856 – Fort St. James, BC

A fur trader named Perrault arrived at Fort St. James wearing a capote, with its hood concealing his face. A few people had noticed him trudging through the snow on his snowshoes, holding the tumpline by its straps. He must’ve had a strong neck to support that heavy load of furs on his back.

His breath came out in puffs of vapour in the cold and he was sweating.

A short while later, McIntosh came down to see him.

“Where are the others?”

“Leonnard took the dogs on a round a bout trip.”

“But the salmon! You were supposed to bring the salmon and the roll of tobacco!”

“They’ll be here soon enough,” Perrault said as he carefully let down the beaver pelts from his back.

He rubbed his neck and shoulders while McIntosh hoisted them onto the counter.

“Thirty nine.”

Perrault leaned over as McIntosh opened the log book.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“It’s been damaged,” McIntosh said without looking up.

Perrault plunked three small lightn1ngs of gold on the dark wood counter.

He looked up at Perrault and then back at the lightn1ngs. Even in the waning afternoon light the deep yellow was apparent.

“Forty” Perrault said again.

“I’ve got plenty more lightn1ngs where that came from,” Perrault said.

McIntosh sniffed and blew his nose into a well worn handkerchief. “We can’t chew on gold. It was salmon that we needed. We have hardly enough to feed ourselves, that’s why we sent you down to Fort Yale in the first place.”

“True, but you can trade it for guns at least.”

“Where did you leave Leonnard?”

“I had to meet up with one of the trappers. He said he had some good pelts. Leonnard and James were still idling around the camp when I left.”

“What did you trade for the gold?”

Perrault rubbed his face. “The trapper gave it to me and I told him on my word that if it’s worth anything then next time I see him then I’d pass it on.

“What is the trapper’s name?”

Perrault thought about it. “I don’t know, but I can remember what he looks like and where he lives and all that. He was travelling east and we crossed paths. He told us about a golden cache. I told Leonnard and James that we didn’t have time for it, but they were going to follow the trapper back to where he said the gold was from.”

McIntosh looked at the lightn1ngs on the counter, then at Perrault. “Until Leonnard and James return with the provisions as they were supposed to, I will be recommending to the chief factor that a search party be undertaken, with you as the leader.”

Perrault shook his head, “not in this weather!” He shoved his red and swollen hands in front of McIntosh. “The winds were so fierce just barely a day ago that I had to hang onto every shrub and rock along the way!”

“If you don’t want to follow orders, then I will recommend that you be transferred!”

Perrault grabbed the lightn1ngs off the counter and trudged off. He was tempted to say something in retort, but he held his tongue. It was more important to get some food in his belly and find a fire where he could warm his weary bones.

To Fort George on the Cariboo Road

Imbert Orchard recorded an interview with Ivor Guest in 1964. Guest had travelled from his home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Fort George, British Columbia in 1910. Here is an excerpt of that story from “Voices of British Columbia” by Robert Budd.

“We went to Ashcroft, bought a team of horses and a wagon, put our belongings in it and started for Fort George.  We weren’t horsemen, I wasn’t. We got along about ten, twelve miles from town. One horse begin to make a funny noise. So I didn’t know what it was, and we gave him a drink of water and the further we went, the more noise he made.

Jerkline transporting freight on the Cariboo Road near Ashcroft, BC, 1909 (credit: Voices of British Columbia)










So a fella came along, McMullin, with a jerkline outfit. Jerklines were three teams and a leader. McMullin came along and I said, “Look, what’s the matter with this horse?”

“Oh,” he said, that’s old Yeller, he’s got the heaves.”

“Well, I said, what do you do for that?”

“You can’t do anything for it. Just take it easy and he’ll do alright.”

So we went along with the heave-y horse all the way through to Fort George, but all along the way there were many of these jerkline outfits. All the freight went in with horses then. We didn’t see a car, of course, no trucks, all the time we were on the way.

They had some wonderful big roadhouses on the Cariboo Road: the Hundred Mile, Ninety-Five and Hundred and Fifty, and so on. We tented out but we did stop a time or two and the teamsters they all stopped at these roadhouses and sleep and eat there. The horses were put up and fed.

We got to Quesnel, and at Quesnel they had a ferry and a fellow was running the ferry across the river; he took us over. And we started for Fort George. The road was a very, very poor road. After we crossed the Blackwater River [West Road River], the road was just slashed out through the timber. No road at all. It was pretty hard going and no feed and no place to buy any.

It was a nice spring, nice weather, and there was a little grass, but we’d have to take the horses way down someplace where we could find grass. And we finally got into South Fort George on the Fraser River; the first day of May, 1911.

Well, we had quite a time to feed the horses. I went to get oats, and oats was twelve cents a pound, and I got fifty cents worth in a little sack and gave each of the horses a feed, all there was in that. And of course, I made up my mind right then, we had to get rid of these horses.

The next day a man named Paulette came along and he said, “I’d like to trade a canoe for this horse,” he said pointing to old Yeller.

I said, “sure!”

So he brought over a canoe. “Look, nice new canoe.”

It looked good to me. And he put the canoe up on the beach and a couple of paddles and two traps.  So I said, “the horse, you know where he is.” He got the horse.

I went uptown and met a fella, Ernie Livingstone from back in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  I told him how I traded the horse.

He said, “you traded for canoe?”

I said, “yes, looks good, brand new and nice shape, everything.”

So we went down and looked. He looked at it, and the first thing he said, “I knew it was no good.”

“Well,” I said, “what’s wrong with it?”

“Well,” he said, “see that split in the bow and the split in the stern?” He said, “it’s gonna have two halves, that’ll just break right in two.”

“By golly,” I said, “I’ll fix that up. I’ll put tin on it.”

He said, “you can’t put enough tin on there to hold it. It’s gonna split.”

Sure enough, I put the canoe in the water. It came out and it just broke in two. That was about a week after I traded, it broke right in two, two pieces.

Paulette came back and he said, “that horse died.”

“Well,” I said, “you can have the canoe back.”

He said, “both stung!” and laughed.

(note: I named the horse and omitted a few paragraphs)

The Missing Black Brimmed Hat (part 2)

After several days exploring the rugged coast, Elmwood decided to investigate Yak-Tulamn, the place where the red earth was sold.
He followed a rough path to one of the coal town of Nanaimo on the east coast of the Island, wearing his black brimmed hat, the one thing that kept him dry, unlike his boots which allowed water in everywhere. By the time he reached so called civilization, Elmwood realized he was getting strange looks. He removed the hat as he entered the Clipper Hotel and put it on the counter while he checked in for the evening.

“I’m a collector,” he said as he placed a battered oil cloth sack on the counter.

The clerk raised his eyebrows and gave Elmwood an appraising look of his own, as if not quite believing Elmwood matched his idea of a collector. After several days in the bush, sleeping in his same clothes, Elmwood had a rough idea of what he looked like.

“Do you have a safe place for this?”

The clerk handled the sack at arms length with only the tips of his fingers and put it in a drawer below the desk.

The clerk showed him to his room and politely asked him if he wanted a bath before dinner.

“There’s a laundry service too, for an extra dollar. He’ll pick up your clothes and have them washed and dried by the time you’ve finished your bath.”

Elmwood doubted that was the case, but he put his clothes in the laundry sack provided and left it outside his door as instructed while he waited for word that his bath was ready.

Looking out the window, he saw a man with a hat pulled low over his eyes trudging along behind the hotel with a wheelbarrow containing several sacks. He briefly wondered if one of the sacks were his.

After several days in the bush, Elmwood was grateful to settle in for a warm bath and he must have dozed off because he didn’t hear the footsteps treading down the hall.

Someone shuffled down the hallway and he thought he heard someone say something about dinner. Elmwood grunted in reply. Although he didn’t usually care much for eating meals, the water had turned tepid and his stomach grumbled. He got out, dried himself off slowly, dressed then ambled along the hallway to his room.

Opening the door to his room, he realized something was not quite right. On the bed lay some clothes, but they were not his. He had always been very fastidious about his belongings and how he travelled, yet nothing was how he had left it.

With some consternation, Elmwood slipped on the shirt and pants which hardly came up to his knees and made his way down to the lobby to see the clerk.

“I have received someone else’s clothes instead of my own.”

The clerk looked at him solemnly, “sometimes if the launderer is busy, he will provide clothes until yours are ready. In the meantime, dinner is being served,” indicating the dining room door which was propped open.

Elmwood was doubtful this was the case, however, he went to have dinner which consisted of a meat loaf and mashed potatoes, washed down with some port. He felt rather than noticed that someone was looking at him.

Turning his head, he caught sight of a man whose name should have been familiar to him but he couldn’t remember, other than he was a member of the ‘Know Nothings’ an absurd name for a political party.

A week before, he had knocked on Elmwood’s door claiming to be a friend of one of his patients, Ned McGowan. Always reluctant to discuss patients’ business, Elmwood told him he didn’t know anything, to which the man smiled and made a strange gesture with his hand, a signal of some sort.

“Did he pay you?” the man asked.

Elmwood had too much pride to discuss anything to do with money or lack thereof; he’d just been sitting on the crate eating some week old bread. He was about to close the door on the man, when he thrust an American dollar bill at him.

“If you happen to see McGowan, tell him Boyle called. I’m staying at the Inn by the wharf.”

“What use is an American dollar on British soil run by the Hudson’s Bay Company? It would be more useful to have a sack of nails,” Elmwood said and shut the door.

He wasn’t about to say anything about the visitor when he went to check on his patient who was languishing in the next room with a bruised jaw and several lacerations. It was evident by the look on McGowan’s face though, that he knew something was up.

“He’ll be back,” McGowan said through gritted teeth. “He’s a Know Nothing man.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was another knock on the door. It was the Know Nothing man with a small sack of nails.

At this point, Elmwood should have declined. But there he stood holding the nails as the man walked away.

Although it pained McGowan to speak, he did.

“The Know Nothings are a bunch of no good traitors. I used to have a newspaper for a few years and none of them liked my questions about who profited from the arson fires of San Francisco.”

Elmwood crossed his brows, “how much trouble are you in?”

McGowan raised himself onto his elbows and winced as he swung his legs around. Elmwood steadied him as he got to his feet.

“My name has been cleared of any wrongdoing, it’s just that certain people want me dead and they’re willing to travel to the ends of the earth.”

Elmwood didn’t ask where he was going but McGowan’s words had an affect on him. Just how far would one’s enemies seek to travel?

He managed to avoid any contact with Boyd but Elmwood couldn’t help but feel shadowed. Now that he was in this hotel in Nanaimo, the same feeling came over him.

Immediately after dinner, Elmwood inquired about his clothes which he was told should arrive at any time.

Elmwood returned to his room and sat on the bed, wondering why he felt so ill at ease. It wasn’t just the fact that his clothes were elsewhere or that his collectibles were out of sight. There was something else. He refused to think about McGowan’s problems; they weren’t his. But why were the people following him? It didn’t make sense.

Suddenly, it occured to him that he hadn’t seen his black brimmed hat.
With some difficulty he found a match and lit the kerosene lamp. It cast shadows over the walls and the furniture, but it should have been adequate to see something as large as his black brimmed hat, but he couldn’t see it. His black brimmed hat was missing!

The sky had turned into shades of charcoal and the clouds were low. In the distance Elmwood could make out a small figure wearing a grey coat pushing a wooden wheelbarrow. A few fat drops of rain hit the window.

Just then, a pair of heavy shoes came along the hallway followed by a knock at the door.

“Dr. Elmwood? I’ve got your laundry here.”

The voice sounded distinctly American and he was sure it didn’t belong to the fellow at the front desk, nor the one with the wheelbarrow.

“Just a minute,” Elmwood said. He went to the window and looked out.

Down the lane, was the laundry man, running, his feet splashing in the puddles.

Elmwood lifted the sash and had one leg out the window and balanced on the ledge when he heard the door open. There was the Know Nothing man and his partner behind him.

“Stop!” A shot whizzed past Elmwood as he tumbled out, hanging by his hands.

It was about fifteen feet to the ground but high enough that he hesitated to jump.  Just then, the laundry fellow rounded the corner and glanced up at the commotion.

Elmwood landed in pile of mud. He was stunned at first then his eyes focussed and he recognized the launderer, hovering above him. He checked himself for broken bones, but other than bruises, he was okay.

A minute later, the hotel clerk came around with a small glass of potent liquor and asked him what had happened.

“Your clothes are ready,” he said.

The Missing Black Brimmed Hat

Black Brimmed Hat

“Conical shaped hats are made of spruce roots split into fine fibres, and plaited so as to be impervious to water. They are very ingeniously manufactured, and it requires some skill and experience to make one nicely.” – James Swan 1865

Wiy-wek took a mouthful of dried salmon eggs and chewed them for a while until they were a glutinous texture and then spat them out on a rock. Then he took a piece of coal from his pocket and ground it against the rock, and eventually the coal combined with egg mass to make a soft paint.

Using a cloth made from soft hide, Wiy-wek painted the wide black brim around the outer perimeter of the hat.

With a small quill like reed, Doctor painted in the shape of a frog ovoid eyes with its webbed feet spread out, as if it were lying across the head of the person wearing the hat.

To create the red, he repeated the same process of chewing the dried eggs, but this time he combined it with vermilion until it turned a deep red.

Why red? Elmwood wrote this in his notes, careful not to interrupt Wiy-wek’s concentration as he began to paint red figures in between the frog. The red colour was bound to stand out like a beacon, Elmwood thought to himself as he looked around. They were on a narrow stretch of sandy beach north of Wiy-wek’s village. Even though the tide was retreating, waves crested on the greyish blue water. Beyond that was a light grey line where the horizon should have been. Above were charcoal grey clouds, threatening to burst at any moment.

It was no wonder then, that he noticed Wiy-wek’s people wearing hats of various shapes. They were much more practical than any hat he had owned.

After several days of travelling in the rain, Elmwood decided he would like one for himself and so Wiy-wek had offered to make him one in exchange for a sack of nails, he had retrieved on his last and only day working as a labourer on the governor’s house.

“Where did you find the coal and the vermilion?” Elmwood asked, looking around.

“The coal comes from the east coast above Fort Victoria and the vermilion from Yak-Tulamn.”

Elmwood was curious about Yak-Tulamn, as there was very little in his notes about that place on the Smilkameen River.

Originally, Elmwood had come to Fort Victoria as a doctor but he quickly learned that most of the patients with any means already had someone to look after them. What did interest him though, were the artifacts.

How could he begin collecting when most of his funds were diminished? He had sent letters requesting funds to several well-connected people, but he had given up waiting. It was time to move on and explore Vancouver’s Island.

Afterward, Wiy-wek had him wash his hands in the ocean and then he said a few words in his language as he placed the hat on Elmwood’s head.

It would only be later in his journey, that Elmwood wished he’d asked Wiy-wek about the figures he’d drawn.

(to be continued)