There was increasing conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) in the years before the two fur trade companies merged.
Fur traders working for the HBC criticized the company for being slow to respond to situations while the NorthWest Company ran roughshod over them.
1816 was a bad year. In Athabasca (north Saskatchewan), the HBC was short of provisions but they faced open hostilities from the NWC. As a result, 16 HBC employees died of starvation. At Red River, 22 settlers including Governor Robert Semple were killed in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.
Lord Selkirk, whose idea it was to establish settlers in the area, against the wishes of the HBC, travelled to the North Westers’ headquarters at Fort William. In retaliation of the massacre, Selkirk and his private army seized the fort and arrested several of the partners.
The NorthWest Company had a strong position in the Athabasca area but there were mounting problems within the company ranks.
At Ile á la Crosse in northwestern Saskatchewan, both the companies had forts there. The NorthWest Company had Fort Black and the HBC named theirs Fort Superior. Here both sides engaged in guerilla warfare.
Peter Skene Ogden was one of the young Northwesters accused of leading the bitter rivalry at Ile á la Crosse, where the HBC’s post and goods were captured under warrant in 1817. James Douglas was named by the HBC for harassing those at Fort Superior.
Both of these men later went on to become Chief Traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, James Douglas became the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and a key political figure in the Fraser River Gold Rush.
In my graphic book, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush, I have included a biography of James Douglas, including his time in the fur trade.
On his trip down the Fraser River, Northwest Company explorer Simon Fraser encountered many Coast Salish villages with longhouses. There was a longhouse in the central Fraser Valley which was over 200 metres long. Simon Fraser also noted another longhouse at Musqueam behind a palisade that was over half a kilometre long.
Coast Salish villages often consisted of a series of interconnected longhouses, forming what appeared as a single structure sometimes for hundreds of metres long. Within these longhouses, place and space were divided according to a family’s status. The most prestigious occupied the largest and most defensible quarters.
House posts were carved with the family’s spirit helpers or the heroic deeds of prominent ancestors. A change in the family’s status meant usually meant that the house post would move too. Moving a house post was not an easy thing to do, but not uncommon when families split up and moved on.
The Sto:lo population consisted of about 3,500 people in the early 1800s. The natives lived in a clearly regulated environment, with the river dictating their life cycle. The river people consisted of numerous tribes, including the Katzie, Coquitlam, Whonnock, Nicomen, Pilalt, and Tait; the largest tribes, however, were the Musqueam, Kwantlen, and Chilliwack.
This is a page from my upcoming graphic novel I’m working on, Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.
Simon Fraser’s expedition nearly dissolved into mutiny. It wasn’t long before the voyageurs came to the conclusion that this route wasn’t the best one after all. The river was so treacherous that their birchbark canoes were falling apart.
The voyageurs weren’t pleased at the prospect of carrying everything on their backs and borrowing canoes from the Native tribes they encountered along the way.
As Fraser’s expedition progressed down the river the Carrier and Secwapmec people warned him that the river he was following could not be navigated by canoe. Fraser, however, did not believe them.
If Fraser had listened to them, he would have learned that the best way to the coast was to follow Seton and Anderson Lakes from the junction of the Fraser River and Seton River, to the portage at Pemberton and then to follow the Lillooet and Harrison Rivers south to the coast. This route was the one that the Stat’imc had used to trade with coastal Ucwalmicw for centuries.
I am working on my graphic novel, A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush. I thought that a good place to start was Simon Fraser and the river he discovered. Fraser’s goal was to find the Columbia River which emptied into the Pacific Ocean (Astoria, Oregon). The mouth of the Columbia River had been located by this time but the rest of the river was unknown to European fur traders who saw this potential route as the key to getting their furs to market.
In April 1851, Herman Francis Reinhart and his brother Charles left their parents’ home in the Midwest with a wagon pulled by a few oxen “for California or Oregon”. During that time, 30,000 people made the trek across the vast expanse of prairie to parts unknown. The mass emigration left behind animals, wheels, and sometimes entire wagons, to the dismay of the Native tribes along the “Oregon Trail” which passed through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada.
“We found lots of wagons left and in one place found 10 or 15 wagons, buggies, or carriages and trunks and boxes of books all strewn around, with all kinds of tools for mining and cooking utensils thrown away…”
The Reinhart brothers had been taught baking by their father and those skills served them well when they reached the west. In between prospecting for gold on the creeks, they worked as bakers and eventually even had their own Bakery Saloon complete with a bowling alley. Their fortunes came and went, however, and gambling for food was not uncommon. Here’s one of his stories:
“In Browntown at night George and I went to a large store, and a man named Barnes and a partner in whipsawing lumber wanted George and I to play them a four-hand game of Euchre for a pound of coffee, or $1.50 worth, whatever we wished to get in goods or groceries per game. I had but three or four dollars left, and George not a cent, but I was satisfied that Barnes and his partner played by signs, and I could post George to beat them, by the signs I could learn him. So I took George and spoke to him a while how to play and we went in and played and we beat them four games in succession at their own game…”
On May 10, 1858, Herman departed from Kerbyville in Oregon and set out for the Fraser River with some gold nuggets, clothing, a sack of flour and a five-gallon keg of East Boston syrup. Because of the flood of prospectors heading north from Washington and Oregon, hostilities broke out when the First Nations tried to slow down and in some cases stop the flow of the goldseekers gripped by the ‘Fraser River fever’. At the Dalles, miners were told they had to travel in ‘companies’ for protection. There were three known organized companies that set out overland from Oregon to the Fraser in 1858. They were captained by Joel Palmer, Archibald McKinlay, and David McLaughlin. Reinhart arrived at the Dalles in June (see “Okanagan Lake Massacre“).
It was rough going and Reinhart’s horse gave out. He got others in the group to carry the keg of syrup and they ended up consuming most of it. In late August, Herman Francis Reinhart and his fellow miners reached “The Fountain” on the Fraser River (a large high bar at the mouth of Fountain Creek about 14 miles above Lillooet).
“There was no flour or groceries of any kind at The Fountain, only what our train had brought in by our packtrain. Major Robertson and a Dalles merchant started a store of groceries, provisions and liquors. Flour sold for $1 to $1.20 per lb., sugar and coffee $1.50 per lb., bacon $2.50 per lb., brandy and whiskey 50 cents per drink or glass…”
“…after six days prospecting we were about a hundred miles from The Fountain, and were about out of provision, … we had to turn back and get to our camp at The Fountain as fast as possible, or we would have to starve, for there was no game to shoot, and in one place we found strawberries just in bloom (in September!). So you can judge the season. We were in about Latitude north 53 or 54th parallel, or about seven or eight degrees north of the forty-ninth parallel of the line between the United States and British Columbia…The first day of starting back toward The Fountain, we run out of provisions, and I traded an old saddlecloth (the half of an empty 50 lb. sack) to an Indian for two dried salmon. He used the old cloth for a legging…”
“…after prospecting a few days longer with no success, we came to the conclusion to strike back to California. I had left good $8 and $10 per day diggings on Sucker Creek, where my brother Charley and my Partner Schertz were working my claim in company with them. So I sold some shirts, drawers, and books such as I could not carry with me. Will Cochran had sold his only horse at The Fountain, so we were both left on foot…”
Reinhart still had his keg of East Boston Syrup which was now almost empty.
“I took out a quart bottle of it to take with us, and I sold the balance, about five quarts, with the keg, for $20 gold piece, my shirts from $3 to $4 apiece, some undershirts and socks and the books-in all, I had some $75 or $80 left. And my breastpin, ring, rifle, pistol and blankets. I bought one pound of bacon for $2.50 of Robertson Company’s store; we had three or four pounds of flour left, and the bottle of syrup. We started with some five or six others for Victoria, right down Fraser River…”
On the cover of the book, “Images from the Likeness House” is an unidentified picture of a chief from the interior of British Columbia. This picture is said to have been taken in 1897 which is after the death of Chief N’kwala, but it sure matches the description of him.
An American gold miner named Herman Francis Reinhart was among 300 miners who had been involved in the Okanagan Massacre in the summer of 1858. The miners arrived at Kamloops Lake in late August with two Natives they had captured. N’kwala, the head chief of the Okanagans confronted the group.
Here is Herman Reinhart’s description of Chief N’kwala which seems to match the above picture of the unidentified chief.
“Old Nicholas [sic] the head chief of the Indians around that country, came to see us about the two prisoners we had brought back from Lake Okanagan. He was an old man about 65 or 70 years old, wore a stove pipe hat and citizen’s clothes, and had a lot of medals of good character and official vouchers of good conduct for many years.
He was quite angry and said he was surprised to see 300 men take two Indian prisoners and bring them back two or three hundred miles because we thought they were spies, and it was mighty little in us and did not show great bravery. And about the Okanagan Lake massacre, that it was brutal, and he could not think much of the Bostons, or Americans, that would do the like.
He blamed us for butchering the Okanagan Indians in cold blood and the Okanagan Indians had sent some messengers to him to help avenge the death of his people, but he said he had better teaching from good men and priests, and good advice from Captain McLean head of the Hudson’s Bay Company [Chief Factor of Fort Thompson], and they advised him and his people to overlook the great crime but he had great trouble to quiet and calm down his young warriors, of which, with the Lake Okanagan tribe, he could have raised from 1800 to 2000 warriors, and could have surprised our command and cut them off to a man, utterly annihilating the whole of us, and taking all our animals and all our plunder. But he could not have told how it would have gone after, for he would have lost all control of his people, and the war chiefs would have usurped his power and carried on a general war against the whites, American and English. Being the massacre had taken place in British Columbia, it would be the duty of the English Queen Victoria to see justice done to her subjects, and he was right, no doubt.
Some of our boys were awful ashamed and some angry to hear an old man tell them so many truths, and some were mad enough to kill him for his boldness in his expressions to us all. But it was a fact none could deny, and Major Robertson let the two prisoners go. I think some of the men gave them some clothing and provisions, with some money to satisfy them for their loss of time and trouble.
Here is some more information about Chief N’kwala (Nicola) from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:
“Nicola was descended from a long line of Okanagan head chiefs and, according to legend, was born at the fortified encampment established by his father, Pelkamū’lôx (which means “rolls over the earth”), near the junction of the Similkameen and Okanagan rivers (Washington). When Nicola was still a young boy PElkamū’lôx took his people north to Fish Lake (B.C.), where he settled near the band of his brother Kwoli’la at Chapperon Lake.
During the early fur trade era in New Caledonia (B.C.), Nicola’s influence was much appreciated by the traders of the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his generous welcome was largely responsible for the happy relationship between them and the Interior Salish people. In the late 1830s Chief Factor Samuel Black, in charge at Thompson’s River Post, lent him a plough so that he could grow potatoes and other vegetables at his summer camp on Nicola Lake; this first local effort at cultivation was soon imitated by other bands. Following the murder of Black by a young Shuswap warrior in 1841, Nicola calmed the HBC men, who feared a widespread uprising, by delivering a moving eulogy, reported by Archibald McKinlay, which called for the capture of the killer.”
There were many Americans who wanted to travel overland from Washington and Oregon to the Fraser River gold diggings. However, the route was hazardous because the United States was in the midst of a war against the Palouse, Yakima, Spokane, and Coeur d’Alene Indians. Over a thousand soldiers were involved in the “Indian War of 1858” which lasted from May to September.
Herman Francis Reinhart arrived at The Dalles in June 1858. The Dalles, about 160 miles up the Columbia River from Portland, was a “lively place” with “cutting and shooting and fighting all over town”. The government would not allow small parties to venture north because of the military conflict so Reinhart decided to join Major Robinson who was forming a company of 300 men with plenty of arms, ammunition, horses and mules and provisions to go to the Fraser River. Robinson’s first attempt at getting through Washington with 175 miners was unsuccessful.
At Fort Simcoe, sixty miles northwest, the miners were organized into companies A, B, & C with about 300 men in total. Each company had lieutenants and a captain. Reinhart joined Company A which consisted of 56 men. Company B was mostly Californians and Company C was mostly French. They started out with a train of over 700 horses and mules.
While most of the group was fearful of the Natives, nearly all the miners who came from northern California saw the Natives presence as a hindrance. Reinhart described what happened when they reached Okanagan Lake.
“Our advance guards saw some Indians just leaving their camp and cross the lake in canoes for fear of us. The [miners] saw a couple of their dogs at their old campground, and shot them down, and they saw some old huts where the Indians had stored a lot of berries for the winter, blackberries and nuts, fifty or a hundred bushels. They [miners] helped themselves to the berries and nuts, filling several sacks to take along, and the balance they just emptied into the lake, destroying them so that the Indians should not have them for provision for winter. I, and a great many others, expressed their opinion that it was very imprudent and uncalled for, and no doubt the Indians would retaliate. But they only laughed and thought it great fun to kill their dogs and destroy and rob them of their provisions. Most everyone but those who had done it disapproved of the whole affair…
We traveled along the lake all day and camped on the banks at night. Every morning after we left camp some Indians would come across the lake in canoes and look over our campgrounds to look if we had left or thrown away anything (sometimes we threw away old clothes, hats, shoes, shirts or old blankets or crusts of bread or meat, and they would come and get them after we left).
That morning the advance guard planned to punish the Indians if they should come to camp as usual after we left. So right after breakfast some 25 men concealed themselves in a gulch close to camp, and the train went on as usual. We were passing along a high trail close to the lake and we soon saw three or four canoes start to come across from the other side, with seven or eight Indians in each canoe, to go to our camping place. I had gone with the train [about] one and a half miles, when we heard some shooting. I stopped to listen and counted over fifty shots.
In the course of half an hour our advance guard that had formed the ambush came up to us and related how they were all lying down in the gulch, to be out of sight, and they got to talking to each other…[when] the Indians landed and were coming towards the camp right to where the white men were concealed. They had no idea of danger from the whites… when the Indians were within eight or ten feet…[the miners] all raised and made a rush for the Indians with their guns and pistols all ready to shoot. As soon as the Indians saw the whites, they were so frightened that some turned back and ran towards their boat, some fell down on their knees and begged for them not to shoot, as they had no arms at all, and they threw up their hands and arms to show that they had nothing. But the whites all commenced to fire and shoot at them, and ran out to the lake after those who were getting in their canoes, and kept on shooting till the few that got into the canoes got of reach of their guns and rifles. And lots jumped into the lake was shot in the water before they could swim out of reach of their murderers—for they were nothing else, for it was a great slaughter or massacre…for they never made an effort to resist or fired a shot, either gun, pistol, or bow and arrows, and the [miners] were not touched, no more than if they had shot at birds or fish.
It was a brutal affair, but the perpetrators of the outrage thought they were heroes, and were victors in some well-fought battle…There must have been 10 or 12 [Natives] killed and that many wounded, for very few got away unhurt. Some just have got drowned, and as I said before, it was…a deed Californians should ever be ashamed of…
About a week after the Indian slaughter…[one of the advance guards] brought in two Indians. A mass meeting was called and the Indians were questioned by an interpreter. They were friendly Shuswap Lake, British Columbia Indians on their way to [Fort] Colville in Washington Territory…At first our men were for taking them out and shooting them right off for spies, expecting we would be attacked, but they kept denying it and said they were good peaceable Indians…
At last we came to the conclusion to take them back with us as prisoners to Shuswap Lake, and took their arms from them and always kept guard over them…
December 1858 was so cold a sternwheeler got stuck in the frozen Fraser River.
Many gold rush miners who hadn’t reached pay dirt were stuck where they were at camps and bars. A Fraser River correspondent to the Daily Alta California had this to say:
Many who have been at work here for months, are destitute of means not only to lay in their winter stores, but even to buy their daily food. I have never seen so many “strapped” men in any part of the world as here…
When the steamer Enterprise became stuck in the ice near the mouth of the Harrison River most of the 125 passengers decided to abandon ship and travel by foot. The Victoria Gazette reported that at least two passengers froze to death:
“There being no provisions or accommodations on board for so large a company for any length of time, about 100 of the passengers and one or two of the officers deserted the steamer, determined to make their way into Langley on foot through the woods. Without food – in many instances poorly clad – with snow and ice on the ground, these desperate men commenced their sad journey. For three days they wandered through the woods, shivering, foot-sore, and almost starving, in the rain and through the sleet and ice. In the meantime, the weather had moderated a little, and the rain had softened the ice in the river.
The Enterprise got free again, and ran up and down the river blowing her whistle and firing her guns to attract the attention of those on shore. Here and there she picked up a straggler, who had wandered to the river banks, perhaps to die. On the third day, when about five miles from Langley, she came upon the great majority of passengers, who, feeling it impossible to proceed further, had camped on the bank to wait assistance from the town for which they had sent by four of their hardiest men.
After taking up her passengers, the Enterprise continued on to Langley, where she arrived in a couple of hours…
For those people fortunate enough to make it to Victoria with gold dust in their pockets, they could enjoy a nice meal. The Yates Street Chop House in Victoria advertised their “Christmas Bill of Fare”:
Michael Costin Brown was a gold miner, packer and hotelier. He was also among that first group of gold miners who discovered one of the richest streams in the Cariboo. This discovery sparked the Cariboo gold rush.
Originally from Ireland, Brown and his family immigrated to Ohio when he was eleven years old. When he was just 17, Brown ran a hotel in Oregon. He was establishing another hotel in Walla Walla when he heard gold was found in the Similkameen.
It was in March 1859, that he left San Francisco by steamer to Victoria. Brown and his group went prospecting in the Similkameen and Okanagan. Eventually he made his way to the Cariboo.
Brown was camped near Antler Creek in the winter of 1860. One evening, Wilhelm Dietz, an ex-Prussian sailor, and his partners, James Costello and Michael Burns, stumbled into Brown’s camp in a half-starved state claiming they had found gold in a nearby-unnamed creek. Brown decided to join them.
“We crossed the divide, eventually making the headwaters of the creek and after some time we traveled to a place near a little gulch or canyon, where we camped for the night, building a little shelter.
On the following morning we separated to prospect the stream, agreeing to meet again at night to report progress…
‘Dutch Bill’ made the best prospect, striking pay dirt at $1.25 a pan. Costello and I had done pretty well, finding dirt worth a dollar or so a pan. You can well imagine we were well pleased with the day’s exertions, and each man in his heart felt that we had discovered very rich ground. I shall not forget the discussion that took place as to the name to be given to the creek. Dutch Bill was for having it called ‘Billy Creek’ because he had found the best prospects of the three. I was quite agreeable, but I stipulated that Mr. William Dietz should buy the first basket of champagne that reached the creek. This appealed to Costello, and so the creek was then and there named—not Billy Creek but ‘Williams Creek’.”
The 6 men returned to camp and they all worked out certain plans: Costello would remain on the creek and guard their claims; Dietz, Burns, Collins and Metz would return to Antler for supplies; and Brown would travel 60 miles to Williams Lake to register their claim with the Cariboo’s only gold commissioner, Philip Nind.
Things began to go awry when news of their strike leaked out at Antler. They decided that Dietz should return to the claims the following morning. Using showshoes, he retraced his footsteps in a record 3 hours but his strenuous exertions were of no avail for the entire population of wintering miners at Antler followed his trail in the snow and within hours were staking claims up and down both sides of the creek.
Brown sold his claim for $2,500 and went into the packing business.
In Oregon during the spring of 1862 Brown purchased a packtrain of forty two mules on which he transported 8000 pounds of provisions to the Cariboo. In a store built at Richfield in 1863, Brown sold slabs of bacon to the miners for $1.00 per pound.
In an era when everyone had descriptive names, Brown became known as “Bacon Brown”, and his pack of mules the “Bacon Train”. During the Cariboo goldrush bacon and beans were the steady diet of the miners, and as a result many complained of suffering with inflamed mouths caused by the strong curing agent in the bacon.
Michael Brown continued to mine in the Big Bend Country, the Omineca, the Cassiar, and at Lightning Creek in the Cariboo. Brown moved to Victoria in the 1870’s where he married, and settled down as owner of the Adelphi Hotel for the next twenty five years. But once a miner, always a miner, and when gold was discovered in the Klondike he had to go. At Dawson City he operated a hotel, the Melbourne, for three years, before retiring for a final time to Victoria.
One of the first Chinese miners who reached Quesnel in 1861 was Nam Sing. He became known as the one who supplied fresh food to the restaurants of the gold rush towns in the Cariboo.
Chow Nam Sing was born in China’s Kaiping County in 1835 and went to California for the gold rush. In 1861 Sing came north to British Columbia and panned for gold up the Fraser River until he reached the junction of the Quesnel River. During times of high water when it wasn’t possible to work his rocker, Sing cleared a small area and tilled the soil with his gold digging shovel on the west bank of the Quesnel River.
He raised a few vegetables for himself and sold the surplus to neighbouring miners using a scow to bring his produce across the river to the townsite. After the peak of the Cariboo gold rush in 1865, Nam Sing turned to vegetable gardening and ranching for a living.
In 1868, Nam Sing was taken to court for his involvement in a gambling debt.
Sing agreed to store sacks of flour for a gambler named Ak Tie who planned to use it to pay off his debt of $280 to businessman Sing Hing. When the time came to repay the loan Ak Tie was short on both money and flour. He was only able to pay most of his creditors 75 cents for every dollar he owed. Sing delivered 30 sacks of flour to Hing who valued it to be only worth $210. Instead of going after Ak Tie, however, Hing sued Nam Sing for the $70, alleging that it was he who had received the loan in the first place.
A witness named San Hing swore in court that he was in the house and saw the plaintiff hand over $280 in bills, “partly red and partly white” to Nam Sing. For his part, Nam Sing denied the debt altogether. The court sided with Hing saying that he had given positive evidence of the loan while Sing had neglected to bring Ak Tie to give his side of the story. In the meantime, the judge allowed Sing’s lawyer to apply for a new trial in order to produce the gambler.