Category Archives: Gold Rush Notes

Brief history facts explained about the BC gold rush

Nam Sing and the gambling loan paid in flour

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.

Nam Sing

Nam Sing

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.

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Donald Fraser and Land Speculation in the BC Gold Rush

When the Fraser River gold rush was underway so was land speculation. One of the least known figures involved in land speculation in the BC Gold Rush was Donald Fraser.

Fraser was born in Scotland and was a classmate of Alexander Grant Dallas, a future son-in-law of Governor James Douglas. Fraser came to Victoria in 1858, whereupon James Douglas appointed him to the Executive Council of Vancouver Island.

The Hudson’s Bay Company thought that if it could entice gold rush miners to come to British Columbia then it would raise the value of land. What they needed was someone to promote the ‘gold diggings’ to the masses abroad.  As a correspondent for the Times of London, Donald Fraser was the ideal candidate to spread this propaganda.

According to Fraser, miners were finding gold without much effort:

The work is not heavy; any ordinary man can do it. The time at work is generally 10 hours. Every man works much or little, according to the dictates of his own sweet will. This independency is one of the chief charms of the miner’s life. Independence and hope make up the sum of his happiness. The cost of living is $1-a-day. To wash 250 buckets of ‘dirt’ is a short day’s work. The bucket is a common wooden water pail, rather small size. Went up to two men at a place by themselves ‘clearing out’ their day’s work. They ‘guessed’ their amalgam was worth $21 to $22.

In the summer of 1858, James Douglas travelled with Donald Fraser to Fort Yale. Here, even Fraser had to admit that the living conditions were primitive. At Hill’s Bar, Fraser found “a gang of miners dining on fried bacon and potatoes cooked à  la Maître d’Hotel, eating out of the frying pan  in which the edibles were prepared, set upon the stump of a tree…”

Fraser also suggested there were stagecoaches on the as yet incomplete wagon road. Many miners were disappointed to discover that they would  have to walk 400 or 500 miles farther carrying a load on their backs.

Not only was Donald Fraser a key political figure, but in a few short years, he became one of the largest land holders on Vancouver Island.

In 1866 Fraser returned to England. In London he joined a group including Gilbert Malcolm Sproat and Alexander Grant Dallas which wielded a lot of political influence. The group opposed the union of Vancouver Island with British Columbia in 1866 and helped to secure the capital of BC at Victoria in 1868.


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Oyster Saloons in the gold rush

Olympia oysters, once abundant on the Pacific Coast from California to Vancouver Island, now teeter on the brink of extinction. These small but delicious oysters, measuring only 1 and a half inches, were a delicacy during the California gold rush and oyster saloons popped up all over to satisfy the demand. Soon the Californian coast was stripped of its oyster beds and the miners’ insatiable demand prompted the commercial harvest of Olympia oysters in Puget Sound.

In the mid 1800s, the village of Oysterville began to prosper after Chief Nahcati introduced the town’s founders, R.H. Espy and I.A. Clark, to oysters. The rich oyster beds of Willapa Bay were soon responsible for Oysterville’s growth, as the town became a major competitor with other oyster companies.

Willard Espy wrote in his memoir of Shoalwater Bay “Oysterville” that “the Puget Sound oyster, known as the Olympia, had a copper taste offensive to refined San Francisco palates. But the same gourmets who rejected the Olympia oysters sang hosannas” to the oysters of Shoalwater Bay.

BritCol18590610_OysterSaloonBy the mid-1850s, oyster saloons had become fashionable once more and gold miners couldn’t get enough of the fishy, saltwater flavour of these small bivalves that could be swallowed whole in a glass of whisky mixed with ketchup, horseradish, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce in a concoction that came to be known as the Oyster Cocktail.

Rudolph’s Oyster Saloon didn’t so much advertise the quality of the oysters as he did the liquor:

“Having lived in Victoria long enough to find that good Malt Liquor is a scarce article, I would respectfully call the attention of the public to the fact that the genuine stuff can be had at my saloon, where can also be found the News from all parts of the civilized world. Call and see me at Duffy’s old place, on Waddington Street, Victoria.”

Steamers came daily to Muddy Bay, Oyster Bay, and Little Skookum to pick up sacks of Olympias. They brought down canoe loads of Olympia oysters down from Comox to the oyster saloons in Victoria. To fill the sacks, oystermen and their families worked at night when the tide was out and the oysters could be raked from the mud flats.

The oysters were forked up into a float which was then poled to the culling house anchored some distance from shore. There the oysters were forked into a sink float, an upside-down float holding two feet of water to keep the oysters fresh.

From the sinkfloat they were forked into a wheelbarrow, rolled into the culling house, up a plank and dumped onto the culling table. All day long, the cullers sorted out the larger oysters, knocking of barnacles, smaller oysters and debris with a culling iron and dropping the marketable oysters into a can, then raking the cullings down the hopper at the edge of the table.


This advertisement from  Thomas Golden in 1859 promises “Fresh Oysters! Served up in every Style at the Phoenix Saloon. Families supplied at the shortest notice, by the quart or gallon. All orders promptly attended to.”

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Chinook: Hiyou Chickamen!


Fraser Canyon, BC

hiyou chickamen!
plenty of gold!
the rallying cry of gold fever
was scarcely told
when the throngs of gold seekers
found themselves in uncharted land
with a new tongue
Chinook they called it
phrases were published
in guidebooks with long titles
Dictionary of Indian Tongues, Containing Most of the Words and Terms Used In The Tshimsean, Hydah & Chinook with their meaning or equivalent in the English Language
passengers wedged themselves between their shovels and gold pans in Coast Salish canim
and held on as they crossed the Strait of Georgia
the paddlers shouted above the crash of the waves of the salt chuck
and prospectors grabbed the bailers made of cedar bark
hoping they would make landfall before it got dark
the paddlers sang their ancient songs, keeping time with their strokes
and scarcely a miner spoke
the majestic rise of the mountains
would later be recorded in their diaries
by nightfall they were at the gates of Fort Langley
grateful none were memaloost
they all knew
at least one story of miners who had drowned
the Hudson’s Bay factor called them cheechakos
green as dense young firs
some thanked the paddlers and called them heroes
they sat down to eat their grub
and some remembered their previous big meal
hiyou muck-a-muck
at night they talked with their tillicums
about where there was hiyou chickamen
or cultus
nothing much

hiyou chickamen – plenty of gold (or other valuable mineral)
canim – canoe
chuck – water
memaloost – dead
cheechakos – newcomers
hiyou muck-a-muck – plenty of food
tillicums – friends
cultus – not much

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The Cranford Affair: ‘extortion’ on the Cariboo Wagon Road

Cranford Affair

“Remember the Cranford Affair; and steer clear of extortion and delays”

When the colonial government decided to build the Cariboo Wagon Road, G.B. Wright was awarded a contract to build the section from Lillooet to Clinton in April 1862.

That same month, G.B. Wright met Robert Cranford, Jr. who had just arrived in Victoria  with a ‘considerable quantity of goods’ he had purchased in San Francisco which he intended to sell in the Cariboo. Wright offered to pack goods for Robert Cranford from New Westminster to Lillooet for nine cents per pound. He promised Cranford that his goods would arrive in ten days and in return Cranford would pay Wright for the cost of freight from the proceeds of the sale of goods 60 days after the goods arrived at their destination. Robert Cranford Jr. signed a contract on April 25th.

It took almost the entire summer for most of the goods to arrive. By this time Cranford Jr. realized it was too late to get the supplies to Williams Creek and he was at a loss.

When Cranford Jr. refused to pay, Wright went to the Justice of the Peace at Lillooet and asked that both Cranford Jr. and his brother John be tossed in jail for non-payment of the bill which came to £1,719. Wright suggested they be held in jail pending a bail payment of £2,500. As a result, the Justice of the Peace, who didn’t usually exercise such authority, sent out an order to have the brothers arrested, even though John had nothing to do with the original contract.

From his jail cell Cranford launched his own lawsuit to counter Wright’s. Cranford alleged that Wright had taken the goods that had cost $10,000 and sold them as his own at a time when the market was high. He sued Wright for $25,000.

In December 1862, Judge Begbie heard the case Cranford v. Wright. In the beginning it looked as though the odds were against the Cranford brothers. G.B. Wright had the attorney-general George Hunter Cary, attorney-general of British Columbia, and H.P. Walker acting in his defense. In addition, Judge Begbie used his discretion in favour of certain omissions on Wright’s part.

The timing was favourable for the Cranford brothers, however, because around the start of the trial, The British Columbian editor was imprisoned by Judge Begbie for contempt of court. Begbie objected to an article printed in the December 3, 1862 issue which exposed details of Begbie’s land acquisition in the Cottonwood District.

As a result, The British Columbian used the Cranford case as an opportunity to put Begbie and Wright in the worst light possible.

In court the written agreement was produced which read:

“Agreed with R. Cranford, Jr., & Brother to carry goods for them from Douglas to Lillooet at 9 cts. per lb. during the ensuing season, payable 50 days after delivery, and a proviso if freights fell, rates to be less.”

The lawyer for Cranford pointed out that the agreement had been falsified, with the words ‘& Brother’ squeezed into the margin and ‘them’ altered from the word ‘him’ as it was originally written. Both of the changes had been made in darker ink than the rest of the words.

The colonial government passed the Lillooet-Alexandria Road Toll Act which came into effect September 1, 1862. Any passengers on the road from Lillooet to Alexandria had to pay a half-penny per pound on goods, and one shilling per head on cattle. Wright received twenty-five percent of the tolls collected for five years.

In April 1863, Wright settled out of court with Robert Cranford Jr.

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William Hind – gold rush artist

William Hind was an artist and an ‘Overlander’—the name given to those gold seekers who trekked over the prairies to the Cariboo gold fields. Hind kept a sketchbook on his journey from Fort Garry and documented the struggles that the party of nearly 200 endured. With their Métis guides, the Overlanders set out with red river carts, traded for pemmican and hunted for food along the way.

William Hind - gold rush artist

William Hind – gold rush artist

Hind was born in England in 1833 and emigrated to Canada West in 1851 where his older brother, Henry Youle Hind, had established himself as a noted geologist.

When Henry was assigned to go on an exploration trip, he took William along to document the plants and landscapes as well as the First Nations they encountered.

With the discovery of gold on the Fraser River in 1858, the brothers
put together a travel guide publication, “A sketch of an overland route to British Columbia”, with a map and
guidebook on how to organize a trip, what dress, food and supplies to bring, how to pack, financial costs, topography, distances between points and included descriptive
information on the five major passes through the Rocky Mountains.

Henry encouraged his brother William to join the Overlanders on their journey. For the 1862 trip William brought along his artist materials which included papers, painting materials, an
easel and a pocket-size, leatherbound sketchbook.  William sketched almost daily, and was a keen observer of his surroundings which he portrayed almost scientifically.

Hind tried to keep an objective viewpoint, even when emotions were running high as they were during the Overlander expedition of 1862. The journey was far different from what William had envisioned and had laid out in their guidebook.

By the end of the journey, Hind had stopped sketching. When they arrived in the Cariboo, the Overlanders were starving, disillusioned and traumatized by what they had endured.

Hind went to Victoria and made vividly realistic watercolour paintings based on his sketches. He lived there for a few years and advertised his services as a sign painter.

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Slavery among the Native population in the Pacific Northwest

Slavery among the Native population in the Pacific Northwest was not uncommon and lasted well into the gold rush years.

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was meant to abolish slavery in the British colonies. In 1835, the Hudson’s Bay Company instructed all officers to suppress slavery, in keeping with the new law. James Douglas, then in charge of the Columbia District (a vast area west of the Rockies) was reluctant to free any slaves by force because he believed that “the exertion of moral influence alone” would be the most expedient way of achieving the goal.

Regardless of who held the slaves, critics such as Reverend Herbert Beaver accused the HBC of tolerating slavery. When Beaver returned to England from his stay at Fort Vancouver he reported his findings to the Aborigines’ Protection Society in London. He stated that HBC employees and their native wives at Fort Vancouver, Cowlitz Farm and the Willamette Valley held as many as 90 slaves in total.

In response, James Douglas denounced slavery and even rescued a runaway native slave boy and gave him a position within the HBC as a free labourer, but his example didn’t have the intended effect. In 1838, Douglas admitted that his efforts to reduce slavery among native people had failed.

In 1860, stories of black slaves fleeing their masters was not unheard of.  “A Fugitive Slave Case”  printed in the British Colonist March 31, 1860, told the story of a different kind of slavery.

On a visit to Victoria, a man found a young girl belonging to the Chemakum tribe in Washington Territory had been stolen some time before and held as a slave by the Songhees. The man took the girl by boat back to her relations in Port Townsend.

A few days later, a Native arrived at Port Townsend with a letter allegedly from Philip Nind which stated that he (Nind) was directed by his Excellency, the Governor of Vancouver Island, to state that the bearer of the note was a native of Vancouver, and that he was in search of a wife or daughter who had either fled or had been forcibly abducted, and recommended the case to the consideration of the authorities of Washington Territory.

After ascertaining the true facts of the story, Justice Swan wrote a reply to Mr. Nind to the effect that the girl claimed had been held as a slave, and as there was “no law between the United States and Great Britain relative to the rendition of fugitive slaves,” he had no jurisdiction in the case.

Slavery amongst tribes revealed itself during the Chilcotin War of 1864.

A Homathko Native known as ‘Squinteye’ testified against Chief Klatassin of the Chilcotin, saying after Klatassin shot and killed former HBC trader Donald McLean he took McLean’s servant “Tom” as a slave.

Another Homathko Native known as “George” testified on the morning of the attack, he was at the camp when he was approached by six Natives, four of which held muskets. He was warned about an expected attack by one of the six who was a slave of the Chilcotins.

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The Gold Escort in the BC gold rush

In 1860, the gold commissioner for the Cariboo Philip Nind recommended to Governor Douglas that a gold escort be instituted to strengthen the government presence and as a service to miners who feared the long hill leading up the bluffs on the south side of the South Fork River, near Quesnel Forks where they were easy prey for robbers.

The government also saw the advantage of a gold escort because it would be a way to get more business to the government assay office in New Westminster. Most of the miners (who were American) preferred to send their gold dust on steamers south to San Francisco to get a better rate of return. On July 9, 1861 the British Colonist reported:

“Treasurer Gosset has succeeded in one of his pet hobbies by getting the machinery of a Gold Escort in working order…The route of the escort will be from New Westminster to the Forks of Quesnel River via Port Douglas and Cayoosh [Lillooet]. Ex-Justice Thomas Elwyn of Cayoosh will have charge of the route from Cayoosh to the Forks of Quesnel; and will be accompanied by a sergeant and four soldiers of the Royal Sappers and Miners mounted. The escort from Cayoosh to Douglas will be under the charge of Mr. Hankin and two mounted policemen.”

It was initially reported that to have one’s gold dust transported by the Gold Escort would cost  one shilling per ounce (for trip Quesnel to Lillooet) or sixpence per ounce (Lillooet to New Westminster). Later, the government broke down the charges even further.

Initially, express companies were concerned about this new competition coming from the government, but the Gold Escort couldn’t match the delivery times of the express companies and nor would they guarantee the safety of one’s gold. In addition there were problems with those put in charge.

Quite a few officers quit when Mr. Hankin had them perform menial tasks – including cleaning his boots and looking after his horse and not allowing them to sit and take meals with him.

When Philip Nind returned in 1863 from a lengthy absence (having gone to England for almost two years to recuperate), he was put in charge of the ill-fated Gold Escort.

The Escort left Williams Creek on July 15, 1863 with about $50,000 in gold dust and on reaching Port Douglas, found that they were too late for the steamer. Captain Nind and five others came down to New Westminster in a canoe and they deposited the treasure with the government assay office.

Nind thought that he brought down one third of the gold then available on the creek. One horse died on the way up and Captain Nind’s own horse died on July 8th near the New Westminster cricket ground.

The British Columbian newspaper, which had always been a critic of the Gold Escort printed this poem, “Poor Old Horse, let Him Die”.

Come drop a tear, for this poor horse
Had once a decent name;
But alas! he joined the Escort,
And died of grief and shame.
And now no more he’ll follow up,
The cart along the track,
Nor clamber over the mountains,
With a “Greeny” on his back.
Then may the “grey backs” ne’er disturb
His bones—where they now rest—
For well they know that while he lived
He always did his best.

A few weeks later, on August 8, 1863 the British Columbian reported:

“Notwithstanding  the effort made in Victoria to induce the public to patronise the Escort, Dietz & Nelson’s Express  carried up a larger number of letters on Wednesday than it has ever done before.”

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The Mule Tax and the Cariboo Wagon Road

The merchants of Yale were eager to have a wagon road built through the Fraser Canyon but Governor Douglas was focussed on building a wagon road along the Douglas-Lillooet route. It seemed that there was no money to embark on another road building project.

In the fall of 1859, the merchants of Yale established an association and raised $60,000. The government was invited to buy some stock in their association or offer to loan them some money so they could start to build the Cariboo Road themselves. Then someone proposed the idea that the road could be built if the government were to levy a small duty on the transport of all goods by land from Yale to Lytton.

Mule train at Quesnel River

Mule train at Quesnel River

On February 6, 1860, Governor Douglas announced a ‘mule tax’ of £1 ($5) for every loaded horse or mule leaving Douglas and Yale for the mining regions. This meant a charge of £8 or $40 a ton. Immediately, there was a backlash from miners and packers.

Petitions were circulated for the removal of the ‘obnoxious mule tax’ and another for the removal of Governor Douglas.

The British Colonist reported on February 14th that “the trade of the country has suffered so severely…” Even the editor of the Port Townsend Register weighed into the mule tax and said that the imposition of the tax “is as clear a case of murdering the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

On February 25, 1860, the British Colonist printed a copy of a petition received from Yale which had been sent to Governor Douglas on February 19th.

“…your petitioners regard with utter dismay the imposition of the $5 mule tax, from the disastrous results it is certain to entail on the progress of the Colony…one inevitable consequence of the tariff will be the paralysis of all trade to the interior, by the avenues of Douglas and Yale…”

In their statement, the petitioners wrote that when they mentioned a small duty they implied something like $3 per ton for road purposes. They also pointed out that the progress of the road building would be gradual and it would be many months before any sections of the proposed road would be completed.

In his speech delivered in May, 1860 Governor Douglas stated that he had to levy the tax because the Colony of British Columbia must be self-supporting, as per the direction from the Colonial Office.

The British Colonist had this to say:

“We are now told that the HBC is no longer responsible for the civil expenses of the colony and we must henceforth be self-supporting. Now that we are to be no longer minors, let us have the balance sheet of our late guardians. Let them give an account of their stewardship, and let it be well and faithfully audited.”

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Sore feet and walking canes in the gold rush

In the early years of the gold rush before the Cariboo Wagon Road was built, travelling to the Cariboo gold diggings was not an easy task. There were no horses or mules to ride; it was necessary to walk the narrow trails. Weary prospectors whose face and hands were covered in mosquitoe bites were not picky about where they stayed for the night.

Here are some journal entries from the ‘gold seeker’s diary’ from May, 1863:

Monday 18th. Set out at seven am. It rained from then till 2pm. Travelled 23 miles. Flat country, thickly timbered. Slept on the floor of the 70 mile house. A night scene in one of these extemporised inns would be an amusing novelty to a high-toned civilised Londoner. Might be compared to a robber’s cave. The floor covered with blanketted bodies. On the counter sleeps the bar-keeper, to guard the liquors from any traveller that might, in a fit of thirst, so far forget himself as to get up in the night, put forth his hand without permission, and moisten his throat…

Wednesday, 20th. Off about 7am. A heavy snow storm. Snowed at intervals during the day. A beautiful looking country…I would not wish for a prettier spot for a farm. Travelled 28 miles; feel a little tired. My feet quite sound. Some of our party in a bad state with sore feet. Put up at the ‘Blue Tent’. Paid $1.50 for supper, and slept comfortably on the floor.

In the Victorian era, ‘walking canes’ were necessary to help one travel.  On July 27, 1864, the British Colonist reported a man charged with stealing someone’s walking cane:

Peter Reilly was charged yesterday in the Police Court, with walking off with a walking cane, the property of Philip Lewis, creating a disturbance in the premises of complainant. The accused said he had been indulging in potent draughts, and was not aware that he had abstracted the prosecutor’s property. The case was remanded for one day for further evidence.

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