Category Archives: Gold Rush People

Biographies of people who figured prominently in the gold rush in British Columbia in the 1800s

How Mifflin Gibbs made his fortune in gold rush Victoria

Mifflin Gibbs was one of the most successful black merchants in Victoria. Gibbs had a partnership with Peter Lester and their firm ‘Lester & Gibbs’ had everything a miner could want. Some say it was the first provision store in Victoria to rival that of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Born in Philadelphia in 1823, Gibbs was eight years old when his father Reverend Gibbs died. One of three sons, Gibbs helped out with odd jobs while his mother Maria worked cleaning laundry. When they were teenagers, Mifflin and his brother Jonathan apprenticed as carpenters. Eventually, the brothers became active in the anti-slavery movement; a time which marked the beginning of their political lives.

Mifflin Gibbs

Mifflin Gibbs

In 1850, Mifflin Gibbs went to the gold rush town of San Francisco and found work as a carpenter. Two years later, he entered into partnership with Peter Lester and together they ran the ‘Clay Street Pioneer Shoe & Boot Emporium’. Their business was prosperous but it didn’t take long before anti-black sentiment to take its toll. Discrimination supported by increasingly restrictive immigration policies prompted many members of San Francisco’s black community to leave.

As soon as he heard about the Fraser River gold rush, Gibbs headed north to Victoria.
Gibbs arrived in June, 1858 with provisions including flour, bacon, blankets, picks and shovels. Miners bought everything he had and Gibbs ordered more with the help of Lester who was still in San Francisco. Within a few weeks, Gibbs set up the store of ‘Lester & Gibbs’ in one half of a house; the other half, he rented out for $500 a month.

After a successful year, Gibbs travelled to the eastern United States for a lengthy visit. During that time he married Maria Alexander, who had been a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. The couple returned to Victoria to his five acre lot in the James Bay district. Gibbs became a British subject in 1861.

Life in Victoria was not without its challenges. There was still prejudice against blacks; however, at least they could rely on British law for protection. Determined to change the status quo, Gibbs ran for election as city councillor for the new municipality of Victoria in August 1862. Voting was done by a show of hands in public and the results were very close; Gibbs lost the election by only four votes. Despite this setback, Gibbs continued to be politically engaged and frequently made his points of view known.

After seven years of marriage, his wife left him and returned to the United States with their five children. Meanwhile, Gibbs committed himself to expanding his business interests. In 1864, he ended the partnership with Lester and moved on to earn his living from real estate, construction and mining investments.

In November 1866, Mifflin Gibbs ran again for Victoria city council, representing the district of James Bay where he lived and this time, he won. Re-elected the following term, Gibbs was so preoccupied with a coal mining venture in the Queen Charlotte Islands that his seat was declared vacant.

In 1869, Gibbs returned to the United States where he obtained a law degree and became a judge.

How the gold rush town of Richfield nearly became Elwyntown

It was bitterly cold in the winter of 1861 and William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz only had time to stake a claim at an unnamed creek before being forced to turn back. He named the creek after himself as a way of marking the claim. Sensing that Dutch Bill had found something big, Ned Stout and three others travelled by snowshoe to ‘William’s Creek’ and they too found gold.

Word soon got out and by the first week of March 1862 many more prospectors soon arrived at Williams Creek. They built shafts on the hillsides and as the ice retreated from the creek itself, it became possible for all claims to be worked. Shacks and business establishments were built close by and a town emerged with stores, restaurants and saloons.

Assistant Gold Commissioner Nind based in Williams Lake was overworked with covering the entire Cariboo district as more mining claims were being registered and disputes needed to be resolved. Nind’s health began to suffer and he requested a leave of absence in early May.

Thomas Elwyn

Thomas Elwyn, the former magistrate for Lillooet, was named Nind’s replacement and upon seeing the amount of work to be done, recommended that the Cariboo be divided into two districts. Peter O’Reilly was assigned the western district while Elwyn was appointed head of the eastern section which included the area of Williams Creek.

By the end of May, 1862 more than twenty businesses were established to serve the needs of the prospectors who numbered over five hundred. Soon though, the deplorable state of the trails made it nearly impossible to bring supplies.

High food prices proved to be too much of a hardship for many miners who had arrived with a small amount of provisions on their backs and little money. Many left the Cariboo altogether.

Those miners who pooled their resources were able to stay and reap the profits of their claims. In one month, Cunningham & Company took out gold at the rate of three thousand dollars every twenty-four hours. Steele & Company’s claims yielded two hundred ounces a day.

On the last day of August, Judge Begbie arrived and the first Grand Jury was assembled in the newly constructed courthouse. Among the topics discussed was a name for the town.  The jury recommended it be called ‘Elwyntown’ after Thomas Elwyn.

‘Elwyntown’ didn’t make it on the map. Instead, Lieutenant Palmer, in his role as Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Works, decided upon the name Richfield.

Richfield retained its significance even as Barkerville grew and the neighbouring towns of Cameronton and Marysville were established in 1863 and 1864.

Richfield

Richfield

Clement Cornwall and the roadhouse named Ashcroft

Clement Cornwall, owner of the Ashcroft roadhouse on the Cariboo Wagon Road, was also a politician.

Cornwall was one of fourteen children born to Reverend Alan Gardner Cornwall and Caroline Kingscote in Gloucestershire, England. When Clement was just an infant, the woollen cloth trade had collapsed and the town’s only employer went bankrupt. Faced with an uncertain future, Cornwall’s father sought help from his wife’s relatives.

Clement Cornwall

Eventually the family built a home, ‘Ashcroft House’ next to the Kingscote estate in England. Clement and his brother Henry were educated at private schools and earned degrees from Cambridge. Afterward, Clement went on to article in law and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1862.

On April 17, 1862, the Cornwall brothers waved goodbye to their family and set sail from Southampton, England bound for Victoria by way of Panama and San Francisco. They stayed in San Francisco for a few days where they purchased a packhorse for $75 dollars. Their ship docked at Esquimalt on June 2, 1862 and within a few days they travelled by steamship to Port Douglas. With their packhorse they hiked up the Douglas-Lillooet trail averaging thirteen miles a day. Arriving in Lillooet on June 20th, they heard that the prospects of finding gold weren’t as great as had been reported.

On the Cariboo Wagon Road

Considering the time was favourable for acquiring land they scouted around and settled on a strategic place on the packhorse trail in the Bonaparte River Valley that they heard was going to be widened into the Cariboo Wagon Road. On this spot the brothers hired two men to whipsaw timber into useable planks for a roadhouse. It took the workers five months to carry out this gruelling task from January to June of 1863 for four cents per foot plus their food.

On September 24, 1863, the Royal Engineers completed the Cariboo Road past the newly completed roadhouse, named ‘Ashcroft’.

As the ranch and roadhouse prospered, Clement Cornwall’s influence grew. Well-known government officials stayed there including Judge Begbie, Walter Moberly, and Gold Commissioner Peter O’Reilly.

Cornwall was elected in 1864 as the representative for the Hope-Yale-Lytton District—one of five members representing the colony of British Columbia. They met in the Legislative Hall, formerly the main barracks of the Royal Engineers’ camp in New Westminster. The following year Cornwall was awarded the role of postmaster and then as magistrate of Thompson River District in 1867.

Three years later Clement married Charlotte Pemberton of Kensal Green, London, England. Shortly thereafter, Clement was elected to the 8th Legislative Council in 1871.  This was an exciting time when the politicians were working out the details of joining Canada. In the summer of 1871, British Columbia joined Confederation and became a province.

Clement Cornwall left his position in the Senate to become Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1881.

Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

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.

Conflicts between NWC and HBC

Conflict between the NorthWest Company and the HBC

 

Simon Fraser discovers the Fraser River

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.

Fraser River - from my Fishing for Gold graphic novel

Simon Fraser looks for the Columbia: A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel

Herman Francis Reinhart & the keg of East Boston Syrup

Herman Reinhart - American prospector

Herman Francis Reinhart – Fraser River goldseeker

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…”

N’kwala – Head Chief of the Okanagans

Chief Nicola

Head Chief of the Okanagans?

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.”

Michael Costin Brown and the Bacon Train

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ichael 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.

Michael Costin Brown

Michael Costin Brown

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.

Nam Sing and the gambling loan paid in flour

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne 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.

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.

Stamp_FortYale