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Story Sunday: The Trial of Justice Nuttall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuttall turned his head and Marvin shaved the other side.

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

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

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

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

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

Nuttall handed a few coins to Marvin.

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

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

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

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


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

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.”

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.

The first sewing machine in the BC gold rush

In 1846, the sewing machine was invented. Isaac Singer made a series of other improvements in 1850 and 1851, making curved stitching possible and replacing the hand wheel with a treadle.

SewingMachBy the time of the BC gold rush, there was a demand for sewing machines. This ad for Wheeler & Wilson sewing machines appeared in the British Colonist newspaper in 1859.

This would have a made a huge impact on the availability of clothing. That same year a “Ladies’ Benevolent Society” was formed “for relieving the sick and clothing the naked.” One can imagine what a difference these sewing machines would have made.

Trousers made of canvas or denim were essential for prospectors working the creeks. These could now be made by sewing machines. Most miners had to learn how to make their own repairs with a needle and thread themselves.

wwsewingmachine
Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine (credit McCord Museum)

In the meantime, young aboriginal women were taught the old ways of making clothing. At their Cowichan convent, the Sisters of Saint Ann taught “young female Indians and half-breeds” to card wool.

In the eariy 1860s it was proposed that the Songhees women of Victoria be put to work in a laundry, while others thought instruction in needlework would be better.

Mrs. Reynard and Mrs. Hills taught Aboriginal women to knit stockings in Victoria’s Humbolt Street mission in the late 186Os.

News Correspondents in the BC Gold Rush

During the gold rush, newspapers in the colonies of British Columbia and on Vancouver Island didn’t have their own reporters in the field to report on events. Instead, they encouraged ‘correspondents’ to write to them with news and information.

In its very first issue (February 13, 1861), the British Columbian newspaper put out a call for news correspondents:

As yet we have not had an opportunity of organizing our staff of agents and correspondents, and consequently are not in a position to give our readers that variety of colonial, and other information which we desire…give us your best thoughts upon every useful and important topic, either in the shape of short and pithy articles for publication, or facts and suggestions for our own use.

It is our desire to have one or more good correspondents in every locality of importance in British Columbia, in order that we may be kept thoroughly ‘posted’ in the wants and resources of the colony.

The newspaper was overwhelmed with a response from its readers.

…it will not be in our power to publish one-half of the communications now coming to hand…We shall always be glad to receive communications long or short…but our correspondents must not feel hurt if we should not always find it convenient to make room for their communications.

The British Colonist in Victoria had regular news correspondents and these people were given code names like ‘Argus’ or ‘Puss-in-the-corner’. Very rarely were they identified by their real names.

Reporting on the events in the Fraser River gold rush, ‘Puss-in-the-corner’ had some damning things to say about the Assistant Gold Commissioner Travaillot based in Lytton on June 6, 1859:

From miners arriving from Lytton city, we daily receive accounts of the outrageous conduct of Travailie [sic], the Crown Commissioner. If these accounts be correct, he is little better than a drunken sot, and otherwise totally unfit for the responsible position to which he has been elevated.

Work boots and brogans of the BC gold rush

Good boots were essential to a gold miner. S.G. Hathaway describes packing his load of supplies along the Harrison-Lillooet trail in 1862:

After sailing up the Fraser River about 45 miles we turned into Harrison river, & 5 miles brought us to where it widened into a beautiful lake [Harrison]  from one to 6 or 8 miles wide & 45 miles long. I wish you could see it. Snowy mountains & rocky cliffs rising straight up from the water, shutting out all the world but the blue sky overhead; islands and sharp points running out into the lake- making a picture of wild grandeur different from anything I ever saw before. We got to the upper end at 10 o’clock at night, where there is a shanty village called Port Douglas. Got our things ashore & blundered around in the dark to find a spot to camp, which we did without much trouble. From Douglas there is 29 miles of land travel to the next lake [Little Lillooet Lake], where we are now.

The next morning after landing we loaded the mule & made up packs for ourselves, each one carrying from 30 to 40 pounds, & away we went. It was very warm, my pack bore down heavy & my boots – iron heeled, soles nearly an inch thick & driven full of round-headed nails – gave my poor feet a sorry rasping. I had too much clothing, & was soon drenched in sweat. We staggered along some 4 miles & stopped for dinner & a few hours rest; then we bucked to it again & stopped for the night after making altogether about 10 miles.

Hobnailed boots were made with very thick soles that were almost completely covered with hobnails and the stout heels were protected by a horseshoe-shaped iron tip.

Another name for hob nails is clout-nails: short nails with large heads for the soles of strong shoes.

A notice for an auction in Victoria dated July 15, 1861 had a list of items for sale including:

full nailed calf boots
full nailed calf and kip boots with steel heels
heavy grained leather boots
kip and calf boots with two rows of nails
kip and calf brogans

Brogans: a heavy, coarse shoe described as being ‘between a boot and a shoe’. Hobnailed boots of this style were made by Irish craftsmen –– bootmakers called ‘Greasai Bróg’ in Irish; hence the name Brogans.

Kip is the hide of a small or young animal, i.e. calfskin. So kip brogans might be brogan style shoes made from calfskin.

Frank Beegan, boot and shoemaker in Victoria, had an advertisement in September 4, 1860 for: “New Boots $11  Footed Boots $8   made of best calf skin”

Up until this period, it was not uncommon for men to buy boots which were made on straight ‘lasts’ and therefore were interchangeable between right and left feet, supposedly for longer wear. These boots were referred to as ‘square-toed’ boots.

Music during the BC gold rush

Music was an essential part of daily life during the gold rush years in British Columbia. Musical instruments were much more difficult to acquire unless gold seekers managed to bring a violin or flute with them.

One of the Overlanders of 1862 recalled a typical evening on the prairies during the first part of their journey to the Cariboo:

“An association of musicians was formed on the trail. After supper, many others amused themselves on different kinds of brass instruments, clarinets, flutes, violins and a concerteena…At Edmonton, the musicians gave a concert to a crowded house…”

Some of the Royal Engineers were trained as musicians and provided welcome entertainment to the citizens of Fort Victoria.

The Victoria Philharmonic Society was formed in 1859 with forty members who paid $5 to join. Flutes, violins and other stringed instruments were very popular. Barrel organs and pianofortes as they were known, were coveted items and brought at great expense and effort.

James Loring purchased an upright piano and had it shipped as far as Quesnel and from there four men carried it in its crate for 60 miles to Barkerville. The hurdy gurdy was a popular stringed instrument during the Cariboo gold rush and dancers were known as ‘hurdy gurdies’.

hurdy gurdy player

playing a hurdy gurdy (creative commons image)

 

Where was the first BC gold rush?

Where was the first BC gold rush? The very first documented gold rush in British Columbia took place at Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in 1852.

In 1850, specimens of gold ore from the Queen Charlottes were traded at the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Simpson. Chief Trader John Work ordered test blasts at Englefield Bay and a lot of gold was found.

In October 1851, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent Captain William Mitchell, however, the natives opposed the idea of the harbour being blown apart and seeing gold being taken away in large quantities. They wanted to retain gold for their own trading purposes.

James Douglas, then chief factor of HBC on the Pacific Coast and Governor of Vancouver Island, proposed the idea of setting aside Gold (Mitchell) Harbour for a trading post with the order:

Should any other party be employed on the vein when you reach Gold Harbour, you will require them to remove from the spot, as the place belongs to the Hudson’s Bay Company by discovery and prior occupation, as well as by Her Majesty’s exclusive license of trade granted to the company.

Within six months, news of gold spread to the United States and small ships of gold seekers set out from San Francisco.

“In the spring of 1852, an expedition was fitted out from San Francisco, lured by the accounts received from that island, to the effect that gold had been discovered there. The schooner Susan Sturgis, Capt. Rooney, with thirty-five adventurers arrived at Mitchell’s Harbor on the western coast of the island.”

The gold seekers didn’t have much luck finding gold themselves, but the Haida did trade gold with them for a price.

Captain Baker, at Olympia, sent a letter to the Oregonian newspaper in the spring of 1852:

We were wrongly informed, but did not give up till we found the place. We were several times for weeks wind-bound in different harbors… There are eleven tribes on the Island… those at Gold Harbor … have been spoiled by the HBC Co. and want to barter more than twice the value of their gold.

Francis Barnard and the BC Express Company

Francis J. Barnard

Francis J. Barnard of BC Express Co.

The BC Express Company was a name that was synonymous with the Cariboo gold rush. In 1865 alone, the BC Express Company hauled $4.5 million worth of gold from the Cariboo to Yale.

Who was the man who started founded this famous BC gold rush company? His name was Francis Jones Barnard. Barnard was born in Quebec City in 1829 and came to British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858.

It was a long trip out west and he spent a short time panning for gold, after which he sold his claim and worked as a constable. Later he became a purser on board the steamship “Fort Yale” and survived the explosion that sank it.

In 1861, Barnard acquired the packing business of Jeffray and Company, which also carried the official mail without charge from Victoria to Yale.

In 1862, Barnard established the BC Express Company with one mule and the government awarded him a paid contract to carry the mail from Victoria to the Cariboo. The following year, he bought a two horse wagon to carry express mail and gold from Yale to Barkerville.

By 1866 Barnard became the sole proprietor of the horse express business from Victoria to Barkerville.

The BC Express Company incorporated in 1871. This consisted of F.J. Barnard, holding one half interest, and Steve Tingley and James Hamilton each holding one quarter interest. Hamilton died in 1886 and Barnard sold his share to Tingley who thus became sole owner.

Book of BC Gold Rush Short Stories just published

Gold Rush Short Stories

Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories

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

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