Tag Archives: Cariboo

Ashcroft House on the Cariboo Road

Ashcroft House

Ashcroft House

As soon as they heard about the gold rush in British Columbia, brothers Clement and Henry Cornwall sailed from their home in England. They arrived in Victoria in June, 1862 and set out with pack horses from Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake. Of wealth and means, the brothers had the intention of becoming land owners. They took their time exploring the countryside from Lillooet to Hat Creek and Loon Lake then made “a long & dusty drive of 20 miles” south along the western ridge of the Thompson River to Gavins Creek. On the way they passed “a desirable looking flat watered by 2 streams with a fine surrounding range for cattle.” This was also strategically located on the packer trail – proposed to become part of the Cariboo Wagon Road.

This was to be the future home of the roadhouse known as Ashcroft House – named after the family home in England.

During their first summer and fall, the Cornwalls began to stock their property with horses, mules and oxen. They found the cattle too expensive to buy in quantity because any drover who brought cattle this far from Oregon, which was the closest place where cattle could be bought at a fair price, wanted the very high prices he could get by taking his herd to the Cariboo gold diggings. The Cornwalls therefore had to start as farmers rather than cattle ranchers.

They hired help to cook and build a build a house as well as to harvest wild hay. They looked after packers’ horses over the winter months.  In the meantime, they 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.

Ten acres of barley, timothy grass, clover, oats and alfalfa were planted in the spring of 1863, as well as a variety of vegetables.

On September 24, 1863, the Royal Engineers completed the Cariboo Road past the newly completed Ashcroft House.

In later years, the Cornwalls were granted a lease of 6,000 acres of grazing land in Hat Creek Valley for their cattle. By 1867 the brothers had established themselves as two of the leading ranchers in their part of the interior.

Early fences of British Columbia

Russell Fence

Russell Fence

Early fences in British Columbia were durable, stable and easily maintained.

The Russell fence, long considered the favourite amongst ranchers, once criss-crossed the countryside in the Cariboo-Chilcotin ranching areas.  Pioneers built these fences using only an axe from jackpine trees in the nearby forests. The fences didn’t require fence posts to be sunk into the ground which allowed for it to be quickly built and able to be constructed over hills and valleys.

Logs were put together to form a tripod and the resulting “V” supported a log set lengthwise. The rest of the rails hung by wire from the top rail. One leg of the tripod, the ‘tie piece’, was staked into the ground. The other legs, all above ground, were wired or nailed to the stake. This stake kept the rail fence from collapsing off into the distance like a string of dominoes. Most of the fences were between six and seven feet high.

Stake fence

Stake and Rider fence

Stake fences also known as Stake and Rider fences, were not as common. It was a temporary fence used in situations where trees were available for the riders. Stake and Rider fences were raised on the open flats of the Anahim Lake country, but seldom elsewhere in British Columbia.

One pioneer farmer claimed to have cut 400 rails in an hour!

Early Log Buildings of the BC gold rush

log cabin

a gold miner’s log cabin

From the 1820s to 1860s, the most common form of log construction in British Columbia was the “pièce sur pièce” style which the Hudson’s Bay Company used. All the HBC forts were constructed in this way. Considering the vast area controlled by the HBC, it helps to explain how the pièce sur pièce method was largely spread throughout the west.

Prior to the Fraser River gold rush, the first St. Ann’s schoolhouse, built in the mid-1840s, and the John S. Helmcken House, built in 1852, were both constructed in this style and covered with shingle siding to add a veneer of “refinement.”

The pièce sur pièce style also influenced the construction of roadhouses in the Cariboo during the gold rush. First nation pit houses with their sod roof design was another influence. Sod roofs were characteristic of Cariboo log buildings and served to keep out heat in the summer and prevent heat loss in the winter. The roofs were gently pitched to avoid erosion. Examples of sod-roofed buildings can be found at Hat Creek Ranch Historic Site, including a root cellar and two poultry houses, built during the 1860s.

The log buildings constructed by early settlers can be further divided into “permanent” and “temporary” structures. Permanent log buildings often have squared logs with tight-fitting dovetailed or lap-jointed corners, while temporary log structures often have round logs with simple saddle-notched corners.

Donovan Clemson’s book Living with Logs: British Columbia’s Log Buildings and Rail Fences (1974) remains the only published source entirely devoted to the subject.

Homes built by Chinese gold miners used a combination of construction styles. The Chee Kung Tong building in Barkerville, consists of a central frame building with two later log additions. Both log additions have round logs with squared dovetailed corners, a feature shared by a number of other log buildings in Barkerville.

BC gold rush Claim Jumpers

Messrs. Levi and Boas, who were packing to Richfield…had been stopped, in consequence of the streams having swollen from the melting snow. The Gold Commissioners had not arrived. Jumpers were causing much annoyance. May 14, 1863

The term “jumpers” refers to claim jumpers: gold miners that would take another’s claim in whole or in part.

News reports from April, 1861 help explain why claims were jumped when gold was discovered in Antler Creek in the Cariboo.

“The diggings were first struck by a prospector late last fall, who from prudential reasons filled the hole up again and kept his discovery a secret. He had obtained over $100 in a few minutes from the bed-rock and then he had filled it up again because he had occasion to go to San Francisco and did not wish the discovery to be made before the Spring.”

“It appears that Martin, who had been in partnership with the original explorers, having come to loggerheads with his company during the winter, thought his partners were trying to deprive him of his interest in the diggings by keeping the location secret. Being something of a pioneer and a prospector himself, he finally purchased a pair of snowshoes and started out, in mid-winter, in quest of gold. Having travelled over the deep snow for several weeks, he came at last on Antler creek, where he saw several notices posted up, a large number of claims staked off, and holes sunk for the purpose of prospecting. Upon examining the dirt that had been thrown up, he discovered that it was gold-bearing, and succeeded in picking out several pieces weighing from a dollar upwards. Having satisfied himself that this was the place he was in pursuit of, he started back immediately in order to communicate to his friends the discoveries he had made.

When the crowd from this place arrived at the diggings and read the notices that were posted up, they discovered that the original locators had more ground staked off, than they were entitled to according to the Gold Fields’ Act and hence “jumping” commenced right off. This would have led to serious difficulties had not the stronger party gave way and concluded to have it settled in the legitimate way. A courier was immediately dispatched for the Gold Commissioner (Nind) who resides somewhere near Mission Ranch, in a farming community, several miles from any mining camp. What a ridiculous location! He came plodding along on snowshoes after several days’ delay, and I hear, has at length succeeded in reaching the field of gold and “jumpers,” and will no doubt, endeavor to settle matters. As soon as the snow melts off and the miners get operating, I will write you again…

Horsefly – the first Cariboo gold rush town

Before Barkerville was founded in 1862, the first Cariboo gold rush town was Horsefly.

Peter Dunlevy, an American from Pennsylvania, came to British Columbia at the onset of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858. After panning for gold up the Fraser River, he headed north and prospected along the Quesnelle River.

One day, he met Tomaah, son of Chief Lolos of Fort Kamloops who was also a runner for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dunlevy invited Tomaah to dinner and from him he learned that there was gold further north.

Tomaah had to run a message for the HBC, but he told Dunlevy to meet him 16 days later on the fur brigade trail at the southeast end of Lac La Hache.

On the 16th day, the prospectors were  at the appointed spot. As the story goes, Dunlevy was sitting there when Tomaah arrived with legendary guide John Baptiste and welcomed Dunlevy in Chinook,

“Kla-how-eya Dunlevy”

Baptiste guided the prospectors north to the Horsefly River and down the river to a bench that slopes off to Quesnel Lake. There they found coarse gold the size of wheat kernels. It was the middle of June, 1859.

Many miners soon arrived and a small village was built including several hotels, store, post office and even a Chinatown.

For a long time, the village was called Harper’s Camp until the name Horsefly was adopted in the 1920s.

Check out the Horsefly Historical Society website for interesting historical anecdotes and photos.

John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron

John 'Cariboo' Cameron

John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron

John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron was a clerk in Ontario when he heard of the gold rush in British Columbia. John, his wife Sophia and their baby daughter travelled to Halifax and then by sailing ship around South America to Victoria. They arrived in Victoria on February 27, 1862.

He was almost broke when his baby became ill and died. Fortunately, he met an old friend from Ontario, Robert Stevenson, who lent him $2,000 worth of supplies on credit. In the spring, Cameron and Sophia headed for the goldfields on Antler Creek.

On August 22, 1862 a company was formed consisting of Robert Stevenson, John and Sophia, Richard Rivers, Allen McDonald, Charles Clendening, and James Clendening. They staked an area on the left bank of Williams Creek and called it the Cameron Claim.

By early September, the miners began to build cabins for themselves and more claims were made adjacent to theirs. Soon the settlement became known as Cameron’s Town, shortened eventually to Cameronton.

In the summer of 1863, Dr. Chipp reported to the Cariboo Sentinel that there “were typhoid symptoms which were fatal to some.” Indeed, there were several outbreaks of this disease throughout the Cariboo.

In October when the weather was -30°F, Sophia Cameron contracted typhoid fever and died. One of her last requests was that she be buried back home in Ontario. John placed his wife in a casket in an abandoned cabin and carried on working. Shortly afterward, they struck gold.

In the new year, Cameron confided in Stevenson that he wanted to honour Sophia’s last request. At the end of January 1864, the two of them set out when it was -50°F and the snow was 7 feet deep with Sophia’s casket and 50lbs of gold borrowed from the Barker Company tied to a sleigh.

On their way to Victoria, Cameron and Stevenson came across another man who helped them to move the casket in the inclement weather. In return for his help, Cameron bought him a claim.

Later in 1863, Cameron returned from Ontario to Williams Creek. The large output of gold from his mine earned him the title of ‘Cariboo’ Cameron. In two years, he left for his home near Glengarry, Ontario and took with him an immense fortune in gold. After generously sharing his wealth with family and friends, Cameron married for a second time.

Unfortunately, Cameron lost most of his own fortune in unlucky investments and he returned with his wife to Barkerville in 1888. He died that same year in November and was buried in the cemetary above Cameronton.

BC Gold Rush Judge Begbie

Judge Begbie

Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie – BC’s first chief justice

Judge Begbie was the first chief justice of British Columbia.

Born at sea in 1819, Matthew Baillie Begbie was educated in England where he became a lawyer. In the fall of 1858, Begbie arrived in British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush.

As the chief justice of the colony, Begbie oversaw the roles of gold commissioners, who previously had been used to wide-reaching control.

Begbie was required to travel great distances on horseback and there are many stories of his adventures over rough trails in a variety of weather. Before the Dewdney Trail was completed, Edgar Dewdney guided Begbie and his pack horses to Fisherville in the Kootenays for a court hearing.

There were very few established courthouses in those days. Begbie always carried his robes and wore them wherever it was convenient to hold court whether it was in a saloon, roadhouse, cabin or outdoors.

Begbie was careful to follow the jury’s decision in cases of murder, when the punishment was hanging. In matters regarding mining claims, sometimes Begbie was known to disagree with the jury and called for a new trial. Many who were not familiar with British law were not pleased with his decisions.

At a Clinton roadhouse, Begbie sentenced a man for a crime and then later that same evening overheard the fellow’s companions plotting to shoot him. Known to fight with his fists or with law books, the judge listened for a while then emptied his chamber pot over them.

Begbie became fluent in several aboriginal languages including Chinook. After hundreds of their people died of starvation during the winter of 1858, the Upper St’át’imc, whose territory was invaded by thousands of miners seeking gold in Lillooet district and beyond, appealed to Begbie to defend the rights of their people.

In 1863, Dr. Cheadle wrote:

“Passed Judge Begbie on horseback (near Clinton on the Cariboo Road). Everyone praises his just severity as the salvation of the Cariboo and the terror of rowdies.”






The Barkerville Fire

On September 16, 1868, the Cariboo gold rush town of Barkerville was engulfed in flames.

“Only a few days since we with much pride spoke of the order and neatness of the town of Barkerville, and our ink had scarcely dried ere that town was a mass of smouldering ruins; and charred timbers and heaps of rubbish only marked the spot where stood the metropolis of Cariboo…. In just one hour and twenty minutes from the first cry of fire, the last roof fell, and the destruction of the town of Barkerville was pronounced complete…the merciless element had turned the tenants of 120 houses roofless into the streets, and many with no more property than covered their persons.”

A fire first appeared on the roof of Addler and Barry’s Saloon near the centre of Barkerville at 2:30pm and by 4:00pm, almost the entire town was burnt to the ground. The Cariboo Sentinel newspaper reported the loss at $673,000, including damage to their office at $500.

Barkerville Fire 1868

Barkerville Fire 1868

Those closest to the fire could do little to save any goods, but those on the outer edge of town took whatever they could. Soon after the fire abated, merchants went to gather up items they had rescued from the blaze and found most of them missing. Several thousands of dollars worth were found concealed in cabins, old shafts and hidden on the many trails that led out of town.

While there was some discussion about how the fire started, a public meeting was held to discuss the lack of a fire brigade.

Cataline’s Camels on the Cariboo Road

Jean Caux "Cataline"

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

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

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

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

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

mule packing barrels

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have they been trained?” Gun asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gun spat on the ground and grimaced in pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gun yelled back. Everything was okay.

The Last Camel in BC