Tag Archives: Fraser River Gold Rush

Searching for Gold in the New El Dorado

When gold was ‘discovered’ in the Fraser River, a promotional machine kicked in and British Columbia was touted as the “New El Dorado” (after the El Dorado of South America). Soon, all the newspapers began referring to British Columbia as the New El Dorado.

Gold rushes wherever they occurred were almost always promoted. Books were immediately printed, articles were published and even in the case of the Australian gold rush, a board game called ‘Race to the gold diggings’ was created to get young people excited about seeking gold.

Searching for Gold

Herman Reinhart - American prospector

Herman Reinhart – American prospector

Timing was everything, as Californian miner Herman Reinhart remembered. In July 1858, after months of travelling on foot, Reinhart arrived when the Fraser River was high:

“…boats got swamped and whole boat-loads of men were drowned, and many never knew what became of them.”

At Fort Hope he ran into an old friend James Daniels who had just sold his claim at Hill’s Bar and was leaving for San Francisco after having made $3,500.

“He left Sucker Creek in March, only two months ahead of me; he went by water to Victoria, and a little steamer clear to where he now was, and no hardships or danger like me…”

By the time Reinhart arrived at Yale, he didn’t bother going to Hill’s Bar:

“We saw some old acquaintances at Yale, but we were anxious to get down to Victoria, so we did not look around much. We were in a hurry to get back to California before we would get broke or out of money, so we did not go over to Hill’s Bar to see it.”

At Victoria, Reinhart met many gold seekers he knew from California and Oregon who were in a similar situation:

“…Many had no money and made application to our consul (agent for British Columbia) Edward Nugent. He said he would try and make some arrangements with the company of the steamer Pacific to take a lot of American subjects to San Francisco, who had not the money to pay their own fare. It was the duty of the government to take its people to their homes if they were in a destitute condition on a foreign shore or land, and there were over one thousand men in that condition.

“Just when the Californian newspapers were reporting the Fraser River gold diggings were ‘humbug’, in November 1858, Alfred Waddington published a book called “The Fraser Mines Vindicated” which spoke of the gold diggings in glowing terms.

Strapped gold seekers in Victoria

“The perils of searching for gold” – a lecture given January 29, 1860

When 1860 rolled around, the Fraser River gold rush was all but over. Yet young men, many of whom were well-educated, were still arriving in Victoria. Amor De Cosmos, the fiery publisher of the Daily Colonist, sounded the alarm on January 28th of that year:

“From exaggerated and too sanguine accounts they were led to believe that they had only to get here, to begin coining of money without delay. Almost their little all was spent in accomplishing a long and expensive voyage. And so it has come to pass, that some of these enterprising young men have found themselves “strapped.” Instances have occurred in which they have resorted to teaming, carpentering, and even baking bread…”

One can imagine Mr. Cosmos’ reaction when he read the London Times newspaper of January 30, 1860, which included the following report from their correspondent who was said to be in Victoria:

All accounts agree that the individual earnings of the miners are much larger than in California or Australia. It is very common to light upon a man going to San Francisco with several thousand dollars…

In March 1860 a handbook to British Columbia was published to lure Welsh men to leave for the goldfields. Emigration agents in Liverpool were kept busy—by July it was estimated that one in three of the working population in Wales was willing to emigrate.

Note: I have noticed a few maps that show Yale and Hill’s Bar on the same side of the Fraser River, however, I have since verified that Hill’s Bar was approximately a mile and a half south of Yale and on the other side of the river. The Fraser River gold rush historian, Daniel Marshall, mapped out the location of the gold rush bars in his recently published book, Claiming the Land.

Types of gold pans and spoons used in the BC gold rush

Before the Fraser River gold rush got off to a flying start in 1858, Nlaka’pamux who lived by the Thompson River were bringing gold nuggets and gold dust to the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Kamloops.

When news reached Fort Victoria, the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company decided to send them some spoons. What did the spoons look like? What were they made of? For many years, this remained a mystery to me.

The other mystery which has perplexed me for years was the paintings by William Hind which show miners wearing a object tucked into their sash next to a mug.

In the course of digging up information for this blog post on gold pans, these two mysteries have been solved.

horn spoon

horn spoon

In the early days of the California gold rush, prospectors used ‘spoons’ made from cattle horns that were steamed and pressed to allow a person to use them as a scoop. The juvenile fiction book, “By the Great Horn Spoon” describes a horn spoon as half a bullock horn, from 6 to 8 inches long and up to 3 inches wide.

‘spoon’ gold pan made from mountain goat horn

This was copied and revised by the Natives further north who used the horns of mountain goats and shaped them into a shape that resembled a pinched frying pan.

So when the Hudson’s Bay Company met in Fort Victoria and talked of sending more ‘spoons’ to Fort Kamloops which the Natives to use for gold panning – they were referring to iron ‘spoons’ forged by their blacksmith.

blacksmith forged ‘spoon’

The blacksmith forged ‘spoon’ could have been similar to the type of one that was sent by the HBC to their fort.

iron spoon with long handle

iron spoon with long handle

Another example of an iron spoon is one that was typically used in the 19th century. Some people referred to it as a tasting spoon or a ladle. It was often found in pioneer cabins near the hearth and what could be more handier?

Consider this description of a Californian miner from G.A. Fleming’s book “California, its past history, its present position and future prospects” published in 1850:

“Occasionally, he dug the dust out of crevices with his long iron spoon and trowel, and found eight or nine dollars’ worth in a place not larger than one’s finger…a sheath-knife…was always worn in the belt used instead of suspenders, and to which was often attached that very useful article in the “diggings,” a long iron spoon, employed both to cook and mine with…”

Now, look at William Hind’s painting titled “Miner, Rocky Mountains” and you will see what definitely looks like an iron spoon tucked into his belt.

Gold pans are the most basic of mining equipment and there are almost as many types of gold pans as hats.



For thousands of years, people in South America have used a cone-shaped wooden bowl called a batea to wash the gravel. They vary in size but typically are wider than American-style gold pans and because of the wood, fine grains of gold are easily captured by it.

The batea is challenging to work with, but the idea of taking in a larger amount of gravel at a time soon caught on. The early gold pans were simply known as ‘washing pans’ because that is what a prospector did with them – they would gather up some gravel and water and swirl it around, literally washing the gravel.

1850s gold washing pan made from tin

Tinsmiths made gold pans that were tapered at the bottom like this one.

Inspired by the size of the batea, people starting making gold pans of a bigger size. The one I drew is based on a 19th century gold pan measuring 55 cm by 12.5 cm. The gold pans were made from steel. Oil was added in the manufacturing process to prevent the pan from rusting.

19th century gold pan made from steel

In the 1860s, Dickson, Campbell & Co. made galvanized steel “gold washing machines, different sizes” in Victoria at the corner of Johnson and Wharf Streets.

Many prospectors took their new ‘gold washing machine’ otherwise known as a gold pan and cured it over a campfire. This did two things – remove any oils which would cause fine gold to float out of the pan and also give the pan a bluish tinge which provided a greater contrast when gold appeared.

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.

Manifest Destiny and Self-government at Hill’s Bar

Down the Fraser River from Fort Yale, deposits of sand and gravel accumulated over the years.  In the Halkomelem language this low bank was known amongst the Stó:lō as Hemhemetheqw, meaning a “good place to make sockeye salmon oil.” Californian miners called these low banks ‘bars’ and based on experience, knew they were good places to find gold.

A group of California prospectors started for the ‘New Eldorado’ in March, 1858. Edward Hill was the first goldseeker of his group to stake a claim there and so this low bank was named Hill’s Bar.

In March 1858, James Moore, a friend of Hill, reported that the “whole tribe of Yale Indians moved down from Yale and camped on Hill’s Bar, about three hundred men, women and children, and they also commenced to wash for gold.”

A goldseeker named Furness made $750 in gold dust in four weeks and Hill himself averaged $50 a day.

As more and more people arrived every day, conflicts arose between the Natives and the miners, mostly American.

Before James Douglas had a chance to reach Hill’s Bar at the end of May, 1858, American miners imposed their own self-government. On May 21st, they posted laws regulating mining claims on that bar, according to what they had learned in California.

Manifest Destiny

Many Americans believed that it was their republic’s “Manifest Destiny” to expand its rule over the whole of the North American continent. American expansionists demanded all of the Pacific Slope lying south of the Russian Possessions (Alaska). Within ten years, they were engaged in wars with both Britain and Mexico to achieve their goals.

When the border was settled at the 49th parallel and not at the 54th as they had hoped, expansionists consoled themselves that there was nothing of any value in New Caledonia, the area where the Fraser River lay.

However, as soon as gold was discovered on the Fraser River, once again the slogan of “54-40 or Fight” was raised throughout the land.

When James Douglas came to Fort Yale, he warned the American miners that the Americans in arming themselves and going out against the Indians were guilty of treason.

He also warned the miners that “the Indians of Washington Territory have sent couriers all through the Fraser river territory, calling on the Indians to unite and drive out the whites. In consequence, the Indians heretofore hunting for the Hudson’s Bay Company have applied for early and increased supplies of ammunition, which was refused to them.” The HBC didn’t want to arm the Natives in their conflict against the miners.

Some miners such as Lucius Edelbute, who had been in involved in conflicts with Native peoples in California, thought it would be better for his group to identify themselves as ‘King George Men’ (British) rather than ‘Boston Men’ (Americans) when they came to the Fraser River. With the use of a Chinook jargon dictionary, they were able to talk their way out of a difficult situation when a group of Natives surrounded them and demanded that they return their salmon to the river which they did so immediately.

This poem printed in the Pioneer and Democrat newspaper (Washington) on November 5, 1858 shows that Manifest Destiny was still alive and well.

Frazer River

Now, hurrah, for up the Frazer,
Where the gold is without measure;
Where the bars and banks are gleaming,
And the floods with gold are streaming.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Every day the sun is shining,
Men by thousands come here mining,
And, by rocker, pick and shovel,
Swear among the sand and gravel.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Tis a rapid, foaming river,
And the heart will often quiver
When canoes go downward, splashing,
Whirling, spinning, leaping, crashing.

Mind your “p’s” don’t make a blunder,
If you do, you’ll go to thunder.

Up above, among the mountains,
Men have found the golden fountains;
Seen where they flow! Oh joy transcendent!
Down, down, in noiseless stream transplendent,

Then, hurrah, and set your riggings—
Sail above, to richer diggings.

When news gets where Buch and Cass is,
Johnny Bull can go where grass is,
He may rave and rant to foaming,
It will never stop our coming.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for papers,
The license men may cut their capers.

Soon our banner will be streaming,
Soon the eagle will be screaming,
And the lion – see it cowers,
Hurrah, boys, the river’s ours.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer’s river’s falling.

I’ll scrape the mountains clean, my boys,
I’ll drain the rivers dry,
A pocket full of rocks bring home,
So brother don’t you cry,
O’ California, That’s the land for me,
I’m bound for San Francisco with a wash bowl on my knee.

‘Buch and Cass’ refers to U.S. President James Buchanan and Secretary of State Lewis Cass. ‘Johnny Bull’ refers to the people of England

Occupations of the 1860s – Assayer to Water Carrier

What occupations were there during the BC Gold Rush? People did many different kinds of jobs.  The colonial government of Vancouver Island printed a notice January 1, 1861 with a list of trade license fees in Victoria. Some occupations are still around such as bakers, carpenters, confectioners, hair dressers, tailors, and insurance agents. As you can see from the list, some vocations are rarely heard of anymore and others have disappeared altogether.

This list of construction trades also shows that people were constructing solid buildings in Victoria – those rough wood shanties were a thing of the past.

Assayer – tested gold for purity (read the story about Marchand’s assay office)
Blacksmith – made farm tools, cooking tools, and sometimes shoed horses and oxen as well
Boarding-house Keeper – rented rooms usually for a week or more and one meal a day was provided. Check out this ad for Mike Cohen’s Red House in Victoria.
Bootmaker – wellington boots, and work boots were in demand during the gold rush.
Brickmaker – prepared the bricks and then fired them in a kiln
Camphene Dealer – camphene oil was used to light lamps
Carman – delivered goods on a horse-drawn wagon
Clothier –  made suits and sometimes drapes
Coach Builder – coaches was a shortened word for stagecoaches
Confectioner – made candy, cough drops (back then sugar was considered medicinal)
Cooper – made wooden barrels
Corn Dealer –  agents who bought grain from farmers and sold it either for feed or seed
Hosier – sold socks and undergarments (see my post on Hardy Gillard – Hoser, Glover & Outfitter)
Indian Trader – would’ve bought items directly from Natives such as furs, baskets, fish
Ironmonger – sold guns and hardware
Jobber – a wholesale merchant
Lime-burner – burning lime in a kiln was a dangerous job because of the toxic fumes. Lime was turned into powder – an essential ingredient for mortar
Livery stablekeeper – housed and fed horses (a hotel for horses)
Mason – a stone worker
Paper hanger – someone who ‘hangs’ wallpaper
Peddler – sold wares directly from a wagon to passersby – often at the edges of town
Plasterer – applies plaster (there was no stucco or drywall in those early days)
Saddler – a maker of riding saddles
Sailmaker – made sails out of canvas for scows, canoes
Saloonkeeper – typically refers to someone who dispensed liquor, although there were coffee saloons and shaving saloons as well
Scourer – this could refer to someone who washed wool or most likely, washed clothes
Scrivener – a professional writer (good for responding to legal documents)
Shipwright – they made ships
Soda water manufacturer –  water was mixed with various compounds and/or flavoring, and of course, carbonation
Syrup manufacturer – syrup was used by confectioners and saloon keepers
Teamster – driver of a team of horses or oxen
Tentmaker – one of the first commercial users of sewing machines was a tentmaker
Tinsmith – maker of stoves, stovepipes and even gold pans (see The Tinsmith of Barkerville for more)
Water Carrier – water was brought to Victoria in wooden barrels carried on horse-drawn wagons.

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, water was expensive. Every saloon charged “one bit” (12 cents and one half penny) for a glass of water. Some even charged as much as 15 cents! Cocktails were “two bits” (25 cents) in comparison.

Children worked in various trades, even at saloons where they washed glasses and swept the floor. Women worked as well, primarily as domestics or garment workers.

Shaving Saloons and Beards of the BC Gold Rush


tufts were commonly worn before 1850

By the mid-1850s, beards were popular. In 1857, a journalist strolled through Boston’s streets, conducting a statistical survey: of the 543 men he tallied, no fewer than 338 had full, bushy beards, while nearly all the rest sported lesser facial hair of various sorts. Only four were “men of the old school, smooth shaven, with the exception of slight tufted promontories jutting down from either ear.”

Doctors encouraged men to grow beards as a means of warding off illness, especially sore throats. It was believed that a thick beard would capture the impurities in the air before they could get inside the body.

Many different styles of beards were seen – flowing beards, stubby beards – as well as many types of moustaches.

In 1858 the South Australian Advertiser printed: “Some men wear beards, whiskers and moustaches; others shave the whiskers and beard and leave the moustache; whilst others preserve the moustache and part of the beard but eschew whiskers!”


a beard style of the mid 1800s

The word ‘whiskers’ typically referred not only to bushy cheek growths—to massive sideburns and muttonchops, but also to a ‘wreath beard’ or ‘chin-strap beard’. Check out my portrait of packer Joel Palmer. In the mid 1860s many men imitated the look of the Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, known for his ‘mutton chop’ style, where whiskers broadened across the cheeks and met in a moustache. Thomas Hibben wore this style of mutton chop. Another style known as ‘Piccadilly Weepers’ – very long, comb-able, pendant whiskers – came into being in the 1860s.

The Royal Engineers who came to British Columbia in 1858 all had long full beards. Many of the gold miners probably didn’t have time to trim their beards either.

From an article printed in the British Colonist “A miner’s experience on the Pacific Slope” Thomas Seward recalled the summer of 1858 when he was digging for gold on the Fraser River:

Our life at this period was so monotonous it is hardly worth describing, one day exactly resembling another. Rising with the sun and cooking our breakfast of beans, boiled over night, making our bread of water and flour in our gold pans, frying, perhaps, a salmon or slice of bacon…Dinner at twelve showed no change of bill of fare, and supper followed in its footsteps with striking fidelity. The life was a hard one, certainly, but I was not unused to it, and as a pretty energetic worker, rocking out sometimes as many as 400 buckets in a day…

On April 21, 1859, it was reported that Queenborough (which later became known as New Westminster) consisted of two wharves, fifteen houses, two restaurants, two bakers, a grocer, and a barbershop.

Some later advertised ‘shaving saloons’. Here is an ad from a Halifax newspaper in 1860:


Fred Paine on Johnson Street (four doors down from Wharf Street) advertised himself as one of the first to shave and cut hair in Victoria. His advertisement which was printed in the British Colonist in 1863 gives his prices which Americans would have been familiar with – 2 bits meant 25 cents and 1 bit was 12.5 cents (12 cents and one half penny).

Cutting Hair…. 2 bits
Shaving…. 1 bit
Shampooing….1 bit
Dressing…..2 bits

Shoemakers and Sore Feet in the Fraser River gold rush

At the onset of the Fraser River Gold rush, most people were still making their own shoes and boots to save money.

In 1856, a popular book was published, “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” which showed how to make a shoe that would cost half as much as a store-bought shoe. All that was needed was a pre-cut sole, fabric for the upper, thread and needle.

There were two main methods of making shoes by hand – ‘turned’ and ‘welt’.

The turned method was for shoes with a lightweight upper and flexible sole. Women’s slippers or light dress boots would be made using the turned method. A popular style of shoe for women in the 1850s was the gaitor or Congress boot, either laced or with elastic sides.

gaitor boot for women

gaitor boot for women


The welt method used an insole, outsole, uppers, and a leather strip called a welt. The shoemaker positioned the welt between the upper and insole and sewed them together with one seam along the inner edge of the welt. A thin narrow shank and wood shavings filled the space between the insole and the outsole to add stability to the shoe. A heel was added.

Heavy boots and cheaper shoes, such as brogan, were held together with either pegs or nails. Pegged shoes did not have stitch indentations on the bottom of the outsole since each had its own peg. It is interesting to note that the nails used for constructing shoes left round holes while the pegs were square and left square holes that often skewed to a diamond shape over time. Pegged brogans were often made with a midsole which was a full layer of leather. These made the shoes durable but heavy. Brogans were almost heelless so they were hardly made for walking. Wellington boots had heels but weren’t meant for hiking either.

When the gold rush miners had to walk vast distances every day just to get to the Fraser River gold diggings, they soon started making their own footwear, including moccasins. Here is an excerpt from Herman Reinhart’s diary:

“I never suffered so much in my life as on that trip to the Fraser River. My ankles…would swell up so that I could hardly get along, but I had to drag on anyway. I made me moccosins of carpet from a saddlecloth I had, and I would have to put on a new sole every night after I got into camp. How glad many of us were when we…could sit down and rest our sore feet.”

In February 1858, the Mechanics Magazine published “Certain improvements in the construction of heels for boots and shoes,” by W. Westley.

“These consist of forming an entire or partial rim of metal the shape and height of the heel and the inside of which is filled up with gutta percha, scrap leather, or wood, through which holes may be made for attaching the heel to the boot or shoe. The metallic rim may be be japanned, or covered with steel around the bottom edge; or the rim itself will be made of cast iron, chilled on the under edge, to prevent rapid wearing away.”

A breakthrough in technology came in 1862 when the McKay Stitcher was invented. This machine, based on an earlier invention by shoemaker Lyman Blake, sewed the soles of shoes to the uppers without a welt. A lining then covered the seam that went through to the inside of the shoe. This prevented wear of the stitching thread. The shoes made on this machine came to be called “McKays.”

parts of a Wellington boot

parts of a Wellington boot

Here is a page from my upcoming graphic novel on the Fraser River gold rush. In the first panel I drew a Wellington boot which was commonly worn in the 1850s.


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

The North West Company and the route to gold

The name ‘Fraser’s River’ or ‘Frazer’s River’ would be tied to the gold rush that changed the course of British Columbia history, repeated in bold headlines from California to Australia.

What’s in a name?

Simon Fraser - North West Company explorer

Simon Fraser – North West Company explorer

One day while farming in Upper Canada, Simon Fraser was told that there were thousands of foolhardy goldseekers trying to make their way up the same river he had explored fifty years earlier in 1808.

Back then, Simon Fraser was an explorer with the North West Company; the first fur trade company to establish forts west of the Rockies. Fraser named this vast area New Caledonia. He established Fort George in 1807 (present day Prince George).

Simon Fraser was determined to find a river route to Oregon. The Dakelh told him that the wide river that flowed by the fort, Ltha-Koh-Cho, emptied into the coast. Could this river be the Columbia River?

This river becomes too treacherous to paddle the whole way, the Natives told him. There were easier alternative routes to the coast.

After the ice melted and the ground had thawed in May 1808, Simon Fraser and two Native guides, 19 voyageurs and 2 clerks set out on their journey.

Simon Fraser concluded the Natives had been right after all. This river was not a good way to travel! Fraser returned to Fort George after the nail-biting trip with a diary full of stories of climbing sheer bluffs, hanging onto rock walls with bare hands and abandoning their canoes. At one point the voyageurs, exhausted, injured and disheartened, turned mutinous. Fraser talked them out of it.

Later, his friend David Thompson named the river after Fraser.

Note: My drawing is an interpretation of what Simon Fraser looked like during his journey back to Fort George. According to Kwantlen oral history, the fur traders were a bearded, ‘fierce-looking’ lot.

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…”