Tag Archives: gold rush newspapers

Jonathan Scott’s Gold Rush Tobacco

1865 was going to be a banner year for Jonathan Scott, he was sure of it. Row upon row of his tobacco plants were growing tall under the hot Lillooet sun. Every acre of the six hundred that he had purchased on the benchland they called Parsonsville was worth every penny he had paid. The soil was rich and fertile.  In time he had built two drying sheds and a press.  Each bunch of leaves was picked and sorted and dried. He had some help but he was the one to do most of the work; spinning and rolling the tobacco into a rope.

At first there were a few trials and many errors but on the occasion that a miner complained about one of his plugs, he handed over a new one. The miners let it be known they wanted something to chew on the trail that would provide enough saliva for a good string of spit.  His plugs were good and his pouches of loose leaf didn’t have any stems or sticks and they weren’t like chewing on grass. The taste was good and the spit was even better.

Chewing tobacco was his staple product but he wanted to start his own brand of cigars. He hadn’t thought of a name for it but something to remind him of his Kentucky heritage and his new home in the west.

One day in June, a middle aged man knocked on the door looking for work. His said his name was Hugh Nolan and he walked with a slight limp.  Men with limps weren’t an uncommon sight; there were so many suffering from pains in their legs on account of their bad diet.

“I could use some help with fixing up this barn. This tobacco is going to be flue-cured, so I’m going to need some small fire pits built on the floor.”

“You provide the saw and hammer and consider it done,” Nolan said with a tip of his hat. He wore high-topped calfskin boots with a low heel like a lot of stagecoach drivers and Scott wondered what happened that he would be willing to labour in a tobacco field.

For the next few weeks, Nolan occupied himself with fixing the barn. He was friendly with most of the people in town and when he wasn’t working on the shed, Nolan was playing cards with some of the stagecoach drivers from the BX Express.  His limp didn’t improve much.

Scott concentrated on making pouches to take with him to Barkerville.   He had built a press which he used to pack down several bunches of tobacco leaves. Several times a day he checked in at the barn to see how the repairs were coming along and the fires were burning. From there he removed any stems and sticks that were still around. He put his nose to one of the bags and breathed in the earthy aroma.  Each bag smelled a bit different but they were all pleasant to the senses.

He experimented with blending some leaves from a couple of wild tobacco plants with his own Burley variety to see if that resulted in a better taste.

Scott told Nolan of his plans to head to Barkerville. Nolan in turn surprised him by asking for his money and making a hasty exit. For a man with a limp, he travelled quickly.

Luckily, Kemble the bootmaker offered to keep an eye on the tobacco leaves. Scott had given him lots of business considering he had one foot larger than the other, besides he figured the tobacco leaves were dry enough that he didn’t need the smouldering fires anymore.

In the evening, Scott looked at his ledger for the second time that day. Despite the gold rush he had several accounts outstanding and he could name at least three druggists and two saloons that behind on paying despite their requests for more tobacco. Only one of them had responded to his letter requesting payment informing him that they were now ‘importing fine segars’ and would not be ordering his chewing tobacco in the future.

Scott left Lillooet early the next morning and began a four day journey to Barkerville by stagecoach.  After the constant swaying of the coach it was a relief to lie down on a solid bed.

At Cottonwood roadhouse, Scott read the Cariboo Sentinel from cover to cover. There was an odd notice about an escaped convict from Portland who may or may not be using crutches. Above that was a letter to the editor which he read twice:

Sir, The Cariboo mining season is fast drawing to a close, and it behooves all who have accounts outstanding to have them collected. The merchants generally on this creek it will be admitted have aided to perhaps an indiscreet extent the miners by giving them credit, and as the time for payment to the lower country merchant is at hand it becomes absolutely necessary for the merchants here to get in their bills from this community. I regret to say that they find this no easy matter, not from the want of ability on the miners to pay, but simply from there being an unwillingness on the part of the County Court Judge to enforce payment of the money due merchants. I would be the last to urge anything like harsh measures towards any part of the community, but merchants should be protected and assisted by the Judiciary of the country instead of thwarted. Even when we get a judgment from the Judge we cannot get an execution, and then we are set at defiance by men who have the money and won’t pay. I think, sir, in cases where it can be shown that men are able to pay there should be no false delicacy manifested by the Judge to protect the trader, without whom this country never would have been prospected. It is only justice to the “honest” miner to make the “dishonest” meet their liabilities, for the moment merchants are prevented recovering their just debts from that moment they will shut down on all alike. I trust, sir, that the ventilation of this subject will have a good effect in stimulating our very highly esteemed Judge to protect the merchants, and thus prevent them all going into bankruptcy.

Yours, A Merchant

Scott closed the paper and pulled at the ends of his moustache. This wasn’t good. He had been counting on getting money so he could hire more pickers as his business expanded.

A ringing sound could be heard from outside the window. He stood at the window with his hands in his pockets and looked out at the mule pack train horses, some with bells around their necks, waiting to be relieved of their large sacks of cargo. He wondered how much gold was in them. Of all the wealth leaving the gold diggings, it was a shame to see that the merchants were having so much trouble collecting.

Just as he was about to drift off to sleep he heard a commotion in the hallway and someone banging on his door. Scott jumped out of bed and opened the door to see a uniformed constable.

“Are you Scott?”

“Yes.”

“You’re an American, I can tell. Do you have crutches? Ever used them?”

Scott shook his head. “What is this about?”

“We’re going to send you back to Portland, Mr. Scott.”

Scott used all his powers of persuasion to convince the constable that he was not the escaped convict he assumed him to be.

As proof of that, the officer asked to see Scott’s boots.

“They were made by Mr. Kemble the bootmaker in Lillooet.”

This seemed to spark a further round of questions until the constable was satisfied and left. It was useless trying to get any sleep after that. The next morning at breakfast, one of his fellow stagecoach passengers asked him about the incident.

The answer struck him then. The constable had asked about Kemble the bootmaker and if he had made any riding boots with a low flat heel. He could think of one person that dragged a low flat-heeled riding boot and that was the man who called himself Nolan.

Racetrack in the Wilderness

July 1861

The last finishing touches were made to the grassy field that had been measured and cut as evenly as possible with men using hand scythes.  It was four furlongs long and there were three high-strung race horses watching from the stable at the sidelines, steam rising from their flared nostrils.  Also watching from the sidelines was I.B. Nason, owner of the local sawmill and Chester Cootes, one half of Cootes and Company and one of the most prosperous gold miners on Antler Creek.

“I wish we had some proper jockeys to ride them,” Nason said.

Cootes chuckled at the thought. “At least we have the horses.  When you consider what a time we had getting them up here.”

Jake Brown eavesdropped on the conversation as the two strolled about inspecting the freshly cut bunch grass.  Every stump, twig and rock had been carefully moved or rolled out of the way, even so Nason called Brown over to move a small handful of rocks he’d noticed.

Brown picked them up one by one until they all rested in the palm of his meaty hand and then disposed of them in the same manner under Nason’s watchful eye.

As one of Nason’s sawmill employees, Brown was one of the few who volunteered to spend the time to prepare the racetrack for the event.

Cootes was about to put some chewing tobacco in his mouth and thought better of it.

“If it weren’t for that British Colonist newspaper, the governor wouldn’t have found out how well we’re doing up here. Why in that last edition, they claimed that my company is prospering 400 dollars a day. ”

“They’re bound to have found out soon enough. Mr. Barnard always gets his word out to the paper,” Nason said as he kicked a pebble with his foot.

“Who’s this person ‘Argus’?  Why hide behind a stump and report on gossip anonymously? I don’t like it.”

“Did you hear if Cameron got his money?” Nason asked.

“I doubt it. Whoever robbed him has gone for good.  I told him not to mention anything to the Governor when he arrives.”

Later that evening, Brown sat down on a log behind the stable and wrote out all the details he could remember about the racetrack. He was used to keeping numbers and details in his head for such a long time that he never felt the need to write anything down.  As a result, most people figured he couldn’t write. In fact he had taught himself to write in a plain, blocky style; not the cursive writing like the sawmill’s accountant. As a side note he also wrote about the robbery at Cameron’s Golden Age Saloon.  He hadn’t heard that two of Cameron’s prized pistols had been taken along with $130 worth of gold dust, but if Nason said it, Brown took it to be fact.  He took the letter and folded it into thirds pressing hard on each crease before inserting it into the paid envelope in the box for Barnard’s Express bound for the British Colonist newspaper in Victoria.

The next couple of days saw an increase of activity. Several shopkeepers were sweeping the dirt from the entrances and card games which were normally held around an empty barrel were moved elsewhere.   If someone had never been to Antler, they would be surprised at the little town in the wilderness.  Just a year before the town didn’t even exist.  George Weaver and W.R. “Doc” Keithley discovered gold in Antler Creek barely a year before. They never told anyone that they had discovered gold but when you start purchasing enough provisions to last a couple of months, rumours start to fly on their own.  By the time they had built a rough lean-to cabin, gold seekers were darting out from between the trees, fanning all along the distance between Quesnel Forks and Antler Creek.

Now there were shops and businesses with goods you couldn’t get anywhere else except in New Westminster.

The next day after his shift was finished at the sawmill Brown got the gossip from J.C. Beedy who ran the general store.  Beedy was pulling weeds from his vegetable patch out the back when Brown sauntered around.  There was a strong smell of manure coming from a wheelbarrow.

“How’s the racetrack coming along?” Beedy asked.

“There are no rocks to be found. I swept it again today and couldn’t find one.”

Beedy chuckled, “I don’t know which is more excited, Nason or the horses.”

Brown pulled a young carrot out of the ground. “Did you hear Cameron is planning to talk with the Governor about the crime here?”

“Cameron?  Of all the topics, I doubt he would mention that. Don’t forget he’s bringing all that liquor in without paying a cent in customs.  He’s got an order for a dozen bottles of champagne at $12 a bottle for champagne plus he’s got more kegs of beer coming up in the next day or so. “

“What’s the story with the pistols?”

“Pistols?”

“I heard he was robbed of two of his pistols,” Brown said as he bit down on the carrot.

“Nah, never heard of it. Where’d you hear of that?”

Brown felt his neck flush.  “Must be a rumour.” He stood up.

“That’s right. You can’t rely on rumours or gossip.  I could use some help spreading this manure though,” Beedy said with a smile.

The Money Press

March 1859, Victoria

The rain hit the top of the jostling carriage like pounding nails while damp cold penetrated settled inside. It was only the hearty meal and wine he had just enjoyed that kept him from shivering beneath his overcoat and scarf. The motion of the carriage ceased and Alexander Davidson Macdonald heard the driver put down the step before opening the door.  Keeping an eye on his polished leather boots, he descended from the carriage as the driver carefully held an umbrella over his head until he reached the doors of his bank,  “Macdonald and Co. Bankers,” at the corner of two busy streets in Victoria.

His was a relatively small bank and certainly less intimidating than the Bank of British North America, but his clients were hard-bitten gold seekers who had spent weeks or even months on the trail sleeping with their gold tight to their chests.  It was smaller even than the Wells Fargo bank and certainly a lot less structured. He had three employees and one manager, “Captain” John Waddell. The bank itself was curiously empty.

“Afternoon sir,” Waddell said.  “The printer dropped off the banknotes.”

“How did they turn out? Are they in the vault?” Macdonald crossed the room in three long strides.

Waddell followed him with the key in hand. “Most of them are acceptable quality, but I think they were stacked prematurely before the ink was properly dried.”

Macdonald stood aside as Waddell opened the vault.

“There was a complaint this afternoon from a fellow who demonstrated a curious set of gold scales. They reminded me of wood paddles with a single length of bone that was notched out at intervals.”

Macdonald started taking out bundles of notes.  “There will always be complaints in this business. It seems not a day goes by without someone bringing in their own set of scales.”

Waddell carried on. “The scale was so sensitive it could weigh gold powder which came to nothing on our scale. He claimed it was more accurate than the scales at the gold commissioner office in Yale which was why he brought his gold dust all the way to Victoria.  He showed how it worked and I can tell you he had quite the crowd of onlookers as he did so.”

Macdonald looked closely at one of the banknotes and frowned, “surely you didn’t encourage him?”

“Not at all sir, but with all the talk about the new British chartered bank coming to town, I thought it would be best to appear to take his complaints seriously. Besides, he was accompanied by Frederick Marriott.”

“Marriott? Of the Vancouver Island Gazette?”

“The same. I suppose we’ll be reading about that in the next issue.”

Waddell followed Macdonald to his office where he held a couple of the notes up to a kerosene lamp.

“The ink is smudged.  They might past muster in the dark, but I doubt it.”

“Bishop Demers is selling his printing press, sir.  He brought it over from Europe apparently, the type is of extremely high quality.”

“Is he? Perhaps I should make inquiries – we might print our own banknotes.”

It took several days before Bishop Demers could be met, having been away to the interior.

They met for tea and sat in stiff backed chairs while Demers gave several amusing anecdotes about his journey by canoe.  After a considerable length of time, Demers showed him a copy of a newsletter which he had printed using his hand-cranked press.

Bishop Demers printing press

Bishop Demers printing press

Macdonald held it closely as he looked it over. “This is very impressive.”

“Thank you.  I spent many months translating several phrases into Chinook, French and English as you can see.”

“Could I see the press?”

The Bishop clasped his hands behind his back. “I don’t have the press here anymore. It has been sold to Frederick Marriott. Do you know him? Wonderful man and very generous too.”

Macdonald covered up his disappointment. “I do indeed. It’s been a pleasure meeting with you Bishop Demers.”

Back at the bank, Macdonald ruminated about this turn of luck. What were the odds that the very printer that he wanted would wind up in the hands of a newspaper man who was bent on destroying his very bank?

“Waddell, has Marriott ever done any banking with us?”

“Not at all, he never set his foot inside here except yesterday.”

The rain had ceased the next day and Macdonald decided to go for a walk. There were still very few solid structures beyond the Fort; the rest was a field of tents. It was therefore easy to spot the ramshackle hut that Marriott had made for himself.

Marriott had his back to him and was furiously inking the plate as Macdonald stood at the entrance.

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t block what little light there is,” Marriott said.  “Enter or leave.”

Macdonald stepped inside the pungent smelling room and looked around.  There was a small cot in the opposite corner and a desk on which sat several bottles of ink, a row of nibs and two wooden sticks held together at the end. It was most likely the gold scale Waddell had observed. Macdonald recalled seeing similar opium scales in San Francisco.

Gold scale

Gold scale

Marriott seemed engrossed in his work and when he looked up his eyebrows shot up.

“That’s quite the press you have there.” Macdonald said as he felt his eyes begin to water.

“It helps to spread the power of the words to the masses.”

“Of course.  It must be very costly to order printing paper, I imagine.”

“What are you hinting at?”

“I would like to cover the debt you incurred to buy that press if you will share it with me.”

” You want to put me out of business, that’s what you want.”

Macdonald held out one of his own banknotes, “come around to the bank tomorrow and discuss it with me.”

“I paid fifty dollars for that press,” Marriott said as he looked at the money.

Several days went by until Marriott stopped by Macdonald’s bank.

Macdonald laid out the plan.  Once a month, Marriott would loan the bank the printing press and for this he would be compensated supplies and ink.

“But that would involve moving the press back and forth! It weighs several hundred pounds.”

Macdonald shook his head, “the press has been moved many times and from what Bishop Demers told me, the machine cannot possibly be damaged.  If it does get damaged I will make sure that you are fully compensated.  How would you like to be paid?”

“In gold,” Marriott said.

_________

Bishop Demers’ printing press had a unique history.  Frederick Marriott used it to print Vancouver Island Gazette which lasted a total of two months. He then used the press to print Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Calédonie, the first newspaper to be published in French in BC. Amor De Cosmos, publisher of the British Colonist, bought the printing press and used it for several years. Later, it was sold to George Wallace who founded the Cariboo Sentinel in Barkerville. There are stories of how the press was rescued from the fire at Barkerville, dismantled and carried on horseback to the nearby town of Richfield. Eventually it found its way back to Victoria and is now in a museum.