Tag Archives: Hill’s Bar

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.

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

The Trial of Justice Nuttall: Showdown at Hill’s Bar

Here is the final segment of “The Trial of Justice Nuttall” from my book, Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories.


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cranton returned to Hill’s Bar where Justice Defries and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Defries asked as he steadied the canoe.

Scranton shook his head, “stubborn and foolish. He has underestimated his opponent. Tell Constable Trimble to bring Marvin here if he wants to testify. We’ll hold the trial here at Hill’s Bar.”

Justice Defries nodded, “I’ll write up a summons right away.”

At nine o’clock the next day as large flakes of snow fell, Trimble delivered the summons to Marvin.

Marvin read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Nuttall’s hut and banged on the door wearing his oversized mittens.

“Hello! You only have to knock once,” said Nuttall from behind the door. He opened it a crack.

“Marvin? What now?”

Marvin held up the paper, “they want me to come to a trial in Hill’s Bar!”

“Come inside and we’ll talk.”

It was warmer inside but not by much and Marvin kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

Nuttall read the paper. “This is absolutely absurd! I cannot believe that Defries would do such a thing! Where is that Constable Trimble? He failed to follow my orders!”

Nuttall instructed the jailer to bring the constable to the courthouse immediately.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the log building and Trimble stood there with hunched shoulders as he waited for Nuttall to enter.

“You must remove your hat when I enter the court, Constable!” Nuttall almost shouted.

Trimble did as he was told and exposed his pink ears.

“You failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this colony.”

“But sir, Justice Defries instructed me to summon Marvin! Those were his orders.”

“Am I not your superior?!”

Trimble gave this some thought and then he answered. “No.”

Nuttall nearly blew up. His shouts brought the attention of the jailer who came running into the court.

“Put Trimble into the jail at once!”

Trimble protested loudly as the jailer pulled him from the room.

Nuttall thought about what had just happened as he pulled his military issued sword from its sheath. How could people be so turned against him? It was a plot to overthrow British rule! He was sure of it. But what proof did he have? If he penned a letter to the Governor, he would just reply back that he should be able to handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small fur trading fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the colony.

Later that afternoon, Scranton and nine others from Hill’s Bar strode along the main street of Yale. Several people along the way observed the men, each of them carrying guns and knives in plain sight. No one challenged them or asked them where they were headed.

Nuttall was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, when the door opened with a bang and Scranton and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Nuttall. I, Andrew Scranton and the nine others with me have been given the title of special constables.”

Nuttall stared at them open-mouthed. “On what grounds do you arrest me?”

Scranton brought his face close enough that Nuttall caught a whiff of stale alcohol. “You’ve unlawfully detained Constable Trimble, who we are now going to release.”

Nuttall was pulled aside while Scranton and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked the door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Trimble.

“All of these men are freed!” Scranton shouted.

YaleMainStNuttall tried to leave the room but Scranton’s men roped his wrists together and led him down the main street amidst the shouts and jeers from miners who still missed their saloons. Nuttall felt the sharp point of his own military sword against his back as he walked reluctantly forward.

By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self-praise.

Breathless from running, Dr. Chipp shouted “Scranton! If Mr. Nuttall is to get a fair trial then I have to attend as a witness.”

Scranton relented and let the Vigilante member take a seat beside Nuttall who sat in the middle of the canoe with his military hat askew.

Chipp reassured Nuttall that he would pay for any fine. “Scranton likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Nuttall said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw as the canoe glided forward with every stroke. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Justice Defries who read out the charges with occasional hints from Scranton himself.

“Defries!” Nuttall shouted. “This is a complete travesty of justice!”

“Mr. Nuttall, you are in my court.” Defries responded as he kept his head down and read out the charges.

Nuttall’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as he listened to Scranton’s lecture. Justice Defries ordered him to pay the fine of fifty dollars.

Dr. Chipp paid the fine for Nuttall as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale just as the last sliver of daylight was fading.

Chipp said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Nuttall scarcely heard them; he was still shaking with rage.

Just as soon as Nuttall reached his hut, he rushed to find paper and ink and set about writing letters to the forts downriver.

In each of the letters he transcribed word for word which he remembered Scranton utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“All there is in this so-called colony of yours is forts. We’ll take Fort Yale and then go downriver and capture Fort Hope and retreat with our plunder into Washington Territory.”

With those words written, Nuttall appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire colony is in peril!” he wrote.

Nuttall described his ordeal and wrote “Justice Defries aided Andrew Scranton and the Hill’s Bar mob. Please send the army to Fort Yale at once.”

Finishing his signature with a flourish, Nuttall tied string around each paper in the fading candlelight and opened the door in the cold night to find someone to deliver the messages.