Tag Archives: indigenous

Fishing during the Fraser River Gold Rush

Fishing during the Fraser River gold rush was made difficult by the large number of gold seekers who wanted to occupy the same bars in order to find gold. Captain B.C. Donellan, former chief of San Francisco police force, travelled to the Fraser River with a group of gold seekers in July, 1858. He gave a personal narrative of his trip, upon returning to San Francisco in which he recalled the pact reached at Washington Bar.

There was at this point a rancheria or a village of natives, who lived principally upon the salmon caught in the river; and it was reported that these natives would allow no miners to stop or congregate in their neighbourhood….The natives, for a while, were surly; but in a short time an amicable understanding was entered into, by which the miners agreed to faithfully pay for everything they obtained from the natives, and not disturb them in their fisheries. These fisheries were carried on with scoop or dip nets in the early mornings, and in the evenings from about 4 o’clock till dark… It was for fear that the miners would work in the water and disturb their fisheries that the natives looked with disfavour upon their approach; but upon the agreement that during fishing hours the miners would keep away from the river, everything was arranged to the satisfaction of both parties – and the pact was kept.

The pact was just for Washington Bar; elsewhere fishing during the Fraser River gold rush was disrupted because of the placer mining activity and conflict ensued. The use of the Fraser River had changed from harvesting fish to gold extraction. This was one of the factors which led to the Canyon War.

Bitten at Sumas Lake

The Royal Engineers, a corps from the British Army, came to the British Colony of New Caledonia in 1857.  “Sappers” as they were commonly known, were initially responsible for establishing the international boundary between British Columbia and Washington.

Charles Wilson Royal Engineer

Lieutenant Charles Wilson, RE (BC Archives)

June, 1858

There was chaos in the Moody household.  Mary Moody and her children had just moved from Esquimalt to New Westminster into the newly built house.  Along with all her other trunks of supplies and possessions her husband Colonel Moody had arranged for the delivery of two thousand loaves of  baked bread from Victoria.

Two thousand loaves!  It made her shake her head. What was he thinking?  Bread was meant to be eaten fresh, and besides what they really needed were buildings to house people.  As it was there were several Sappers living in brush tents between the fallen trees and stumps.

Mary did not mention her opinions on the bread loaves to her husband , but she insisted that they accommodate some of the Sappers and their families who were showing the ill effects of living in a brush tent in the rain.  It was crowded in the house as a result.

Stepping around everybody, lying on cots and on pillows on the floor, Mary was reminded of her own four-month voyage to Vancouver Island.  The close quarters were exactly like being on the ship, she mused.  After a while one became accustomed to being stuck to living in one end of the ship.  It was the first time she and the other women on board were encouraged to remove the hoops in their dresses.  Now, she was so used to being without them that she wondered how she managed to sit at all.

She went into the study and found her husband Colonel Richard Moody, sleeping with his legs hanging over the edge of the small sofa.  He opened his eyes as she pulled up a chair to the desk and sat down.

“You’re up early.”

“I am going to write a letter  to my mother.”

“That reminds me,” Richard said as he swung his legs onto the ground, “I’m expecting the arrival of the Zenith telescope.”

Within a few minutes, everyone in the household was up, including the youngest of the sleepy-eyed children and the noise of domestic activity could be heard through the front door as Charles Wilson knocked.

“Wilson,” said the Colonel, “I want you to set out to Chilukweyuk with the others.”

“Certainly, sir. What about the bread loaves that we were in the midst of unloading?”

“Never mind, gather the supplies for the group – sextants, spyglasses, chronometers and aneroids.”

Charles had breakfast with the others in the large tent outside and afterwards gathered the supplies while the others prepared the horses for travel.  Camping outdoors required a uniform of its own. Each one of the Sappers wore a soft cloth hat, a red serge shirt with pockets, a blue serge pair of trousers tied under the knee, stockings and moccasins.

They weren’t expected to reach far the first day in their travels before they set up camp.  John Keast Lord decided on a spot at which to set up the telescope and from there to examine the position of the stars.

“There is a large lake out there we’ll have to work around.”  The group was split up into groups of two or three sappers, each responsible for different tasks such as trail making and recording astronomical measurements.

Sumas Lake

Sumas Lake (panorama by Leonard Frank, 1922)

With another day’s travel, Charles and John arrived at the edge of Sumas Lake.  It was large, very large, hemmed in by mountains on one side and swampy prairie on the other.

“This must be the lake that Simon Fraser mentioned when he came down here fifty years ago,” Charles said.

He slapped a mosquito that had landed on his chin and continued preparing to make some dampers – flattened dough cakes.

John was sitting across from him, feverishly writing notes.

“I’m going to write all these things for a book,” John said.  “Just think what a valuable resource it will be, especially if our fellow countrymen should want to venture into the woods as we have done.  Take for example that frying pan you’re holding there, that is probably the most important utensil one could carry – you can cook and bake in it without ever putting your food near the fire.  Can you imagine, some people would consider baking a Damper amongst the ashes of a fire?”

Charles swatted a few more mosquitoes.  “These crazy things don’t seem to mind the smoke, do they?”

“Try puffing on a pipe, it seems to do the trick for me.”

“It’s more like they can’t penetrate your beard.”  John’s beard hung down to his chest and started somewhere just below his eyes.

John picked up a deceased mosquito, “They’re quite large and fat, unlike the ones I’ve seen before.  I should imagine they’ll be a tasty meal for someone.”

Charles had a reaction to the mosquito bites, because the next day, he wouldn’t stop scratching and his skin started to swell. Even still, more bites followed.

“Here, try rubbing some bacon grease on your face,” John said.

Charles did as he was told but still his condition did not improve. His hands were so stiff and swollen from the mosquito bites he resorted to wrapping them in wet cloths until he could move his fingers again.

While Charles was left guiding the horses around the edge of the swampy lake, John told him he was going to stay with the natives who were currently camped on platforms towards the middle of the lake.  From a distance, Charles could see the scaffolding, suspended above the lake by poles, reached by ladders. Fleets of canoes were moored to the poles.

Luckily, they had also packed gauze netting which Charles tied around his head while preparing a small dinner of pork, beans, and stale tasting bread.  He puffed on his pipe but it only seemed to make the mosquitoes more determined.  The gauze was hardly any help at all. Even his horse was showing signs of discomfort; flinching and shaking its tail.  Charles rearranged the horse’s blanket, but they hadn’t packed any salve for the horse’s wounds either and it was clear the horse was suffering.

About four o’clock the next morning, when the sky was beginning to lighten, Charles had had enough.  There was at least one mosquito in the tent and he wasn’t getting any sleep. In half an hour, he had everything packed and ready to go.  John would have to catch up later.  Frustrated and angry, he envisioned John patting his well-fed belly and nodding off to a restful sleep.

It was a relief to have some wind in his hair and as the horse trotted on, shaking its head he was filled with a sense of calm and drowsiness.  Other than heading east, he hardly knew where he was going.  Around six o’clock, he came across a native family who were sitting by the beach, eating.

His face was so swollen from the mosquito bites that it was painful to move his lips, let alone smile.  His horse was shaking in discomfort.  As soon as he dismounted, the horse headed off in a brisk trot. Charles couldn’t blame him for wanting to be rid of a company who had failed him.

A woman about the same age as his mother, got up and without saying a word, she motioned him to follow her.  There was a small hut nearby and he sat down while she mixed a pot of red powder with some grease, then using her fingertips, she lightly applied the mixture all over his face.  He closed his eyes and he felt relaxed, as the mixture was like a soothing tonic on his skin.  Then she examined his hands and repeated the process.

Afterwards, he sat down and shared their meal of freshly baked duck and some other vegetables.  In a few words, they explained he had been camped near the swamp of the lake.  They pointed to a dark cloud in the distance and he watched as the cloud came closer, changing its shape into a narrow line.  Short bursts of sound filled the air as hundreds of birds, their wings flapping slowly and with great effort, descended onto the lake.

__________

Chilukweyuk later became known as Chilliwack. The red pot of powder was vermilion, a much traded mineral found near the confluence of the Tulameen and Similkameen rivers.

After the 1913-1916 McKenna-McBride Provincial-Federal Joint Commission on Native Lands, the reserve was reduced and Sumas Lake and surrounding area was sold in 1920 to the Soldier Settlement Board which provided farmland for returning war veterans. Sumas Lake, an area of almost 90 m2, was drained in 1922 as part of a “reclamation” project by the provincial government to provide more land for agricultural purposes.

For further reading, check out “Disappearing a Lake” which also includes photographs and audio recordings.

Surviving Pine River

Pine River

May 15,1860

“Goodbye,” Chloe whispered to her husband, Edward. His eyes were barely open and there was a sickly pallor about him. She could smell the illness that had spread from his wounded hand. Chloe knew she had to get help soon, or Edward wouldn’t live.

She was weak with hunger. It had been so long since they had enjoyed a meal; she had tried to get food but it had been a difficult winter. First there were the storms. It had been a brutally cold winter and Edward’s musket had become irreparably damaged. At the time he had been still optimistic that they had enough provisions to see them through until Spring, but then a tree fell on their canoe, breaking it in half. Edward set about trying to repair it but to no avail. She wanted to help him build a raft, but he insisted that he do it alone. “It’s important to rest,” he told her. Weak and tired, Edward was chopping a branch from a tree to use for the raft, when the axe slipped and nearly severed his hand. Chloe did her best to help him, but his suffering continued.

Chloe took the baby in her arms and held her small, frail body against her own.

Seven and a half weeks ago, her baby had been born, fat and healthy in their cabin. Edward had celebrated the event by writing a note in his diary. “March 31, 1872. “Born this day a girl with vocal cords in fine working order.” Every day, as Chloe counted and portioned out the dwindling supplies.

When they were still building the cabin, Edward would get out his diary and read aloud  what had happened a year ago on a certain date. It was almost a year since they first met in her traditional territory. The sight of white men passing through was becoming a familiar one so she wasn’t surprised when she first caught sight of Edward in a canoe. She remembered how he smiled at her and waved with his paddle. At that moment, his canoe had become stuck on the shallow bottom and he wobbled the canoe from side to side. Her brother Jean offered him a long pole with which to propel his canoe forward and the Englishman was effusive in his gratitude. He came ashore and they struck up a conversation.

His name was Edward Armson and he was from England, bound for the “gold diggings” in British Columbia.

“My wife died last year,” he lamented. “All my family is deceased except my sister.”

Chloe felt sorry for him. Jean asked him how he planned to make a living. “You can only pan for gold when the water is low. At certain times of the year, you have to do other things like trapping. Do you trap?”

“I’m good at hunting, but I’ve never trapped before. I’ve heard the gold diggings are quite prosperous, aren’t they?”

Edward stayed around for several days and after which it became clear that Chloe wanted to be with him.

“Why don’t you come too, Jean? We can see the country together.”

Jean agreed and the three of them set out in a canoe, with Edward in the front, Chloe in the middle and Jean at the back to steer.

Over time, it became apparent that Edward wasn’t an outdoor person like Jean or Chloe. He was a good student though and he was eager to learn.

By the time they reached the Peace River in the early spring, Jean decided that he wanted to explore the country on his own. Edward and his sister would be fine, he thought.

“Meet me here next Spring when the last of the snow has melted,” he had said. Edward wanted to set a specific date, but Chloe knew what her brother meant.

The river was free of ice and the snow had finally melted. This day had finally come.
As she held the baby her trembling arms, she saw the last of the snow had finally gone. The snow that had hidden food from their sight and kept them cold had melted to reveal wet, muddy earth. She imagined her brother was out there somewhere.

She stood still for a moment then walked forward, one step at a time. She had to keep going, she told herself. She couldn’t look back at the cabin. The sun was a faint shadow through the leafless limbs of the trees, but it was a cloudless sky and it lifted her spirits.

The raft was still there, tied to a tree. For a few moments, she rested and checked the baby’s blankets, making sure no cold air could possibly chill her. The baby’s eyes were closed. She had become silent and gaunt like the rest of them. Chloe kissed her tiny fingers, hoping her warm breath would feed her. Then she climbed onto the raft, holding the baby closely.

Chloe stood up and pushed the raft forward with a long pole. It took all her strength.  The raft was swaying beneath her feet. Watching her baby closely, she pushed the raft forward again. A tremor suddenly went through her body as she lost her balance, falling backward into the water.

Her clothing was so heavy it weighed her down. Using all her strength she tried to pull herself from under the water. Finally breaking through to the surface, only to see the raft caught in a current and quickly disappear down the river and around a bend. The last sight of her helpless child made her try to swim faster, but the raft had vanished from sight.
_____
Jean was thinking about his sister Chloe and brother—in-law Edward as he paddled up the Peace River in his dugout canoe. The last of the snow had melted, it would only be a matter of time before he saw them both. He wondered if their trapline was productive. It had been a cold winter and the pelts would have been thick. Every so often he would glance down the river, half expecting their canoe to come in sight but there was only a group of buffleheads in the distance.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something unusual. Standing up, he could see a raft that was being pushed along haphazardly by the current. There was something on it too. Strange, he thought.

Jean got into his canoe and a minute later he had paddled to the raft and had pulled himself alongside where he was at eye level with a small bundle. Curious, Jean stretched over the raft with one foot in his canoe and reached for the tightly wrapped blankets and lifted it towards himself. He held his breath as lifted a cloth that covered the face of a baby.

Forgetting about the raft, Jean paddled with determined strokes towards his camp and carried the baby to where the campfire was still burning. He poured water into a pot and while it boiled, he quickly prepared a mallard duck he had just shot that morning and plopped it in the water watching the fat and grease bubble. When it was cool enough, he took a spoonful of liquid and let it sit on the baby’s lips. To his amazement, the baby’s lips moved and the duck broth disappeared. He gave her spoonful after spoonful and she swallowed each one.

The baby was still too weak to cry. What could he do? Gathering the baby close to him, he got in the canoe and paddled to where he had remembered seeing an Indian encampment.

They were still there and he called out a greeting in Chinook as he approached. Suspicious at first, they relented when he showed him the small baby. At first they thought it was sick but after delicately unwrapping the child, they talked amongst themselves and decided the baby was just hungry.  One of the women in the group gathered the small dark-haired baby in her arms and started nursing the infant.

The Indian women were full of questions, but Jean could only give them limited information about discovering the baby hours earlier on a raft. He thanked them and left.
___

Over the course of the next few weeks, Jean waited around for Edward and Chloe but there was no sign of them. Worried, he decided to venture down the Pine River and see if he could find them.  Where the Pine River merged into the Peace, there stood a fur-trading post put there in the last century, or so he had been told.

The birch trees were just starting to show some signs of new foliage he noticed as he paddled downriver. He kept a close eye on the shoreline, looking for a gravel beach or some sort of landing. He didn’t think that they were too far from the mouth, but he kept paddling onward.

Up ahead was a cluster of branches that must have been carried along with the current. As he approached, he saw a piece of red cloth snagged on a branch.

Jean brought his canoe closer and took the cloth. Just as he was about to get back into his canoe, he noticed some sticks near the shore that had become piled up and saw a piece of black leather. It was beyond his reach.

Bringing his canoe ashore, out of the corner of his eye he noticed faint deer tracks still visible in the soft sand. Glancing back on the spot he had noticed before, Jean found the piece of black leather. Reaching his hand into the ice cold water, Jean lifted a leather boot.

It belonged to his sister.
____
After he buried his sister, Jean sat on the beach and thought about her sad fate. What had happened? He should have come around in the winter, even if it meant making his way along the ice. She was all the family he had left and now she was gone. Where was Edward? How could he have let this happen?

He lit a fire and ate some of the food he’d brought with him. Then he slept under his canoe.
Around midnight, he heard some wolves howling on the opposite side of the river, their voices echoing off the high rocks.

The next morning, he awoke before dawn and got back into his canoe. He knew what he was looking for and he paddled steadily until the shore flattened out again.

There was a stand of birch trees along the shore and luckily their foliage was still small enough that it was easy to see beyond them. As he scanned the area, his eyes caught a large dark shape.

A huge pine had blown down, crushing the roof of the log cabin and obliterated the door.
Jean removed enough branches so that he could gain access to the interior. The door came away in his hands and he stepped inside.

Against the back wall was a make shift bed on which lay Edward. What had happened to Edward? Part of his hand was missing. A baby’s rattle was on the floor next to a square package wrapped in birch bark. He picked them up. There wasn’t anything else to retrieve. He blocked the front door as he had found it and left.
____
Jean went down to the river and washed himself. He untied the string from the birch bark and saw a leather-bound book. It was Edward’s diary. The script was so cursive it was hard to read at first, but the entries were short and to the point.

He read about their daily struggles, trying to find enough food. For several weeks, Edward had constrained himself to one meal a day in order that Chloe would eat enough. They named the baby Lily. She was a healthy child, he wrote. He noticed how the writing style changed from thick strokes to barely discernible lines. In the last page, Edward wrote:

“I am dying, effects of accident. Write Barstow and Blake, Solicitors, London, England. Wife and baby weak from starvation. Will try to meet Jean.”

Jean felt a lump in his throat as he paddled up river. Five days later, Jean found the Indian encampment and inquired about Lily. She was putting on weight, they said. He handed one of the elders the diary of her late father. They promised to give it to Lily when she was old enough.

He was going to return next year, he told them. Jean was going to paddle east to Saskatchewan. From there, he would find one of the Hudson Bay forts and give them a message to forward to Barstow and Blake, Solicitors in England.

The Missing Black Brimmed Hat (part 2)

After several days exploring the rugged coast, Elmwood decided to investigate Yak-Tulamn, the place where the red earth was sold.
He followed a rough path to one of the coal town of Nanaimo on the east coast of the Island, wearing his black brimmed hat, the one thing that kept him dry, unlike his boots which allowed water in everywhere. By the time he reached so called civilization, Elmwood realized he was getting strange looks. He removed the hat as he entered the Clipper Hotel and put it on the counter while he checked in for the evening.

“I’m a collector,” he said as he placed a battered oil cloth sack on the counter.

The clerk raised his eyebrows and gave Elmwood an appraising look of his own, as if not quite believing Elmwood matched his idea of a collector. After several days in the bush, sleeping in his same clothes, Elmwood had a rough idea of what he looked like.

“Do you have a safe place for this?”

The clerk handled the sack at arms length with only the tips of his fingers and put it in a drawer below the desk.

The clerk showed him to his room and politely asked him if he wanted a bath before dinner.

“There’s a laundry service too, for an extra dollar. He’ll pick up your clothes and have them washed and dried by the time you’ve finished your bath.”

Elmwood doubted that was the case, but he put his clothes in the laundry sack provided and left it outside his door as instructed while he waited for word that his bath was ready.

Looking out the window, he saw a man with a hat pulled low over his eyes trudging along behind the hotel with a wheelbarrow containing several sacks. He briefly wondered if one of the sacks were his.

After several days in the bush, Elmwood was grateful to settle in for a warm bath and he must have dozed off because he didn’t hear the footsteps treading down the hall.

Someone shuffled down the hallway and he thought he heard someone say something about dinner. Elmwood grunted in reply. Although he didn’t usually care much for eating meals, the water had turned tepid and his stomach grumbled. He got out, dried himself off slowly, dressed then ambled along the hallway to his room.

Opening the door to his room, he realized something was not quite right. On the bed lay some clothes, but they were not his. He had always been very fastidious about his belongings and how he travelled, yet nothing was how he had left it.

With some consternation, Elmwood slipped on the shirt and pants which hardly came up to his knees and made his way down to the lobby to see the clerk.

“I have received someone else’s clothes instead of my own.”

The clerk looked at him solemnly, “sometimes if the launderer is busy, he will provide clothes until yours are ready. In the meantime, dinner is being served,” indicating the dining room door which was propped open.

Elmwood was doubtful this was the case, however, he went to have dinner which consisted of a meat loaf and mashed potatoes, washed down with some port. He felt rather than noticed that someone was looking at him.

Turning his head, he caught sight of a man whose name should have been familiar to him but he couldn’t remember, other than he was a member of the ‘Know Nothings’ an absurd name for a political party.

A week before, he had knocked on Elmwood’s door claiming to be a friend of one of his patients, Ned McGowan. Always reluctant to discuss patients’ business, Elmwood told him he didn’t know anything, to which the man smiled and made a strange gesture with his hand, a signal of some sort.

“Did he pay you?” the man asked.

Elmwood had too much pride to discuss anything to do with money or lack thereof; he’d just been sitting on the crate eating some week old bread. He was about to close the door on the man, when he thrust an American dollar bill at him.

“If you happen to see McGowan, tell him Boyle called. I’m staying at the Inn by the wharf.”

“What use is an American dollar on British soil run by the Hudson’s Bay Company? It would be more useful to have a sack of nails,” Elmwood said and shut the door.

He wasn’t about to say anything about the visitor when he went to check on his patient who was languishing in the next room with a bruised jaw and several lacerations. It was evident by the look on McGowan’s face though, that he knew something was up.

“He’ll be back,” McGowan said through gritted teeth. “He’s a Know Nothing man.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was another knock on the door. It was the Know Nothing man with a small sack of nails.

At this point, Elmwood should have declined. But there he stood holding the nails as the man walked away.

Although it pained McGowan to speak, he did.

“The Know Nothings are a bunch of no good traitors. I used to have a newspaper for a few years and none of them liked my questions about who profited from the arson fires of San Francisco.”

Elmwood crossed his brows, “how much trouble are you in?”

McGowan raised himself onto his elbows and winced as he swung his legs around. Elmwood steadied him as he got to his feet.

“My name has been cleared of any wrongdoing, it’s just that certain people want me dead and they’re willing to travel to the ends of the earth.”

Elmwood didn’t ask where he was going but McGowan’s words had an affect on him. Just how far would one’s enemies seek to travel?

He managed to avoid any contact with Boyd but Elmwood couldn’t help but feel shadowed. Now that he was in this hotel in Nanaimo, the same feeling came over him.

Immediately after dinner, Elmwood inquired about his clothes which he was told should arrive at any time.

Elmwood returned to his room and sat on the bed, wondering why he felt so ill at ease. It wasn’t just the fact that his clothes were elsewhere or that his collectibles were out of sight. There was something else. He refused to think about McGowan’s problems; they weren’t his. But why were the people following him? It didn’t make sense.

Suddenly, it occured to him that he hadn’t seen his black brimmed hat.
With some difficulty he found a match and lit the kerosene lamp. It cast shadows over the walls and the furniture, but it should have been adequate to see something as large as his black brimmed hat, but he couldn’t see it. His black brimmed hat was missing!

The sky had turned into shades of charcoal and the clouds were low. In the distance Elmwood could make out a small figure wearing a grey coat pushing a wooden wheelbarrow. A few fat drops of rain hit the window.

Just then, a pair of heavy shoes came along the hallway followed by a knock at the door.

“Dr. Elmwood? I’ve got your laundry here.”

The voice sounded distinctly American and he was sure it didn’t belong to the fellow at the front desk, nor the one with the wheelbarrow.

“Just a minute,” Elmwood said. He went to the window and looked out.

Down the lane, was the laundry man, running, his feet splashing in the puddles.

Elmwood lifted the sash and had one leg out the window and balanced on the ledge when he heard the door open. There was the Know Nothing man and his partner behind him.

“Stop!” A shot whizzed past Elmwood as he tumbled out, hanging by his hands.

It was about fifteen feet to the ground but high enough that he hesitated to jump.  Just then, the laundry fellow rounded the corner and glanced up at the commotion.

Elmwood landed in pile of mud. He was stunned at first then his eyes focussed and he recognized the launderer, hovering above him. He checked himself for broken bones, but other than bruises, he was okay.

A minute later, the hotel clerk came around with a small glass of potent liquor and asked him what had happened.

“Your clothes are ready,” he said.

The Missing Black Brimmed Hat

Black Brimmed Hat

“Conical shaped hats are made of spruce roots split into fine fibres, and plaited so as to be impervious to water. They are very ingeniously manufactured, and it requires some skill and experience to make one nicely.” – James Swan 1865

Wiy-wek took a mouthful of dried salmon eggs and chewed them for a while until they were a glutinous texture and then spat them out on a rock. Then he took a piece of coal from his pocket and ground it against the rock, and eventually the coal combined with egg mass to make a soft paint.

Using a cloth made from soft hide, Wiy-wek painted the wide black brim around the outer perimeter of the hat.

With a small quill like reed, Doctor painted in the shape of a frog ovoid eyes with its webbed feet spread out, as if it were lying across the head of the person wearing the hat.

To create the red, he repeated the same process of chewing the dried eggs, but this time he combined it with vermilion until it turned a deep red.

Why red? Elmwood wrote this in his notes, careful not to interrupt Wiy-wek’s concentration as he began to paint red figures in between the frog. The red colour was bound to stand out like a beacon, Elmwood thought to himself as he looked around. They were on a narrow stretch of sandy beach north of Wiy-wek’s village. Even though the tide was retreating, waves crested on the greyish blue water. Beyond that was a light grey line where the horizon should have been. Above were charcoal grey clouds, threatening to burst at any moment.

It was no wonder then, that he noticed Wiy-wek’s people wearing hats of various shapes. They were much more practical than any hat he had owned.

After several days of travelling in the rain, Elmwood decided he would like one for himself and so Wiy-wek had offered to make him one in exchange for a sack of nails, he had retrieved on his last and only day working as a labourer on the governor’s house.

“Where did you find the coal and the vermilion?” Elmwood asked, looking around.

“The coal comes from the east coast above Fort Victoria and the vermilion from Yak-Tulamn.”

Elmwood was curious about Yak-Tulamn, as there was very little in his notes about that place on the Smilkameen River.

Originally, Elmwood had come to Fort Victoria as a doctor but he quickly learned that most of the patients with any means already had someone to look after them. What did interest him though, were the artifacts.

How could he begin collecting when most of his funds were diminished? He had sent letters requesting funds to several well-connected people, but he had given up waiting. It was time to move on and explore Vancouver’s Island.

Afterward, Wiy-wek had him wash his hands in the ocean and then he said a few words in his language as he placed the hat on Elmwood’s head.

It would only be later in his journey, that Elmwood wished he’d asked Wiy-wek about the figures he’d drawn.

(to be continued)

Fighting Crime with Bear Dog

John Blakiston Grey with two Tahltan Bear Dogs

John Blakiston Grey served with the BC Provincial Police in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia between 1938 and 1941.  He recorded and compiled birth records for various Tahltan dogs including “Koachan, granddaughter of Kicks and Boots, daughter of Laddie and Fly born 1937, sister of Tippi at Tahltan Village.” Grey was instrumental in having these unique dogs declared a distinct breed.

This is a fictional story.

1938

John Blakiston Grey inspected the small two room cabin at the edge of Telegraph Creek and decided he had cleaned up the official residence of the BC Provincial Police as much as he could.

Grey paced back and forth and finally ventured outside, looking for any sign of the visitors he was expecting. It was his second week living here and still he was unused to the harsh cold compared to the southern part of British Columbia. His superior officer had told him that they would send an additional officer as soon as as possible. For now though, it was just him upholding the law.

Grey had been waiting anxiously to meet the Chief of the Tahltan people, a large tribe that lived in the land surrounding the Stikine River. The cabin was at the edge of town which itself could be pinpointed on the map where the much smaller Telegraph Creek joined up to the mighty Stikine River.

He was outside, rearranging the pile of firewood, when he saw Chief Quock.

Grey invited him inside from the cold and Quock graciously accepted, taking off a large moose hide front sack and placing it beside his snowshoes before stepping inside. Grey served some lunch in the spartan cabin while asking Quock as many questions as he felt he was able without coming across as too naive or nosy.

Quock seemed pleased enough with Grey and afterward they shared a pipe by the fire.

“I think you will be good here.” Quock said as he stood up. “I brought you a dog,” he said.

Grey put on his coat and boots and followed Quock outside just as Quock lifted a small black dog with fox like ears out of the moose hide sack. It was a small lap dog, barely 40 centimetres tall at the shoulder. Grey tried to mask his disappointment. Perhaps, the Chief thought he needed a pet, not a working dog.

“She’s a bear dog,” Quock said.

Grey looked at the small dog with the dark brown eyes. She had a peculiar upturned tail which curved towards her ears and two patches of white on her front paws, almost like a cat.

“It looks like an alert little fellow, what’s its name?”

“Koachan. She’s just a year old but you’ll find her useful as any large dog. She’s a good working dog. The Bear dog, we call them because we used to have them around to get bears and lynx. They’re good trackers too. In the old days when our guns weren’t so good we couldn’t kill the bears or lynx so easily, we used to bring these dogs along to bite them if the bear didn’t stay still. The bear would try to slap the bear dog but the dog was too quick. As my grandfather used to say, ‘he just got to sit or he get bit.'”

Grey knelt down and petted Koachan. He was good with dogs but this one didn’t want to lick his hand or wag her tail. She merely stood still and looked at him.

“When you’re done here, you can give Koachan back to me. She stays with her people.”

Grey stood up, “I will do everything to look after Koachan. Tell me though, does it prefer to be carried about?”

“It’s an old custom. When I was on my way to a hunt, I would carry the bear dog otherwise he would be too tired to do his job when needed. No sense bringing her here looking tired and worn out.”

Afterward, Grey settled into his chair by the fire and puffed methodically on his pipe while the bear dog sat ramrod still by the door. Interestingly enough, no amount of coaxing could bring the dog any closer to be petted and despite the wind outside Grey suspected that is where it preferred to be.

Over the next week or so, Grey became used to Koachan’s habit of sleeping outside in all kinds of weather and in the morning it would be waiting near the front door with nary a sound. It was sometimes hard to remember he even had a dog.

Then early one morning Grey woke from a deep slumber beneath his heavy wool blanket to the sound of howling. At first he thought he must be dreaming but as he pulled back the blanket, he realized the sound was coming from the door. Jumping out of bed, Grey opened the door to see Koachan sitting in her usual spot.

“What’ve you been up to?” Grey said and then he noticed the drops of blood on the snow behind the dog as far as he could see.

“You’ve cut yourself,” he said as if the dog understood.

He carried Koachan inside and put her near the still warm fireplace while he retrieved an old handkerchief and examined her paws, brushed them off and tied it around the one that was injured. Then he offered Koachan some scraps of meat while he got changed.

Koachan didn’t eat anything though, instead she stood facing the door as if wanting to be outside again.

Grey put on his coat and woolen hat and trudged outside, to split some firewood so he could start cooking some breakfast, when Koachan surprised him by tugging on his pant leg and jumping around in circles.

“What is it? You’re acting out of sorts today.”

The dog unleashed a howl that nearly made his hairs stand on end. Grey looked around, almost half wondering if some lynx or other creatures were now going to venture out of the woods. This was only his second week being up in this desolate cabin, as far north as he ever wanted to be.

Grey strapped on his snowshoes as Koachan trotted off in front, carefully planting her feet in the same tracks as before, pausing every so often to turn around and wait for Grey.

Suddenly, the dog halted.

Grey opened his mouth to say something but the words didn’t come. He looked at the dog and then at the body lying face down in the snow, his arms and legs splayed out. The man was dressed in well worn clothes, his head partially obscured by a heavy red scarf.

Turning him over, Grey wondered what it was that had killed the man and what was he doing over here. He recognized him immediately. It was McCleough, one of the trappers Grey had come across when he first arrived at Telegraph Creek. He’d been shot through the back of his coat by the looks of things.

After looking around, Grey noticed the lack of footprints. Someone had taken McCleough’s snowshoes in the process and his gun too. About ten feet away, Grey saw an empty sack with a few contents still strewn about, a plug of chewing tobacco and some playing cards.

Koachan approached the sack, sniffing as she did so. Then without warning, she started off in the direction of the bluffs that rose up from the Stikine River and onto a well worn trail.

As they kept climbing upwards, Grey grew increasingly concerned. He hadn’t brought adequate provisions for a hike like this and the sky was omniously dark with large inky clouds hanging overhead. With every step, the trail seemed to shrink in width to the point where it was barely wide enough for his snowshoe. In the distance, he could see Stone sheep on the other side of the river; white dots against the grey stone of the canyon walls.

Koachan slowed down until she was just a few feet ahead, all black except for the red handkerchief that stood out like a dot against the snow as she plod along as confidentally as a pack horse.

Just when it looked as though the trail was going to disappear into the sky beyond, the trail curved to the right and there was a plateau.

Here Koachan stayed perfectly still and Grey could see the footprints in the snow, some more deep than others. Another set of footprints came from the bush and seemed to collide with the first. At this point it was difficult to discern which footprints belonged to which person.

A few feet away, Koachan started digging at something in the snow.

“What do you have there?” Grey said as he walked over. Nudging the dog aside, he could see that someone had uncovered a leather sack that looked as though it had been partially buried. A cache.

Koachan whined until Grey pulled it out all the way. “There’s nothing left – oh wait, there is something.”

Grey felt the pouch and saw that it contained a set of keys, the kind that would be used for safes. This was both troubling and unusual. What would someone be doing with a set of keys like this?

He was debating what to do when snow began to fall. In a short time, all the tracks would be obliterated.

Grey picked up the leather pouch with the keys and put it in his pocket and looked carefully at the footprints that came from the bush.

Koachan stayed at his side as Grey followed the footprints towards the bush and around a boulder. Suddenly, Koachan tugged on his pantleg.

Around the corner came a man outfitted like a trapper with a thick coat and gloves wrapped around a gun. Grey crouched behind the rock, looking around the side and waited. His own service revolver was of no use from such a distance and he’d rather not alarm someone who looked so volatile.

The trapper kicked the ground as if in frustration. After a few minutes of loitering around, he left in the opposite direction. It was starting to snow now and Grey was getting cold.

Koachan held back as they made their way back along the trail from where they had come. Just as they were on flat ground again, less than a mile from the cabin, Koachan yelped. Grey turned around and saw the trapper coming up behind.

The man waved a friendly hello as he approached.

“I hear you’re the new constable,” he said.

Koachan growled.

Grey nodded, “Constable Grey.”

“Bad day to be heading out, the snow storm is coming on faster than I thought. Figured I could get the next sternwheeler to Wrangel.”

“The sternwheeler won’t be coming for another day or two. You could always try the inn. What’s your business here?”

“Just checking my lines.”

Grey stomped his feet. “I’d best be heading back. Good to meet you, Mister – ?”

“Martin.”

Koachan’s tail was shaking like a squirrel’s and Grey wondered if she was just getting cold.

Grey started on his way again and Martin followed, asking him questions about the provincial police.

“I’ve got a cousin named Smithy in the force. Do you know him? Used to be in the Chilcotin for a while.”

Grey shook his head, they were almost at the door to the cabin and he was too famished to think of a better reply. Koachan, who had stayed at his side the whole time, promptly disappeared.

It was against policy to let in visitors, but Grey didn’t feel like eating by himself again so he invited the man inside.

Grey took off his coat and boots and was putting them aside when Martin hit him in the side of the head and he crashed to the floor.

Dazed, he saw through blurred vision that Martin was ripping through his coat and packsack. What did he want? The keys! He remembered suddenly.

Just as he was about to get up, Martin grabbed the leather pouch and ran out the door, leaving it wide open behind him.

A flash of black fur appeared suddenly from around the cabin and chased after Martin, climbing up his back and biting him until the man yelled and staggered.

Grey grabbed his truncheon and headed out with only his boots on, his feet sinking into the snow up to his knees with every step.

Martin wasn’t going anywhere. “Get that dog off me!” he yelled almost plaintively.

“You’re under arrest!” Grey replied and brought his truncheon down hard on the man’s head.

Days later, Grey learned that Martin had been wanted in Alaska for the robbery of a sternwheeler’s safe which was eventually found hidden along the Telegraph Trail. Both Martin and McCleough had been aboard that fateful journey.

Later that Spring, Grey made the trip to Fort Fraser and met the post commander who presented Grey with a letter of commendation and with it came a new job offer that held the promise of more money and prestige. Grey was reluctant to leave so soon though to the surprise of the commander.

“Think about it Grey,” he told the younger man as he stepped outside and onto the cool sunlit ground just beginning to thaw.

Grey lifted the moosehide sack and two black fox like ears poked up above the top as Koachan raised her head and looked dreamily around.

The Green Eyed Stone Part 2

(if you want to read the first part of this story, go to Green Eyed Stone)

1897  Residential School, British Columbia

If there ever was a time to escape it was now.  That night, when all the girls were asleep, Clara stuffed her pillow under her blanket.   Without making a noise, Clara stepped into a dark corner.  Her heart beating rapidly, she watched as a nun circled the room with a single candle burning, her skirts bustling with every step.  It seemed like an eternity before she left and shut the door.

Earlier that day Mary had taken some hemp rope from the farm shop and together they had securely fastened it around a post near one of the windows that never shut properly.  Now the time had come to leave and Clara felt excited at the prospect of freedom and frightened of what lay ahead. Clara could see the whites of Mary’s eyes as she lay there, watching.  She had tried to convince Mary to come with her, but she wouldn’t come.  Everyone else was asleep or pretending. 

The rope burned her hands as she slid down, notch by notch.  She knew the rope wasn’t long enough to reach all the way from the second floor to the ground.  Suddenly, someone opened the window just below her feet.  Clara held herself still until the person finally shut the window again.  Her arms shaking, she looked down at the black shapes on the ground when she reach the final notch in the rough rope.  She would have to jump. 

She landed hard on her ankle and a sharp pain pierced its way up her leg, but adrenaline overtook sensitivity as she saw that she had landed outside the principal’s reading room. 

There were a few men sitting around with drinks and cards on the table.  In the middle of the table there was a pile of money and something else that reflected itself like a green eye in the golden glow of a kerosene lamp.  It was Ca’wa.  She couldn’t believe it.  Clara wanted to smash the window pane with her fists she was so angry.  The wind picked up and she heard a thumping noise.  It was the rope, banging against the building. 

Retreating to the shadows, Clara stood still for a moment trying to control the sense of panic and helplessness she felt within.  Then she turned and made her way to the thick underbrush at the edge of the farm.   At first it seemed as if she was getting nowhere and soon she lost one ill fitting shoe and then the other. At least the moon lit her way. 

Every so often she would glance up and walk in the southeast direction, based on where the north star lay.  She came upon a river and stepped out onto some rocks when her injured foot slipped beneath her and she tumbled under a fast current.  She was tossed and turned while she struggled to keep her head above the water. 

Drawing in gasps of air she paddled her way to the river’s edge.  Dragging herself up the bank she saw the dying embers of a campfire, the silhouette of a horse and someone asleep, snoring loudly.  Quietly she crept towards the dying embers of a campfire and huddled there, drawing the heat over her with her hands.  She was shaking, she was so cold. There was another blanket by the fire and quietly she removed her clothing and wrapped the warm blanket around herself.  She felt the hot breath from the horse as it nudged her. 

The Indian Agent, Bill Wiggs, had left the residential school well fed and plastered with alcohol.  When he woke late the next morning, he thought he was still dreaming, but no amount of rubbing his eyes could change what he saw.  His horse was gone.  Damn!  Nothing else was taken though; he still had his gun and bottle of wine. The money and trinket were still there in his boot.  He counted the money he had won the night before and pulled out the odd shaped necklace.  It hardly looked like anything to him but according to the principal it was worth money. 

It took him four days of rough slogging on foot to reach Cannery Row. There he met Johnny Tong who was sitting at the back of Tong’s Laundry and Tailor Shop playing mae jong with pearl size glass marbles and a few opium bottles on a shelf behind him.  Wiggs got all his clothes scrubbed clean while he had a bath, then he was given a well-worn towel to dry himself off while he waited for his clothes to dry over a crackling fire.

Wiggs sat down to play a game of cards with Tong himself.  Eventually, Tong had shored up most of Wiggs’ money.  Tong received more than his payment for the laundry service.    When he left Tong’s, Wiggs was literally cleaned out.

A few hours after the smelly Indian Agent left, Tong gathered his earnings for the week and decided it was time to make a trip down the rickety boardwalk and do his errands.

He had just come out of a supply store after bringing his account up to date, when he ran into an aboriginal who he hadn’t seen before, sitting ramrod straight on a rock with a basket in his hand.  Curious, Tong came over and asked about it.

“I’m waiting to meet the ethnologist, Ernst Vedder,” Louis Shotridge said.  “I’ve been collecting items for him for the museum collection.”

“Do you think he would be interested in buying this old necklace?”  Tong held out the necklace that he had found amongst the Indian Agent’s dirty clothes.  

Shotridge recognized  Ca’wa instantly.

(to be continued)