Tag Archives: Royal Engineers

How the gold rush town of Richfield nearly became Elwyntown

It was bitterly cold in the winter of 1861 and William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz only had time to stake a claim at an unnamed creek before being forced to turn back. He named the creek after himself as a way of marking the claim. Sensing that Dutch Bill had found something big, Ned Stout and three others travelled by snowshoe to ‘William’s Creek’ and they too found gold.

Word soon got out and by the first week of March 1862 many more prospectors soon arrived at Williams Creek. They built shafts on the hillsides and as the ice retreated from the creek itself, it became possible for all claims to be worked. Shacks and business establishments were built close by and a town emerged with stores, restaurants and saloons.

Assistant Gold Commissioner Nind based in Williams Lake was overworked with covering the entire Cariboo district as more mining claims were being registered and disputes needed to be resolved. Nind’s health began to suffer and he requested a leave of absence in early May.

Thomas Elwyn

Thomas Elwyn, the former magistrate for Lillooet, was named Nind’s replacement and upon seeing the amount of work to be done, recommended that the Cariboo be divided into two districts. Peter O’Reilly was assigned the western district while Elwyn was appointed head of the eastern section which included the area of Williams Creek.

By the end of May, 1862 more than twenty businesses were established to serve the needs of the prospectors who numbered over five hundred. Soon though, the deplorable state of the trails made it nearly impossible to bring supplies.

High food prices proved to be too much of a hardship for many miners who had arrived with a small amount of provisions on their backs and little money. Many left the Cariboo altogether.

Those miners who pooled their resources were able to stay and reap the profits of their claims. In one month, Cunningham & Company took out gold at the rate of three thousand dollars every twenty-four hours. Steele & Company’s claims yielded two hundred ounces a day.

On the last day of August, Judge Begbie arrived and the first Grand Jury was assembled in the newly constructed courthouse. Among the topics discussed was a name for the town.  The jury recommended it be called ‘Elwyntown’ after Thomas Elwyn.

‘Elwyntown’ didn’t make it on the map. Instead, Lieutenant Palmer, in his role as Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Works, decided upon the name Richfield.

Richfield retained its significance even as Barkerville grew and the neighbouring towns of Cameronton and Marysville were established in 1863 and 1864.

Richfield

Richfield

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Shaving Saloons and Beards of the BC Gold Rush

tufts2

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!”

beard1

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:

shavingsaloon

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

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Bread making in the Gold Rush

In the 1850s, bread making was a topic of serious discussion in England. People were encouraged to learn how to make their own bread at home rather than pay expensive prices for ‘unwholesome bread’ that could be tainted. By the time of the gold rush, the art of domestic bread making had become easier because of the use of saleterus, which allowed the bread to rise. Saleratus was a leavening agent for baking and was made by injecting pearl ash into the fumes of fermenting molasses. The first formulas for baking powder were developed in the United States in 1850. In that year a cream of tartar baking powder was sold by Preston & Merrill of Boston as “infallible yeast powder.”Bread

In his book, “At Home in the Wilderness” Royal Engineer John Keast Lord wrote that the most important items to take into the wilderness were a wrought-iron camp kettle and a dutch oven. “Flour is very much more easily conveyed on mule-back than ‘hard bread’ or biscuit…whereas biscuit rapidly mildews if damped…” The workers on the survey crew soon learned to make “capital loaves” in small cast-iron ovens with a ration of Preston and Merrill’s Infallible Yeast Powder for rising bread.

A miner who could make a good loaf of bread could easily barter with it when Sunday arrived – a day normally set aside for domestic chores. Miners would wash dirty shirts, darn stockings, repair boots, mend clothing, chop the whole week’s firewood, make and bake bread and boil pork and beans.

Sourdough bread was a favourite food of American gold miners, some of whom carried sourdough starter wherever they travelled, so as to be assured of good bread later on. Sourdough bread had been very popular amongst gold seekers during the California gold rush and the term ‘sourdough’ became associated with the ‘49ers themselves.

At the start of the gold rush, sacks of flour were carried in on the backs of mules or on the backs of gold miners. Some bakeries like the Miners’ Bakery and Restaurant in Barkerville offered an arrangement where miners would drop off flour in exchange for bread. In addition, miners could buy tickets for meals, lunches, pies or cakes.

Most flour was imported from California, but there were exceptions. F.W. Foster milled flour at Lillooet. He advertised flour of all grades: Extra, Superfine and Fine.

Robert Harkness, Overlander, wrote from Richfield June 10, 1863:

“You must pay well for everything here. Flour is $1.12 a pound. This is at the rate of $225 per barrel… Wages are ten dollars a day, out of which you must, of course, board yourself. We live on bread, beans and bacon, with an occasional mess of very tough beef (.50 a pound) and manage to subsist on three to four dollars a day each…I worked pretty hard today carrying stones to a man building a chimney…”

The price of flour dropped considerably with the construction of the Cariboo Road. Still, there were times when it crept up again and this had an effect on the local economy.

On October 17, 1867, the Cariboo Sentinel reported: “Rise in Flour. We understand great apprehensions are being felt by our miners that provisions and especially flour are about to be raised to an unusually high price…” Consequently, many left the Cariboo.

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G.B. Wright: Cariboo Wagon Road builder

G.B. Wright

G.B. Wright

Gustavus Blinn Wright (1830-1898) was a prominent figure during both the Fraser River gold rush and the Cariboo gold rush. After spending several years in California, Wright came to BC in 1858, just as the Fraser River gold rush was starting.

He realized from the onset that there was more to be made transporting miners and supplies. He started off as a packer, transporting goods along the Harrison-Lillooet trail. In 1861 he joined Jonathan Holten Scott and Uriah Nelson in purchasing shares in the sternwheeler Maggie Lauder (rechristened Union later that year). Wright and Scott also bought shares in the Flying Dutchman in 1862 to increase further the capacity of their transportation companies.

Wright was one of three contractors who were awarded contracts to build the Cariboo Wagon Road as planned by the Royal Engineers. Wright was assigned to build an 18 foot wide trail from Lillooet to Alexandria. He attempted to have the road built to Soda Creek where he launched the Enterprise, the first sternwheeler on the upper Fraser River.

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What did the Royal Engineers eat?

Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer, chef and inventor

Alexis Benoist Soyer was a French chef who believed that soldiers could be saved through good food. He invented a field stove which he took around to every regiment he visited in the Crimean War. It’s no wonder then, that the British Army adapted his recipes and his field stove.

When the Royal Engineers came to British Columbia to chart the boundary, they were well prepared. Soyer’s recipes included “Salt Meat for 50 men” and “Soyer’s Food for 100 men, using two stoves”. This worked when they were stationed at Fort Victoria and later as they surveyed New Westminster.

It was a different story when they were out in the bush surveying a road to the Cariboo:

“our fare consisted almost exclusively of bacon and dampers, with tea and coffee. Now and then we might be lucky enough to shoot a grouse.”

Dampers were “cakes of dough rolled out to the size of a plate and one or two inches thick. They are cooked either by being baked in the wood ashes of the fire, or fried in the pan with bacon fat.”

Here is a recipe I found for dampers:

2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk

Add salt to flour, add sugar, then rub in butter. Mix in milk to make a medium-soft dough. Knead lightly on flat surface until smooth. Pat into a round shape. Place damper mixture on coals or hot ash. Cook for maximum of 40 minutes. Discard burnt outside and eat the inside. Serve with butter, syrup or jam.

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Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda Part 2

Edgar Dewdney official portrait as Lieutenant Governor (Govt of BC)

Edgar Dewdney wouldn’t back down. He was the one with the contract he argued, they were there to do the work. No amount of reasoning or yelling would get the Sappers to budge. They stood there with their shovels and axes, waiting for word from their commander, Lieutenant McColl.

“We have a vast knowledge of building roads,” McColl said. “It’s far better to bring the route further away from the river, as I had previously suggested. You have chosen to ignore my good advice and the result is your own doing.”

“I will take this issue to the Governor.”

When he arrived at Fort Victoria, he outlined his story to Douglas’ clerk who gave him some advice on how to present his case to the Governor. “Emphasize the fact that the Royal Engineers won’t work with you at all.”

After modifying the events, Dewdney explained the dramatic story of his harrowing escape to Governor Douglas who sat impassively behind his desk.

“You’re still under a contract to finish the road. If you cannot complete the road, then you will have to forfeit all the monies plus interest.”

There was silence for a moment while the gravity of the situation hit home.  “I have every intention of fulfilling my obligations.”

“Good.  Then you will get back to work.”

Dewdney made his way to the Union Hotel and drank several glasses of spirits as he thought about a solution to his woes.  What was he to do? He couldn’t work with the Royal Engineers and yet what he really needed was enough money to be able to hire some men to work under him.  He could write home and ask his father to arrange for a bank draft, but it was a route he’d rather not take.  On the other hand he could see if he could find someone who would want to enter a partnership.

Just as the thought began to take shape in his mind, he heard a loud clattering noise. Someone had thrown some gold nuggets at the large mirror that hung behind the bar.

“I can’t hawk this gold for nuthin’” the miner yelled out to nobody in particular.

“Why not?” Dewdney asked.  He was curious despite the man being obviously drunk.

“Why? They’re charging four lousy percent to get a dollar.”

“I’m sure someone could do better than that, do you have any more gold dust?”

The miner leaned away from him and laughed.  “You can get some yourself at Rock Creek, that’s where I’ve just been.”

“Rock Creek?  I have the contract to build a road from Fort Hope to Rock Creek,” Dewdney said proudly.

“Could’ve used a good road when I first came, I don’t know if it makes too much of a difference now that most of us are heading out.”

The miner’s words affected him over the course of the next few days and his appetite diminished with worry.  He placed an advertisement in the newspaper but there was no response from anybody.

“Most of the folks are coming here to find gold,” the bartender said sympathetically.

As the days wore on, Dewdney realized that the Royal Engineers had withheld his payment and he went to see James Douglas.

“I can’t finish the project until I receive the money,” he said.  He was expecting Douglas to go into a tirade but he was preoccupied with a report to E.B. Lytton concerning his shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company that he had yet to relinquish.

“I’ll grant you some time off from completing this road if you can be of some assistance to me in this matter,” Douglas said.

Dewdney was more than glad for the opportunity and over the course over the next few months he made use of his father’s political contacts while earning enough money to keep him at a comfortable lodging.

Almost a year to the day he had abandoned the trail, he received a message from Douglas’ clerk that there was a railroad engineer who had stopped by looking for a government job.  His name was Walter Moberly.

Dewdney went over the plans and talked about his contract while Moberly listened with intense interest.  He didn’t tell him about the Royal Engineers and how they had taken over; he didn’t know himself how far they had developed the road.

It was the end of May by the time everything was arranged and a work crew was hired.  The Royal Engineers had built the trail as far as Princeton and beyond that a large valley spread out ahead of them.  Eventually a routine was settled on and everyone was ready to start grading and shovelling five o’clock every morning.

By the end of July, all was well until they encountered the first large mountain that rose abruptly from the lake below.  A couple of the workers decided they’d had enough and abruptly left. When the other workers were out of earshot, Moberly said to Dewdney, “let’s forget wasting time with making sure the road is wide enough, we’ve got to finish this thing before everyone else quits and heads to the Cariboo.”

Dewdney thought about this.  James Douglas had already made a trip to Rock Creek; how likely was it that he would come again? On the other hand, if all the workers left to go to the gold diggings then the trail wouldn’t get finished and he would be on the hook.

They encountered few miners as they headed eastward but Dewdney was so preoccupied with mapping the trail and getting the coordinates just right that he didn’t put it into perspective.  Moberly was becoming more and more restless as the trail wore on and the others in the work crew were becoming dissatisfied with the same fare of hard tack and canned beef.  Dewdney himself reminisced about wearing a clean shirt that hadn’t been boiled to the texture of tough canvas.

At the end of August, they came along the Kettle Valley to Rock Creek and they walked past one empty cabin and then another. There was nobody in sight. The rush was indeed over.

“Here’s the end of the road,” Moberly said and fired his shotgun in the air.

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Edgar Dewdney’s Competing Agenda

“How did you come to know Mr. Lytton?”

“My father is a close friend of Charles Kerneys-Tynte, who as you know is a respected Member of Parliament. Subsequently, he introduced me to the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton. So here I am,” Dewdney gave a half smile.

“We are a new colony and there is much to do in the way of town planning which the Royal Engineers are busying themselves with,” Douglas scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could be the Colonial contribution to the planning of our newest settlement at New Westminster.  It would be good to have someone who could report to me what those Royal Engineers are up to.”

Pleased with himself, Dewdney went back to his hotel and with the help of one of Douglas’ staff, he procured an outfit similar to the one worn by the Sappers consisting of serge trousers and a serge shirt with pockets.

The next day, Douglas brought him to the wharf where Colonel Moody was about to board the steamship for the Fraser River.   Moody barely looked at Douglas while he introduced Dewdney.  On the ship, Moody told Dewdney to meet him after supper.

“I understand that Mr. Douglas wants you to help with the town’s layout,” Moody said without preamble. “This is all very good you understand, but seeing as you’re a civilian, you will be paid as such. Furthermore, you will report to me as your commander, not Mr. Douglas.”

“What salary will that be?”

Moody’s eyes flickered for an instant. “It depends on many factors, our budget for one.  I will let you know soon enough.”

He didn’t see Moody for the next three days so Dewdney took it upon himself to start surveying.  He didn’t have any equipment with him other than his sextant so he borrowed a telescope from one of the Royal Engineers.

He was hammering a wooden post into the ground when one of the engineers came around with Moody.

“I see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Moody said.

Dewdney stood up. “This would make a great road, don’t you agree?”

Moody looked around. “It’s too close to the Fraser River at this point. The river is known to rise precipitously with the summer freshets.  If you care to look at this draft, I believe this would make an excellent seaside park.”

Dewdney looked the two soldiers up and down.

“I believe the Governor’s instructions were to plan roads and that is what I intend to do. Look at this mess!” He gestured with his arm at the jagged stumps and fallen trees lying as far as the eye could see.    The first opportunity he had, he wrote a note to Governor Douglas, requesting to have better accommodation.

Within a couple of days, he received an encouraging reply asking for more information.  Over the course of the next few weeks,   Dewdney proceeded with his own plans and submitted them to the governor’s office for approval.

Several letters were exchanged back and forth and he noticed that Moody and his men left him to do his own planning without any further interference.  One morning, in the middle of June when the sun was shining after several days of rain, Dewdney was summoned to the main house for a meeting with the colonel and his lieutenants.

They were all silent when Dewdney arrived and none of them offered any greeting of any sort. Moody looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.

Moody surprised him by being conciliatory and commending him for his work so far.  “The governor has been so pleased with your plans that he has officially approved them.”

Dewdney smiled, “I’m very pleased to hear that sir.”

“I’m also offering you a proposition.  As you know we are in need of hay for the horses and I understand that there is excellent hay to be had from the valley east of here. We are quite willing to increase your salary substantially.”

Dewdney nodded as he listened to the terms of this offer.  The pay was substantially more than what he was currently earning as an engineer and he couldn’t help wondering if this was just a scheme to get him out of the way.

At the end of August, Dewdney was told the contract for hay had finished and he was no longer needed.  He took the next steamer to Victoria and asked to speak with the Governor.  He was told the Governor was busy and after walking around the house several times, he spotted Douglas puffing on his pipe in the garden, with his brows firmly crossed.

Normally, he would have waited for a more opportune moment, but Dewdney hadn’t heard from the Governor and he was getting anxious.

Unlike Moody, Douglas didn’t mind small talk and he wasn’t immune to flattery so Dewdney used both.

“I’ve just come back from Rock Creek,” Douglas said after a time.  “We can’t be having all these gold seekers travelling back to the American side of the border with all that gold dust. There’s a need for a good road there from Fort Hope. Do you think you could commit to it? I’m considering putting it out to tender.”

“Yes! I would be very eager to embark on such a project, your Excellency.”

“The Royal Engineers will be doing the bulk of the work of course. I don’t have much use for them but at least England is paying for them.  Everybody keeps saying there is so much gold out there but we’re not collecting revenues like we should.”

“If I were granted the tender, could I hire my own workers?”

“There is no guarantee that you will receive it, but if you think you can afford to do so, go ahead.”

The conversation left him doubtful, and on the advice of one of Douglas’ clerks, Dewdney submitted a proposal with the lowest possible bid.

He had pictured in his mind a road 12 feet wide, bridged and graded to allow wagon travel.  He didn’t know then that it would be the worst months of his life.

Not all the money was forthcoming as he had hoped; instead he was given a much smaller portion that would hardly cover his own needs rather than the supplies for a project of this scope. At Fort Hope he met some of the Sappers he was assigned to oversee.  Several of them had been with the border commission and brought along various types of astrological equipment.

Beyond Fort Hope was a river that cut through the mountains.  Dewdney proposed they follow this river. The idea seemed straight forward enough until it was realized the plateau above the river soon became a series of ledges.

“We’ll have to blast this out,” Dewdney said.

Immediately, the response was negative.

(to be continued)

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What happened to Sapper James Duffy

Billy Ballou's Express

Billy Ballou's Fraser River Express

Every time Billy Ballou came to Victoria, he stopped by the British Colonist newspaper and had a chat with the publisher and editor, Amor de Cosmos.  Ballou didn’t care how or why someone would make up a name.  He was more concerned in getting his message across.  Cosmos relied on him for word on what was going on in the gold diggings and Ballou saw an opportunity to get his own message out and air his grievances.  They both disliked the current government.

Even though it was about ten degrees warmer in Victoria, Ballou still wore his thick coat. He looked around taking in the changes. New streets had cropped up where there used to be houses.  As if to prove the point, he spied a family carting their possessions followed by a couple of men rolling their house along.

The floor boards squeaked with each step he took.  Ballou sat down in front of Cosmos’ desk covered in printing paper. Cosmos wearing a heavy apron, yelled hello from around the corner.

“How is Rock Creek?” Cosmos asked as he took off his apron and settled down at his desk.

“It’s still the richest gold diggings in the colony.  Dunbar has been having a rough time of the road though, and he tells me that he’s about had enough.  I told him his contract is for one trip a month and he said he won’t do it. Not unless he’s paid more, but the governor won’t budge.”

“Hmm. How is the road?”

“It’s in rough shape according to Dunbar. He says if it weren’t for him and his mule train going back and forth, no one would know where it went.  But the snow is deep, almost thirty feet in some places, so I don’t blame him for wanting a respite from the delivery.”

“What about the government mail service?”

“It won’t be running.  I did the last Express run for January.  It’s too icy to get anywhere or do anything.  Any miner that’s got himself stuck there probably is saving his money for food and liquor.  Provisions are high at Similkameen and Rock Creek and just as scarce. Mail has to be the last thing on their minds. What does the governor want us to do – get killed falling through the ice? Rock Creek is completely frozen and you can only go so far on the Similkameen without encountering blocks of ice. It’s one of the fiercest winters I’ve lived through.  Just as I was heading down the whole regiment was carrying one of their own down to New Westminster. Froze to death on the Harrison trail.”

Cosmos eyes widened. “One of the Royal Engineers?”

“A sapper named Duffy from the Columbia detachment.  Someone said he was sent down there for supplies in the middle of a snowstorm.” Ballou shook his head, “it’s a helluva way to go. They probably would have buried him there had it not been for his wife, Alice I think her name was. She put the boots to old Moody.”

Cosmos furrowed his brow. “What about the others in his party?”

“It’s all hush hush. But I can tell you there are some rumours flying around.  One of my packers heard that the others had left Duffey on the trail to stay with the equipment or supplies while the others went ahead for help.  He had lost his rank as Corporal over some new trail he surveyed for the Governor along Cayoosh Creek last fall.  His superiors claimed they didn’t know a thing about it when Colonel Moody got the report and exploded. I doubt Duffy’s superiors were in the dark but they blamed the whole thing on him and demoted him to Sapper.”

Cosmos scratched out some notes. “It sounds as though Mr. Douglas wanted to undermine the authority of Colonel Moody.  I was present at a Royal Engineers gathering at the Fort and I can tell you it was a relief when one or both was absent; such was the tension between the two of them.  The next time I have the opportunity, I will ask the Governor of his role in all this.”

Ballou stood up from his chair, “I’ll be looking forward to reading about it. You can tell him Ballou never lost a packer.  I deliver the mail but not at the expense of someone’s life.”

Ballou left and strolled down the street.   He knew he would have to let someone in government know about the undeliverable mail, but it could wait knowing he had done the right thing.  He opened the door to the American Saloon and stepped inside.

Sapper James Duffy and the Cayoosh Creek Trail (from royalengineers.ca)

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The Barter

Thomas Hibben leaves San Francisco

Thomas Hibben, a stationer from San Francisco, came north for the gold rush never thinking he would be relying on his tried and true negotiating skills.

Hibben, like so many others before him, thought he would strike it rich on the banks of the Fraser River but by the time he got word of the gold rush, the steamers were packed with gold seekers. He had packed up his belongings in a hurry and dissolved his partnership in the Noisy Carriers’ Book and Stationery Company. There was no turning back.

The unfortunate thing was he had gambled every last cent on finding gold nuggets or at least some fine grains. Would his luck hold out until then? He was running out of money. He figured merchants would need experienced men like him to help get their consigned goods to the gold fields.  He told one of them about his stationery store in San Francisco and was quite surprised when he discovered that there was no such thing in Fort Victoria.

As he travelled with his pack and gold pan, Hibben made notes on the Chinook jargon and the scenery, adding places to his roughly sketched map. He might as well make the most of his trip, he figured.

At the foot of Kamloops Lake, he ran into a former Hudson’s Bay Company employee named François Savona.  He seemed like a no-nonsense man, emphasized by his downturned moustache.

“I can get you across here for two bits,” Savona said. “There are some spots farther up you can try but the best is on the other side.  The Bonaparte River I hear is good too.”

Hibben nodded.  “I’ll pay you when I arrive on the other side.”  He climbed on board the raft and held the rudder steady while Savona pulled on the cable and the raft inched its way to the other side.

Once they were safely across and Savona was catching his breath, Hibben went through his pockets. All he had were just a few American coins and a silver token he had picked up from a card game he had won.

Savona held the token by the tips of his rough fingers, and turned it over. He was apprehensive about taking it but Hibben convinced there was enough silver in there to make it worth something.

Relieved, Hibben carried on his way.  Why couldn’t he find any gold like the others?  He’d been so foolish to leave the store like that.

In due course, he encountered a bearded fellow who was sitting in a field gathering strawberries.

“This is worth more than gold,” the miner said holding up a strawberry.

Hibben popped a strawberry into his mouth and his eyebrows shot up. “This is just what I needed!  What flavour.”

“Aye, I need these bad. My legs have gone all rheumy and I’ve got gout, my feet hurt.  Too many days of hard tack, pork, and beans.  What I would do for a piece of bread!”

“That sounds dreadful. I’ll tell you what; I’ll use my frying pan and gather up some strawberries for you.”

The man sat down on the ground and Hibben, true to his word, nearly filled his frying pan with strawberries.

As the miner was listing all his aches and pains, Hibben couldn’t help but notice a cylinder shaped rock that had fallen into the long grass.

Hibben picked it up, surprised it was polished bone, and very light weight.  He could hear something rattle inside.

Elk horn purse with string of dentalium shells

“That was some elk horn trinket someone gave me.”

There was a slit in the middle, just wide enough for Hibben to insert his finger and pull out a string with unusual shaped stones on it.

“How about if I made some pancakes in exchange for this?” Hibben asked.

The miner agreed. After they were sitting around eating pancakes, Hibben asked him about the best gold panning sites. “Probably the Bonaparte, near Lacache.”

“Is that far from here?”

He took some tobacco out of a tin case and stuffed it in his cheek.

“It’ll take you a few days.  I was heading back when I ran into some of those Royal Engineers so I thought better pack it in before one of them sticks a gun up my nose and demands another licence.  Nothing like the old ’49 rush.”

Hibben cheerfully waved goodbye just as the miner started listing his aches and pains.

Over the next few days, Hibben hiked on, through the arid scrub, grateful for the food from the last miner. He was feeling cheerful and optimistic about his prospects at Lacache Creek. “Look for the big canyon,” the miner had told him.

Sure enough, in the distance, he could see large mountains.

Eventually, he came across two men who were setting up an interesting piece of equipment. Curious, Hibben stopped and asked what they were doing.

“Surveying a route from Fort Kamloops to Pavilion,” said the man with the long beard. Later he found out he was Lieutenant Mayne and the other fellow was Jean Baptiste Lolo.

They talked about telescopes and the hikes so far. Hibben told them about his adventures so far.

“Interesting.  And you say that you ran a stationery store in San Francisco? You should set one up in Fort Victoria. I can assure you that a great many of us Royal Engineers are most keen to write home on a decent piece of paper.  Speaking of which, you don’t happen to have any paper with you?”

Hibben riffled through his pack and found several pieces of paper.  He also pulled out his own map. “How much farther to Lacache Creek?”

“Baptiste? What do you think?”

Baptiste frowned as he looked at the paper and then turned it around.  “Pavilion Mountain is northwest of Lacache.  You’ll want to follow the Bonaparte River, then you’ll come to Lacache.”

As he was speaking, Hibben noticed he held the paper to a tattoo on the inside of his forearm.  It was a single line with marks at various intervals.

“It comes in handy sometimes now and then. Originally I got it when I was younger and I was counting out money.” Baptiste described in detail, small shells which were threaded onto a string. Each one was worth something.

Hibben showed him the elk horn pouch and pulled out the string of tiny shells. He watched Baptiste’s eyes light up as he measured the length of it against his tattoo.

Lieutenant Mayne inspected the shells under a magnifying glass. “If there’s anything you want to know about trade goods, our interpreter and guide, Baptiste knows everything.”

Hibben followed them along the trail for the next day, often losing sight of them as they kept up a blistering pace.  He was so used to seeing low lying sagebrush and bunch grass he didn’t really notice the trees until they rounded the corner and he was standing at the edge of a limestone canyon with bands of colour painted across its length. Tucked in at the bottom was a narrow lake. On the opposite side was a wall of green evergreens.

Baptiste shouted and gestured for Hibben to come down to their camp below. The aroma of fish edged him on down the slope.  Mayne was smoking his pipe while chopping more firewood. There was plenty of fish and large berries.  They ate and told some stories until Mayne fell asleep. Baptiste asked him some questions every now and then about the string of shells. As the last embers of the campfire had gone out Baptiste offered him a deal.

Hibben was doubtful at first but Baptiste’s enthusiasm won him over. In exchange for the shells, Baptiste would help him compile the first Chinook dictionary.

______________

Thomas N. Hibben established the first stationery store in Victoria and in 1862 he published the “Dictionary of Indian Tongues, Containing Most of the Words and Terms Used in the Tshimpsean, Hydah, & Chinook, With Their Meaning or Equivalent in the English Language.”

Jean-Baptiste Lolo (Leolo) was an HBC employee, trader, and interpreter. Born in 1798 of Iroquois and French parents, he entered the fur trade and was listed as working at many forts around New Caledonia. He was as an unofficial liaison officer between the company and the Indians of all the interior Salish tribes. Respected by both, Lolo helped maintain the balance of power between them with remarkable dexterity. He was also given the honorific title of “Chief” by the HBC and others called him “St. Paul.” His restored house still survives as part of the Kamloops Museum.

In 1856 Lieutenant Richard Mayne was attached to the Nautical Survey of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Later, he was assigned the exploration and mapping of hitherto unknown parts of the colony. Mayne Island in the Gulf Islands is named after him. He returned to England in 1860.

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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.

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