Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon (Part 2)

(In part 1 of “Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon” assistant gold commissioner McLennan realizes that Ned McGowan and his criminal gang have gained influence and control over gold commissioner Hicks based in Yale, British Columbia)

Steamboat Heading to Yale

The captain of S.S. Watertown was relieved to see the town of Yale, but not nearly as relieved as the passengers.  It had been a long and arduous trip up the Fraser River as the boat slowly made its way against the waters that were pushing their way in the opposite direction to the coast.

McLennan was relieved to finally catch sight of the steamboat and looked around for the James Douglas representative, the one whose job it was to oversee Hicks.  It was starting to drizzle, a Scotch mist, he would have called it.  Nobody on the wharf seemed to be paying attention to it; the rain never lasted in the interior up here, unlike the coast.

McLennan could have waited elsewhere but he was determined to speak to someone in higher authority about his horrible boss. He thought about what he would say and he went over and over in his mind exactly the points he would bring up and in what order.

After a time, the steamboat came to a rest and the passengers disembarked, some more quickly than others.

Where was he? McLennan’s hand went to his snuff box by habit, his fingers cold from anxious waiting, but this wasn’t the time to indulge himself.  For a brief moment he thought of his wife; the silver box had been a gift from her father.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of McGowan’s goons leaning against a hitching post.  McLennan looked back at the dispersed crowd and all the people walking on unsteady legs carrying their belongings, some in carts, others on their backs.

Representatives of the Colony always had an assistant with them to help carry their belongings. Looking around he didn’t see anyone that he recognized.  The goon was still there, if he was waiting for someone he didn’t let on.  Finally McLennan spotted James Douglas talking to the captain who was carrying Douglas’ baggage.  McLennan was so relieved he nearly cried.

Chief Spintlum and about six hundred of his best riders and warriors had made the trip from Lytton to Yale without any events along the way.  There were a few surprised looks from some of the miners they encountered, but most kept out of the way.  Spintlum organized a camp to be set up about fifteen minutes ride outside of Yale, far enough away that they didn’t have to listen to the gunshots.

Hicks woke up with a severe headache.  He’d drunk too much the night before and all he could hear was hoofbeats.  He put his hands to his head in the hopes the sound would stop but it didn’t.  His door was shaking.  Squinting his eyes, he thought he could see it moving from side to side.  With one hand he felt around on the floor for his glasses.  He couldn’t see a damn thing without them, but just moving his arm gave him a sharp pain in the head.

McLennan and Douglas were heading along the road in an open carriage when they heard the murmurs on the street that a group of natives was about to arrive.  McLennan heard their horses coming down the main street, several of them side by side with their riders standing straight and tall. What were they doing here? He wondered.

Douglas ordered the carriage driver to halt and by habit, McLennan tipped his hat at the riders in acknowledgement.  None of them recognized Douglas, but they stopped and one of them asked “where is Hicks?”

McLennan stalled for a moment as he looked to Douglas.  “I’m afraid I don’t know at this present moment, but allow me to introduce myself, Archie McLennan, assistant gold commissioner.”  McLennan offered his hand and the man looked at him for a moment then he proceeded to dismount slowly and carefully as if suffering from some injury.

“I am Cexpe’nthlam, head chief of the Nlaka’pamux.  I came here because my people have been falsely accused of a massacre.”

“Chief Spintlum?”

The chief nodded, evidently he had heard many pronunciations of his name.

James Douglas rose from the carriage and removed his hat, introducing himself.  It was precisely at that moment something happened which McLennan would never forget.

With one suspender holding up his pants and his shirt on backwards, Hicks came running out of the gold commissioner’s office with a pistol extended from a shaking hand in the direction of McLennan, “he stole my gold dust!” he screamed.

Before McLennan had a chance to open his jaw, a gunshot rang out and Hicks flopped forward in a pile of mud.  Nobody moved.  McLennan glanced around but he couldn’t see who had shot Hicks.  He saw people dipping into the recesses and shadows of the buildings. It was eerily quiet.

After a couple of minutes, Douglas put a handkerchief to his forehead and said to McLennan, “we have much to discuss, but first let us have some tea.”