Smallpox on the Cariboo Wagon Road

There was a section of the Cariboo Wagon Road which would prove to be the most painful to build.

In March 1862, the government asked for tenders for building a road from Lytton City to Cook’s Ferry (later named Spences Bridge) which would connect with the Lillooet-Alexandra road then under construction.

The Lytton to Cook’s Ferry road contract was given to Charles Oppenheimer of Yale, Walter Moberly and T.B. Lewis. Moberly, a civil engineer, was in charge of the the construction, while Mr. Lewis was to assist Mr. Openheimer with the financial aspects.

As this was the height of the Cariboo gold rush, there were very few gold seekers who were willing to spend any more than a few days working on the road; until they earned enough to get them where they wanted to go. Moberly sublet part of his contract, from Nicomen to Cook’s Ferry, to a group of Chinese workers.

Upon realizing that the colonial government was slow in paying, T.B. Lewis left the group and sold his share to Moberly. Groups of local First Nations were hired and worked from three camps established at various locations between Nicomen and Cook’s Ferry, and a fourth one near Ashcroft Creek.

Unfortunately, smallpox broke out in the Nicomen tribe, and all the workers died who Moberly had hired to pack supplies between the camps at Cook’s Ferry.

“… I heard the dismal wailing…on the mountainside above the trail as I rode along which was a certain indication of death having visited their community….it was supposed that the smallpox had reached their encampment (on the Thompson River).

The next day I proceeded on my way to Nicomen, and as I rode along the mountainside I saw several Indian horses grazing on the bunch grass that grew in profusion in the valleys of the Thompson River, and in the little bay below me…I saw no signs of human life about the tents. I therefore dismounted and went to the tents where I discovered the bodies of the Indians, some in the tents and others among the rocks that lined the river bank… I now proceeded to Cook’s Ferry and went to the Indian village at the mouth of the Nicola River where the same melancholy sight was met – for all the Indians were dead.”