How Oregon Jack got his name

As in the California gold rush, it was common for goldseekers to use ambiguous identities in British Columbia. Instead of asking ‘what’s your name?’ new acquaintances would ask ‘what name do you go by?’

In his 1865 book Vancouver Island and British Columbia, Matthew Macfie wrote,

“If any delicacy is shown by men at the diggings in regard to disclosing their real names, no impudent questions are asked on the subject; but a name is extemporised by the miners, arising out of some eccentricity of person or character, some notable expression at any time uttered by the individual, or event that may have occurred in his experience …
If a man seems educated, the company in which he may be working or travelling, in ignorance of his true appellation, will usually designate him by the laconic title of ‘doc,’ for doctor, or ‘cap’ for Captain. If tall, his associates, should his family name not be forthcoming, may dub him ‘Big Bill.’ Should he have a weakness for frequently referring to some town, creek or country from which he has come, he may expect to have the name of the place united by his won, such as ‘Rattlesnake Jack,’ ‘Oregon Bob’ etc. A gentleman who was fond of displaying an array of initials before and titles after his name was significantly called Alphabet McD …”

The Canadian Minister of Public Works Hector Langevin made a list of interesting names when he visited the Cariboo.

Black Jack (John Smith), Wild Goose Bill, Roaring Bill, Hog John, Dancing Bill (Latham), Pike, Dutch Pete, Pilgrim, Dirty feet Pete, Delaware, Flap Jack Johnny, Peanuts (Mary Sheldon), Gassy Jack, Poker Jack (woman), Six Foot Pete, Blue Mud Bill, Oregon Hilley, Bill in Hell, Limber Jim, Wake up Jesus, Bill the Bug, Gum Boots Sally (woman), Set Him Up, Wake up Jake, Waving Jack, Red Head Davis, Swamp Angel, Red Attick, Cotton Vest Smith, Kelly the Pirate, Kelly the Smuggler…

Some of the more well-known characters of the Cariboo gold rush included:

“Oregon Jack,” a packer with a roadhouse south of Cache Creek; “Long Abbott,” who was six foot four and lived on Williams Creek; “12-foot” Davis (Henry Fuller Davis) who staked out a 12 foot claim which netted him $8,000 worth of gold; “Two-man Brown” named for his size.

Oregon Jack had been a gold miner in 1858 before going into the packing business. By 1862, Oregon Jack (his real name was John Dowling) and his partner, Dominic Gavin, had pre-empted land about 16 miles northwest of Cook’s Ferry (Spences Bridge) where they opened a wayside house beside the trail at the top of a long hill at the 96 mile post.

For more names, check out my previous post, Gold rush people and their names.