Russian Jack: the stagecoach trip with Stephen Tingley

Being a stagecoach driver on the Cariboo Road was not an easy job; the conditions were unpredictable and dangerous. Being a passenger on a stagecoach was an unforgettable experience too.

“Russian” Jack who owned the Black Jack claim at Lightning Creek recalled an adventurous stagecoach trip with Stephen Tingley in April 1875:

Arriving at Yale before noon we, some nine or ten of us, got on board the stage and started up the Fraser River with Stephen Tingley driving…We got on without mishap. Mr. Tingley invited the passengers to get out and take a walk when we came to a steep place, and the Jackass Mountain gave us quite a walk.

We had something to eat at Boston Bar and got up to Lytton after dark. We were awakened at 4 a.m. In these roadhouses the charge was $1 for bed and the same for meals. As soon as we got dressed all were invited to have a cocktail before breakfast, and I found this was the custom all the way up. By five a.m. we were all on board and going up the Thomson River, which we crossed at Spence’s Bridge, then past the Basque Ranch and Ashcroft [Manor] where Judge Cornwall lived. Cache Creek was reached after noon and here we had to stay overnight as the Bonaparte was in flood, but James Campbell, the owner of the house, was good to us.

There were three brides on the stage, at this point one left us, going by way of Kamloops to Osoyoos, where her husband was collector of customs. The Bonaparte was rushing over the bridge and the bridge was swept away very soon after the [bride and her husband] got across.

Up above Hat Creek the water was running down the [Cariboo] Road and was not passable by the stagecoach, but these drivers were men of resource. Mr. Tingley had provided plenty of rope and drove the coach up the hill and went along till the road was clear. Then the rope was tied to the coach and all the passengers held on to the rope while Tingley drove down the steep hill…Later Tingley told me he had sent a man on horseback to find out if he could drive along the flooded road.

Passing Clinton we came up to Sauls, now the 70-Mile House, where we stayed overnight, arriving in the dark and leaving before daylight. Then we went down to the Lac La Hache Valley and got to the 150 Mile House, some 80 miles from Sauls. This house was then owned by Mr. Bates and was kept very differently from its present efficient state. Then we went up the Fraser towards Quesnel. Mr. Tingley left us on his return to Yale at the 70 Mile House and J. McKay was our driver till we came to Deep Creek, some distance from Soda Creek.

We found the bridge washed away, but there was a stagecoach on the other side. Bill Johnston, the new driver, had felled a pine tree across the swollen stream, and the passengers had to scramble across…

Arriving at Soda Creek in good time, we were cared for by Bob McLease. Again making an early start we reached the Quesnel River…we crossed in a canoe and put up at Brown and Gillis’ hotel. We were now about 40 miles from our destination, but as the altitude gets higher all the time there were patches of snow all the way. This was the middle of April, and frequently we had to walk as it was neither sleighing or wheeling.

When we came to Beaver Pass the stage could not go further and it was suggested that we should walk up to Lightning Creek…Mr. George Hyde, the owner of Beaver Pass house was requested to take us up in his sleigh, but most of the eight miles were done on foot.

We arrived on the eleventh day after leaving Victoria.

One thing that impressed on me, and that was the excellence of the drivers of Barnard’s Express. A few years before he died in 1915, Tingley told me that driving on the Cariboo Road now was child’s play to what it was in the early days.