Tag Archives: Cariboo

Billiard Saloons: a barometer of the gold rush

When he was in Victoria awaiting a steamer to take him south — after a fruitless trip to the Fraser River gold diggings — Herman Reinhart noticed that there was no shortage of billiard saloons including one with six tables kept by a California gambler named Boston. “Here I saw the first 15-ball pool.” Fifteen-Ball Pool was the predecessor of modern pocket billiards.

On September 15, 1858 the Daily Alta California printed an article called “Stagnation in Victoria” which was submitted by their correspondent:

Everything has flattened out – subsided – wilted. We have a town of stores filled with goods, and few to buy…Houses and tents could be bought at almost any price. A large pavilion tent which had been used as a billiard saloon, having room for two billiard tables and seats for spectators, sold for $13…

Billiard Saloons and Fifteen-Ball Pool

In October 1859 it was reported that Fort Hope was flourishing. One of the indicators was that

Billiard Factory

Billiard Factory

billiard saloons “appear well supported.”

Playing billiards was a popular pastime in the 1850s, especially American Four-Ball Billiards, usually played on a large (11 or 12-foot), four-pocket table with four balls – two white and two red. Billiard balls were made from ivory tusks. Even cabinet makers made billiard tables.

Not quite as common as billiards was the game of bagatelle which was played by European miners. Considering there was a large number of French diaspora living in San Francisco, a good many of them probably succeeded in bringing the game up north to British Columbia.


In his book, Cariboo Yarns, F.W. Lindsay wrote that the well-known Cariboo packer known as Cataline, ran mule trains to Barkerville, taking a month to get there. Among the items they carried north were billiard tables. How did one pack a billiard table?

Michael Costin Brown and the Bacon Train

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ichael Costin Brown was a gold miner, packer and hotelier. He was also among that first group of gold miners who discovered one of the richest streams in the Cariboo. This discovery sparked the Cariboo gold rush.

Michael Costin Brown

Michael Costin Brown

Originally from Ireland, Brown and his family immigrated to Ohio when he was eleven years old. When he was just 17, Brown ran a hotel in Oregon. He was establishing another hotel in Walla Walla when he heard gold was found in the Similkameen.

It was in March 1859, that he left San Francisco by steamer to Victoria. Brown and his group went prospecting in the Similkameen and Okanagan. Eventually he made his way to the Cariboo.

Brown was camped near Antler Creek in the winter of 1860. One evening, Wilhelm Dietz, an ex-Prussian sailor, and his partners, James Costello and Michael Burns, stumbled into Brown’s camp in a half-starved state claiming they had found gold in a nearby-unnamed creek. Brown decided to join them.

“We crossed the divide, eventually making the headwaters of the creek and after some time we traveled to a place near a little gulch or canyon, where we camped for the night, building a little shelter.

On the following morning we separated to prospect the stream, agreeing to meet again at night to report progress…

‘Dutch Bill’ made the best prospect, striking pay dirt at $1.25 a pan. Costello and I had done pretty well, finding dirt worth a dollar or so a pan. You can well imagine we were well pleased with the day’s exertions, and each man in his heart felt that we had discovered very rich ground. I shall not forget the discussion that took place as to the name to be given to the creek. Dutch Bill was for having it called ‘Billy Creek’ because he had found the best prospects of the three. I was quite agreeable, but I stipulated that Mr. William Dietz should buy the first basket of champagne that reached the creek. This appealed to Costello, and so the creek was then and there named—not Billy Creek but ‘Williams Creek’.”

The 6 men returned to camp and they all worked out certain plans: Costello would remain on the creek and guard their claims; Dietz, Burns, Collins and Metz would return to Antler for supplies; and Brown would travel 60 miles to Williams Lake to register their claim with the Cariboo’s only gold commissioner, Philip Nind.

Things began to go awry when news of their strike leaked out at Antler. They decided that Dietz should return to the claims the following morning. Using showshoes, he retraced his footsteps in a record 3 hours but his strenuous exertions were of no avail for the entire population of wintering miners at Antler followed his trail in the snow and within hours were staking claims up and down both sides of the creek.

Brown sold his claim for $2,500 and went into the packing business.

In Oregon during the spring of 1862 Brown purchased a packtrain of forty two mules on which he transported 8000 pounds of provisions to the Cariboo. In a store built at Richfield in 1863, Brown  sold slabs of bacon to the miners for $1.00 per pound.

In an era when everyone had descriptive names, Brown became known as “Bacon Brown”, and his pack of mules the “Bacon Train”. During the Cariboo goldrush bacon and beans were the steady diet of the miners, and as a result many complained of suffering with inflamed mouths caused by the strong curing agent in the bacon.

Michael Brown continued to mine in the Big Bend Country, the Omineca, the Cassiar, and at Lightning Creek in the Cariboo. Brown moved to Victoria in the 1870’s where he married, and settled down as owner of the Adelphi Hotel for the next twenty five years. But once a miner, always a miner, and when gold was discovered in the Klondike he had to go. At Dawson City he operated a hotel, the Melbourne, for three years, before retiring for a final time to Victoria.

Nam Sing and the gambling loan paid in flour

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the first Chinese miners who reached Quesnel in 1861 was Nam Sing. He became known as the one who supplied fresh food to the restaurants of the gold rush towns in the Cariboo.

Nam Sing

Nam Sing

Chow Nam Sing was born in China’s Kaiping County in 1835 and went to California for the gold rush. In 1861 Sing came north to British Columbia and panned for gold up the Fraser River until he reached the junction of the Quesnel River. During times of high water when it wasn’t possible to work his rocker, Sing cleared a small area and tilled the soil with his gold digging shovel on the west bank of the Quesnel River.

He raised a few vegetables for himself and sold the surplus to neighbouring miners using a scow to bring his produce across the river to the townsite. After the peak of the Cariboo gold rush in 1865, Nam Sing turned to vegetable gardening and ranching for a living.

In 1868, Nam Sing was taken to court for his involvement in a gambling debt.

Sing agreed to store sacks of flour for a gambler named Ak Tie who planned to use it to pay off his debt of $280 to businessman Sing Hing. When the time came to repay the loan Ak Tie was short on both money and flour. He was only able to pay most of his creditors 75 cents for every dollar he owed. Sing delivered 30 sacks of flour to Hing who valued it to be only worth $210. Instead of going after Ak Tie, however, Hing sued Nam Sing for the $70, alleging that it was he who had received the loan in the first place.

A witness named San Hing swore in court that he was in the house and saw the plaintiff hand over $280 in bills, “partly red and partly white” to Nam Sing. For his part, Nam Sing denied the debt altogether. The court sided with Hing saying that he had given positive evidence of the loan while Sing had neglected to bring Ak Tie to give his side of the story. In the meantime, the judge allowed Sing’s lawyer to apply for a new trial in order to produce the gambler.

The town of Quesnel in the gold rush

The town of Quesnel was originally called Quesnelmouth and then Quesnelle.  Gold seekers travelling up the Fraser River in 1859 came to a fork and set off in the direction of the Quesnel River (named for fur trader Jules Quesnel) in their efforts to find gold. Chinese merchants arrived two years later and within a short time about 500 Chinese settled there. By 1863 a white settlement sprung up around the cluster of Chinese stores and residences. A dozen buildings stood on the narrow strip of flat land along the river. Steamships brought miners and supplies to the region from Soda Creek.

On April 4, 1864, the Colonist reported:

“…there are twenty-nine business houses on the main street facing the river, including a couple of capital hotels…There is a first class sawmill on the river bank capable of turning out a large quantity of lumber. Farther back from the river several houses are dotted about here and there, and about a mile from town there is a Chinamen’s camp of some size…from its geographical position it appears to be the most important commercial spot in British Columbia. It is, in fact, the natural distributing point for a very large tract of country, including the whole Cariboo region…”

By 1869 the first Chinese herbal store, Yan War, was established in Quesnel. In 1870, another Chinese store, the Wah Lee company, was opened in the block between Carson and Bowron Streets. Chew Wah Lee came to Canada in 1869 and was described as a typical Chinese man with a queue. This store supplied Chinese groceries, herbs, tobacco, and clothing to miners. He sponsored his son Chew Guo Xiang to come to Canada and upon his arrival was registered as Chew Lai Keen. Although Chew was his last name, he became known as Mr. Keen.

Keen worked in Barkerville as a cook and a restaurant worker. Once, Keen drove a herd of pigs from Ashcroft to Barkerville in ten days. Similar to cattle drives, pig drives to Barkerville were not uncommon occurrences, except they were done on foot. In the early 1900s, Keen learned to read and write English from Mrs. Earley, Quesnel’s first school teacher.

Philip Nind: First Assistant Gold Commissioner for the Cariboo

Philip Nind: first gold commissioner for the Cariboo

Philip Nind: first gold commissioner for the Cariboo

Philip Henry Nind was the first assistant gold commissioner for the Cariboo.

Nind was born and raised in England and graduated from Oxford with a Master of Arts degree in 1858. Almost immediately he left for Victoria, British Columbia where he was employed as a clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s office. The following summer in 1859, Nind was chosen to be the first assistant gold commissioner for Alexandria (Cariboo) district.

In August 1859 Nind and Constable William Pinchbeck arrived in Williams Lake. Nind and Pinchbeck visited mining claims at Keithley Creek before crossing the 6,000 foot summit of Snowshoe Plateau to Antler Creek. Nind made the observation that miners were living in holes dug of snow which was between 6 and 7 feet deep.

The following month, Nind travelled with Judge Begbie and a court registrar to the various mining camps to register mining claims. They reached the town of Quesnel Forks in September, after having travelled on horseback from Mud Lake to Beaver Valley, then to Little Lake where they established a base camp.

Entrepreneurs at Quesnel Forks (now 18 homes and tents) requested ferry licences and bridge charters. The Cariboo Wagon Road had not yet been built and merchants were having to pay for trails and bridges with their own money in the hopes of being compensated by grants from the colonial government and tolls from eager miners.

At Quesnel Forks, Nind laid out five streets, two parallel to the South Fork River, two at right angles, and a fifth street bordering the South Fork River. He suggested that the Royal Engineers survey a townsite, but Colonel Moody refused; “a mining town is in truth for a long while more the character of a prolonged “Fair” than anything else.”

In between surveying Quesnel Lake and writing despatches to Governor Douglas, Nind built a log cabin for himself at Williams Lake with the help of his two constables, William Pinchbeck and Charles Seymour.

Nind took a sick leave and he went back to England in December 1861. The following April, he married Elizabeth Sivewright and extended his leave of absence until the fall when they returned to British Columbia. Nind resumed his position of assistant gold commissioner but became disillusioned by the speculation in mining claims by other government officials. He left the Cariboo for Australia in 1869.

George Wallace – Cariboo Sentinel newspaper

George Wallace - founder of the Cariboo Sentinel

George Wallace – founder of the Cariboo Sentinel

Barkerville’s longest running gold rush newspaper, the Cariboo Sentinel, was first published in June 1865 under the watchful eye of its owner and editor, George Wallace. Each issue was about four letter-sized pages, printed on a well-travelled French press that Wallace had brought with him to Barkerville. The Cariboo Sentinel proved to be both popular and profitable for Wallace.

George Wallace was born in Boston in 1833 and it is believed that he was a newspaper correspondent for the Toronto Globe before he came to British Columbia with a group of Overlanders in 1862. Upon arriving, Wallace went to Victoria where he worked as a correspondent for the British Colonist.

The early gold rush years in British Columbia were a boon time for newspapers. Between 1858 and 1864, ten newspapers were started in Victoria, half of them dailies.

In 1863, Wallace and Charles Allan (who had also worked for the Colonist) established a newspaper in New Westminster, The Daily Evening Express, which ran from April, 1863 to February, 1865.

After earning a profit of $3,500, Wallace sold the Cariboo Sentinel in 1866 and he left Barkerville to start another newspaper, The Tribune, in Yale.

The Cariboo Sentinel was published for another ten years, until 1875.

Richfield to Cameronton Wagon Road

Richfield-Cameronton Wagon Road

Richfield-Cameronton Wagon Road

By 1865, Richfield, Cameronton and Barkerville had grown from small mining camps to thriving gold rush communities.  In July, 1865, a notice appeared in the Cariboo Sentinel from the gold commissioner, W. G. Cox to obtain proposals from interested parties to build the Richfield to Cameronton Wagon Road, twelve feet wide with pull-outs.

Founded by John “Cariboo” Cameron, the town of Cameronton had many businesses including:

  • The Pioneer Hotel, owned by Anne Cameron (no relation to John) which was the oldest established hotel on Williams Creek. In conjunction with the hotel was a bar and restaurant where “hot and cold suppers could be had at all hours.”
  • The Colonial Hotel and Restaurant owned by “Madame James James”
  • John Bowron operated the Reading Room which functioned as a private library for its members.
  • The Gazelle Saloon, owned by Adler and Barry, featured two large billiard tables and a bar with “Liquor and Segars of the finest quality.”
  • Prager & Brother’s store which sold groceries, provisions, liquors and “segars” (cigars)
  • Lions & Dodero owned a miners’ provisions store that sold liquors, provisions, groceries, clothing, hardware, medicines, drugs and miners tools “the cheapest prices on the [Williams] Creek”

The trial of Sheriff Chisolm

There were two eventful court cases in the Cariboo in the summer of 1865.

John Perrin, a well-known gold miner from Richfield, was a defendant in a case regarding a disputed claim, Henness v. Perrin. Shortly after the case began, Perrin was approached by Deputy Sheriff Chisolm:

“I was standing by the Cariboo shaft when Daniel B. Chisolm, the Deputy Sheriff, came to me and said he wished to speak to me; he took me aside out of hearing of the men standing around and said if I had any doubts about the lawsuit pending he would put me on a safe track by summoning any jury I chose…in return for a quarter of an interest in the Cariboo claim. The next day I met Chisolm near Barkerville, when he asked me to go with him to the back room of the Spanish woman’s house at Barkerville, where he showed me a list of jurymen and asked me how I liked them; he said for a quarter of an interest in the Cariboo claim, he would summon those or any other that I wished; I told him I would not do it, and left the house.”

When Mr. Walker, counsel for the defence, read out Perrin’s affidavit in court, everyone was surprised including Judge Begbie and Deputy Sheriff Chisolm who was present in his official duty. The trial of Henness v. Perrin continued unimpeded, but it was followed afterward by the trial of Mr. Chisolm.

Dan B. Chisolm was arraigned and the indictment for unlawfully offering to take a bribe to pack a jury. Chisolm pleaded “not guilty.”

Mr. Perrin was cross-examined and gave the same account as in his affidavit. Jesse Pierce testified that he was in the house when he saw Mr. Perrin and Mr. Chisolm go into a back room.
Captain Henness testified:

“I have known Mr. Chisolm since the winter of 1862. The day before the trial of Henness v. Perrin, I called at Mr. Sutor’s office and found Mr. Chisolm there; I said to him have you summoned the jury for the Assizes? He said yes; I remarked that I wanted no favours but I hoped to have good, upright, honest men try the case. Mr. Chisolm said that was always his aim, and he would show me the list, which he then did.”

Messrs. Laumeister, Pearkes and Campbell all testified that they had known Chisolm for a considerable length of time and said he was of good character.

Chisolm testified that Perrin has anxious about the ‘big suit’ as the only person who could throw light on the matter [Cunningham] was dead.

“Here I asked him about the Cunningham estate, as I felt somewhat interested, holding Cunningham’s note for about $300…I told him that I thought a good deal of the claim at the time…I asked him then if he would not sell me a quarter interest, and he said no; this is all that ever passed between us…”

After deliberating for an hour, the jury returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’. Judge Begbie discharged Chisolm saying that he agreed with the verdict, but he censored Mr. Chisolm for his indiscretion in holding a private conference with a party in a lawsuit.

Applesauce: favourite food of the gold rush

Fresh Pork and Green Apple Sauce Dinner (July 22,1865)

Fresh Pork and Green Apple Sauce Dinner (July 22,1865)

Did you know that applesauce was common fare during the Cariboo Gold Rush? Applesauce was usually made using dried apples. In the notice above, printed in the Cariboo Sentinel, Cameron’s Pioneer Hotel advertised “Green Apple Sauce” – whether this was from fresh apples or green ones, we will never know. My guess is that they are referring to fresh apples, as another of the Hotel’s advertisements described a dinner with “plum pudding and green rhubarb.”

Apple trees were grown on Salt Spring Island as early as 1863.

Here is a recipe for applesauce from the “Canadian Housewife’s Manual for Cookery” printed in 1861:

Apple Sauce for Goose and roast Pork

“Pare, core, and slice, some apples; and put them in a stone jar, into a saucepan
of water, or on a hot stove. If on a stove, let a spoonful or two of water be put
in to hinder them from burning. When they are done, bruise them to a mash, and put to them a bit of butter the size of a nutmeg, and a little brown sugar. Serve it in a sauce-tureen.”

Freight Wagon drivers on the Cariboo Road

If you were on the Cariboo Road during the time of the gold rush, chances are you would have seen a few freight wagons and their crews of swampers and skinners.

Swampers were apprentices in the teaming business and they were responsible for looking after the horses, including rounding them up early in the morning. They did other chores as well to assist the freight driver, known as a teamster.

Teamsters, or ‘skinners’ as they were known, had the job of driving teams of horses. They wore a stiff-brimmed hat, similar to a cowboy hat, but with a narrower brim. Their boots were high-topped calfskin with low flat heels. Their pants were worn over their boots.

“If you drove two horses, you turned the bottoms of your pants up one roll, if you drove four horses you were entitled to two rolls…”

Teamsters would often drive teams of six horses. In this case a “jerk-line” was used. This was a single line connected to the bridles of the lead horses. The leading horses would turn left or right according to the number of jerks on the line.

One of the most important pieces of equipment freight wagons carried was a single piece of board called a “jack”. It was used to help unload heavy objects and for getting wagons out of mudholes.

Freight wagons travelled north on the Cariboo Road as late as 1915, with Ashcroft serving as the supply depot.