Tag Archives: Governor Douglas

Vigilantes and the lynching of an Okanagan man

Many Natives panned for gold but they were often forced from their claims or swindled out of them by white miners. Sometimes they provoked Natives into a violent confrontation just to shoot them claiming self-defense, knowing they had the backing of vigilantes. At several camps in the BC gold rush, vigilante committees ran the diggings.

At Rock Creek on June 13, 1861, a French miner named Pierre Cherbart started a fight with an Syilx/Okanagan man named Saul which ended with the death of Cherbart. Saul went back to his chief and told him what happened. Chief Silhitza told him to wait for a trial to tell his side of the story.

Sounds of gunshots at Rock Creek

Rock Creek, just north of the American border was a notorious place for rough miners. The first gold commissioner was forced to flee for his life. Few miners bothered to pay the mining fees. They were a rough bunch and like many would start their day with bitters and finish the evening with whiskey. The sound of gunshots punctuated the end of many conversations.

Map of Rock Creek area and Osoyoos Lake

William Cox, Rock Creek’s second gold commissioner, held an inquest into the death of Pierre Cherbart and put an arrest warrant for Saul. At the time of Cox’s decision, Saul was staying at a camp near Osoyoos Lake just below the border. Just as soon as the vigilante miners got word, a group captured Saul and “he was hanged towards eight o’clock in the morning. He didn’t die until the afternoon having suffered the most atrocious tortures at the hands of the Americans who made a game of it.”

During the mid 1850s, vigilantism was the norm south of the border in America. It was not uncommon for a group of self-appointed vigilantes to capture someone and find a good sturdy branch from which to hang them. Saul suffered a worse fate.

Father Pandosy

In 1855, Father Pandosy had stood by helpless as the Yakama he knew were forced to leave their homes when the settlers arrived and taken their lands. The governor of Washington Territory ordered Pandosy to abandon his mission and leave. He headed north to the Big Lake, where he established a mission near the Okanagan village of Skela’unna (Kelowna).

When Chief Silhitza told him about Saul’s vigilante execution, Pandosy penned a letter to Governor James Douglas on his behalf. He didn’t mince words.

“…my heart is heavy on seeing the manner in which justice is delivered to us. If the guilty man had been taken by the authorities, judged according to the rules, the entire camp would have learned a lesson at the gallows; but men without a warrant apprehend us and execute us without trial when Mr. Cox, your representative, is here and he has not even prepared a trial.”

At Douglas’ request, Cox provided further information about the murder of Pierre Cherbart and the chain of events that led to Saul’s lynching. James Douglas decided to let the matter drop and no action was taken to apprehend the men responsible. He was sensitive to the fact that the crime happened on American soil. This did not sit well with the Okanagan people.

W.G. Cox was transferred to other gold fields and John Haynes was brought in from Osoyoos to look after the Rock Creek office.

By the fall of 1861, the easy diggings at Rock Creek were played out. At the same time, stories of rich gold strikes in the Cariboo began to circulate. The miners departed with the first fall of snow.

The Mule Tax and the Cariboo Wagon Road

The merchants of Yale were eager to have a wagon road built through the Fraser Canyon but Governor Douglas was focussed on building a wagon road along the Douglas-Lillooet route. It seemed that there was no money to embark on another road building project.

In the fall of 1859, the merchants of Yale established an association and raised $60,000. The government was invited to buy some stock in their association or offer to loan them some money so they could start to build the Cariboo Road themselves. Then someone proposed the idea that the road could be built if the government were to levy a small duty on the transport of all goods by land from Yale to Lytton.

Mule train at Quesnel River

Mule train at Quesnel River

On February 6, 1860, Governor Douglas announced a ‘mule tax’ of £1 ($5) for every loaded horse or mule leaving Douglas and Yale for the mining regions. This meant a charge of £8 or $40 a ton. Immediately, there was a backlash from miners and packers.

Petitions were circulated for the removal of the ‘obnoxious mule tax’ and another for the removal of Governor Douglas.

The British Colonist reported on February 14th that “the trade of the country has suffered so severely…” Even the editor of the Port Townsend Register weighed into the mule tax and said that the imposition of the tax “is as clear a case of murdering the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

On February 25, 1860, the British Colonist printed a copy of a petition received from Yale which had been sent to Governor Douglas on February 19th.

“…your petitioners regard with utter dismay the imposition of the $5 mule tax, from the disastrous results it is certain to entail on the progress of the Colony…one inevitable consequence of the tariff will be the paralysis of all trade to the interior, by the avenues of Douglas and Yale…”

In their statement, the petitioners wrote that when they mentioned a small duty they implied something like $3 per ton for road purposes. They also pointed out that the progress of the road building would be gradual and it would be many months before any sections of the proposed road would be completed.

In his speech delivered in May, 1860 Governor Douglas stated that he had to levy the tax because the Colony of British Columbia must be self-supporting, as per the direction from the Colonial Office.

The British Colonist had this to say:

“We are now told that the HBC is no longer responsible for the civil expenses of the colony and we must henceforth be self-supporting. Now that we are to be no longer minors, let us have the balance sheet of our late guardians. Let them give an account of their stewardship, and let it be well and faithfully audited.”

The role of gold commissioners

In 1858, after news of the Fraser River gold rush had reached the British Parliament, the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton wrote:

“…it would seem desirable to appoint if you have not already done so Gold Commissioners armed with the powers of Magistrates.”

Gold commissioners were expected to act as the district’s land recorder, coroner, postmaster, justice of the peace, Indian agent, and revenue officer, as well as its stipendiary magistrate.  Gold Commissioner Richard Hicks recalled:

I came to Fort Yale when great excitement existed … the population amounted to upwards of five thousand and included some of the worst California could produce . . . I had to perform every office and work – even to grave digger. My hands were full night and days.  I worked hard.

Scandals broke out when it was discovered that some of the gold commissioners, including Richard Hicks, had profited from their position. In 1859, Chartres Brew, who was the Chief of Police, was also given the title of Chief Gold Commissioner. At the time, Governor James Douglas wrote:

“Matters were becoming complicated from the want of an active and intelligent Chief to supervise and instruct the Assistant Gold Commissioners. I was hampered by not having trustworthy and capable men at my disposal…”

The Petition and the Pigs

November, 1853 – Outside Fort Victoria

It all started with Staine’s pigs. Farmer Robert Staines woke up early one November morning to feed his livestock. Normally, he could hear the familiar grunts of his prized pigs as he walked along the path from his house. Not this time.  As he approached the gate, he realized it was ajar. His pigs were gone.  After looking everywhere, he rode his horse to neighbouring “Cloverdale” farm owned by William Fraser Tolmie, who was also manager of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.

Under this umbrella of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, wholly owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, were four “Company farms” each with their own ‘bailiff’.  Staines pounded on the door and after hearing some shuffling of boots, Cloverdale bailiff Emanuel Douillet answered.

“I’ve never seen your pigs,” Douillet said.

Five pigs meant nothing to someone like Tolmie who ran a large operation of hundreds of acres, but for Staines, whose five acres included crops for oats and barley, every loss was significant.

Sensing something was not right, Staines skulked around the property and walked alongside the pig enclosure. He recognized not three, but five of his pigs.

Staines was beside himself and rode over to see Justice of the Peace, Thomas Skinner. For a sunny afternoon in November, it was still warm enough that the leaves were still on the trees. It was the kind of bucolic setting that reminded him the day he disembarked off the ship from England just five years previous.

He told Skinner of what had happened and right away Skinner promised to go over with a warrant to Tolmie’s farm.  Staines was relieved to get his pigs back, but the relief didn’t last for long.

While Staines was checking his pigs, Douillet swore a complaint to the newest Justice of the Peace, David Cameron, brother-in-law of Governor James Douglas.

“Justice Skinner came to the Cloverdale with a few of his helpers and took Tolmie’s pigs. He wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say.” Douillet said.

Cameron discussed the matter with Douglas over dinner the following evening.

“I disciplined Skinner last year over his handling of that Webster affair,” Douglas said.  “Charge Staines with trespassing.”

Cameron went one step further and removed the pigs from Staines farm.  “They will be taken into the custody of the court while the matter is settled.”

Two days later, Justice of the Peace David Cameron presided over the case of R. vs. Staines.

The pigs came home and the charges against trespassing were dropped, but Staines was humiliated. His outrage was kept in check until he learned that David Cameron, a mere Justice of the Peace for a few months, was soon to be a Supreme Court Justice.

Something had to be done. Staines spoke with the merchant James Cooper who in turn spoke with Edward Langford.

“The very thought of Cameron, a former manager at the Company’s coal mine, to be interpreting the rules of law is absurd!”

They decided to have a meeting at Staines house.

In attendance were three merchants and two Justices of the Peace. They were James Yates, William Banfield, James Cooper, Edward Langford and Thomas Skinner.

“When I arrived here three years ago, I assumed that matters would be settled according to British law, not by a few people with no legal background whatsoever,” said Staines.

“It’s an oligarchy, is what it is,” said Yates looking carefully at Langford and Skinner, former Hudson’s Bay men themselves.

Cooper nodded. “They want to protect their interests, but theirs is a monopoly which is completely illegitimate in its form. I’m quite sure that Her Majesty will concur. The Company has all but prevented me from doing business.”

Everyone was aware of the others troubles with the Company. Being an independent merchant in a Company town was next to impossible.

At the centre of the table was the petition that Robert Staines had drafted. Over the course of the evening, they changed sentences and paragraphs until they agreed on the wording.

It was titled “Concerning the Appointment of David Cameron, to the role of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Civil Justice.”

Yates stood as he read the petition in full:

There have been innumerable grievances inflicted by the Local Government of this Colony of Vancouver’s Island.  Some of these matters may, on the surface, seem petty and ordinary but the actions by the Governor, James Douglas, have made our businesses bankrupt and our lives miserable.

We the undersigned, are protesting the appointment of David Cameron to the role of Chief Justice. As the brother-in-law of the Governor, Mr. Cameron cannot be at arm’s length from any of the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

It is our most anxious wish to have the laws of the country ably and impartially administered. We most humbly ask that your majesty would graciously cause an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the recent creation of the Supreme Court of Civil Justice.

We cannot consider our safety to depend upon our innocence or the rectitude of our cause.

Over the next ten days, sixty nine signatures  were collected; representing the full population of Victoria that was not affiliated with the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Many of the towns people were reluctant to sign at first, but Staines reassured them that their names would be held confidentially.

In another two weeks, a ship was due to sail from Esquimalt to San Francisco.  Staines volunteered to deliver the petition to her majesty while the others raised money for his trip.

The evening before, several of the original group stopped by to wish him well. The next day, Staines awoke and boarded the ship, the Duchess of Lorenzo.

Once he was onboard, however, he grew uneasy. It wasn’t just that the ship was a wobbly, overloaded hulk, it was the feeling that he was being scrutinized, much like a bug under a magnifying glass.  Of the ten people on board, four were crew members and the others he recognized as HBC men.

The first day on board, he was invited to join them for a game of cards. One of the HBC men showed him a couple of large gold lightn1ngs, “from the Queen Charlotte Islands.” he was told.  Staines was impressed at the sight of it. Then they started asking him questions. Where was he headed? What was his business in San Francisco? Staines had been so focussed on his mission, he hadn’t thought of anything to say, but he knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell these men that he was about to protest against one of their own.

Checking to see no one was looking, Staines took the petition out of his valise and put it inside his jacket pocket.

In the evening, dark clouds rolled overhead and large waves swelled beneath. Staines held on.  At times like these he’d rather be outside facing the danger rather than in some claustrophobic cabin.

“How soon will the storm pass?” he asked one of the crew.

“Once we make it past Cape Flattery, we’ll be alright.”

Staines fell asleep in his cot as the ship tilted from side to side.  There were the usual creaking noises from the beams, but his senses didn’t wake him up. A shadow came across his prone figure and struck him with a forceful blow.

Unconscious, Staines was carried to the stern and dumped overboard. The petition drifted with him to the watery depths.