Tag Archives: historical fiction

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.

Rock Creek War (part 1)

Peter O’Reilly, Revenue Officer and Gold Commissioner arrived on horseback at the river they called “Rock Creek” along the southern border of British Columbia, colony of Britain. He had been sent on the premise to collect the $5 mining licences the Governor had imposed and record the claims.

The first day, he set up his tent and approached a cluster of men squatting by the river, shaking their gold pans.

“You are on British territory and everyone here is required to pay a fee of $5.”

Some miners regarded him with surly stares while others balked at his request for money.

“Who says we’re on British soil? I don’t see anything around here to tell me,” one of the miners said. “You’re a spy!”

“You’re above the 49th parallel and no I am not a spy, I’m a Revenue Officer.”

“This here bar was discovered by American soldiers and they claimed it in the name of the United States!”

A loud cheer went up and several fired pistols into the air, causing his horse to jostle him.

A few short miles down the winding river, he came upon another group of miners who reluctantly paid their due.

“Why must we pay $5 when we don’t have the same privileges as those other miners who claim that since they are American, they have first priority?”

“Every miner that pays the fee is entitled to work a claim wherever he so wishes.  You are on British soil and no one miner is distinguished from another,” O’Reilly said.

The man extended his hand and O’Reilly shook it.

In the course of the day, O’Reilly tallied almost five hundred men, hunkered down over their gold pans and rockers, ignoring his request for payment.

He stopped at each of the four trading posts and noted the following:

Beef – 15 cents per lb.
Flour – $25 per container
Beans – 30 cents per lb
Sugar – 50 cents per lb
Milk was cheap and plentiful.

Judging by the prices and the sales, O’Reilly concluded that these were indeed profitable diggings.  None of them admitted to selling liquor.  Curiously, not one of them sold mining tools either.

“Fort Colville,” one of them said when he asked where the supplies originated.

Later that evening, O’Reilly returned to his camp only to discover that someone had been riffling through his belongings.  Unnerved, O’Reilly settled on a rock nearby and started making notes.

He drew a brief sketch of the river and made marks where he noticed the various camps set up.  Out of all the people he had spoken to, he only had $30. It certainly wasn’t enough to  convince his superiors that he was doing his job.

Two bars in particular, “Soldiers’ bar” and “Denver bar” were yielding a lot of gold.  Even from a distance, O’Reilly observed the miners gathering the lemon coloured lightn1ngs.  He watched them carry their load back south.

Part of the problem lay with the territory itself. Rock Creek hovered just a few miles above the boundary with the United States. There was no impediment to someone scampering over the invisible line to Fort Colville some seventy miles away.  It was just undulating hills and grassy prairie watched over by horses and cattle.

O’Reilly was starting to eat some dinner when he heard raucus shouting and yelling. As night fell, the boisterous activity continued. It was evident that alcohol was fuelling the miners’ conversation and he heard gunshots in the distance.  O’Reilly slept in fits and starts with his pistol at his side.

When he awoke in the morning, he noted with some relief that it was very quiet. Perhaps everyone was still asleep or had already snuck off to the river to try their luck again.  As he cautiously poked his head out of the tent, he saw a body.  As he walked towards it he came to the realization that it was the man with whom he had shook hands with the previous day.

The Rock Creek War had begun.

(to be continued)

The Money Press

March 1859, Victoria

The rain hit the top of the jostling carriage like pounding nails while damp cold penetrated settled inside. It was only the hearty meal and wine he had just enjoyed that kept him from shivering beneath his overcoat and scarf. The motion of the carriage ceased and Alexander Davidson Macdonald heard the driver put down the step before opening the door.  Keeping an eye on his polished leather boots, he descended from the carriage as the driver carefully held an umbrella over his head until he reached the doors of his bank,  “Macdonald and Co. Bankers,” at the corner of two busy streets in Victoria.

His was a relatively small bank and certainly less intimidating than the Bank of British North America, but his clients were hard-bitten gold seekers who had spent weeks or even months on the trail sleeping with their gold tight to their chests.  It was smaller even than the Wells Fargo bank and certainly a lot less structured. He had three employees and one manager, “Captain” John Waddell. The bank itself was curiously empty.

“Afternoon sir,” Waddell said.  “The printer dropped off the banknotes.”

“How did they turn out? Are they in the vault?” Macdonald crossed the room in three long strides.

Waddell followed him with the key in hand. “Most of them are acceptable quality, but I think they were stacked prematurely before the ink was properly dried.”

Macdonald stood aside as Waddell opened the vault.

“There was a complaint this afternoon from a fellow who demonstrated a curious set of gold scales. They reminded me of wood paddles with a single length of bone that was notched out at intervals.”

Macdonald started taking out bundles of notes.  “There will always be complaints in this business. It seems not a day goes by without someone bringing in their own set of scales.”

Waddell carried on. “The scale was so sensitive it could weigh gold powder which came to nothing on our scale. He claimed it was more accurate than the scales at the gold commissioner office in Yale which was why he brought his gold dust all the way to Victoria.  He showed how it worked and I can tell you he had quite the crowd of onlookers as he did so.”

Macdonald looked closely at one of the banknotes and frowned, “surely you didn’t encourage him?”

“Not at all sir, but with all the talk about the new British chartered bank coming to town, I thought it would be best to appear to take his complaints seriously. Besides, he was accompanied by Frederick Marriott.”

“Marriott? Of the Vancouver Island Gazette?”

“The same. I suppose we’ll be reading about that in the next issue.”

Waddell followed Macdonald to his office where he held a couple of the notes up to a kerosene lamp.

“The ink is smudged.  They might past muster in the dark, but I doubt it.”

“Bishop Demers is selling his printing press, sir.  He brought it over from Europe apparently, the type is of extremely high quality.”

“Is he? Perhaps I should make inquiries – we might print our own banknotes.”

It took several days before Bishop Demers could be met, having been away to the interior.

They met for tea and sat in stiff backed chairs while Demers gave several amusing anecdotes about his journey by canoe.  After a considerable length of time, Demers showed him a copy of a newsletter which he had printed using his hand-cranked press.

Bishop Demers printing press

Macdonald held it closely as he looked it over. “This is very impressive.”

“Thank you.  I spent many months translating several phrases into Chinook, French and English as you can see.”

“Could I see the press?”

The Bishop clasped his hands behind his back. “I don’t have the press here anymore. It has been sold to Frederick Marriott. Do you know him? Wonderful man and very generous too.”

Macdonald covered up his disappointment. “I do indeed. It’s been a pleasure meeting with you Bishop Demers.”

Back at the bank, Macdonald ruminated about this turn of luck. What were the odds that the very printer that he wanted would wind up in the hands of a newspaper man who was bent on destroying his very bank?

“Waddell, has Marriott ever done any banking with us?”

“Not at all, he never set his foot inside here except yesterday.”

The rain had ceased the next day and Macdonald decided to go for a walk. There were still very few solid structures beyond the Fort; the rest was a field of tents. It was therefore easy to spot the ramshackle hut that Marriott had made for himself.

Marriott had his back to him and was furiously inking the plate as Macdonald stood at the entrance.

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t block what little light there is,” Marriott said.  “Enter or leave.”

Macdonald stepped inside the pungent smelling room and looked around.  There was a small cot in the opposite corner and a desk on which sat several bottles of ink, a row of nibs and two wooden sticks held together at the end. It was most likely the gold scale Waddell had observed. Macdonald recalled seeing similar opium scales in San Francisco.

Gold scale

Gold scale

Marriott seemed engrossed in his work and when he looked up his eyebrows shot up.

“That’s quite the press you have there.” Macdonald said as he felt his eyes begin to water.

“It helps to spread the power of the words to the masses.”

“Of course.  It must be very costly to order printing paper, I imagine.”

“What are you hinting at?”

“I would like to cover the debt you incurred to buy that press if you will share it with me.”

” You want to put me out of business, that’s what you want.”

Macdonald held out one of his own banknotes, “come around to the bank tomorrow and discuss it with me.”

“I paid fifty dollars for that press,” Marriott said as he looked at the money.

Several days went by until Marriott stopped by Macdonald’s bank.

Macdonald laid out the plan.  Once a month, Marriott would loan the bank the printing press and for this he would be compensated supplies and ink.

“But that would involve moving the press back and forth! It weighs several hundred pounds.”

Macdonald shook his head, “the press has been moved many times and from what Bishop Demers told me, the machine cannot possibly be damaged.  If it does get damaged I will make sure that you are fully compensated.  How would you like to be paid?”

“In gold,” Marriott said.


Bishop Demers’ printing press had a unique history.  Frederick Marriott used it to print Vancouver Island Gazette which lasted a total of two months. He then used the press to print Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Calédonie, the first newspaper to be published in French in BC. Amor De Cosmos, publisher of the British Colonist, bought the printing press and used it for several years. Later, it was sold to George Wallace who founded the Cariboo Sentinel in Barkerville. There are stories of how the press was rescued from the fire at Barkerville, dismantled and carried on horseback to the nearby town of Richfield. Eventually it found its way back to Victoria and is now in a museum.

Molasses in the Gold Rush

Fort Langley - 1858

William Henry Bevis was the Revenue Officer at Fort Langley.  He was in charge of collecting fees for liquor, timber cutting and mining licences.

“I don’t see why I should be paying you money!” the man shouted.

William Bevis stood his ground. “I am the Revenue Officer here at Fort Langley and you will have to pay a fee for the timber you have cut.  These are the rules.”

“But whose rules are they?” the man challenged. “I don’t see a flag hanging above this shack.”

As the gold seeker stomped away, Bevis had to agree.  Other than his title, he had nothing to identify him as working for any government. There was no flag.  The shack the man referred to consisted of one room where he was to handle business, sleep and eat.  His wife Mattilda  didn’t complain much but the cramped quarters and lack of household amenities were taking its toll and her enigmatic smile had been replaced with a perpetual frown. Of course he did write to James Douglas in Fort Victoria, and his replies were not definitive.

There was a growing occupation of tents and lean-to shacks much like his own about a quarter-mile down river from Fort Langley.  Bevis had an idea that liquor and supplies were being sold, contravening all fees that were posted.

Most of the supplies were coming in from the Semiahmoo Trail up from Washington State.  While the Satellite and the Recovery patrolled the Fraser River, watching for contraband liquor and supplies, it was up to Bevis to watch the people coming up from the Semiahmoo Trail.

In addition to tracking people down and kindly asking if they would pay the custom tariffs, Bevis was also given the addition of Postmaster.

“Perhaps this would be a good way to intercept some of the smugglers,” Mattilda said.

Bevis raised one eyebrow. “Do you honestly think someone would be so daft to write to say that they were coming with a large shipment?”

“Why not?  It’s not like you can do much to stop them!”

Bevis gritted his teeth, “I suppose not. But I certainly am not going to waste time nosing about people’s letters either!”

“I will then.”

“You? Do you plan on reading through the mail?”

She sat up straighter and shook her head, “not every single letter of course, but just the ones I think are suspicious.”

Bevis considered it for a minute before he realized that his wife was smiling.  He agreed; he got paid out of the revenue collected and he received a commission based on the value of the goods seized and the licences issued.

As weeks past, nothing seemed to improve.  “The present state of Langley is getting worse. There are muggings, constant firing of guns and pistols, gambling and theft of boats,” Bevis wrote to Douglas.

There was a campsite about fifteen miles south of Fort Langley where most of the smugglers took their break.  When Bevis spotted them on horseback, they claimed that they were with the Boundary Commission and that they had every right to be on the Semiahmoo Trail.

“What are those boxes?” he asked, pointing to the wooden crates strapped to either side of the mule.

“Those are molasses,” said the man.



“Where are your custom papers?”

To Bevis’ surprise, the man pulled out a piece of paper from his jacket while at the same time showing the grip of a large gun he was carrying.

Sure enough, the much handled paper contained the signature of A. C. Anderson, the chief customs officer in Victoria.

Disappointed, Bevis let him pass.  He doubted the boxes contained molasses but being outnumbered and outgunned, he had no choice.

While he was manning the Semiahmoo Trail, Mattilda kept a watch outside their little hut and observed the new arrivals and the ones that had set up shop.

“I saw that box of so-called molasses,” she said one day after Bevis arrived back from a five-hour canoe trip.

He was in no mood to pursue the matter, but she insisted he do something and he had to agree.  After a meager meal of hard bread and watery tea, Bevis ventured out to the tent she indicated and discovered the box of molasses already pried open. He reached in and lifted a bottle of liquor.

“You’re wanting to make a deal, Mr. Bevis?”

Bevis turned around and found himself facing down the barrel of a gun. He looked at Baxter, the well-known liquor seller, who was smirking.

“I don’t make deals. I collect payments. If you don’t wish to pay, then I will have to confiscate your box of liquor.”

After several more minutes of talking, Bevis left empty-handed and with a headache.  He could have used some liquor to calm his own nerves.

The following day brought good news:  assistant Revenue Officer Charles Wylde arrived.

At first Bevis was enthralled by this well-connected man. He seemed genuinely concerned about the present state and was full of ideas as how to bring order to the situation.

Bevis showed Wylde his letters to Douglas regarding the need for patrols on the Semiahmoo Trail.

“I report directly to the Colonial Secretary,” Wylde told him. “I can make a difference.”

Following the meeting, Bevis noticed that Mattilda was frowning once again.  She said that she was concerned about him.  “He seems too full of ambition.  How much is he going to earn from the revenue? What will be your commission?”

Bevis didn’t have the answer to her questions and he didn’t think anything of them at first. He was just glad to have someone else to share the responsibilities of collecting revenue.

A few days after his arrival and Bevis began to hear rumours of Wylde already penning long rambling letters to Douglas’ office claiming he single-handedly stopped canoes full of liquor, sometimes wading out into water under the threat of gunfire.

Bevis occasionally asked Wylde how things were doing and Wylde insisted everything was fine. It wasn’t until one of the other Fort employees complained that Bevis realized he had a problem on his hands.

As was his habit, he brought the mail back to his outpost and let Mattilda go through it.  Surprisingly enough, there was a large amount of mail this time so it was taking longer to go through it all. She was sitting at their table  with the mail piled on top, when there was a knock on the door.

“Well, what was I supposed to do?” She told Bevis later.

“Wylde demanded to know what I was doing with the mail. I told him I was helping you with your postmaster duties.  He told me that I was breaking the law and I told him that on the contrary, I was being helpful and at least I wasn’t concocting stories!”

Bevis bent down and started retrieving some notes, most of which were tied with string or twine.  Some of them had been sealed.

“What do you suppose this is?”

Bevis looked at the paper and something trilled in his brain.  “It does look unusual. Why on earth –”

His own thoughts jumbled over each other in excitement.  “These are original customs papers being brought down from Fort Yale ready to be used again.  Clever!  Now I know why we can’t collect any revenue! ”

Bevis looked at the destination.  It read simply Baxter at Fort Langley.


The American Boundary Commission, headed by Archibald Campbell as chief Commissioner, set up a camp on the Canadian side of Semiahmoo Bay in 1857.  This camp was there from 1857 to 1859.  The British conducted their own boundary survey.  To learn more about Camp Semiahmoo and the American Boundary Commission, see http://www.surreyhistory.ca/campsemi.html

Justice Arrives in Lillooet (part 1)

Chartres Brew – Chief Inspector of Police

January 27, 1860 – Fort Yale, BC

The Chief Inspector of Police, Chartres Brew, had just finished writing a letter to Governor Douglas about the need for at least one hundred and fifty men for British Columbia’s new police force, when there was a knock on the door. The first murder of the year had already happened.

Brew opened the door and Constable Frances Barnard removed his hat as he stepped inside.

“There’s been a murder at Lillooet, sir,” Barnard said.

Brew listened to the story of events while Barnard kept standing. There was only one chair in the cabin and Brew was sitting on it.

Marcel LaPrairie’s body was discovered by Ah Ming, a Chinese gold miner, a few miles up the Fraser River from the town of Cayoosh.

“Who was Marcel LaPrairie?”

“A voyageur. He used to be at Fort Athabasca but he left about six months ago. The Hudson Bay Company had a record of him I’m sure.”

Brew stroked his chin. “That may not be necessary. What is your background, Barnard?”

Frances J Barnard

“I recently came from Quebec.”

“But you’re an anglophone, aren’t you? Your middle name is Jones.”

“By birth, I am. But I also have learned French and Chinook.”

“Did you come to Fort Yale to become a constable or a gold miner?” Brew smiled.

Barnard looked at Brew squarely in the eyes. His own were puffy from a cold and lack of sleep.

“I came to Fort Yale with every intention of earning money for my family who I brought with me. I only had $5 after travelling here, not enough to pay for a mining licence right away.”

“Did you pay?”

“Of course, I paid. I paid all my creditors and as I promised my family, I would leave Fort Yale once I made a profit. Perhaps you want to know why I wanted to join your Constabulary? Well, I can tell you that I want to live in a peaceful community like everyone else and contribute in any way I can, including finding out who killed this voyageur.”

There was a silence between them for a minute and then Brew spoke.

“It has been my bias that most men who have the express interest of seeking gold are not likely to stay for long. However, on the other hand, your experience in these matters is essential in solving crimes such as these and for that we are grateful.”

“I am assigning Constable Cecil Owens to this case. He is formerly of the Royal Irish Constabulary and he has a lot of experience in these matters.”

Barnard put his hat on and made for the door. “I’ll see him at Lillooet, then.”

Brew stood up. “Perhaps it would be best for him to ride with you. He’s only been here for less than three weeks. It wouldn’t be fair to him to ride in this country on his own. There is an extra room I can find for you while he can get a horse ready.”

The ‘extra room’ it turned out was a bunk that was used by the gaoler.

Cecil Owens, it turned out, was a matter of fact man whose first question was to ask Barnard if he was armed.

“I have a knife, but I’ve never owned a gun, nor have I fired one.”

Owens brought out two pistols and gave one to Barnard. “I’ll show you how to fire it and then we’ll be on our way.”

It took them two days to ride from Fort Yale to Lillooet and Owens asked Barnard many questions along the way, most of which he didn’t mind answering except about his mining claim.

The first night in the bush, Owens seemed quite agitated as he went over the guns once again with Barnard. At first Barnard just assumed he must be cold, but then he realized Owens couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes for fear of the unknown.

“You don’t need to worry about using guns. I made it down by myself alright without any. The bears are in hibernation and everybody knows by now that you’re coming up to investigate Marcel’s murder.”

Owens was quiet for a bit, then just as Barnard was about ready to fall asleep, Owens asked, “did you know him?”

“Everyone knew Marcel from miles around.”

One evening as they were sitting around a campfire, eating some beans from a pot, the topic of mining claims came up.

“I’ve heard of some people salting their claims,” Owens remarked.

“You can always tell those ones.”

“How so?”

Barnard finished chewing before he replied. “There was a story once about a fellow they called ‘Popcorn Bill,’ and he said he had a claim along the Similkameen and how he lost his gold cache there. At first no one believed him, but he was really sincere about it and after a few mugs at the saloon, most were ready to believe anything. By the end of the evening, he had lots of offers to buy the claim. No one could ever find it of course.”

The next day, they arrived in Lillooet and Barnard showed the scene of the crime.

Lillooet, BC

(to be continued)

Building the BC Gold Rush Trail

Stuart Jones dreamt about hoisting sacks full of gold dust onto horseback even while he was cleaning out the stalls in Betwsycoed, a village in northern Wales. He imagined panning for gold on the Fraser River in British Columbia, finding lightn1ngs as large as his fist.

Occasionally, the horses would nudge his hand or his mother would call his name and for a brief moment he was stirred out of his reverie. At first she wouldn’t hear of him leaving the farm, but after hearing him talk about this new land for hours on end, she relented and Jones departed with seven other young men from his village, every one of them eager to join the gold rush in the Fraser River.

The seven stuck together because of camaraderie but also none of them spoke English except for a few words and most had never heard it spoken in conversation by people with as many accents such as when they boarded the ship at Southampton, England.

The ship was crammed full of people who talked about all the gold that had been found. Some read aloud from a newspaper that reported someone had made $830 from eight days worth of gold dust. Jones talked to everybody he encountered, practicing his English at every opportunity.

When they arrived in Fort Victoria, after months at sea. There was news that the Hudson Bay Company, which controlled the right of way on many of the trails, was offering food and horses to those who were willing to help build a trail that was promised to be a faster route to the gold diggings.

Jones and a few other Welshmen gathered around and talked about it. The Fraser River was impassable at this time of the year and they would have to wait anyway before embarking up the Fraser in canoes. Once they left Fort Victoria they would be charged a mining licence was five dollars a month. On the other hand, if they signed up to carve out a trail in the wilderness, they could pay twenty-five dollars, get the equivalent amount in supplies, plus free transport to the gold diggings. Jones and three of his friends from Betwsycoed volunteered to go.

S. S. Umatilla at Esquimalt (BC Archives)

From Victoria, they travelled by a steamboat called the Umatilla across the Strait to the mainland. The ship that they had sailed on for months was luxurious compared to the Umatilla. The boat didn’t contain any cabins or mattresses and even blankets were lacking. Some people slept on top of a table in the saloon; everything was covered in coal dust that had drifted in from the deck or off clothes and boots, although most of the prospectors didn’t seem to mind. Jones stepped around others and found a spot on the floor that wasn’t occupied.

The next day, Jones stood out on the deck and was admiring the snow-covered peaks overlooking the Fraser valley when the wind changed as the steamer puffed out plumes of black smoke from its coal-fired engine. Without warning, sparks from the smokestack fell down and one of them burnt a small hole in Jones hat.
Jones saw a map pinned to the wall and on it someone had written “Lofty Mountains” in several places.

When they disembarked the Umatilla at the mouth of Harrison Lake, there were canoes at the ready. Jones had never been in a canoe but these were as wide as some of the rowboats he had been in and many times as long. In a short time, they were paddled out in canoes to Port Douglas at the northern end of Harrison Lake. They were hemmed in by lofty peaks, each of their tops covered by thick snow. In the valley it was hot and there wasn’t a breeze to cool down.

Jones was surprised at the number of people who were there already from every kind of nationality he could think of – there were French, Germans, Danes, Chinese, Africans and Mexicans, Americans and British folks, all standing around waiting in the warm August sun.

A representative from the government gave a speech about the expectations. He identified himself as the commissary.

“You’ll be working in groups of twenty-five. Each group will select a captain who will then report to the Commander,” he said, turning to a man standing beside him who gave a curt nod.

“He in turn will report to me about weekly food rations and I will see that those needs are met.”

There were some murmurs of discontent and Jones looked around at the doubtful faces on some of them. Apparently, the word ‘rations’ was not appealing.
“What about the pack horses and mules?” One of the gold seekers yelled out from the crowd.

“We have about ten pack horses here, and more will be arriving shortly. In the meantime, if you want to be at the upper gold diggings by the fall, then I urge you to commence immediately. It should only take you six weeks at the most.”

In the beginning there was some squabbling about who would be included in the group, but the Commander was a former military man and no nonsense type who had the final say and everybody ceased to argue for a while after that. Jones was separated from his other Welsh friends at this point and for a while he was disheartened.

On the first day, Jones was assigned to a team and their Captain was Hughes. Hughes was given one unnamed packhorse which Jones called Lofty. Some teams were assigned the task of clearing the brush while others were given the duty of hauling aside the trees.

“It has to be wide enough for a cart!” one of the Captains shouted.

For many of the men, including Jones, it had been their first time in months doing hard labour and they were tired before supper. The air was close and thick with the heat and none of them bothered with blankets as they slept on the open ground.

The next morning Jones legs were stiff and sore. Others felt the same as him and some wondered if they had fallen ill, but as it turned out it was just their ‘sea legs’ that were giving them trouble.

Lofty wasn’t getting enough grub to eat despite all the hard work he was doing and Jones felt obliged to tell the Captain. Jones could see that Lofty was a riding horse not a pack horse.

One of the men in the group was a Chinese fellow named Ah Ming who agreed with him.

“Far easier to carry supplies like this,” he said as he hoisted a pole to his shoulders with buckets of supplies on either end. Ming knew many words in Chinook and Jones occasionally asked him the meaning of this word or that.

Over the course of the next few days, the teams switched places and Jones’ group was at the front, sweating with parched throats. It didn’t matter what language they were used to speaking because they only managed grunts anyway and more often than not, for some of them they could make a point with their fist much more quickly and emphatically. Captain Hughes disciplined members of the group on occasion and some of them simply headed back.

By the end of the first week, their group was down to twenty men and Lofty. The team in advance had ‘discovered’ a small hot springs and Jones felt refreshed and clean. He found a cool stream nearby and washed down Lofty while the others rested. The horse nuzzled his ear gently.

The terrain became soft and by day’s end they were covered in spatters of mud and all their attention was focussed on slapping mosquitoes.

“We’re almost at the Tenas Lake!” Hughes announced.

It was a relief to hear the news that they were making progress up the trail. Day after day, Jones had kept his eyes on the task at hand – clearing brush that the others were chopping down.

Everyone gathered at the edge of the lake. “We’re going to get canoes around and take the supplies first,” said Captain Hughes. “I want to talk to you, Jones.”

Jones waited at the shore with the horse and after Hughes had everyone organized and lined up for their turn in the canoe, he took Jones aside.

“We’re running short on food so I want you to go back to Port Douglas and get some more. How long do you think it would take?”

“Not more than a couple of days at the most,” Jones said.

Hughes patted him on the back and Jones left with nothing more than the handful of grub he had on him. At first he thought he could ride quickly, but the trail had been roughly cleared; there were still lots of branches and tree roots strewn about that made the trip half hazard.

A few hours later, it started to rain and although the trees formed a canopy overhead, water was making its way onto the newly cut trail. Evening was fast approaching and dusk was settling in when Jones saw a dark, furtive shape.

Startled, Lofty drew back and Jones had to coax him forward. In spite of his uneasiness, Jones kept up a relentless banter in Welsh, more to calm himself. Jones couldn’t help but feel that he was being watched. Straining his neck to look around, he didn’t see any movement except the bending of leaves as the rain spattered. Still, the feeling that there was something or someone following him in the shadows didn’t go away and he was beginning to wonder if he was just seeing things.

It was getting late, so Jones found a dry spot and tied up the horse and settled down for the night. Jones heard the sound of twigs snapping and when he opened his eyes he found himself looking at a large creature approaching. It was covered in fur and it stood on its legs like a human. Except it wasn’t a human. The creature stood still for a moment then turned and disappeared.

The image of the animal was still vivid in his mind when he reached Port Douglas and discovered much to his surprise that there were many men who had just arrived off the boat. He told them about about the strange creature that he had seen earlier up the trail and they told him it was probably a black bear. Jones wasn’t convinced.

“The team is running out of supplies,” Jones said. He told them Captain Hughes had sent him down to get supplies and food.

“You’re going to need at least three hundred pounds, where are you going to get that around here?”

Jones walked around the camp until he found the Commander, sitting at a row of hewn logs that doubled as a table, having something to drink. After Jones explained the situation, the Commander furrowed his brows as if he had trouble understanding him.

“There is a strict protocol that must be adhered to, I can’t just hand out supplies on any person’s request, it must come from the Captain himself.”

“But sir, the men are working on the trail and are going hungry! They’re working on the trail to Cayoosh!”

“No exceptions!”

Jones got up and was walking away when a dour-faced man approached him. He worked for the Hudson Bay Company, he said.

“I overheard you saw a creature earlier, would you mind telling me about it?”

Jones was about to launch into his story, when he stopped himself. “Do you think you could help me get some supplies for the team up there? They’re going hungry.”

“You’ll get your money’s worth of supplies once the trail has been built, isn’t that what they told you?”

Jones nodded, “but what about the food and the mules they promised?”

“Hah! Always slow in coming, but it will come. I can remember many stories of wanting for food, myself and going to sleep wondering if the Chief hadn’t forgotten about his charges. But there’s always ways of getting the word out. Now, tell me about this creature?”

Jones relented and described in detail what he saw and was surprised at his reaction.

“You saw a sasquatch!” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Very few people have ever seen one. They are such mysterious creatures, there are some who even question their very existence! I was with Alexander Caulfield Anderson when he saw one not far from Fort Hope. Truly remarkable.”


Sasquatch – near Seton-Portage on old Port Douglas to Lillooet Trail

Early the next morning before dawn broke, the HBC man woke him. The man put a finger to his lips and Jones put his boots on and strode out after him.

“I’ve got your horse loaded down with goods and a pack for yourself.”

Jones hoisted the pack to his back, it must’ve weighed at least a hundred pounds, but the weight was a comfort.

“Thank you sir!”

They shook hands once more and Jones headed out on the trail with Lofty.  In the pre-dawn light, he imagined the sacks were full of gold dust.


“Arrival at Yale by S.S. Umatilla July 21, 1858”  by E.J. Hughes

Note: This painting by E.J. Hughes (1913 – 2007) was commissioned by the B.C. Telephone Company to commemorate the Province’s centennial in 1958 and it appeared on the telephone directories that year. The S.S. Umatilla was one of the first sternwheelers to ply the waters of what became British Columbia and the first on the Fraser River. When she arrived in Yale on July 21st there was much excitement:

“There was a rumour gaining circulation that a little sternwheeler was on her way up the river. Everybody was soon on the lookout and canoes were sent beyond the bend in the river to ascertain the truth of the report. Soon we learned by the shoutings along the banks of the river and the continuous discharge of guns and pistols, that the report was true; whereupon, there was the greatest rejoicing and pleasure manifested by everyone, and powder was burnt amidst the wildest excitement.”

Surviving Pine River

Pine River

May 15,1860

“Goodbye,” Chloe whispered to her husband, Edward. His eyes were barely open and there was a sickly pallor about him. She could smell the illness that had spread from his wounded hand. Chloe knew she had to get help soon, or Edward wouldn’t live.

She was weak with hunger. It had been so long since they had enjoyed a meal; she had tried to get food but it had been a difficult winter. First there were the storms. It had been a brutally cold winter and Edward’s musket had become irreparably damaged. At the time he had been still optimistic that they had enough provisions to see them through until Spring, but then a tree fell on their canoe, breaking it in half. Edward set about trying to repair it but to no avail. She wanted to help him build a raft, but he insisted that he do it alone. “It’s important to rest,” he told her. Weak and tired, Edward was chopping a branch from a tree to use for the raft, when the axe slipped and nearly severed his hand. Chloe did her best to help him, but his suffering continued.

Chloe took the baby in her arms and held her small, frail body against her own.

Seven and a half weeks ago, her baby had been born, fat and healthy in their cabin. Edward had celebrated the event by writing a note in his diary. “March 31, 1872. “Born this day a girl with vocal cords in fine working order.” Every day, as Chloe counted and portioned out the dwindling supplies.

When they were still building the cabin, Edward would get out his diary and read aloud  what had happened a year ago on a certain date. It was almost a year since they first met in her traditional territory. The sight of white men passing through was becoming a familiar one so she wasn’t surprised when she first caught sight of Edward in a canoe. She remembered how he smiled at her and waved with his paddle. At that moment, his canoe had become stuck on the shallow bottom and he wobbled the canoe from side to side. Her brother Jean offered him a long pole with which to propel his canoe forward and the Englishman was effusive in his gratitude. He came ashore and they struck up a conversation.

His name was Edward Armson and he was from England, bound for the “gold diggings” in British Columbia.

“My wife died last year,” he lamented. “All my family is deceased except my sister.”

Chloe felt sorry for him. Jean asked him how he planned to make a living. “You can only pan for gold when the water is low. At certain times of the year, you have to do other things like trapping. Do you trap?”

“I’m good at hunting, but I’ve never trapped before. I’ve heard the gold diggings are quite prosperous, aren’t they?”

Edward stayed around for several days and after which it became clear that Chloe wanted to be with him.

“Why don’t you come too, Jean? We can see the country together.”

Jean agreed and the three of them set out in a canoe, with Edward in the front, Chloe in the middle and Jean at the back to steer.

Over time, it became apparent that Edward wasn’t an outdoor person like Jean or Chloe. He was a good student though and he was eager to learn.

By the time they reached the Peace River in the early spring, Jean decided that he wanted to explore the country on his own. Edward and his sister would be fine, he thought.

“Meet me here next Spring when the last of the snow has melted,” he had said. Edward wanted to set a specific date, but Chloe knew what her brother meant.

The river was free of ice and the snow had finally melted. This day had finally come.
As she held the baby her trembling arms, she saw the last of the snow had finally gone. The snow that had hidden food from their sight and kept them cold had melted to reveal wet, muddy earth. She imagined her brother was out there somewhere.

She stood still for a moment then walked forward, one step at a time. She had to keep going, she told herself. She couldn’t look back at the cabin. The sun was a faint shadow through the leafless limbs of the trees, but it was a cloudless sky and it lifted her spirits.

The raft was still there, tied to a tree. For a few moments, she rested and checked the baby’s blankets, making sure no cold air could possibly chill her. The baby’s eyes were closed. She had become silent and gaunt like the rest of them. Chloe kissed her tiny fingers, hoping her warm breath would feed her. Then she climbed onto the raft, holding the baby closely.

Chloe stood up and pushed the raft forward with a long pole. It took all her strength.  The raft was swaying beneath her feet. Watching her baby closely, she pushed the raft forward again. A tremor suddenly went through her body as she lost her balance, falling backward into the water.

Her clothing was so heavy it weighed her down. Using all her strength she tried to pull herself from under the water. Finally breaking through to the surface, only to see the raft caught in a current and quickly disappear down the river and around a bend. The last sight of her helpless child made her try to swim faster, but the raft had vanished from sight.
Jean was thinking about his sister Chloe and brother—in-law Edward as he paddled up the Peace River in his dugout canoe. The last of the snow had melted, it would only be a matter of time before he saw them both. He wondered if their trapline was productive. It had been a cold winter and the pelts would have been thick. Every so often he would glance down the river, half expecting their canoe to come in sight but there was only a group of buffleheads in the distance.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something unusual. Standing up, he could see a raft that was being pushed along haphazardly by the current. There was something on it too. Strange, he thought.

Jean got into his canoe and a minute later he had paddled to the raft and had pulled himself alongside where he was at eye level with a small bundle. Curious, Jean stretched over the raft with one foot in his canoe and reached for the tightly wrapped blankets and lifted it towards himself. He held his breath as lifted a cloth that covered the face of a baby.

Forgetting about the raft, Jean paddled with determined strokes towards his camp and carried the baby to where the campfire was still burning. He poured water into a pot and while it boiled, he quickly prepared a mallard duck he had just shot that morning and plopped it in the water watching the fat and grease bubble. When it was cool enough, he took a spoonful of liquid and let it sit on the baby’s lips. To his amazement, the baby’s lips moved and the duck broth disappeared. He gave her spoonful after spoonful and she swallowed each one.

The baby was still too weak to cry. What could he do? Gathering the baby close to him, he got in the canoe and paddled to where he had remembered seeing an Indian encampment.

They were still there and he called out a greeting in Chinook as he approached. Suspicious at first, they relented when he showed him the small baby. At first they thought it was sick but after delicately unwrapping the child, they talked amongst themselves and decided the baby was just hungry.  One of the women in the group gathered the small dark-haired baby in her arms and started nursing the infant.

The Indian women were full of questions, but Jean could only give them limited information about discovering the baby hours earlier on a raft. He thanked them and left.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Jean waited around for Edward and Chloe but there was no sign of them. Worried, he decided to venture down the Pine River and see if he could find them.  Where the Pine River merged into the Peace, there stood a fur-trading post put there in the last century, or so he had been told.

The birch trees were just starting to show some signs of new foliage he noticed as he paddled downriver. He kept a close eye on the shoreline, looking for a gravel beach or some sort of landing. He didn’t think that they were too far from the mouth, but he kept paddling onward.

Up ahead was a cluster of branches that must have been carried along with the current. As he approached, he saw a piece of red cloth snagged on a branch.

Jean brought his canoe closer and took the cloth. Just as he was about to get back into his canoe, he noticed some sticks near the shore that had become piled up and saw a piece of black leather. It was beyond his reach.

Bringing his canoe ashore, out of the corner of his eye he noticed faint deer tracks still visible in the soft sand. Glancing back on the spot he had noticed before, Jean found the piece of black leather. Reaching his hand into the ice cold water, Jean lifted a leather boot.

It belonged to his sister.
After he buried his sister, Jean sat on the beach and thought about her sad fate. What had happened? He should have come around in the winter, even if it meant making his way along the ice. She was all the family he had left and now she was gone. Where was Edward? How could he have let this happen?

He lit a fire and ate some of the food he’d brought with him. Then he slept under his canoe.
Around midnight, he heard some wolves howling on the opposite side of the river, their voices echoing off the high rocks.

The next morning, he awoke before dawn and got back into his canoe. He knew what he was looking for and he paddled steadily until the shore flattened out again.

There was a stand of birch trees along the shore and luckily their foliage was still small enough that it was easy to see beyond them. As he scanned the area, his eyes caught a large dark shape.

A huge pine had blown down, crushing the roof of the log cabin and obliterated the door.
Jean removed enough branches so that he could gain access to the interior. The door came away in his hands and he stepped inside.

Against the back wall was a make shift bed on which lay Edward. What had happened to Edward? Part of his hand was missing. A baby’s rattle was on the floor next to a square package wrapped in birch bark. He picked them up. There wasn’t anything else to retrieve. He blocked the front door as he had found it and left.
Jean went down to the river and washed himself. He untied the string from the birch bark and saw a leather-bound book. It was Edward’s diary. The script was so cursive it was hard to read at first, but the entries were short and to the point.

He read about their daily struggles, trying to find enough food. For several weeks, Edward had constrained himself to one meal a day in order that Chloe would eat enough. They named the baby Lily. She was a healthy child, he wrote. He noticed how the writing style changed from thick strokes to barely discernible lines. In the last page, Edward wrote:

“I am dying, effects of accident. Write Barstow and Blake, Solicitors, London, England. Wife and baby weak from starvation. Will try to meet Jean.”

Jean felt a lump in his throat as he paddled up river. Five days later, Jean found the Indian encampment and inquired about Lily. She was putting on weight, they said. He handed one of the elders the diary of her late father. They promised to give it to Lily when she was old enough.

He was going to return next year, he told them. Jean was going to paddle east to Saskatchewan. From there, he would find one of the Hudson Bay forts and give them a message to forward to Barstow and Blake, Solicitors in England.

Hill’s Bar Mob (part 2)

It was the beginning of December and the miners were getting restless. The temperatures were dipping below freezing and the sluice boxes were full of ice.

Bernard Rice entered Foster’s saloon and demanded a drink. Foster asked for money up front. Rice had too many unpaid drinks and wasn’t welcome.

Rice pulled out a gun and waved it around. Foster pulled out a gun from behind the counter and shot Rice dead.

Nobody was really concerned at first. Anywhere else, Foster could have claimed self-defence, but not here.

The next day, Whannell was back in Dixon’s barber chair gloating over his new decision.

“I’m closing all the saloons that haven’t been properly registered.”

Dixon paused with his scissors hovering above Whannell’s head. “You closed all of them?!”

“I have to show who is in charge in this town, Dixon. The Foster saloon was unlicensed as are the other twelve. Hicks has spent too long at the helm, profiting from all these illegal saloons. This is an opportunity which fell into my lap and I intend to take advantage of it.”

Dixon started cutting Whannell’s hair. He’d already heard about Foster’s escape to Hill’s Bar but he asked Whannell about it anyway.

“Foster wasn’t there when I went to make my arrest but to guarantee that he doesn’t stray too far I arrested his assistant.”

Dixon furrowed his brow, “what does Foster need him for? He probably left the bar with his money to Hill’s Bar. He’s a Law and Order man.”

Whannell clenched his hands into fists, “McGowan again! I’m going to see to it that both he and Foster are arrested!”

There was no use in telling Whannell that by closing all the saloons, there would be more trouble in a town where people were agitated and restless.

Even when Dixon went out to get some food for himself at the diner, he saw the glum faced people shuffling along, looking miserable.

The saloons were still closed on December 24, 1858 when the Christmas dance was held. Dixon went there wearing his best suit and a clean pair of boots.  He arrived with some Nlaka’pamuth women he had met.

Dixon was having a good time, dancing with the ladies when he heard shouts in his direction. It seemed two ruffians were getting jealous and were determined that Dixon was not going to be a happy man.

Dixon told them to go elsewhere, “you’re in British Columbia and I’ve plead allegiance to Queen Victoria.”

The two men took that as a taunt and a scuffle ensued with Dixon being tossed outside and onto the frozen mud of the street. Dixon’s head hurt but he got to his feet and yelled at the closed door. He was angry and upset. How could those two jerks bully him like that?

The next morning he dropped by Whannell’s hut and found him standing by the fire.

Dixon took off his hat and pointed at his wrapped head.

“Sir, I want to file a complaint against two of McGowan’s ruffians.”

Whannell stepped forward, a look of concern on his face. “Who are they? I’ll have them arrested at once, especially if they’re friends of McGowan’s.”

“Farrell and Burns are their names. You’ll find them at Hill’s Bar.”

“Leave it with me Dixon. In the meantime, do you need the services of Dr. Fife?”

“No thank you, sir. I’ve got years of practice helping injured soldiers and the like.”

After Dixon left, Whannell sent for Constable Hickson.

“Hickson, go to Hill’s Bar and give this warrant to George Perrier. I’m ordering the arrest of Burns and Farrell for the assault of Isaac Dixon.”

Two hours later, Hickson presented the warrant to George Perrier who went in search of Ned McGowan.

“McGowan, what should I do?”

McGowan was sitting at the saloon playing cards. “I’ll go talk to Whannell.”

An hour later, McGowan knocked on Whannell’s door and entered. The furnishings were minimal he noted. There was only one small table and upon this McGowan dropped a small bag of gold dust.

“I’ve come to talk to you about Burns and Farrell,” McGowan began.

“And who are you to be barging in here? You’re not a constable!”

McGowan stood at his full height. “A reasonable man would be interested in bargaining. What’s to be gained by arresting these two men?”

“Take your gold dust and leave,” Whannell said through clenched teeth. “I won’t be bribed.”

McGowan returned to Hill’s Bar where Perrier and a few others were waiting for him on the other side of the river.

“Well? How did it go?” Perrier asked as he helped steady the canoe while McGowan disembarked.

McGowan shook his head, “stubborn and foolish. He has underestimated his opponent. Tell Constable Hickson to bring Dixon here if he wants to testify. We’ll hold the trial here at Hill’s Bar.”

Perrier nodded, “I’ll write up a summons right away.”

Hickson returned to Yale the next day – the last of the daylight was already ebbing away and he didn’t see the rush.

At nine o’clock the next day, Hickson rode in a canoe to Yale with the summons for Dixon.

He was halfway to the barber shop when he ran into Dixon on the main street and served him the paper.  Dixon read the paper over a couple of times, hardly believing it. He hurried over to Whannell’s hut and banged on the door.

“Hello! You only have to knock once,” said Whannell from behind the door. He opened it a crack.

“Dixon? What now?”

Dixon held up the paper, “they want me to come to a trial in Hill’s Bar!”

“Come inside and we’ll talk.”

It was warmer inside but not by much and Dixon kept his coat on, with the collar almost covering his ears.

Whannell read the paper. “This is absolutely absurd! I cannot believe that Perrier would do such a thing! Where is that Constable Hickson? He failed to follow my orders!”

Whannell gathered up his sword and put on his hat. Half an hour later, Constable Hickson was spotted talking to Yates, the HBC clerk.

“Hickson! You are to come to my court at once!”

Hickson followed Whannell at a distance and arrived at the “court” – a sparse room with only a bench for Whannell to sit at and no heat.

Cold air seemed to blow in from every corner of the room and Hickson stood there hunched as he waited for Whannell to enter.

“You must remove your hat when I enter the court, Constable!” Whannell almost shouted.

Hickson did as he was told and exposed his pink ears.

“You’re under arrest Mr. Hickson because you failed to carry out your orders as directed by an officer of this Crown colony.”

“But sir, Justice Perrier instructed me to summon Dixon! Those were his orders.”

“Am I not your superior?!”

Hickson gave this some thought and then he answered. “No.”

Whannell nearly blew up. His shouts brought the attention of the jailer who came running into the court.

“Put Hickson into the jail at once!”

Hickson protested loudly as the jailer pulled him from the room.

Whannell stood and drew out his sword, slashing the air in front of him. How could people be so turned against him? It was a plot to overthrow British rule! He was sure of it. But what proof did he have? If he penned a letter to Governor James Douglas, he would just reply back that he could handle the situation himself.

What the Governor didn’t understand was that Yale was no longer a small HBC Fort – it had become a quagmire of American politics that overwhelmed the Crown colony. Its situation was a tenuous as its physical location was precarious; clinging to the side of the deep Fraser Canyon.

McGowan and nine others from Hill’s Bar disembarked from two canoes and strode along the main street. Several people along the way observed the men, each of them carrying guns and knives in plain sight. No one challenged them or asked them where they were headed.

Whannell was standing in his hut with his back to the stove, talking to a few miners who had a few complaints when the door opened with a bang and McGowan and his entourage entered.

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Whannell. I, Ned McGowan and the nine others with me, have been given the title of special constables and are here to carry out the orders of Justice Perrier.”

Whannell stared at them open-mouthed. “On what grounds do you arrest me?”

“You’ve insulted her majesty and you’ve unlawfully detained Constable Hickson, who we are now going to release.”

Whannell, knowing he was outnumbered, had no choice but to step aside while McGowan and his men stormed the jail, ordering the jailer to open the door. Alarmed at the sight of these men with their guns all aimed in his direction, the jailer complied and unlocked door behind which was a crowd of men including Constable Hickson.

“All of these men are freed!” McGowan shouted.

Whannell tried to leave the room but McGowan’s men prevented him from doing so, instead they roped his wrists together and led him outside and down the street with one of them pointing his own sword at his back.

There were shouts of encouragement from some of the passersby but there were mostly insults hurled at Whannell by miners still missing their saloons. By the time they arrived at the place where the canoes lay waiting, the captors were full of self praise.

Breathless from running, Dr. Fife shouted, “McGowan! If Mr. Whannell is to get a fair trial then I have to attend as a witness.”

McGowan relented and let the Vigilante member climb on board and take a seat beside Whannell who sat with his military hat askew. The others snickered at his appearance.
Using this opportunity to lecture to his prisoner, McGowan said words which caused Whannell’s heart to race.

Thinking that Whannell was worried about the outcome of the trial, Fife reassured Whannell that he would pay for any fine. “McGowan likes money more than anything; something that’ll buy a pint all around.”

Whannell said nothing. He was too angry to speak. He sat there grinding his jaw. That afternoon was a blur. He proceeded like a prisoner in front of Perrier who read out the charges with occasional hints from McGowan himself.

“Perrier!” Whannell shouted. “This is a complete fraud!”

“Mr. Whannell, you are in my court.” Perrier didn’t look at Whannell as he read out the charges.

Whannell’s complexion turned a deep crimson and then pale with anger as McGowan gave a ten minute lecture on Whannell’s failings. He was almost shaking with rage as Perrier read out the fine of fifty dollars.

Fife paid the fine as promised and luckily had enough money to pay some paddlers to get them both safely back to Yale.  Fife said a few words about the closure of the saloons, but Whannell scarcely heard them.

Just as soon as Whannell reached his hut, he rushed to find paper and ink and set about writing letters to the forts downriver.

In each of the letters he transcribed word for word which he remembered McGowan utter during that canoe ride to Hill’s Bar:

“all there is in this so-called Colony of yours are forts. We’ll take Fort Yale and then go downriver and capture Fort Hope and retreat with our plunder into Washington Territory.”

With those words written, Whannell appealed for military intervention. “Fort Yale is under American control, the entire Colony is in peril!” he wrote.

There wasn’t enough time or space to talk about his ordeal but he did write that “George Perrier was colluding with Ned McGowan and the Hill’s Bar mob.”

Finishing his signature with a flourish, Whannell tied string around the paper in the fading candlelight and opened the door into the cold night to find someone to deliver the messages.

In less than ten days, troops from the Royal Engineers would arrive in Yale along with Colonal Moody and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie.  McGowan’s war had begun.

Cataline’s Camels on the Cariboo Road

Jean Caux "Cataline"

Long before the Cariboo Road was used by wagons, it was a narrow trail. To get supplies from Yale to Barkerville was a daunting task that would take a month’s journey to complete with pack animals such as mules and horses.  In 1862, someone had the idea that camels would make the job easier. This fictional story features real Cariboo packers Jean Caux, known as Cataline and his long time assistant, Ah Gun.

Ah Gun had never seen an animal like it and there were two of them. Two double humped camels standing in the way, staring down his mules.

Now that they weren’t moving he could feel the hot sun. He could sense the mules discomfort too – the constant flicking of their tales as the flies buzzed around.

Gun took off his hat and wiped his brow.  Couldn’t they follow orders? They were supposed to be behind him and his horse.

It was almost noon and they were a quarter way up a steep hill high above the Fraser Canyon.

mule packing barrels

Gun had let the mules and camels stop for a rest just twenty minutes ago, but now the path was too vertical to pause for breath. It was one of those steep grades that required you to lean forward and each step was a small victory over the previous one. The horse knew well enough never to look down and the mules always walked cautiously focussed at the ground in front of them.

There were six mules behind Ah Gun and his horse, each one of the mules were loaded down with boxes of supplies heading for Barkerville. Some of the boxes contained dynamite and mercury. They were each carrying about 350 pounds. Enough to blow a hole through the canyon. Two things that the gold miners were using in their quest to find gold at all costs.

Most of the time, the mules behaved themselves and although each one had its own personality, he knew which ones to separate and which ones liked to travel together. In this way, peace and productivity was maintained.

The presence of the camels changed this dynamic. The camels resented having to follow his horse, yet he couldn’t keep them travelling in the middle of the pack.

Gun had been doubtful, the night before in Yale when Cataline had brought around the two camels.

“Bactrian camels for a thousand dollars each,” Cataline said proudly, patting each of them on their flanks.

“Have they been trained?” Gun asked.

“Well trained. A bit mischevious or so I’ve been told but they can easily carry 500 pounds.”

Gun had been working with Cataline for almost twenty years and he trusted him entirely.

This time was different.  The cook for the team was well in front riding the bell mare, the one that took the lead swimming across any rivers they encountered.

Behind Ah Gun were another eight mules with Ernesto, the other cargo packer but he was out of view.

Mules liked to travel in close proximity and the camels despised it; charging at the mules.
One of the larger camels and his shoe wobbled underneath him, causing him to slip. careened into the camel behind it causing its pack to slip.

A cacaphony of sound followed and Gun turned in his saddle to see what was going on.
It was as if the camels were having no more of this hill climbing and were marching forward, pushing two of the mules backward, perilously close to the edge.

Gun slipped down from his saddle and ran over to the camel with a piece of rope in his hand. Ordinarily, he could easily lasso a horse but a camel’s neck made it an impossible task.

He should have seen it coming but he didn’t. All of a sudden he felt a bone crunching kick to his thigh that caused him to almost double over.


Gun spat on the ground and grimaced in pain.

The camel turned and began slipping and sliding on the loose gravel.
Despite his injury, Gun hobbled down the outside of the path and grabbed onto the nose strap of one of the mules just as it was about to drop one foot over the side.

In all his years he’d never lost a single mule and he knew if he lost one then he’d have to make himself scarce; these animals were worth far more than a cargo packer like him.
Gun pulled hard on the rope that tethered the mule to the cargo. He had packed every animal himself, ensuring that the load was evenly balanced. There was no way that he was going to lose anything.

Gritting his teeth, Gun slipped a rope under the nose strap and pulled it tight.
How was he going to pull the mule away from the precipice? The animal looked frightened, he could see the whites of its eyes.

One of the things he had always been taught was to never tie a mule to another least one animal slipped down a cliff dragged the whole train with it.

The mule bleeted, his neck strained forward, its back leg scrambling in thin air still trying to find a foothold.  All of a sudden one of the camels pushed itself in the way.

Ah Gun let out a stream of oaths and profanities in Chinese that must have sounded familiar to the camel or at least it understood.  Without warning, the camel lowered itself on its front legs as if expecting him to jump on its back.  Thinking quickly, Gun tied the rope around the camel’s middle and coaxed it around to rise up.

Nothing happened for a second or two and once again, the mule started slipping backward.

Once again, he yelled out in Chinese and this time the camel straightened up and edged up the hill, pulling the mule inch by inch.

He heard Ernesto yell up from the bottom, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent canyon.

Gun yelled back. Everything was okay.

The Last Camel in BC

Gold Fever hits Fort St. James

Fur trader wearing capote (coat) with tumpline across forehead

1856 – Fort St. James, BC

A fur trader named Perrault arrived at Fort St. James wearing a capote, with its hood concealing his face. A few people had noticed him trudging through the snow on his snowshoes, holding the tumpline by its straps. He must’ve had a strong neck to support that heavy load of furs on his back.

His breath came out in puffs of vapour in the cold and he was sweating.

A short while later, McIntosh came down to see him.

“Where are the others?”

“Leonnard took the dogs on a round a bout trip.”

“But the salmon! You were supposed to bring the salmon and the roll of tobacco!”

“They’ll be here soon enough,” Perrault said as he carefully let down the beaver pelts from his back.

He rubbed his neck and shoulders while McIntosh hoisted them onto the counter.

“Thirty nine.”

Perrault leaned over as McIntosh opened the log book.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“It’s been damaged,” McIntosh said without looking up.

Perrault plunked three small lightn1ngs of gold on the dark wood counter.

He looked up at Perrault and then back at the lightn1ngs. Even in the waning afternoon light the deep yellow was apparent.

“Forty” Perrault said again.

“I’ve got plenty more lightn1ngs where that came from,” Perrault said.

McIntosh sniffed and blew his nose into a well worn handkerchief. “We can’t chew on gold. It was salmon that we needed. We have hardly enough to feed ourselves, that’s why we sent you down to Fort Yale in the first place.”

“True, but you can trade it for guns at least.”

“Where did you leave Leonnard?”

“I had to meet up with one of the trappers. He said he had some good pelts. Leonnard and James were still idling around the camp when I left.”

“What did you trade for the gold?”

Perrault rubbed his face. “The trapper gave it to me and I told him on my word that if it’s worth anything then next time I see him then I’d pass it on.

“What is the trapper’s name?”

Perrault thought about it. “I don’t know, but I can remember what he looks like and where he lives and all that. He was travelling east and we crossed paths. He told us about a golden cache. I told Leonnard and James that we didn’t have time for it, but they were going to follow the trapper back to where he said the gold was from.”

McIntosh looked at the lightn1ngs on the counter, then at Perrault. “Until Leonnard and James return with the provisions as they were supposed to, I will be recommending to the chief factor that a search party be undertaken, with you as the leader.”

Perrault shook his head, “not in this weather!” He shoved his red and swollen hands in front of McIntosh. “The winds were so fierce just barely a day ago that I had to hang onto every shrub and rock along the way!”

“If you don’t want to follow orders, then I will recommend that you be transferred!”

Perrault grabbed the lightn1ngs off the counter and trudged off. He was tempted to say something in retort, but he held his tongue. It was more important to get some food in his belly and find a fire where he could warm his weary bones.