THE COLONIAL PERIOD 1858 - 1871
The discovery of gold on the Thompson and Fraser Rivers in the late 1850s was a natural continuation of the search for gold northward from California. Since the early 1850s, miners had progressed further and further north, prospecting the streams and rivers of the Northwest. Paying quantities of gold had been found on the Columbia River near Fort Colville in 1855. Shortly after that, it was reported that gold had been discovered on the Thompson River and on the lower Fraser River. Up until 1858, these discoveries were limited to a few isolated individuals and the local native population but, during the winter of 1858 - 1859, word of gold in the wilderness of New Caledonia reached California. The spring of 1858 saw tens of thousands of gold seekers travel from California by boat or overland and converge on the lower Fraser River in the vicinity of Fort Hope.
From the outset of the gold rush, there were those who made fortunes on the sand and gravel bars of the lower Fraser but, as the waters rose in late spring, the bars were covered with water. When the main body of gold seekers reached the mining area, much of the more promising mining ground was inaccessible. Finding this, many of the would-be miners turned in disgust to head home, decrying the "Fraser River Humbug" as a bust. But the more adventurous miners began to work their way up the precipitous walls of the Fraser Canyon and, having reached the mouth of the Thompson River, found even coarser gold below the canyon. This confirmed the prevailing opinion that there existed an area of even coarser gold further north. From the supply centres of Lillooet and the "Fountain", eight miles up the river and so-named because of the natural springs coming from the ground, the miners continued along the Fraser. Early in the season, Aaron Post, a miner from El Dorado county California, had ascended the Fraser as far as the mouth of the Chilcotin River but a scarcity of provisions made him turn back. By the end of the mining season of 1858, it was generally conceded that the area north of Lillooet would be the area of concentration in the following year.
Getting supplies to the miners above the Fraser Canyon was a great challenge. The canyon was only passable by men carrying packs and gave little hope to become the main supply route to the upper Fraser. The Colonial Government, realizing this, began the construction of a series of trails to connect the chain of lakes from Harrison Lake to the Fraser at Lillooet. While this route was completed by late 1858, the combination of water and trail transport made it slow and expensive for freight.
But there was another route into the interior that was tried in 1858. This involved using the old Hudson's Bay Company brigade trail from the Columbia River through the Okanagan to Fort Kamloops and then, from there, down the Thompson River to the Fraser. Because the Indians of the interior of Washington Territory were hostile to the penetration of strangers through their territory, groups travelled in semi-military fashion up this trail. The first group to attempt this route was led by David McLoughlin and consisted of one hundred and sixty men and four hundred mules and horses. The group was joined near Fort Colville by a Mr. Wolfe, a trader who had a large band of beef cattle that he intended to drive to the diggings and sell. After much difficulty and an attack by the Indians just south of the Forty-Ninth Parallel, the entire party reached the junction of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. Wolfe sold his cattle at a significant profit and proved that cattle could be successfully driven over this trail into the upper Fraser region. His were the first cattle of over 22,000 head that would be driven over the trail during the next ten years.
During the 1859 season, the mining frontier advanced up the Fraser River and thence down the Quesnel River to Quesnel Forks. Thousands of miners were working above the junction of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. By early 1859, there was a rough trail constructed from Yale to Lytton that avoided the worst parts of the canyon. In spite of its extreme roughness and frequent bogs, it allowed a mule loaded with 200 pounds of freight to travel over it. Over this trail, during the mining season of 1859, mule trains loaded with provisions travelled regularly. These mule trains usually consisted of from sixteen to forty-eight animals, packed with freight. No pack saddles were used; instead a rough leather sack stuffed with straw, called an aparejo, was tied tightly to the mule's back and the goods fastened to it. In good travelling conditions, up to four hundred pounds could be carried. A bell animal, usually a white mare, led the train and the crew consisted of a cook, a foreman or cargadore, and about one man for each eight mules. About fifteen miles a day could be travelled, depending upon the condition of the trail.
As the above terminology suggests, the majority of the early packers were Spanish speaking Mexicans or former Mexicans from California. Many of these had worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and knew the country very well. They made good money during the early years of the gold rush and many of them, seeing the natural grasslands on either side of the Cariboo, decided to winter their pack animals there. This was especially true in the Dog Creek area, where packers Raphael Vanlenzuela, Jose Tressierra and Antonio Mondala built cabins and used the area of their base of operations. The Basque packers, Pierre and Jean Caux (later known as Cataline) were also impressed by the mild winters and settled in the Dog Creek area.
In spite of the frenzy for gold, miners and other packers began to notice that the open grasslands on either side of the Fraser River above Lillooet had tremendous potential for grazing. A report on mining at Big Bar in 1859 published in the British Colonist mentioned: "The country about Big Bar is flat and thickly wooded with pine and fir; back from the river are extensive tracts of prairie and beautiful grazing lands."
The Colonial Government, realizing the transitory nature of gold rushes, was eager to make it easy for those who wished to take up land. The British Colonial Secretary, Edward Bulwer Lytton, wrote to Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, James Douglas, in August of 1858:
" it is the strong desire of Her Majesty's Government to attract to this territory all peaceful settlers, without regard to nation. For this reason, naturalization should be granted to all who asked for it, and then right to acquire public land be accorded." Over the next few years, numerous pre-emptions would be taken out, some purely for speculative reasons in hopes that future roads would pass by, and some out of a genuine desire to occupy land and make a life for themselves.
Such was the case with Herman Otto Bowe. He was among a group of miners working Cardis Bar in 1859 when he took note of the hundreds of acres of open grassland around a little lake east of the Fraser. The following year, he established a temporary trading post and saloon for the packers along the River Trail just north of Cardis Bar. In 1861, along with his partner Phillip Grinder, Bowe pre-empted 360 acres at the head of Alkali Lake. At first, Bowe was content to operate a small stopping house for travellers on the trail to Williams Lake but, in 1862 Bowe got his start in cattle ranching when he purchased a herd of cattle from three men who had driven them north from Oregon. These three men, L.W. Riske along with Sam and Ed Withrow, went on to establish ranches in the Chilcotin a short time afterward. The cattle were worn out and thin from the long overland trek and the men had lost many along the way. But after feeding on the lush bunch grass in the Alkali Lake area, they recovered quickly and Bowe was able to sell them for $100 a head. This was the start of the Alkali Lake Ranch which still flourishes to this day.
Like so many of the young men who decided to stay in the Cariboo and make a life for themselves, Otto Bowe took an Indian wife, Caroline Belleau, daughter of the chief of the Alkali Lake band. These alliances between white men and native women were common in the early years. Cariboo ranchers William Pinchbeck, Amadee Isnardy, Augustine Boitanio, and James Bohanon all had native wives. Some of these lived in a common-law arrangement while in other cases a marriage was formalized by the Oblate priests who were in the area.
In 1859 and 1860, Fort Alexandria, which was the terminus of the Hudson's Bay Company brigade trail, was the main provision and assembly area for the upper Fraser River. When the centre of activities shifted to the Quesnel Forks and northward in 1859, a trail was blazed from Fort Alexandria to the Forks called "Dancing Bill's Trail." To cut the angle to the forks Joel Palmer, who had brought in heavily laden wagons to the Fraser River via the Okanagan Valley in 1858, cut a trail that branched off from the brigade trail at Mud Lake. Palmer, who was a strong believer that the Cariboo goldfields would be an excellent market for the cattle and supplies of his home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, successfully brought cattle over this trail in 1860.
Later in the 1860 season, the main point of departure to the Quesnelle Forks area from the Brigage Trail and the River Trail became Williams Lake, so-named after the chief of the local Indian band. For centuries there had been an Indian village, called "Columnetza" or "meeting place of the princely ones", in the open valley at the north end of the lake. Located at the crossroads of a series of trails used by the Shuswap, Chilcotin and Carrier Indians, the village contained a small log church, constructed under the supervision of Father Modeste Demers. From this point on, the little creek flowing out of the lake had been called Mission Creek.
Many of the early miners and packers looked at the open meadows of the Williams Lake area with interest and, in 1859 Thomas Davidson constructed a roadhouse and store at the foot of the lake and began to develop a farm. At this time, there was no Colonial government presence in the area, so Davidson simply took possession of the property while the Indian people watched with dismay. Davidson's roadhouse became a centre of activity and soon, because of its strategic location, was more important than Fort Alexandria. To ensure its viability, Davidson in 1860 cut a trail to connect Williams Lake with Deep Creek on the way to the Cariboo, thus avoiding the round-about way via Mud Lake and the rough trail Joel Palmer had cut earlier in the season.
The Land Ordinance passed by the Colonial Government in 1860 allowed for the pre-emption of unsurveyed land to the extent of 160 acres by any settler who occupied the land continuously and made certain improvements. So upon the arrival of Philip Henry Nind, who was appointed Gold Commissioner and Government Agent in July of 1860, Davidson was one of the first to register a pre-emption for his land at Williams Lake. Davidson was also able to get the cooperation of fellow miners, John Tefler and Moses Dancerault, to also pre-empt adjoining land which they sold to him, giving him a total of 720 acres. Nind was impressed with the work that Davidson had done on his land, mentioning in a letter to Governor Douglas:
Davidson's farm, where excellent crops of grain and vegetables have been harvested, and where a substantial and commodious roadhouse has been built.
Nind was so impressed with the area that, even though he was appointed Gold Commissioner for the "district of Alexandria", he decided to set up his office in a tent beside the trail at Williams Lake, writing to Douglas:
The vicinity of Williams Lake appeared to be most central and to combine the greatest number of advantages. At this point a junction of trails occurs and is but a short distance from the river on which there are a few companies at work.
Nind brought with him as Chief Constable, William Pinchbeck, to assist him with his duties. Pinchbeck immediately saw the potential for farming and roadhouse keeping at Williams Lake and, with a partner, Thomas Meldrum, took up land just one half mile south of Davidson. In 1861, the two were joined by William Lyne and formed a partnership known as Pinchbeck & Company.
As excitement grew for the new Cariboo mining area, the trails into the interior swarmed with gold seekers. Each month a new creek in the golden Cariboo was discovered and proved to be richer than the last, culminating in the discovery of Williams Creek in 1861. Although its incredible riches were not to be uncovered until the following year, Williams Creek was to be the richest gold creek, for actual distance mined, in the world. The outside world was beginning to take notice of the Cariboo and the resulting gold rush attracted young men and women from all over the world.
While the many roadhouses that had sprung up along the trails into the Cariboo were able to keep small herds of cattle to feed the travellers passing along the way, the problem of feeding the thousands of miners working in the gold creeks continued to be a challenge. Even with improved trails, the simplest foods remained expensive. The Colonial Government began to be concerned with the very real potential of widespread starvation. In May of 1861, Governor James Douglas wrote to William George Cox, who was Gold Commissioner and Government Agent as well as Customs Officer at the border in the South Okanagan:
The great number of miners now traveling by Fraser's River towards the Cariboo mines will rapidly consume the small stock of food in the country--and great distress must necessarily ensue unless supplies of meat and breadstuffs are brought into the country with dispatch and regularity. It is almost hopeless to expect that food in sufficient quantities to satisfy the multitudes that will this year resort to Cariboo, can be carried into that distant region on mules or horses. The means of transport are clearly insufficient for the large demand that may be anticipated. It would greatly assist in (?) if herds of sheep and cattle could be driven into the mines. Mr. Cox is therefore instructed to encourage as much as possible the importation of sheep and cattle from the Southern Boundary and to be careful not to permit any obstacle to be thrown in the way of persons driving in cattle from the U.S. Territory for the purpose of being sent to Cariboo. Two or three thousand head of live cattle driven into the mines would effectually relieve us for the present year and I expect that number of cattle at least.
Governor Douglas was correct in his assessment of the situation and his expectations of large herds of cattle entering the country. In 1862 alone, 4343 head of cattle crossed the border at Osoyoos. Competition to control the increasingly lucrative beef market in the Cariboo became quite heated, with supply and demand causing considerable fluctuation in prices. For those who had the cattle available at the right time, a fortune could be made. Once it was realized that cattle could be wintered just as successfully in the Thompson River area as they could further south, enterprising drovers drove their cattle to the Bonaparte and Cache Creek areas and held them until the market in the Cariboo was at its best.
As the mining frontier moved further north into the Cariboo, the drovers looked for good grazing areas closer to the gold fields. Among the most aggressive drovers were two sets of brothers, John and Oliver Jeffries and Jerome and Thaddeus Harper. Both of these enterprising teams of brothers were from the south and ardent supporters of the Confederate cause. Each year, from 1860 on, they drove in thousands of head of cattle, a few hundred at a time, moving them in stages to the Cariboo, where they were slaughtered and sold to the hungry miners. The Jeffries brothers found an area with ample water and pasturage on the old brigade trail to the north and set up a ranch on which to hold their cattle and fatten them up for the Cariboo market. They also constructed a stopping house and a toll bridge across the creek that the trail crossed, giving the name Bridge Creek to the spot. Bridge Creek House, as it was known was a well-known stopping place on the trail. Bishop George Hills of the Anglican Church stopped there in 1862 and wrote in his diary:
At Bridge Creek was a band of cattle driven in from Oregon by the brother of Jeffries. He places at various points droves of cattle. Here one of them keeps a store. Mr. Knipe and I had dinner there today. For a beefsteak and coffee the charge was a dollar and a half. I also bought for my party ten pounds of beef at 45 cents a pound. We camped about a mile south of the house, and sent our horses across the stream to a bench where was an excellent feed of bunch grass.
The property, which became more popularly known as the 100 Mile House, was only held by the Jeffries brothers and their partners until 1864, when it was sold to Uriah Nelson.
The Harper brothers first occupied land in the bunch grass hills east
of Fort Kamloops but also made arrangements for grazing their cattle on
lands held by others along the trail. When it became obvious that Williams
Creek would be the centre of Cariboo mining activity for some time, the
Harpers set up a slaughterhouse there in partnership with Edward Tormey.
The Harpers delivered a steady supply of cattle throughout the mining
season and Tormey, who had formerly been a butcher in San Francisco, looked
after Harper & Tormey Wholesale Meat Distributors Company.
One of the holding places for Harper cattle was Davidson's Lake Valley Ranch, established east of Williams Lake by Thomas Davidson, who had sold his original property at Williams Lake in 1861. His ranch became known as the 150 Mile House when the Cariboo Road was constructed through his property in 1863.
The Cariboo Wagon Road
By the spring of 1862, the Colonial Government had let contracts for the construction of sections of a wagon road to run from Yale on the lower Fraser all the way to the Cariboo gold fields. Work had begun on the daunting task of building a road through the Fraser canyon and, at the same time, Gustavus Blynn Wright was contracted to build an extension of the Harrison Lillooet route from Lillooet to Cut-Off Valley some forty seven miles north. Upon the completion of that contract, Wright was given the option to build an additional 240 miles of road all the way to Fort Alexandria. Wright agreed to this and signed a contract to construct the road through to Fort Alexandria. By the end of the 1862 season, his crews had completed the road as far as the 127 Mile post north of Lac la Hache.
While the expectations were that Wright would construct the new road along the existing Brigade Trail, he was given the option to deviate from the trail if necessary, subject to the approval of the Colonial Government. When Wright looked at the proposed route north from Williams Lake, he was concerned that the high cliffs and deep coulees would make construction an expensive business. Not only that, but the route between Williams Lake and Soda Creek suffered from a lack of water. Instead he preferred to construct the trail from Davidson's Lake Valley Ranch north along the cut-off that Davidson had cut in 1861 that went by way of Deep Creek. While this seemed a logical decision, the situation was complicated by the fact that Wright quietly purchased the Deep Creek House which stood to do a booming business if the road was to pass by it. The controversy reached the boiling point when the owners of the roadhouses at Williams Lake, who stood to lose enormously if the road bypassed them, reported that Wright had requested of them a loan of $15,000 to assist with the expenses of building the road via Williams Lake. A see-saw battle ensued with both parties finding supporters among Colonial Government officials. Finally, after examinations of both routes by members of the Royal Engineers, Colonel Moody recommended that the road be constructed via Deep Creek.
With the Cariboo Wagon Road bypassing Williams Lake, it appeared that the community was to become a backwater. Faced with a lack of road traffic, the owners of the two roadhouse ranches at Williams Lake were forced to pay more attention to their cattle and produce business. Pinchbeck and Company continued to supply the miners who were working the Fraser River as far south as Dog Creek and raised cattle to supply beef to the mining camps in the Cariboo. When Thomas Meldrum left the partnership to establish the first ranch in the Chilcotin in 1866, William Pinchbeck and William Lyne began to acquire more and more land by pre-empting and buying up other pre-emptions, until they owned most of the Williams Lake Valley, with 2000 acres fenced and 700 under cultivation.
With the completion of the Cariboo Road to Barkerville in 1865, all other trails to the Cariboo gold fields fell into disuse except for local traffic. All along the road, roadside ranches were established to take advantage of the traffic from freighting and staging along the road. These early "mile houses" were virtually self-sufficient, producing their own crops and livestock and providing accommodation to the travellers.
While many travellers to the gold fields went by foot and horseback, the majority chose to go by stagecoach. Stage service began on the Cariboo road in 1863, when Francis Jones Barnard, a native of Quebec, ran two-horse wagons on the road from Lillooet to Soda Creek, which was the terminus of the Cariboo road at that time. These wagons carried three passengers and freight and made the trip every ten days. By 1865, Barnard had established his Barnard's Express stage line from Yale in the Lower Fraser Canyon to Barkerville on Williams Creek. In the following years Barnard ran a variety of vehicles over the various routes that he established, ranging from a two-horse thorobraced wagon (thorobraces were leather straps on which the entire body of the coach rested) to six-horse mail coaches. Originally Barnard ordered stagecoaches from California but, after a few years, stagecoaches were made in British Columbia in the Barnard's Express shops. The design of the stagecoaches was adapted for the rough and muddy roads of the Cariboo by the widening of the tires and strengthening of the running gear.
To pull his stagecoaches at the fastest possible rate, Barnard selected the finest horses he could obtain. In the early 1860s, the horses were purchased in Oregon and driven to Barnard's ranch in the Okanagan for breaking. But in 1868, the company obtained four hundred head of breeding stock from Mexico and California. These horses were bred for speed and not for endurance. That meant that they had to be changed every eighteen miles or so along the road. To the early ranchers along the Cariboo road, maintaining the BX (as the company became universally known) horses provided an excellent source of income. Each stopping point along the route maintained a fresh supply of horses for the next stage. As each mail coach was drawn by six horses, the number of animals required numbered no less than 250, of which 150 were in harness. Not only that, but as the horses were being changed, the passengers would avail themselves of meals or refreshment offered by the roadhouse ranches. "Every ranch house in Cariboo functioned as a stopping house where a traveller was welcome day or night. These ranches, as a rule, were 15 to 20 miles apart even along the main road."
Another important source of income to the ranches in the Cariboo, and not just along the Cariboo Road, were the large number of freight wagons and pack trains hauling goods to the different gold mining areas. These could operate over less-travelled routes and provided much-needed revenue to the ranches off the beaten track. Large supplies of hay, meat and vegetables were needed by the various staging points and road houses and many early ranches kept solvent by supplying the travellers, freighters and packers who passed by.
The oldest section of the Cariboo Road was actually the stretch constructed by G.B. Wright in 1862 from Lillooet to Clinton via the Cut-Off Valley. That is why all the mile houses on the Cariboo Road were numbered from Lillooet which was the original mile zero on the road. Some of the early ranches along the road were found on this section. Robert Carson established a ranch on the grasslands of the high plateau on top of Pavillion Mountain in 1867 and, further along the road was the Kelly Ranch established by Edward and George Kelly in the early 1860s at what came to be known as Kelly Lake. The Kellys acquired more and more land and their ranch became one of the largest in the area. Just south-east of Clinton was the Spanish Ranch which had been pre-empted by M. Garcin, B. Balencin and T. Angula. These three Mexicans had been packers employed by the Hudson's Bay Company before the gold rush and had settled in the area earlier but, seeing the rapid taking up of land along the road, registered their pre-emptions in 1862. Once the Cariboo Road, was connected to the road through the Fraser Canyon this route became less travelled. None-the-less the above ranches continued to carry on successful operations because of their proximity to markets.
From Clinton north the Cariboo Road followed closely the original Brigade Trail and the ranches that were established during the 1860s inevitably were located along the road. Northward from Clinton, the following ranches were the most significant and functioned as staging points and roadhouses for the traffic on the Cariboo Road.
As the above list indicates, the majority of ranches that were established during the gold rush years were located along the major roads and trails to the gold fields. "The individual ranches were strung like beads along a few roads and trails." Because of the transitory nature of the population and the vagaries of the gold rush economy, most of these ranches changed hands several times during the 1860s but continued to play an important part in the local economy. While this reliance upon road and trail traffic dictated that ranches along the main routes had the most potential to survive, the pattern of settlement along the routes was not uniform. More typically, ranches were found in groups centred on the best grazing and watering places. Along the River Trail from Lillooet north Big Bar Creek, Dog Creek, Alkali Lake and Williams Lake were centres of settlement because they afforded the best combination of water and grasslands. Along the Cariboo Road, the stretch from Clinton to Bridge Creek (100 Mile House), where the road passed through heavy timber, ranches were few and far between whereas the area north from Bridge Creek was heavily populated because of the availability of grass and water.
The Chilcotin area, because of its inaccessibility, saw little activity in terms of ranches being taken up during the 1860s. Thomas Meldrum has the distinction of being the first white man to settle in the Chilcotin in 1866, when he sold his interests in Pinchbeck and Company to William Pinchbeck and William Lyne and followed a trail down the west side of the Fraser from Soda Creek and took up land in a little valley that today carries his name. About the same time, L.W. Riske and the brothers, Sam and Ed Withrow, took up land at Riske Creek. By the end of the 1860s, Thomas Hance and Benjamin Franklin "Doc" English had established themselves forty five miles up the Chilcotin River. In spite of numerous accounts to the contrary, it is unlikely that the Harper brothers, Jerome and Thaddeus, took up land west of the Fraser to start the Gang Ranch until at least the 1870s.
Cattle continued to be driven into the Cariboo right up to the year 1868 when the dwindling demand from the gold fields could be supplied by the growing herds of the ranches in the area. Traffic on the Cariboo Road, while nowhere near its earlier volume, continued to be steady as the deep diggings in the Barkerville area kept many miners at work and the search for gold moved northward. Just as it seemed that the gold rush was over, word came of the discovery of gold and silver in the Omineca region north of Fort George, sparking another big rush in the summers of 1870 and 1871. In August of 1871, about twelve hundred miners were engaged in mining in the Omineca, about two hundred and thirty miles north of Quesnelle Mouth. Ranchers in the Cariboo, as the entire area north of Clinton came to be called, found a ready market for their beef and cattle drives into the Omineca were a common sight during the summer months of mining activitiy.
Even though the demand for cattle had dwindled from the heady days of the Cariboo gold rush, ranchers were able to make an income supplying the many travellers on the trails and roads and the areas of mining activity that continued to keep miners employed. There was also a great deal of optimism among those who saw the potential for the Crown Colony of British Columbia. Negotiations were under way with the new Dominion of Canada to unite the Colony with the Dominion. The terms that were being offered to British Columbia to join the Canadian confederation included the promise that, within two years, the Dominion would commence the construction of a railway to connect British Columbia with the eastern provinces that would be completed within ten years. This promise of a railway virtually guaranteed the acceptance of the terms by the people of British Columbia. Ranchers in the Cariboo saw the railway as an answer to their dreams. Those with vision and determination to wait until the eastern markets became available, saw the opportunity to acquire enough land to make their future secure once the new railway arrived. Utilizing whatever capital they could obtain, many ranchers built up the holdings acquiring the surrounding properties of their disillusioned neighbours at cheap prices.
History of Cariboo Ranching
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