Monday, August 22, 2016

High Rider by Bill Gallaher

He started life as a slave in South Carolina and became one of the pioneering cattlemen in that part of Canada’s North West Territories which eventually became the Province of Alberta.
            In 1867 with the US Civil War at and end John Ware struck off to the west, a new land and a new life. Due to his unsurpassed ability to break and train mules he found work on a ranch near Fort Worth where he remained for a decade. Eventually he went north as the horse wrangler on a cattle herd, lost good friends and found others, panned for gold, became a drover again and rode into Canada.
            This is a novel but as is usual with Bill Gallaher’s work it is well researched and faithfully follows the life of one of Canada’s pioneers. John Ware is a legend among those who study the history of horse trainers, cattlemen, bronc riders and the beef industry. With his entertaining and informative writing Gallaher should be.

            High Rider by Bill Gallaher is deserving of high praise and as many stars as are available.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A sense of humor

I have several short stories I've put together over the years but most of them would require three or four posts to make them fit on this blog. Here is one, however that is a short-short. Something similar actually happened about 20 years ago on a ranch up north of Fort. St. John although I've expanded on it somewhat.
If you find the story entertaining, click on one of the book covers over to the right and take one of my novels home. The same stories can be found on (D.M. McGowan) or on Google books, or Barnes & Noble. They are also available in a variety of digital formats.
I'm always looking for reviews and would appreciate comments here or on any of the sites above that also have places for reviews.

What We Need is a Good
Cattle Dog!
By D.M. McGowan

            I can't tell you how Alvin's doing. It's been a while since I seen him. Alvin and I don't spend too much time together any more. Not like we used to. It goes back to that time we went up to Carter's to help them round up their cattle. Looking' back, I reckon I was a bit rough on him, but I thought he had a better sense of humor.
            There was about ten of us who volunteered to help out. Neighbors rode over on horseback, and some hauled their horses in from as far as fifty miles away. I don't have a truck or trailer, so I rode with Alvin, our mounts in his two-horse trailer.
            Most of us got there the night before, a Friday it was, so that we'd be ready t' get started early Saturday. 'Course, the early start was a bit rough on most of us since, once we got a place for our bedrolls, most of us spent the night over a few drinks, playing' cards and swapping yarns. But despite how tough a few felt that next morning we were all out there gathering' cattle in pretty early.
            Along about two in the afternoon, we had quite a bunch of critters up by the loading pens. After turning about a dozen head into the herd, Alvin and I headed south into a low spot we hadn't checked out. Sure enough, there's twenty head or so, down in the brush.
            Well, we pull up near the edge of that brush, and Alvin starts to get down.         "Where you goin'?" I asked him, though I pretty well knew what he had in mind."Well, horses’ll be no good in that brush," Alvin says. "We'll have to go in on foot.

While he was taking his spurs off I rode back up-slope a ways and had a look at that bush. It probably covered ten acres, and was as close as hair on a dog’s back.
            "You're not gonna chase any cows outta that," I said. "Work like that, you need a good cattle dog."
            "Well, we don't have a cattle dog," Alvin says, "so we'll have to do it on foot." He tied his spurs to a saddle string.
            "We could also just leave the herd up where they are," I advised. "By tomorrow this bunch in the bush’ll be lonely, and come out of there on their own."
            "Work don't get done by lettin' it lay," Alvin says.
            I tried once more to discourage him from his course and said, “Some o’ those critters are gonna be several hundred pounds an’ likely t’ stop a fella into the sod.”
            When he showed no sign that such a prospect bothered him I swung one leg around the saddlehorn, and proceeded to roll a smoke. "You get ‘em out here, I'll be sure to hold ‘em for you," I said, though I figured there wasn't much chance of me having to do anything.
            Well, Alvin just glared at me, dropped the reins, and went waddling off into the willows.
            He got four steers and a cow moving that first time out. Of course, when he got right up to the edge of the brush, the cow went left, and the steers right. Alvin was heaving pretty good and trying to figure out how five animals could go in ten directions.
            He went back into the trees, picked up his hat, and carried it out and hung it on his saddlehorn. He also took off his chaps and laid them over the saddle. Then he glared at me, and headed back into the brush.
            I pulled my hat down over my eyes and got comfortable.
            During the next half hour, he kept trying to chase them cows out, and they'd just turn around and go back in the bush, as cows tend to do. Pretty soon his face began to look like a piece of raw meat, and everything he wore was soaked with sweat. I was beginning to worry that he was gonna have a heart attack, and I'd have to haul him out of there.
            He was on the edge of the brush, legs spread, and hands on his knees, and just heaving. I was pretty sure there wasn't a bull on that place with a harder head than his.
            I started to roll another smoke as I let my horse shuffle over toward him. "You know, Alvin," I said, "you're gonna have to cut a switch off one of those willows, and give yourself a lickin'. You're gettin' way behind!"

You know, I had to find somebody else to haul my horse home!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Firearms Statistics

I've just heard and read where people are saying that this horrific action in Orlando, Florida is all the fault of firearms laws. I can't agree and suspect that people are thinking with their hearts instead of their minds to even have such statements come out of their mouths. Such statements defy logic. It was a horrific act perhaps fueled by religious fundamentalism, poor education or outright ignorance but it was committed by, and therefore the fault of a person.
However for those wishing the proper firearms information as collected by EVERY group that does collect ALL the information, here are the statistics.

Firearm statistics from 2012

In the US Guns are used 80 times more often to protect a life than to take one. This is comparing self defence against suicide, homicide and accident combined.

There are approximately 270 million privately owned firearms in the USA
Each year in the USA a gun is used about 200 thousand times by a woman to avoid sexual abuse.
3 out of 5 felons say they will not mess with an armed person.

Gun ownership rate per 100 residents
USA            88.8
Yemen         54.8
Switzerland  45.7
Finland        45.3

Highest Homicide rates per 100 thousand residents

Honduras              91.6
El Salvador            69.2
Côte d'Ivoire         56.9
Jamaica                 52.2
The USA is way down this list at #103 with 4.8 per 100 thousand.

A recent study published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy concluded that there is a negative correlation between gun ownership and violent crime in countries internationally (more guns = less crime).

Nations with strict gun control laws have substantially higher murder rates than those who do not in general. In fact, the 9 European nations with the lowest gun ownership rate have a combined murder rate 3x that of the 9 European nations with the highest gun ownership rate!

In the UK where handgun ownership is illegal, there have been 2034 violent crimes per 100 thousand versus the USA where there were 466 violent crimes per 100 thousand during the same period.

An analysis of FBI crime statistics reveals that those states which have adopted conceal carry laws have reduced
Murders by 8.5%
Rapes by 5%
Aggravated assaults by 7%
Robberies by 3%

With few exceptions, most public mass shootings in the USA since 1950 have taken place where citizens are banned from carrying guns. Despite strict gun regulations, Europe has had 3 of the worst 6 school shootings.

US Police                                      VS     US Armed Citizen

794,300                                             80,000,000 gun owning          
police officers13                                            citizens


11%                                                            2%error rate
error rate
14.3                                                            2.3 average deaths
avg. deaths of a shooting                           of a shooting rampage
rampage stopped by police
15                                                         stopped by citizens
606                                                             1,527
criminals killed each year                           criminals killed each year

In 1982, Kennesaw, Georgia passed a law requiring heads of households to keep at least one firearm in the house. The residential burglary rate subsequently dropped 89% in Kennesaw, compared to just 10.4% drop in Georgia as a whole

Today, the violent crime rate in Kennesaw is still 85% lower than Georgia's or the national average.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt from “Homesteader”, my third published novel and the second with SBPRA. This is the piece very near the first where Hank and Harry meet the man who will prove a problem for them, Portis Martin. It is also one of the reasons that Hank decides to apply for land under the Homestead Act … to prove a thorn in Martin’s side.

I'm not sure where these pictures were taken but this is the type of country they would have been riding through on their approach to Calgary, first on the train and then mounted and trailing down the eastern slope.

By D. M. McGowan
Copyright © 2000

It was close to noon before we met the first discouraging thing although it took us several minutes to realize it. It was a man of perhaps two hundred and fifty pounds riding a sixteen hundred pound horse. He came out of the bush on the north side of the draw that ran down hill off to our left, followed by two average size men on two average size horses. We didn't know he was a sorry cuss at that moment, but it didn't take us long to find out.
            They sat and watched us approach for a few moments.
            Our pack horses were free and followed well, but just in case I dropped back and pulled the halter shank out from under a pack rope. Passing the lead behind my back to my left hand I flipped it over Blackie's rump and looped it around the saddle horn. When Harry saw that he dropped back and did the same with the other pack animal.
            The three strangers rode down into the draw and up our side to meet us. The way they jerked their mounts to a halt justified my leading the pack horse. I put a half hitch slip in the lead rope so I wouldn't have to hold it.
            All three of them wore the tall crowned, big brimmed hat of the time over hair too long and dirty. Their high healed boots too narrow for their feet branded them as cattlemen. They all wore handlebar mustaches, usual for the time, but were otherwise clean shaven which was not always usual for men riding the range. The two average size men wore stove-pipe chaps over canvas pants, cotton shirts - one blue and one red - cow hide vests and red neckerchiefs. The big man wore wool pants, a plaid, flannel shirt, tweed vest fully buttoned with a watch chain stretching across his ample middle and a blue bandana. They all wore Colt pistols, the younger and smallest man carrying two, hung with butts forward.
             They drew up abreast, no more than two feet between each of their mounts. The youngster, who, by the appearance of his weapons and how he wore them seemed to think he was a gunfighter, was in the center.
            This young fellow and his appearance drew my attention more than he should have. Riding alone in the wilderness or working with wild cattle and horses it always makes sense to wear a hand gun. But in those days many people couldn’t afford a hand gun, let alone two. And wearing them butt forward as this young man did meant they would be catching on things like his rope and the brush as he was trying to do the work of a cow hand. Therefore I suspected he was probably a poor range rider and a good trouble maker. I should have ignored him and paid more attention to his riding partners.
            The way the three of them charged right up to us and stopped so close didn’t add to my feeling of comfort. They were crowding us and had an arrogant manner about them. I didn’t like the look in their eyes and I was glad I had taken the pack horse lead shank.
            Even though he was a few years older than me, Harry Gilmore always followed my lead. Part of the reason was that, up until the fall before, I had been his boss for about a year. Mostly, though, it was because he was part Sioux - although few ever knew that - and several years of folks tramping on him and his people meant that he generally followed and kept his mouth shut. What that meant for me at the time was that I knew I would be handling the conversation with the fat man, and I could depend on Henry to back me up, whatever happened.
            “Where do you think you’re going?” the fat man asked.
            Maybe my confidence in Henry's loyalty and ability made me a little too mouthy in my response to the big man's arrogant manner. And, as I said, I was paying too much attention to the gun man and not enough to the fat man. "East," I replied.
            He tried to stare me down. I smiled and he shifted his gaze to Henry, rolling his chew around in his mouth.
            He forced his big horse forward a few steps so that its head was on Blackie's off side, its nose about a foot from my right knee. "Where did you come from?" he asked, bringing his gaze back to me.
            "West," I replied.
            He spit tobacco juice at Blackie's cheek.
            Blackie was a good horse but he wouldn't put up with very much foolishness even from me. He was also one of the fastest animals I ever rode. It seemed that stream of tobacco juice was still in the air when he turned and bit the fat man's horse on the shoulder.
            Sixteen hundred pounds of horse squealed and jumped to the left, blood flowing down its leg from a three inch gash. The horse ridden by the young gunfighter, at least six hundred pounds lighter than the fat man's horse, was too close and no match for the bigger animal. Rider and horse hit the ground hard.
            The mustang grunted, squealed, and jumped to its feet. The rider's left foot was caught in the stirrup as the horse lunged away from another collision.
            The fat man put his hand on his pistol and turned his gaze from the donnybrook back to me. His hand froze when he found my Colt was already in my hand. I didn't point it at him, just let it hang there, muzzle down, my forearm resting on the horn. Very slowly he put his right hand back on top of his left which rested on his own saddle horn.
            At the same time the third rider shook out a loop and turned his mount toward the bucking mustang and dragging rider. Within a hundred feet he had the animal roped. It stood on the end of the lariat with legs spread wide and vibrated. The bundle attached to the stirrup didn't move.
            "I'm Portis Martin," the fat man said.
            I was doing my best to maintain a calm, this-is-an-everyday-thing appearance, but was in fact having a tough time with that. Not only had I been approached poorly in a generally friendly land, but one of my best friends had just been spit on.
            "Henry James," I responded. "Some folks call me Hank, but you can call me Mr. James." Without taking my eyes from him I inclined my head to indicate my saddle partner. "This here is Mr. Gilmore."
            The roper dismounted on the off side and, speaking slowly and calmly, worked his way up the rope to the frightened horse.
            Martin made a sweeping motion with his arm. "This is all my land an' the cattle on it are mine," he said. "Them horses you're ridin' are a whole lot better than any drifter'd be usin'. Or cow punchers, fer that matter."
            The other rider took a grip on the headstall on the shaky animal. Very slowly he reached for the stirrup and released his partner's foot. He led the horse off a few steps, and then returned a knelt by the motionless body.
            I had to give Martin high marks for guts. Like I said, I wasn't pointing it at him, but I had a loaded Colt in my hand and he was calling me a thief. At the same time I had to give him fairly low marks for smart. "You callin' me a rustler?" I asked.
            He smiled. "Well I don' see no cows with yuh, but its bin a while since I seen drifters with 'nough truck they gotta have 'em a pack horse. An', like I said, you're on my land."
            "Thought this was the Cochrane Ranch," I said.
            "Yuh rode off it a ways back," he said. "This land here, an' the land north o' Cochrane right t' the mountains is my problem."
            "Looks t' me like a railroad track over there," I noted. I didn't turn to look at it, but kept my eyes on Martin.
            "Right smart fer a Yankee," Martin responded.
            I ignored the attempted insult. During my years in the country I had tried to lose my American way of speech, but it appeared I had not been completely successful. "Be about fifty yards?" I asked.
            "I reckon," he nodded, his expression somewhat puzzled.
            "Railroad claims a hun'red yards each side o' the roadbed," I informed him. "That means we ain't on your land. They also claim alternatin' sections on each side of the rails, so a lot of what you're claimin' ain't yours."
            Martin worked his chaws for a moment, and then sent another stream of tobacco juice into the dust. He made a point of missing Black. "Ain't no nevermind," he said. "Ain't no railroad men out here. Me that runs this country."
            "Too bad," I said, putting my pistol back in the leather.
            "What's that supposed to mean?" he fired back.
            "Country's likely to go to hell," I replied. "One of your men just got himself squished an' dragged. If he's lucky, he won't have more than a broken leg. For ten minutes you been arguin’ with me and you ain't even looked at him. You look after the country same way you look after your hands, why, I reckon we're all in trouble."
            I turned Black and we started away.
            "Don't make no nevermind fer you," Martin said. I looked over my shoulder at him and he continued. "You'll be leavin'."
            "Don't reckon," I said, then added before he could threaten me if I stayed. "You claimin' all this land that ain't yours, makes me wonder if maybe we should ask the Mounties to see if you're claimin' cows ain't yours."
            Martin smiled. "Rode intu this country in '73 with them boys. Got me two stripes 'for I took t' raisin' beef."
            This was not news that I found comforting. However, I didn't let it show and just smiled. "Then they won't likely be too su'prised when I describe our meetin' here today." We rode on, being sure to stay within' the railroad right of way.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Journey

The Journey: The Overlander’s quest for gold
by Bill Gallaher
ISBN 978-1-894898-99-7
Touch Wood Editions

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, gold was found early on in the fur trade days of what is now Canada’s west coast. However the first publicized “discovery” was in 1850 on Haida Gwaii and that on the lower Fraser River in 1858. By the time the Cariboo Country was producing (Williams Creek or Barkerville discovery, spring 1861) those in Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec respectively) had already given some consideration to expending effort toward a new future. Since those areas and most of the world where suffering what we call today, “a serious depression” many of those with an adventurous bent thought nothing could be worse than what they where going through.
The next problem was how to get to the gold fields. Those already involved in prospecting and mining, primarily from the Western US, Australia and South Africa, if they had a few ounces from their existing claim, bought passage by ship to Victoria. Those in Europe who might have Pounds or Deutschmarks and a reason to leave home might also sail to British Columbia. Very few if any of those in Eastern Canada had such an option so they faced the prospect of crossing more than three thousand miles of country of which they knew nothing.
Those three thousand miles were not the whole trip. First they had to get to Fort Garry (Winnipeg).
Thus became the “Overlanders”.
Bill Gallaher’s novel “The Journey” does a marvelous entertaining job of following the largest of these groups. Through extensive research from diaries and publications he has been able to show some of the trials they suffered from the land, the climate and personal differences. There where those who left the group along the way and some who died. He even included some of the problems suffered by the lone woman, Catherine Shubert (a real Overlander) and the birth of her fourth child, Rosa while on the journey.

Catherine Shubert in later life
Actor and educator Christine Pilgrim has represented Mrs. Shubert and recounted her life story. More information can be found at
A few of the Overlanders returned to their lives in the East, some stayed in Fort Edmonton, a few went south to Calgary and Montana but about a hundred stayed and became developing pioneers in the building of British Columbia. John Pinkerton, Sam Rogers, William Rennie and John Bowen operated businesses in the Barkerville area. John Jessup founded the New Westminster Times and was the first superintendent of education. Robert McMicking was instrumental in the development of the BC Telephone Co. Overlanders where involved in many businesses throughout the province and in the legislature.
Altogether an interesting piece of history.

At the end of my novel "Partners" the main characters are in Barkerville and their past catches up with them. I'm working on a continuation of these characters' story and intend to include some of the less than uplifting aspects of human character and pioneer development.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Excerpt from The Great Liquor War.


            For many years I have been writing and telling stories about people I’ve known, places I’ve been, experiences I’ve had and the country I have spent time in or passed through. I have found that my experience with people, places and events sometimes clashes violently with those scenes depicted in Canadian history books. As a result I enjoy taking historical events and weaving them into my own stories.
            My first attempt at publishing, “The Great Liquor War” was done in the “traditional” manner with the printing of 600 copies in 1998. A fine thing to start I thought, but within three months all copies were gone.
            Since then “Partners” was released in 2008 and “Homesteader: Finding Sharon” in 2009.
            “Homesteader” is a sequel to “The Great Liquor War”
            This release of “Liquor War” is in Print on Demand which should keep copies available for a long time to come. There have been a few slight changes in the manuscript for this release but it still remains loyal to the original.
            My usual notes on the history that might pertain to this story can be found at the end but in addition you will find excerpts from some upcoming releases. You can also find, on those occasions when I get enough breathing space to post, excerpts and short stories on my blog at  You can also make comments and email from there.
            There are also connections on this site to my author web page
author facebook page ( and the few videos that are out there. Of course, there is also and then search for D. M. McGowan.


          I rode beside a carriage built to carry no more than six people but holding eight. We only intended to go as far as the Farwell train station, so the rested team would easily handle the load, despite their light weight. Some of the men might have been able to run to the station almost as fast as they were being carried, but the sight of policemen running down the street would have created much more unwanted attention than the overloaded carriage. Besides, at that point they were all desperate to maintain a dignified appearance.
          The crowded conditions also forced them into a unity that they would soon need to survive and had not practiced recently. True, they were all peace officers with similar views of the world that develop with folks who have their occupation in common. However, three of them were British Columbia Policemen and the others wore the dress uniform of the North West Mounted Police. Their respective superiors had recently managed to force these men into a situation where they had been pointing their pistols at each other.
          Even though I rode with them, I was not a policeman, had no intention of being one, and wasn’t looking forward to the meeting we were about to have. We were riding toward a situation where we might all be shot, and I wasn’t at all happy about being put in that kind of danger. I hadn’t actually volunteered to go along, it wasn’t my job to face down thieves, and yet I wasn’t really being forced to join them. I was with them because one of the B.C. Constables, Jack Kirkup, had done me a favor a year and a half before. True, that favor had resulted in my enjoying success, but I didn’t think I needed to be shot and killed to pay for it.
          Almost everyone can remember at least one person or event that changed the course of their life. Sometimes these people and events come together causing far more than a simple upset. There have been more twists and turns in my life than you’d find in a mountain stream, but the first important one that I remember was the combination of Jack Kirkup and what I think of as the Great Liquor War.
          It was a fellow by the name of Jerry Hill who had the booze that started it all, but he had almost nothing to do with the war. It was the North West Mounted Police and the British Columbia Police that fought over it. And it was guys like Jerry Hill and I that had our lives torn apart because of it. Of course, my own involvement would have been far less if it hadn’t been for the debt I believed I owed Jack Kirkup.
          It was a year before the Liquor War that I met Jack in Rossland. I came up to the country the fall before with the idea of making my fortune by panning for gold.
          Actually, that’s not exactly true. I returned to the brand new country of Canada that year. I was born some place north of Fort York in Upper Canada one month before Daddy moved to Kansas. He wanted to move to Oregon but he ran out of steam in Kansas and we stayed there until the drought ran us out in 83.
          I always found that part of my family history real interesting. We moved to Kansas right after the Civil War and right into the middle of bad feelings between those who supported the Union and those for the South. We lasted through raids by outlaws from both sides - with relatives in both groups - and protected our home from Indian raids. We handled everything that man could throw at us, but we couldn’t beat Mother Nature. And after the sun dried the land and finished our crops, we finished the move to Oregon that had been interrupted eighteen years before.
          When we got to the end of that trail, I tried to talk Paw into trying something new. He had always had trouble feeding his family from farming, and it sure wasn’t from lack of trying. He just wasn’t a great farmer. The land he chose in Kansas was too dry to grow crops and it looked like what he picked in Oregon was too wet.
          “You’re a fool, boy,” he said. “All I ever done is farm. I don’t know nothin bout loggin r fishin. Family’d starve, I went t’ doin’ somethin’ else.”
          I looked around at my brothers, my sister, and at my mother. I was sure Paw had used up the little cash money he had managed to put in his pocket before we left Kansas. I knew there wasn’t much to put into the cupboards that hadn’t been built yet. I decided that my mouth was just another one to be fed from a farm that couldn’t feed those that needed it. I lit out on my own.
          A year later - the spring of ‘84 - I was on my own gold claim near Rossland, British Columbia. It was about then that I realized all the good gold claims were gone and I wasn’t doing much more than making a living on mine. I was trying to decide if I should keep it up, look for a new claim, or look for a new way to make my fortune. While I was doing all this thinking I was shoveling gravel into my rocker and washing it down for the gold.
          Not that I wasn’t seeing lots of color. Every time I worked that rocker I’d find at least some gold in it. I was making a living on that claim, and there were lots of folks that didn’t do that. But there was no way I was gonna get rich on that piece of ground, and I knew it.
          I think it might have been the country that got to me. Not that it ain’t pretty, for it surely is. But it was a might on the dry side, at least that year, and tended to remind me of Kansas during the drought.
          Mind, the land kind of rolls in Kansas, but it doesn’t have those pretty hills and mountains. I guess it was just the dryness that made me think of the hard times that drove us out of a nice place that I still think of as home, even after all these years.
          While I was rolling all manner of things through my mind, and washing dirt from the dirt, a fellow rode down the creek and told me there was gonna be a big prize fight in town. It had been several months since I’d had any entertainment and weeks since I’d been off the claim. Watching a fight seemed like a good idea, and I figured I could make my decision just as well from ringside as I could from creek side.
          When I got into town I found a good place to camp on the edge of town, up on a ledge covered with aspen and surrounded by spruce. I stripped the pack and saddles from my horses, picketed them, and set about to cook some supper.
          About the time I started the fire another fellow with just a riding horse came into the grove, dismounted and began to make camp. In those days it was a good idea to be careful who you invited into your camp, for not only did others judge you by the company you kept, but sometimes the company you kept wasn’t against taking things without asking: maybe your life. I kept an eye on him for a bit, decided he wasn’t a danger I couldn’t handle, and called him over.
          “Might as well join the fire,” I called out. “No sense two of us heatin’ up the night.”
          He waved at me and a few minutes later came over with his plate, cup, and a slab of bacon. He was a well set up man just a little older than me, wearing laced miner’s boots that were in pretty good shape. His pants were made of canvas, a lot like what we call jeans now only they hadn’t been dyed blue, and his jacket looked like it had been made for him as part of a suit, although it was startin’ to show some wear. Like me he wore a bushy moustache that hung down both sides of his mouth, but unlike me, his side burns were also bushy and extended down to the corner of his jaw.
          Now his hat was of special note. It was one of them round, hard things with a reverse curl brim. I think they call them a derby. There were places them days where a hat like that would get you in a fight.
          Not that folks didn’t wear derby hats back then. There were all kinds of head gear in the country, but most had been beaten and smashed about and generally made into part of the landscape. Most of the underground miners would take a beat up hat, maybe a derby, and shellac it until it was almost as hard as the rocks that might fall on their even harder heads. I always wore a Stetson and the one I was wearing then had held water for my horses more than once. His headgear looked like it had been brushed regular and was the property of some city swell. The point is, he was pretty well fixed up in comparison to the way most folks had to dress at the place and time.
          Take my own rig for example. On my feet was a pair of moccasins, one of several pair I had made from the hide of the elk whose meat had been keeping me alive through the winter. I had two pair of bib-coveralls, and the ones I wore only had one small patch on the seat, and one seam stitched up at the hip, so they were my good ones. The blue flannel shirt I wore had been new six months before, so it wasn’t faded too bad, but it was the only one I owned. I had a good sheep skin vest, but the hide on the outside hadn’t been white for a long time, and the coat in my pack had been made from the hide of a bear who had out worn it before me. I had one pair of long johns, which had been washed before I headed for town, and I already mentioned my hat.
          There were many men carrying pistols in those days, usually in a pocket, or behind the waist band of their pants and hooked in a suspender, but I wore a gun belt. I took it from the body of a man my Maw shot on the trail from Kansas. While Paw and I were rounding up the stock one morning, this gentleman decided that Maw and my sister would be easy pickings. He was wrong. It was a nice, wide belt, with an Army Colt in the holster, and, on the other side, a 15 inch Bowie knife. Later I had made a sheath to hang next to it and hold a 4 inch skinning knife.
          After he set his things down by the fire, he straightened and stuck out his hand.
          “Jerry Hill,” he said. “Pleased to have somebody else cook, for a change.”
          Now I hadn’t said anything about cooking, just that I’d share the fire, but I didn’t object, considering that he offered the first smoked side meat I’d seen in a couple of months.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Opening the West - Quest for GOLD

How important was the Cariboo Road? What would be the state of development for Western Canada today if that road had not been forced through where a road could not go a century and a half ago? Without the force created by the scramble for gold would it have been built at all?
There had been trappers in the British Columbia Mountains for decades. Many indigenous people and a few of European heritage had traded furs with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Fur Company for decades. As a result there was transportation up as far as was navigable by stern-wheeler to Hope and sometimes Yale down stream on the Fraser from Hell’s Gate Canyon.
A view of a small piece of Hell's Gate demonstrating why shipping did not attempt to go further up-river. There are several miles of this and worse.

The HB Company’s steamer SS Beaver was the first having entered Pacific waters in 1835. She supplied trade goods to the various posts – Fort Langley, Hope and Fort Victoria for example – and carried furs away for transport to England. With the news of gold and the edict by Governor Douglas that none but those ships under British flag would be allowed up the Fraser some American ships were newly registered at Victoria and new ships were built in the colony.
Steamer "Onward" near Hope BC

Those who participated in the initial rush of 1858 could travel up the Fraser to Yale or up the “Lakes Route” (Harrison Lake & Port Douglas) to Lillooet. After that, they walked.
There were horses in the Chilcotin Country (west of the Fraser) raised and trained by at least two of the tribes in that district. However, they were prized processions of those peoples and not about to be turned over to strangers for a few shiny yellow stones. Therefore, those miners who made it to the various gold bearing areas – Quesnelle River, Antler Creek, Keithly Creek, etc. – did so on their own two feet.
This is a very large and extremely rugged country. To reach any of those creeks mentioned one must travel over mountains, through desert and back into mountains. By the time prospectors made it and panned some gold they had often exhausted their supplies even though augmented with venison, elk and anything else edible.
It wasn’t until 1862 that any horses or mules appeared along Williams Creek. Not until the Cariboo Road was completed in 1865 did those numbers become significant enough to make a difference in the cost and availability of supplies. Supplies did come up through the Okanagan country to Kamloops but the supply was too small to have an effect on the cost of goods a weeks travel to the north. Besides, the HBC posts along that route already needed the supplies and the available transport.

For instance, along Williams Creek (Barkerville) a pair of rubber boots carried in on someone’s back would sell for about $75.00 in 1863 and in 1866, transported on a pack train or freight wagon for about $25.00. Even the latter figure was a little high since the equivalent in 2015 would be about $500.00. Gold was fairly stable throughout the 1800s at about $21.00 per ounce unless turned in at the HBC store or such commercial venture. Most charged 3% to pay for transport, etc. bringing the value down to around $16.50. To buy the same amount of goods in 2015 as the $16.50 would buy in 1870 one would need about $310.00.
The Cariboo Road was paid for by the miners with licensing fees and royalties demanded on the mineral they took from the colony. In later years there was an import duty on the cattle brought in from Oregon Territory and California.

Here are a couple of pictures of the road where it goes through Hell's Gate. Not only does it show the timbers used to hold a road but also demonstrates why a pleasant 6 week walk to the gold fields did not include strolling along the pine clad river banks of the gurgling mountain stream. 

The road was built in sections by several contractors. Those contractors employed men of varying backgrounds including one crew made up chiefly of Chinese laborers from California. Some of these men stayed and turned to mining, raising livestock or farming the land. Some of those who came for gold opened businesses including the road houses that served travelers on the road. Some of those laborers, teamsters, drovers, engineers, miners, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, wheelwrights, coopers – people from every trade, profession, or aspect of life became the populace of the Colony and later Province of British Columbia.
Without the force exerted by the “need” for gold was there any reason for someone from California to walk for weeks into the cold north over mountains and streams? Without this same force and the resultant funding who would want to take the time to build a wagon road along a sheer cliff face, across a “water-less waste” or through a bottomless bog? With no road to lead them into the lush mountain valleys and plateaus who would consider such beauty could be found or that such fertility could be planted and reaped in the lands beyond those canyons and crags?
Cottonwood House, one of the many road houses serving travelers, freighters and stage coaches. Today it is a historic site and museum for those going into Barkerville from Quesnell.
Wright's Ranch or 127 Mile House another stop for the BX Stage, a stop for travelers, a holding ground for beef cattle and a source for milk and pork.

108 Mile House.

Ninety seven years after the Cariboo Road was completed to Barkerville my father moved his family to BC’s Peace River Country. Without that Cariboo Road much of the resultant development of the province would have been slowed and may not have happened. As a result I might be living in Ontario having just retired from some factory job.

Now that is a downright terrifying thought!