Saturday, December 19, 2015

Finding the Cariboo women

“The Making of Jake McTavish” is the forth novel where bits of my imagination have escaped out into view of the general public.
I don’t believe any of those escapees will hurt anyone and hopefully they will be entertaining and even informative.
I know I’m tired of seeing how Western Canada’s police officers of the 19th century where all paragons of virtue and/or the “geeks” or “nerds” of that age. I’m sure (and research supports my idea) that they were men (in all cases that part is 100% true) with good and bad qualities who were looking for a regular place to bunk and, in later years, a small pension.
There have been a few writers who have tried to portray the pioneers of Western Canada as people with “warts and all”. Those that come to mind are Guy Vanderhaeghe and Bill Gallaher. Years ago I read some mountain man tales that included some mention of travel through those mountains that are now within Canada but much of what I read and view today about Canada’s pioneer days carries the danger of inciting diabetes due to the excessive sweetness.
The reason I was thinking of this was the research that I’m doing for another novel I’m working on. I may have mentioned in an earlier post that a few readers have contacted me through the connection on this blog and on the street asking what might have become of the five men who became partners in the novel “Partners”. With the intent of creating an answer to that question I’ve started a story that begins the spring after the events of “Partners” come to a close.
What I’m saying is that I really don’t have an answer to the question but will by the time I finish writing the story. One thing I want to happen is for at least four of the “Partners” to find mates. What I’ve written so far includes the marriage of one of the partners and his temporary move to Victoria. I also have lady friends for two more of the partners and was looking for more information of females of the time and era.
I decided, while writing the first few chapters of what I am, at this point, calling “Underbelly” that it would be good to include some information about the real people who worked and lived in Barkerville back in the late 1860s.
For instance these facts from a few sources I’ve found about the first gold discoveries in BC.
The first indication of gold was through a collection made by Hudson’s Bay factors in the Colony of British Columbia who had accepted gold in payment for goods. The HBC did not encourage information on such trade to be made public since they expected (and were proven correct) that such information would interfere with their fur trade. However, after several trades the accumulated gold had to be reported and banked.
In a letter written by the Chief Factor for HBC, James Douglas on April 16,1856 he reported to the British Colonial Secretary that “gold has been discovered on the Upper Columbia.”
On December 28, 1857 Chief Factor Douglas issued a proclamation instituting a system of licenses for prospectors at a fee of 10 shillings or 5 US dollars.
On July 1, 1858 Factor Douglas, after 37 years with the HBC became an employee of the British government and Governor of both the Colony of British Columbia and the Colony of Vancouver Island. He exercised his management duties primarily from Fort Victoria but did make a few trips to Fort Langley.
Through out 1858 and ’59 both colonial capitals, Victoria and Langley grew. Victoria from a relatively stable population of around 600 to an estimate (but violently fluctuation according to season) of five or six thousand to a winter low of around 2000. Fort Langley also grew but not as large and unlike Victoria the town of Langley was not on the site of the original trading post.
The big finds on Williams Creek (named after “Dutch Bill” or William Dietz), the location of Barkerville did not take place until 1862 and only after several other discoveries. First, the thousands of gold seekers who descended on the colonies panned the sand bars of the Fraser River where the gold proved to be very fine and hard to separate from the gravel. By the fall (end of season) of 1860 they where working the tributaries of the Quesnelle River such as Keithley, Harvey and Cunningham Creeks (named after men who found gold on the creeks). In the spring of 1861 there were 1200 men on Antler Creek. Also in the spring of 1861 was when Williams Creek was discovered five men traveling the country together.
The day the partners discovered the gold each of the five was successful in their efforts. Dutch Bill however retrieved the most with an average of $1.25 per pan. It is because of his larger return that the creek is named for him. Despite the actual discover in 1861 the five claims where not registered until March 22, 1862.
During that first winter there were only 90 men and 7 women who stayed on the creek for the winter. By the time the first claims were registered however there where thousands on the trails to the Cariboo Country and to Williams Creek. By the fall of 1862 several “towns” had been formed and many had disappeared. Horsefly Landing, Likely, and Quesnelle are still around from that era but up on Williams Creek those that still exist (thanks to great efforts by many volunteers) are Richfield and Barkerville.
In 1862 Billy Barker (“English Bill”) after chasing the elusive yellow metal for 16 years took on eight partners. On August 17, 1862 they found the lead and took 124 ounces from their shaft in 10 hours.
Now, what I was originally looking for was some of the actual people who developed Williams Creek, Barkerville, Richfield, Cameronton and Marysville. I’m particularly interested in are the women but they are very hard to find since few recorded any information about them.
With the help of several writers and researchers, most notably R.T. Wright and his book, “Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields” I’ve found info on some of those women. I’ll get to that in my next posting.

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