THE VALLEY OF THE PAST
CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW
HIDDEN foothills away of the in Cariboo the pine-clad mountains in central British Columbia, isolated from civilization save by an old wagon road which cuts through a moose-haunted wilderness of canyons and cottonwood forests, lies the Valley of the Past. Half a century ago its name was on the tongue of thousands. It was the mecca of a short-lived but tumultuous pilgrimage—the rainbow’s end. To-day the Valley of the Past sleeps quietly. There is nothing to disturb it. The only humans there—scarcely two hundred now—love the solitude and calm of the Valley; they would not have it otherwise. Most of them are rugged children of fearless men and women who, during the early ’sixties, smiled grimly at danger and toil in the quest for gold. For it was gold, that most alluring of material elements, which drew to the bosom of the Cariboo country, the Valley of the Past, the daring restless spirits of the time, flashed before their eyes the vision of opportunity and success and then, as destiny decreed, gave them what they sought or scoffed at their defeat.
The Beginning of Pacific Coast Development
DESIRE for gold and fortune, and with it all adventure, was the drivingmotive behind that human phenomenon that was known as the Cariboo Rush. It did not last so very long, but long enough to stamp home an impression that still lingers not only in the material development of a marvellous country but in the spirit of the pioneers of British Columbiaandthe generations that have followed them.
The Cariboo Rush was more than a movement, considerably more than a commercial proposition, or a dollars and cents industrial development. It marked the birth of Canada’s largest province as a worth-while territory, as a source of wealth in its most tangible form. But the fact that the Cariboo yielded something like $50,000,000 in the precious yellow metal was but a necessary incidental to the bigger consideration. The stampede to the diggings and the conditions that followed established and developed the rugged human fabric which has served as the backbone of British Columbia’s progress.
Seek out, if you will, the real pioneer families of British Columbia, those that have witnessed the growth of the province during the last fifty years or more and who shared in its upbuilding. You will find that most of them have good reason to remember the Cariboo Rush. You will find that it was the Cariboo Rush that influenced them and their forebears most in their decision to strike out for the unknown west. You will find that it was the lure of the Cariboo, with its freedom and inspiring open spaces, that gripped them and held them there; and that spurred them on to the deeds that made history. It steeled them to withstand hardship of the bitterest kind, to make sacrifices and toil with their hearts in the future. Such were the people who fashioned the beginnings of British Columbia, such was their trial and such the spïll of the Cariboo.
Half a century ago the Cariboo was the goal of thousands who left their homes and mortgaged their lives in their quest for fortune. They came from the British Isles and continental Europe by way of the Isthmus of Panama and Cape Horn, in windjammers that took months to make the trip.
They beat their way up from California in the frail steamboats accepting the risk to life as a matter of course. They were inured to hardship. They were men of determination and daring who had counted the cost of this venture into an unknown land; had considered its difficulties and held them as nothing compared with the possible achievement. They made the long overland trek from the farm lands of Ontario and the Eastern States, across the prairies and the dangerous Rocky Mountain passes, with hardship as a constant companion. Many of them never reached the end of their journey. The canyons were too treacherous and they dropped out of the struggle early. Others, more determined and with rugged physique, pushed on and found their El Dorado—or their ruin. Some fulfilled their ambition; more of them failed, but all of them were a part of the Cariboo army which made its pilgrimage into the unknown under conditions which only heroes and desperate men could dare to face.
And behind them marched other thousands........
traders, expressmen, cattlemen, settlers; and most of
them stayed to watch the country grow and produce.
These men, their wives and children are to-day the human sinew of the Cariboo country. They stayed after the argonauts who led them had either met their success or faced their failure. They stayed because they did not'regard everything, even life itself, in terms of gold.
The Town That Hasn’t Changed
TN THE centre of the Valley of the Past is the ancient -*■ town of romance, Barkerville, capital of the old gold country and years ago the goal of fortune-hunters. It has borne its years well. Time has touched but lightly upon Barkerville and to-day it is virtually as it was half a hundred years ago. There is no place in the world just like it or even similar. Here even yet you can see with your own eyes the streets once trodden by the feet of the gold seekers, the saloons and dance halls where they bought their entertainment with "a poke of dust,” the creeks where they panned for gold, the roads where the pack trains plodded.
But you can do more than that. You can see some of the men and women who were a part of the old stampede and who, gripped by the spell of the Cariboo, have lingered there, content to watch silently the passing of the seasons, the coming and going of the few strangers who wander into the valley, and dream of the days that have gone before.
There’s only one way to get into Barkerville, unless you want to make the long hike over the pack trail from the 150-Mile House, to the south, a much longer route and open to traffic only once in a while. If you would travel with a waggon at any rate there is the sixty-mile highway from Quesnel that zigzags past lake and creek, with big pines-and cottonwoods and willows as a natural boulevard running up into the hills for miles. It is a wonderful road......not for its physical condition for it is none
too good, but beside its scenic wonders you can count on seeing deer and
bear tracks every time you travel it; you can be reasonably sure of seeing
at least one moose grazing within a few hundred yards on every other trip or so, and you can take a shot or two right
from the roadside...... in season......at flocks of the
fattest, honking wild geese you ever saw, fresh from the feeding grounds in the Peace River country.
The Port of Barkerville
QUESNEL you might describe as the port to Barkerville, but if you did that you probably would incur the wrath of Quesnel’s population, because Quesnel fancies itself not better exactly, but just a little more important
tllan Barkerville, certainly in no wise subordinate or tri-
butary. It has a considerably larger population for one
thing. It’s on the main line of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway for another and right at the junction of the Fraser River and the Quesnel River—ideal location for a big interior metropolis of the future, holding the keys to unlock the riches of thousands of acres of potential farm land, and of limitless pulpwood forests.
Like Barkerville, Quesnel has a romantic past. It used to be a distributing centre for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the earliest days. Indians in their long canoes hewn from logs and trappers from the fur country made it their base of operations. Under a rude shelter of pine bark between Quesnel’s main street and the shore line just below is a reminder of the old trading period—a sixty-foot canoe, said to be the longest in the world.
You can make the journey from Quesnel to Barkerville by motor stage or on horseback, as you see fit. The road is the final link in that most famous of Western Canadian pioneer highways, the Cariboo Road. A description of that road is a story in itself and it would make a long one. Ne single narrative could sum up the conditions of old British Columbia and sketch the prevailing spirit of its people more thoroughly than such a story. In many respects the Cariboo Road has served central British Columbia as the Nile has served Egypt, as the Appian way served Ancient Rome. It was the greatest factor for colonization before the C.P.R.
Reaching from Yale, the head of navigation on the Fraser, to the mines of the Cariboo, a distance of nearly four hundred miles; built in three years; in one place supported by piling, in another by masonry fills; sometimes on colossal crib-work, the ruins of which may still be seen; sometimes cut through a sheer rock bluff, at one place almost at the water level, and a few miles further on so high in the mountains that the river below suggests a winding grey ribbon—is it surprising that fifty years ago the Cariboo Road was regarded as one of the world’s wonders?
Years ago the only means of communication with Quesnel from the south and
north was by water. But the last stem-wheeler has vanished from those waters, probably never to return. The railroad has taken its
The road from Quesnel to Barkerville was started early in 1864. Prior to that there had been only a rough trail from the south over which’ the pioneer miners had tramped a couple of seasons before to find the first gold in the Valley of the Past. Those pioneers were Ed Stout, Mike Burns, ‘‘Dutch Bill” Dietz and a half-breed, Fidele. The year before in “Red Headed” Davis’ store at Keithley Creek they had heard a story of the richest strike yet.... a story about gold that could be picked out of the bare rock, about a creek where a single pan had produced $75. In the dead of winter the party set out for the new field. They found a creek which fulfilled their wildest hopes. They called it William’s Creek after “Dutch Bill” Dietz. It proved a bonanza, but “Dutch Bill” died a pauper.
Camels on the Cariboo Trail
HESE pioneers followed no fixed trail. They blazed their own way through the wilderness, and those that followed them did likewise. But once the fame of William’s Creek and4the surrounding ground had spread the need for a waggon road became apparent, and the Quesnel-Barkerville route was the result. The first year of construction carried the road as far as Cottonwood, a distance of twenty-six miles. Here will still be found Boyd’s road-house, though “Old John” Boyd is now dead. Boyd was a big figure in the old days. He was one of the few who, having made a fortune in the gold creeks, managed to hold it. He handed down to his sons one of the finest ranches in the country. In the big log house will be found many relics of the stampede days, and the traveller will hear about the camels that used to travel
the trail. That’s something new to most people......the
fact that camels were used in carrying packs on the Cariboo road. There were twenty-one of them in business at one time, but they didn’t last long. The hard roads and the wet winters were hard on them and they stampeded mule trains whenever they met. Altogether the camel did not prove a very successful venture and this was his first, and probably his last appearance in Canadian history.
Because of the richness of the diggings, roadjcontractors found it hard to get workmen. Men wouldn’t work for road wages when they could pan more than twenty-five dollars in a day. Chinese were brought in to help.....pro-
bably the first to enter British Columbia. In the Fall of ’65 the last link to Barkerville was complete. The job had cost $130,000. But freight to Cariboo dropped from 75 cents to 15 cents a pound.
Some of Those Who Remain
YOU ARE apt to run into some mighty remarkable old characters in the Valley of the Past.
Crossing the river on the pontoon ferry at Quesnel brought the writer to the little cottage where Billie Boucher has lived for as long as most people care to remember.
Billie Boucher is a tall, rather imposing figure— a typical human relic of the days that are gone.
Eighty-three years old is Boucher and he has been a guide and interpreter all his life. He knows the Cariboo as few men know it. He was a messenger to Sir James Douglas, the great road builder and colonizer, who governed British Columbia after the era of the Hudson’s Bay Company control in 1851-63. Boucher’s mother was the daughter of an old trader
and the wife of the French-Canadian guide who accompanied Sir James on his incursions into the wilds of what was then New Caledonia. Boucher can recall the day when his mother went outside the stockades at Stuart Lake to plead with a hostile band of natives to spare the governor, who had been forced to seek protection inside. Billie Boucher takes more pride in that incident than anything else. It was one of the first things he told us about and he smiled as he spoke, with tear-dimmed eyes.
“She save him, too,” Billie Boucher assured us. “She talk and they understand. By V by they go ’way and
then be friends. My mother......she do that. I just small
boy, but I remember.”
Then we met the “Duke of York.” Just why they call him that we couldn’t find out. He is another old-timer. His favorite delusion is that he owns rich gold claims. He might make á good promoter for some sure-thing mining corporation except for the fact that he is almost stone
“Blacksand Pete” Nelson works on one of the bars a few miles north of Quesnel. He is a little man with shrewd eyes and probably tells the truth when he says he has “a good thing,” something that pays him more than ten dollars a day in gold. Some of it so fine and compact that it belongs to the wire-gold class. But Pete Nelson’s hobby is telling the world that the Fraser River’s black sands are worth fortunes if someone would just get in and work them with the proper equipment. He thinks dredgers would turn the trick, and so do a lot of others with whom we talked The Guggenheims investigated dredger possibilities on Antler Creek before the war, and it is rumored that big developments are coming. Maybe Blacksand Pete will be vindicated then.
Henry Jones of Lightning Creek
AT WING DAM,
we introduced ourselves to Henry Jones, who lives on the shores of Lightning Creek.
But Henry Jones is something more than a character of the Cariboo. He is a patriarch, a little white-haired monarch whose kingdom is
boundless. “Idon’t own so very much land, but can't I enjoy itjustthesame?”said Henry Jones. “I can goupto Lover’s Leap and look out over those rolling hills and down into the creek, and I know there is nothing to stop me from wandering through those forests or to hold me back from the creek. What more could I want? Can’t I call them mine?”
The philosophy of Henry Jones is a pretty one. It seems wonderfully appropriate for such a generous country.
He came out from his native Wales on the sailing ship Rising Sun. That was in ’63. He was among the first to reach the Cariboo and made his fortune early. He returned to Wales to live in comfort with his people, but he couldn’t stay. There was a fascination in the Cariboo that lured him back. He couldn’t fight down the influence; nor did he particularly try to fight it.
“It’s because a person feels so free up here,” he told us. “There’s no place on earth where a man can be more independent and yet be comfortable. There is always food in the forests and pay dirt in the creeks. No one with brains and the will to work can starve up here.”
Henry Jones reflects the spirit of the pioneers and their children. They thought so well of him that they elected him to the legislature years ago and when he spoke the house listened and heard the voice of the Cariboo. His hair is snowy white and his step just a little faltering, for Henry Jones is getting old now, but he will tell you that he’s seventy years young and that years don’t count, anyway.
“I’m like Ah Jin,” he explained. “Ah Jin is a Chinese miner. He was on in years when he came here fifty years ago. He’s still panning gold on the Swift River and he says he’ll live as long as he works. If he quit, he says, he’d die.”
We reached Barkerville. at dusk. The approach is impressive. We swung along the shore of Jack o’ Clubs Lake at a gallop. You’ve got to gallop the level strips if you want to cover forty Cariboo miles in a day. Jack o’ Clubs Lake is about four miles out of Barkerville. Towering above it to the east are the gold hills that sink down into the Valley of the Past. The Lowhee hydraulic mines are there, and the débris washed down spreads out fan-like into the meadow land below, seventy feet deep in places. Moose come down almost every night to promenade and graze. There were flocks of geese overhead when we passed and we met a settler coming from the lake weighed down with fish as long as your arm.
With the lake and the mine tailing at our backs, we hurried on and as the landscape stretched before us, disclosing a new and broader vista at every turn, yellow meadow land in the fore, brown rocky hills behind them, with snowcapped mountains stretching back into the horizon, there was a feeling that gripped me then and whispered that we were entering the Valley of the Past.
The grass-tangled graveyard of Barkerville is the first sign of settlement you meet. It helps to keep up the atmosphere and pound in the dramatic element. By the time you reach Barkerville you can’t help contracting something of the Cariboo contagion and wondering at its charm. Silent forests and gaunt hills mal#the picture, with here and there a quaint inhabitant to provide the human touch. The graveyard at Barkerville did not seem out of place. It seemed to fit in as one of the obvious features, because here was the place where people lived in the past, where the
slightest suggestion of themodern seemed like an intrusion.
The Town Without Taxes
the part. You can’t se-; it until you’re almost into it, because it’s hidden by trees, but there’s no mistaking it for any other hamlet. The buildings are old and unpainted. They lean forward or slant to the side as though the merest tremor would cause disaster—grouped so close together that you would think real estate was priceless, yet no one owns land, or pays rent in Barkerville. More than half the buildings are vacant. Long ago the government fell heir to the property they occupied because of unpaid taxes, but the government repudiated ownership. So Barkerville just exists and Barkerville’s people pay nothing for the privilege of living there.
When we drifted into Barkerville’s one hotel, Old Bill Brown, humped up before the stove in the room that p ssed for a lobby, scowled at us and shifted irritably in his chair. Next morning he got his things together, tied them in a red bandana handkerchief and started back to his cabin in the mountains, ten miles away.
“This place is too blamed civilized,” explained Bill Brown as he left the hotel. “I’ll come back when it’s quieter around here.”
Optimists give Barkerville a population of 150. Ten guests at the hotel constitute a crowd. Their visit is an event to be talked about, because such things don’t often happen......all in one day.
Bill Brown of Barkerville
THERE is only one Bill Brown of Barkerville, but he is a characteristic survivor of the gold rush days—a long-limbed, somewhat stooped figure, with long grey beard and eyes that seem to see nothing except the image of what used to be. He, like other Barkerville folk, looks upon the present with tolerance and upon the future with neither enthusiasm nor hope. But he and his neighbors are contented. They merely ask to be left alone. They will be satisfied as long as Barkerville remains as it was half a century ago; that is to say, as it is to-day.
Bill Brown has been living near Barkerville nearly sixty years. He has been there so long that he has lost all conception of the outside world, but he doesn’t care. Always exposed to the grim realities of life in the open spaces of British Columbia’s northland, he finds enough in his daily activities to interest and satisfy him.
Bill Brown doesn’t care for conversation with the new generation or strangers. He would rather stroll down to the old cemetery and ponder over the days that have gone before. He can sec there the grave of John A. “Cariboo” Cameron, reputed to have made the largest single fortune in Williams Creek.
The Cameron claim yielded during 1863 from forty to one hundred and twelve ounces to each of three shifts per day. Cameron brought out about $150,000. his share in its output for three months, went east, made some poor investments and returned without a cent. He never “came back” financially and died in poverty. They buried him just opposite his old workings.
Bill Brown will tell you all about it, and In? will tell about the other famous Cariboo figures, Judge Matthew Begbie, whose rule struck terror into the hearts of law-breakers; “Old Man” Diller, who took out one hundred and two pounds Troy in a single day; John Kurtz, who tried to drain the meadow lands for gold and failed because of the treacherous “slum,” slimy mud that could not be controlled before the days of modern engineering. Bill Brown will tell you about John Rose, the prospector who ventured into the Bear River country and never came back, and about Moses Ireland, who saved forty people lost in a snowdrift.
Continued on page 54
Continued from pane 27
To Bill Brown the days when these figures were flesh and blood and walked the streets of Barkerville were the only days that count. The present is just a shadow of the past and doesn’t matter.
“Thirty years ago,” said the old man, “I figured on going down to Vancouver for a while, but I didn’t go. Someone told me it was pretty tough down there.”
His memory recalls Vancouver as a clearing in the virgin forest.. Show him a postcard of Vancouver’s sky-line and he would think you were trying to fool him.
PRACTICALLY none of the rising generation in Barkerville knows even Quesnel, and Quesnel is but sixty miles away. Mrs. Houser was bom seventytwo years ago in Hesse, Germany. She went to Barkerville in the early seventies and has never been out since, except for a trip to Ashcroft long ago before there was a railway. Although she was living before the American Civil War, before the first steamboat came to the Pacific, before Victoria was an established city, Mrs. Houser has never seen a brick building or a street car, steamer or train. She has yet to feel the sensation of seeing these things for the first time, and possibly she never will, because Mrs. Houser is content to stay where she is, although Barkerville is only a little more than 300 miles from Victoria and Vancouver as the crow flies, and a distance like that means nothing in British Columbia. This last fact is what makes Barkerville so unusual, so fascinating to the outsider. Here is a town which has preserved the appearance and the spirit of the early sixties and the environment of the days when the history of the West was in the making, and which is, figuratively speaking, within a stone’s throw of Western Canada’s population centres and the network of tourist highways which blanket the continent.
ALTHOUGH robbed long ago of the glamour that accompanies a boom city, Barkerville is to-day almost identical in appearance to the Barkerville of the early gold rush days, when it was headquarters of thousands of fortune-seekers and adventurers from all corners of the world. In everything but age it is the same Barkerville that was gradually deserted by the gold followers as the paystreak thinned out.
Barkerville has no new buildings; nearly all of them are relics of its earliest years. The old theatre is still there, with the front being used as a fire station, the equipment comprising a two-wheeled hose wagon and a set of leather buckets. Mike Kelly is gone, but his hotel still stands as the leading establishment of the community and in it you can see the antiquated piano that was borne on the backs of men over the Cariboo Road.
Barkerville has no jail. There has been no crime there for seven years. A half breed drunk was the last man locked up. The gold commissioner, who is justice of the peace and practically runs the town, gave him five days. The half breed became hungry, so they gave him a gun and let him go foraging. Residents don’t remember whether he ever came back.
Remove the human features and Barkerville is still remarkable. It is sixty years since gold was discovered on Williams Creek and Barkerville was born. This one creek has yielded $30,000,000. The rock débris brought down by the creek and through the mining operations has accumulated and gradually raised the level of the town, just as the tailing from Lowhee is to-day filling the meadowland near Jack o’ Clubs Lake.
On a mass of this débris Barkerville is built, just twenty-seven feet above its original level. It is like a town built on the lava flow from a mountain, with a huge artificial bulkhead of logs and gravel at its upper flank to protect it. The bulkI head, many times rebuilt, is a crude affair, but it keeps the creek from spreading into I the main street at flood tide.
THE year 1863 was the banner year in the Valley of the Past. Williams Creek was being mined then along a stretch of seven miles, and about 4,000 men found employment there. The deep diggings below the canyon were in full swing. Gold was being produced on a scale which surpassed California in its palmiest days. The year's yield has been variously estimated between $4,000,000 and $6,000,000.
The pay streak in those days consisted of blue clay about six feet thick, mixed with gravel and decomposed slate. Above the canyon this stratum lay quite close to the surface, but below that point the covering was from fifty to sixty feet thick. According to Judge F. W. Howay, the Cariboo’s most distinguished historian, the deepest shaft in the vicinity was 134 feet deep, hut even then it did not touch bed rock. The prevailing theory was that this pay stratum was the bed of an old creek, which, carrying down the drift gold, had allowed it to settle either on the bed rock in or the blue clay above it. The débris of centuries then covered the treasure. Great changes in the earth’s surface took place; here a slide, there a convulsion, upheaving a portion and distorting another. The present bed of a stream was no index to its old and goldbearing bed, and here was the element of chance, the reason why a claim on a hillside was rich, while one right in the present bed was barren. One miner might be making $1,000 a day, while his neighbor just above or below him found his claim worthless. One had struck the old bed; that was the difference. The other had just missed it.
DEFORE the Cariboo Road was built pack trains of mules were used, 'and against them was the competition of Indians, who packed supplies on their backs over the rough trails and made money atit, charging ninety cents a pound for carrying between Yale and Barkerville or the nearby town of Richfield. The mule trains usually consisted of from sixteen to fifty animals. No pack saddles were used; in their stead, a rough sort of leather sack, filled with straw and called an aparajoe, was girded tightly upon the mule's back.
But no sooner had the Cariboo Road been completed and the way opened for waggons and cheaper freight than the gold yield of the creeks showed indications of weakening. The best days of the Cariboo passed with the years 1863 and 1864. The shallow diggings were exhausted and only the mine-owners and wage-earners stayed in the Valley of the Past. The era of the capitalist and deep diggings came into the Cariboo.
The gamblers left the Valley; so did the “hurdy-gurdy” girls, most of whom had come out by way of Cape Horn or the Isthmus of Panama from Europe. The population of Williams Creek and the surrounding country fell to one quarter of what it had heen in the best days. The shallow diggers abandoned their claims and moved elsewhere—some to Kootenay, others to the Peace River and a few to the Big Bend, which was the sensation of ’65.
As the Valley of the Past looked to that retreating pilgrimage so it looks to-day.
But will the Cariboo come back? Is there still in the mountains and the creeks sufficient gold to make the old valley and the surrounding plateau known to the world for something other than former glory?
It’s a problem. Barkerville old-timers will wag their heads and say it can’t he done. The creeks gave fifty millions of dollars in gold in their time and now they are drained empty, they will tell you. Just a little gold here and there maybe, but that’s all.
But is it all? Remember what Gardiner, of Beaver Pass, told us about the dredgers? He said that dredgers would bring a new era of development into the Cariboo, and he said it with a gleam in his eye that meant sincerity. Others will tell you the same thing, especially the new, progressive element that wants to see action and prosperity instead of stupor and depression. The progressives are convinced that there is gold in enormous quantity still in the Cariboo—yes, and in the Valley of the Past. Modern equipment is needed to bring it out, they say; that’s all.
Much of the ground has been worked over. Hillsides have been washed away by the irresistible pounding of water from the hydraulic guns and the gold has been caught in the riffles. We saw one place where they took out $50,000 last year and with steel instead of wooden riffles they plan to double output later on. Some of the creeks have been panned almost their entire length, but there are still immense areas that have never been touched. There are said to be promising gold quartz showings at different points, principally on Proserpine Mountain, near Barkerville.
A few weeks ago a couple of old prospectors made a rich strike near Quesnel Lake, about thirty miles south of Barkerville. Using the primitive “rockers” they
are reported to have produced gold worth one hundred dollars a day, which is encouraging. It is believed that the old prospectors have hit the “mother lode;” that is to say, one of the original gold deposits from which the nuggets and dust found in the creeks and loose in the ground were washed. If this is true, the discovery is important. At any rate, it has started some excitement and a new rush. Owing to the approach of winter, big developments cannot be expected this season, but a new optimism has been created.
It was the courage and determination of the miners of half a century ago that made famous the Valley of the Past and the whole of the Cariboo. Courage will be required in making the Cariboo country
famous for its present and future...... courage, yes, and capital.