Breaking Trail for the Iron Horse
Being the final chapter of the colorful adventures of British Columbia’s most noted pioneer
As related by JASON O. ALLARD to B. A. McKelvie
BRITISH COLUMBIA is to have the railway lands pledged at the time of Union to the Dominion returned to her. To me the granting of those lands as an aid to the construction of a transcontinental railway in the early ’seventies appears but as an incident of yesterday, while the searching for a pass for the line to enter the province is a matter of vivid recollection.
There was no city of Vancouver in those days. Victoria was the commercial and political capital, and it regarded New Westminster with jealousy and disfavor—but with the little cluster of huts on Burrard Inlet, Victoria never bothered herself.
My first visit to what later became Vancouver was in 1869, after I had left the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. There was a dance at the Hastings Mill settlement, and being at New Westminster, I was persuaded to accompany some other young fellows on the dozen mile journey through the woods to the mill camp on Burrard Inlet. Only a handful of rude shacks, a hotel and one or two stores comprised the settlement. There were Indians living in what is now Stanley Park, and they were not trusted too far, for several white men had disappeared from time to time in the preceding years and at least one killing had been definitely traced to the natives. At Hastings Mill store which is still standing, a rifle rack was conveniently placed in case of hostile attack. And now Vancouver claims a population of 275,000.
Surveying the C.P.R.
COURSE everyone was interested in the negotiations for British Columbia’s entry into Confederation, but we did not expect that the request for the construction of a coach road would be met by Sir John A. Macdonald with the promise of the immediate commencement of surveys for a railroad. The news that we were to be linked with Canada by bands of iron, and that the Empire’s dream of a Northwest passage was at last to be realized caused general rejoicing in the province.
At the time I was working for a trader near old Fort Colville, but came back to the Coast when the survey parties were being organized in the summer of 1871. I arrived just in time, too, for I was the last man hired for that season, being taken on the strength of Party “U” commanded by John Trutch, brother of British Columbia’s first lieutenantgovernor.
We were to start surveying from the courthouse at Lytton toward Kamloops.
After I had been at work for about a week I was on my way one evening into Lytton when I met Mr. Trutch driving out to the camp in a buggy. He stopped me.
“Allard,” he said, “go back to camp and throw some of the things you’ll need into the back of this buggy and then follow on foot to Kamloops. We will go exploring from there. I’ll make arrangements at the wayside houses for your refreshment.”
Of course I did as I was told, and when a few days later I arrived at Kamloops, Mr. Trutch had me buy four horses, one being a pack pony and the others for our party which consisted of us two and a cook. Thus provided, we explored up the Thompson River to Shuswap Lake and on to Eagle Pass, and then back to Okanagan Lake and once more to Salmon Arm of Shuswap Lake.
His Goose is Cooked
TT WAS at this latter place that I offended
Mr. Trutch so that he refused to speak to me for nearly a week. We sighted a big goose swimming near the shore. The chief raised his gun and took a bead on the bird, but did not shoot. He lowered the gun; raised and lowered it again and repeated this performance several times. He was waiting for it to rise. My training had not been shooting for sport but for necessity. The goose promised to be a substantial addition to our almost empty pantry-box, and as I feared it would get away from us, I pulled my revolver from my holster, raised myself in the stirrups and fired, almost blowing the head off the bird.
“A pretty neat shot that, sir,” I remarked, but he made no answer. He sat on his horse and looked at me in astonishment. The cook retrieved the goose, put it with his stores, and we continued our journey.
It was my job to estimate distances, at which I was very good, but for four days he never asked me my judgment on our travels. He sat on one side of the fire eating his meals, with me on the other, but he never spoke once.
The cook was so frightened over the affair that he never mentioned the goose, although he had cleaned and salted it.
In this manner we explored Grand Prairie and down to Nicola Lake. Here there was some settlement and Mr. Trutch decided to dispense with the services of the cook, as we would be more or less in touch with civilization and could buy our meals until we rejoined the party.
The morning after the cook left us he spoke for the first time, “Ah, Allard,” he said, “what happened to your goose?”
“It’s in the pantry-box.”
“Well, how about cooking it?”
I was still feeling put out at his manner, so I retorted, “I’m no cook, and I did not hire myself as one.”
He looked at me for a moment and then with a slight smile replied, “Well, I can cook. There are some potatoes and carrots over in that field. Do you think you could forage some?”
It did not take me long to do so, and I soon had them peeled and boiling. In the meantime he had prepared the goose for cooking. The memory of that meal lingers with me yet. I’ve eaten lots of geese since and all sorts of other fowls, but I have never tasted anything as good as that goose. When we had eaten as much as we could hold, he sighed and looked across at me and murmured, “Allard, my boy, I had intended to move on today, but I guess we’ll just stay here and eat the rest of that bird”—and we did.
We rejoined Party “U” at Ashcroft and continued surveying to Shuswap Lake which we reached on December 15 and disbanded until spring.
V\ 7"HEN the parties were *V being made up for the next season I applied to Walter Moberley, engineer-in-chief of the Rocky Mountain exploratory parties “S” and “T”. He was a great friend of my father and I wanted to work under him. He immediately gave me a job and told me to report to Party “T,” of which E. Mohun was engineer in charge. It was starting at the Big Bend of the Columbia River. I made my way there only to find two days later that orders had come for the party to fall back on Kamloops and outfit for work in the Yellowhead Pass country.
It was several weeks later that we prepared to leave old Fort Kamloops. I was helping to pack the horses when Mr. Mohun came up. I told him that in my opinion there was not enough food for the expedition. With a look of scorn he snapped: “I guess the commissariat
officers know their business.”
We explored up the North Thompson and through the Canoe Valley to within seven miles of the Yellowhead—and then our grub ran out. Without proper rations the men would not work, so we dropped back and established ourselves at what was later called “Starvation Camp.” There we spent some weeks living off wild berries and what game and fish we could get until a pack train arrived with more supplies.
Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle with an Assiniboine Indian and his squaw had crossed the Continent in 1862-3 and followed the route that we were exploring. They wrote a book on their trip and devoted considerable space to an account of the finding of a headless Indian. The man had probably died of starvation. The body was found in a sitting posture with the hands clasped about the knees, but no trace of the head could be discovered although Milton and Cheadle searched for it. The story had created a great deal of interest and I determined, if I had a chance, to find the missing head.
One day, not long after leaving Starvation Camp, we came to an early halt, and having nothing else to do I went down to the river bank. There I found an Indian fishing-line. “Boys,” I called, “I’ve found the Headless Indian’s line.”
“And I’ve located his kettle,” exclaimed Eugene Baker excitedly.
I ran back to where Baker was searching, but before I arrived he and John Jane had discovered the skeleton, minus, of course, the head. It had fallen apart since Milton and Cheadle had come across it, but from the location, the rusted kettle and knife and other belongings so minutely described by the distinguished travellers, there could be no doubt as to the identity of the remains. But where was the head?
We all three started to search for it, and at last, under the trunk of a windblown tree about seventy-five yards from the skeleton I found the skull. How it got there is still a mystery. Had an animal knocked it off, why had the torso remained erect?
We got an old yeast box from the cook and into this we packed the bones and skull and buried them. One of us said a prayer and Jane put up a board upon which he printed: “Here lies the body of the Headless Indian.”
The Dispute Over a Route
VILTE MET Sandford Fleming’s party.
* ’ He was the chief engineer for the Government in locating the line for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The party spent a day or so with us and then went on. Sandford Fleming was a fine-looking man with a great square beard, rather rough and burly in his manner, and we did not particularly like him. This, however, was probably prejudice on our part, for we knew that he did not like Mr. Moberley who had recommended a more southerly route for the road, while he favored the Yellowhead. The disagreement between the two men eventually led to our chief quitting the service of the Dominion Government, but he had influence enough, when later the construction of the road was passed into private hands, to persuade those in authority to adopt a line which would put Winnipeg on the main track and would follow the Bow and penetrate through the Kicking Horse and Rogers passes—and so in the long run Moberley won his point.
Of Rev. Mr. Grant my chief recollection is that he was kicking about the roughness of the trail; kicking about the weather and was not particularly satisfied with the food.
They had a guide with them named Beaupré. They paid him off a day or so after leaving us, and I saw him coming back along the trail walking barefooted and carrying a pair of gum boots over his shoulder.
“Why don’t you wear the boots?” I asked.
“By Gar,” he answered, “she wear out too soon. Bye’n’bye my feet she grow some more; dem boots she not grow no more.”
Working For a Christmas Dinner
V\7E SURVEYED as far as the summit * * and then Mr. Mohun, acting, I believe, on instructions sent back by Sandford Fleming, ordered us to make our way back to Kamloops for the winter. This move was made without any intimation being sent to Mr. Moberley who had charge of both “S” and “T” parties and at the time was near old Henry House. We retraced our trail as far as Starvation Camp when a messenger arrived from Moberley asking for three men to volunteer to join “S” and winter in the country.
There was a good deal of talking over the proposal. Most of the men were anxious to get to Kamloops from where they would have no difficulty in getting to New Westminster or Victoria for Christmas. At last John Jane and C. W. Chantrell, friends of mine, said they would stay if I would, and so the three of us accompanied Alex McLean the messenger back to the Summit. Here Mohun’s survey line was picked up and was carried on to Fiddle River.
We worked through until January before going into winter quarters near Henry House. It was very cold, and we had several bad storms, one of which, I recall blew the tents down in a terrific snowstorm. It was terrible. Trees fell all around us, and one actually fell on a tent in which two of the men were living. Luckily it caught against a deadfall and they escaped injury. It was a terrible night, though.
We had not gone into our permanent quarters at Christmas, and our camp had run short of provisions. I and George Inkster—a brother of Sheriff Inkster for so many years prominent in affairs in Manitoba—agreed to take two packers, Okanagan Charlie and Charlie Brown, and go to Jasper McCord’s camp to get a supply of raisins, sugar and other essentials for the puddings and cakes that the cook planned for the Christmas dinner.
We had hardly more than started when the two packers fell through an air hole in the ice of a lake we were crossing, and by the time that Inkster and I had pulled them out, their clothing was frozen stiff. We hurried back to camp, and when they were fixed up nice and snug between blankets we started out again—the two of us.
We had gone but a mile or so from the camp when fog descended upon us. Inkster was ahead and I followed, and for hours we plodded on, not sure of where we were going. At last the fog gave way to a wind which developed to the proportions of a gale—and cold! It just bit through our clothing and chilled our very bones. On and on we stumbled. Night came on, and then to our great joy we saw lights—our courage and physical resources quickened at the sight. We finally made the house —only to find that it was Jasper House and not McCord’s Camp. We had taken the wrong turning in the fog.
So we spent our Christmas at Jasper House and dined off Indian fare.
The Legend of Miette
'"THERE was an old Indian woman
living there then, Marguerite Finlay. She must have been at least eighty. She was the widow of an old fur trader, and a really intelligent old woman she was, too.
She told us some of the lore of the country, and one story in particular has remained with me.
“Long, long ago,” she said, “when I was young, there was a white man—a young man—who desired a wife. He did not like the native women, and went away to the East and across the big water to get her. Before he went he arranged with my father for me to go through the pass and meet the brigade the next year, for I was to serve her. So I went and met him and his wife. She was young and beautiful She had hair like the sunlight. She was beautiful, but she was not happy. She was afraid of the country and she cried nearly all the time. I was unhappy, too, for I was sorry for her. Her husband tried with kind words to comfort her, but he could not.
“At last we came to the Miette and camped close to the falls. That night she cried more than ever, and her husband became angry. My tent was beside theirs and I heard angry words. I did not know the language but I knew she wanted him to take her back to her people and he could not. I did not sleep, and after a long time I heard a noise—like a sob.
“I looked out of a slit in my tent. There was the woman in her white night robe and her yellow hair hanging down her back—beautiful she was, just like the pictures the good Fathers showed me later of angels. She lifted her arms to the moon, and then turned and stretched them out toward the tent where her husband was sleeping. I was afraid she would see me watching her, so I closed the hole in the tent. When I looked again she was gone—and no one ever saw her again. But close by, the falls of old Miette were tumbling and roaring.”
Old Marguerite’s story so impressed me that being young and romantic I worked my way to the foot of the waterfall the next time I was in the vicinity and searched the waters for traces of the remains of the woman with the hair like sunlight—but without success. She must have been the first white woman to penetrate the Rockies and the country overcame her, for I believe old Marguerite.
A Leap For Life
T GOT on well with Mr. Moberley and
my promotion with him was rapid. By the time we went into winter quarters I was leveller and topographer. He was a wonderful man and a great engineer. He always plotted his work each night. His men would do anything for him because he was thoughtful of them. I recall how he sent to Fort Edmonton to get high wines for us when scurvy attacked some of the men. The remedy was successful, and a “high time” was had as well.
Another time the boys clubbed together, hearing that a wandering trader had come into the district and sent out for some rum—but not as a medicine. A barrel of it was bought, and when it came we were all eager to sample it. It looked like rum, but it had a most ungodly smell and tasted like nothing I had ever come across before. At last when the barrel was empty, for eventually the “rum” was consumed, we discovered the secret of its peculiarities. It had been manufactured out of leaf tobacco, red pepper and water.
During the winter, hunting parties were organized to get fresh meat for the camp. James Porter, a chum of mine, and later a prominent figure in the settlement and development of the Cassiar country was the chief hunter of the establishment.
I went out with Porter one Saturday morning, and as a result came near to losing my life.
We climbed on to a flat ridge on Sheep Creek in search of Bighorn. Porter told me to stay on one side and he would cross the higher ground and drive the sheep toward me. He was gone about half an hour when I heard him shooting at a rapid rate. This was followed by what at first I thought was the noise of a distant avalanche. I turned as the sound grew louder, in time to see thirty or forty sheep making straight toward me. I fired as fast as I could and killed four before they got out of range, and was quite proud of the accomplishment.
“How many did you get?” shouted Porter appearing a little later.
“Four,” I said boastfully.
“Is that all? I got thirteen.”
Porter suggested that we carry my four over the crest to the edge of a cliff over which we could drop the carcasses to a snowdrift where they would be easy to get to the following morning by dog sleds. The idea seemed a good one and we packed the sheep over and dropped them down the hundred-foot precipice.
We disposed of sixteen of the carcasses in this manner, and without difficulty, but the last one caught in a tree that grew out of a cleft about thirty feet down. Nothing would do Porter but that he must dislodge it, and he managed to work his way down the cliff and to do so. But he could not get back.
Instead of leaving him there and going for help I, like a fool, finally made my way down to him, and consequently was in the same plight, and there on a narrow shelf with no prospect of getting back we remained for several hours.
Below us were the tops of trees growing on the flat. Night was coming on and with it would come certain death from the cold.
At last I said: “Jim, there’s only one thing to do, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to jump into those trees.”
“You’ll kill yourself,” he declared.
“We’ll freeze to death here,” I answered and threw my rifle down. Then I measured the distance with my eye and jumped out into space, falling as I planned midway out on the branches from the trunk of the largest tree. The sway of the limbs broke my fall sufficiently to permit me to catch hold and work my way in closer and so down to the ground.
“Come on now, Porter,” I called, but Jim hesitated and it was half an hour before I persuaded him to make the leap. He bruised himself a bit, but was otherwise unhurt.
It was eight miles to the depot and it was long after nightfall when we arrived, almost exhausted. They were on the point of organizing search parties to go out at dawn to look for us. We rested up over Sunday, and on Monday morning went back with dog teams to get the meat, only to find that we had been forestalled by dozens of wolves, and there was not a single carcass that had not been torn and spoiled by the vicious animals.
The Wedding That Didn’t Come Off
T DID not go out on any more hunting I expeditions, but I did make a trip to Fiddle River depot that nearly cost me my freedom. An Indian woman almost married me without my knowing it, and she would have succeeded if Inkster had not intervened and told me what was going on.
An Indian I had seen at Henry House invited me to his abode at Fiddle River and I accepted the invitation. He had a great, powerful daughter, one of the largest and strongest native women I’ve ever seen, and he was very proud of her. I understand he offered her in marriage to Mr. Moberley in trade for a horse but the offer was declined.
I entered the lodge and saw several women sitting in a sort of semicircle on furs. I immediately crossed to the side of the big girl and seated myself on the same bearskin rug. At once all the women became excited and pleased, and jabbered away good-naturedly. As I was ignorant of the language, while they could not speak the Chinook jargon, I smiled and nodded and tried to make myself agreeable.
Just then Inkster, who was looking for me and knew the language and customs of the people, stuck his head in the tent door. “Good lord, Jason,” he shouted. “Do you know what you’re doing? You’re marrying the girl!”
“You are,” he insisted, “and I don’t know if I can get you out of it.”
A difficult time he had, too, squaring the old man. I had to part with a fine ring given to me by my mother before I was permitted to leave, and then sanction was given only because Inkster persuaded him I would be no good as a hunter and would be more of a family liability than an asset. It was a narrow shave.
THE following summer I spent in the Fort George district and the next year in the Kamloops and Fraser River districts. Then I was engaged with the party that sought a route from Kitimat to Fort Fraser. Altogether I was engaged in survey work for nearly seven years, returning to Fort Langley in 1878 determined to settle down. I could go on telling of my experiences in those times but I have given enough to illustrate the manner in which we lived in the exploratory camps. Eventually the route was decided upon, the railway was built and Vancouver, the settlement to which it gave status, is now forging ahead of San Francisco as a world port.
I have little more to tell. After returning to Langley I took up the land that my father had settled upon and in 1879 married Seraphine Joseph, as fine a wife as any man could wish. We had a large family. Several children died in infancy, but 1914 found us a happy family and I had every prospect of a comfortable old age.
My four boys answered the call to the defense of the Empire. Just before they went away, the two lads who were helping me on the farm—in fact looking after it, induced me to mortgage it in order to add another field.
It was a short term loan. I knew nothing of the moratorium, and the mortgage was foreclosed in 1915. The same year my wife sickened and died—and I was turned out homeless.
Two of my lads died for the Empire and one returned a sufferer from the effects of the battlefield. The other is married and has his own responsibilities.
Sometimes, when I am alone in the single room that is all that I can afford on the small war pension that I get, I think that if my boys had stayed at home I would be living today in comfort—but I am not bitter. Only one thing annoys me, and it is more for others who may be in a like predicament than for myself. Canada passed an old age pension bill, offering to pay $10 a month to old residents if the provinces will do the same thing. British Columbia agreed to do it. A pensioner is allowed to have a total income of $360 a year, unless his income is derived from an annuity purchased from the Dominion. He may have $1000 or more from such a source and still get an old age pension. Why should not an investment made with the government in the lives of the sons of the aged count for as much as dollars? Why should not war pensions be exempt?
But there, I should not be complaining. I have my memories pleasant companions, and life has been worth living. And there is still romance and adventure for me, and will be as long as I can seek them. Only a few months ago I led a little expedition to the interior of Vancouver Island in search of a mythical race of hairy giants. Recently I have been offered inducements to direct a party in search of the buried treasure of an old Indian chief. And only the other day I was offered a trip by airplane to Victoria. What a difference from my first crossing of the Gulf of Georgia ! It took four days to make the journey in a canoe—and now they make it by air in forty minutes.
Long live Romance and Adventure, and may there always be those ready to seek the one and enjoy the other.
This is the fourth and last article of a series by Mr. Allard and Mr. McKelvie on the former’s pioneering experiences in British Columbia.