We left off my last post on this subject with this paragraph: “Douglas disagreed.
The moderate quantity of gold collected would hardly warrant the expense of erecting a new establishment near the mouth of Thompson’s River, a measure which Mr. [Donald] McLean strongly advocates. A moving trading party will for the present be more efficient and far less expensive, while the post if found necessary may be established hereafter. (35)
It is October 1857 — six months before the actual Fraser River gold rush began. The story is continued here:
One of the first Americans to appear at Kamloops was Scotsman Angus Houston, a one-time California gold seeker who stumbled into the post in 1856, more dead than alive. In 1857 he panned for gold on Tranquil Creek, and found it. (36) More Americans followed him north to Kamloops, and Douglas warned McLean that he thought it would be impossible for the Natives “to carry out their determination of preventing whites from working in their diggings. Leave them entirely to their own impulses, and be careful not to encourage them to resist the influx of gold diggers, or we may become embroiled in serious difficulties, in short inculcate upon the Indians the duty of being kind to all white men, your words will at least have a restraining effect if they cannot altogether prevent evil, at the same time I would take care to inform any white strangers coming into the country that the Indians are dangerous and not to be trusted.” (37)
In November Kamloops clerk Robert Tod “was despatched with a party of men and horses to bring in supplies from Fort Hope; the demand in goods at Thompson’s River having greatly increased in consequence of the quantity of Gold purchased and of an increased trade in furs. Mr. Tod brought out 209 3/8 ounces of gold dust procured chiefly from the aborigines since the 6th of October last . The Couteau Indians are exceedingly desirous to employ themselves in digging gold, but being ill supplied with washing pans, picks, shovels and rockers, they are still unable to do so with advantage… Mr. Tod after two days rest at Fort Langley was despatched on his return to Thompson’s River [via the brigade trail], with the supplies required. I have also sent a supply of Shovels, washing pans and picks for the Indian diggers, who will receive every encouragement at our hands to induce them to work the auriferous streams.” (38)
No letter reached Fort Victoria over the winter, but four miners “arrived at Fort Langley about the beginning of the present month [February], direct from the mines with 89 ounces of gold dust, which they sold at the Company’s store for clothing and other supplies; [they] report that the country abounds in gold, and the quantity in their possession adds force to their testimony.” (39) Douglas found their report “somewhat extravagant, but if even half of what they tell be true it is certain we are on the eve of a great discovery. In prospecting the banks of Fraser’s River below the Forks… two of those men made a fortunate hit. Judging from an eddy current, and the aspect of a certain part of the River bank that there was a gold deposit near they selected a spot and fell to work with pick and pan. At the close of the first day, they had collected upwards of 8 ounces of gold, and encouraged by so fortunate a beginning, they made up their minds to prosecute the working, but a fall of snow during the following night and a sudden rise in the river overflowed the place and for the time put an end to their project.” (40)
In spite of the many gold finds, Douglas admitted that not much gold was being discovered so far. “Now the ascertained export from Thompson River up to the present time, does not much exceed 500 ounces, and admitting for the sake of comparison that an equal quantity still remains in the hands of the diggers and at our own establishment in Thompson’s River, that would only give a total yield, since the discovery. of about 1,000 ounces, which after making due allowance for the disproportion in the number and skill of the mining population in the two countries, is relatively a small return compared with that of the first eight months, of the gold mines in California.” (41)
But Natives everywhere were becoming more alive to the advantage of finding gold. McLean sent news of gold being found at now-abandoned Fort Yale, a hundred miles north of Fort Langley, and at the “Pavillon” [Pavilion River]. “In fact,” Douglas wrote, “the auriferous character of the country is daily becoming more apparent, chiefly through the yet unskillful researches of the natives.” (42) He now planned to build a permanent post near the Nicoamen River, and also on sending goods via the Fraser River to the Thompson. “We will have to form a transport corps of two officers and 10 white men who with the addition of Indians will form a sufficient force for that purpose. Clerk George Simpson was chosen for this duty. The problem was, that he was not “perfectly regular, though he is well disposed to be so and both active, able and zealous, in the discharge of his duties.” (44) Douglas’ carefully worded letter was addressed to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s governor, George Simpson, father of the “irregular” Simpson now being assigned the difficult work of hauling freight up the Fraser River.
This is the end of this third post — I will continue next with the stories of the hazards of upriver travel to the mouth of the Thompson’s River. We who know the Fraser River will understand the difficulties. The next post will be the last in this series, and I will then list all the sources in another post or two.
This post is the third in a series. The first Fur Trade Gold Rush post is found here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/gold-rush-one/
The last of the series is found here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/gold-rush-four/
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.
- Alexis Bellanger
- George McDougall