The new Gold Rush reaches the Kamloops post

Hope, Kamloops, and Okanagan Lakes

A.C. Anderson’s map of British Columbia, CM/F9, courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives. Detail from Original Map

This is part two of my Fur Trade Gold Rush post, and I ended the first post with the discovery of gold on the Nicoamen river by the Natives. The last paragraph read this way: “If Douglas was making preparations for a large discovery of gold in the interior, he continued to be disappointed. In 1856, Douglas passed along the information that “Samples of gold have been brought in from various parts of the country particularly from the Nicommeen [sic] Fork, a tributary of Fraser’s River, and I am in hopes that some more important discoveries will yet be made in that district.” He was unfamiliar with this part of the country: the Nicoamen River tumbled down steep cliffs on the south bank of the Thompson River, a dozen or so miles east of its junction with the Fraser.”

It was not until February 1857 that Douglas received encouraging news on a further delivery of gold from the Nicoamen River Natives. “The sample of gold… was picked up by these people, and their fingers among the stones and gravel in the banks of those streams, a statement corroborated equally by the size of the pieces, and the absence of the black oxide of iron which is invariably mixed up with the small gold procured by washing.” Confident that a large gold find was imminent, Douglas gave McLean instructions to travel to the Nicoamen, “Provided with all the necessary implements for digging and washing out Gold, and to employ the local Indian population at that work, buying the gold from them on the spot.” (18)

In June, McLean advised Douglas that a party of gold-seekers, “adventurers from Fort Colvile have discovered gold in greater abundance than before known in that part of the country. He goes on to state that about $204 worth of gold dust was washed out by seven men in 2 1/2 days, at the Falls of the south branch of Thompson’s River, making a return of 10 dollars a day for each man’s labour.” (19) Douglas expressed his willingness “to take advantage of that discovery should it prove real, and for the influx of adventurers from all parts of the country.” (20)

Chief Factor James Grahame, now at Fort Vancouver, heard reports that there had been a rich gold mine discovered on the Couteau River, “which stream I am told flows somewhere between Okanagan and Thompsons River.” The Couteau flowed into the Salmon River, in the fur traders’ Grande Prairie north of Okanagan Lake. “Parties are fitting out at the Dalles to explore that region so that, whether there is gold or not, the privacy of the Thompson’s River District will be invaded.” (21)

A few weeks later Grahame reported that at Fort Colvile, Angus McDonald “has on hand 168 ounces of gold dust, produce of the Pend’Oreille mines traded from the Indians — and from the few whites who still work there. This in my opinion settles the question as to the prospects of the mines in that region, and we may therefore anticipate doing a good business there in a short time.” (22)

However the gold rush continued to move north from the Fort Colvile area. A few days after his most recent reports from Pend-d’Oreille mines, Grahame received “a sample of gold found on Okanagan Lake, which is of a much coarser quality than that from Colvile, and he thinks that there is no want of it there. I expect this has something to do with the report I mentioned last mail of gold being found on the Couteau River, regarding which no further news have reached me.” (23)

It is impossible to tell how much gold was found. Douglas reported from Fort Victoria that only seven ounces had so far been traded in 1857. (24) But George Blenkinsop sent reports from Fort Colvile that miners on the Pend-d’Oreille River were making from 12 to 20 dollars a day each. “That the country if full of gold there cannot be the least doubt, it has been even taken from the saw pit at the new establishment.” (25) Then Blenkinsop reported:

A party arrived a few days since from the Gold regions of Thompson’s River, and gave most favourable accounts of that quarter. There is consequently a great stir at this place [Fort Colvile], amongst all classes, and it has unfortunately extended to the Company’s servants the greater part of whom have left, and will not re-engage on any terms, their contracts having expired on the 1st inst [June]. We are now left with 12 men only for the duties of both establishments, and all the outposts; we will require at least 6 more men by the earliest opportunity. (26)

It appears that if the miners were finding gold they were not trading it at the HBC posts, and little gold traveled over the brigade trail to Fort Victoria. Much as Douglas wanted the gold to fall into the HBC’s hands, the Company made no profit from these gold miners. Dugald Mactavish wrote from Fort Vancouver that “the interior Country is now occupied extensively by petty traders, and miners, I have little hope of being able to do much at Colvile for the future and we may consider ourselves fortunate if we can hold our own there.” (27) The Yakima Indian Wars were over and the territory accessible. These ‘petty traders’ might have been the first of the Mexican packers that later made their way north to British Columbia. Their presence in Washington Territory would explain why so little gold was traded at Fort Colvile.

In July 1857 Blenkinsop again wrote of the excitement that encircled Fort Colvile “in consequence of reported gold discoveries in Thompson’s River District.” (28) But Douglas spoke to some miners who had retreated from the interior, presumably by the Coquihalla brigade trail to Fort Langley. They reported that though gold was abundant, “they would have procured a large quantity had they not been driven off by the Indians who would not suffer them to touch the soil.” (29) Some Natives “plundered” a party of American gold-miners at the forks of the Okanagan River, more or less on the 49th parallel. (30) A month later Douglas reported more fully, that “The Indians object to the entrance of white men into their country, and will not permit them to work the auriferous streams, partly with the view of monopolizing the precious metals for their own profit, and partly from an impression that the Salmon will leave the rivers, and be prevented from making their annual migrations from the sea.” (31) Douglas instructed his Kamloops employees to respect the Natives’ feelings “and to permit them to work the gold for their own benefit and to bring it in as an article of trade.” (32)

In late summer, 1857, Donald McLean wrote that he had traded 49 ounces of gold dust since his return to Kamloops from Fort Langley, “and could have obtained much more if I had been provided with the proper Goods required by the Diggers, such as Sea Boots — Moleskin or Corduroy Trowzers, Navy Blue & Grey Cottons, Serge or [Coarse] Shirts.” (33) These are not items that the Natives would have requested, and Douglas reported that “a party of gold diggers (half whites) visited the [Kamloops] Fort on his [McLean’s] return from Fort Langley and informed him that gold was abundant and that they had collected $2,000 worth in less than 6 days. They sold forty nine ounces of gold dust for supplies at the Company’s shop there, a proof that their statements were not unfounded. The richest gold diggings are within twelve miles of the confluence of Thompson’s and Fraser’s River, where he thinks it will be advisable to commence a small trading establishment, for the gold trade.” (34)

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. 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)

That is the end of this section of the Gold Rush story — I will begin the next with stories of some of the Americans who came north to Kamloops to find gold. To read the first section of the Fur Trade Gold Rush story, go here:

The third Fur Trade Gold Rush blogpost is posted here:

You might also want to look at this report on the California gold rush, here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.