Panning for Gold

Faces of the Gold Rush

What's the meaning?

You be the Judge...

Thompson River First Nations


by R.C. Mayne, Royal Engineer

Rumour of disturbance at Yale - ' Plumper' proceeds to Langley - Canoe journey to Fort Hope - Fort Yale and Hill's Bar - Termination of the difficulty with the Miners - Miners generally - Expresses and Express Men - New Westminster - Return to Victoria - Difficulties arising from the immigration of Indians from the North.

JANUARY 10th1859.-The rumour of another outbreak, not at Victoria, but at Yale, up the Fraser River, arrived to disturb, not altogether unpleasantly, the monotony of our winter life in Esquimalt Harbour. Intelligence had been sent down the river to Victoria that some miners had made a disturbance at Yale, and that Colonel Moody had, immediately upon being informed of it, started from Langley for the scene of action with the Engineers stationed there, which, numbering 25 men, had just arrived in the colony. The Governor considered it desirable at once to strengthen his hands. Fort Yale, ninety miles up the Fraser, was one of the stations to which some of those miners who were anxious to remain near their claims on the upper bars so as to commence work directly the season opened, -or to whom, for sundry delicate private reasons, the delights of San Francisco were not obtainable, -flocked to pass the winter. The climate at Yale was milder than that of the Upper.Fraser, which induced a great number of the men having claims north of it to come down and pass some months there, while others working on the bars near Yale were wont to spend their Sundays and holidays in the town. Among them, pre-eminent for certain social qualities which had rendered him generally obnoxious to the laws of whatever country he had favoured with his presence, was a certain Edward McGowan. This individual had spent some time in California, where he had become very notorious, and had been honoured with the especial enmity of the "Vigilance Committee" of San Francisco. Nor without good cause. He had, I believe, had the misfortune to kill several of his comrades in those little personal encounters which one sees reported so frequently in the American newspapers under the head of "shooting" or 16 cutting affairs." The act for which the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco doomed him to the gallows was killing a man in cold blood in the streets of that city who knew too much of his antecedents. McGowan of course denied this, and always asserted that he had shot his foe in self-defence: but there is little doubt that the view which the Vigilance Committee took of the matter was the correct one. As an instance of the working of universal suffrage, it may be mentioned that this man at one time filled the office of a judge in California; and quite recently, when, after shooting at a man at Hill's Bar, whom, luckily, he missed, he escaped across the frontier into American territory, he has been elected to the House of Representatives of one of the border states that lie cast of the Rocky Mountains. This worthy has given his adventures to the world in the shape of an autobiography, published some five years since, and written with considerable spirit. The story told in it of his hairbreadth escape from the clutches of the Vigilance Committee is extremely exciting. Its agents pursued him with such rancour that, after with the greatest difficulty he had escaped to a steamer starting for Victoria, he was recognized, fired at, and a bullet sent through the lappel of his coat.

Upon arriving at Langley we found that Colonel Moody had taken the 'Enterprise,' the only steamer then on the river capable of going further up it than Langley, and had pushed on to Yale with twenty-five of the Engineers under the command of Captain Grant, R.E. As the field-piece we had brought with us must have been parted with had the men been sent on, there being no other way of despatching them except in canoes, it was considered advisable to keep them on board the ‘Plumper' at Langley, and that a messenger should at once follow and overtake Colonel Moody. This service devolved upon me, and I received orders to proceed up the river with despatches from Captain Richards informing the Colonel of the presence of the force at Langley, and to bring back his instructions.

Mr. Yale, the Hudson Bay Company's officer at Fort Langley, undertook to provide a canoe and crew for the journey, and my own preparations were soon made -a blanket, frock and trowsers, a couple of rugs, two or three pipes, plenty of tobacco, tea, coffee, some meat and bread, a frying-pan and saucepan, completing my outfit. At this time canoe-travelling was quite new to me, and, familiar as it has since become, I quite well remember the curious sensations with which this my first journey of the kind was commenced. It was mid-winter, the snow lay several inches thick upon the ground; the latest reports from up the river spoke of much ice about and below Fort Hope, so that I was by no means sorry to avail myself of the offer of Mr. Lewis, of the Hudson Bay Company, who had accompanied the ‘Plumper' to Langley as pilot, to be my companion. Mr. Yale had selected a good canoe and nine stout paddlers, four half-breeds and five Indians, and when 1 landed from the ship a few minutes before eleven they were waiting on the beach, dressed in their best blankets, with large streamers of bright red, blue, and yellow ribbons, in which they delight so much, flying from their caps. Mr. Yale had previously harangued them, and presented them with these streamers by way of impressing them with the importance of the service in which they were engaged. Seating ourselves in the canoe as comfortably as we could, away we started, the frail bark flying over the smooth water, and the crew singing at the top of their wild, shrill voices, their parti-coloured decorations streaming in the bitter winter wind.

We paddled along quickly until five o'clock, when we stopped for supper, and, landing, made tea. This meal over, we started again and held on steadily all night. If the journey by day was strange and somewhat exciting, how much more so did it become when night set in! Wet, cold, and tired, we rolled ourselves up in the rugs, and in time fell into a broken sleep, lulled by the monotonous rap of the paddles upon the gunwale of the canoe. The rippling sound of the water against its sides the song of the men now rising loud and shrill, now sinking into a low, drowsy hum. Ever and anon roused by a louder shout from the paddlers in the bow, we started up to find the canoe sweeping by some boat moored to the shore, or a miners watch-fire, from which an indistinct figure would rise, gaze at us wonderingly as we passed howling by, and sometimes shout to us loudly in reply. We might well startle such of the miners as saw or heard us. Whenever we passed a fire, or a boat drawn up ashore, or moored to the trees by the beach, in which miners might he sleeping, the Indians would commence singing at the top of their voices; and we often saw sleepers start up, in wonder no doubt, who could be travelling on the river at night at such a season, -and in some fear perhaps for several murders had lately been committed, which were attributed rightly or wrongly to Indian agency. And, indeed, as we swept by a watch-fire near enough for its glare to light up the dark figures straining at their hard work, and their wild, swarthy faces with the long, bright ribbons streaming behind them,-we might well give a shock to some wearied sleeper roused abruptly from dreams of home, or some rich claim which was to make his fortune, by the wild Indian boat-chant.

Most of our journey lay close along the shore, where, of course, the current less rapid and advantage could be taken of the numerous eddies that set in near the banks. Our chief man was quite well acquainted with the river's navigation, having been for years in the Hudson Bay Company's employ. When we came to a rapid, or it was necessary to cross the river from one bank to the other, by one consent the singing would cease, the paddler’s breath be husbanded to better purpose, and every muscle strained to force the canoe over the present difficulty. At such times when any greater exertion was necessary, or a more formidable obstacle than usual seemed on the point of being mastered, the Indians would give a loud prolonged shout terminating in a shriller key, and dash their paddles into the boiling water with still fiercer vehemence. There can be few stranger sensations than that which we felt many times that night, when after paddling so steadily alongshore that we had fallen fast asleep, we were awoke suddenly by a heavy lurch of the canoe, and found the water rushing in over the gunwale, and the boat almost swamped by the fierce exertions of the paddlers, and tearing broadside down rather than across the rapid river, until with a shout it was run ashore on the opposite bank, and the excited rowers rested a few minutes to regain their breath before again paddling up the quieter water by the shore.

continued on next page...

Home | Contents | Tour | People | Collection | Transportation | Just For Kids! | Team

Last updated 31 August 1998.
This digital collection was produced under contract to the SchoolNet Digital Collections Program, Industry Canada.
Produced by Schoolnet Digital Collections Team.