Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Memories of the Overlanders of 1862 during Barkerville's 150th


Overland across Canada in search of Cariboo gold


The overlanders of 1862 are captured here in a sketch by
 WW Hind as they cross the Saskatchewan River.

A recent journey through Jasper and the Rocky Mountain trench to Cranbrook reminded me of the journey of the Overlanders. Where I searched for wildlife the Overlanders were moved to awe at the sight of the Rockies. They wrote poetry, recited hymns and biblical verses in their letters and journals. Then, down in Cranbrook I relocated the grave of Timoleon Love, one of the pivotal Overlanders and a lifelong prospector.

Unfortunately they are all but forgotten in B.C.'s history.

The overlanders in Jasper by WW Hind.

The effects of the Cariboo Gold Rush

on the development of Canada



 “I am at present working at the Carpenter’s trade and I think I will be for another month. Joseph Halpenny is working with me. You will please give the other Overlanders the following information. I reported Peter McIntyre dead which is not the case, he recovered. Nearly all the Overlanders were sick in Cariboo last season. There were only 5 or 6 who escaped disease. Physicians say that the hardships they suffered on the overland journey was the cause. The man Burden [Berdan] that beat his horse to death died on Williams Creek, also William Hugill. David Byers was put in hospital by J. Halpenny the day Joe left. Byers having been sick all summer and so reduced that there is no hope of his recovery. [Byers died in early 1864.] Joseph Hough has been sick on Williams Creek for a long time, sometimes better, sometimes worse. The last I heard poor Joe’s means had run out and he was forced to go to the hospital. Ephriam Harper is the only overlander that struck anything in Cariboo. He struck it late in the Fall very rich, should it hold out he will likely do well.” 

Letter from Dobson Prest to his brother, Victoria, December 25, 1863:

The correspondence, journals, and newspapers of the late 1860s leaves little doubt that trans-Canada journeys of the 1850s and 1860s by gold seekers, in particular the Overlanders of 1858-1862, had a profound effect on the development of Canada west of the Great Lakes.
Consider that during the period from 1858 to 1863 the various Cariboo gold-seeking parties of Overlanders, which numbered 350 people, accomplished the following:


  • This journey had the effect of advancing the need for a railway, and therefore confederation, forward by at least a decade. 
  • Drew attention to Minnesota expansionists’ efforts and emphasized the need for an all-British route across Canada. 
  • Demonstrated the economic development that would result from any immigration route west. 
  • Drew attention to and followed a Canadian immigration route across the Canadian Shield, the longed-for all-British route west. 
  • Made the first crossing of the southern plains (ie the routes near the US-Canada border that crossed Blackfoot territory) in over three decades. 
  • They were the first western immigrants and therefore the first to use the HBC fur brigade trails for any economy other than the fur trade. 
  • Were the first immigrants to utilize the HBC posts as provisioning points, helping to drag the monopoly into the 19th century, and formalizing those posts as centers of commerce. 
  • Drew gold seekers and settlers not only from eastern Canada but from the Red River colony to the Fort Edmonton area, likely advancing this settlement by a decade or more. 
  •  Rediscovered several Rocky Mountain passes, and showed they could be used for future trails, roads and railroads, notably the Yellowhead, Sinclair and Kootenay passes. (The story of these passes is the story of trans-Canada migration and commerce.) 

  • · Opened the Yellowhead Pass to immigration and public awareness. Much of this activity was centered on the small party with Timoleon Love at its core. 
  • These were the first immigrant parties, some with women and children, to arrive via an overland route. A remarkable feat at the time. 
  • Showed that passage through the First nations of the plains was possible without the losses common in the United States, and that in fact, First Nations were helpful in migration. 
  • The newspaper accounts of their journeys, and their eastern connections, brought the news of their journey, the goldfields of B.C. and the need for an all-British route west to the front pages of newspapers and to the discussion floor of legislatures and parliaments. 
  • Their journey immensely strengthened British or Canadian sovereignty 
  • As individuals they had a significant effect on the development of the Cariboo in particular and British Columbia in general. 
  • Their journey, linked with the wealth of B.C.’s goldfields, sparked the demand for a trans-Canada route. 
The arrival of 200 overlanders in 1862 can be likened to forty thousand young, hardened craftsmen arriving in present-day British Columbia by some new means of transportation. (Based on an 1862 populations of approximately 20,000 and a present day population of 2.5 + million.)

Contrary to historians from the 1930s–50s, most of the Overlanders did go to Cariboo to search for gold. Of course, they did not go directly to Williams Creek in the fall of 1862. They were exhausted, starving, and broke and winter was sweeping in over the coastal mountains. Mining was over for the year.

Many of the pre-1862 Overlanders disappeared in terms of documentation, their small parties absorbed in the anonymity of the goldfields or the Pacific west. However, from the 250 known Overlanders of 1862 we can draw these figures:

Sixty stayed in Edmonton or went south into the plains. Five were guides. Ten died enroute, leaving 175 to reach B.C. in the fall of 1862. Ten or 20 went south to the United States or home to Canada immediately. Of those remaining close to 100 are documented through mining licenses, letters, journals and mining records, as going to Cariboo for the 1863 season. A few who had wintered in California returned to Cariboo.

The prevalent myth that they scurried home, lost interest or took up other work is clearly wrong.

Despite the effect the Overlanders specifically, and the goldrush in general, had on the development of British Columbia and Canada, little can be found in academic journals or general history books, which tend to leap precipitously from the fur trade era to Confederation. Except for grade school curriculum, the eastern lust for western wealth and the fact that Canada clearly wanted “the golden fields of British Columbia” and was willing to give a railway in return, is generally ignored. It is difficult to find more than passing reference to the Overlanders or the Cariboo goldfields in any contemporary history of the west.

Over and over again the Cariboo Sentinel, the British Colonist, the Toronto Globe and others argued for the need to connect Canada and the Colonies. For example on September 9, 1867 the Sentinel editorialized with passion on the budget approval for a road making the final link in a route from Halifax to Fort Garry. Waddington’s road through Bute Inlet was expected to reach completion soon. “It only remains to open the road from the Upper Fraser through the Yellowhead Pass, as proposed by Sir James Douglas, and over the plains…in all 230 miles, to have a communication with Fort Garry. This achieved the whole line will be open between Bute Inlet and Halifax.”

Their frontier optimism was misplaced. It was 20 years before the railway reached the west coast, in July 1886. The Trans-Canada highway was years away and the Yellowhead route even further.

Despite the efforts of Overlanders such as Thomas McMicking who wrote eloquently and frequently on the need for east-west routes, the main routes of commerce were north-south. There were passionate arguments by Overlanders and other westerners that not only did British Columbia not need links with Canada but that Cariboo did not need British Columbia. A railroad would only draw wealth out of BC it was argued. Goods, cattle, sheep and horses from Washington and Oregon, and California merchandise, came from the south. “You need us, we don’t need you,” was a common 1860s sentiment. It is an argument still echoed in the 21st century, 150 years later, an argument with its roots in Cariboo gold and Overland journeys.

Those Overlanders who stayed in BC became a part of the literature, the myth, the folklore of pioneer British Columbia. Their journey marked them. Their obituaries recorded that this man, this woman, was “an Overlander.”
They began businesses on the coast, such as the Morrow’s Overlander restaurant in Victoria and Heron’s saddlery.
Men like John Bowron and George Tunstall became Gold Commissioner and Government Agent.

Robert McMicking was a pioneer of the BC Telephone Company. His brother Thomas was a town clerk and deputy sheriff.

John Jessop founded the New Westminster Times and Victoria Press. He helped frame the BC Education Act and was the first superintendent of Education

George Wallace founded the Cariboo Sentinel newspaper in Barkerville and was followed by editor/publisher Robert Holloway.

John Mara was elected to the B.C. Legislature and Speaker of the House.

The Mickles, McQueen, Cooney and the Moores became leading interior stockmen, and the Schuberts were prominent settlers in the Okanagan.

John Fannin the shoemaker wrote music and used his love of natural history to found the B.C. Provincial Museum, now the Royal B.C. Museum.

William Fortune began the first flourmill in the interior of B.C., near Kamloops.

Thomas Graham was a prominent mill owner and architect in New Westminster where he built the attorney general’s house, the original Royal Columbian Hospital and Capt. Irving’s house, now a museum

Dan Williams explored the Peace Country and became a legend in his own right. Alfred Perry kept exploring and led Walter Moberly to Roger’s Pass as the CPR route. Moberly is remembered, Perry forgotten.

In Cariboo, Overlanders began the newspaper, William Rennie was a shoemaker, Colin McCollum had a tailor’s shop, Archibald McNaughton and Andrew Fletcher were merchants. The Wattie brothers were successful miners and donated significantly to the cultural life of the creek. Dr. Edward Stevenson practiced in Barkerville.

Many others stayed in Cariboo as miners. They included: John Pinkerton, Samuel Rogers, John Malcolm, Sam Kyse, Archibald McNaughton, Andrew Fletcher, W. H. G. Thompson, Andrew Weldon and many more.

Some died within a year or two, such as D.F. McLaurin, John Jones, William Hugill, David Byers, E.W.W. Linton, Thomas McMicking

Pivoital miner and guide Timoleon Love lies in an unmarked grave in Cranbrook, B.C.


Timoleon Love lies in an unmarked grave in the Old Catholic section of the Cranbrook, B.C.
cemetery in the  shadow of the Rockies.  His grave lies where the shadow of the cross
 marks the ground in the top photo. Richard Wright photos.

They were farmers, merchants, musicians, husbands, artisans, teamsters, artists, tailors and labourers who built the province.

Recognizing the effect these 150 people had on the development of British Columbia, one might be excused comparing their recognition to the similar, though significantly larger, immigrations to Oregon and California. There every camp and death and event is marked and recorded. We might wonder where are the monuments to these Canadians and Americans who opened the Canadian route, the markers to their trek, their contributions.

There is a stone cairn in Jasper National Park, one Stop of Interest on the Thompson River, the Overlander’s bridge in Kamloops and a scattering of businesses incorporating the word Overlanders. Barkerville recognizes the Overlanders and the city of Quesnel has a sign on their Riverside Walk. O’Keefe Historic Ranch in Vernon has preserved the Schubert’s house and history. Timoleon Love's grave in Cranbrook is unmarked.

Generally the Overlanders are remarkable in our lack of recognition, our lack of memorials. Where are the monuments, the markers for the ten dead Overlanders? Where the marker for Slaughter camp, or the Tete Jaune Camp or the numerous prairie camps? Where is the broad recognition of these pioneers?

How Canadian, eh?

“It seems there are quite a number of raw Canadians newly come out this year which proves that the newspapers have not quit lying, nor are the fools all dead yet.”

Robert Harkness, Barkerville, to his wife Sabrina, May 31, 1864.


Adapted from “The Overlanders in Historical Perspective: An epiloque; Overlanders, Richard Thomas Wright, Winter Quarters Press, 2000.


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1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard, This is great stuff. Brings a seldom heard perspective to the history of the development of Western Canada and, in particular, the Cariboo Region and how important its development was to the rest of Canada. Fran Macpherson

    ReplyDelete