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British Columbia. Williams Lake and Cariboo. Report on portions of the Williams Lake and Cariboo Districts,… Palmer, H. Spencer (Henry Spencer), 1838-1893 1863

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1863.  Royal^ Engineer Camp,
New "Westminster, British Columbia,
21st February, 1863.
The following report on portions of the "Williams
Lake and Cariboo districts of this colony, and on the Eraser river
from Fort Alexander to Fort George, accompanied by the requisite
maps, plans and tables, is respectfully submitted for your information.
If a more detailed description of the character and requirements
of so large a tract of country were made, enough might easily be
written to fill a moderate volume; therefore nothing beyond a general outline has been here attempted.
I am, of course, prepared, at any time you may desire it, to furnish
you with such more specific information, on matters belonging exclusively to the department under your charge, as my memory, aided
by a copious note-book, can supply.
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,
Henry Spencer Palmer,
Lieut., Royal Engineers.
Colonel R. C. Moody, R. E.,
Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works,
&c. pup
No. 1. A map of portions of the districts treated of in the Report.
Scale, 5 statute miles to an inch.
No. 2. A skeleton map of part of British Columbia.   Scale, 50
statute miles to one inch.
No. 3. Sections of some of the trails in Cariboo.
No. 4. A plan of a portion of the Government reserve at the mouth
of Quesnel river.   Scale, 6 inches to one statute mile.
No. 5. A plan of the Government reserve at Cottonwood.  Scale,
6 inches to one statute mile.
N.B.—The three first only have been lithographed. REPORT.
The main routes to the upper part of British Columbia which lie
to the east of the Fraser traverse portions of the gteat, elevated tableland bordering the eastern slope, of the Cascade range. This tableland may, as a whole, be described as an extensive, slightly undulating,
wooded district, dipping very gradually towards the northeast, and
drained by the Fraser and its tributaries; its maximum altitude, in
the neighbourhood of the mountains, ranges a little ofi. either side of
4000 feet, and its features varyjwitk its geological character.
The country as far north as Lake La Hache, the present terminus of
waggon-road communication, will already have become familiar to
you from the reports and sketches of others.
From that point to the parallel 52° 30' N., the trails traverse one
of the most favoured known districts of this colony. The table-land,
whose general level at this part may be stated at a little under 3000 feet
above the sea, is intersected in every direction by numerous broad,
sheltered vales, of from 300 feet to 1000 feet in depth, whose slopes
present gently undulating surfaces, and are usually scantily timbered
with the yellow and other small pines. The vales undulate slightly,
are sometimes more or less thickly wooded, and sometimes contain
open prairies of fair extent. Both the vales and their slopes, and
large portions of the'intervening highlands, are nearly everywhere
covered with a profusion of rich bunch-grass, and the rocks of the
plateau, generally basaltic in character, afford by their decomposition
a soil which, in the watered districts, may be pronounced fertile and
valuable for agricultural purposes. The vales contain numerous
picturesque lakes abounding in fish and water-fowl, and are drained
-ggg^ by streams of small size, which, in the highlands, are generally winding and sluggish, with marshy banks, but, near their mouths, disappear in deep, narrow gorges, and descend with great rapidity into
the valleys of the large rivers.
Such as have been here described in general terms are the vales of
Mud Lake, Beaver Lake, Alkali Creek, Deep Creek, the San Jose
river, and others. Judging from what I have myself seen, and from
the assertions of reliable people, I think it fair to state that there is
embraced betwee the parallels 51° 40' N and 52° 30' N, and the
meridian 121° 30' W and the Fraser a region, some 2000 square
miles in extent, beautiful and attractive in many respects, in which
the available farming land of the vales may be reckoned by scores,
the grazing land of the slopes and plateaux by hundreds of square
miles, and only needing settlement to prove its worth.
The altitude of this district is frequently quoted as rendering it un- ,
suitable to agriculture, but the highly satisfactory results obtained at
Williams Lake and Beaver Lake, two of the most advanced farms
in the colony, where, at an elevation of between 2100 and 2200 feet,
varieties of grain and vegetables are yearly raised in great perfection and abundance, indicate at once the fertility of the soil, and the
absence of influences materially discouraging to agriculture. There
are, in the section of country under discussion, large tracts of unoccupied land, where the soil rivals that of the farms above-mentioned,
and where much of the ground is literally ready for the plough.
The main waggon-road to the north was, at the close of last season's operations, open for traffic as far as a spot named Blue Tent, a
little beyond the lower end of Lake La Hache. From that point
an excellent, almost natural trail, following the fertile vale of the
San Jose, leads to the head of Williams Lake. Here the route
branches in two directions,—the one branch, which, for purposes of
description, will be spoken of as the eastern route, running, via
Deep Creek farm, in a general northeasterly course to the junction
of the north and south branches of the Quesnel river; the other, or
western route,   continuing past "Williams Lake, and following- the Fraser valley to the mouth of the Quesnel. From the Court-house,,
situated near the foot of "Williams Lake, another, for some time the.
only trail to Quesnel-forks, joins the eastern route at Deep Creek
The portion of the table-land, between Williams Lake and Round
Tent Lake, traversed by the eastern route is such as has been above
described, the landscape pretty, the pasturage good and abundant,
and the road excellent. Beyond the latter place the country becomes
inferior in character and beauty. Dense, monotonous forests, most
frequently of burnt timber, cover the plateau, and numerous deep
swales or depressions, reached by steep grades and watered by small
lakes and muddy, torpid streams, traverse it in varying northwesterly
directions. Fallen trees, stumps, roots and mud-holes everywhere
encumber the path, and, though the burnt forests permit, in summer,
the constant access of the sunshine and dry currents of air, the tenacity
of the soil is such that it is late in the season before the trail becomes
dry enough to be fairly passable for traffic.
Where the forest is gr,een,—the case, happily, for five miles only
between Beaver Lake and the descent to Quesnel river—even these
wholesome influences are excluded, and, in the driest part of the autumn, the trail is but a slippery slough, a series of small, dark,
muddy pools, divided only by the little ridges that have been left untouched by the feet of the pack-animals. There are few travellers by
this route who do not remember with disgust the abominations of the
" Green Timber," and of the mud-holes in the swales beyond.
At Beaver Lake there is fair pasturage; thence to the forks of
Quesnel river it is very poor and scanty, scarcely deserving the name.
Twenty-eight miles from Round Tent Lake, a long descent of 1420
feet in about three miles leads to "Quesnel City," a cheerless cluster
of some 50 wooden houses and cabins situated on the tongue of land
which divides the branches of the stream. At this river the tableland terminates, and on the right bank is seen an outlying portion
of the rugged hills of Cariboo.
The country traversed by the western route, as far as Alexander, presents no features of particular interest, other than were described
in general terms at the commencement of this paper, and offers, no
serious impediments to road-making. Between the Court-house and
Soda Creek there are some very steep ascents and descents by the
' more direct trail, so that, with animals, the detour from the head of
Williams Lake by Deep Creek farm is preferable; and there is little
doubt that a modification of this latter line will be adopted for the
future waggon-road.
Above Fort Alexander the Fraser sweeps in graceful curves, but
with considerable velocity, down a broad valley which preserves a
general north and south direction for nearly 40 miles. The breadth
of this valley, measured between the extreme points where it breaks
from the table-land on either side, is from three to. four miles. In the
neighbourhood ofAlexander the large bends of the stream are occasioa-
ally occupied by the peculiar level, grassy benches which prevail in
many parts of the valleys of the Fraser and its tributaries—a formation due, as many think, to successive sudden degradations of the
river level at remote periods, occasioned by the removal of large
barriers of rock or other obstacles in the defiles of the valleys. A few
miles above the Fort this formation dies out, and with it disappears
also the bunch-grass, apparently an inseparable feature of bench
- lands. Thence northwards continuous, gentle slopes rise from the
river to the levels of the table-lands, interrupted here and there by
flats of varying extent, and a few prairies of rich meadow-grass and
productive soil, already the scenes of incipient farming enterprise.
Small brooks, having their sources in the numerous lakes which dot
the plateaux, flow to the Fraser in deep, narrow ravines, which will
form almost the only serious obstacles to road-making in this part of
the country. At these ravines the trail is very bad, but it is otherwise generally fair and level to within seven miles of the mouth of
the Quesnel. The river banks and islands abound with cottonwood,
and the slopes and flats are plentifully clothed with various descriptions of forest,—the poorer lands and steep hill-sides usually with 5 -
firs and spruces of small size, the poplar, alder, and other deciduous
*trees prevailing in the rich and well-irrigated soils.
The Quesnel river, a rapid, unnavigable stream, whose southern
branch flows from the Great Quesnel, one of the largest lakes in the
colony, empties into the Fraser from the southeast about thirty-five
miles above Fort Alexander. Its breadth is from 40 to 100 yards, varying at different stages of the water, and passengers cross it in ferryboats which ply in two places, one at the mouth, the other three miles
above; but a horse-boat is much needed, to do away with the inconvenience of unloading and swimming pack-animals. The miniature
settlement at the mouth is approached by seven miles of execrable,
muddy trail, and, in making a waggon-road over this portion, much
careful attention in the matters of draining and broad forest-clearing
will be indispensably necessary.
Leaving the Quesnel, which is confined in a narrow, thickly-wooded and unattractive valley, the route to Cariboo runs directly away
from the Fraser in nearly an east line, and crosses obliquely, in a
distance of about 27 miles, that portion of the table-land* which lies
between the Quesnel and Swift rivers. With the exception of numerous beaver-swamps and marshes, and some extensive patches of
poplar and willow trees, the whole of this tract is covered with a
dense forest of varieties of pine and hemlock of inferior size, growing in a stiff dark-blue clay, excessively fatiguing for animals to
travel through, though not soft enough to mire them. The plateau
is traversed by low ridges, running generally in north and south directions, and, in the intermediate hollows., sluggish streams flow
through deep, black vegetable soils, and offer additional hindrances
to the passage of laden animals.
* The expression table-land is, perhaps, scarcely applicable to the undulating district
under discussion, which contains many considerable swells and depressions, and is,
more correctly speaking, intermediate in character between table and hilly country;
but its general features present so great a contrast to-the abrupt, mountainous region
in the immediate neighbourhood that, for purposes of description, it is here spoken of
under the former title. r
Swift river, a clear-water stream from 30 to 50 yards broad, is
reached by a gradual descent, and crossed just above the mouth of
Lightning Creek. This river here flows through a spacious valley,
containing much good soil, and dotted with prairies of tolerable
■pasture and patches of evergreen forest; but it is asserted by those
whojaave travelled hence, down the stream, to its mouth, that this
favourable character of country terminates six or seven miles below,
and is succeeded by narrow gorges, walled in by cliffs and embarrassing slides of rock and sand, from which there is rarely any escape,
and which extend without intermission to its confluence with the
At the mouth of Lightning Creek, on its eastern bank, a small,
thriving settlement has, during the past year, sprung up, named
Cottonwood from the abundance of that growth in its neighbourhood, and promising to become, in future seasons, a trading-post and
depot of some importance. Cottonwood is the last attractive spot the
traveller passes on his road to the mines. Hereon the western route,
as at Quesnel-fork3 on the eastern, the table-land terminates, and
the trail enters within the limits of the Cariboo district, an entirely
different description of country.
Of the two thoroughfares which have been thus far described each
has its own. peculiar advantages, and each will be, when improved,
well adapted, in its general direction, for the supply of the portion
of the mining region to which it tends. Regarding Richfield as the
. centre of the present gold district, for its supply I give the preference
to the western route, for, although it is about 149 miles from the head
of Williams Lake to Richfield by the Cottonwood trail, and but 113
miles by way of the forks of Quesnel river, the extra distance in the
former case is, I consider, more than compensated by the superior
character of the trails in the latter, and by the quantity and quality of
the pasture which borders them.
As an arterial highway through the colony, the western line, as
far as the mouth of the Quesnel river, undoubtedly has the superiority.
The ascertained north-westerly tendency of the gold-bearing ranges, each year becoming more apparent, thebentof the Cariboo mines in
the same direction, and the reports of rich discoveries on Peace
river at once indicate the policy of adhering to the Fraser valley
in the construction of the first main trunk-road, thus avoiding the
mountainous country, and admitting of the adoption of steam na-
vigation in suitable places. The latter is found to be practicable
between the mouth of *Soda Creek and the mouth of Quesnel river,
and already a steamer has been constructed, in readiness to participate in the traffic of future seasons. The application of blasting in
the defile just below the mouth of Soda Creek would render the Fraser
navigable for powerful vessels from the mouth of the San Jose to
the Grand Rapid, a distance of fully ninety miles.
Access from the Fraser to the present Cariboo mines, by the Swift
river valley and Cottonwood, will, on a reference to the accompanying
map, be at once recognized as undesirable in a geographical point
of view. Hence arises a partial explanation of the note on page 26 of
my late report on the North Bentinck Arm trail; the difficulties
of road-making in the lower part of Swift river valley have been
already mentioned. I cannot at present see that the position of the
mouth of this stream is possessed of any importance with reference
to Cariboo traffic, though, judging from the direction the mines are
at present taking, it is far from improbable that trails to the eastward from more northerly points on the Fraser may, ere long, be
very desirable.
The mining district has, during the past season, been entered by
a third trail, which branches from the eastern route at Little Lake,
and, crossing the Quesnel ten miles below Its forks, reunites with
the main trail near Snowshoe Creek. A good deal of travel took
place last season over this, the "Middle Route," attracted, I understand, by patches of pasturage, none of which is found on the north
branch of Quesnel river; beyond this I can offer no report on its
character. A scheme is said to be on foot for improving a rough
trail, which leads from the neighbourhood of Bridge Creek to the
* Erroneously so called, from their being a deposit of Carbonate of Lime on its bed and
banks. mouth of Horsefly river, aud navigating part of the Quesnel Lake.
Abranchfrom this trail, leading from Horsefly river to Beaver Lake,
is said to traverse an attractive line of country, and to shorten the
eastern route about thirty miles. These will be alluded to hereafter.
The sections of country that have been thus far briefly spoken of
may be embodied under the title the "Williams Lake District,'' and
described as being in a partial state of civilization. Way-side houses
exist at suitable intervals along the trails, in which good and wholesome, and, in some instances, even luxurious entertainment, can be
had, at prices commensurate with the cost of transport and the consequent value of imported goods in these remote parts. Thus, from
Mud Lake and Little Lake southward, a substantial meal cost, last
autumn, six shillings; flour averaged in price about twenty-two pence
per &»., and good, fresh beef was nearly everywhere to be had at fronv
seventeen to twenty-two pence per 33b.
At several of the houses in the southern portion of the district,
farms in various stages of progress are met with, those at Beaver
Lake, Deep Creek, and the foot of Williams Lake being the most
advanced; and the land in the San Jose valley, along the line of the
projected waggon-road, is being rapidly seized upon by intending
settlers. There are no grounds for hoping that this region will ever
be extensively grain-productive, but we may fairly look forward to
the time when large tracts of land now lying waste shall have become occupied by stock-raising and agricultural farms, which will
supply forage for the pack-animals, and beef and other commodities
for the miners in the less favoured districts of Cariboo. At Quesnel-
forks barley sold last autumn for two shillings and sixpence per Tb;
prices such as this should surely give a stimulus to agriculture.
Again, the pack-animals, weakened and broken down on the arrival of autumn, must, it is well known, be sent to winter in the less
elevated valleys and the milder climate of the lower country; but it
is found that some of the favourite wintering posts have an elevation
of 1500 feet and more above the sea, and the inference that the strong
and healthy cattle of stock farms might, with care, pass the winter in 9
the Williams Lake district, at an additional altitude of but 800 or 900
feet, seems to be not an unreasonable one. South of Mud Lake the
district is inhabited by the Atnah Indians, portions of a widely-distributed though not numerous tribe, which occupies the country to the
west of the north branch of Thompson river. They are usually met with
alone or in small parties; most of them have horses, .and they move
periodically about the country in quest of game, fish and berries, the
usual diet of the mountain Indians.
Mosquitoes may be said to disappear north of the Quesnel river,
but most of the country to the south of it is more or less infested;
from them, and from the small black flies and large horse-flies, men
and animals receive, during the months of July and August, almost
intolerable annoyance.
As far as Beaver Lake on the eastern route, and Round Prairie
on the western, the traveller from the south may dependon finding
excellent encamping places and good pasturage at reasonable intervals. Beyond these points the natural feed is miserable, and grain
or good hay can purchased. The country does not readily
admit of farming, though a few vegetables are here and there raised
in fertile patches in the river bottoms, and retailed at astonishing
These remarks close the description of the Williams Lake district.
The confines of Cariboo have been reached by each of the two principal routes, and a report on that region will occupy the next section
of this paper.
■ ♦ ■	
The yellowborder on the accompanying map may be taken to fairly define the southwestern and southeastern limits of the district of
Cariboo. Any further description of its boundaries is needless, inasmuch as each season's exploration tends to expand the mines further and further in a northerly direction; it will suffice here to represent its southern limits, and to remark that the region partially
prospected and inhabited by miners up to the close of last year occupies a rectangle about 1100 square miles in extent (defined on 10
the map), whose southwestern side is a line 40 miles in length, passing from the neighbourhood of Quesnel-forks, in a northwesterly
direction, through Cottonwood. The general tendency of the auriferous ranges throughout the colony leads to the conjecture that
future explorations will discover an almost unbroken continuation
of rich deposits, maintaining a north-northwesterly direction, and occupying a large portion of the great elbow of the Fraser river.
Cariboo is closely packed with mountains of considerable altitude,
singularly tumbled and irregular in character, and presenting steep
and thickly-wooded slopes. Here and there tremendous masses,
whose summits are from 6,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea, tower
above the general level, and form centres of radiation of subordinate ranges. This mountain system is drained by innumerable
streams, of every size from large brooks to tiny rivulets, known respectively in mining phraseology as "creeks" and "gulches", which
run in every imaginable direction of the compass, and, winding a-
mong the valleys and gorges, discharge themselves into the larger
streams or "rivers," whichat length conduct their waters to the Fraser.
The fall of all these streams is very rapid, and they are subject
to excessive increase of volume, from the melting of the immense accumulations of hibernal snow, and from the heavy rains which fall
during the summer months. The most remunerative mining is generally found near the head waters of the creeks, in close proximity
to the mountain clusters which seem to be the great centres of
wealth, and thus some of the less attractive diggings on the rivers and
on the lower parts of the creeks have as yetscarcely claimed attention.
Of the superior mountain masses mentioned above, the most familiar are Mounts Snowshoe, Burdett, and Agnes, the latter more
generally known as "The Bald Mountain of Williams Creek."
These rise in their most elevated parts to a little over 6,000 feet above
the sea, and, though not the loftiest, are fair types of the other remarkable clusters in Cariboo. At these high altitudes vegetation
becomes scanty, and their summits and the upper parts of their
slopes  may be described   as undulating   downs,   clothed  with ■*!
good pasturage, and widely-scattered groups of undersized firs—
hence the well known title, the "Bald Hills of Cariboo." It would be
a hopeless task for me to attempt to convey in detail a fair idea of
the impressive nature of the views from the summits of these hills
in fine weather—in the foreground the tumbled sea of the Cariboo
mountains; narrow, gloomy valleys, forest-clad slopes, and the bleak
unwieldy masses of the bald hills, here and there patched with snow—
far off to the south and west, the softer outlines of the table-lands—
to the east a singularly rugged, inhospitable country, crammed with
serrated ranges of hills, and beyond them the snowy ridges of the
Rocky Mountains glistening through the pure air from almost incredible distances; scenes such as these, ever varying in detail, reward the traveller in this remarkable region; they should be often
seen to be well described, but it would even then be no ordinary
task to do justice to their wild grandeur and sublimity.
I scarcely entertain a doubt that the hills of Cariboo are an outlying portion of the Rocky Mountain system, for the connection
between them and the distant lofty ridges to the east, whose remoteness establishes their identity as part of the main Rocky Mountain
range, appeared to me to be broken by no interval of magnitude,
certainly by no extensive tract of table-land or low country.
The most prominent of the mining creeks of Cariboo, mentioned in
order of importance, are Williams, Lightning, Jack of Clubs, Antler,
&c, and some of the smaller creeks, such as Lowhee, Last Chance and
Nelson, have proved very rich. Many others are now well known,
some worked and proved, some only "prospected", and each season's
exploration adds numbers to the list. It will be observed, on an examination of the sketch, that the head waters of many of these streams
radiate in a remarkable manner from the bald clusters already described; thus, on Mount Agnes, a small circle of one and a half miles'
radius includes within its limits the sources of Williams, Lightning,
Grouse, Jack of Clubs and Antler creeks, streams notorious for the
richness of their gold yields; the source of the north branch of
Swift river is included within the same limits.    Cunningham, Her- 12
vey, Snowshoe and Keithley Creeks, a second branch of Antler, and
the south fork of Swift river take their rise, in like manner, within
a small circle on Snowshoe mountain. These hills are composed of metamorphic slate, traversed by veins of quartz which are
believed to be of an auriferous nature; and, if it be reasonable to assume that the other unexamined bald hills of the region, similar to
outward appearance in geological character, are foci of equal wealth,
we may, with like reason, consider Cariboo one of the most inexhaustible gold-fields in the world.
The streams of the southern and eastern portions of the district
discharge their waters into the north branch of the Quesnel; their
importance in the eyes of miners is, owing to the superior wealth of
the recently discovered creeks to the north, rapidly waning. Antler
creek is described by prospectors as the main branch of Bear
river, flowing into the Fraser near the crown of the great elbow;
three streams, viz: Willow river, Sugar and Lightning creeks, convey
to the westward the waters of the richest part of Cariboo; the
course of the last is well known, the two first are believed to join
the Fraser below Fort George. The valleys of the mining creeks
are generally narrow, rocky, and thickly-wooded, and frequently
swampy. The forests consist of cedar and many varieties of pine of
inconsiderable size, and brushwood and fallen logs cause the usual
difficulty in travelling.
Richfield, Van Winkle, Antler and Keithley, small, crowded clusters of wooden houses—the three last situated on the creeks whose
names they bear—are the packing termini of Cariboo, the depots
where miners can purchase at exorbitant prices food, clothing and
mining tools, and sometimes luxuries. The cramped nature of these localities will prevent their ever becoming towns of any size. The first
named is the most cheerful and thriving ,and contains the largest number of dwellings, and, from its position on Williams, the most
important known creek in the district, is the acknowledged capital of Cariboo; but the region is so closely packed with mountains
that I at present know of no central site within its confines that ♦ 13
that would admit of the growth in future years, of a really large and
populous city. On and without the confines, reserves for town-sites
have been already made, at Cottonwood and at the mouth of Quesnel river; the importance of the latter is too obvious to require discussion here.
It is difficult to find language to express in adequate terms the
utter vileness of the trails of Cariboo, dreaded alike by all classes
of travellers; slippery, precipitous ascents and descents, fallen logs,
overhanging branches, roots, rocks, swamps, turbid pools and miles
of deep mud; these are a few of the disagreeables of a journey through
the district such as I performed in the driest part of the autumn, and
I cannot conceive what the difficulties must be at the first melting
of the snow, and during the subsequent heavy rains. Some of the
trails owe their existence to travel alone, others have been partially
constructed on emergencies by Government and by private enterprise, but all are execrable, for the simple reason that they have
never been properly made. The courses of the eastern and western
routes, from Quesnel-forks and Cottonwood respectively to Richfield,
may be readily traced, on reference to the map. As far as Keithley
on the one hand and Van Winkle on the other, the trails are level
as compared with the portions that follow, but between these points,
they reach to a grand acme of all that is abominable. The only good
parts are on the actual summits of the bald hills; even the upper
portions of the slopes are, in many places, green, spongy swamps,
the head waters of the radiating creeks; and, directly the forest is
entered, the more serious evils begin. The trail from Van Winkle
to Marmot Lake, the descent to the right bank of Williams Creek,
the approaches to Antler from either side, and the hill rising from
Keithley must be vividly remembered by all who have journeyed
over them; the excessive variations of level are indicated on one of
the plans accompanying this paper. These are the main lines of communication, the miners' trails, leading to the diggings on the outlying creeks, can only be travelled on foot. 14»
One of the greatest evils of Cariboo is the entire absence of good
pasturage in the lowlands, for, although on the summits and superior slopes of the bald hills there is plenty of excellent pasture-land,
the valleys are clothed with dense, grassless forests, broken only by
occasional lakes and beaver-swamps, fringed with poor, innutritive
feed. Hence it is not to be wondered at that animals, arriving on
the borders of Cariboo weakened already by two or three days' absence from bunch-grass, soon succumb to want of food, and to exhausting journeys over the vilest imaginable trails. The most loathsome, if not the saddest sights that greet the traveller in this region are
the numerous carcasses of horses that have been thus literally tired
to death, and generally left to rot where they fell. Good mules are
rarely seen in Cariboo, they are too valuable to be thus sacrificed by
the score, and seldom pass to the north of the Quesnel river; cheap,
hardy Indian horses are preferred by the packers, both for economy's
sake and for the greater facility with which they traverse swampy
ground; but it is a common occurrence for a laden train of these
horses to start from the mouth or the forks of Quesnel for the interior of the mines, and to return with but half, or even less, of their
It is of course impracticable for the Government to follow with
expensive trails closely on the rapid and wandering steps of the miners, but I beg to testify to the grave importance of at least one good
arterial trail through the mountainous, grassless mining regions north
of the Quesnel. If facilities be afforded in this district for the rapid
performance of journeys by pack-animals, a reduction in the prices
of provisions—the result of all others the most desirable—will be at
once attained, and I think it no exaggeration to say that, with good
trails, the packer would perform three journeys in the time it now
takes him to perform one. Thus the periods of the animals' absence
from good feed would be shorter, and the increased facilities for transport would admit of their being supplied with a small amount of
barley for the journeys through the mountains.   I may observe, in • 15
* Government notices for tenders for the construction of a Waggon-road from Alexander to Cottonwood, and of Bridle-roads thence to Richfield and Antler, dated 22nd
of January, 1863.
proof of the urgent necessity for improved trails in and near Cariboo,
that, while transport from Lillooet to Alexander, a distance of some
200 miles, cost, last autumn, about 35 cents (17 Jd.) perSb, it was
difficult to get packers to carry goods from Alexander to Richfield,
a distance of but 107 miles, for 50 cents (2s. Id.) per lb.
The importance of the matter here urged must, of course, have
been ere this obvious to you,'and from the steps towards the improvement of a central line* that have been already taken, it is evident
that the Government recognizes its immediate necessity. The inferior
wealth of the creeks along the southeastern border of Cariboo, and
the consequent thinner mining population in that part, have less urgent claims for the helping hand of Government. The efforts of
private individuals, alluded to in an earlier part of this paper, viz:
the construction of the "Middle Route," and of the trails from the
neighbourhood of Bridge Creek to Beaver Lake and Quesnel Lake,
respectively, are alike beneficial to the miner and to the country:
by them new tracts of country are opened up, and new lines of pasturage made available, and their tendency to facilitate and expedite
traffic must result in a diminution of the prices of transport. The
road system now being pursued will, if carried out, open up one important main waggon-line on the western route for the supply of the
richest and most largely populated creeks of Cariboo; the other trails
to the south, and the eastern route to the north, of Williams Lake,
with their branches, may continue to furnish, by means of pack-animals, supplies to the comparatively unimportant district south of
The inclemency of the climate of the mining regions of Cariboo,
due more directly to their great elevation, must be a subject for regret, and it is singularly unfortunate that the season most favourable to mining, extending frnm June to September inclusive, is
usually, from such accounts as we can gather, the wettest part of the
I r
year, a fine interval of three or four weeks in August alone excepted.
No reliable meteorological statistics have as yet been obtained, but,
from the testimony of those who spent the winter of '61-62 in the
mines, we learn that the first heavy snows at the settlements fell in
October, and were succeeded by a partial thaw. The winter and
spring weather seems to have been a succession of severe snow- •
storms and fine, clear intervals, until at length, towards the close of
May, the regular thaw commenced, and was soon followed by the
incessant, drenching rains of the mining season. The maximum
depth of snow in the valleys, at a height of some 4000 feet above the
sea, was about six feet—on the hills of course much greater.
Viewed under the most favourable circumstances of weather, and
with the accessories of such comforts as can late in the season be
obtained, Cariboo, though singularly healthy, is at best but a cheerless, inhospitable region, possessing no attraction but its mines. I no
longer wonder at the large exodus of last year, when, in spite of the
allurements of wealth, hundreds of inexperienced immigrant gold-
seekers turned back, dismayed at the climate, the rugged country,
the obstructive trails, the scanty and expensive food, and their own
ignorance of skilled mining. The indomitable pluck and perseverance of the "prospectors," the hardy pioneers of the mines, can only
be appreciated by those who have paid a visit to Cariboo.
The "caribou," (a species of raindeer from which the region derives its name) the marten, the marmot and other animals frequent
the mountains and valleys, and are hunted in winter, for the sake of
their skins and their meat, by the Carrier Indians, who emigrate
thither from their summer abodes on the large lakes and rivers.
The gold of Cariboo is not easily obtainable, and a knowledge
of practical mining, shafting, tunnelling, and drifting is necessary
to those who desire to work to advantage. The richest deposits
are found in the existing and in the old channels of the creeks,
down close to the rocks in situ, called in mining language "bed
rocks," which in Cariboo are talcose slates.   From the apparent 17
centralization ofwealthinthe bald mountains arises the popular theory
among miners that the quartz veins of those hills will be found to
be the origin of the gold of the creeks. Although the geological
question, as to whether the accumulations/^ superficial matter containing gold are due to the disintegration and denudation of the
rocks from causes such as are now in operation, or to cataclysmal
action, seems to be an undecided one, the almost granular form of
the gold found in quartz veins is a fact that goes far toshatter this
supposition on the part of the miners that the large nuggets of the
creeks of Cariboo can be derived from veins of that nature.
I should be trespassing beyond -my province, were I to attempt to
describe the mechanical methods by which the gold is extracted
from the earth, or to furnish statistics of the populations and yields
of the various mining creeks; subjects such as these claim the attention of the Gold Commissioners. But I beg permis"sion to contribute my testimony to the extraordinary auriferous wealth of
Cariboo, and, in very few words, to clear up a point upon which an
uninitiated person is likely to be misled, viz: the nominal yield of
a "claim."
A miner's claim occupies apiece of ground 100 feet square. When
a creek has "prospected" well, it is usual for miners to form themselves into companies of from four to eight, or upwards, to take up
their claims (for each man 100 feet square) in proximity to one
another, and to work the whole ground thus claimed for the benefit
of the company. If rich "pay-dirt" be struck, and the mine be in
a sufficiently advanced state, companies, anxious to obtain the
greatest possible quantity of gold in the shortest possible space of
time, will frequently employ additional working hands, and work
during the whole 24 hours. The wages given last season were £2
for the day of 12 hours. By these means extraordinary yields are
sometimes obtained, and instances were known last autumn of as
much as 250 oz. (about <£800 sterling), or even more, being "washed
up" by some of the richest companies on Williams Creek, as the
result of 24 hours' labour.    Thus, although this sum, subject to de- 18
ductions for the hired assistance, was divided among the four, six, or
eight lucky proprietors, as the case might be, it must be remembered
that it was due to the labours of probably double the number of
men, and that the dividend thus declared should not, in such instances
as these, be taken as indicating the direct result of one man's work.
Cases occur of rich "pockets" of gold being struck, and incredible sums being rapidly extracted by simple means and at no extra
expense; these are exceptions.
The leading physical and topographical features of Cariboo have
now been briefly reviewed. It is my duty, before closing this section,
again to urge the imperative and immediate necessity for the
improvement of the trails in Cariboo, upon which so much
that is vital depends. To carry out these measures, if they
be not done by contract, it will of course be essential that
properly qualified men be early this year on the spot, provided with the necessary authority, and in readiness to prosecute
the works by means of such labour as will no doubt be obtainable at
the hands of the too early immigrants. The immediate superintendence of the construction of roads or trails in a country so rugged
as Cariboo will require the careful and exclusive attention of experienced and skilful men. I take this opportunity of recording the
fact that, although it is two and a half years since the wealth of the
Cariboo Gold-fields became known, no officer or other member of this
Department has yet visited the region armed with any authority whatsoever in the matter of roads; my own hasty trip through the mines
was made for purposes of general examination only.
A description of the character of the Fraser.between Fort Alexander and Fort George, and its facilities for navigation, will occupy
the concluding paragraphs of this paper.
Between the 53rd* and 54th parallels of latitude, there are two
serious obstacles to the navigation of the Fraser, viz: the Grand
Rapid and the Isle de Pierre Rapid, respectively 24 and 82 miles
above the mouth of the Quesnel. 19
At the former, the river, contracted to about 100 yards in width,
roars for a quarter of a mile through a narrow, rocky chasm, overhung by cliffs of ferruginous clay-slate; a portion of the channel is
obstructed by numerous large rocks, one of which, near the lower
end of the rapid, is conspicuously dangerous.
The second obstruction, the Isle de Pierre Rapid, owes its name
to an archipelago of small, rocky islets which stud the stream, here
about a quarter of a mile in breadth. These islets rise abruptly from
the water's edge, some in isolated spires and columns, others in
rugged, massive blocks, .crowned with timber and presenting
perpendicular cliffs 40 or 50 feet in height. Through the deep, winding chasms, and over the shallow, rocky ledges of this archipelago,
in all about three quarters of a mile long, the waters of the Fraser
rush with fierce velocity, and form perilous eddies and_whirlpools in
abundance, j
The positions and characters of the dangers in a rapid vary so at
different stages of a river, that it is useless to suggest, or to speculate
upon the merits of, a-ny especial design for overcoming obstructions,
without having previously observed the condition of the channel at
all seasons. I can imagine that it will be just possible—by blasting,
building tow-paths, &c.—so to improve the Fraser at these two rapids
that powerful steamers may be able to pass up them, but the downward passage must, in my opinion, be, under any circumstances,
fraught with imminent danger. In other respects, the Fraser, as far
as Fort George, presents no material impediments to continuous
navigation by powerful light-draught vessels, at the seasons when
the stream is free from ice. Large, isolated rocks are here and there
seen, and the water rushes in places, with heightened velocity, over
shallow, gravelly bars, but the rocks may be avoided, and the great
volume of the river ensures at least one channel deep enough for
small, fiat-bottomed steamers.
Between Alexander and the Grand Rapid the Fraser winds very
much, and the remarkable double bend at Kokope, where, after
seven miles' paddling, the traveller is less than a mile and a half m 20
a direct line from the point he left, is the most extraordinary feature
of its course. The banks are here and there crumbling cliffs of sand
and sandstone, of as much as 300 feet in height, which frequently
slide away from the mainland in immense masses, and obstruct and
alter the channel of the river. The cliffs assume numberless fantastic shapes, of which the most remarkable are sharp-pointed pinnacles,'
left standing in isolated positions by the disintegration of neighbouring masses. High up above the river, on the faces of the steep
cliffs, as many as two or three hundred of these quasi minarets, some
with but one spire, others with two or even three, may sometimes
be counted in a single cluster, stained with every variety of red and
ochre tints, and contrasting prettily with the dark green of the
forests above which they rise. Many-coloured strata of clays and
clay-slates occasionally crop out on the river banks, and a large
stratum of lignite, of some small value as fuel, is to be seen on the
left shore just above the head of Diamond Island. From Alexander to the Grand Rapid the rate of the current may be said to vary,
at seasons and in places, from four to seven miles an hour, the portion
of the stream above the Qnesnel being swifter than that below.
The river, with its sleughs, varies from 400 to 1000 yards in width,
sometimes running in a deep, regular channel, at others spreading
out over numerous shallow bars, and amongst archipelagos of cotton-wood islands. Bench-lands and bunch-grass disappear altogether above the Narcoslee, and give way to an undulating forest country, and, north of the^Quesnel, the uniform outlines of the table-lands
are missed, and the valley is bounded by irregular and widely-separated ranges of hills.
Above the Grand Rapid, material changes in the character of the
Fraser are visible; its current becomes less swift, its course straight-
er, and its waters less widely distributed than before; dense, green
forests shade its banks, the valley contracts in breadth, and low, unbroken chains of hills rise gently from either margin of the stream.
Eighteen miles above the rapid, the mouth of West river, a tributary
some 80 miles in length, which drains part of the great western 21
plateau, is passed. Abrupt mountain masses of about 1200 feet in
height mark its confluence with the Fraser; these soon die away,
and from thence to Fort George an extensive, rolling, forest country
is traversed, through Which the river winds in a slight depression,
scarcely, in this colonv of mountains, deserving the name of a valley.
Two streams, each about 30 yards in width, enter the Fraser from
the east between the Grand and the Isle de Pierre Rapids. The
mouth of the one is forty, of the other fifty-five, miles above the
former. These may be reasonably taken to be Willow river and
Sugar creek, streams which have been already mentioned in the remarks on Cariboo; the supposition that they are so is strengthened
on observing the general northwesterly courses of t he other large
eastern tributaries in these latitudes.
At length, 136 miles from Alexander, Fort George, a dreary
Hudson Bay Company's trading-post, infested with dogs and Carrier
Indians, is reached. The Fort stands on the rig-lit bank of the
stream, on a sandy eminence surrounded by large, swampy flats containing groves of cotton-wood and small lakes. Half a mile further
up, the Fraser divides into its two principal branches, the eastern
or main branch, taking its source amongst the snows of the Rocky
Mountains, the other branch, the Stuart river, draining a large
tract of country to the northwest. At their confluence these streams
appear to be about equal in volume. Unlike the main branch, the
Stuart passes on its course through many large lakes, and deposits
in them most of the alluvium with which its waters are charged, arriving at the Fraser in an almost clear state. The temperature of the
Stuart, on the 29th of September last, was 49° 90 Fahrenheit—of the
Fraser 44° 20, the thermometer in the air standing at 45° 50- The
canoe journey up was performed by poling along the shores, and occupied 56 hours, travelling time. The descent, in the strength of
the current, was accomplished in 17 hours.
Fine gold is found on the "bars" of the Fraser all the way up, and
Bmall encampments of Chinese miners were frequently passed;
whites keep Cariboo to themselves, and leave to the Chinamen an 90
undisturbed monopoly of the poorer gold deposits on the Fraser,
and its ttibutanes, the Quesnel and Swift rivers.
We learn now that diggings of almost fabulous richness have been
struck on Peace river, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, a little
below the junction of its north and south branches. They are at
present reached by the Hudson Bay Company's route, which, leaving Fort George, passes 120 miles up the Stuart to Fort James;
thence by an easy "portage" of 90 miles to the head waters of the
Peace river, and 130 miles down its stream to the mines.
Thus the gold has been traced to the far off confines of British
Columbia. It has been shewn here that most of the Fraser from
Soda Creek to Fort George is easily navigable, and the accounts of
travellers_assign to the Stuart and Peace rivers equal, if not greater,
facilities for navigation between the rapids ~by which, at widely-
separated points , their evenness is broken. The remoteness of the
new mines, and the difficulty of reaching them, scarcely warrant
an expectation of an immediate "rush" thither; but those who take
an interest in the future of this country must look forward with
pleasure to the time when this northern region shall become subdued to the requirements of civilization, when the large and distant inland streams shall be navigated by steamers in long, if not in unbroken, fines, and the merits of extensive, and at present comparatively unknown, districts be laid open to appreciation by the colonists.
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,
Henry Spencer Palmer,
Lieut., Royal Engineers.
Kit hatch.—Page 2, line 3 from the bottom, for northeasterly read north-north easterly. 23
at Bridge Creek house
West end of Lake La Hache,
02" N.
58" W.
(Captain Parsons, R. E.)   .
5C    ..
10     ..
Crossing of Deep creek, (south)
40     ..
09     ..
Court-house, Williams Lake.
24     ..
32    ..
Crossing of first stream south of
Soda Creek
24     ..
04    ..
Crossing of creek, 8 miles below
Alexander ....
17     ..
24     ..
Fort Alexander
40     ..
56     ..
Phillips' Farm, Round Prairie
57     ..
49     ..
Mouth of Quesnel river, upper
ferry, (Cock's house) .
17     ..
06    ..
Mouth of Quesnel river, lower
ferry, (Danielson's house) .
15     ..
52     ..
Cameron s farm, 12 miles from
38     ..
28     ..
Beaver Lake, Sellers' hotel  .
19     ..
04    ..
Forks of Quesnel river, centre
of settlement
42     ..
52    ..
Encampment at Cottonwood settlement .
33     ..
07    ..
House at Beaver Pass, Lightning
creek          ....
58     ..
49    ..
Court-house, Van Winkle set
tlement      ....
31     ..
42    ..
Court-house, Richfield          do.
09     ..
55    ..
Marmot Lake
25      ..
33     ..
Antler Creek settlement
44     ..
22     ..
House  (Leon's') on   Snowshoe
mountain   ....
00     ..
Keithley Creek settlement
21     ..
39     ..
32    ..
Mouth of Swift
34    ..
Fort George
29     ..
01     ..
H. S. P. 
Boston Bar settlement,                .....
Court House at Lytton,
Thompson river, at mouth of Nicola river,
The Lakes, Venables',
Ashcroft farm, Cornwall's,
Buonaparte river, at mouth of Maiden Creek,
Summit altitude of trail from Green Lake to Bridge Creek,
Bridge Creek house, (Captain Parsons, R. E.)
Lake La Hache,         (    do.        do.        do.    )
Deep Creek (south,) at the crossing,
Court-house, Williams Lake,
The Springs farm,        .
Soda Creek crossing,
Mud Lake,   .....
Fort Alexander, Fraser level,
Summit altitude of trail from Mud Lake to Beaver Lake,
Beaver Lake, Sellers^ Hotel,
The "Green Timber," South limit,
Little Lake house,       ....
Summit of trail thence to Quesnel-forks,
Quesnel City,              -
Mitchell's bridge, north branch of Quesnel river,
Cariboo Lake,                               .....
Snowshoe Creek, Leon's house,
Snowshoe Peak,.         .
Sn'owshoe Mountain Leon's house,
Antler Creek settlement,            .                .
Milk Farm, Malony's. ....
Summit of trail over Mount Agnes to Lightning Creek,
Marmot Peak,              •               ,               .               .               .
Marmot Lake,               ....
Richfield Court-house,                 .
Van Winkle Court-house,,
Cottonwood,                ....
Fraser rivejs-, at ro.outh of Quesnel river,    .
"            mouth of Swift river,
"            Fort George,.    .
H, S. P. 25
From the foot of Lake La Hache to the head of Williams Lake,
From the head of Williams Lake to Round Tent Lake,
" Round Tent Lake to Beaver Lake, .       J
" Beaver Lake to Little Lake,
" Little Lake to Quesnel forks,
" Quesnel forks to Mitchell's bridge,
" Mitchell's bridge to Keithley,
'' Keithley to Antler,
" Antler to Richfield,
From the head of Williams Lake to the Court-house,
" the Court-house to Mud Lake,
" Mud Lake to Alexander,        ....
" Alexander to the Round Prairie,    .
" the Round Prairie to the mouth of Quesnel river
§ the mouth of Quesnel river to Cottonwood,    .
•' Cottonwood to Van Winkle,
" Van Winkle to Marn^ot Lake,
" Marmot Lake to Richfield, '&.-1''*
From Alexander, to the mouth of the Narcoslee river,    .
" Narcoslee river to the mouth of Quesnel river,
'' the mouth of Quesnel river to the mouth of Swift river,
" the mouth of Swift river to Grand Rapid,
•" Grand Rapid to the mouth of West river,
" the mouth of West river to "Isle de Pierre" Rapid,
p "Isle de Pierre" Rapid to Fort George,
H. S. P.
From      G &
Place of Purchase	
Later Catalogued Prices


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