We want to start by acknowledging that this program is taking place in the unceeded territory of Lil’wat Nation. Hi everyone and welcome to Tea & Tales. My name is Niki Madigan and I’m the Curator at the Pemberton museum. With me today is Emma Eslake who is the Museum Supervisor this summer and we’re lucky to her with us this season. Emma and I are presenting some tales from the Pemberton Trail today. Thanks for coming and supporting this program. If you missed a tale earlier this month you can see it on our website or You Tube channel. This is the fourth of seven presentations that will feature speakers from Lillooet, Mt. Currie, Pemberton, Squamish and beyond. Our theme this year is Myths & Legends. Pemberton has been a place name on European maps for 160 years this summer. Prior to this it was and remains the traditional territory of the Lil’wat peoples. To celebrate the depth of history in this place we picked the theme of Myths & Legends as these tend to be the oldest and most informative stories we have of the past. A Myth tells us why things are the way they are. A Legend tells us how we were. This season we have stories that fit in both these categories and today is certainly one that fits in between. Next week we have Johnny Jones telling us about Old Maps and his Grandfather, Kupman, the Medicine Man. On August 14th Diane Mitchell and ??? are coming to tell us about the Legendary Copper Mine at Britannia. Today you’ll see some pictures of pack trains that were taken in Britannia during its early hay days. Lastly Professor Unger will tell us the tale of the Murder of Tom Poole. Just a reminder to all in attendance that all presentations are filmed for the historical record and an edited version will be made available on You Tube and our website. I want to start today with a quote from Sir Walter Scott [read slide].
Here is the outline of our presentation today. Staff put this presentation together using materials from the archive and referencing the Pemberton history book. We’ll be giving a brief history, including costs and men involved in early Trail building [or not building as you’ll see]. We’ll talk a little bit about Carson’s cattle drive but George Vanderwolf’s presentation on July 10th really covered this aspect so we don’t want to repeat it. However we will tell you about John Currie’s disastrous cattle drive over a decade after Carson’s. We’ll introduce you to some Legendary Packers, tell you some Trail Tales and Characters. We’ll end with a little bit about the arrival of the railway as this meant the end of the Pemberton Trail era.
160 years ago, the province of British Columbia was inaccessible beyond waterways used by the HBC. A modern map of the region from Google Earth shows the difficult terrain between Vancouver and Lillooet. When the British first colonized Vancouver Island there wasn’t much interest in the mainland and it was thought to be too mountainous for permanent settlement…that is until gold was found in the Fraser River in 1858. Immediately British interests turned to the mainland and transportation routes inland were a priority for the newly established colonial government. The first tax was proclaimed and miners had to pay or work on the Harrison-Lillooet goldrush trail as they made their way inland to pursue their dreams of wealth and prosperity.
1st historical mention on A.C. Anderson map of 1858. J.W. McKay travelled from Pemberton to Howe Sound in 1858 at request of Gov. Douglas. “McKay’s report was highly favourable” Rose Tatlow writes, “maybe because he was heading downhill”. However officials remained unconvinced as the trail still didn’t eliminate the need for portages on the lakes between Pemberton and Lillooet.
By 1870 the goldrush boom had busted and goldrushers were pushing further and further north. The population at Lillooet plunged. The Harrison-Lillooet route was abandoned and those ranchers, farmer’s and halfway house proprietors were left in a lurch with no reasonable way to move supplies in or out.
In 1860 a Lillooet politician, Thomas Humphries promised the construction of a cattle trail to the coast. Construction began in 1873. William Sampson began by reopening the gold rush trail between D’arcy and Pemberton. He also explored the route from Pemberton to Squamish and was optimistic that it could be built for $8000.
We looked in the archive and found some notes from Margaret Fougberg about the cattle trail that were taken from Rose Tatlow’s script for C.B.C. Rose was a long time newspaper woman who worked for the Squamish Advance in 1945 and then the Squamish Times. [read slide]. A decade later in 1903 a government official reported $325 was spent on it and added “there is nothing there at present worthy of the name of road”.
[Read slide first] An article from The Squamish Chief in 1993 written by Don Ross explains it best. “Public indignation steamed up with words such as ‘misrepresentation, waste and bobbery, mismanagement, graft and rouge contractors’ were bandied about. Cost overruns, seems to be part of BC’s history both past and present.” In 1877 H.A. McLellan was in charge of trail building and D. Carey’s testimony at the hearing opined that McLellan didn’t take his job too seriously. Much of the time McLellan was in a tent with his wife, and Carey said that several horses were placed at her disposal to pack her trunks and carpets which caused unnecessary delays.
A number of settlers were involved in trail construction. In 1873, Marcus Smith said of the Portage trail between D’arcy and Pemberton “it is now chiefly used by natives, as there are only two or three white settlers in the neighbourhood and the road is overgrown with grass and brush that have sprung up since travel was diverted [from the goldrush trail].” Three characters we’ll hear about again are Thomas Poole who supplied meat and supplies to the crew and Scottie Halliday and Walter Burgess, who packed for the trail builders. It was not long after the trail was completed that Tom Poole and his children were murdered at their Halfway house. But more about this tale on Aug 21st. By 1882, only W. MacBeth was left on the tax rolls.
After the hearings no one used the trail until the 1890s when John Currie, A.P. Barnfield and other settlers, began to re-open trail with $1000 in government funds. They petitioned the government for the money after attempting settlement in Pemberton for a number of years.
John Currie arrived in Pemberton around 1885 settling on D.L. 164 & 165. He was the first postmaster and the mountain bears his name today. He had three children with his native wife Seraphine Tlekenak from Fountain B.C. A.P Barnfield from Squamish described Currie as 5ft 10, and probably Skookum when young but during his mining years had developed rheumatic fever from which he never fully recovered. Barnfield pre-empted land about 12 miles up the Lillooet river. He described the trail as a “heartbreaker, In one or two places we improved it. No wonder nobody would use it”. By 1891 Currie had 100 head of cattle and 6 horses and six years later had many more so decided to drive them over the trail to Squamish on the improved trail. He hired dozens of men from Mt. Currie to help with the drive but the cattle refused to be herded or to stay on the trail. Currie and crew tried to build a fence and tried again but the animals still wandered up mountains, and into sloughs were they were lost. The steady rain turned to snow and the temperatures dropped to -27C (-18 F). The drive was a complete failure and the cattle Currie did manage to get back home died of starvation as he hadn’t stockpiled much hay for the winter. Their skeletons littered the Currie land for years afterward. Barnfield abandoned his pre-emption once he discovered it was mostly gravel bar. He said, “We would have had that country opened up yrs ago if it weren’t for old Smith, member for Lillooet. Smith said there wasn’t 10 acres of good land in Pemberton. Smith was a Lillooet storekeeper, and for some reason was jealous of Pemberton. Smith’s successor, the road boss at Lillooet had a different attitude but the government was afraid to tackle the road, saying they lacked money. Barnfield died in 1960 (94 yrs), b:1866, John died in 1910, b:1834 (76yrs).
Andrew Joseph was Lil’wat and was the first mail carrier, serving the Post Office at the Currie ranch. He brought the mail, in all weather, from Lillooet. Lil’wat men were the first packers and guides for settlers in the region.
Felix Sam was a Lil’wat man, who was an early packer famed for travelling long distances in a short time. In the history book Clara Jones, an early settler, says “dear old Felix Sam, carried the mail by horse, canoe and snowshoes. Bill Spetch tells a story in the history book of a holdup along the Portage at Ward’s farm. Bill Pascal was the mail carrier and he picked up a man on the Portage. Riding toward Pemberton they met a man with a rifle, saying “Now you hold your hands up”. The rifle was pointed at Bill. While Bill was picking up the letterbags to hand them over, his passenger pulled his own rifle and said, “Now you hold your hands up!”. The would be bandit dropped his rifle and Bill and his passenger rode on. I asked Bill if police ever got the bandit and Bill said “No, we never reported it; we would have lost our rifle”. For long years Felix Sam searched for a lost gold mine. Every summer until he was old, he used to work up the creeks and rivers with common headwaters: the Soo River, Rutherford Creek, the Ryan River and Copper Creek.
Charlie Wallace was a packer on the Pemberton Trail and also one of the first mail carriers. He packed for John Currie and John McKenzie. In the history book Charlie told of his seven year experience carrying mail between Lillooet and Pemberton. He made the round trip twice a month and received $40 each time. In favourable conditions he could make the 60 mile trip in one day. In winter it could take four days to travel 15 miles. He remembers one such trip with three men heading to Lillooet from D’arcy. None had blankets or food. Reaching Seton Lake a storm whipped up and they sheltered on a bluff. In the morning they found ice had formed around their canoes. After making a fire to thaw the ice from their paddles they paddled the length of the lake before they stopped at an old native cabin and rummaged for food. They could only find a few saskatoon berries but were so hungry they lit a fire to thaw them and eat them. On the return trip, Seton lake was frozen over so Wallace made a sled to cross the ice. At Shalalth the ice was breaking up so he hired horses to carry the mail to Anderson Lake and the men paddled to D’arcy.
After 1891 the government provided small yearly grants that provided jobs for residents at either end of the trail to make improvements to the grade and to build bridges. Early packers started by packing for these trail building crews in the summer months. Talk of a railway arriving began in the early 1900’s and construction of the line started in 1911. The period of 1903 to 1914 saw the arrival of many new settlers who also required packers to bring supplies in. This period also saw ten railway proposals going north to Fort George and the mountain passes were crawling with surveyors and railway promoters.
Several men made their living by packing, spending three days each way on the trail to Squamish. They packed for early storekeepers like John Currie, John McKenzie and Samuel Spetch. They also packed for trail construction crews, the provincial government, railway surveyors, settlers and explorers. Ray Elliott was one of these early packers on the Pemberton trail and was renowned for having the best saddle horse in the country. He arrived to Pemberton from Edmonton by way of Vancouver with guidance from Leonard Neil and Jim Ryan around 1899. In 1911, he petitioned the government to help build drainage infrastructure. He married Margaret Mellish, a teacher at the Pemberton Meadows one room school. His son, Gordon, born in Pemberton in 1920, was a professor emeritus in English Literature at SFU and the editor of the book, “Pemberton: History of a Settlement”. In the history book, Clara Ryan remembers a trip on the trail with Ray and her aunt and uncle. It was cold and rainy and she says she was so cold she could barely get off her horse. She says, “when we stopped the night at Daisy Lake, Uncle and Ray took a huge stone and put it in the fire and it got hot, then rolled it is sacks and put it in Auntie’s and my bed, which was cedar boughs in a tent. We hugged it to get warm”. Children walked and rode the trail too and Vivien Lokken remembers it was a tiring trip on foot for a 12 yr old.
Herbert “Bert” Perkins first came to the area in 1903 and was a packer on the Pemberton trail. He packed supplies for the Britannia mine and worked for Charles Barbour logging in Squamish. He could walk from Brackendale to Pemberton in a day. He met his wife Edith at Jordan’s Lodge in Creekside at Alta Lake (Whistler) while packing on the trail. They had three sons, Phillip, Herbert and Howard. In the early years he alternated between logging in Squamish and trapping in Pemberton in between packing jobs. Camping at Nairn falls he had a staring contest with a pack of 17 wolves across the river. He provided timber to build a trestle for the rail road. He loaded up pack train with Fred Ostman and Red Mahan with potatoes and turnips and set out to the Bridge River townships. The purpose of this trip was not just to promote Pemberton potatoes but to demonstrate that a road could be built in between the two regions. He was summering in a cabin near Meager Creek, when a slide blocked the creek and flooded their cabin. Bert was working to clear the dam when his wife told him to get out of the way, he decided to dance a jig to show his safety, but when she screamed and pointed, he looked and saw a flash flood barrelling down on him and he just barely had time to scramble out of the way before the flood could wash him away. He ran a trap line from Meager Creek to the Lillooet River with Slim Fougberg. He bought Patrick Dermody’s sawmill which was the first in the valley. The Miller and Hamill houses were built with Perkins lumber. He worked as a fire fighter serving as the cook in the camp and he was apparently an excellent cook. He packed supplies to a group of mountaineers exploring Mount Meager in 1932. His wife Edith often joined him during winter trapping trips and they would winter along the trap line in the months after Christmas. Edith died Jan 12th, 1982 and was 76. Bert died in 1950.
Tom Geer came to the area along with his brothers Jack and Will. He was a foreman for a logger in Squamish at one time, and moved in to Pemberton in 1905. He helped to move logging equipment up across the Cheakamus as there was no bridge then. He was a packer on the Pemberton trail starting in 1902 and packed powder and supplies to men working on the trail. He also packed supplies for settlers and he packed for the first shopkeeper McKenzie. He would pack stoves, which was a job that many packers refused. He had curly black hair. To make cash he would trap in the winter. He pre-empted land that was bought by the rail road and subsequently was put out of business by the railroad. In a letter to M. Fougberg he wrote that in the early years there was no boat service on Anderson or Seton Lakes. If you had to go this way you hired a First Nations man with a canoe or you walked a rough trail along the lakes with a pack horse.
John Miller’s Halfway House was located halfway between Brackendale and Pemberton – just south of Alta Lake and Pemberton ranchers preferred it to the camping spot at Daisy Lake. A stop over with mahogany John, as he was known, meant good substantial food, a soft bed – usually in the haymow and entertainment. Miller threw slices of bacon from table to frying pan, never missing. When everything was ready “he would remove the stub of a cigarette from his lips and utter the words well known to every Pemberton pioneer, ‘Now gentlemen, please put your feet under the mahogany’”. Myrtle Phillip and her husband Alex stopped here often and she considered his pastry the best she had ever eaten. John was described as being big shouldered with a pointed mustache and swarthy beard. He also had a booming voice, a flattened nose and it was rumoured that his gun had more than one notch on its handle. He banked his money under the oil cloth on the kitchen table. He made a yearly trip to Vancouver and usually ended up in jail following celebrations. With the coming of the railway he headed north with his pack on his back saying the “country was getting too civilized”.
The Pemberton Trail was not for weaklings. The men who could walk from Brackendale to Pemberton in one day were strong men, Edward Adie, Felix Sam and Bert Perkins among them. Perkins once set out on foot to race a horse and rider to Squamish. Given a 2 hour start, Perkins reached Squamish on the day he left home and then played a harmonica all night at a dance. The horseman, William Hamill, arrived at his destination on the afternoon of the second day. This story shows how difficult the trail ways, that it was easier for a man to navigate the rough terrain than a horse. Another man, forced his horse to cover the same distance in one day. That horse died. Francis Wallace told of travelling with his father Charlie Wallace’s pack train over the trail to Squamish. “I must have been tough”, he said. He would hang onto the horses tail going up hills. In the archive there is a note from Margaret Fougberg from “Myrtle Phillip Day in 1974 where six Mt. Currie people came to honour their friend Myrtle; Charlie Mack, Harry Dan, Adam and Mary James and Joe and Rosie Joseph. Harry Dan started talking about packing on the trail. He was only 10 when he worked for Billy Williams who packed for storekeeper, McKenzie. The trip took 3 days. Dan made the trip four times. Seven horses would be loaded with coal oil and the little boy would stand under a can and support it while the load was being fastened. Seven more horses would be loaded with sugar and flour. Dan would spread a blanket over the flour sacks and lie down and go to sleep; but first he’d stuff the lead horse’s bell with hay. Fording the Soo might be easy going down, but on the return trip the water would be so wild that Williams would tie the child onto a horse’s back. Felix Sam was a renowned runner on the trail. J.A. Taillefer remembers his first trip to Pemberton where he spent a night in a cabin a short distance from the Cheakamus station. During the night a man came in, lit a match, then flopped on the other bunk in the shack. It was Felix Sam, then young. He had walked from the wharf at Squamish. Next morning he was off early and he reached Pemberton that night, about 47 miles.
Horses on the Trail were often as well known as some of the Packers. Pete Peterson, an early settler and prospector owned a beautiful black saddle horse that was blind. Pete was known as One Eyed Pete, as he himself was blind in one eye. Pete often made night trips with no accidents despite the horse’s blindness. Pete was famed for saving the Green River hotel when it’s liquor supply ran out mid-winter. He made a snowshoe trip over the trail carrying 5 gallons of whiskey, resting only against tree trunks from Squamish to Green River hotel. He went 40 miles in 2 days with no food or blankets as they would have weighed him down too much. Rose Tatlow tells of another famous horse known as Whiskey Johnnie. He was dun coloured and sway backed and an honored member of any pack train he accompanied. His sole duty was carrying a specially constructed pack saddle for two casks. One of whiskey the other of rum. These were equipped with spigots and at every stop Johnnie was well patronized. During the winters, dog teams were also used to pack the mail but we couldn’t find any specific dogs mentioned.
The Pemberton history book explains the development of the railway. As early as 1891 men incorporated a company to build a railway from the coast to Pemberton but it wasn’t a reality until Oct of 1914. In the beginning the railway men planned to build their road to haul the timber up the Squamish Valley but their charter provided for construction from Squamish through to Lillooet, a run of 120 miles. By the end of 1907 ten miles of line was surveyed; by the end of 1909, the nearly 60 miles to Pemberton. In 1909, crews began laying rail from Squamish to the Cheekye River. Until 1916 men continued to repair both the Anderson and Seton Lake trails. In that same year, railway construction destroyed the trail along Seton Lake. Two years before, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway had replaced the Pemberton Trail, in fact had obliterated parts of it and of the Portage Road. A.P Barnfeild says the railway men, laid their ties and steel on the nice level stretches of the Trail they’d once worked so hard on.
Hopes of permanent settlement was dependent on the railway. For Pemberton people, the first real evidence of the coming of the railway came with the building of a rough road from Squamish, a road needed for teams working on construction and for hauling supplies of all kinds. Allan Fraser recalls that before he started down the steepest hills he tied himself to his democrat wagon. Once construction started, travellers had a wider choice of stopping places: they could spend the night at railway camps. The storekeeper John McKenzie sold his store to Frank and Fay Brokaw and we have archive pictures titled PGE Construction Road featuring “Brokaw Cousins”. The photograph reads “over Bare mountain, near the railway bridge over the Cheakamus”. Fay and Gladys Blakeway tell a story in the history book about riding south from Pemberton. Fay was armed with a revolver when they stayed overnight at one of the construction camps. By 1912 walkers, horseback riders or stagecoach passengers could board a swift gasoline passenger boat for the trip north to Seton. The Portage road had been improved and 50 miles of road had been improved in the Pemberton Valley under road Foreman James Punch. The road connected the upper valley to Mt. Currie. There was a bridge at the end of Pemberton Farm Rd. called the Red bridge, and travelers travelled the road down this side of the river 100 years ago. Harvey Nelson’s hill was a memorable feature. Sadly the arrival of the railway put packers out of business and the era of the Pemberton Trail came to a close. Some of the packers moved on but many settled. Lil’wat men continued to pack for government officials, prospectors and travelers through the territory where the railroad couldn’t take you. To end today we wanted to share a couple more quotes from the history book that better explains the beauty of the trail. “Wildlife along the route was more plentiful than it is today. Willie Currie and Bill Spetch used to find Alta Lake alive with fish, and sometimes heard loons calling or wolves howling when passing Daisy Lake. BeeBee Rudock remembers the lovely woods she rode through when she was a child, in the month of May. James Landsborough remembers the home run along the west side of Green Lake and down the Green River Valley. He mentions the remarkable flowers and said, “the trail is bordered by kinnikinnick, lupines and thimbleberries. Here and there huckleberries tempt the packer so that he has to hurry to catch up. He also described the trail in summer, “like a trench bordered by high grass, thimbleberries, raspberries, rose bushes and bracken. In such dense growth it was very difficult to find a horse without a bell”. Thanks for listening today. Are there any questions?
Pemberton trail tales & legendary packers
Pemberton Trail Tales &
“I cannot tell how the truth may be. I say the tale as ‘twas said to me.”
Sir Walter Scott
Pemberton Trail Tales
• Brief History of the Trail
• Trail Builders & Costs
• Carson’s Trail Woes
• Currie’s Trail Woes
• Legendary Packers
• Trail Tales & Characters
• Trail to Rail
As explained by George Vanderwolf at the first Tale
of the season, Robert Carson’s cattle drive in 1877 was a
disaster for Carsen and the cattle.
The failure, along with general public outcry over
construction costs led to Legislative Committee hearings in
1878 to investigate the construction of the trail.