The Overlanders

By Jeff Waugh

It wasn’t until the early 1860’s that the Yellowhead Pass again began to be frequently utilised. In the Fall of 1861 H.J. Moberly quit his post as H.B.C. Factor at Jasper and made his way (to Ft. George) through the Yellowhead with the aid of a young Iroquois guide.

In 1862, a group of 115 men and 1 woman began to ascend upon the yellowhead Pass. They had left Ontario some months earlier and were heading to the British Columbia Cariboo in search of gold. While in Fort Edmonton they discussed the merits of this pass with a party of miners returning from the Cariboo and decided to travel this route to reach their destination.

They abandoned the last of their carts at Lac St. Anne and struggled onward (spread along the trail for over 300 kilometres) with pack oxen and horses and with packs on their backs. After crossing the height of land at the summit of the Yellowhead Pass the first of the Overlanders camped at Cow Dung or Yellowhead Lake. As their provisions were running frighteningly low, some horses and oxen were killed and the meat dried. Others hunted and ate squirrels, small birds, a porcupine and even a skunk. They continued on and camped at Moose River, Red Pass, and at the original’s Tete Jaune’s Cache. On August 27th the first of the Overlanders reached the Shuswap salmon-fishing camp at the new Tete Jaune Cache. Here they traded ammunition, clothing, needles and thread, etc. for salmon, huckleberries, saskatoons and pemmican. On September 7 another party of Overlanders passed by Yellowhead Lake. They became trapped on an island by rising flood waters and were at the point of starvation before being rescued by later arrivals.

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“Still no sign of the company. We are all beginning to feel very weak. If they don’t come up soon it will be very serious work for us. Took our last meal this morning, hardly, a tea cup full of thin soup made with a bit of beef about the size of your hand, a thin piece of cake about the same size. Leader is very bad. We lie about the fire and smoke nearly all day, passing the pipe from one to the other, and, strange to say, I find the talk among men nearly starving is what they would like if they were at home…” – Alexander, September 10, 1862

The last of the Overlanders reached Tete Jaune Cache on September 16.

At Tete Jaune their trails diverged. One group decided to float down the Fraser to Fort George and from there head south to Quesnel. Canoes were made from dug-out cottonwood logs and from oxen hides. Most of the men chose to build rafts on which they tethered the oxen (or stored their meat) for the journey. For the first 5 or 6 days of travel down the river no serious obstacles were encountered. It wasn’t until the Grand Canyon of the Fraser was reached that disaster struck. Canoes were overturned and rafts torn apart. Four men died from drowning or hypothermia.

“Onward they sped like an arrow. They seemed to be rushing into the very jaws of death. Before them on the right rose a rocky reef against which the furious flood was lashing itself into foam, threatening instant and unavoidable destruction, and on the other side a seething and eddying whirlpool was ready to engulf in its greedy vortex any mortal who might venture within its reach. With fearful velocity they were hurried along directly towards the fatal rock, their ruin seemed inevitable. It was a moment of painful suspense. Not a word was spoken except the necessary orders of the pilot, which were distinctly heard on shore above the din and tumult of the scene. Now was the critical moment. Everyone bent manfully to his oar. The raft shot closely past the rock, tearing away the stern rowlock, and glided safely down into the eddy below. The agony was over. The gauntlet had been run…” – McMickings Diary

On October8, the main group of Overlanders reached Fort George. The other group of Overlanders left Tete Jaune Cache and travelled overland up the McLennan River with over 100 head of cattle and horses. About sixty miles from Tete Jaune Cache their guide, Andre Cardinal, turned back to Jasper. The Overlanders slaughtered their cattle, turned most of their horses loose, and began constructing rafts for their journey down the Thompson River to Kamloops. During the run through Murchison rapids and Hells Gate two men died. On arrival in Fort Kamloops October 13, 1862, Catherine Schubert, the only woman amongst the Overlanders, gave birth to a baby girl. From this point and from Fort George the Overlanders would make their way to the Cariboo gold!

At the same time the Overlanders were trekking up towards the Yellowhead Pass, a rather curious group of travellers were making preparation to follow their path, lured, as well, by gold.

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