The Speediest, Safest and Most Economical Route

Red River ox cart at railway station
Red River ox cart at railway station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most amazing stories in Canadian history came from the gold rush to the Cariboo in 1862.  It began with an advertisement in London, England, newspapers:

“The British Columbia Transit Company will punctually despatch on May 21 at 12 noon from Glasgow, a party of first and second class passengers for Quebec, Canada, and over the Grand Trunk Railway to Chicago and St. Paul and via the Red River settlements, in covered wagons to British Columbia.  This is the speediest, safest and most economical route to the gold diggings.  The land transit is through a lovely country unequalled for its beauty and salubrity of climate.”

The adventures of the “Overlanders” as they came to be known, began when they arrived at Fort Garry, after coming down the  Red River on a steamboat.  They were greeted by the cannons of the Hudson Bay fort, and treated to dinners and dancing.  All that remained for them now was to buy Red River carts and journey to the Cariboo.

One of the largest groups started with 150 people, including Mrs. August Schubert, who had three children with her and was expecting her fourth.  There was a great deal of rain that summer, carts bogged down to their wheel hubs while the oxen sank to their bellies in “muskeg.”

Muskeg: Muskeg is an acidic soil type common in Arctic and boreal areas, although it is found in other northern climates as well.

Members of the party who had never handled axes had to build bridges across the swollen rivers.  By July 21, they had finally reached Edmonton.  Now they only had to cross the Rockies!

The Hudson’s Bay men at Edmonton persuaded them to exchange their Red River carts for pack horses.  They pressed on, and by August 2 had reached Cowdung Lake (now Yellowhead Lake), the Great Divide, where the water began to flow to the west.  By this time, they had eaten practically all their food and were living on skunks and porcupines, and even horses.  Occasionally they got salmon from the Indians.  The fish had come 700 miles from the Pacific and were half-rotten.

It was October 13 before one party reached Fort Kamloops.  Many had died through drowning or other accidents.  Among the survivors were Mrs. Schubert and her three children.  The new baby was born the following day, the first white girl born in the interior of British Columbia.

Few, if any, of the “Overlanders” found gold.

The “Overlanders” certainly fought hard for their dream. If you want to learn more, I have two places to suggest: first there is the Harold B. Lee Library with interesting documents and second is Richard T. Wright’s Blog.

Books are a great way to immerse yourself in the story of the Overlanders. As such, I suggest Policing the Elephant: Crime, Punishment, and Social Behavior on the Overland Trail; and The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60; and finally Overlanders.

6 comments

  1. Love the fact that they had to build their own bridges! And the fact that a pregnant woman made the journey. Seems almost a disaster movie cliche! But how awful that so many died.

    Like

    • I was thinking that some Canadian producer could make, at the very least, a TV movie about this. The story has bravery, tenacity and tragedy all in one!

      Thanks for the comment, L. Marie! 🙂

      Like

Let me know what's on your mind

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.