It was a dangerous, hard journey on May 29, 1861 when Governor Douglas began a tour to see how roads could be built into the interior. Gold had been discovered in the arid Cariboo country. How could he build a road 500 miles long, through difficult country, with only 20,000 people in British Columbia to pay for it?
Douglas managed to get the miners to help build the road voluntarily, and Royal Engineers sent out from Britain built roads, parts of which can be seen today. They deserved the slogan used by United States Marines: “The impossible we do at once. The miraculous takes a little longer.”
Mule trains consisted of sixteen mules, each carrying 250 pounds of freight, were used to carry the supplies along the narrow trails, covering about 10 miles a day. Teamster Frank Laumeister had the amazing idea that camels would be better. They could carry more freight and last longer without water. This was important in the hot, dry Cariboo country. Somehow, Laumeister managed to buy twenty-one camels and began using them on the trail. It looked as though he would make a fortune. Each camel carried 1,000 pounds and made about 30 miles a day. He overlooked one problem: camels smell awful!
When they passed a mule train, the mules would be terrified, dash into the woods, or fall down the canyon and be killed. Jackass Mountain is supposed to be named after a mule train that had dashed down the canyon to death. Laumeister was involved in so many lawsuits that he had to abandon the plan. There is an amusing story about the arrival of the camels in Victoria on their way to the Fraser. A small boy came running home and told his father breathlessly that he had seen two wild beasts with humps on their backs coming along the road. Although he could hardly believe the boy, his father took a heavy stick and went to see for himself. A Victoria paper reported the incident:
“As soon as his eyes fastened upon the monsters, his own courage departed, and with blanched cheek and trembling steps he hastily regained the shelter of his own home.”
Pretty amazing when you think about it, eh? To read more about this, I suggest visiting the Society of the Old West; and go see a .pdf of The Cariboo Camels by John Stewart; and lastly BC Heritage for a fun read!