Publication: The Telegrapher
New York, NY, United States
THE COLLINS OVERLAND TELEGRAPH EXPEDITION.
[CORRESPONDENCE OF THE TELEGRAPHER.]
FORT ST. JAMES, Lake Nacosla, B. C., August 1st, 1865.
My last letter was dated from New-Westminster, if I remember rightly, and you will see by referring to the map that we have made considerable progress since that time, this point being by the proposed route of the line nearly seven hundred miles north ward of New-Westminster.
As your readers are aware, our party are engaged in exploring that portion of the proposed route between the upper waters of the Frazer and the Youkan [sic] Yukon, which is supposed to flow into the Behrings Sea about four hundred miles to the southward of the Straits. The party is in charge of Major F. L. Pope, assistant engineer, formerly of New-York. We left Yale, B. C., June 3d, 1865, with twenty-five men and a train of forty mules. Passing the entire distance, two hundred and eighty-seven miles, over a good wagon road, we reached Fort Alexandria on the 22d of June. Some little time being spent here in procuring supplies, the party proceeded, reaching Quesnelle Mouth on the 3d of July. This is a small place, and derives its importance from the fact of its being the head of steamboat navigation on the Frazer, and the outlet of the rich mining country lying to the eastward, known as Cariboo. It is the terminus of the wagon road from Yale, and likewise the most northern town upon the American Continent, the "jumping-off, place," as it were, of civilization. It was probably owing to this fact that our boys facetiously named our camp across the river "Last Chance;" for once past there, good-by to letters, newspapers, and other luxuries of a civilized life. At "Last Chance" camp the "Fourth" was celebrated with appropriate exercises. The "Starry Banner" floated triumphant over the encampment. Salutes were fired at sunrise and sunset; an extra dinner was got up, with speech, toasts and songs, until John Chinaman, who was washing gold at a bar on the river just below, must have thought the "Melican-man" had taken leave of his senses.
Quesnelle Mouth, as it is called, is a town consisting of a single street of log buildings, standing on the flats at the junction of the Quesnelle River with the Frazer, and fronting on the latter. The principal business done here by the inhabitants consists of asking each other to "take something," and of playing "three card monte" and other moral and instructive games. They are "laying on their oars" at present, waiting for the "fall trade," when the miners go down the country from Cariboo to winter below, with their pockets heavy with "dust," when a rich harvest will doubtless be reaped by these worthy "artists." There are many very good people in Quesnelle Mouth, too, if the kindness with which the members of our exploring party have been treated can be taken as an indication. The telegraph will be fully completed to this point about the first of September. It is probable that Quesnelle Mouth, being at the head of the navigation, will be made a supply depot for the upper country while the work is progressing.
From "Last Chance" camp we proceeded across the country towards Frazer's Lake. Here the real work of the exploration may be said to have commenced, the country already passed over being well known, and as I before mentioned, a wagon road having been opened through it. Under the guidance of an Indian named Kel-sun, we set out on the fifth of July. The method of procedure adopted was as follows; Kel-sun went ahead, clipping the trees with his tomahawk. Then followed a party of axemen, cutting out a "trail" through the standing and fallen timber, and building bridges over swamps and streams, and lastly the mule train with the provisions and blankets. In this way we averaged from ten to fifteen miles per day. When fifty miles from Quesnelle Mouth, we had the misfortune to lose one of our men-James L. Butler, of San Francisco, who suddenly disappeared and could not be found, although a search was immediately instituted, and kept up vigorously for several days. We have since heard that he strayed from the trail while chasing a deer, and climbing a tree to ascertain the direction of the camp, a limb broke, precipitating him to the ground a distance of thirty feet, and injuring him so severely that he was unable to move for three days. In this disabled condition he finally managed to return the entire distance to Quesnelle, steering his course by the sun, and subsisting on berries. He reached Quesnelle after twelve days of most intense suffering and exposure, being reduced to a skeleton, and being hardly able to move. Had he not been a man of unusual strength of constitution, he must have perished in the wilderness. I understand he was kindly cared for by the inhabitants of Quesnelle, and will rejoin our party again ere long.
Our party reached Frazer's Lake, or Naht-la, July 29th, where we rested one day. The country between Naht-la and Quesnelle, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles, is extremely favorable for the construction of the line, being mostly level and lightly wooded, but with sufficient timber for telegraphic purposes within a abort distance of the trail. There are many fine lakes along the route, bordered with beautiful grassy meadows, affording a fine pasturage for animals.
The most remarkable circumstance I have noticed in this country is the almost entire absence of animal life. With the exception of a very few deer and bears, some rabbits, and a considerable number of partridges, there is absolutely no game throughout the country. No one coming from the United States, where game is quite plenty, even in the most populous districts, can, fail to observe it at once. One of the men informed me that with the exception of a single squirrel, he saw neither animals nor birds during the entire trip. Farther north, I am informed by the Indians, the matter is, if possible, still worse, so that in fact the country is totally uninhabitable by them. This will render it necessary to import nearly all the provisions for the working parties, but with this exception the country seems as favorable as could be desired for telegraphic purposes.
The natives along the line are extremely friendly, and have rendered us as much valuable assistance in return for presents of tobacco, powder and shot, and red cloth, as well as other "ictas" too numerous to mention. While at Naht-la, Major Pope called a grand council of the tribe, at which several of the leading Indians were present, for the purpose of explaining to them, as well as might be, the object of our coming through their country, and also the nature of the electric telegraph. The Indians having assembled in considerable numbers, a wire was stretched upon small poles, a distance of several hundred yards across the prairie, and a portable battery attached to it, with a pocket instrument at either end. Major Pope then arranged a revolver at the farther end of the line in such a manner that it could be fired from the opposite end by closing the electric circuit. Everything being in readiness, Major Pope requested the chief to place his finger upon the key, which was followed by an instantaneous report of the pistol at the extremity of the wire. This performance excited the utmost wonder and admiration among the savages, and was repeated several times amid great applause. By this time a number of the natives had collected at the other end of the wire, and the chief was desired to send a message to one of them. He did so, and his dispatch was precisely what any one acquainted with the Indian character could have foretold, - he wanted a piece of tobacco! Imagine his astonishment at beholding his "tilicum" coming down from the other end of the line, bearing something aloft in his hand, which upon his arrival proved to be the coveted piece of tobacco! The exhibition was continued for some time, and "took" immensely.
Afterwards Major Pope explained to some of the more intelligent of the savages, that a large wire was to be put up through the whole country, and explained to them how, by its means, they could be informed of the coming of the salmon in the Fraser in time to make their nets and weirs before their arrival at the fishing grounds, and its usefulness in many other ways. A quantity of tobacco and other presents were then distributed among them, and they departed in great good humor, after having assured Major Pope, that so far from offering any objection to the construction of the line they would assist us by every means at their command.
From Naht-la the party proceeded over the mountain to Fort St. James - where we now are. We shall remain here a short time until information can be collected as to the best route for our further progress.
Fort St. James is beautifully situated at the eastern extremity of Lake Nacosia, or Stuart's Lake. The view from our camp at sunset across this extensive sheet of water is one of unrivaled magnificence. On one side the blue hills slope away to the horizon; on the other a lofty peak of naked granite rising directly from the lake, pierces the clouds with its sharp summit. Not often have I met with more beautiful scenery than can be found in this part of the world.
The maps of this region are exceedingly incorrect, even in the most important particulars, and we have ceased to place any reliance upon them, as an aid to the marking out of our proposed route. I may say, in conclusion, that even in this remote corner of the world, I was greeted by the unexpected apparition of THE TELEGRAPHER of May 29th which by great good fortune has overtaken me here. I can hardly tell you how welcome its familiar face was to me in this far-off country. I find it enlarged and improved in its appearance, and wish it the success it so eminently deserves.
|Keywords:||Collins Overland Telegraph|
|Date completed:||December 18, 2005 by: Elton Gish;|