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Small Frye’s Big Adventure: Part One
Thursday, April 6, 2017 - 00:00 Leonard Lea Frazer
In this story I shall omit any true names except my own, and will do the best I can to describe this wonderful adventure of mine. Not too many people had the opportunity that I did and I would not have had it if I had not just pulled up stakes and took off. Hope you enjoy it.
The small town of Usk, B.C. was 97 miles east of Prince Rupert, and a beautiful little village nestled in the lovely Skeena River Valley. In the year 1935, it was a very busy and industrious little community. It was just at the end of its timber industry, but still quite active in farming, mining and an important railway stop for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (in recent years taken over by the Canadian National Railway).
I arrived there in the hungry thirties in search of adventure and a chance to make my own way in life. At the time, I decided to travel to this settlement, I was living at Albreda, the summit of the Canoe, Thompson, and Columbia Rivers.
My Adventure Begins:
I had been on relief at the time and from the Government I received $6.00 per month. I did not find this too exciting nor much to live on. I heard of a place called Doreen, just east of the village of Usk, where it was stated that someone, apparently a fair sized mining company, had taken out $90,000 in gold dust. A lot of money, I thought, and surely there was bound to be some left, if I could only find it. I also heard about an abandoned old cabin in the area too.
But, I had no money to start with, so I waited for my big relief cheque to come and bummed a good pack-board, some shells for my old 44 Winchester and all the grub I could from my older brother and mother. I soon had a few dollars in my pocket from my big cheque; you could at least buy quite a bit with $6.00 in those days (a big difference from the present day). Now you need at least ten dollars in order to go to the store.
I had enough to last me a good month and I expected to find gold right off the bat and if I did not get any, I would split wood or do anything for a living - plenty of ambition at least, and lots of hope and confidence.
Well, anyway, I got my outfit together and finding that there would be a freight train going toward Red Pass on the C.N.R., I at once headed for the station at Albreda. I got there in time to see the train puffing in and stop. I threw my pack into an open boxcar, climbed in and was on my way. I only rode this train as far as Red Pass (on the Canadian Northern line), there I had to take off on foot on an old wagon road through the jack pines to Tete Jaune Cache, where I would catch the one for Prince Rupert on the Grand Trunk Pacific line.
I was quite tired by the time I had backpacked from Red Pass to Tete Jaune so I was glad to see that other hoboes already had a good campfire going and a good camp along side of the railway track. This was what we called “The Jungle” at that time. Here, all the transients made camp and waited for the next train.
I found some of my friends there and had no more than got to the camp when I was asked in for a hot bowl of chicken mulligan. "Where in the name of heaven did you get all that good makings for the stew!" I asked my friend as I took in the wonderful aroma of chicken. He was a bit reluctant to answer me at first, and then decided to give me the lowdown as I tied into a big bowl of food.
"Well Mike, to tell you the truth, I stole it all. The vegetables I dug out of a farmer’s garden and the chicken I found in a section man's coop. He has a big dog and I had quite a time making friends with him, but last night I made a good haul. We have to get another one soon. I thought tonight would be as good a time as any.”
“I have stolen my share of chickens and vegetables in my travels so I will give you a hand tonight, after dark,” I told him.
We went on to discuss many trips bumming our way on the trains in the past. Some of them had been very exciting and dangerous. I asked him if he knew anything about gold on the Skeena River near Usk. He had and said he knew right where the old cabin was. I got a lot of good information from him.
It soon got dark enough for us to start on our little chicken hunting expedition, so with a sack in hand we took off down the tracks to the section house. I could see the coop where we were to get our new supply of fresh chickens. Although it was dark, we could see our way around good enough. All was quiet as my friend made his way to the coop. Just as he got in the door, all hell seemed to burst loose. It sounded as if all the chickens in the country were getting killed. Then the dog bounded out from under the porch and headed for the chicken coop roaring.
Now, there was an awful uproar in the coop and my friend came out, with the dog attached, with its teeth in the seat of his pants and hanging on for all he was worth. But, I could see that my buddy had a sack full of screaming chickens as he ran towards me. I took the sack from him as he came up to me and, just then, I heard a shotgun roar. My friend screamed and now he really took off up the tracks. I bounded down over the grade and made a run for the woods along the right of way, back toward camp.
I found him there, ahead of me, panting and moaning. Seeing me, he said, "I took a lot of that buckshot, Mike. I was a good distance away so it didn’t go in too far, but it’s damn painful. I've got to get it out, so I guess you’re the doctor!"
I had never done any of that sort of work before, but now was a good time to try my hand at it. The sooner I got started the better, as he was in pain and I knew it. So, making up the fire, I at once took out my jackknife and held it in the flames till it glowed red hot, then cooling it off in the bucket of water I told him to get undressed.
I got him to lay with his stomach over an old log, and close to the fire so I could see. He had received quite a few pellets, but a lot of them were only sticking in the flesh and were easy to extract. Some were quite deep, too, making him clamp his teeth down and moan as my knife dug them out. Getting dressed after the operation, he stood up and looked at me. "I don't think I'll bother that coop again and them darn chickens better make us a good mulligan. Did you ring their heads yet?" he asked.
Wiping my knife off, I told him I had and I'd clean them at once, which I did and with a few vegetables I soon had a fine mulligan on the fire cooking.
During the time we were waiting for the meal to cook he stood up. I could see that he wouldn’t be sitting down for some time.
It was well passed midnight before we ate some of the stew, and I had just enough time to put some of it in my five pound lard pail and get my pack together. My train was due any time. When it arrived, I was ready for it. There was a good empty car that suited me and, with a wave to my buddy, I climbed in and was on my way to a new life.
At Vanderhoof the train stopped, and I at once looked out of the box car door, ahead, to see if there were any railway police coming. Their job was to investigate to see if there were any bums riding and, sure enough, I saw two rough looking cops coming on the run alongside of the train towards me.
I never had time to hide before they were at the door and each of them had a gun pointing it at me. They ordered me to get off, and as I climbed out they gave me a boot with their feet and knocked me down over the railway grade into the ditch and then tossed my pack down on top of me. This did them no good, as I at once was back on my feet and, as they continued on along side the train, I climbed back into my car. Just then, the train started. The cops were so busy looking for other bums that they did not even see me. I made it out of Vanderhoof but I knew more railway police would again be looking for us at New Hazelton. A few miles before we reached there, I got out as the train stopped to get water and climbed into the coach on the back end of the train. I paid my fare to Pacific, a main stop where the train again filled up with water, and here, I climbed back into my old box car.
The next stop was Doreen. I wanted to get off here. As the train started to slow down, I threw my pack and grabbing my gun I jumped while the train was still in motion, rolled a couple of times, got to my feet, gathered my pack and started back up the track to the railway bridge over Lorne Creek. I had an idea where the old mining cabin was. I had been told that it was up on a bank above the river a good hundred feet. By now, I was tired and hungry.
Crossing the railway bridge I went down to the creek to get a bucket of water for tea, and, dipping my pail in, I at once thought of gold! Why not take a look for the fun of it? I looked down in the bottom of the clear water and I saw a piece of rock. Slipping my hand down, I picked it up, looked at it, and, sure enough, it was gold! It was about the size of a small rifle bullet, and not too badly worn. This piece had not come too far, I could see, so the main source was close by somewhere. I was elated and excited.
Forgetting all about tea, I got out my shovel and started to dig. I dug and panned for a good hour, but no more colours; not even a sign. Then I realized I was getting darn hungry so I shouldered my pack with the gun in one hand and the water in my other, and climbed the steep grade up to where the cabin was supposed to be. By the time I made the top, I was well winded, but there stood the cabin right where I had been told it would be. I could see it was a nice one and well built.
I at once saw that the porcupines had chewed a hole in the door and had crawled in. I also saw one in a corner, chewing on a leg of the table.
Putting my pack down, I took a stick of wood that had been piled in the wood box and very gently poked Mr. Porky outside. Then, I nailed a piece of board over the hole. I looked over my domain. The creek wound in and out of the woods below the cabin. Its location looked rather interesting to me although I could see that it would be some chore for me to get my water up that hill. I did not expect to spend too much time in the house as I would be digging for gold during the day hours.
I could smell packrats and looking over to another corner of the cabin I saw that they had taken over the bunk. They had a huge pile of old straw and willows piled on it and had made themselves a home. It didn’t take me long to get rid of them and finding an old broom, I swept out the house and spent the rest of the day cleaning up and by evening I was ready to go to sleep.
I awoke early and making a fast breakfast of bacon and eggs I set out with my axe, shovel and gold pan to look for my fortune. I worked hard that day, but found no more gold. The next day I found good colours and decided to make a sluice box out of some old lumber I found in a pile, not too far from where I had found the trace of gold. More than likely the wood had been left there for that purpose some years back. It took me the rest of that day to finish twenty feet of flume and a sluice box. I was anxious to see if I could find any more gold there. As it was still an hour or so before dark, I started to shovel some clay into the flume. My sluice worked well and the dirt washed on down leaving the gravel and, as I shovelled, I saw some of those beautiful yellow flakes settling in the ruffles of my sluice. So, my work was not spent for nothing.
I was quite lucky. Cleaning up, a little before dark, I panned out near half an ounce of gold that second night. Gold was at $16 an ounce, at that time. That was a good start!
. . . to be continued.
(from the Robson Valley Courier – November 1977)
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