Small Frye’s Big Adventure: Part Five

Leonard Lea Frazer

The Rains Came Down, We form a community and elect a Marshall to police our Village of one house - the schoolhouse - and settle down to wait out the flood, Small Frye gets a good scare, rescues a stranded cat and we see what it’s like to be marooned.

While Bill and I were hauling food and what clothing we could, Violet made her and me a nice comfortable camp under a large tree and set up a table made out of some old boards that she found. When I stopped for a break, she already had a good hot meal made for me and had helped some of the other women to make dinner in the schoolhouse. Here, it was a communal dinner and all pitched in and helped themselves as well as they could.

After eating, I sent one of the men that was not helping back up to Lorne Creek to our cabin and asked him to bring Violet's Mom down and pack all the food he could from our cabin. Bill and I hauled all afternoon till way past dark. After having supper, we went right back at it. We were having trouble as all this time the water was rising. Every time we rowed up to the steps at the store we had to tie up to a higher step. We noticed that while loading, the boat would get higher and higher. This made us go faster as there was tons of food and clothing to be removed from the store that was in danger of lifting from its foundation. We were sure that this night would see the end of it. So, we had to work all night. The trip back and forth from the foot of the hill to the store was getting to be a nightmare of dodging huge trees, barns, houses and the odd railway car from Pacific, farther up the river. It made our hair stand on end at times. As the night crept up on us, the situation got worse.

We knew that someone should try and rescue what they could off the Usk ferry that was getting such a beating from flood water, but there was nothing we could do about it that night. We did rescue everyone we could from their homes and got all the grub we could from the store. We had our hands full!

I remember a couple of stubborn people from Usk. One woman did not want to leave her nice house and all that was in it. We made two tries to get her out and up to the schoolhouse on the hill, but she would not leave her home. Now, with the first floor flooded, she had taken all she could handle upstairs and there she was. At last, Bill and I got her to come to the window upstairs and out onto a balcony. I climbed up to the balcony, wading through two feet of muddy water to the stairway and I got up to where she was then sitting on the bed. I told her that the house may let go that night and that she had better come back down with me.

"Mike," she sobbed, "This is my house and all that I have in the world and my piano and all my lovely dishes. I can't leave them!"

I told her we would get her piano and all the dishes we could but still she was adamant about staying. So, I stepped up to her and clipped her alongside the jaw lightly and as she fell, Bill, who had just come up, grabbed her as she fell and carried her downstairs and into the boat. As we were carrying her up to the schoolhouse she came to and fought like a wild cat. Finally, we got her up all right and we went back to her house. We had one hell of a time to get her piano but we did and all the dishes we could.

Another old-timer would not leave his shack and, after the flood, we found him dead upstairs on the bed. His house did not leave the foundation. It just tipped over a little. He did not drown. It seemed he died of a heart attack.

As far as I know, this was all the real calamities as far as deaths in our little village due to the flood.

Bill and I continued to go back and forth, fighting our way to the store through all the debris far into the night. We stopped once for lunch around three o'clock in the morning then headed right back for the last load. By now it was getting daylight enough so that we could see about two hundred feet ahead of us. We were tired, soaking wet and we just about had enough. The tarp that we had to cover each load with in the boat was soaking wet. All in all, it was not a pleasant task to look forward to on that last trip.

The whole valley was under water and all sorts of debris, such as huge cottonwood trees, houses, barns, smashed up bridge timbers, dead horses, cattle, and some railway boxcars lifted from their wheels, were all being rushed down the river in a tangled, swirling mess. This was hard to dodge.

We made it to the store and by then we could tie our boat to the window at one end of the upper stairway hall. I climbed out of the boat and took a run to get a load of food, just anything I could handle, telling Bill to stay with the boat.

I made one trip and went back for another load. I was starting back when I felt a lurch. The whole building lifted and I thought we were away down the Skeena. It lifted, then settled down at the back where Bill was. The front of the boat was up in the air and I was in a tangle of muddy water with food of all sorts and gasping for air trying my best to stay afloat.

I at once grabbed a rope that we had tied along the wall, all the way back to the far end to where the boat was moored. I started to work my way back through the muddy water. Bill cut the rope that was tied to the boat and started to move it towards me.

As I came up for air once I saw him do this and, as I had just made it to an open window along the wall, I grabbed onto the windowsill. I had a hard time to stay there as now the water was rushing in and doing its best to wash me right back into the building.

I knew Bill would bring the boat back to me if he could, so I held on for my life.

As I waited there, scared to death, I looked up into a tree alongside the building and there I saw a cat screaming with fear, hanging onto a limb. Just then, Bill came around the building and I crawled into the boat.

"What will we do about that damn cat, Bill,” I gasped, nearly choking to death on the muddy water.

"I never brought the gun, Mike, so we will have to do something," he spoke in a scared voice. "We just can't leave him there. If we had not left the gun, we could just shoot the poor thing."

This gun we carried all the time, back and forth, with us and used it for shooting any cow or horse that we knew would drown.

We tied the boat up to the tree and I climbed up and got the cat. I got scratched up while doing it and then the damn cat jumped out of the boat and took off down the Skeena.

We made it back to the landing and that was all for us that night.

We held a meeting the next day and elected a huge man to be Marshall. He had been a Sheriff down in the States many years ago. He even had his pair of six guns and wore a large Stetson, so we figured he would fill the bill just right.

However, we soon found out that he was not what we had in mind to run our little community. The first duty he had to perform was to butcher a calf for meat for the settlement. I tied a rope around the calf’s neck and led it out behind the building and our Marshall followed me. I could see his hands shaking as he held the gun, so I moved my hand well back so he wouldn’t hit me, and he pulled the trigger. He shot the poor calf’s front foot out from under him, and he stumbled. I at once cut its throat and, as I did, the Marshall lost his breakfast and turned around and headed back.

I finished butchering the calf and Violet helped me hang it up in a tree.

I never said anything to anyone about it, as it would not have done me any good and I knew that he would be as good as anyone else we could get for the job. And, I was sure I didn’t want it!

Now, as we looked across the muddy valley flooded from one side to the other, we saw the ferry swing out toward the main river, then swing back toward our side of the river. Then, it swung right up and onto the railway tracks and seemed to settle with one float on each side of the rails. That created an opportunity for some of us to get over there and tie it up solid. There was a big cement abutment nearby, built by the railway to hold the grade for the tracks. This would be a good thing to tie the ferry to if we could get over there through all the debris of logs, trees, mud and old houses. We could see that the current was getting faster all the time.

So again, it was up to Bill and I to do the job. We knew we had to secure the ferry as soon as possible. The current was getting harder to buck. We shoved off and headed up river as far as we could in order to make it across to the ferry. We moved out into the current and soon found out that it was going to be some fight. Luck was with us again and we made it. As the boat rammed up against the ferry, I jumped on and grabbed the long rope that was hanging down in the water. That rope had been used to tie the ferry up to shore. Then, I hopped right back into the boat. I soon had the ferry tied to the concrete abutment. We tried to get back upriver again, but the current was too fast for us to make any time rowing so I grabbed brush and stumps along the shore and, between Bill rowing and me pulling, we did make it up river a little but it was hard work. Being so close to the main river the current was a terrible drag on us but at last we reached a good hundred feet upstream. We had to stop and rest. All this time the current from the main river was dragging us into its clutches.

I grabbed a tree stump and held on with all I was worth and got our rope tied around it so we could take a breather. As we sat there looking at all the debris coming down the Skeena River, suddenly our hair stood up on the back of our heads with fright.

Just then, a huge cotton wood tree, with roots and branches, came tearing down river, heading right for the ferry. I gripped the side of the boat. Just as the tree swung in near the ferry, it tore off out into the river current but the branches hit the main cable and the whole line sank. The big tree continued on to the other cable car about twenty feet below the new ferry. The tree hit it head on and, with a snap that you could hear clean across the river, it tore out the main anchor that held the ferry in place on the far shore. The main scaffolding and five hundred feet of two-inch cable was washed downstream.

We were overjoyed at seeing the main ferry still secure, but scared at the prospect of fighting that horrible tangle of mud and water back to the schoolhouse. The journey would entail well over a half mile of back-breaking work with a chance of being torn to pieces by some tree or house passing by on the way down to the Kitselas Canyon. But, we knew we had to try!

 

To be continued . . . 

 

From February 1 & 8, 1978 – Robson Valley Courier