Small Frye reminisces on times gone by!

Leonard Lea Frazer

Rustic living conditions for a man and his kin near Canoe River, hardships that tear a family apart and drive that man to the bottle, some perish and others survive. And, Mike would agree that, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!”

Introduction:  Well, here we are into a brand new year (1979); what could be in store for many of us? I think it is a very good thing that we do not know what we have ahead of us or some of us may not be able to face life’s trials and tribulations like some I know of.
Some may go berserk with worries, such as money, love of someone that has left you, sickness that could affect any of us, broken bones, frostbites and some frozen feet or other parts of your body, such as one very sorrowful and dejected man that I know of.
I was quite young at the time, but I do know some of the particulars of the case and have gotten some information from friends and relatives.
I, myself, have had many disappointments in life and wondered if it was worth it all. But, no matter how bad it got, I fought on, and at times I wonder why. The GOOD BOSS must have some chore for me to fill or He would have said, "Well, Old Frye, you have caused enough grief on this earth, it is time you were taken care of."
Anyway, here I am and my aim or ambition is to do all I can to help others in any way I can. My story today tells of the terrible calamities that can befall someone in life’s trials.

A Terrible Way to Die

Early pioneers, Everett Bogardus, Phil Esswein, and Dave Henry - Three young men that called Valemount “Home.”  This photo may have been taken at a studio in Edmonton, Alberta.
Early pioneers, Everett Bogardus, Phil Esswein, and Dave Henry - Three young men that called Valemount “Home.” This photo may have been taken at a studio in Edmonton, Alberta.
Nels Dahlberg photo.
Jim Hornby of the then Village of Cranberry Lake, then renamed Swift Creek, then renamed Valemount (Swedish for Valley of the Mountains) is the subject of my story.
Jim Hornby settled near the Canoe River, five miles west of Valemount. Building a nice comfortable cabin on the shore of the Canoe River on the west side, just off an old pack trail that has since then become a super highway (Yellowhead Highway).
Here, he packed in supplies by packhorse from Edmonton, in the year of 1914. He did not need to pack in by horses as the C.N.R. had a railway through the valley then but he wanted to do it the hard way. Evidently he was a very well educated man and had been a school teacher in the United States where he originated.
It seems that he left his wife (who was also a very good school teacher) in the States, and coming ahead of them, he started a supply store and expected to start a homestead and bring his family up to this new land that was just being opened up by the railway.
Apparently, he got his wife and daughter to come up but on finding the environment so rough, they decided to go back. If they stayed, they would have had to pack water up a steep hill to the cabin. There was no inside plumbing at all, no electricity, no floor, and the windows were made out of deer hides that had the hair taken off and then nailed to openings cut in the bare wall. The wind blew right through the building from the large cracks in the wall. There was no insulation between the logs so they found their new home quite primitive. Anyway, it was too rough for them and they did not stay long, leaving Jim to fend for himself.
However, he decided to stay with it and let them go back. At that time there was no one living within two miles either way but there had been a tote road built by settlers on through the valley to Albreda and this road passed not far from his cabin. This was his means of transportation to and from Albreda to Cranberry Lake. He did very good for some time with the store, and he had no trouble in getting all the meat he needed as he could shoot deer from his cabin door if he so wanted.
In those days, many times during the winter the thermometer dropped to forty below and lower and at the cabin the wind would blow from the north at times almost too much for a man to face without freezing. (Since then it has changed due to the Canoe River Valley being logged off and dammed up. This has changed the weather considerably).
Dave Henry (left) and an unidentified man at a local Valemount mill yard.
Dave Henry (left) and an unidentified man at a local Valemount mill yard.
Valemount Historic Society photo.
One very cold morning he got cabin fever and just had to see someone so decided to go to Cranberry Lake where he could get to talk to some of the old timers that would gather at the local store where at times you could buy anything that could come in by train from Edmonton. This was a combination of a passenger train and a freight and would stop anywhere along the right-of-way. All you had to do was stand alongside the tracks and wave a flag or your arm and the train would stop. Things have changed since then.
Jim could get all his supplies from Cranberry Lake store if he wanted to but he was not well liked there and did not get along with Dave Henry, the local storekeeper, (perhaps because Mr. Henry saw Hornby as “competition.”) but he would go there to just talk and find out the news. He would also drink the "rot gut" whiskey that was sold at the store and bought from the local bootleggers, there being plenty of stills at that time, and I can tell you that "rot gut" made in those days would make a very good fuel for cars or for cigarette lighters. You could touch a match to a cup and it would burn like high test gas and anyone that kept up drinking it for any length of time went crazy as it eventually would burn out the brain.
Jim did his share of drinking as he would get to thinking of his family leaving and any man, after a time being alone very long, would go a bit batty in the head. So as time went on, Jim became very morose and sorry for himself. He grew battier by the day, till one day, having been to the bar and brought back a good supply of "rot gut," he decided to go visit a friend, Jim Marshall, that lived about a mile from him back in the bush. The long, cold winter had nearly gotten the best of Jim although it was April. Still, that morning, it was 40 below zero, the coldest winter on record and lasting the longest.
That morning he had been well loaded with the "rot gut." He never dressed for the weather and was drunk and feeling sorry for himself.  He took off through the brush to Jimmy Marshall's.
Hornby had not gone halfway when he froze both feet and before he got to Jimmy Marshall's he had frozen both feet to the knees and was drunk and cold. He was half crazy when he got there.
On opening the door, Jimmy saw at once that the man was delirious and crazy. However, he got him in the house and at once filled a big washtub with coal oil and made him get his feet into it. Of course, as soon as the frost started to come out, the pain became so intense it made him become a bit sober and the more his legs thawed out, the more intense the pain became till it completely put Hornby stark, raving crazy and wild. Marshall locked the door as well as he could and went for help to get Hornby to a train but when he got back, Hornby had broken the door and took off in his underwear only, no stockings or shoes at all and four feet of snow to plough through. They were able to follow him and that night found him four miles away at the home of a neighbour, Johnson by name. This land is now held by Murdock Bailey of Valemount. Hornby had arrived and started pounding on the front door.
Johnson let him in and saw that he was completely crazy so he at once knew he was unable to handle him. Johnson gave him a good stiff blow to the jaw, knocking him out cold. He then hauled him on into the house and laid him on the bed. By that time the rescue crew had gotten there and they made a sleigh, tied Hornby up with rope, then they loaded him on the sleigh and a bunch of them pulled him raving and yelling all the way two miles to the railway where they had to wait nearly three hours in the cold before a train came along and was flagged down. They put Hornby on it, to be taken to Kamloops, the closest place to a doctor. But, he did not last. He died from the cold and gangrene that had set in.
So, my advice to all is no matter how tough things get, leave old man rot gut alone. What a terrible way to wind it all up!

From May 9, 1979 – Robson Valley Courier