We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

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A Trip to the Head of Bentinck Arm on the Steamer Labouchere

The British Colonist, August 20, 1862

That a good trail can be made from the proposed town site at Bella Coola, I neither affirm or deny, but that a good trail already exists, I most emphatically do deny. This is not a mere assertion, but founded on my personal experience and that of Lieut. Palmer and Mr. Hood, with their pack animals, on the river portion of it, and on the testimony of returned miners from that portion above the head of navigation. I am authorized by Mr. Sweet, whom I take to be an intelligent western American pioneer, to state that he was one of the party who went up with Mr. Pearson “the well-known guide,” that he and others refused on several occasions to follow their guide, and that while they took the right direction, their guide on one occasion lost his way during two whole days, and on another during eight hours, and was constantly uncertain as to the route. Does this look like a good trail? the guide, I think, having stated that he had already gone over it several times. Mr. Sweet and all the miners had to leave a large part of their provisions, etc., behind them; he and some others left them with James Pontlas, Esq., the Bella Coola Chief. Mr. Pearson, it seems, had nothing to leave, but succeeded, on promising large pay, in getting a Bella Coola Indian to pack his blankets to Alexandria, from whence he drew an order on Pontlas, in favor of the Indians, for eight blankets. I was present when Sweet received the goods from Pontlas; of course many things were missing, and among them eight blankets paid to the order of Mr. Pearson! Bear in mind, this is not my statement, but that of Mr. Sweet.

From the reports of Mr. Spring, who has been to the head of navigation, and went as far as Chilcoten to try and get animals, biped or quadruped, to pack, of the two Canadians already named, of Mr. Sweet, and of Enos, Bilboas, and Kenney, who returned over the trail, I am assured that at about a mile and a half from the head of navigation there are two or three miles of good trail, then further on to the distance of ten miles from the head of navigation the trail is very rocky and rugged, when five miles of boulders are reached, which it is impossible for quadrupeds to travel over, and which foot passengers get over by jumping across the chasms between the boulders. Then comes the slide several miles in extent, which being composed of small stones and gravel generally, offers no great obstacle to a trail being made over it.

After a few more miles of rocky trail, comes the precipice (the very name is ominous) an almost perpendicular mountain, around which no trail had been found when I left. Between the precipice and Chilcoten are between thirty and forty miles of bad rocky trail, when a rolling country covered with small timber is reached, and the trail becomes comparatively easy. Mr. Robert McLeod, I was told, had blazed a trail from Chilcoten to the Mouth of the Quesnelle, a favorable spot they say for the terminus of the Bentinck Arm trail. The distance from the head of navigation is computed at 175 miles, which with 45 river trail (it must be more) make 220 miles of land travel. It is an error to imagine that Capt. Venables came down the Bentinck Arm trail with horses; he told me himself that he went from Nacoonthon to Noosdoos on the Bentinck Arm river, 24 miles from Bella Coola, where we saw the evidence of horses having remained a considerable time.

From the above facts, I infer that a wagon road is next to impossible, though with a proper assortment of Dr. Forbes’ Prize Essay clouds, a nebular road might be made to the moon. If a pack-trail is made it must be at great expense, as most of the improvements required would have to be done by blasting. The trail, however, is in excellent hands. Mr. Hood is a gentleman of means, intelligent, energetic, and industrious, not easily dismayed by difficulties, and I believe that if the trail proves practicable and he is offered sufficient inducement, that he will make it. His party consisted of 11 men, and he had 29 horses and mules, two of which he had lost when I last heard of him.

Under the circumstances it was exceedingly cruel and very reprehensible, without better foundation, to assure the miners that the trail offered no difficulties, and that they could get their several hundred pounds of provisions packed through to Fort Alexandria at 10 cents per pound by the Bella Coolas -- of whom not one has packed any provisions through. Some have left the bulk of their provisions with Pontlas, the Bella Coola chief, who engaged to take me to Fort Rupert -- took my sovereign (earnest money), and planted me like a cabbage at Desolation Hall -- others left theirs with Barney Johnson, and some, taking them up to the head of navigation in canoes, left them with Mr. Spring. A few, I think, got some packed to the Slide, and left them with Venables, where he has had his famous liquors laying four or five months. I do not envy the Captain his thousand acres, nor Mr. Cary the swamps that will make excellent frog pastures. In short, judging from Port Douglas, where a very large business is done, I see nothing whatever, taking the most favorable view of the matter, to justify the idea that there would ever be any necessity for a large town at the head of Bentinck Arm. It now remains to be seen whether Lieut. Palmer’s report will corroborate my practical one.


Errata.--For payable road in my last communication read “passable.” (I fear there is no pay in it.) For Capt. Marly and Oucables, read Venables; Juan Ewers, read Enos.

Source: VIATOR, "A Trip to the Head of Bentinck Arm on the Steamer Labouchere," British Colonist, August 20, 1862.

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