Recollections of Sylvia Stark, Part 2

Notes made by Marie Albertina Stark (afterwards Mrs. Wallace) from the recollections of her mother, Sylvia Stark, who was born a slave in Clay County, Missouri, and settled on Salt Spring Island with her husband, Louis Stark, and family in the year 1860, as homesteaders.


It came when Charles Leopold was taking a large consignment of live stock to California. He had several wagons, one broken. Sylvia's father took that one and mended it for himself and family. Howard Estes and son went as herders, Mrs. Estes as cook, assisted by her husband. It was a large caravan.

Sylvia remembered it was the first day of April, 1851, when they left M.O. [Missouri]. They made a jolly start by making April fool jokes, etc. Sylvia and her Mother gathered wild greens as they passed through the country, and they had one last good feed of old Missouri wild greens. The first station they came to was called Fort Pillar, said to be the place where the Red man in a most strenuous battle, fought the white man for the freedom of the plains. It was then settled with white people.

Then they camped where there was good grazing for the cattle, at Humbolt Creek. It had once been a campsite for the Indians. They met two white women who as children had witnessed the slaying of their parents, a sister and a brother, and themselves captured by the Indians. In time they were rescued. They were both married, and still living in the same isolated district where stalked the ghost in memory of that dark tragedy.

Their story caused Sylvia and her mother apprehension for the future on the long trail that lay ahead. But in spite of the dangers attending the journey, Sylvia and her brother found life on the great plains something new and thrilling, from the little prairie dogs barking and scampering at sight of them to the stampeding of great herds of buffaloes stampeding at sight of the caravan. Sylvia would gather the beautiful flowers while walking, only to throw them away as there was no place to put them. Sometimes swarms of locusts darkened the sky and fell about the wagons, creeping inside the canvas, getting into the cooking utensils, and other paraphernalia. Often the only fuel they had was Sundried Buffalo chips. They made their pancakes and bacon taste smoky, but they ate them with relish. They had excellent appetites. Then the mosquitoes were so thick they covered the lids of the pots while the cooking was going on.

And the coyotes howled around the camp. An uneasy feeling was the result. Every precaution was taken to safeguard the animals. A cordon of wagons was placed around the camp. The men slept with their guns stacked close to hand, ready for any emergency. The first intimation they had of danger was on the night Jackson Estes, Sylvia's brother, was on guard. Each one took their turn in guarding the camp.

He was sitting out in the bright moonlight, gazing at the mounds and shadows. Then he said something told him to go and sit in the shade of a wagon. He had scarcely moved from his seat when an arrow whizzed past him and stuck fast in the ground where he had been sitting. Instantly the alarm was given and every man grabbed his gun, but there was not a sound, not even the howl of a coyote. Fearing the Indians might plan to raid the camp in the morning when the wagons were loaded and hitched, they left before dawn.

One evening they came to a good spot for camping, where there was plenty of grass for the animals. They camped early to let the animals graze. They were making themselves comfortable when some one put their ear to the ground to listen for sounds. They heard sounds alright. Soon everyone heard hoofs coming. In less time than it takes to tell, they were surrounded by a large band of Indians whooping and howling as they raced around the camp to make the cattle stampede. But the poor beasts were too tired to run. Then they increased their howling, giving out terrible yells as they raced around the camp. Mr. Estes became uneasy as the men were preparing to put up a fight and he was the only man who had his family with him. "You had better do something for these Indians. There are too many for us to fight." Then they decided to give gifts to the chief. They went to his tent. Fortunately he could speak English.

After a long talk with him he finally agreed to accept gifts, such as flour and other provisions. They thought they were fortunate to have lost only three horses to the Indians.

Then the chief walked to his tent door and gave one loud whoop. Instantly the shouting ceased and all of the Indians rode back to their camp.

However they did not trust the Indians. They left that place for fear they might attempt another raid in the morning when the wagons [...]

Sometimes they were so parched for water they drank water from a stream where the carcases of dead animals lay. It was hard for Sylvia's mother to get use to this. She went further up stream only to find more cow horns protruding from the water. The stream was lined for miles with the bleaching bones of animals, probably from drinking too much water, cold water on a hot stomach.

One awful sight on the journey Sylvia would not forget. Seeing the ewes of the sheep too heavy with young to travel, left behind only to be devoured by ferocious coyotes, she tried to scare them by throwing stones at them. In this she had to be careful of herself. It was the time for her to listen to her parents warning. In those days the immigrants felt they were fortunate if they themselves were not left behind as bleaching bones on the desert or perhaps in a lonely grave.

When the sun came up big and golden above the distant horizon, casting its cheery rays over the trail, everybody was happy but when the sun had gone down, and the moon rose pale and shadowy [...]

As they continued their journey with watchfulness and care, they came upon eight men travelling on foot. They were a sorry spectacle. Their caravan had been raided by the Indians rushing their camp and making off with their ready loaded wagons. In their haste they spilled a quantity of flour. All that was left to the men was the flour and a few cooking utensils.

One of the men slit the leg of his pants up to the knee and tied one end to hold the flour which they scooped up from the ground. They had travelled on this for three days and were very glad for the timely contact with the Leopold caravan who shared provisions with them.

They thought it very strange too that all of their french books had been taken by the Indians. It was common to see herds of Buffalos grazing along the trail. They longed for fresh meat. They tried to shoot a buffalo calf, but it was a difficult matter to get close to the herd to shoot one. The old buffaloes formed a circle around the calves and kept them inside the circle while they were feeding. The bull buffaloes would fight if one got too close.

Then one of the cowboys of the camp rode quietly after a herd and shot a calf. Then he turned quickly and galloped away. There was a terrible commotion among the herd, followed by a general stampede of the whole herd. For their own safety, when it was safe to return they skinned the calf, divided it to carry on their way. They had cutlets for dinner.

It was sometime during the harvest when they came to Salt Lake City. They saw the farmers that lived near the lake driving swarms of grasshoppers into the lake. The floating mass of hoppers appeared to be over knee deep.

They were treated with the greatest hospitality by the Latter Day Saints. Their leader, Mr. Brigham Young, paid them a visit and invited them to stay for the winter and pasture their animals in a place called Mountain meadows. It was a natural garden of grass and flowers surrounded by hills. There was only one entrance to the enclosure, and that was also the exit.

They would have stayed for the winter but Mr. Estes, having passed through that country before and hearing strange tales about Indians robbing and killing the immigrants in that locality, suspected that the real source of the crimes had never been divulged. Therefore he decided to take his wife and family on, leaving the rest of the caravan if they wished to stay. He preferred to continue the journey alone in his own wagon rather than take the risk.

Then they all decided to make the mountains before the rainy season came on. Also they had no desire to lose their help. They stayed for a week to rest their animals and replenish their stock. During their stay in Salt Lake City they learned some of the customs of those peculiar people.

One day a woman came to see Mrs. Estes, perhaps more to relieve her troubled mind than just to pay a friendly visit. She said she and her husband had made a comfortable home for themselves, and were quire happy not knowing the laws of the country.

When Brigham Young visited their home, he told her husband he must get another wife. It came as a shock to them. They had small means, just enough for themselves, and they could not afford to leave their home.

Her husband contrived a plan. He would get an Indian woman for a wife. She could live in a tent and look after herself. This proved a bitter pill for his wife. She said, "I could kill B-- Young." The native woman was then living in her own tent looking after her half cast child.

It was some years later when Mr. Estes heard about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. One hundred and twenty immigrants -- men, women and children -- were lured into that natural garden of nature, and shot down and their goods confiscated.

John D. Lee, a former body guard to Joseph Smith, and later to Brigham Young, having been accused of instigating the crime, fled to the Colorado canyons. A super reporter of that area found him. He was captured, tried and taken to the scene of the crime and shot to death.

I remember seeing a picture of that massacre in a book written by one of Brigham Young's wives. It was named Wife Number 19. Somehow she managed to escape from Salt Lake City and had written a book on her life.

[...] They passed several stations. One station, name forgotten, Sylvia recalled mainly because of its dire loneliness, and what happened to the lonely couple, man and wife, who lived there in a lonely cabin. Inside the fence surrounding the house was a tiny grave. It was the grave of their only child, a little girl, shot down while playing outside of her home, struck with an arrow from the distant hills.

The father extracted the arrow from the child's body and, since there was no habitation for many miles, the parents buried her there. The mother wanted to leave that dangerous place, but the father was doing business there, probably trading with the Indians in furs or hides as many other stations did. However, he preferred to stay.

When they came to Fort Kerney, an anxious letter was waiting there for Mr. Leopold. His wife had heard that his caravan had been captured by the Indians and all of the occupants slain. He wrote her immediately assuring her that they were all safe.

News travelled slowly across the desert. Mrs. Leopold's letter had been written more than a month earlier. The fastest mail for the desert those days was the pony express, the name given for mail carried by horses.

On the trail they saw where caravans had been raided. What became of the occupants there was no signs to show. They saw wagon loads of buffalo hides going to market. The hides were packed flat on the wagons piled high and strapped down like hay, drawn by oxen or horses, four and six span to a wagon. The skinned carcasses of Buffalo were not an uncommon sight along the way, and if they did not see them, they knew where they were by the ravens.

They were passing through the hills. The Estes wagon broke down smashing a large jar of jam for Mrs. Estes. She, however, regretted the loss of the jar more than the loss of the jam. Mr. Estes managed to bolster his wagon sufficiently for the rest of the journey to California.

They had been exactly six months less three days on the journey, when they reached Sacramento. There the company disbanded. The Estes family went to the mining district sixty miles from the capital, and four miles from a town called Placerville, where the miners took their maiden gold to exchange for cash [...]

After a long and tiresome journey across the desert they arrived in California. They had been exactly six months less three days on the journey. The company disbanded. The Estes family located in the mining district about sixty miles from Sacramento, a small town at that time. They found an empty miner's cabin which [made?] a comfortable home. That was a day Sylvia would long remember though the shadow of more than 70 years had fallen between. She could still recall those moments of ecstasy and calm, the look of joy on her mother's face as she went about cleaning the cabin and preparing for their first meal in free California.

Sylvia found a good pot for cooking meals by the fireplace. They gathered sticks and made a fire. "We'll have to work hard," her mother said, "but we are working for ourselves now." It was such a pleasure to be working for themselves. They were happy though penniless and among strangers.

Sylvia's father had one dollar. With that he bought a small ham. The storekeeper told him he could have tea, flour, baking powder and a head of cabbage at face value. That was one time his face was of some value to him. Mr. Estes was joyful. He thanked the man for his kindness. Mrs. Estes cooked a good dinner all in that one pot. She made dumplings and cooked them on top of the meat and cabbage. They enjoyed that meal immensely.

Then father and son went in search of other household necessities in deserted cabins. They returned with all the kitchen utensils they needed including a dutch oven, just what they needed for baking bread. The miners had made their stakes, leaving everything behind and deserting with their gold.

Sylvia's father was hired to work in the gold mines, while Sylvia and her brother panned the fine gold where once rich mines had been. They sold their gold dust and made on an average a dollar a day. They were very proud of their gains. Every cent made was added to the family bank which was a tin can hid under a bed. Their father was a man of saving qualities. If he only had a dollar left after all expenses were paid, he would lay that away.

The cost of living was high. The poorest grade of flour sometimes [illegible]. Wheat flour was fifteen dollars a barrel. When Mr. Estes turned to farming he raised his own grain and had it ground at the mill. He sold butter, eggs and vegetables. His first hen cost him [illegible]. They raised [illegible] and tomatoes, but they were so cheap they had some to give away. Their farm kept them in good circumstances, but Mrs. Estes chose to take in washing. Pleated shirts which were very stylish, were three dollars each. Frilled dresses from five dollars up.

Everybody wore white. Sylvia helped her mother. They made good money although the work was hard with no washing machines those days. Sylvia had to iron her mother's shoulders with a warm iron for rheumatism while she was ironing clothes. They soon had money to buy a horse and wagon.

Those days in the tumbled hills of California were the happiest days of Sylvia's life. When she and her brother found time to explore the country, they learned many of the peculiar traits of the California Indians. They made fires, and when the fire burned low they drove the grasshoppers into the hot embers. When they were roasted they ate them with relish, a savory [illegible] dish.

When they killed the big grey squirrels, they pounded them to a pulp with stones, singed them and roasted them in the hot embers. When cooked, they ate them bones and all.

Their bread was acorns pounded to meal. The Indians were very poor. Mrs. Estes learned this when an aged and destitute Indian woman came to their house. They always gave her a meal and fruit or vegetables to carry home.

One day she came complaining that the old hog meat man had forbidden her to pick up acorns from under the trees. He wanted them for his pigs.

There was a time when some of the native tribes used their free land to raise the yellow corn and make their own gardens.

Mr. Estes was a good church man. Often the family walked to church to give their horse a rest. Sylvia and her brother always had their shoes polished and shined for Sunday, but when they walked to church they went most of the way bare foot, carrying their shoes to put them on before entering the church, keeping them clean and bright.

Wherever you may go you will always find the gossiper. They said the Estes family were proud because they didn't go to dances. But Sylvia and her brother were not guided by the thinking public. They obeyed their parents. They were following [illegible] precepts of morals. They had faith in their parents, just as we may have childlike faith in God's word, faith in the Gospel.

Jesus said, verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little Child, he shall not enter therein.

Mark 10 ch. 15 verse

Sylvia loved to walk through the Red trails gathering wild flowers, California yellow poppy and red geraniums, such as are cultivated as tame flowers in B.C.

She loved nature. She loved life. All Nature was life to Sylvia. The creeping deadly rattle snake also was there in hiding. When Sylvia heard the warning rattle, she left that place. But her mother killed the snakes with stones.

The miners were often bitten by these snakes. They had to have a doctor quickly or they would die. During the summer season a thin cotton sheet was all the covering they needed those hot nights. They were forced to keep their windows closed and nailed tight for fear of thieves in that mining district. Crime was a common occurrence.

One day a stranger came to the door and asked if Mr. Estes would loan him his horse and wagon. His wife and family had come across the plains and were waiting for him somewhere on the highway. He had been around to all of his neighbors but none of them would trust him. As a last resource he came to the colored family. The horse and wagon was Mr. Estes main support and he was not eager to bestow charity and confidence on a perfect stranger, much as he would have liked. He had put his trust in a man when in slavery and gained his freedom but he also had been swindled and preyed upon through misplaced faith. However the man's case was pitiful. He was destitute and had no one to turn to. Mr. Estes called upon his wife. He had great confidence in his wife's ability to judge character although she had no education, she was just a pure blood Madagascan. She said he looks like an honest man, and she had seldom been mistaken in her estimation of character. So they loaned the horse and wagon to the man, although it was not without sore apprehension. They waited for the man's return. Time past, but finally he returned [illegible] wife to see Mrs. Estes. She told of her experience on the desert. It was another one of the amazing tales Sylvia had learned about the covered wagon.

The woman's husband had made a home for his wife and family in California, and had sent for them. The wife with her two small children joined a caravan owned by a man she knew and trusted. But when they had covered a great portion of the journey far away from any habitation, she discovered the man's real character. He threatened to put her out of the wagon for resisting his advances, but her courage and loyalty was unwavering. She felt she could not face her husband if she failed under this man's awful threats. Finally he did put her out with her two small children and the bundle of her belongings and drove off and left them. She had an awful feeling alone on the great open space with two helpless babes. She prayed in agony. Indians, ravenous wolves, starvation raced through her distraught mind. Night was coming on. The sun had gone down. Any kind of human would be welcome now. She was looking back on the trail (when) she saw moving objects in the grey [illegible] distance. As they drew nearer she saw that they were two colored men with a donkey, and all of their belongings packed on its back. Her prayer was answered. She determined to beg them for help. Although in the state where she came from, they were not considered reliable. The two men were visibly shocked seeing her plight. Then she heard them say in lowered voice, "What can we do. We haven't enough grub for ourselves, but we can't leave her here." Then they asked her if she could walk. "We'll put the children on the donkey." She was only too glad to walk although it made her feet sore. By stinting themselves they managed to feed the children until they came to a settlement of white people. "Now you are with your own people," they said. "They can look after you." And there they left her.

In [1858?] Howard Estes decided to leave a comfortable home and go in search of greater freedom. The colored people of California were becoming alarmed over general agitation under southern pressure to make California a slave state. In 1852 the federal government had passed a law permitting the return of fugitive slaves fleeing to northern states to be returned to their owners in the South.

It was also required of all colored people in California to wear a distinctive badge. Furthermore the state legislature had taken what appeared to be the first steps against The Colored Race. The effect was to deprive them of the ability to protect their property from spoilation by the white man. By these acts colored people were disqualified from giving evidence against a white person.

[...] Then in the mining district where Mr. Estes lived, certain laws governing mining operations (were) designed to protect the miners seemed to clash with the homesteaders rights.

The Starks and Estes both were preparing to leave California. They had heard about New Caledonia as B.C. was then called. They longed for the freedom of B.C.'s fir covered hills.

Stark sold all but 50 head of his best cattle and took to the old Oregon Trail with the help of Jackson Estes and others of a company, nursing the cattle on the Trail.

H. Estes sold his farm for what he could get and took the women and children to San Francisco, embarking on the boat Brother Jonathan. The boat was old and unseaworthy but it carried a heavy cargo. When the ocean was rough the boat rolled and creaked with every rising swell. Then they threw 40 head of fine horses overboard for safety. It was another pitiful sight that saddened the trip for Sylvia -- to see those poor animals swimming after the boat crying for help. They were too far out to reach the land.

The emancipation of the slaves in the U.S. was a burning political question. The Negro people were dissatisfied with the laws of the country. They met at San Francisco to discuss how best they could improve their hard lot.

A committee was sent to B.C. to interview the Government. Governor Douglas received them and extended them a cordial welcome to establish themselves on British soil.

As a result of this favorable report by the committee fully six hundred colored people came to B.C. Some came up on two pioneer steamships Brother Jonathon and Pacific.

Those pioneer boats carried hundreds of 49ers to and from the gold mines. The Pacific afterwards was sunk in a collision off Cape Flattery with a loss of three hundred lives. Some of those colored people went to Australia, some to the Cariboo mines, others to Victoria and Saltspring Island.

The boat landed at a place called Stillicum, [Steilacoom] Washington. This place was sparsely settled with white people and Indians. The family stayed in Stillicum more than a month waiting for the arrival of Mr. Stark with the cattle. They bought supplies from the farmers. These new settlers were poor like most of the immigrants. One family helped to solve their own problems. When they bought a sack of potatoes they ate the potatoes and planted the peelings, thus raising another good crop of potatoes.

When the men arrived with the cattle they went to Victoria, B.C. in a sailing vessel. Much of what transpired from the time they left Stillicum and their final landing on Saltspring Island was not remembered. The first thing Mr. Stark did after landing in Victoria, he secured Naturalization papers for all of the family.

Sylvia Stark remembered that a delegation of colored people called on Governor Douglas requesting permission to form a colony of colored settlers on Saltspring Island about that time. But he refused saying it would be to the best interest of all to have a mixed settlement.

Some of those colored people remained in Victoria and some went to Saltspring and other places. Those who remained in Victoria acquired valuable property and several took part in the City's municipal activities. Mr. Estes and family located in Saanich, Victoria where he bought property.

That was a busy time for the Starks. They were preparing to go to Saltspring. There was a restless herd of cattle to keep in a corral and feed. It was no small task. Mr. Stark located a place on the northwest side of Saltspring and built a cabin on it during the family's stay in Victoria.

It was a bright day in 1860 when the Starks moved to Saltspring Island. Sylvia remembered 1860 chiefly because John E. Stark, the second son, was born four months after they landed. They came to the north west side of the Island in a sailing vessel. The cattle were lowered into the water with strong rope where they swam to land and took the trail leading up to their home, lowing as they went on without anyone to guide them.

The passengers clambered down the side of the ship on rope ladders and into two Indian canoes manned by two Indians, a man and his wife. A Hudson Bay Co. man landed with them. Mr. Macauley, the Hudson Bay agent, offered to stay with Mrs. Stark and the two children while Mr. Stark went down to the settlement to get conveyance to haul their baggage.

While they were waiting for him the two natives with their natural keenness of sight saw canoes in the distance. As they drew nearer the native and his wife became very much excited, showing fear. They said it was the Northern Indians. They were hostile to the tribe inhabiting the islands in the Strait. Their Indian woman stole away into the bush near her canoe.

The Haida, or Northern Indians, had several big canoes, seven or more, heavily loaded with furs. As soon as they saw the small group on the beach they turned and headed for the spot. They beached their own canoes, then hauled the boat with the Stark belongings high up on the sand and examined its contents. Then one of the men who could speak English approached Mr. Macauley and shook an ugly knife in his face saying, "Are you afraid?" He answered with a smile and a shake of his head. Sylvia could see that Macauley was trembling and very pale.

She had an awful feeling. She held her two children close to her as they sat on a log and prayed God to save her children with no thought for herself, only what will become of my children when they kill me.

Their native pilot was sitting on the ground, not daring to look up while this was happening. The local Indian woman who had hidden near her canoe was paddling swiftly away to inform her Tillicum at Penellekut Indian village on Couper [Kuper] Island. In the meantime the Northern Indians talked with Macauley. When they learned that he could speak their language they offered to carry the Stark belongings up to the cabin. But Mr. Macauley explained to them that Stark and already gone for help. When they learned that Macauley was visiting the Lineker family at the place where the harbor house now stands, they said they would take him there as they were on their way to Victoria. Mrs. Stark believed they would have all been killed if they had not been going south to sell their furs.

Mr. Macauley's story of his experience with the Natives. He accepted their offer to take him to the other side of the Island. When they were out on their way and he was feeling quite safe, they saw a large band of local Indians with many canoes coming after them. Macauley thought this would surely be his end.

He begged the Haida Indians to put him ashore anywhere, but the Haidas tried to out-run them, but were too heavily [loaded?]. They were soon surrounded by a [desperate?] band of men on the war path heavily armed. "We will not kill the white man," they said to the Haidas. "But we will kill you." So they agreed to let the Northern Indians take Mr. Macauley to his destination and they all paddled to the head of the bay [we?] call Ganges and put Macauley out, then went out into the Bay and fought a most desperate battle with hundreds of local men to a comparatively small number of Northerners.

Another account of that historical battle came in a [newspaper?] published in [1862?] It read, only one of Northern braves escaped and he was so badly wounded it was doubtful that he recovered.

That was the time the local natives themselves were quite hostile. They held meetings with much Skookum pow-wow Chinook strong talk as they saw their beaches and hunting grounds usurped by the incoming settlers and the sight of carcasses of animals lying on the beaches, their hides taken and the meat left to spoil. When an Indian came to one of such, he made a clucking noise in his tongue, ie. indicated disgust. It only served as fuel to an already [illegible] situation.

Saltspring Island was officially named Admiral Island in [1859?], but it still retained the name it had acquired in [185?], Saltspring, a self name because of its salt springs.

There were seventy resident land holders on the Island in 1860. The first white settlers were Mr. and Mrs. Lineker and family. They came in 1858.

Part 3

Source: Salt Spring Island Archives, Add. Mss. 91, Marie Albertina (Stark) Wallace, Recollections of Sylvia Stark, Part 2, n.d.. Notes: RESTRICTION: Copying permitted. However, permission to publish must be obtained from Mrs. Myrtle Holloman, 960 Walkers Hook Rd, Ganges, B.C., V0S 1E0

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