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New blog post: Frank Sylvester on the trail

In the book “Cataline: The Life of BC’s Legendary Packer” I used a portion of packer Frank Sylvester’s journal to illustrate how the packers and their animals moved through the day and how they used already existing trails. As Jean “Cataline” Caux left no journals, we look to others who trod in the same paths as he to increase our understanding of the packer’s life. We are fortunate to have this account from Sylvester, who at that time had a shop in Lillooet.

Road to Bridge River near Lillooet

So in the early part of the year, I purchased a new stock of goods, went in with Snyder & Linny in their pack train, and started for Fort Alexander [Alexandria], at that time the head of mule navigation on the Fraser. I left Lillooet on March 12 and we were the second train of the year to leave.… Our train consisted of 42 mules, none carrying less than 300 pounds [136 kilograms], and a few as high as 400 pounds
[181 kilograms].… The rule of pack trains was
two men to every ten mules, and we had consequently eight Mexicans as packers, besides the Indian who rode ahead and led the bell mare.…
These animals come for two purposes: while travelling, [the bell mare carries] the precious “kitchen,” usually two boxes containing all the camp silver-ware, namely the tin cups, tin plates and iron spoons. We had no knives and fork
s as forks were not needed… as the menu consisted daily of bacon & beans.… All the men of the train rode mules or horses, but we had about 20 miners who were going north with us who walked the entire way, although we packed their blankets, etc., on top of one pack, free.
When we left Lillooet, the Fraser was still frozen over solid, and we crossed the river on
the ice with the loaded train. We left in the earl
y morning but only went as far as the Fountain.
(Frank Sylvester, address to the Board of Trade in Victoria circa 1907-1908 quoted in Lloyd Jeck, British Columbia Trails Heading North (Clearwater, BC: Maieck Publishing, 2011) 170-78). For more information on Frank Sylvester, the University of Victoria Archives is a repository for the family papers.

Marble Canyon–Cataline often wintered near here

After they left Fountain, they went around Pavilion Mountain, then through Marble Canyon (where Cataline sometimes wintered his horses), to Hat Creek, then to the Bonaparte river and finally headed north on his way to Alexandria.

Hat Creek Ranch

My friend and fellow author Nancy Marguerite Anderson has an excellent blog where she writes about “the people who worked in the Territory West of the Rocky Mountains before 1858.” In a well-researched blog post on he examines Frank Sylvester’s journey to determine whether the packers were accurate when they say they used the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade trails. It’s definitely worth a read to see where we know the trails overlapped and where we don’t.

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