The Caribou Trail’s colorful history reaches into Canada
The Caribou Trail League (a north central Washington sports league) got its name from the Caribou Trail that goes from Walluke Gap through Quincy and ends in Barkerville, British Columbia (BC). We followed that trail on a road trip in June. Here is some history about that trail and the ones who used it.
Ben Snipes was one of a few cattle barons that used the Caribou Trail. He was born in 1835 in North Carolina. At 14, in 1849, he wandered west to California to be a part of the California Gold Rush. He quickly learned that he would make more money providing supplies to miners than panning for gold. Short on education and long on tenacity, Ben moved north to Oregon. There he entered into a joint venture to drive 800 head of cattle north to Barkerville, BC. He netted $14,000 for his share of the profits. And so, his epic journeys on the Caribou Trail began.
In 1860, Ben returned to The Dalles, Oregon, where his empire would grow from 25,000 to 40,000 head of cattle and 15,000 head of horses using range land from The Dalles, Sunnyside, Prosser, Ellensburg and Walluke Gap. By 1900, the wild horse herds were corralled and sold, primarily to the military. The military shipped those to Europe as pack animals. This stopped when World War I ended.
The Big Bend Horse Monument off Interstate 90, on the bluffs of the Columbia River near Vantage, commemorates the wild horse herds who used the Caribou Trail. Ben Snipes started one of those herds.
The Caribou Trail took many routes along Highway 97 from Biggs to Satus Pass, then along the Walluke slopes to Wenatchee, Chelan, and finally up Highway 97 to Fort Okanogan with the final destination of Barkerville, BC. The cattle drives shared the trail with prospectors heading north. The Caribou Trail branched into three routes at Ancient Lakes near Quincy. They were:
- Moses Coulee to Waterville
- Up the Columbia River to Chelan Falls and Brewster
- Soap Lake to Coulee City
All routes converged at Fort Okanogan near Brewster.
Side note: The Nez Perce disliked the Chinese gold miners, and legend has it that 200 Chinese were sent to their Valhalla at Chelan Falls during the Gold Rush of 1861.
The cattle traveled from 4-10 miles a day. The wranglers would do this so the cattle would have new maturing grass to eat as they moved north. They mooed and mowed for 600 miles from Quincy to Barkerville. Barkerville needed a lot of supplies, but beef was premier and it sold for fifty cents a pound. The horses sold for $200 to $400 each.
In Barkerville, life carried on totally different from in the California gold fields, where there were no laws governing the miners. There were only two murders in Barkerville that were documented by local authorities, and laws were enforced. Justice was served equally by judges, constables and Mounties to First Nation, United States citizens, Canadians, Europeans, Australians and others.
Once the cattle drive reached Fort Okanogan, which is at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia rivers, it headed north on what is now Highway 97 through Omak and Okanogan to the Canadian border. Once across the border, it stayed west of Lake Okanogan up to Cache Creek, BC, and Clinton, BC. Miners that arrived by ship in Victoria would travel overland to the Caribou Trail at Hope, BC. They would use the same trail as the cattle, heading north to Quesnel, BC, and then east to Barkerville, BC, and the Caribou Mountains. A few of these miners would pan as much as $1,000 per day, which in 1861 was $32 to $36 per ounce. Many claims were 40 feet by 40 feet, depending on the terrain.
The average age of miners buried in the Barkerville Cemetery was 32. The Chinese miners’ graves were later exhumed, the remains cremated and sent to the San Francisco Chinese Embassy to be shipped back to China for proper burial. This was an understanding the Chinese had with their government. Can you imagine traveling around the 11 western states and Canada digging up graves of the Chinese, cremating them and carrying the ashes to San Francisco?
During the Gold Rush period the miners would put shafts down 200 feet or more, trying to reach bed rock where the gold would accumulate. Sometimes, the miners would lose their lives during a cave-in. “Ghosts for gold,” was their saying!
In Barkerville, which is now a historic town and provincial park, you can attend a court hearing and see how justice was done. No violence and no guns except for rifles for hunting game and protection. To entertain the miners and wranglers, there were Hurdy Gurdy Girls, who had no other motive than dancing for fifty cents a dance. Although, for three dollars you probably could get something more.
On our June 2019 road trip following the Caribou Trail, we were treated to plenty of wildlife sightings including big horn sheep, elk, caribou, wild horses, moose, wolves and fox. Barkerville was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924 and a Provincial Heritage Property in 1958. We stayed in an old hotel, built in 1904, on Main Street inside the park. What a unique experience!
Submitted by Jerry Husband