CHANCE STORY: The Texas Ferry Provided Access to the Cariboo Goldfields

On the south side of the Quesnel River, seven miles west of Quesnel Forks, is a large expanse of flat land with about a mile of river frontage. Just above the high water mark are two large rusty boilers. These are all that remains of the Texas Ferry crossing, where gold diggers and pack animals once crossed from the north side.

If you stand next to the boilers and look across the river, you see a steep slope rising from the opposite bank. This is Texas Mountain, the summit of which is now the site of the Kemess QR mine. In fact, on the north side, there are several mining operations of varying sizes currently in production, and with the current price of gold, the whole area is seeing a lot of mining activity.

The Texas Ferry crossing was established during the Great Cariboo Gold Rush, when prospectors flocked to the area. It was located on a well-known Hudson’s Bay Company fur brigade trail leading from the town of Quesnel upriver to Quesnel Lake.

From there the trail headed south to Bridge Lake and eventually led to Fort Kamloops. After the establishment of the gold rush town of Quesnel Forks, this road was improved in both directions to facilitate the flow of men, pack animals, and supplies to hungry miners in the gold mines.

Opposite Texas Mountain, a shrewd entrepreneur saw the potential to charge gold diggers a fee to cross the river at this point and he brought the two boilers and a steam engine to power a large winch. He stretched a cable across the river and through an anchored pulley on the other side. He then built a log raft, topped with hand-sawn planks, which could be winched back and forth on the river.

This crossing was one of the access routes to the Cariboo gold fields for many years. The area around the ferry crossing proved to have excellent land for cultivation and soon an important farm was developed there, supplying meat, vegetables and grain to the newly formed settlements to the east. In all likelihood, it would also have had a lounge and stopping place for the convenience of travelers to and from the goldfields.

The influx of prospectors and fortune seekers had largely ended by the early 1870s, but the towns of Quesnel Forks, Keithley Creek as well as several land rock mining operations continued. After the white placer miners, the Chinese reworked the river banks, gravel bars, and tributaries upstream and downstream of major rivers.

Some of the local elders probably vaguely remember a story of a murder in the Texas Ferry area around 1875. It involved a white miner who went bankrupt looking for gold. He came across two Chinese men picking up gravel on the bank. He tried to rob them, but they resisted and he shot them both, taking less than an ounce of gold with him. Then the murders were discovered, a posse was formed, and the culprit was tracked down and arrested. He was sent to New Westminster Provincial Jail, where he was tried, convicted and hanged.

Chinese prospectors stayed in the area for many years, living off the streams and rivers until the start of World War II. Quesnel Forks’ last Chinese miner, Wong Kuey Kim, died in the winter of 1954. He froze to death. walking home from a trip to Likely for supplies.

In 1892 there was a great mining resurgence in the area when the Bullion mine purchased a large number of claims and began building the infrastructure to service what was to become the largest open pit mine in the world at that time. era. The huge water operation went into production in the fall of 1899, and with over 200 employees and a company town called Bullion City, it gave the Cariboo a huge economic boost.

Quesnel’s old pack trail was extended and became a regular supply route to the great mine. It was renamed Route Quesnel-Hydraulique. However, demand for the ferry crossing continued to decline, and after the closure of the Bullion mine in 1907, the ferry farm and operation were discontinued. Over the next few decades the place saw squatters and limited placer activity on Morehead and Jackpine, the two creeks in the area, but there was no lasting habitation.

In the early 1970s, a back-to-the-land movement of young people from the United States and Canada was taking shape. A young investor, John Coplin, rediscovered the 203-acre property and purchased it for $37,500 from the estate of George Gasker. Gasker had owned the place for several years and lived a hermit’s lifestyle there. Surprisingly, he had very little interest in gold, preferring to devote himself to pottery. He died in his cabin on the square in 1969.

John Coplin opened up the land to some of his friends and two small complexes were created about a mile apart. A number of young people came to settle there, establishing a communal lifestyle of living, repairing and restoring old cabins, gardening, hunting, making hay and generally living off the land. In addition, a certain number of passing young people came and stayed more or less long before leaving. People who lived there called it the Seven Mile Ranch, but people from the Likely area called it “the hippie place.”

In 1975, heavy rains caused a huge landslide and devastating floods. The river was completely blocked for a time before resuming its course. Many improvements made to the place and much of the newly built infrastructure was destroyed. It was a catalyst – longtime residents began to move out, many of them resettling and raising families in the area. A few stayed longer, but by the mid-1980s Seven Mile Ranch was abandoned. Coplin sold the land in 1985 to Charlie Gainer, a lumber contractor and Likely resident. He cut the marketable timber and then left the land alone.

In 2002, Gainer sold the property to Keith Richardson, an American investor residing in Hawaii. Not much has been done there since then, although around 2010 Chinese interests were working the land in search of gold. The site is now chained without public access. Remnants of the old cabins, some old equipment and a multitude of depressions in the ground where gold exploration took place are all that remain. The land is still slipping and in the summer of 2021 more landslides have occurred.

It is a piece of the Cariboo that is quite typical of British Columbia’s gold rush history, having changed for 160 years from an unstable wilderness to a place that offered opportunities for trade and farms to astute entrepreneurs, and a site where young farmers sought to fulfill their dreams. Now it is largely back to its natural state. Humans may come and go, but nature goes on.

My thanks to Jim Gibson of Likely and Rick Matthews of Williams Lake (who was there in the 1970s), for their help with the article. Photos are courtesy of Rick.

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