Turning Back the Pages Golden Pioneer Cemetery

Colleen Palumbo talks about a research project at the old Golden Pioneer Cemetery.

In 1988, a group of anthropologists from Simon Fraser University (SFU) began a research project at the old Golden Pioneer Cemetery, which is located across the tracks and around the bend from the 7-11.

Permission was sought to remove some of the remains so that they could be taken to SFU for analysis. Here they would determine what it must have been like to have lived and died in a small town in the wild west a very long time ago.

Dr. Skinner and Lindsey Oliver were the primary workers on the dig but did, from time to time, take help from the outside as well as from the community.

It took two seasons for them to complete the work that they had set out to do and then off they went with the remains of eight of our local pioneers.

Three of the sets of remains were identified, the other five were not. One of the sets of remains taken were those of William Archer, who had been murdered and who still had family in the community. The family were quite interested in the work that the anthropologists were doing and showed up at the sight of the dig to add personal history to the information that was being uncovered on the sight.

One of the family members was Tom Neville, a grandson of William Archer.

Tom had not only wonderful stories to tell that had been passed down to him but also had photos that helped the researchers pinpoint some of the boundaries of the cemetery site. In one photo it showed some of the family standing around the white picket fence that had, at one point, surrounded the grave of William Archer.

Tom also had several old ledgers that he donated to the head of the project, Lindsey Oliver, who donated those ledgers to the Golden Museum’s Archives.

One of them has a green cover, is a little stiff, but generally is in very good condition. Inside the front cover of the book, written in a rough script are the words “Gaol Book Donald, B.C.” Inside the book is divided into columns titled: Name of the Prisoner, When Received into Prison, Date of Expiration of Sentence, How Employed, Conduct of Prisoner, Remarks, and Date.

The first entry in the book reads: “Name of the Prisoner, Hugh McKinnon; When Received, 8th, July, 1892; Date of Expiration of Sentence, 11th February, 1893; How Employed, Working in Chain Gang; Conduct of the Prisoner, Bad and Good; Remarks, Broke Gaol and was recaptured, did not commence to keep record until 1893.” The spelling in the book left much to be desired but the handwriting was, for that period of time, quite good.

The month of April was spelled Aprial and the first name Richard (several of the prisoner’s first names were Richard) was spelled Ritcherid. As I went through the names of the prisoners and how long they were imprisoned at Donald, I noticed several showed patterns over the eight years that are recorded in the book.

For instance, a native man named Elanamo, spent several winters in the lockup at Donald. It doesn’t say, unfortunately, what it was that he did each fall that got him incarcerated for the winter, but he was always on good behaviour and seemed to serve six to eight months each winter.  My theory is that it was a warmplace, out of the weather, where you had shelter and steady meals.

As you get to the end of this book, it has a daily record of attendance and the list (abbreviated) of jobs that each prisoner was working on. And although I can’t be sure because it doesn’t say, it appears that only  sentences of six months or less were carried out in the Donald gaol. Anything longer and the prisoner was sent to Kamloops.

The second book has a red cover, similar in appearance to the green one and has a label on the outside of it that says “Daily Journal – 1895.” What makes this book really interesting is that whoever kept it recorded the weather at least twice a day, every day. Temperatures, weather conditions, the works. There are some references in the book to information being laid, etc.

So I believe that this must have been some sort of prison journal as well, although I haven’t proven that one yet.

The third book has a dark cover, although similar in appearance to the other, this one is a “Cash Book.” This one I will go into greater detail about another time as it contains some very interesting pieces of paper.

In the meantime, drop by the museum and check out the new fireproof vault that houses these books and all the other books, and photos of the Golden Museum Archive!