Turning Back the Pages: A woman’s view of Golden from the 1800s

Turning Back the Pages: A woman’s view of Golden from the 1800s

Always digging for information on Golden and the Valley, I recently came across a book called “Impressions of a Tenderfoot during a Journey in Search of Sport in the Far West” by Susan Margaret McKinnon St. Maur.

It’s not very often that we have the opportunity to read first hand accounts of things that went on in the 1800s from our area. It’s especially interesting because I am not aware of any other books written about our area during that time period by a woman. Her perspective is very different than the men, even though their experiences were much the same.

We have had quite a number of inquiries this year about gold in the district and as you will read below there definitely was some.

Mining is a great attraction in the Kootenay district. Mines of inexhaustible wealth are always supposed to be waiting for the mining adventurer, and no doubt some are found; but there is generally the difficulty of want of capital to develop them. During the summer miners take up other work, so as to be able to spend the winter on their claims.

I noticed a fine-looking young fellow on a boat, dressed in the costume of the country, blue overalls, long boots, blue shirt all embroidered and laced up the front, and a cowboy hat; his nice open and good-tempered looking face made me wish to speak to him. An opportunity soon occurred. He was going to shoot a duck, but found he had no cartridge in his rifle. I said that was a pity. He seemed pleased when I addressed him, and told me the old story. He had been prospecting, had found a galena-mine, and pointed out a mountain in the distance where his treasure was, but he had no money to work it. He and a friend toiled at it in the winter; in the fall (as the autumn is called here) he made money by carrying freight up and down the river, after the steamer had stopped running.

Four men rowing brought up their boat, with 2,000 lbs. of stuff on board, 100 miles up stream in four days. One load generally paid them from $100 to $115, but often they had to start with only half a load.

He had been out here five years, and liked the life, had just built himself a new boat, and hoped to make his first trip in her shortly.

Later in the day Captain Armstrong said to me, “I will point you out one of the best specimens I know of a “Western Man,” and directed my attention to the young fellow to whom I had been speaking. He also said, “He is the strongest and one of the most determined men in the valley, and will make his way.”

Until lately both passengers’ tickets and freight were paid for either in nuggets or gold dust. We saw a 2-oz. nugget, worth £7, which the Captain had just obtained. A few days before we came up, Captain Armstrong sent a 50-lb bag of gold dust to be changed at the bank in Victoria. The gold is so quite it is worth $18 an ounce, and loses very little when smelted.

I can’t help thinking, as I see all these strange people- miners, boatmen, cowboys, toilers of all kinds – how some are born to fortune and some to toil, and that the majority know little but hard work from their cradles to their graves, and that many of these turn out nobler and better than those who lead lives of luxury and pleasure is just the contrary.

“Out West” we saw no poor, for all could get work, and there were few idlers. The idlers there were had chosen their lot, being addicted to either drinking or gambling, and when idleness and dissipation mastered them, they could blame fate by saying they were “down on their luck.”

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