Ashcroft was the distributing centre for the old Caribou Diggings. The wagon road runs from there up to Tuesnel, 220 miles, and on to Barkerville, 40 miles further. The country all along was a farming and a stock raising district with several towns, and every house is a hotel for the travelling public. During the first year I was there, I helped to build a dam on the Bonaparte River for water and light purposes, then in company with some others I prospected for minerals. We located several claims and did a lot of assessment work on them. Those interested in them besides myself were Malcolm McLaughlin, M. P. Stewart, Francis Webb and Joe Burr. But alas and slack, although there was mineral in them all, they were too low grade for capital to take hold of, although we had an option on one group for $60,000. Such is life. I had the experience anyway.
In the spring of 1900, I went to work for the Dominion government building a telegraph line from Tuesnel to Allin in northwest B.C. I went to work in March and worked until October. We cut the right of way and put up poles and wire from Tuesnel to the Skeena River, 400 miles, then up towards Allin. Our outfit was under the command of James Trodden. Another gang was working from Allin to meet us, but frost and cold stopped us. We followed the old telegraph line built 25 years before, at the time the Atlantic cable was laid and the Great Western Telegraph Company, who were going to build around by Russia, abandoned their attempt. Our line was completed the next year, connecting with Dawson City. There were about 50 men, and about 25 mules and horses, the latter being used for moving camps and material. We built about 450 miles complete and every twenty-five miles built a log house for the caretakers.
We passed through some fine agricultural and grazing land with many rivers and lakes full of salmon. The country was not settled, no roads, the only white men being the Hudson's Bay officials. There were lots of Indians, a fine looking lot of men, big bodied, well formed features, not at all like the Siwashes, civilized, had churches, but I saw no schools. We had a bunch of them digging post holes and another bunch putting up poles. Away on in the interior we came across what looked like a gallows. The Indians were mum, but a half-breed told me that a few years before a couple of Indians had murdered a prospector. They were caught by the military or mounted police and hanged at the place of murder, and by official order the gallows were to be left standing as a warning to others. That was twenty years before.
The Skeena River Indians have a custom which I think is a beautiful one, of building little houses over the graves of the dead. No matter where they are buried, in large burying grave yards or single graves. I have sometimes come across a solitary grave in the woods and it would have a little box-like house over it the size of the grave and a couple of feet high, made of rough boards, built at Hazelton, on the Skeena River they had a beautiful God's Acre on the bench above the village. It was laid off like a city with a road between. I would like to describe the beautiful houses of different shapes, some as high as a man and some higher, hardly one just like its neighbours, painted all the colours of the rainbow, with pinnacles, towers, spires and all kinds of shapes. In many of the houses the personal belongings of the deceased were deposited on the grave. I thought it was a beautiful custom.
I found evidence of past wars which were waged between different tribes. A small stream called Kildoe with foot bridges built suspension style, was in evidence, and by the side of this stream were the remains of a burnt village with their partially destroyed totem poles with carved pictures of different animals, men and birds, lying down. These poles were formerly standing upright, some twenty, thirty and fifty feet high, and about a foot and one half in diameter. I was told by the same half-breed that those totem poles, standing before each house, represented the farm and the standing of the man, and the height of the pole was according to his standing in the community.
They told me about this burnt village. It appears that a tribe of Indians living across this river and the people of this village had been raiding each other, so the western tribe, I don't remember its name, the Haas, I think, came up and camped in the timber on the mountain just across from this village and in the night they surrounded the sleeping Indians, cut their foot bridges and set fire to the village and as the villagers tried to escape, they were shot down. They nearly exterminated them. It is a custom that if an Indian falls in battle, he is buried where he falls. I saw many of these graves. They dig a grave, put in the corpse and then fill up the grave with wood and set it on fire, that is all. If the fire burns the wood it is well, but if not it is just the same. In many of these graves the wood was only partly burned. The village was never rebuilt. This happened only a few years before I was there.