Episode 1: A Dangerous Occupation
The construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway brought men, from all walks of life and funneled them into different 'End of Steel Camps' or 'Tent-Towns' along the mainline. In the fall of 1912 the new railway stretched from Edmonton, Alberta, into British Columbia through the Leather (Yellowhead) Pass as far as the Tte Jaune Cache area, west of Red Pass and southeast of Fort George, now Prince George.
The survey of the Canadian Northern Railway followed a similar route that ran parallel to the Grand Trunk Pacific through Alberta into British Columbia as far as Red Pass, and then from there, both railroads ran west to Tte Jaune Cache. Each road-bed followed a surveyed grade on opposite sides of the canyon pass.
The Canadian Northern turned south to Thompson Crossing and eventually the town of Kamloops, while the Grand Trunk turned north to Fort George. Collectively the Grand Trunk Pacific tent-towns of 1912 contained several thousand railway labourers, often referred to as "gandy-dancers."
These settlements also housed surveyors, carpenters, scow drivers, freight loaders, shop-keepers, "ladies of the night," and last but not least, whiskey-traders and bootleggers. As the railway progressed, the railway-residents, and the tent-towns they occupied, also moved up the line.
In the Tte Jaune Cache area, on the G.T.P., people lived in several communities: Mile 53, where the Siems-Carey and the Foley, Welsh and Stewart wharves bordered the Fraser River, Mile 52, where the new train station, Main Street and the red-light district were, Mile 51, where a ship-building yard had been set up to rebuild two majestic sternwheelers, originally from Victoria, B.C., and Mile 49, later to be known as Henningville, where my good friend, Caribou Joe, made his daring escape from the scrupulous hands of one, Constable Charles Bigumpound, of the B.C. Provincial Police.
Joe used to deliver moonshine between Thompson Crossing, a Canadian Northern Railway tent-town, and Tte Jaune Cache. Joe found his customers in railway camps along the Canadian Northern road-bed and portions of the Grand Trunk Pacific.
Joe carried some the finest stump-whiskey west of Fitzhugh. Although he never had much to do with the actual manufacturing of the goods, Joe was well versed in distributing and selling the lethal liquid. He seemed to be the right kind of fellow for the job too, as he had not yet acquired a taste for the hard liquor at that particular time in his life. Joe had just turned 18. He knew the possible dangers of his work and the law of the land that required all liquor to be sold at Government outlets. Unlicensed sales of liquor were also banned within close range of railway construction.
On a chilly October morning, back in 1912, Joe set out from Cranberry Lake (Valemount). Four inches of fresh snow had fallen during the night, however; the trail was marked and easily followed. Joe was well rested, having taken refuge in a homesteader's barn, but still hungry. The day before had been a long ride, on the Tote Road, up from Thompson Crossing, some forty miles to the South. Joe had good contacts at Moonbeam Creek, near Thompson Crossing, and was starting a new, and hopefully, regular run of home-brew. He continued traveling north to Starvation Flats, a short distance from Mile 49, on the Grand Trunk Pacific mainline.
A specially designed leather saddlebag, with many pockets, lay across the back of his mare. On the packhorse two pack-boxes, stuffed with full bottles of moonshine, cushioned by carefully placed layers of dried moss, lay hidden under a canvas tarp. Altogether, Joe could carry seventy bottles per trip.
Dressed in a heavy wool mackinaw, wool pants, wool shirt and long johns, Joe was rarely cold. He also wore a floppy brimmed felt hat and carried an old, but sharp, skinning knife on his shell belt, next to a whetstone. Inside his coat, in a holster, was a Smith and Wesson 32,Lemon Squeezer revolver. This small handgun could only be fired by first squeezing the handle, then the trigger.
Joe always carried his rifle across his lap while riding through densely forested parts of the trail. The Winchester model 1896 had been in his family for years and Joe knew the gun well. Unlike the 79 model, the 96 was a heavy caliber rifle. It had a long 44-50 magazine tube and held up to eight shells. The shells were loaded with slugs weighing up to 500 grains. But, on this particular morning, the Winchester was tucked away in a leather scabbard beside the saddle.
Joe's stomach growled. He started to reach for the handful of pemmican from his grub-bag. Then, he remembered that he had eaten the last of it the night before. He continued to ride leading his packhorse.
In the next episode, Incident At Starvation Flats, we learn how Joe got his famous name, Caribou Joe, back in 1912, while riding through the Robson Valley on his way to Tte Jaune Cache.