Horsefly: Its Early History 1859 - 1915

Third Edition; by the Horsefly Historical Society

The first publication of the Early History was printed in May 1975 and revised in February 1981.


First Discovery of Gold

GOLD! That magic word which drew many a man West and then North, which caused them to leave their families and steady jobs and risk hardship, starvation, and physical danger - all for the elusive yellow dust. Some, a few, found the gold and made fortunes in 1849 in California and in 1859-1862 in the Cariboo. But far more gave up and returned home no richer than when they started. Others didn't fare even that well and succumbed to illness, accident and even death.

Some of the gold-seekers who came to the Cariboo had started their search in '49 in California and worked their way north always in search of the big claim, just a little farther on. Finally they found themselves in Victoria, B.C. in 1858, buying supplies for trips to the bars of the Fraser River.

Soon these bars became over-populated and worked out, so the gold-seekers moved ever further North making their way with great difficulty along the precipitous cliffs above the Fraser.

Rumors began reaching the men on the Fraser that, on a river further North (the Horsefly), there was evidence of the "blue clay" which was similar to the stratification they had found in California at the sites of the large lodes. Sometimes called the "Blue Lead" (a rich deposit of gold well-known in California), the gold in the Horsefly River was said to present the same indications and a rich stratum of this "Blue Lead" extended North and South across the "Horsefly Creek".

There is ample verification for the claim that the first gold found in the Cariboo was in the Horsefly River in 1859.

However, there is question as to which party of men was actually the first to arrive at the Horsefly River in that important summer of 1859.

In the Mining Record of June, 1896, there is an item which reads, "In April, 1859, a party consisting of H.O. Bowe and others made a discovery of gold about 10 miles above the mouth of the Horsefly River...". Mr. Bowe probably came up the Horsefly River from Quesnel Lake, but we have no record of his travels.

The mining record also states, "and in the following month (May?) another party (amoung whom was Mr. John McLean, now at Quesnelle) also found gold at the same point."
This John McLean may perhaps be the same man who joined Peter Dunlevey's party as an "axe man" and, with Dunlevey, discovered gold on the Horsefly River. The record also implies that Mr. Mclean was still alive in 1896 and residing at Quesnel. There was a hotel proprietor there called John McLean who died in 1916. However, according to the diaries of Alex McInnes and information contained in the book on Dunlevey by Edith Beeson, John McLean was killed by Indians in 1861.

We have a much fuller account of Peter Dunlevey's discovery than of any other party of men who came in 1859, thanks in part to Mrs. Beeson's book which quotes from the diaries of of Alex McInnes. Other sources also deal more fully with Dunlevey, namely Mr. Art Downs in the book, "Wagon Road North."

Peter Curran Dunlevey, a native of America, was one of the many miners to move further North seeking more and better gold. He followed Aaron Post to the mouth of the Chilcotin River and it was here that he and his men met an Indian, a Hudson Bay Company runner, who was on his way to Fort Alexandria.

When the Indian, Tomaah, learned that the men sought gold, he told them of a river northeast of Lac La Hache on which there was much gold. Indians had undoubtedly come into the area to hunt and fish and thus were familiar with the Territory. Tomaah agreed to meet Dunlevey and his men in Lac La Hache in sixteen days.

Accordingly, the party - Dunlevey, Tom Manifee, Jem (or Jim) Sellers, and Ira Crow, as well as the above-mentioned John McLean, made their way back towards Lillooet and headed for Kamloops to buy supplies.

Here they ran into some difficulty as it was then the policy of the Hudson Bay Co. to protect the fur trade by refusing to sell to men prospecting east of Fort Alexandria in the prime fur country. However, the canny Scot factor began to see that there would be many miners coming into the country and that they would be paying for supplies with gold dust. He was persuaded of some of these things by Dunlevey and proceeded to furnish supplies to the party.

Arriving back at the rendezvous point at the appointed time, Dunlevey and his men met Tomaah and another Indian, Baptiste. The Indian games were taking place at Lac La Hache then and, after participating for several days, the party moved on with Baptiste leading them. Tomaah apparently stayed behind for love of an Indian maiden.

Baptiste led the group to the Horsefly River at a point near where the town is presently situated and Dunlevey and his men are credited with first discovery of gold in the Cariboo!
It has been stated that only twelve hours later in that summer of 1859, another group arrived at the Horsefly River. They were Hans Helgesen, George Black, Joe Devlin, Duncan McMartin, and Neil Campbell. No further information on this group has been found yet.

In a letter from Henry Bell, Asst. Gold Commissioner to Sir James Douglas under date of Dec. 18, 1859, the arrival of yet another group at the Horsefly River in the Fall, but could not operate for very long due to the severity of the cold weather.

Thus we have accounts of at least four groups finding gold in the Horsefly River in that important year of 1859. There were perhaps more men in the area that year whose existence has never been chronicled.

While much gold was found in the Horsefly River at that time, it served only to stimulate the miners in their search for more gold, and they pushed ever further North to the next stream and then the next. At about the same time Dunlevey arrived at the Horsefly River, other men continued up the Quesnel River and Ben MacDonald was the first to find gold there, also in 1859.

From the Horsefly River, men went north to Keithley and Antler Creeks, and reached Barkerville and made rich strikes there in 1861.

Horsefly may take its proper place in the History of British Columbia as it was there that the first gold was discovered in the Cariboo and 1859 was the year!

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