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.


Mining in Horsefly 1887-1902

And that was the beginning of it all.

Many miners remained in Horsefly after 1859, rather than moving on North, and continued to mine in the area. For many years they were content with small placer operations.
Naturally a town arose to their needs. The cluster of log cabins included hotels, a store, post office and, it is said, even a house of ill repute.

The population was largely transient, as the miners came and went through the area, during the years from 1869 to about 1884. In 1878, a Report of the Minister of Mines indicates, "I have also visited the Horsefly Country and found about 40 men there, one-half of the number being white men. Nearly all of the Chinamen are on one claim, which is paying well."

It was this small mining town that Thaddeus Harper found when he obtained sizable leases in the area in 1884. On these leases, Harper later started the first hydraulic mine in the area and with it, started a second gold rush in 1887.

The Harper brothers, Jerome and Thaddeus, were interested in mining and owned several claims in the Cariboo. They also did much to shape the ranching industry in this part of the country.

The two Harpers were born in Harper's Ferry, (not named for them) Virginia - Jerome 1826 and Thaddeus in 1829. The first mention of the Harper's in B.C. is in 1859 when Jerome was reportedly operating a small sawmill on Long Flats near Yale.

From 1861 until 1888, the Harpers acquired vast amounts of land in B.C. - a total of about 38,572 acres. Much of this land was used for the cattle importing business which Jerome began in the 60's. Cattle were purchased in Washington and Oregon during the winter and held until Spring. In May, Jerome would start a drive of about 400 head of steers, 50 head of milk cows and 50 head of horses - destination Barkerville. Usually 1400 head would be used in a season to feed the miners living in Barkerville.

In 1870, Jerome became ill and went to California, where he died four years later.
By the late 70's the cattle industry was in a depressed state so Thaddeus turned his attention to mining.

From 1885 to 1888, there was mention of Harper in Reports of the Minister of Mines as follows;
1885 - " Horsefly...the ground all around the China Company's claim is held under Mr. T. Harper which prevents considerable prospecting being done there this winter. There has not been any work done upon the ground by Mr. Harper since the lease was obtained. There is a company of white men prospecting on Black Creek, a tributary of Horsefly."
1886 - "About all of the gold from Horsefly came out of the old Horn King claim (Chinese)...Also Mr. Harper has men fitting up winter quarters for men and teams..."
1887 - "On the Horsefly River. Mr. T. Harper has a large force at work opening up his mine..."
1888 - "Mr. Harper has not met with the success anticipated but Dan McCullum and Co. have opened a claim 5 miles below with fair prospects."
One last note, dated 1891, states, "On the Harper Claim, now worked by Mr. R.T. Ward, some very good paying ground has been discovered..."
The claim in Horsefly, which was then known as "Harper's Camp", was worked extensively for a time, being sold or leased to R.T. Ward in 1891. It is not known if Thaddeus Harper remained in the area, but he was known to have suffered an accident with a horse, perhaps in Lac La Hache, and died in Victoria, in 1898.

When Mr. R.T. Ward took over the operation of Harper's holdings, known as the Horsefly Gold Mining Co. Ltd., in 1891, the Miocene Gravel Mining Co. Ltd., run by Senator R.H. Campbell, was also operating in Horsefly. A two-compartment exploratory shaft in Miocene Gulch had been sunk by this company to a depth of 550 feet.

In addition Dan McCullum was working a small hydraulic operation called the Discovery Co. about 5 miles down Horsefly River from Harper's Camp. It was this small mine which John B. Hobson, a noted mining engineer, leased for the CPR in 1892.

John Hobson was born in Ireland and lived for many years in the United States. In 1857, his family moved from New York to California where he studied metallurgy and engineering. After becoming involved with deep-gravel placer mining, he invented a deflecting nozzle for a monitor which became known as "Hobson's Improvement."

In 1892, Hobson was asked by the CPR to examine the gold-bearing gravels of the Cariboo. It was believed there was no more gold in the Horsefly valley than had already been recovered.

The Minister of Mines report in 1893; "Mr. Hobson took over the Horsefly Hydraulic Mining Co. with 30 whites and 30 Japanese. The expenditure to get the mine in working order will be $100,000. There is now a sleigh road from 150 Mile House to Horsefly for regular traffic during the winter."

The Ming Record for 1896 states, "The hydraulic system completed last year under the supervision of Mr. Hobson brings the water from Mussel Creek (Moffat Creek), which is tributary to the Horsefly River, by a ditch and a pipe line 12 1/2 miles in length and with a capacity for delivering 1,800 miner's inches of water."

The Record also indicates that "At the headquarters of the mine a small village has been built consisting of manager's house and offices, cook and bunk houses, retorting works, assay house, saw and planing mill, blacksmith and carpenter shops, etc., etc. Two acres have been laid out in gardens, and cows, horses, and mules are kept for the use of employees. The capital of the company operating this mine is $250,000, in shares of $10 each."

It is reported that in two years (1894-1896), Hobson recovered $150,000 in gold. Increasing difficulty was encountered after 1896 in breaking up the gravel which became practically cemented together. Dynamite was tried but was of little help. Even a 10 ton stamp mill did not prove to be the answer and costs ran so high that in 1899 most of the work at the Horsefly Hydraulic Mine ceased.

The other operations in Horsefly were having their difficulties by this time also. The Miocene shaft was flooded at the depth of 500 feet, killing some miners and injuring others. And worst of all, no gold was ever found in that shaft.

Horsefly Gold Mining Co. under R.T. Ward, had found rich deposits worth $500,000 to one million, but by 1902 the paystreak was exhausted and mining there ceased.

The intense mining activity at Horsefly had all but stopped by 1902, but Hobson continued his activities on property previously acquired some 35 miles from the site of the Horsefly mine - namely the Bullion pit near the present town of Likely.

Hard times followed the closing of the large mines in 1902 but many of the early pioneers stayed on, ranching, trapping, and doing anything they could find to do. It didn't cost very much to live in this country, but it was very difficult to earn the little bit that was needed.

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