Chilcotin

The country lying west of the Fraser River, known as the Chilcotin after the Native people who lived there, promised little for the gold seekers and was initially ignored. For years the miners headed east from the Fraser, leaving the land west of the river to the warlike Chilcotin people and occasional exploration parties seeking an easy route to the coast. But the packers and drovers of the gold rush days looked with interest across the Fraser at the vast grasslands stretching westward from the junction of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers. Unfortunately, the Fraser River presented a serious barrier to the movement of cattle from east of the river into the Cariboo goldfields, especially as there were no ferries.

A photograph of Thomas Meldrum and his Shuswap Native wife. Click to enlarge,
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Thomas Meldrum and his Shuswap Native wife. F-08642 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

The Chilcotin area, therefore, had very few ranches during the 1860s. Thomas Meldrum has the distinction of being the first white man to settle in the Chilcotin in 1866, when he followed a trail down the Fraser’s west side from Soda Creek and took up land in a little valley known today as the Meldrum Valley. About the same time, L.W. Riske and brothers Sam and Ed Withrow took up land along a stream they named Riske Creek. By the end of the 1860s, Thomas Hance and Benjamin Franklin “Doc” English had established themselves 45 miles up the Chilcotin River from the Fraser where the Hanceville Post Office was established in 1889.

In 1873, a section of land running from the junction of the Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers to a point five miles below the junction of Alexis Creek and the Chilcotin River was declared open for pre-emption under the provisions of the Land Ordinance of 1870. Access to the Chilcotin in the early days was by ferry at Alexandria and later from Soda Creek, which was the main supply centre for the area west of the Fraser. Settlement followed the accessible parts of the lower Chilcotin River and the Chilcotin road. Land was first taken up in the Riske Creek area, which had extensive bunchgrass ranges, and then land was pre-empted further up the Chilcotin River.

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