Native Cowboys

From the earliest days of the cattle trade in British Columbia, the Native people were active participants.

A photograph of a Native cowboy at Nicola, near Merritt. Click to enlarge,
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Native cowboy at Nicola near Merritt. E-06972 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

The Hudson’s Bay Company used Shuswap Natives to tend their cattle in the early 1850s, and one-half of all the drovers that had driven cattle into the Colony of British Columbia during the gold rush days were Natives. This did not change when the drovers established ranches in the British Columbia Interior. The Native people, many of whom were related to the ranchers through marriage, formed the work force on the ranches. The Native cowboys were excellent horsemen and rugged helpers, and, even more important, they were locals who knew the territory better than any outsiders. Because the ranchers and the Natives all spoke Chinook, the trade language perfected during fur trade times, communication was not a problem.

A photo of five cowboys from Tatla Lake in the Chilcotin. Click to enlarge,
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Tatla Lake Cowboys - Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin

In British Columbia more than any other ranching area in North America, the Native people were treated as equals in the cattle industry. This unique characteristic of British Columbia still continues today, where many of the working cowboys in the Interior are Natives.

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