Cattle Drives

With the diminishing markets in the goldfields of British Columbia, ranchers desperately needed to find new markets to reduce their numbers of cattle. New Westminster and Victoria offered a glimmer of hope. While these two cities provided some outlets for the beef, the trails along the Cariboo Wagon Road through the Fraser Canyon or along the Dewdney Trail over the Hope Princeton divide were long and usually rough. In an effort to make the West Coast more accessible to ranchers in the Interior, the provincial government constructed new trails:

A photograph of cattle on an Okanagan trail. Click to enlarge,
image opens in a new window

Cattle on the Trail. Courtesy of the Penticton Museum

one from Lillooet via Pemberton Meadows to Squamish and then over the mountains to Burrard Inlet; and another from the south end of the Nicola Forks, up the Coldwater Valley to the summit of the Coquihalla, then down the Coquihalla to Fort Hope. While the trails made the West Coast markets more accessible, the markets remained too small to relieve the pressure on the overstocked ranges.

Two epic cattle drives of note were conducted out of British Columbia in the 1870s. In the spring of 1875, John Shaw assembled about 400 head of cattle and drove them from the Okanagan Valley through to the East Kootenay area and then over the North Kootenay Pass onto the prairies. Although he intended to drive the cattle to Fort Edmonton, he wintered them in the Morley area and eventually sold them to the North West Mounted Police, who were beginning construction of what became Fort Calgary. As Shaw disposed of his cattle to the Mounties, Thaddeus Harper embarked on an even more ambitious cattle drive. Starting at the Gang Ranch in the southern Chilcotin, he drove some 800 head of cattle all the way to San Francisco where he sold them at a profit.

Media Files

Audio Tapes 4256:1 Cattle Ranching in the Nicola - “Early Cattle Drives”
Ranchers describe the early cattle drives in the British Columbia Interior.

A flash player with audio describing the early cattle drives in the British Columbia Interior.

Click here to read transcript
(Opens in a new window)

You need the Adobe Flash Player to listen to the above audio. Get it by clicking here.


Click below to explore further

View O’Keefe Images Listen to cowboy poetry