Next we found a place where the water had come up over the ice. This was bad, with maybe eighteen inches of water soaked snow. Up to that time it was pretty good traveling for sleighs but now with all that water-soaked slush on the ice it was pretty heavy slogging. Bud was ahead testing the ice and I was walking most of the way myself. Many times we’d have to stop for Bud to mark out a trail, for the bar kept cutting through ice in many places. The channel was always changing. It would be there for two or three hours then it would move. As it moved the water cut the ice away too. There were lots of rocks in the channel. When we had to stop, I’d have to get down on my knees and shovel out the front bunk of the sleigh because I would be stuck. I’d shovel the back sleigh out first and then the front one. I’d start up then, and the back team would always follow, right up close. We kept this up until we got to where the snow was dry again. You see the slush would run back and freeze against the front bench of the sleigh and the horses couldn’t get enough power to start up again. The wet snow would run back under the roller and stick there to freeze just hard enough that the horses couldn’t bust it loose. The horses were shod, but in all that water and ice and snow they just got great big snowballs in their feet. To get them to settle down and pull, you had to pick up their feet, take up the axe and knock that snowball out so that their shoes would go down onto the ice. Otherwise they’d just go down on their knees. Once the sled started, they would walk along fine.
Our first stop was at Goodrich Creek across from old Commotion Creek, where George Goodrich had his cabin. Were you ever down there? There was quite a grove of plum trees by a dam on Spring Creek right where Frank Palssen [had] his cabin. They were not wild plums. George planted them and they grew quite prolific there. Young Goodrich later had a fire and the grove of plum trees all burnt up. I never saw ripe plums, those big green ones were like eating olives — they never got sweet. He always had fish in his little dug out–he must have netted them and put them in there. If you wanted a fish for dinner you could always go out and catch one. Martin, his brother, had a trap line up close to the falls on the Sukunka, which was the called Middle Fork, where it runs into the East Pine, at Frank Treadwell’s. Esswein built the landing strip because his wife got awful sick in there once and he had no way of getting her out except by pack horse. He was a real good trapper when fur was a wonderful price. He went out and took flying lessons, bought a plane and built the landing strip just above where Ivor Johnson’s store is now. Where the pipeline runs now was a landing strip.
Dorthea Calverley — What happened to his plane? When we came in 1936 Jack Neyes of Sexsmith was flying up there. Esswein used to pick up supplies at our store in Sexsmith.
R.N. — Phil used to fly his plane in there. I’ve landed on that strip, with ex-Mayor Trail, but it’s ruined now because of the road, the railroad and the pipeline all went through it. Bob Trail and Foster and lots of guys sat down there. It was a good landing strip — smooth as could be — just like a lawn in 1948 or ’49. The last groceries to land then were for old Logan, the trapper who lived up on Willow Flats where the pump station is.
There were trappers in the Pine country for years, during the First World War. I remember talking to Zed Croteau and Ernie Knutson. Zed helped Ted Strand build that cabin at Camp Four. Some of those old trappers kept young fellows who wanted to get into the bush to evade conscription in there until 1920 and 1921, two or three years after the war was over. They (the young fellows) were afraid to come out. They had no newspapers or radio, so they didn’t know the war was over. The trappers brought the furs in but didn’t tell them that the war was over. They wanted to get free labour from these fellows. It was a good racket. The trappers would come in with furs by a pack outfit, usually before high water in June. They’d carry all the furs and sell them but they’d leave the other guy out there [in the bush]. They’d give the guys their share of the money but they had no place to spend it so the trapper would take them out of a few groceries, and maybe a bottle of whisky and some chewing tobacco or whatever clothes they needed. They’d had the fellows cutting hay with a scythe and raking it with homemade rakes, in case some horses got thin and needed a bit of extra feed. Some of them kept fellows two or three years after the war was over. Finally they’d say, “the way things looked when I was in last fall, I think maybe the war will be over. You’d better come out now”. That was cheap labour!
D.C.— Ernie Knutson was a well-known trapper wasn’t he?
R.N. — He certainly was. “Silvertip”, they called him. He trapped at Rocky Mountain Lake now called Gwillim Lake. He had two nephews; some old timers remember them. It was quite a story. Hans and Nels Nielson (who later built a garage in Pouce Coupe) knew their uncle Ernie was trapping in the mountains. They walked in on snowshoes, carried their traps up the Peace River, living off the country until they got to East Pine. They had no tent — just camped out under the spruce trees. They may have had a toboggan and a tarp — I don’t know. They visited at trappers’ cabins as they went and inquired how to get to their Uncle Ernie. At last they found him, out by Rocky Mountain Lake, as he called it. They trapped with him and came out in the spring. Fur was a fabulous price in them days. They trapped for quite a few years.
Tim Walsh from Sunset Prairie showed me how to trap muskrat and weasels. He had a trap line that came down through where Molls live now. There used to be quite a lake there, until the Alaska earthquake [Good Friday, 1968] then the water disappeared. That earthquake shook the range boiler half off its stand. I trapped close to six hundred dollars worth of [musk]rats and weasels on that lake that winter, fur was quite a good price. I was trapping on old Tim Moll’s trapline.
Old Silvertip was quite a dog musher. He used to run the mail up the Peace River with a dog team to Hudson’s Hope from Taylor Flats. They said he was the best musher and snowshoe man in this country. He claimed he had walked from Rocky Mountain Lake to the old town [of Dawson Creek] in one day but we figured that was just breeze. He was well known as a big bull-shipper. At that time it was a pack track, now you can drive into the Wolverine and Johnny Terry’s on Gwillim Lake. It was the same to Zed Croteau’s and Ted Strand’s at Camp Four, that was a pack track at that time. Course it took almost all summer to go in. After the water went down they took off for the trap line and came out before high water in the spring. There was Frank Golata and Pete Christansen, from the old town. Stan Cornell trapped with Ted Strand and George Parrish out of Camp Four, they went up Mountain Creek. First time I met Stan, he was radioman on the oilrig at Commotion Creek. He was “Sparks” for that oil outfit sponsored by the B. C. Government, on that wildcat well.
D.C. — It was known at the coast as Patullo’s Folly.”
R.N. — That could be. Professor Williams still insists that there’s oil there. There’s many faults down in the rock underneath.
D.C. — There were two Williams brothers. One of the brothers wanted to drill a distance from the place where they did go in. He went by the surface features. I’ve been told by young Jack Hannam and Ruby Stevenson that Williams would have been proven right but somebody else made the decision.
R.N. — Dr. Williams has been back quite a few times in later years. He always used to come in and see me. He was with the B. C. Coal Control later on. T. B. Williams and his brother were both geologists — the things they could show you when you were walking along the river! They could pick up a rock with the outline of a fern or a leaf, or a little bug —
D.C. — Did you find bugs out there? We’ve been looking for them for years!
R. N. — Yes — and he found “trilobites”.
D.C. — Trilobites?
R. N. — Yes, he found them up around Camp Four, on that shelf.