Audio Part 2:
Interviewed by Dorthea Calverley
Introduction: Mr. George Hunter came back to the Peace River country after years of absence from his old trapping experiences in very early Fort Nelson days. The Alaska Highway had opened up homestead country to the north. George was particularly interested in the Halfway River area, off Mile 147. Mrs. Hunter had been a widow whose family was grown up when she remarried. At first she was reluctant to leave Fort St. John and strike off into the bush.
MRS. GEORGE HUNTER: I came up in 1953. My husband decided that he was going to take land. He found it up the Halfway about six miles up from Angus Beatton’s place. He came back to Fort St. John, where I was staying, and told me he had had applied for five hundred and seventy-four acres. Then we went back to Revelstoke where, during the winter, we got a letter from Victoria that we had got the land. That spring we bought our pick-up to come up north, and shipped our stuff on the train. Driving up through the Caribou and the Hart Highway we ran into a snowstorm.
When we got to Dawson Creek, I stayed, and George went on with the truck. Our son came up with us to help unload at Montney, and then went back. George went on up the Highway with Bill Boring (?) to help him haul gas in. He came back to get me before the ice went out. George had taken his plough and his tractor and wagon and everything up there. Bill Boring met us at Mile 147 on the Alaska Highway with his wagon also and loaded our stuff into the two wagons, leaving an extra team for George to drive in. We left, May 10, 1954. We drove into Mosquito Flats and stopped there for the night. The men decided to go hunting because we were short of meat. I stayed with Mrs. Bevans and her little baby. The men got a dry cow moose that was really a fat one. We canned a lot of that meat to take with us. The steaks we kept to take along.
On May 13 we started for the Halfway. I was riding Bill’s roan horse; Mrs Bevans was riding a Pinto Indian Horse. It didn’t want to go, and hung back. Mine was full of life and wanted to go. She said, “Before we know it the teams will catch up, and we won’t even know if the ice is out. I’d better ride on your horse and leave you here. I’ll meet you at the forks of the trail.”
I led the Indian horse up on a little knoll to see if the teams were coming. When I saw her coming back, the teams were coming, too. I decided, “I am going to ride that pinto!”
He went along pretty good. When she caught up she said, “Oh, you’re riding that horse!” “Yes,” I said. “Well” she said, “Make it go!”
When I told her the teams were coming, she let out a couple of whoops, which, the Indian horse seemed to think meant we were going to have a good time. I had the reins on one side, when I brought them across to the other side, he really went! When we got to a little gully, she could see the teams and she let out some more whoops. The pinto started to buck. I stayed on for the third jump, but I was coming down on the saddle horn. Then he really jumped and I flew into the air, landing on the ground with an awful thump. They said the horse kicked at me with both feet, and missed me.
First I looked for my glasses for I can’t go without them. Here were my glasses sitting on the ground just as if I’d put them there. I was crawling towards them, when George first saw me.
“What do you think you are doing?” he said, and wouldn’t help me up. When he found out, he helped me up on the wagon, for my back hurt so bad. At the river, we decided to have dinner before we crossed, but I couldn’t eat, and rested beside a tree.
“You’re going to suffer crossing that river if you don’t ride,” they said. So I got up on the red horse I’d had at first, rode across the river. A mile and a half past the river, I hurt so bad, I said, “Let me walk.” And I walked the rest of the way to a camping place near our land, for that didn’t hurt so much. Mrs. Beavan’s little baby was tired — it was just a little toddler — so we got something to eat. By the time we got a tent up and our bedrolls out, it was dark, except the little fire.
Because it was raw land, and who knows what was around we put the guns handy. We women put the baby between us, and the men were on the outside, with the guns beside them. In the morning my back was so stiff that I sat and held the baby by the fire while the men got breakfast. That day the Bevans went back to their ranch about ten miles back, but I didn’t even want to get up. George started loading up the stuff they had left by the river on their way out.
“You’d better get up,” he said, “or you’ll stiffen up and never walk again.” So I did even though it hurt so much.
That spring I helped do a lot of clearing, although my back still hurt. I saw him put up a little shelter, and then picked a spot right beside a little spring creek for our cabin. We started to build the cabin, it began to rain so hard that the creek rose and we didn’t get time to put the roof on. We just put canvas over it. As soon as possible he started clearing in order to get a little crop in with the tractor. I would help by burning the brush piles. It was so nice to see that little cabin! He had hewed a poplar log to put the door casing in. He made a door from the plywood boxes we had our goods in, with a little bit of glass in it for light. I’d put a lighted candle behind that glass, so we could see the light when it got late when we were out clearing. Sometimes we would work until nearly midnight. That summer George cleared twenty acres, built the cabin and even a little outhouse for me. He kept teasing me, and wouldn’t tell what he was doing until one day he took me out “for a little walk” although it was raining hard. There by the river he had a cute little log outhouse, on skids. He hauled it into the yard with the tractor, up into a little knoll. He had saved enough plywood from the door to put a seat in it – I was quite proud of it.
Bill Boring couldn’t cross the river, but he came up overland to bring two windows to us — the old-fashioned windows, with a little glass, so if one broke you could put another in. They had chickens at Mosquito Flats. He used to bring eggs packed in oats on the saddle horn. Then he’d feed the oats to the horses. What a treat those eggs were! I could bake a cake. I was so proud of that little cabin. The Bevans used to come over with their children — the men would go outside while the women would go to bed, they’d come in. We didn’t have a floor but I laid down cardboard cartons that I could take out and sweep.
INTERVIEWER: I think you said that you were never happier than when you were in that little cabin.
MRS. GEORGE HUNTER: I was happy! That fall George went over to Mosquito Flats to saw lumber for the floor.
INTERVIEWER: With a whipsaw?
GEORGE HUNTER: No. Gordon had a little sawmill, but he didn’t know how to run it. I set it up for him and taught him how to run it, and got two thousand feet of lumber that way.
MRS GEORGE HUNTER: We came back in the spring, in the spring we got the floor in. It made the cabin so light. We put the stuff all outside to lay the floor, and had only got things in when a snow storm came. It was so light that I could sit and knit. George was going to trap that spring. In the nice days, I wore my gum boots and went with him to take pictures. Over the deepest place in the river a tree had fallen out over the water. With a rope, he tied a plank on it for a bridge for me. It was pretty hard to get across — the dog wouldn’t even try it. George had to carry him across, I got down on the plank and took a picture of them coming across. That spring we ate beaver meat. It was delicious. It tasted something like wild duck, but you don’t want to get too much of the fat, or it acts like castor oil. I’d roast it, after trimming all the fat off. The beaver tails are just delicious. I’d cook them in the Indian way, hanging them on a green stick over the fire. They’d blow up like a balloon, and then you could peel the skin right off. It was clean meat underneath, cut up in cubes, you could cook it in macaroni or beans, but it was rich! You couldn’t eat too much of it, but it was really tasty.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have other meat?
MRS GEORGE HUNTER: Yes, moose meat. There was some left that I had canned that we had put up in a cache. We were afraid of bears or wolverines coming in, so whenever we went away, we hauled everything, bedding and all, up into the cache.
There were lots of berries there. I filled all the jars I had. Then George started firing on the rig (drilling). The cook saved sealers for me. Oh, the stuff I canned! My sister came up. My daughter had been up before. She told my sister; “They don’t have much up there.”
My daughter had been quite brave. She came up the highway, thinking she would walk the rest of the way in, but they persuaded her that she couldn’t get across the Halfway River. I didn’t know my daughter was coming but a boy had gone out for supplies. She came back with him — and I didn’t recognize her. George said, “Don’t you know your baby?” I never thought of Doris coming in.
“I held my feet up,” she said, “crossing the river, and I only got a little wet.” She stayed about a week.
You see, that first year, we didn’t have much — but I made a bannock, and we had Klem, and powdered eggs. Where the Brady boy lived, they had rhubarb that I used to go over and get. We used sealers, and packed it in raw, with the broom handle, until there was no air in the jar. It makes it’s own juice and keeps a long time. You don’t have to use as much sugar, as for canning, and not as many sealers. It was before the berries came on that Doris came in — but when my sister came three years after and saw my cellar! I had lots of jam and things down there.
We’d get our sugar in by the hundred pounds, and our gas, and all our supplies in the winter time. George would go out and fire the boilers on the drilling rigs, and I’d go out and cook. Then we had money to buy what we wanted. One of our boys came up to help George to fence and to put other rooms on the cabin — a kitchen and a living room. Then he built on a den, with a stone fireplace in it. Oh! That was lovely to sit before the fire when it was raining! I used to collect Nabob coffee bags, roll them up tight, and put them in with the logs. It made colours — just beautiful!
That summer I got bucked off, I couldn’t get out; I just had to put up with my back. When August came Fred Boring thought it had dried up enough for him to make a trip. He came over to get me, with a wagon and team. We put four up, and in some places the wagon sunk down to the axles.
INTERVIEWER That was as late as 1954?
MRS. GEORGE HUNTER: Yes! Of course we didn’t have a road then — just an old pack trail, brush-cut so that we could get through with a wagon to the Highway.
INTERVIEWER: Was that pack trail part of the Trail of ‘98 of the Old Police Trail?
GEORGE HUNTER: No, the Old Police Trail came right up the Halfway Valley. We left the river, and went by packhorse, about twenty-one miles to the Alaska Highway, crossing the river about three miles above our place where there was a ford. When the water was real high, we always knew because I had a stake in the river back of the house. When the stake was covered, it was too high to ford without swimming. It would take a day out to the Highway, get our mail, stay all night and come back the next day. Sometimes the Indian boys would bring it to us, or people would go. They’d let you know a couple of days ahead so that you could write your letters. Anybody that went took an extra packhorse and panniers, so that they could bring the mail back. Mr. Brady used to load those panniers with rhubarb to take out to the trading post on the highway — Anderson’s is a very busy place. That was after more people came in. The first winter we were there our nearest neighbour was a Mr. Brady, who had come in there in 1912, I think, just after they surveyed. He had the first homestead in the Halfway. He married an Indian lady. He proved up a quarter of land, but used all of the flats up and down the river to put up hay, he got some cattle and he was a great fellow for horses. He’d move the animals from flat to flat in the winter when one of his boys would stay in a log cabin and look after them. As the boys grew up they didn’t want to stay home. Most of them ended up at Vancouver, so Brady never owned more than that one quarter.
INTERVIEWER: Those, then, were the flats that the Klondikers grazed off by wintering their horses there.
GEORGE HUNTER: Yes.
INTERVIEWER Since those were the Indians’ grazing grounds do you think they were justified in their actions over at Fort St. John?
GEORGE HUNTER: There was some resentment. I feel that if they’d been treated a little better, they wouldn’t have done that.
MRS. GEORGE HUNTER: When the Indians lost their horses, the Klondikers wouldn’t sell any of theirs, after their carts gave out, but took them all farther on. They died off on the trail, so they might as well have sold them.
INTERVIEWER: How do you account for that fine Morgan horse that was up at Fort Nelson. Who brought in a horse like that? Had the Indians captured it?
GEORGE HUNTER: No, in 1928, the Indians at Fort Nelson were only getting horses. I think some unknown trapper had tried to bring it in.
MRS. GEORGE HUNTER: Some people would think our homesteading was a very rough life. For some, it would be. For me every day was interesting — there was so much satisfaction and pride in building something up. I was never happier.