JIM KEENER: I was born in West Virginia June 10, 1883. I left when I was about nineteen- – have been back only once — but I wouldn’t want to live there.
SID COOPER: Looking back over all the years I’ve known you and visited
with you, and listened to your stories of your young days in West Virginia — ‘coon hunting and ‘possum hunting, and being a hunter myself — it’s always interesting to remember how you used to hunt in those days.
JIM K: Yes, we used to hunt ‘coon and possum and wild turkey. Now those
were very wild! You hardly ever found them when there wasn’t more than one. There’s always that one on guard.
SID C: Do you think they were harder to hunt than big game in this country?
JIM K: Oh, yes!
SID C: Your work at that time was in a sawmill. You spent five years at it, didn’t you.
JIM K: Yes, the first work I ever did for wages – – I was thirteen years old when I started out on my own, making my own way in the world and I’ve been doing it ever since. It was all hardwood then, oak, hickory — mostly making railroad ties, lumber and such.
During that time, I bought a piece of land, but when I looked at it, I didn’t like it, so I traded it for a store, building and all. I ran that for about a year and a half. Then I went to work for B.F. Goodrich in Akron, Ohio. That’s where I lost my hand, in a (rubber) mixing mill. There were rollers, making boot and shoe stock when I ran my hand in.
I worked for them for two years after that. Yes, they changed my job to an easier one after that. They gave me a foreman’s job, in what they called the Sanitary Department, keeping the shop clean. I had fifty-five acres of floor, and the supervision of a hundred and twenty-five men. Besides the floor, we probably had a thousand windows to clean.
SID C: Where did you go from there? Out to Oklahoma where you got mixed up in a land deal. You were a real estate salesman for a while weren’t you?
JIM K: Yes, got a job with the Ben I. Tanner land Company, who surveyed and put on the market the old X I T Ranch in Texas. I was one of their agents. Five of us sold three-and-a-half acres of land. They used to send me back east to bring prospective buyers down there.
SID C: It was there you got that coyote you used to use for a decoy, wasn’t it.
JIM K: Yes, a bunch of us dug a den of coyotes out –the little fellows, I had the only one that ever had got tamed. I had him trained so that I used him for hunting. After training him by shooting cottontails over him, I used him for a decoy for shooting other coyotes. Oh, he worked well! After I got him trained, he was as crazy for killing as any dog you’ve ever seen!
SID C:It seemed to me that he cost you a few dollars one time. Didn’t he get loose and eat up a few chickens? (Jim laughed) Then you came North ….
JIM K: Yes, in Minnesota where I worked in the logging woods for three years — three winters.
SID C:That was after you lost your hand.
JIM K: Oh yes — the winter I was barn boss — about thirty head of horses to look after.
SID C: From there you came up into Canada for the first time, didn’t you? Wasn’t it into Saskatchewan?
JIM K: I came up to Moose Jaw — took in a few days threshing there in the fall — come a snowstorm and I beat it west, over into B.C. Yes, that was in 1911. I went to work on the old Grand Trunk Pacific, scowing on the Fraser River, all summer, in 1912.
SID C: It was always interesting to me to hear how these barges were built and guided down the river from Tete Jaune, carrying material to build the railroad from Jasper to Prince George.
JIM K: Those barges were built out of two-inch lumber. It was cut from spruce lumber cut right at Tete Jaune, the head of navigation for there were falls from there up-river. They were about eight feet-wide and some of them, forty feet long. They’d carry from four to six or eight tons.
SID C: Did you have any motors on the barges?
JIM K: Oh no, no! They just went down with the river. They had a sweep on each end, and I usually took several men on board besides provisions.
SID C: It was pretty dangerous work! There were quite a few drowned in those days, weren’t there?
JIM K: In the Grand Canyon — I really got scared and quit late in the fall. I hit a rock in there once. In 1913, there were seventy-six known drowned there inside of three weeks –and some good river men, too!
SID C: You’d take the men and provisions down the river and then hitch-hike back?
JIM K: Oh yes, I’d get back any way I could.
SID C: How many miles was one of those trips, and what did they pay you, Jim?
JIM K: Well, it would be about eighty miles to the first camp and then they had fifty miles below that, so its impossible to figure. I got Seven Dollars a day and board.
SID C: You kind of like that country and spent two or three years trapping up the MacGregor River, didn’t you?
JIM K: Well, in the fall of 1913 the work was pretty well done on the railroad so me and two other fellows outfitted and went up river by boat to trap. Well, the other two guys got to quarreling and rowing, so we didn’t stay too long — got in a little trapping and came back out. I’ll never go out with three men in a crew again. Two can get along but three won’t!
SID C: With one arm!
JIM K: Yah, that’s the job I got. It was in Dad Carey’s camp. Dad called me into the office one night. “I hear you can trap,” he says. “Yeah, a little,” I says.
“Well,” says dad, we’re out of meat here and we can’t get it. Snow’s getting about six feet deep up in the pass”.
“So he wanted to know if I could trap rabbits, and he told me to go and try it. That was to feed sixty-five men for six weeks!”
SID C: You trapped the rabbtrs but who skinned ‘em, Jim?
JIM K: Three men. We had a good cook. His name was Harry… something or other. His home was in Calgary. That’s all I can remember. He was a good cook! He’d have rabbit stewed, rabbit fried — rabbit this, rabbit that. So we had rabbit for six weeks before we could get through with the team. See, they couldn’t get a road through —no bul dozer then. Yeah, we had rabbit!
SID C: Jim, tell us about the time the Game Warden came in and got a piece of meat to take out to Prince George for evidence. That always kind of tickled me.
JIM K:Well,yes. There was a young game warden came up from the Fraser, and of course, naturally we were using moose meat — this was on Burns and Jordan’s work. They had fifty miles of work there. The main guy — they called him Black Jack McDonald, the superintendent. Well , the game warden finds some moose meat and cuts some out, and “pinched” old Black Jack. At that time he had to take him out to Kamloops for trial. Along the way someplace, somebody switched meat! When they got to Kamloops and brought out this meat for evidence, why, it had P. Burns’ (Pat Burns) brand on it. (General laughter).
SID C: It would be a long walk back to get another five pounds of meat, wouldn’t it?
JIM K: We never saw that game warden any more!
SID C: The winter after that you went back up the McGregor trapping again.
JIM K:Yes, in 1913 and 1914 I trapped up there.
SID C: There was a story about a man on the next trapline. You went over there one time, and found that he’d had an encounter with a grizzly.
JIM K: That was old Jim Calhoun. He’d killed a moose and he’d left it in his cabin, quite near to mine. He’d go over there and cut a piece off and pack it in. One time he went over and found a grizzly had been there, so he fixed up what was left of it, and started to get a gun to kill the bear before he went off home to his main cabin. Well, before he got his gun set, he heard something and looked up. Here the old bear was coming. He had a 351 automatic and ten shells in the magazine, so he started shooting. The last shot had to be the one to kill the bear because its neck was broken. I helped him skin the bear. He hit it once in the foot and another eight shots — and the bear kept coming. I figured it was the last shot — because when its neck was broken, that bear had to drop. It was a good sized bear, and there were ten holes in him.
SID C: We’ve talked a lot of hunting, Jim. You’ve said you had very little trouble with wild game. But you had a moose once — you’re coming up to ninety, so you must have had nearly eighty years of hunting, eh?
JIM K: Yes, in that time I had that one moose. I didn’t want to kill him but I figured I’d better do it to save myself. I ran into a big grizzly once up the river near where the big dam is at a place called Moose Call Lake. I had a little trouble with him. Those were the only two animals I ever came across that gave any sign of trouble.
SID C: You must have spent many nights with nothing but a Mackinaw coat, backed up to a spruce tree with just a fire in front, haven’t you?
JIM K: Oh yes(casually) I’ve slept many and many a night up to 40 below zero under a spruce tree.
SID C: I was raised out here at Farmington, not too far from where Jim was at Rolla. I wasn’t very big when I started going out hunting with Jim. I’ve always been interested in hunting, and I’ve noticed the peculiarities of different people. Jim never takes a lunch along — he never eats dinner and I’ve never known him to take a drink of water during the day. He eats breakfast, and never another thing until night.
LEE PHILLIPS: Don’t you ever make tea at dinnertime?
JIM K:Nope. If it’s wintertime and cold at all, you’ve got to build a fire or have a cold lunch. I’d rather not have any — you haven’t got the time! Eat twice a day.
SID C: And beside not carrying a lunch, he just backs up to a tree. He doesn’t carry many blankets! Backing up on the story a little … you’ve told me that when the First World War broke out, you were up the McGregor camping, and you never knew until you came out in the spring.
JIM K: Yes. You see, the Grand Trunk Pacific work was practically all done. Around Prince George there was an awful lot of idle men. Bums and everything else, so another fellow from Alabama and I decided we’d go prospecting a little, and maybe trap. We left there in July, before the war broke out. The first I knew of the war was on the 6th of May, next. When we were coming out we ran across a band of Indians from Prince George, going out hunting. One of them says ‘Heap big fight!’ I says, ‘Who fight?’
‘Oh, I dunno. White man say maybe German, maybe — I don’t know. Sink `em lot of steamboat. Lots of men go. Billy Cook — him go. Dan Gregor, he go. Lot’s of men go.’
So I knew there’s something on, but that’s all I could get out of them until I got down to Giscome Portage. The war’d been on all winter and I knew nothing about it.
SID C: With the communications we have today, it seems odd that anybody could live like that. Jim, there, I understand, you built yourself a long river boat and took off for the Peace River country.
JIM K: Yes, a carpenter and I built it in Prince George. We had to go up the Fraser River about forty miles up to Giscome Portage, where I got Huble to haul my stuff over to Summit Lake, and then I came down the Crooked River, then down the Parsnip and down the Peace to Hudson’s Hope. Billy Hill was hauling people across the Portage. I came down to Fort St. John and spent a few days looking the country over. It was all new.
SID C: How’d you come across to Dawson Creek?
JIM K: Well I had my boat, so I came down to what you’d call Rolla Landing, tied up my boat and walked in. That was in May, 1915.
SID C: Your original homestead was out about four miles on what’s now the Alaska Highway, about where Jorgenson’s dairy is now.
JIM K: There was a big Indian village down in the flat.
SID C: Where Henry McQueen later lived, and now Gary Moore.
JIM K: Yes, they were there. My cabin was on the top of the hill. I’d done ten acres of breaking besides building the cabin. But the Indians could see my cabin. Every time I built a fire, three or four of them would come up and sit down in front of the door. Well, what were you going to do? You’ve either got to give them something to eat, or you’ve got enemies. At that time, food had to be freighted in, in the winter time. It was high priced! I couldn’t keep grub, so I just threw that homestead up and went further North into the Rolla district and refiled.
SID C: When you got up to Rolla, you started breaking land and getting a few cattle. And you did a lot of bear hunting, didn’t you? You’d trap all winter, and bear hunt in the spring.
JIM K: Yes, In 1917 it was legal to trap bear. Frank Golata and I trapped right from my cabin. We got nineteen bear in 1917. Frank rustled six traps, and I rustled an old pack horse. We’d set all the traps on the Monday. Tuesday we stayed home. Wednesday we’d go along, and we have five bears.
SID C: Bear were worth what? Twenty dollars or twenty-five a piece?
JIM K: No, I think about seventeen or eighteen dollars.
SID C: That was a lot of money in those days, wasn’t it. Didn’t you also spend one spring shooting bear on the Peace with Boney Forbes, from your boat?
JIM K: That was 1916. Between Rolla Landing and Dunvegan, we got nineteen bear. I got ten and he got nine. We’d spot `em from the river with field glasses and then go up and get `em. It isn’t everybody that can go up that hill and get every bear, but we got nineteen in four days.
SID C: What did you use those bear hides for in those days?
JIM K: I don’t know …
LEE P.: Rugs for buggies.
JIM K: I don’t know what our hides were used for. Hats for the Royal Guards, I guess. Boney and I sold ours to a New York buyer down in Peace River Town.
SID C: Then you went into cattle on the homestead.
JIM K: Yes, I never did go in much for grain farming. I’d raise my feed and stuff like that, but .. Oh- I had about forty-five–fifty head a time or two. I had somebody on the homestead because I had great luck in having somebody come along and stay over winter while I went trapping. For instance, old Walter Spinks and old Druggis. He was with me for just about nine years.
SID C: Jim used to have a big log house out there and, as I recall it, he had all. You could go out there any Sunday — and he had a great big wooden tables and ten — fifteen — chairs. You were lucky if you had one to sit on. You’d sit on a box, because Sundays the house was full of people.
JIM K: Yes, I used to raise houseplants. In that house, I never had anything freeze.
SID C: I don’t think he ever owned a lock for the door, either. A piece of cardboard was nailed on the door, that I can vividly remember. What did it say on that cardboard, Jim?
JIM K: Walk in. Make yourself at home, I’ll be back sometime.
SID C: A lot of people did that! Jim, you’d better tell us about some of the gardens you grew out there. Everybody marvelled at them. The only ones I ever saw that equalled them were down on the river at Dunvegan. You’d never think that anybody on this upper land could grow gardens like that! Jim, I think you could grow practically anything, and I don’t think you used even half of it. You used to spend most of your time giving it to your neighbours.
JIM K: I used to have an acre of garden each year, half in potatoes and the rest in small stuff. I used to put in four rows of carrots, sixteen rods long, but maybe I’d use one pailful for myself. The rest I’d give to my neighbors. A lot of people from Dawson Creek used to come to get vegetable.
SID C:I always marvelled at how you could grow so many things. We haven’t so many frost-free days here.
LEE P: Did you grow corn?
JIM K: Yes, I’ve grown corn, tomatoes, but the tomatoes you couldn’t depend on. But I’ve raised `em. One thing I had good luck with was squash — the Hubbard squash.
LEE P: Vegetable marrow?
JIM K: Oh, them! They’d grow on their own. But I always had those four rows of carrots sixteen rods long.
LEE P: That’s a lot of hoeing!
JIM K: Oh, not so much. I didn’t use the hoe much. I had a little outfit of my own, a kind of cultivator.
SID C: Jim always planted everything so he could hook a horse up. He had a real large root cellar, which was always full of vegetables. He had a blacksmith shop out there. People would wonder, when he had only one hand, how he managed, but there was very little that people could do with two hands that Jim couldn’t do with one. Most of his –I don’t know what you call `em — those things you put on your arm there?
JIM K: I make my own up. I never can find anything of these artificial things that I can use. I make whatever I want to work with. Like I say, I learned to blacksmith on the Fraser River as a helper. I’ve shod lots of farmers’ horses for them.
SID C: With one hand –shoeing horses! I always used to wonder about Jim’s hunting, until I’d been out with him a few times. Then, I found that with that one hand he could get shots away faster than I could. He has a 30.06 rifle with a lever action. He holds the gun barrel with his stub hand which he puts over the top, and he pumps with the other hand.
LEE P: Are you left-handed?
JIM K: I have to be now!
SID C: And when it comes to skinning game–there’s no problem either. He straps a leather shield over his arm and sticks a hunting knife in, tightens a set-screw. He never has to worry about whether it’s cold or not. With the knife in there it never slips. He never has any problems … the same way with skinning fur out. He can do all that!
LEE P: Did you use a hook when you drove horses? J
JIM K:No, I tried a hook once, but they’re a nuisance to me.
SID C:I worked with Jim a lot — stooking, chopping wood in the bush.
On his axe he has a little strap he puts around the handle and away he goes! It may be a little inconvenient for him, but he’s able to do all those things!
LEE P: You have to be inventive, that’s all.
JIM K: No, if a fellow gets crippled up a little, that’s no use to lay down and quit, and be at the mercy of the public.
SID C: After you sold your farm, Jim, you went back to the States for a while.
JIM K: Yeah, — back to West Virginia. I’ve got three nieces living in Washington, D.C. I put in a couple of weeks there –had a pretty good time. I wouldn’t want to live there again –you can’t make a living on a farm there. It’s just a place to stay, that’s all. It was ten years ago this fall.
SID C: Then you bought this house trailer that you use for headquarters, out beyond Chetwynd, and you’ve been trapping up the Pine River ever since.
JIM K: Yes, but I hardly ever use it. I have three cabins up in the mountains. I think I’ll quit trapping this spring. Sixty-one years — I think that’s enough. When I get my beaver this spring, I’ll be ninety, so what’s the use?
SID K: I’ve been out to your place to see your fur. You have three nice bunches. I’ve seen you have thirty-five marten, ten or twelve beaver, three or four fisher.
JIM K: I don’t just remember what I got last year.
SID C: How far is it between your cabins, Jim?
JIM K: It average six miles.
LEE P: You do that on snowshoes?
JIM K:All on snowshoes. The snow right now is about three feet deep out there.
SID C: You think you’re going to pack it up this year?
JIM K: I think I’ll call it off.
SID C: What are your plans for the future?
JIM K: I don’t know, Sid. No use hanging around here. I’ll take a trip somewhere. I did a couple of years prospecting up at the head of the Pine River — I wouldn’t advise anybody to do that. You just find enough to keep you wanting to look more. If you want to prospect, the best place to go is Barkerville, or on the Quesnel River. I may go down there. I don’t know what to do.
SID C: You found gold around Quesnel, haven’t you?
JIM K: –Oh, yes, but it’s not at Quesnel. There’s a place in there it would pay to work, but it isn’t a one-man job. It’s not far from Wells.
SID C: With the price of gold going up from $35 an ounce to about $90, (It went much higher!), you wouldn’t need to get much to make pretty good wages.
JIM K: Well, I’ll tell you, Sid. When you get to be ninety years old, and have to start packing six miles into the mountains, you look at it twice. And to find somebody else to go in there with you that’s any good — they’re hard to find.
SID C: Have you given up your idea of going up to the Yukon?
JIM K: I’d like to go up there this summer with somebody that’s got a car. I can’t drive — have no license, you see. I’d like to spend a little time up there — look it over. I’ve never been further than Fort Nelson yet. Then I’d like to come back down the Coast to Prince Rupert, and go down by boat. I’d like to make that trip, if I could find someone to go along.
SID C: Well, I guess that’s what keeps life interesting — always looking to greener pastures.”
END OF INTERVIEW
[NOTE: Jim did not “pack it up” in 1974. He spent the winter trapping as usual. It was a bitter winter, with exceptionally deep snow. Jim froze his hand and had to spend some time in Dawson Creek — “such a bore!” But he was back trapping his beaver in the spring. Jim had joined the Masonic Order previously. On the occasion of his ninety-first birthday, he is being honored by the Order with a trip to the Grand Lodge. Ten years from now , he will likely be back!]