Southgate River


The Southgate River: notes from the Glacier Museum
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As we talked about the vagaries of the coastal inlets, Bella pinned up on the snowy expanse of her studio wall a photograph she’d made of her father at Loughborough Inlet in his stiff, outsized raingear. He was replicating the pose of a man demonstrating the walk of a Sasquatch and the stance was amusingly consistent with purported Big Foot images in which it is inevitably shown, head turned toward the camera, in the extended stride she’d captured.
Bella’s photo gently played with questioning belief in the Sasquatch and it was so successful an image that it suggested the Beast, that constructed  “other” is just a man in Gor-Tex or a molting gorilla suit, the willing mind supplying the transformation.
Description: Description: Arabella SasquatchShe pulled out a book on Sasquatch she’d found by John Green.[i] Figure #1 was a photograph of a man demonstrating how he had climbed, with some difficulty, over a wire fence he’d seen a giant Sasquatch step easily over. The re-enactor’s left leg and right arm were extended gracefully into a classical ballet position almost as if he sought to conflate the clothing and gestures of ordinary life with high art signifiers to authenticate his statement. However, his demonstrated belief in the existence of the Big Foot was one I felt neither contained nor needed verification since it was clearly held with complete conviction despite, as is generally the case, a lack of readable photographs or remains. As with stories of alien abduction, his Sasquatch reenactment extended previous riffs on a very limited, and remarkably similar, set of factoids.
            As we studied the Sasquatch re-enactor I began to tell Bella about Jack. The arc my mind leapt from the balletic Sasquatch impersonator to Bute gold prospector Jack Mould might seem to be an unlikely one but, Jack and his mythic gold mine had resided across Waddington Harbour at the mouth of Bute Inlet’s third main watercourse.
When we began to cruise up the long isolated inlets poking into the mainland of B.C. in the 1990s and went up Bute Inlet to explore the wild Homathko River Valley we always cruised by the Southgate. Not a river to be trifled with, the Southgate’s character is, on the surface, more placid than the Homathko’s, its surrounding valley more accommodating. If entrepreneur Alfred Waddington had sent Robert Homfray to survey up that river for his road to the interior gold fields in 1861 instead of up the Homathko Valley, there might have been a small chance of success. [ii] However, before I learned the story of Waddington’s determination to build a road through a canyon where few footholds existed, and of the ensuing threat to re-infect the smallpox devastated Chilcotin tribe which instigated the massacre of his road crew, I knew the Southgate River as the seasonal destination of the motor vessel Argonaut. I dreamed of joining the passengers ferried into the river’s mouth, spending the night aboard the anchored boat overnight and flown to the B.C. interior over a route the road might have taken along the Homalco people’s grease trail. It wasn’t until twenty-five years later, flying from the B.C. interior to Vancouver, as the plane crossed over vast peaks and glaciers; I recognized Mount Waddington’s spire and the Tiedemann Glacier licking toward the Homathko River. As the plane flew across Waddington Harbour and up the Southgate, I imagined the lower part of the Homalco route hidden under the tree canopy.
By the late 1990s a barge topped by a cockeyed grey building was hauled onto the Southgate mud flats. When we crossed the inlet and headed up the Homathko we’d pass the Xwemalhlwu Reserve and the forested 1864 town site laid out by the Royal Engineers and dock at the Homathko Logging Camp on the site of Waddington’s road-head. The Southgate barge had seemed deserted but, Chuck Burchill, who’d taken over Homathko Camp, assured us it was occupied by one Jack Mould. Relations between the two men were tense, as Chuck had found Jack dynamiting the Homalco Band’s burial area at Potato Point southeast of Xwemalhlwu and called the RCMP. Jack told everyone Chuck was poisoning him.
The site of Jack’s barge seems to be the Homalco village Miimaya and also of a brief 1890s Bute settlement. In 1864, after the failure of his road scheme up the Homathko Valley, Alfred Waddington presented the Canadian government with plans for a rail route across Canada that would terminate in Bute Inlet. Homesteaders, seduced by a rosy-toned government settlement pamphlet and a desire to own profitable railhead locations, began farming up the Southgate Valley. Briefly there was a cannery and a fur trader. The Homalco congregated in stilt-houses at Xwemalhlwu and at Pi’7pknech Village on the Orford River.
After one Bute expedition, I found a book whose skull adorned cover proclaimed: Jack Mould and the Curse of Gold. Ghost written by Elizabeth Hawkins,[iii] it told of Jack’s father Charlie’s conviction that the gold mine that supplied a native man, Slumach, with gold he was said to spend in New Westminster in the 1890s, was located in Bute Inlet and not the several other locations proposed. Over the years the cockeyed logic of Jack’s narrative, tales told by Chuck, Jack’s lawyer and a variety of local raconteurs regarding the misadventures and misdemeanors of the Moulds, pere et fils, built up a dossier about Jack, gold and dynamite. Recently Captain Mike Moore of the Misty Isles mentioned a painting I tracked down in a composting cabin up the Southgate. If you knew Jack Mould’s pipe dreams about Slumach’s lost gold mine being in Bute the painting was a hoot. (Oil Painting on canvas on wall, approx. 4x7 feet, Southgate River, 2011 J.W. photo)
Charlie Mould, photographed with a string of martin pelts in 1926 by legendary Bute trapper August Schnarr, repeatedly told tales of how a native man had tracked him for his large gold nugget, or (versions vary) Charlie tracked the native man for his nugget and he may, or may not, have killed this man. The thing about oral history, as a Native chief once told me, is that you can remember differently.
When son Jack was sixteen, Charlie took him up Bute to see a wood framed “Spanish Cave,” hewn out to enlarge its natural size, a wooden door carved with what he said were “Spanish helmets” and a hide-lined bucket of the kind used for smelting. There were strange markings on a tree. Charlie felt all this indicated the location of Slumach’s mine and Spanish mining and smelting. Coastal first nations encased cadavers in boxes that were sometimes engraved and can occasionally still be found in trees, caves or crevices. Carved planks were erected to mark territory and gravesites and faces and signs occasionally carved into live trees. Any worked wooden surface could be of native origin but, as is usual in treasure stories, all this provocative evidence was buried, according to Jack, in the construction of a Southgate logging road. However, Jack believed his father’s claims that gold had been found in Bute prior to the 1792 mapping of the inlet by Vancouver’s survey. He insisted an earlier flotilla in Bute had mined and smelted gold and the Spanish commanders, somehow informed of the eminent arrival of British ships, scuttled a gold-loaded galleon in the mud of Waddington Harbour for future reference. A date was not forthcoming. Maps that situated a Galleon Creek north of Southgate Peak that ran west to join the Teaquahan River may have influenced the Mould’s theories and two of Jack’s “Slumach’s Mine” claims lie directly south of that creek. In later attempts to elicit prospecting funds, Jack insisted he had an underwater video of the galleon but his lawyer was heard to complain: “Jack says the video is on its way but it never arrives.” An underwater archeologist consulted about the possibilities of a sunken Spanish Galleon in Bute said: “We get a couple of those stories a year.” He did allow that a wooden ship submerged in Bute’s very deep silt deposits might last indefinitely.[iv]
Jack maintained the “Spanish” material Charlie found was proof of their mining activity and that Spanish mining gave credence to the Bute location of “Slumach’s Mine.” Well – maybe. The fact that Jack could never relocate the cave proved a slight stumbling block when soliciting investment and in truth the foundation of his whole edifice rested on tales of the Katzie/Nanaimo man Slumach (tombstone section of painting, second from the left) who appeared in New Westminster during the 1880s with a plentiful supply of gold. He lived it up in bars and cathouses until his funds were gone, headed out to the bush with a native girl, and reappeared with more gold the next year. Although it is generally thought his gold vein was in the Pitt River area, the Moulds remained convinced it was in Bute.
Description: Description: IMG_6371Now Slumach was no sweetheart. The girls he took away are said to have never returned and court records show that at 8 am, January 16th, 1891, Slumach was hanged at the Royal City Jail for the murder of the “half-breed Louis Bee.” On the scaffold, before he died, the eighty-year old Slumach is said to have called out “Nika memloose, mine memloose”, cursing anyone who dared to search for his gold. His body was claimed by his nephew the respected Katzi shaman Simon Pierre and buried within the old jail. 
Slumach’s curse that once he was dead the mine was to be dead is said in Jack’s book to have claimed its first victim after San Francisco miner John Jackson (headstone #3 from the painting’s left) was reported to have found the gold. Jackson returned to civilization and, on May 28, 1924, he wrote to a friend that his cache of gold was buried under a tent-shaped rock facing a creek that came straight out of a mountain, bubbled in places over bedrock bright yellow with gold and disappeared. This site, he wrote, could be found by lining up three specific peaks. He died three years later. In 1931 Volcanic Brown (headstone #4) a tough prospector from the Kooteneys, acquired a copy of Jackson’s letter. After reaching the Pitt River area and beyond, Brown never reappeared from his last trip once snow came. His body was never found, but eleven ounces of pure gold was discovered in a glass jar in his last camp.
Jack claimed that during a helicopter reconnaissance he’d found all these clues as well as rock shelters and Spanish remains near archeological sites EeSf3 and EeSf4. On his claims map, now attached to these archeological site reports in the government files, two mines, labeled “Jackson’s Mines” are indicated north and south of Southgate Peak near the burials and four “Slumach’s Mines” marked around Southgate Peak. The archeology reports indicate cave finds of male and female human remains, box fragments and scraps of matting consistent with native burials. Jack conflated useful elements of this information to raise more funds and it was in the process of installing a landing stage for renewed surveying that Mould and his nephew  (possibly “Simon,” gravestone on left of the painting? Possibly the painter?) claimed they’d found the Spanish galleon. He may have used the data to justify his unconscionable dynamiting of the Potato Point burial site: “For the gold,” said Jack, when confronted by the RCMP.
Around the time the painting may have been made, the Homalco Band planned to map the grease trail up the Pigeon Valley to the interior. “We avoid interaction with the unpredictable Mr. Mould if possible,” said a band representative.
All inlet dwelling native groups with eulachon runs made the valued “grease” or oil from the fish and most had routes inland to trade it for materials they lacked. One possible trail led to the interior Chilco Lake via Deschamps Creek, the only route from the Southgate Valley skirting a glacier. A Chilcotin name, Anaqox tsen Gwa iadten describes a spot near where the headwaters of Deschamps Creek flow into Franklin Arm at the southern end of Chilco Lake. It is said to translate as “trail towards Bute Inlet. If there is any possibilitySlumach came up the Fraser River from New Westminster, and if he came down into Bute for his gold, this could have been his route. It seems to have been the route down which the 1890s settlers tried to bring horses and August Schnarr’s followed his trap line up from tidewater to Chilco Lake during the 1920s and 30s.
            A timeline near the cabin painting details when Jack was at work on Slumach Jackson Mines Ltd., and may indicate he moved to the barge by the early 1990s. By that time he had attained, both in his own mind, and in those of some observers, legendary status. In and out of jail for things that were always someone else’s fault, his activities were the focus of a number of local tales. Jack, it’s said, on a trip to Vancouver, was sitting in a bar with a pal drinking beer. A third man entered and shot Jack’s pal. The pal gasped: ‘Jack, I think I’m dying!’ Jack looked him over, remarked: “I believe you are,” downed the rest of his beer and left. Jack was, after all, a busy mining entrepreneur devoting every hour and dollar to planting rumors, digging up funding and staking gold claims. Fund raising was a permanent problem but minute amounts of gold flake, the promised underwater video, the misplaced Spanish cave and photographs of the triangle shaped rock in situ and on video were all strewn in front of enough prospective investors who could not resist a gamble and Jack could proceed. However, August Schnarr guided a survey party up behind the glacier at Mt. Superb, north of Mt. Sir Francis Drake. In a tape he made in the 80s he says a nine-foot cairn was built there that had his and other names on it. Jack’s photo of the “tent shaped rock” atop a cairn facing down inlet fits Schnarr’s location.[v]
            Jack Mould and the Curse of Gold is perhaps the most tangible result of all Charlie and Jack’s efforts. It contains many photos purporting to be this, and perhaps that in ways reminiscent of the man showing how an absent Sasquatch may have climbed over a fence. Jack’s mention of his heavy use of dynamite in and around his claims in the book attracted my attention when I was compiling Dynamite Stories about its varied use in the development of the coastal economy, but character revealing Mould stories continued to pop up unexpectedly. One time we stayed at Homathko Camp, we met two hikers who’d set off 6 days before on a walk into the interior along the rumored grease trail. They’d worked their way up the Southgate River for a couple of days but found themselves scaling the river walls to proceed. There was almost no dry place to camp and when supplies and enthusiasm ran short they turned back. Nearing the inlet, thinking to take a shortcut toward Homathko Camp, they walked across the tidal flats below Mould’s barge. Jack emerged; shotgun cocked, and demanded they get off his property. After he offered to set an unseen dog on them, they hastened their steps camp-ward. Chuck laughed and laughed but confirmed that this was Jack’s normal behavior should anyone seek to disturb him.
After I included a censorious note about Jack’s free use of explosives at Potato Point in Dynamite Stories, Jack’s dossier dropped into deep storage, but a writer’s satirical disapprobation can bite back. A few years ago I was standing on the Refuge Cove Store porch on West Redonda Island idly watching a floatplane dock. Out hopped the pilot, two shirtless young toughs sucking on their beers and a burly, bearded older man in scruffy shorts leading some species of frou-frou canine, perhaps a Peakapoo, on a pink leash. They strolled up the dock to the store and the bearded man disappeared into the back. I joined Lucy who was behind the till that day as he reappeared brandishing a copy of Jack Mould and the Curse of Gold.
            “They’ve got my book,” he crowed! “The one I wrote!” He waved the paperback energetically in front of the pilot: “It’s my book, the one I told you about. Got to buy a copy.”
“ Surely you must get them from the publisher,” the pilot said.
Jack turned on him: “That bastard! No, gotta get this for a friend.”
I sidled up to Lucy and whispered, “Don’t say my name!” Of course, I wanted to talk to what was clearly the legendary Jack Mould and I most emphatically did not want to be known as the person who had written about him in a critical way. He was a man widely rumored to sue or shoot at those who crossed him although I did not think the attendant dog was the kind of danger he’d indicated to the hikers it could be.  
“So where you off to?” I offered as an opener.
“Ah! Nowhere - just taking the boys out,” said Jack who, at the end of the pink leash, looked rather like an untidy teddy bear. “They’ve been working hard surveying for me up Bute. Thought I’d come for the ride.”
With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I asked: “What’s your book about?”
“Yah! I wrote that, all about my search for gold. Don’t know - I just have to find it. I wanted the gold all my life and I want the glory.”
After the years of absorbing stories about Jack, now, looking at his aging face, the slumped belly, the Peakapoo for heavens sake! I realized I really knew nothing about him I’d not heard from others. How a youthful Charlie had first come to the back of beyond and heard of Slumach’s mine and whom Jack’s mother had been was never mentioned. Sometimes, as in my encounter with Jack, I come smack up against something that skews the direction of a story; an accepted narrative swerves and begs for pursuit.
Three weeks after I met Jack, Lucy called my attention to an item in the Campbell River paper. About a week after Jack had been at Refuge, a member of a hiking party drowned in the Southgate River and a search party arrived in Bute to recover the body. A Jack Mould was helpful. The hiker’s body was retrieved from the water and removed. A week later a survey crew flew in and found Jack’s truck by the river. Its doors were open, a large number of water containers lay around, a pair of shoes lay neatly at water’s edge and the tracks of a large creature crossed a nearby sandbar. The Peakapoo, curled up inside the cab was pretty happy to see anyone. Jack was nowhere to be found.
Description: Description: Description: IMG_6375Two weeks later the same paper reported that J&S Kulta Mining of Nanaimo had applied for a permit to explore for gold. President Sulo Poystila said, “Senior members of the company have been prospecting in the area for 50 years.” He requested permission to put exploration teams in Bute at an existing base camp located at the head of the inlet across Waddington Harbour from Hamilton Point. That is the location of Jack’s barge.
What was going on? Hikers come in and one drowns. Everyone swings into action and rescues the body. Jack disappears. The police question Chuck and demand a list of loggers and visitors at Homathko Camp during the relevant time frame. The Homalco complain they have not been consulted, the fishing lodges deride the effect of mining operations on salmon spawning, but finding Jack’s body did not seem to be anybody’s top priority.  [vi]  Description: Description: Description: Macintosh HD:Users:judithwilliams:Desktop:DSCF1357.JPG
Sign at Jack’s Barge, Southgate River, 2011, J.W. photo.


[i] BIGFOOT: On the track of the Sasquatch, John Green, Ballantine/Nonfiction
[ii] High Slack: Waddington’s Gold Road and the Bute Inlet Massacre of 1864. Judith M. Williams, New Star Books, 1995.
[iii] Jack Mould and the Curse of Gold, E. Hawkins, Hancock House, 1993.
[iv] To aid in endless speculation about early coastal exploration see The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577, S. Bawlf, Douglas and McIntyre and 2013 discovery in Victoria of 1500s British coin.
[v] Schnarr tapes, Campbell River Museum.
[vi] City of Vancouver Archives –Film –Yaletown: Lost Mine,” Jack Mould video.