Many people in the Cariboo have heard of Yank’s Peak, the 6,200-foot mountain to the north of Keithly Creek.
Some have even hiked, four wheeled, or biked over that area to Barkerville.
Late in 1860, by far the richest gold deposits of the Cariboo Gold Rush were discovered just a few miles further north at Antler Creek.
In 1861 and 1862, thousands of goldseekers travelled by way of Keithly Creek, Snowshoe Creek and up over the Snowshoe Plateau to Antler Creek and its tributaries.
Lying in the shadow of Yank’s Peak is Luce Creek, one of the small streams that feed into Snowshoe Creek.
Both the mountain and the creek are named after William “the Live Yank” Luce.
He was a native of Bangor, Maine, who arrived in the Cariboo in the early 1860s after having participated in the California gold rush.
Early in 1863 he staked a claim on Little Snowshoe Creek, where he prospected for signs of gold, did some placer mining and built a cabin beside the trail to Antler Creek.
It was a fairly good-sized cabin, about 16 by 20 feet.
Many travellers and packers on their way north would stop by this cabin and ask if they could stay the night and the place soon became known as the Live Yank’s Hotel.
Gradually, add-ons and lean-tos were constructed until the whole structure grew to be about 20 by 40 feet in size.
Luce was not a dullard, and he soon realized the potential of his “hotel,” ensuring that he had stabling and feed for the horses, food and supplies for the travellers, and plenty of booze to drink.
The nickname “Live Yank” was given to Luce by a reporter from the Cariboo Sentinel, who more than once wrote about Luce’s progress in mining, as well as his hunting exploits.
On Aug. 9, 1866, he reported “The Live Yankee has every faith in his old quartz lead on Snowshoe and intends to resume work on it as soon as he makes a little money.”
Luce likely made that “little money” catering to the many travellers at his cabin in the shadow of his mountain.
However, Luce could best be described as a reluctant host.
He would far rather be out hunting or looking for gold than serving those who stopped at his place.
At first he charged the standard 50 cents for a place to bed down (on the floor) for the night, and 50 cents for dinner and breakfast.
Then, after he had received the money, he would inform the traveller that he was responsible for cooking his own meals (by all accounts Luce was a terrible cook).
Later, he hired a Chinese helper to do the cooking and to look after the place.
Luce had some interesting hunting experiences. On one occasion, he was after Franklin grouse and was shooting into a flock of them when his shotgun exploded into seven pieces, leaving only the stock in his hands.
Amazingly, he was not injured, but five birds were killed.
He loved to hunt grizzly bears and had several skins to prove his ability.
Often in the evenings, beside the fireplace in the “hotel,” he would sit and spin many an exciting yarn about his bear-hunting escapades.
Back in those early days, the men travelling to and from the goldfields would eat virtually anything.
Wild game and fish were the main source of protein but any kind of meat would do.
On one warm day in September of 1863, a pack train left Antler Creek heading south to Keithly Creek.
A short time into the trip the clouds blew in, the wind grew cold and the temperature dropped dramatically.
Over the Showshoe Plateau a blizzard came on with snow so thick and heavy that progress became impossible.
The packers, concerned about their very survival, shot the fear-crazed mules as they floundered around in the deep drifts.
They managed to descend from the plateau on makeshift snowshoes and they arrived at Luce’s cabin exhausted and half dead.
When the Live Yank heard about the amount of edible meat left up on the plateau he solicited the help of several of his guests, and after many trips with hand sleighs, most of the meat from the 30 mule carcasses was saved to be used at the “hotel” or sold to other miners in the area.
One interesting sporting activity attributed to the Live Yank’s Hotel was louse racing.
Lice and bedbugs were the curse of most roadhouses, but the miners and goldseekers at Luce’s establishment would place lice or bedbugs, whichever were handiest, on plates and bet on which would be the first insect to cross from one side of the plate to the other.
Sometimes the plates would be heated up to speed up the race or to allow a greater number of races to be run in an evening.
Betting was often heavy, alcohol consumption was a major part of the night’s activities, much gold changed hands and the house made money all around.
By the late 1860s new gold fields in the Omineca and Cassiar regions of Northern B.C. drew most of the placer miners away from the Cariboo, but at Snowshoe Creek, Luce remained.
He was still staking claims and making a living well into the 1870s.
New routes to the goldfields were established and the packers and miners no longer used the Yank’s Peak trail, so the “hotel” received very few visitors.
In the late spring of 1881, William Luce died in his cabin.
He was 60 years of age.
He was buried a little ways from his home by his mining friends.
A wooden headboard was ordered for his grave, but it wasn’t delivered until 1939, and therein lies the story for my next column.
The Little Snowshoe Creek Cemetery, where Luce is buried, is still kept up by the Likely Cemetery Society and the Yank’s Peak trail from Keithly Creek to the goldfields and Barkerville is currently being restored as a hiking trail.
Barry Sale is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.
Editor’s note: Barry Sale depended heavily on the writings of Branwen Patenaude for this article.