Doris Lee had been married less than two years when she moved from northern California with her husband, John, to Big Lake.
It was February, 1951, an odd time of year to start ranching in the Cariboo. To top it off, Doris was a city girl from Redding, and hardly prepared for such a radical change of lifestyle.
John was several years older than she, and had grown up on a ranch. Doris was a school teacher with only a couple years of teaching under her belt. She had different dreams and ambitions than heading to the wilds of British Columbia so far from family and friends. But it was the woman’s prerogative in those days to go where her husband could support his family, and she did.
In fairness, John was a kind and gentle man, and allowed his wife to make the difficult choices to join him as a rancher’s wife so far away from home.
It took Doris several years to stop being homesick and to learn the skills of backwoods living.
She persevered and drew on her strength of character learning to pull calves, work in the hay fields, trap, hunt, herd their big flocks of sheep into the alpine of Yank’s Peak north of Likely, and raise their two sons, Michael and Gary. Sixty years later she sat down to write her story.
Doris’s memoir, Ever-Changing Sky: From Schoolteacher to Cariboo Rancher, takes the reader by the hand on an intriguing journey into the world she discovered moving north to the Cariboo.
Through the eyes of a newcomer, you are introduced to the wiles of ranching, the warm friendliness of country neighbours, the challenges of making do without all the modern conveniences, putting food by for the winter, the births and the raising of her two boys, trapping, hunting, guiding, breeding and training Kelpie stock dogs, and some hair-raising adventures.
Doris had been in the country 10 years and her children were no longer babies when she came to the realization she was no longer a dude. “Despite the many tears and exciting and sometimes horrendous experiences, I had accomplished the feat of becoming a rancher’s wife,” she writes.
She was now considered a good hunter and an excellent shot. “I was also a rugged individual who could strap on a backpack and compete with the best. Guiding was something I could do well. I cooked, took out extra hunters, skinned and cared for their meat, wrangled horses, and did whatever else needed to be done.”
Doris tells of one discovery in August, 1963, while exploring with her kids at their Yank’s Peak sheep camp. Following some blazes they came upon a towering grave marker five feet tall, 14 inches wide, and two-and-a-half inches thick. It was inscribed, “Sacred to the memory of William Luce – Native of Maine, USA, Died 28 May, 1881, Aged 60 years.”
Nearly 30 years later, Doris took historian, Dave Falconer to the site and the grave marker was still there unchanged except for a lengthwise crack.
They took the headboard to the Cedar Creek Museum in Likely and left a replica in its place.
Doris conveys the competency and sensitivity of shooting two caribou at the sheep camp.
“We field dressed these caribou, then skinned and hung the meat back at camp,” she writes. “Neither John nor I enjoyed killing them. I had lived with them all summer and it felt like killing a friend. We vowed never to shoot another caribou and we didn’t.”
This week, Doris’s memoir, Ever-Changing Sky: From Schoolteacher to Cariboo Rancher, published by Caitlin Press, will be launched at several locations. There will be an informal book signing at the Seniors Activity Centre in Williams Lake on Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and a more formal launch at the Williams Lake Library on Friday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, Doris will have a table at the Cowboy Christmas in the Gibraltar Room, and on Saturday, Nov. 24 she will be at the Made In The Cariboo Craft Fair at the Tourism Discovery Centre.