The Horsefly Hydraulic Mine courtesy of the B.C. Archives collection.

The Horsefly Hydraulic Mine courtesy of the B.C. Archives collection.

On the road to Horsefly

The road out to Horsefly from 150 Mile House has had a rather interesting history.

The road out to Horsefly from 150 Mile House has had a rather interesting history. Prior to 1860, the only way to get to the Horsefly River was to follow one of the fur brigade routes or one of the established First Nation trails.

When gold was discovered on the Horsefly River in 1859, it was a man belonging to the Shuswap First Nations in Kamloops who led the party of gold-seekers to the specific area. At that time,                   there were three well-known HBC Brigade trails in the area, one leading out to 108 Mile past Moffat Lake (the current 108 Road follows part of that old trail), another leading out to Lac La Hache past Rail and Spout Lake, and a third through the Black Creek area past Mahood Lake and eventually leading to Little Fort. When the Cariboo Wagon Road was being built in 1862, it followed a brigade trail up from Clinton to 144 Mile, then it veered off north to 150 Mile.

Once 150 Mile was established several trails were pushed northeast to the goldfields. One of the well-used routes eventually led to the Horsefly River. It began right at the 150 Mile roadhouse, right where the Chemo RV driveway is today, and meandered along, following Valley Creek, Hawkes Creek, and Rose Lake Creek.

It became known as the Valley Road, and the present day road of the same name follows part of that old route.

For the first 10 miles, the road was to the south of the present day Horsefly Road, on the other side of Dugan, Dewar, and the other lakes. At Rose Lake, the road swung to the north, then followed several more creeks until it reached the Horsefly River. It was a very rough road, almost impassable in the spring and in the fall.

There were some huge hills which gave even the most accomplished drivers trouble.

But it was much shorter than the old brigade trails, and with increased use, it became a more viable option, although it was never much more than a series of ruts through the bush.

And so it remained until the 1880s when Thaddeus Harper became involved.

Thaddeus and his brother Jerome came to B.C. from California in 1858, and operated a sawmill in Yale. Jerome was quick to recognize that the horde of gold-seekers would have to be fed, and realized early on that there was much money to be made in beef. By 1862 the brothers were purchasing cattle in Washington and Oregon and driving huge herds into B.C., where they would winter them over in Osooyos, then drive them up to the Cariboo.

In that year they established the Harper Ranch just north of Fort Kamloops, and the following year they founded the huge Gang Ranch on the west side of the Chilcotin River. In addition they owned sawmills (one at Quesnel), flour mills, mining claims, an other business ventures. It was quite an empire.

Both brothers were bachelors and both were widely known and respected in the Cariboo.

However, both tended to drink and party quite freely. They often hosted champagne lunches at Jerome’s home four miles north of Clinton and they were often seen enjoying the company of women of questionable moral standing.

In 1871, Jerome’s health began to deteriorate rapidly.

He had tertiary syphilis, and could no longer manage his business affairs.

In December of that year, he advertised his flour and sawmill holdings for sale, and in March, 1872, he moved back to San Francisco. In February of 1873, he was declared by the courts to be “hopelessly insane” and he drowned in his own bath tub in November of 1874.

His estate valued at $176,000 passed to Thaddeus, but only after the will had been contested in court by other relatives who challenged its validity.

Jerome had always been the leader of the two brothers.

He had initiative, foresight, and business acumen. Without Jerome’s advice, Thaddeus was free to invest in any scheme that took his fancy, and he became the target of some very unscrupulous promoters.

In 1876 Thaddeus organized a beef drive to Washington, then through Idaho to Utah, where the animals were put on trains to San Francisco.

Beef prices were reputed to be higher there. This venture was noteworthy in two respects. It was the longest cattle drive, (1,200 miles) ever made from Canada, and it was a financial disaster.

In 1878 a severe winer hit the Cariboo/Chilcotin, and Thaddeus lost more than 3,000 head of cattle on the Gang Ranch.

By 1879 he was almost bankrupt, and sold his Hat Creek Ranch property to remain solvent.

But back to the Horsefly Road. By 1878, Thaddeus had become convinced that the Blue Lead Mine on the Horsefly River had great potential, even though it had been worked over first by white miners, then for 10 years by the Chinese

It was clearly a claim that had been cleaned out, but Thaddeus was so sure it was another bonanza waiting to happen that by 1884 he had paid for a 10-year lease.

He poured money into purchasing major hydraulic equipment and the digging of ditches to bring water from the Moffat Lake system.

The mine was renamed the Horsefly Hydraulic Mine.

It was now clear that tertiary syphilis had now begun to affect Thaddeus’ reasoning. As bad as that was, he was kicked in the head by a horse, and spent six weeks in hospital in Victoria.

After he recovered, he was never quite right in the head, and he went on a monumental spending spree. He proceeded to lay out more than $40,000 to straighten and improve the Horsefly Road from 150 Mile House to his mine site, mainly to facilitate the hauling of equipment and supplies on a year-round basis. The present day road follows much of that route.

Once the road was completed, he brought in a sawmill, a 40 horsepower engine, piping, water monitors, stamp mill machinery, and all sorts of other mining equipment.

By 1886, he had built a store and was constructing winter quarters for his men and horse teams, and the resulting town became known as Harper’s Camp.

By 1887, the mine was in full operation, but it never gleaned more than a few thousand dollars in gold, and Thaddeus lost so much money that in 1888 he had to sell the Gang Ranch to avoid bankruptcy once again.

Thaddeus eventually went through the entire fortune that he and his brother had worked so hard to build up.

His gold fever had cost him dearly and by 1891 his entire estate went into receivership.

Thaddeus was paid a nominal annual stipend to keep him from starving, and he continued to visit his former holdings as if he still owned them, but he was a broken man, increasingly out of touch with reality.

He retired to Victoria in 1898 and died there on Dec. 10 at age 65, like his brother, completely insane.

Harper’s Camp later had its name changed to Horsefly.

Harper’s single-minded quest for gold and his construction of a road to supply his mine provided the basis for the current Horsefly Road, the road that owes its existence to an STD.