Some of the old outbuildings remain at the original Felker homestead.

Some of the old outbuildings remain at the original Felker homestead.

Smart 55: Gold fever draws Felker family to Cariboo

One of the early pioneer families in the Cariboo was the Felker family.

One of the early pioneer families in the Cariboo was the Felker family.

Henry George Felker, along with his young wife Antoinette, his mother and two brothers left Hanover, Germany to come to America in 1848.

When they arrived in New York, they soon heard about the California gold rush, and Henry and his brothers couldn’t resist.

The family joined a large wagon train heading west, led by the legendary Kir Carson.

After much adversity, including a number of Indian attacks, the wagon train reached St. Louis, Missouri in November of 1849.

By this time, Antoinette was eight months pregnant, so it was decided that she would remain there with her mother-in-law, while the three Felker brothers continued on to California.

Henry did not leave his wife to seek his fortune, as so many others did.

He made several trips back and forth from California to St. Louis to visit, with the inevitable result that his small family grew.

Four years later, in 1853, Antoinette, Mrs. Felker Sr., and now three children — George Henry, John Didderick and Johanna completed their journey to California.

The Felker brothers were hard workers, and did very well in the California gold fields, however, as the gold began to run out and the population dwindled, the family had to consider their options.

In 1858, Henry, who was the prospector in the family, headed north to B.C. to check out rumours of a gold strike there.

He left his family with his brothers, who had become permanent residents in California.

A year later he returned, loaded up his family and all their possessions, and moved north to Yale in the Fraser Canyon.

By 1861, Henry had pre-empted 160 acres on a small creek about a half mile south of Yale. While he sluiced for gold, his wife looked after the children and a house, and his mother operated a small store.

In the spring of 1862, the news of the fabulous gold finds in the Cariboo was just too enticing, so Henry loaded up his family and all their possessions once again and travelled more than 200 miles north.

They found a nice piece of land next to a sizeable creek just north of Lac La Hache and decided to homestead there (we now call this area 127 Mile or the “Buffalo Corner.”)

The family set up a big blue and white tent and lived in it until a log house was built.

Then Henry repurposed the tent into a saloon. It was a very successful business move and the Blue Tent Saloon became a popular stopping place.

Not surprisingly, the Felker homestead soon became known as the Blue Tent Ranch.

The log house was expanded, and it became a busy roadhouse.

By 1864, the Felkers were also operating a dairy where milk, butter and cheese were produced, to be transported by wagon up to the markets in Barkerville and Richfield.

During one of those trips in the summer of 1864, Henry became involved in an altercation with a man in a Richfield saloon.

During the fight, the man, whose last name was Bible, was stabbed. He later died of his injuries and Henry was arrested on a charge of attempted murder.

A year later, in 1865, Henry came to trial in front of a jury and Judge Matthew Begbie.

The jury deliberated for only 10 minutes before finding Henry not guilty.

Begbie was quite angry and he said to Felker: “There can be no moral doubt of your guilt, and every man in the court and on the creek knows it … But, as you have been found by verdict not guilty, you are discharged. I do not wish to see you before me again, therefore, go and sin no more.”

In his private report to the Colonial Secretary about the trial, Begbie wrote: “The jury was a good one, I thought. Many of them I know personally as very trustworthy men, and I left it to them as a perfectly plain case. However, there is an end to it; cows, butter and milk will be plentiful on the Creek, for these are the articles Felker deals in and supplies. He is an energetic man and I think he will keep out of rows in the future.”

But Begbie was wrong. Henry Felker never returned to Williams Creek with his butter, milk, and cheese.

The murder trial had put a terrible strain on the Felker family, and while he was awaiting trial, Henry lost the Blue Tent Ranch to E.T. Dodge & Co., the freighting company which held his mortgage.

So, once again, Henry decided to load up his wife, his mother, and now five children, along with all their belongings.

This time they headed out on a long trip south to Montana, where he had heard of another gold strike.

Somewhere on the trail between Boise and Salt Lake City, a sixth child, another son named William Philip, was born.

Henry and his family spent a couple of years in Montana and Utah, and he actually did quite well at prospecting and finding small gold strikes.

But when the gold petered out and the mini rush was over, this time the family (wife, mother and older children) insisted that they pack up again and move north to the Lac La Hache valley and “home.”

They returned to the Cariboo in the late spring of 1868, and found some land at 144 Mile.

Once they were back, Henry’s wife Antoinette really put her foot down. With six children — two almost grown — and another on the way, she swore she would never move again.

She was determined to give birth to number seven in comparative comfort in her own home, so Henry had better get on with it!

Henry and the boys set about building a large home right next to the Cariboo Wagon Road.

It was an impressive building with 14 rooms, three gabled windows on the upper floor, made of logs, but later covered with lumber siding and painted white.

There, the youngest girl, Emma, was born with old Mrs. Felker in attendance.

It did not take long for the Felker home to become a regular roadhouse stop for both freighters and stagecoaches travelling along the wagon road.

Gradually, several outbuildings were constructed, gardens were planted and a cattle herd was built up.

As the younger Felker children grew up, they attended school at St. Joseph’s Mission.

After the roadhouse was finished and operating successfully, Henry’s wanderlust returned.

He often went to California to visit his two brothers, or he would head off on a mining venture somewhere.

George and John, the two oldest sons, remained at home to work the ranch.

At the roadhouse, Antoinette and her daughters cooked, cleaned and looked after the guests.

Henry’s mother, Mary, died in December of 1885 and Henry died at home in June, 1894.

Both were buried in the St. Joseph’s Mission cemetery and their graves can still be seen there today.

By the mid 1890s all of the children except Will and Emma had left, either married or pre-empted homesteads of their own.

Will (William Philip, born on the trail in 1866) was still a bachelor living at home when he fell ill with cancer in the late 1890s.

He travelled to Victoria for surgery in the winter of 1898, and there he met Fanny Leach, a musically-talented, versatile, but spoiled young woman.

Since the Felker family was also musical, she and Will found some common ground.

They were married on Boxing Day of 1899 and left Victoria soon after for 144 Mile.

Fanny and Antoinette did not get along.

Fanny found her mother-in-law domineering and crude, while Antoinette disapproved of Fanny’s flightiness and Bohemian ways.

Hostilities between the two increased until Fanny and Will moved out to a small house down the road.

Here, Fanny had two sons in quick succession, after which Will’s cancer returned.

He moved back into his mother’s house, where he died in an upstairs bedroom in 1902. Fanny was heartbroken, and so was Antoinette, who never really got over it, and passed away the following year.

Only George, the oldest son, now lived and worked at 144 Mile.

He remained there until his death in 1923. Several years later, George’s son, Harry, while occupying an upstairs bedroom in the old house, claimed to see two ghosts, not just once, but on many occasions.

Sometimes it was Will, his tall, emaciated form wandering along the upstairs corridor and, at other times, it was Antoinette, leaning over to kiss her grandson.

As the years went by, the stories of the Felker ghosts became more numerous and more unbelievable.

Finally, despite the ghosts (or maybe because of them) the Felker family sold the 144 Mile Ranch to Orville Fletcher, a well-known rancher in the area.

Orville’s daughter and her husband still own and operate the 144 Mile today.

On Jan. 22, 1964, a chimney fire began in the old roadhouse.

It quickly spread, and soon engulfed the whole building.

The Felker ghosts and nine years of Cariboo history went up in smoke.

Only the outbuildings and the stories remain.