Friday, September 19, 2008

"Halfway to the Goldfields: A History of Lillooet" by Lorraine Harris

PICTURED: Jessica wearing her Great-Great Gramma Kane's wedding dress-1996-handmade in 1882

My family's story was documented in the book "Halfway to the Goldfields: A History of Lillooet" by Lorraine Harris
(NOTE: I am Jessie's mom Glendene Grant, William Herbert Kane is my grandfather, my mother Verona Susan Kane-Grant's beloved father.)

PAGES 56 to 60 - The Kanes of the "Box K"

(pg 56) Captain James Kane was an Irishman who sailed around the Horn en route to the new Colony of British Columbia, landing in New Westminster in 1860. He arrived in a ship of which he was half owner, having heard about the rich goldfields in the Colony and the great need for shipping and transportation. Captain Kane's enquiries into the possibilities of frighting up the river resulted in his selling his share of the large vessel and buying a smaller one, the Scuddy. This he used to move freight upriver from New Westminster to Yale, which was then the end of water transportation. His business was brisk, as the miners upriver needed supplies and had gold to be transported back.

Yale was a district seat of government and a bustling town filled with miners, drifters, gamblers, and opportunists; it had twelve saloons and one magistrate. It was here that Captain Kane met Christine, a beautiful Indian girl, whose family lived near Yale, and they were married in 1861. On 19 September 1863, a son, Billy, was born.

James Kane could not long ignore the excitement of the gold rush, and when Billy was two years old, his father went north to make his fortune. He never returned, and word sifted through to Christine that he had made a rich strike and was murdered for his new-found wealth. This news was never substantiated, and his grieving wife waited three years for him to return. In 1868, when Billy was five years old, Christine met and married a freighter named Richley. Needing pasture for his mules, Richley bought 14 Mile ranch on the Lytton-Lillooet trail, and in 1877 the family moved from Yale and started to ranch. Billy was then fourteen and loved the life immediately as he was passionately fond of animals.

Billy grew into a strong young man, six feet tall, and moved with a slow, easy grace which stamped him as a natural horseman. When he was sixteen he built with his own hands a log barn that still stands on the homestead - now known as Pine Grove ranch. At eighteen, Billy wanted a place of his own and bought out George Baillie at 20 Mile. He worked hard to make 20 Mile into a fine ranch suitable for the family he hoped to have with Susan Watkinson, daughter of neighbour Joseph Watkinson of Watkinson's Bar. A romantic young man, Billy expressed his feelings for Susan in letters and poetry. In 1882 the two were married in the Watkinson home by Archdeacon Small, and returned to 20 Mile ranch with its vista of the Fraser river winding its way down the Lillooet-Lytton trench.

It was a happy marriage and produced eight children, seven sones (James, William Herbert {my grandpa - my mom's dad}, Ernest, Walter Cecil, Joseph, Albert, Stanley) and one daughter (Susan). To educate these children Billy Kane, Fred Watkinson (Susan's brother), and Charles McGillivray built a school at Watkinson's Bar and hired a teacher. Education in this remote area was not always a continuous process: the boys helped when needed on the farm and the girls helped in the home during the harvesting season when there were many more mouths to feed. Three or four years of steady schooling constituted a good education.

Billy Kane was a hard worker. He took employment with the CPR when the Cisco Bridge near Lytton was being built. This was a veritable fortress of a structure with pillars of granite. Billy saved a man's life while on this job, and the CPR presented him with a gold watch for his valour. The wages that he earned bought the first cattle for his ranch, and he gradually built up a find herd from this stock. His brand was a capital K inside a square box, and the ranch became known as the "Box K".


(pg 58) In the 1890s he was raising, slaughtering and curing his own pork, and his bacon was much sought after. Local miners, including a group of Chinese miners who had a winter townsite on the river below the Box K, bought all of Kane's bacon, which sold at a dollar for six pounds. Each summer he raised fifty to sixty pigs, and sold them to the miners during the winter. He also butchered surplus cattle, which sold readily in Lillooet and Lytton. One fall, he drove his surplus of about fifty head over mountains to Ashcroft, where he sold them to Pat Burns, well-known Lower Mainland butcher, at about forty dollars a head - a good price for that time.

Eventually Billy Kane owned and operated three farms - the 20 Miile, 18 Mile, and 14 Mile. By the 1930s, he and his son Bill, working together, shipped thirty tons of alfalfa seed to an Ontario buyer. This seen was known as Kane Alfalfa, and the cleaning mill used to clean the seed still stands on Kane's Acres. The Kanes owned the first haymower in the valley, brought from Lytton by boat up the Fraser before there was a road into the area.

Bill Kane tells a story about land values when land was there for the asking. His father, not having the time to work 18 Mile ranch, offered it to his brother-in-law, Fred Watkinson, for the taxes owing on it - which amounted to four dollars. Fred's answer was: "I wouldn't give my hat for it!" Recently this farm was offered for sale at $200,000.

Billy's great love for horses kept him on the lookout for good stock. He ran a large and valuable string, and he wa also expert at racing his horses. A special favourite was Platinum, a beautiful dark grey animal which held the half-mile record for Canada. Billy delighted in racing his horses across the country; no race was too small for him to enter. His horses ran in the competitions which were held on the main street of Lillooet and Lytton, and he almost always came up with a winner.

One time Billy was riding on a mountain above his ranch when something startled his horse and he was thrown off. To his consternation he found that he had broken his leg. He realized that he would never get home unless he could get back on his horse. Pulling himself over to a tree with a low crotched branch, he situated himself so that he could get his heel well down into the crotch. Then, agonizing though it was, he pulled his leg straight, setting the break. He splnted it with branches and was finally able to pull himself up to a standing position. Although his horse was an extremely high-spirited animal which only Billy (pg 59) Kane could ride, it sensed its master's predicament and stood close until Billy could mount. The trip home was excruciatingly painful, being entirely downhill through a rocky creekbed, but Billy gave the animal its head and it took him home.

Billy once had a worse ride than this one. He had shot a large buck and was about to "bleed" the animal. As he stepped astride the buck's neck, the deer suddenly jumped up and made three long leaps down the hill, the hunter's feet touching the ground each time. On the third leap the buck fell dead, and Kane fell off gladly.

Billy's excellent horsemanship was often put to the test. One time he was asked to saddle break a horse that had already killed a man because of its wild bucking. Billy took theh animal home and turned it into a corral where he could observe it. When the time came to saddle and ride the renegade, the horse did not buck at all - to everyone's amazement. Billy had observed the animal well, and had noted that a tight belly band drove this horse wild. His secret was a loose cinch.

He was an excellent farrierr and reset his horses' shoes every two weeks. Once when cattle broke through his garden fence, Billy ran out, shod one of his horses, chased the offending cattle back into the field, then removed the horse's shoes and turned him loose.

Another of his favourite stories told of prospecting in the Cascasde mountains on the west side of the Fraser and hearing his horse scream. Gold pan in hand. he ran to see what was happening and found a grizzly bear about to attack his saddle mare. He grabbed a stick and began to bear the pan. Startled by the din, the bear took off. Billy remembers that he and his horse camped together near the fire that night.

As his family grew up and married, he became known as "Grandpa Billy" Kane. Having taught his own sons to ride, hunt, and ranch, he now enjoyed seeing his grandsons carry on family traditions. At seventy-five, an age at which most men ride a rocking chair, he broke, with his gently hand, a feisty young filly, and he continued to ride until he was nearly eighty-five. After that, Billy would saddle and bridle the mare, as he had always done, and they could be seen waling around the fields they knew so well, the horse obediently following the man. Undoubtedly they were remembering the good old days when a "little ride" started at sunup and ended at sunset.

Susan Watkinson Kane, born 24 August 1866, was tiny with dark, curly hair, and was considered a beauty. She was especially clever with her needle. Although only sixteen years old when she married, she made her own wedding dress of rust-coloured brocaded silk. The hand-made (pg 60) buttonholes on this elegant dress are a work of art, a fact her granddaughter can attest to, for she has worn it on many special occasions. Because of her skill at sewing, Susan never discarded an article of clothing. Even clothes given to her for use in quilt-making were more often returned to the owner beautifully mended. Susan Kane washed, carded, and spun all the wool from their sheep, and when in later years she could no longer handle her spinning wheel, she continued to card and spin wool by hand onto a stick spindle. Although money was not a plentiful commodity, she kept her daughter beautifully dressed, and knit all the socks and sweaters for her husband and seven sons.

As with all pioneer families, the Kanes had their share of hard times, but there was always food for the table and a warm home to be proud of. Susan's greatest sorrow came with the burning of the log home that Billy had readied for her as a bride and where her children had been born and raised. All her treasures - family pictures and a fine collection of beautiful Indian baskets - were lost.

Susan Kane dies in 1943 and was buried in the private cemetery on the Kane ranch. Grandpa Billy died there ten years later.

Young Bill Kane no doubt wanted to emulate the renowned horsemanship of this father. He says that at about fourteen years of age, "I figured I was quite a cowboy and I chased and caught wild horses. I broke them to saddle and sold them for an average of $10 each; that was good money then." He also sold fox and coyote pelts for "side money" and being an excellent shot and an enthusiastic hunter, added to his extra money by selling "buck deer" meat at eight cents a pound, clearing about twelve dollars per animal. The urge to be successful led him later to dabble in stocks, to his father's chagrin. When he wanted to buy Boeing Aircraft shares at forty cents, his father advised him against it. "They'll never be able to fly by machine," he insisted.

Young Bill also got "mining feaver" as a young man and staked on two good locations. Twice he found buyers, but his partners could not bear to part with the claims for the offered price, and dreams of a fortune blew away like the morning mists on his benchland home. On his own, he staked a "placer lease" and got some nuggets which were worth three dollars each, but after mining for five years, he decided to continue farming.

In 1960 he sold both his ranch and his father's estate, retaining for himself and his wife Annie {my grandpa and grandma - my mom's parents} four of the 720 acres he once farmed. From Kane's Acres, as he calls his small spread, he can still look out over the land, now all under cultivation and dotted with fine cattle, on which he has lived all his life.

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