Girlhood days in the OK

RANCH TALES: story told from Swalwell daughter on what life was like

Over the past few columns I have been looking at the Okanagan Valley’s “first families,” the marriage of white settlers with Native women and their mixed-race families.

One of these families was the Swallwells. George Simpson was born in Philadelphia of Scottish Presbyterian parents and married a Native Okanagan woman.

Their daughter Eliza Jane Swalwell, looked back at her childhood in an account of her “Girlhood Days in the Okanagan.” “I remember this valley when everything was in a wild state, before there was any wagon road and everything had to be brought in by pack-train, and all our dishes were of tin, and we baked bread and pies and roasted meat in a Dutch oven…”

To those children of mixed race families, there was no feeling that they were in some way different. In fact, the vast majority of families in the Okanagan were of this type.

The valley was cattle country in those days of the 1870s and first half of the 1880s and lay unfenced from one end to the other. Eliza recalled the beauty of the valley: “To me it was an exquisite pleasure as a girl to ride over this green and gracious pasture land in the mornings, and to see it stretching before me for miles with the Sand Rose lying scattered on the ground as if a fairy princess had passed that way at dawn and children had strewn flowers in her path, and to see the sunlight on the hills. On such occasions I have sometimes seen things, or rather sensed something, so serene and beautiful that it left me weak and weeping as I sat in the saddle.”

Life was not all fun, though. All the children in these families pitched in to help with the ranch work and girls were not exempt: “Before the arrival of the wagon road everyone had to learn to ride, as it was the only means of getting anywhere, and we girls were all proficient horsewomen. We could round up a band of horses, drive them into a corral, rope the one we wanted and saddle him up as expertly as a man could do it … The two great events of the year were the coming of the cattle buyers in May and September. They usually sent word ahead to let us know they were coming, and then we all got busy, and everyone, girls as well as men, assisted in the round-up. On these occasions we girls felt that we were coming into our own. We could handle a horse about as well as the men, and we could show them that we amounted to something more than a mere nuisance about the place, as they sometimes seemed to think we were.”

Ken Mather is a Spallumcheen author. He can be reached through www.kenmather.com.

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Salvation Army bell is rung by Michael Cronin as he staffs the charity’s red donation kettle in front of a grocery store, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Lynden, Wash. The familiar ringing of handbells has gone silent at many Canadian shopping malls this year as the Salvation Army tries to cope with COVID-19 rules at a time of dropping donations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elaine Thompson
Record-breaking Christmas for Vernon Salvation Army

$640K and significant food donations pour into local organization ahead of holidays

A 2002 F350 was stolen from a Whitevale home sometime overnight Jan. 14. (Contributed)
Truck stolen near Lumby overnight

Lifted Ford stolen from Whitevale Road

Nate Brown photo
Okanagan-Shuswap says goodbye sunshine, hello winter

Temperatures are forecasted to drop by mid-next week

The Lavington Community Association shared this image of the final support beam installed at Jeffers Park in 2020. (Lavington Community Association - Instagram)
COVID-19 halts plans to open Lavington ice rink

Skaters won’t be able to enjoy the newly erected roof at Jeffers Park this season

Deb White, carnival chairwoman, rode in on style Saturday during the parade. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Pandemic postpones parade, heart of Vernon Winter Carnival

Interior Health says no to one of B.C.’s only winter parades

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

(Big White Ski Resort photo)
13 more cases of COVID-19 tied to Big White Mountain cluster

This brings the total case count to 175, of which 32 cases are active

RCMP on scene at a home on Sylvania Cres. (Phil McLachlan /Capital News/FILE)
Two Kelowna men arrested after Rutland home invasion

Two Kelowna men, including a prolific offender, facing slew of potential charges

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Real estate sales in the South Okanagan grew by more than any other part of the province in 2020. (Marissa Tiel - Black Press)
South Okanagan fastest growing real estate market in B.C.

There was over $1 billion in residential sales in 2020

The facility in Summerland has 112 long-term care beds. Interior Health funds 75 of the beds. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Six more months for temporary South Okanagan long-term care facility administrator

The temporary administrator was appointed following site visits and concerns from Interior Health

RCMP pictured at a motor vehicle incident during snowy conditions. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media/FILE)
Vehicle found abandoned after fleeing Kelowna RCMP, avoiding spike belt

Police believed at the time vehicle was tied to alleged shooting in West Kelowna

West Kelowna RCMP are investigating reports of gunfire in the 1700-block of Ross Road. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating reports of gunfire

West Kelowna RCMP said the incident occurred on Jan. 14

Most Read