RANCH TALES: A Cariboo cowboy

Harry Marriott took the train north to Ashcroft, intending to find work on a ranch in the Cariboo-Chilcotin

Harry Marriott was born in England and came to B.C. in 1907.

After working at odd jobs in B.C. and Washington State for five years, he took the train north to Ashcroft, intending to find work on a ranch in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. In Ashcroft, he ran into Andrew Stobie, who was in charge of operations at the Gang Ranch and was in town purchasing supplies for the ranch.

As the Gang Ranch was 103 miles from Ashcroft, the railway jumping off spot for the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions, Stobie had brought a huge freight wagon and team of four heavy horses to haul supplies to the ranch and offered Marriott a job at the ranch. Nine days later, on June 7, 1912, Marriott got his first glimpse of the famous ranch, which he described in his book, Cariboo Cowboy:

“At the top of a bunch-grass slope the road turned down the sloping hill. What a panorama of size and beauty met my gaze! I saw green hay fields, at least six hundred acres of them, and a cluster of buildings sitting in amidst some native poplar and tall straight Lombardy poplar trees. This was the Gang Ranch, the finest sight any ranch man would ever like to see.”

Marriott went on to describe some of the buildings in the ranch headquarters, including “a small lumber house which was the store. In it were supplies of all kinds, from Hudson Bay blankets to plain chewing tobacco.” There was also “a large-sized house that was covered with a light tin sheeting and painted red,” which was the bunkhouse. By then, the Gang Ranch covered some 60,000 acres of deeded land plus pastoral land leased from the province.

Marriott’s first job at the ranch was breaking work horses. The huge barn at the ranch had three separate divisions: one for saddle horses, the centre section for work horse teams, and on for training work horse colts. Marriott and Jim Ragan, who was in charge of breaking work horses, started off by getting the young horses used to being handled and to put them in harness for the first time. Once they were used to this, they would be teamed up with an old, steady work horse that knew its business and harnessed to a light, strong wagon with a good set of brakes.

Ragan would sit on the wagon with the reins and Marriot would run alongside with a rope from the colt’s harness through a strap on its ankle joint. If the colt got too excited, Marriot could pull on the rope and drop the colt to its knees.

The men would work on two colts in the morning and two in the afternoon and, after about a week or ten days, the colts would be used to the harness and the rattle of wagon wheels. With a great deal of patience and gentleness and the steadying influence of the experienced horse, the colt would be ready for light duty for a time before the real heavy pulling began.

Marriott hauled hay from the Gang Ranch extensive fields all through the summer and until it was all put in stacks sometime in mid-November.

There were about 45 men involved in putting up hay for the ranch, after which some of them, Marriot included, were employed hauling firewood logs  for the next year’s wood supply.

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