RANCH TALES: A mud pup’s story

Ken Mather recounts the story of a young man trying to make it in the Okanagan

The majority of mud pups (younger sons of the British upper class sent to the colonies to learn ranching) thrived in the open ranges of the Interior.

But there were a few who made the most of being far from the discipline of home and took full advantage of regular payments from daddy to indulge in a life of leisure. One of these was Edward Robinson, who arrived at Thomas Wood’s ranch in the Okanagan Valley in 1862.

He was the son of successful businessman, George Robinson, of St. John’s, Nfld., and had no doubt enjoyed a pampered life until he was pushed from the nest to make his own way in life.

 

Edward Robinson was a mere 17 years of age when he arrived at the Wood Ranch. Thomas Wood’s first clue to potential problems with Edward was the fact that he had already been apprenticed to a rancher in the Northwest Territories in what is now present-day southern Alberta.

He had been dismissed from that position for reasons not determined but it certainly had not been through a propensity for hard work. However, the offer was one that no struggling rancher could refuse. Thomas Wood was to receive the princely sum of $1,000 a year to teach Robinson the intricacies of cattle ranching. Robinson’s father offered this amount to cover, “instruction and keep” and also would pay “for damages done by his son.”

Wood soon learned that Robinson was more interested in visiting other young men in the area and in roaming the Okanagan hills shooting game. The only exception to his prolonged truancy was a five-week period the next fall when Robinson helped with haying. For this, he was paid $50, an amount that was well above the going rate at the time for labourers of $1 a day.

Despite Robinson’s obvious indifference to all things to do with ranching, in 1886, his father settled up with Thomas Wood for the first three years of training and asked him to purchase a ranch for his son and stock it with cattle. Wood obtained a ranch and placed $3,000 worth of cattle on it for young Robinson to start out as a rancher. But he did not do this without grave misgivings about Robinson’s ability to carry on the hard work of ranching.

So Wood, a native of St. John’s himself, travelled there to meet with George Robinson face to face. The father was undeterred and offered to cover all additional costs such as his son’s use of Thomas Wood’s horses and stable.

Not surprisingly, a combination of the hard winter of 1886-87 and Robinson’s disregard of his cattle resulted in a complete loss of his herd. When his father heard of this, he paid Wood to re-stock the ranch.

After another difficult winter reduced this second herd of cattle, it was realized by all concerned, even George Robinson, that Edward was not suited for ranching and had better sell off his herd and try some other form of employment.

As a parting gesture, Edward tried to charge Thomas Wood for seven year’s wages that he thought he had coming. Wood’s reaction is not recorded but it is quite certain that Edward Wood left the Okanagan neither richer in cash or in wisdom.

Ken Mather is curator emeritus at O’Keefe Ranch and a Spallumcheen-based author.