RANCH TALES: First settlers at 100 Mile

John and Oliver Jeffries were from Alabama and came to the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s to look for gold

John and Oliver Jeffries were from Alabama and came to the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s to look for gold.

Hearing about the market for cattle in British Columbia due to the gold rush, John Jeffries purchased cattle in Oregon in the fall of 1860 and drove them up the Cariboo Trail to the upper Fraser River.

After holding the cattle in the Bonaparte River area until they were needed, Jeffries was able to sell them all at a reasonable profit. Encouraged by the prospects for the following year, he returned to Oregon to buy another large herd the following spring. In partnership with his brother, Oliver, Jeffries returned to British Columbia.

During the summer of 1861 John and Oliver Jeffries drove a herd of cattle as far as Bridge Creek, at the 100 Mile post on the trail from Lillooet. Seeing the advantage of pasturing their cattle on the abundant grasslands in the area before driving them into the Cariboo gold fields, they decided to establish a ranch.

The Jeffries brothers took up land at Bridge Creek and, for the next few years, were continually conveying land back and forth between them. They built Bridge Creek House in 1861. Known as “Jeffries Store,” the single-story, squared log structure contained a bar-room and kitchen, and a sleeping area in the attic. This small building was the first constructed on the site of what was to become the modern city of 100 Mile House.

Like his fellow Southerner, Jerome Harper, Jeffries was aggressive in his attempt to control the beef market.

Perhaps his cleverest attempt at turning away competitors is shown in a letter from John Carmichael Haynes, who had taken over from Cox as the Customs Agent at Osoyoos Lake, to the Colonial Secretary in August of 1863:

I have been told by a Mr. Murphy who passed this station … that several cattle dealers having herds for this country were prevented from starting owing to reports circulated by a Mr. Jeffries and other interested persons to the effect that all livestock intended for this country would be stopped on the frontier by officers of the United States Government placed there for that purpose. Mr. Murphy also mentions that he heard Mr. Jeffries state publicly at Walla Walla that I had told him.

I have not seen Mr. Jeffries for over a year … Mr. Harper who entered a drove of cattle on the 20th inst. told me that several stock owners were waiting in the vicinity of Walla Walla to ascertain as to whether they could ‘”get thru” or not.”

Jeffries was nothing if not clever, for his story had a basis in truth.

In late 1862, the United States government, as a Civil War measure, had passed an embargo on all livestock leaving the country. This embargo was never enforced in the Pacific Northwest and in September of 1863 was modified to permit the export of “stock raised in a state or territory bordered on the Pacific Ocean.”

Nonetheless, the embargo, along with Jeffries’ story, discouraged many drovers from heading north and the Jeffries and Harper brothers saw significant profits that year.

Unlike the Harper brothers, who remained in British Columbia after the Cariboo gold rush was over, the Jeffries brothers sold their assets and left the colony, perhaps returning to their beloved south after the Civil War.

Ken Mather is curator at O’Keefe Ranch.