J.B. Greaves intended to control the cattle market and land the lucrative contract to supply beef to the thousands of railway construction workers in B.C. in 1882.
With the backing of a high-powered syndicate, he spent the winter of 1881-82 buying cattle in the Okanagan and Nicola valleys.
At the same time, Thaddeus Harper of the Gang Ranch, characteristically optimistic that he would win the 1882 contract for CPR beef, was purchasing cattle in the Kamloops area and intending to buy in the Okanagan and Similkameen. It was not long before cattlemen realized that something was afoot.
By April, the British Columbian newspaper had heard of the competition and wrote: “Corner in Beef: It is reported that some shrewd speculators have secured a corner in Mainland beef, and that in consequence meat will have an upward tendency. It is estimated that a cool $150,000 will be made out of the unfortunate consumers, unless the corner is broke by some means not at present discovered.”
The price of marketable cattle climbed steadily, eventually reaching $25 a head, and soon all three-year-old and older cattle that had been accumulating on the ranges had been sold.
Despite the efforts of J.B. Greaves and his partners, Thaddeus Harper received the contract to supply beef to the CPR for 1882. Undeterred, the syndicate continued to buy up cattle, still hoping to control the market.
Harper successfully supplied beef during 1882 and obtained a renewed contract for 1883, but his supply of cattle could not meet the demands of the CPR work crews and, in the middle of the 1883 season, the syndicate finally took over the lucrative contract.
From the middle of the 1883 season until the end of railway construction, the syndicate controlled the market and prospered just as they had hoped. Greaves continued to travel through the interior and purchase cattle well into the 1890s.
Ranchers in the Okanagan, Thompson and Nicola valleys and those in the Cariboo came to trust that Greaves would pay fair prices and that his notes of credit were as good as cash.
In the early years, Greaves would simply confirm a deal with a handshake and leave the cattle to be picked up later.
It was soon obvious that the syndicate would need a ranch of its own to hold the cattle and raise them. Greaves formed a partnership with Charles M. Beak, who held a large amount of land in the Douglas Lake area. The next spring, Greaves, Beak and syndicate members William Curtis Ward and Charles Thompson bought out the rest of the original syndicate members who had already realized a huge profit.
The four men then incorporated “a joint stock company for the purpose of carrying on a farming, stock raising and butchering business,” the Douglas Lake Ranch.
The ranch owned more than 8,500 head of cattle and 8,000 acres of land. From this beginning, the Douglas Lake Ranch was to grow to be the largest cattle ranch in Canada.
Ken Mather is a Spallumcheen author. He can be reached through www.kenmather.com.