In my last column, I looked at the first families of the Okanagan Valley — the union of white ranchers and native women who, along with their “mixed-race” children, formed almost the entire population of the valley.
These native wives were an important part of the ranching community and, until the arrival of “civilization,” were accepted by everyone.
One such woman was Lucy, a member of the Similkameen nation, who married Frank Richter. Joseph Richter, one of her five sons, remembered her contribution to the family: “When I was little, coal oil was brought 70 miles from Hope on the backs of horses. It was used sparingly. My mother made candles in a special mould and after the cotton wick was threaded, it was filled with our own tallow. She made soap from waste fat and lye. Some of our clothing was made from buckskin traded from the Indians. Mother fashioned it into coats, shirts and pants. Take it from me, buckskin garments are warm, soft and comfortable. I suppose that today most people would think that our early days were rough. We worked hard, we had everything we needed. We were a closely knit, affectionate family, self-sufficient, yet depending on one another, each respecting the other’s worth under the guidance of wise parents.”
The native women, and the resulting children, formed the majority of the population in the pre-railway days and were generally accepted by all. The children of the native women and non-native men, living far from the cities at a time when only the occasional stranger would pass by, enjoyed a life of freedom and closeness to nature that they would remember with fondness in later years.
Joseph Richter reminisced about the early days: “I shall never forget those early ranch days. The valley was all ours, our lush meadows, hay fields and miles of bunch grass range, dotted with cattle, stretched as far as we could see, to be broken here and there by snake fences. Near the house, our saddle stock and milk cows grazed in the rich home pasture.”
From all accounts, the marriage was a happy one but like most, not without its ups and downs.
The story is told of the time Frank Richter was struggling to cross the Similkameen River, at near flood state, and began to flounder in the strong current. Lucy picked up a fence rail and extended it to him so she could pull him safely to shore. Once he regained solid ground, Lucy used the fence rail to beat him soundly for risking his life unnecessarily.
Frank Richter, probably because he was the biggest rancher in the Similkameen, stayed with his wife, Lucy, for many years. But eventually, even he succumbed to the pressure, which we might now call a mid-life crisis, by marrying a 17-year-old white woman, Florence Louden, in 1894 when he was 56-years-old.
According to Louden’s brother, Richard, however, Richter did not discard Lucy completely: “Immediately after his marriage to my sister, Richter established a home for Lucy and provided for her as long as she lived. She never wanted for anything. Lucy died in 1903 or 1904 in the cabin she lived in on the original Richter Ranch.”
Ken Mather is a Spallumcheen author. He can be reached through www.kenmather.com.