Residents of early Penticton, who documented life at the turn of the century, estimate that there were eighty four-horse and six-horse freight outfits supplying the mines to the south from the wharves in Penticton. This is about the same number of eighteen wheelers operating in and out of Penticton supplying goods to the city today.
J.A. Nesbitt stated, “The town was alive with freighters and freight teams, four and six horse, and pack trains intermingling on the dock. The night was lurid with campfires; loaded wagons were placed where possible to leave road space ready to pullout in the morning. The hotel did a roaring trade.”
There was a high status to being a freighter but the life was difficult. Most of the teams that stayed out were tied to the wagon. The teamster slept under the wagon. Then, early in the morning the horses and the teamster had to be fed. After feeding the teams were groomed and checked for sweat scalds, harnessed, and hitched to the wagon. Most freighters prepared for the trip by loading heavy machinery and equipment into a high wheeled freight wagon with few, if any mechanical lifters.
Some of the names of the freight outfits who had multiple wagons were the Bassett’s and Gillespie’s of Okanagan Falls, Dave Innis of Keremeos, and Garrison’s of Princeton. Some single wagon outfits were Gerry Clark of Green Mountain and the Brent’s of Shingle Creek.
The first day to Fairview near Oliver, was spent navigating the sand hill behind the Catholic Church on the Indian Reserve. Teamsters often doubled up their teams to haul the wagons up this soft sandy slope. The switchbacks were most difficult due to the tight turns. Larger wagons would unhook the teams at tight corners, then drag the wagon straight, then re-hook and proceed to the next switchback. The trip was shortest through Twin Lakes and could be completed in 2 days with 4 changes of horses.
A trip to the Nickel Plate Mine at Hedley was four or five days, depending on how many horses were needed to navigate the old Green Mountain Road. The stage coach to Princeton took six days.
Local Native ranchers provided many of the changes of horses along this route and were involved in the breeding and training of many of the teams. The first draft horses were from the wild mares of Marron Valley crossed with imported stallions. These tough little mustangs that had escaped from the early Hudson’s Bay Company fur brigade pack trains, and had multiplied, were the foundation of stock for many early horse ranches. The Clarks of Green Mountain had two stallions crossed with these mares; the offspring of one was used as a draft animal and the other as saddle stock. Frank Richter of Keremeos imported a Percheron stallion from France and raised premium draft animals. Many other horses were brought in from the prairies.
Working horses needed good hay and grain. Locally the Native Band supplied hay from their sub irrigated meadows near the river. The Brent’s of Shingle Creek grew hay and grain and had a horse operated baler.
The coming of the Great Northern railroad, first to Keremeos in 1907 and to Hedley in 1909, carried concentrated gold ore from Hedley directly to the smelter at Spokane. Up to this time the concentrate was taken by teams and wagons to Trail and then shipped by American rail to the smelter. By the time the CPR reached Penticton in 1915, the horse freighting boom was all but over.
Of course, draught horses were still used on farms or for logging and other industries. But the day of that dedicated horse freighter, who perched himself high on his wagon seat, guiding his teams around obstacles in the road, was over. Sometimes, the wind on the Apex road will carry the jingle of bells hanging from the harness nigh leader, reminding us of a forgotten highway.
Source: Brian Wilson, achivist, editor of Archivos – www.oldphotos.ca