CATALINE

CATALINE

 

by

SPERRY CLINE

 

            On a high bench of land on the Indian Reserve overlooking the Village of Hazelton there is an unmarked grave where lie the remains of one of British Columbia’s greatest frontiersmen.  The grave is in danger of being lost as the old burial ground is being reclaimed by the forest and probably only a few old timers could now find it.

            If the people of Canada were as inclined to hero worship as our friends south of the border, this man’s memory would be preserved in song and story along with those of Kit Carson, Davy Crockett and other such legendary characters.  His activities over a long life - nearly a century - ranged from the Rio Grande to the Yukon and he played an extremely useful part in the opening and early development of this Province.

            No one could write his biography.  He kept no records nor did the people with whom he lived and dealt.  It was almost impossible to carry on a conversation with him.  He had originally spoken a sort of French-Spanish dialect of the Pyrenees, but in his long association with many different races he had acquired a few words of every Indian tongue from Mexico to the 60th degree of latitude, some Chinese from the packers of that race and a few words from every European with whom he had come into contact.  To further complicate matters he spoke very rapidly and in a kind of oral shorthand, any word of more than two syllables being abbreviated.

            When I first came to British Columbia, just after the turn of the century, Jean Caux, better known as Cataline, was still an important figure in the commercial life of central and northern B.C., in fact a large portion of the Province relied on Cataline’s  pack trains for their continued existance.  No settlement was too remote and no mineral discovery too inaccessable for him to undertake to supply it.  I was told many stories of his efforts by the pioneers.  A placer strike would by made on some distant stream and when word of the discovery reached the outside, a gold rush would start.  Men carrying a limited supply of necessities on their backs would trust Cataline to follow with cargoes of food and other supplies to the new digging and he never failed them.  On two occasions the greater number of his pack animals died from hunger and other causes but the supplies always got through, one on the backs of Indian women whom he pressed into service.  As the years passed in became inconceivable that he would ever fail in fulfilling a freight contract, and he never did.

            He was a striking figure with a Buffalo Bill head of hair and a Napoleon the third imperial beard - broad shouldered, barrel chested and tapered from the waist to the narrow hips and thin shanks of men who spend a lifetime on horseback.  His presence, already commanding, was further enhanced by his apparel which seldom varied;  a broad brimmed sombrero, a silk handkerchief around his neck, a frock coat - in later years it was a mystery where he obtained them, - heavy woollen trousers and a rather dainty pair of riding boots.  In summer, to protect his hands from mosquitos, he wore buckskin gauntlets but discarded them as soon as the mosquito season was over.

            He had absolutely no business ability and always relied on the other fellow.  Every spring he would get credit from the bank or the Hudson’s Bay Company and leave it to those he was packing for to reimburse his creditors.  This resulted in his finding himself destitute in his extreme old age and it was because of this that I became so well aquainted with him.

            When old age forced Cataline to retire he was living in Hazelton where I was the Provincial Constable in charge of the Detatchment.  This was before the days of easy Government money and as there was no old age pension and no welfare organization it was largely up to the Constable to look after the destitute in his district.  In fact everything that was too hot or unwholesome for other Departments was added to his duties.

            When Cataline was forced to quit, his business was sold to George Beirnes who had a ranch at Mission Point across the Bulkley River from Hazelton.  Beirnes supplied him with a cabin on the ranch where hi lived quite happily on the small allowance that we were able to obtain for him.  He spent his time wandering among the ranch stock and he made frequent visits to the village.  He never grew old in spirit and always enjoyed the company of younger people, most of whom he met in the bar rooms.

            As I became more accustomed to conversing with him I found that there were things of which he was very proud-his Spanish origin, his Canadian citizenship and the fact that he had been for years a friend of Judge Matthew Bailey Begbie.  Other incidents in his fife he considered to be of only mediocre importance.

            On delving into his history I learned that as a young man in southern California, upon hearing that gold had been discovered on the Fraser River, he organized a packtrain and drove north.  He joined forces with a Mexican packer, Jesu Christo Merino, and together they reached the Fraser while the mining activities were still confined to the lower river.  When asked if he had experienced any difficulties on the trip his reply was, “Just Injuns dats all.”  a brush with natives apparently being quite a commonplace occurrence.

            Merino died about the beginning of this century.  His history has never been recorded and I doubt that anyone now living knows of his resting place.

            From the time of his arrival in this country Cataline was an important and outstanding figure and many stories were told of his exploits by old times.  I tried to verify many such stories during our conversations and in some cases succeeded in  doing so.  Other incidents he dismissed with a shake of his head and a hearty laugh which, in most instances, convinced me that there was at least some foundation to them.

            I heard several versions of the following story and he admitted the principal facts.

            He first attracted attention at a miners meeting on the lower Fraser.  There had been considerable discontent and some demonstrations against the Government.  Judge Begbie was coming up the river dispensing justice in the various camps and was not always welcomed by the lawless element.  Feeling was running high and opinion about submitting to authority was about evenly divided.  The newly arrived packers were asked which side they would support.  Cataline coolly drew a long Mexican knife from his boot and answered, “I stands by Judge!”  As he had a considerable number of stalwart packers in support, his decision was not disputed.

            The incident was brought to Begbie’s attention and he apparently filed it away in his mind for future reference.  The sequel to the story took place years later, I believe after Confederation.  Cataline had moved to the Cariboo and had squatted on a piece of pasture land where he kept his stock.  As civilization advanced Cariboo ranchers became valuable and someone protested his right to the land on the grounds that he was not a citizen.  Begbie had received news of the pending action and was on his way to Richfield to hold court.  On his way up the Cariboo road Begbie met Cataline, convened an impromptu court and naturalized him, or as Cataline described it, he “Come Canada boy.”  When the petition was read in court in Richfield, Begbie, in a rather surprised voice said, “What’s this? Cataline is a citizen naturalized by my court.  Proceed with the next case.”  The old debt was paid.

            One night, many years ago, I was seated in front of a roaring fire in the old Kelly Hotel in Barkerville and was talking with several others of the camp’s past glory.  One old resident, whose name I have forgotten, related the following story.

            During the late eighties and early nineties of the last century the old methods of placer mining in the Cariboo and Omineca were found to be unequal to the task of recovering gold from the deep diggings.  Heavy equipment was brought in by freight wagons to the ends of the roads and from there on had to be moved by packtrain, in some instances a very great distance.  It was a new adventure in packing and no one could estimate the costs with any real degree of accuracy.  Cataline took the contracts having been financed by the bank at Quesnel.  He ran into a great deal of difficulty in the first two years and the bank now found that he was some $20,000.00 in arrears - a lot of money in those days.  He was called to the bank and the manager explained the situation.  After a lengthy discourse the banker said, “Cataline, we do not doubt your honesty or ability, but we do think you are very careless.”  Cataline pomdered this over for a moment and replied, “I tinka da bank dam careless, too.”  Later things took a turn for the better and he made good the deficit.

            Cataline was no respector of personage; he had a great sense of humour and addressed everyone from the highest to the lowest as “Boy”.  An eyewitness recounted an incident in which the casual form of address was resented and led to some animosity.

            When the Yukon Field Force - a chapter of the Yukon gold rush that contemporary writers appear to have largely overlooked - was ordered into that Territory to nail it down for the Dominion, Cataline was chosen by the Dominion Government to supply the means of transportation.  This force, which I believe consisted of a Company of Infantry from eastern Canada, was taken to Wrangell, trans-shipped to river boats then proceeded up the Stikine River to Telegraph Creek where Cataline awaited with his pack train.  He was to move the men and supplies from there to Atlin Lake.

            The Officer in Command was a rather pompous individual who insisted on everything being done according to military regulations.  He and Cataline soon began to have differences of opinion.  He resented being addressed as “Boy” in the presence of his men and constantly reminded Cataline of the importance of an officer being treated with all due respect.  Cataline’s main complaint was the use of bugle calls which he considered unnecessary.  “All tima blowa de buga, scara da mule, no gooda.:  He was very considerate of his mules and insisted on them having a half hour sleep when driven in from pasture in the early morning.  This seemed to be the time of day that bugle callswere most frequent and every morning the soldiers and packers heard heated arguments on the subject which probably neither participant fully understood.

            The trail was extremely rough and it was not unusual for a mule to fall, mire or meet with some other accident which would require immediate attention.  One day a mule fell, rolled on top of it’s pack, and became helpless.  Several of the soldiers attempted the rescue but, never having mastered the intricacies of the diamond hitch, were soon hopelessly involved.  The O.C. came up and took charge of the situation but only succeeded in making matters worse.  When he had exhausted his few ideas he looked around and saw that Cataline had ridden up and had been quietly watching his efforts.  He swallowed his pride and appealed for help, “Oh Mr. Cataline, what will we do now?”  Cataline, with a touch of triumph in his voice, replied, “Blowa da buga, Boy, blowa da buga!”

            I never learned his exact age but it must have been close to the century mark at the time of his death.  Throughout all his years he had lived hard, worked hard and consumed liquor in the same manner.  Nearly everyone that ever knew him has told the story of  “Cataline’s Hair Tonic.”  He drank brandy if it was available, but if not other hard liquor would be substituted.  Whenever he took a drink some of the liquor would be poured into his hand then rubbed on his head.  There was always a great deal of speculation as to the reason.  Some attributed his wonderful growth of hair, which he retained untilhe died, to this treatment.  One day when he was in a good mood I asked him the reason.  His answer was that if you put a little of every drink outside you would not have a hangover next morning.

            I was looking after the old man when prohibition came into force and it became quite a problem to obtain even a meagre supply for him.  As tactfully as I could I approached different departments of the Government only to find that there was apparently no solution to the problem.  Fortunately about this time a highly placed Government official visited Hazelton.  When I put Cataline’s case to him I got a wink and a nod that a blind horse could have interpreted and henceforth I managed to get him a limited supply.

            Ralph Connor once described a Glengarrian as having such perfect circulation of blood that he was virtually immune to the effects of cold weather.  I always considered this to be pure fiction until I started closely observing Cataline and first noticed this same trait in him several years before he retired.  I had occasion to make a hurried trip to Babine Lake.  I had walked all night and just at daybreak I came upon Cataline’s camp which was at timberline and it had been a frosty night.  He was asleep at the side of the trail, his bed a manteau (canvas pack cover) spread on the ground.  He was fully clothed even to his spurs and had no cover and a small fire which he had started beside him had burned out.  I stood for a few munutes watching his deep, steady breathing; his chest rose and fell in regular beat and his hair, beard and clothing were heavily covered with white frost.  He was enjoying a good night’s rest.

            He wore the same clothing winter and summer and was never known to wear socks.  In sub zero weather he would walk liesurly from his cabin to the village, a distance of nearly a mile, with no cover for his feet but his leather riding boots.  A January thaw had been followed by the usual cold weather and had covered the streets with ice.  Cataline entered the Hudson’s Bay Co. store and asked for a pair of socks.  Conversation stopped.  Was Cataline getting soft in his old age?  The purchase was made and he walked to the door but before making his exit he stopped an pulled the socks on over his boots.  The were to prevent slipping.

            His digestive organs must have been quite equal to his circulation for he lived on a fare that would soon have palled or sickened a normal person.  On the trail it was principally bannock and beans, the latter being highly seasoned with pepper.  Owing to his limited vocabulary he only spoke of two kinds of meat, bacon and beef.  Any game that he might secure along the trail such as deer, rabbits, squirrels or grouse were “Gooda beef;” any and all kinds of prepared or cured meats were “bacon.”  In summer he became largely vegetarian; weeds and herbs of many varieties, all of which he described as “Gooda lettuce,” were added to his diet and consumed liberally doused with, or soaked in vinegar.

            One Sunday, having not seen him for several days I decided to pay him a visit at his cabin.  It was a beautiful autumn day and I was accompanied by my wife and six month old daughter.  On arrival we were greeted by Cataline who felt that he must extend to all a pioneer’s hospitality; would we have something to eat?  After a look at his table I assured him that we had eaten just prior to leaving home.  On his table was a shallow tin pan discoloured on the inside.  It contained a dark liquid that I soon recognized as vinegar and the darkened objects in it as sliced cucumber and a tin cup.  We had passed the time of day and were preparing to leave when Cataline, still anxious to play the perfect host, took the cup from the vinegar, shook it several times then turned it upside down and tapped it against the table to assure us that is was quite empty.  He then went to another container that looked equally appetizing,  dipped a cup of milk and handed it to my wife, saying, “Fora da baba.”  My wife, not wishing to offend him, spent several minutes explaining tactfully that the child was delicate and was being reared on a special formula that could not be varied.  I afterwards learned  that the pan of vinegar was kept in continuous use and when one supply of gooda lettuce was exhausted it was immediately replentished.

            Earlier I mentioned his knife.  I never got a chance to examine it closely but I understand that it was the kind for throwing by Mexicans.  All through his eventful career he had constantly kept it within reach of his hand.  When dressed it was in his bootleg, when asleep, under his pillow.  There were several stories told of hih having made use of it to discourage aggressors but only one such incident came to my knowledge.  A party of young bloods from the outside world were visiting Hazelton and were endeavouring to show the local hillbillies what life was like in more sophisticated communities.  Cataline was at the bar where this crowd was displaying it’s talents and they decided to have some fun with the old codger.  When he old man thought they had gone far enough he strode to the end of the room where he carefully examined a spot on the wall about the size of a half dollar and this action attracted everyone’s attention.  he then backed away some twelve to fifteen feet, drew the knife from his boot, threw, and made a perfect bullseye.  He quickly retrieved the knife, turned to his tormentors and said, “Sacre dam!  Dat all I tella you now!”  It was sufficient.

            When he was no longer able to care for himself he was lodged in the Hazelton Hotel and while there the Hotel burned.  The fire started in the early morning and when the first people reached it they realized that the building could not be saved and so rushed to Cataline’s room and dragged him from his bed.  When they reached the hallway he fought loose from his rescuers and returned to his room and took his knife from under his pillow.  All his other possessions were lost but he considered that quite immaterial so long as his knife was saved.

            Many of the packers claimed that the knife was not Cataline’s only weapon - that he osed to carry a mule shoe in the pocket of his frock coat and that he used it when necessary to enforce discipline in his crew which was usually composed of some pretty rough characters.

             He was extremely loyal to his adopted country and was always ready to defend it against anything that he considered detrimental.  On one occasion a number of American miners were in the bar and as they advanced in their cups they did not hesitate to point out the superiority of all things American.  Cataline became incensed and brought his fist down on the bar with a resounding whack that made all the glasses in the near vicinity jump, faced the crowd, and in no uncertain tone declared, “Disa country for Canada boy, not for ‘Merica boy!”  The subject was changed and harmony restored.

            Judge Henry Castillou of Williams Lake once gave a very interesting talk on Cataline during which he referred to a coloured man whose services Cataline had acquired many years before he retired.  This man, David Wiggins, was with him when his business was sold to George Beirnes.  I was present when the transfer took place and he turned the Negro over to Beirnes along with his other assets.  I firmly believe that he considered Wiggins to be his property and probably had forgotten that the American Civil War had taken place.

            During the last few months of his life I saw him almost daily.  He would sit and day dream for hours and I often wished that I could in some way find what was passing through his mind - what adventures he was reliving.  Towards the end many of his friends joined me in urging him to enter the hospital.  He stoutly refused, honestly believing that a hospital was a place where people went to die.  One day I was sent for.  Cataline had taken a bad turn.  As there was no ambulance services a freight sleigh was provided, the box filled with hay, blankets placed on top and the patient comfortably bedded.  Soon after he was taken out into the cold air he revived and when he realized where he was being taken he rolled off the sleigh and started back to town.  He informed us that he was “Noa ready die nowa.”  A few weeks after this he submitted to entering the Hospital here he died a few days later probably wishing to play fairly with the Hospital as he had with every one else during his life.  All that he requested from the country that he had served so long and well was that he be given a Christian Burial.

            After his death I made a careful search of his belongings.  The knife that he had cherished all his life was missing and was never found.  In all probability, when he realized that he was nearing his end, he destroyed it as he would not have wanted it to fall into less worthy hands.

            I have related a lot about his rough and ready ways but I also saw several instances that caused me to believe that somewhere, in the dim and distant past, he had lived in a more refined atmosphere.  On meeting a lady his manners, if he remembered to use them, would be almost courtly; a bow that almost bent him double and a sweep of the sombrero that would brush the ground.

            That then, was Cataline - or as much as I knew of him.  He was rough, rugged and picturesque as an individual but more than that he was always completely fair, absolutely honest and utterly reliable.  A man who didn’t know what hardship was because that was his complete way of life.

 

S.     Cline,

Burnaby B.C.

March 1959.

 


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