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A History of Settlement on Kruger Mountain

y Katie Lacey

(as published in the Okanagan Historical Society's 15th Report, 1951, pp. 110-120)

Kruger Mountain is named after Theodore Kruger (1829-1899), manager of the Hudson's Bay Company's store at Osoyoos from 1867-72 and merchant there from 1873 until 1897. The mountain is situated due west of Osoyoos and south of Richter Pass, and extends beyond the boundary line. How settlers from widely separated places managed to get together in such a back-of-beyond place as Kruger Mountain is one of the mysteries of the west. The fact that there was adequate moisture for crops on the mountain, and little in the valleys, may have attracted homesteaders.

The first homesteaders on top of the mountain were Tom and Bill Lacey, from Newfoundland, and Phil Darragh from County Antrim, Ireland. This was about 1900. Constable Venner had already taken up land in Richter Pass, and several years earlier Jerry Jarvis had built a cabin on the creek named after him. The first winter that the Lacey boys and Darragh spent on the mountain, they packed their cookstove in on their backs all the way from Fairview. In 1902, C. D. (Kit) Carr of Durham, England, arrived, and in 1903, George Taylor with his mother and invalid brother, Walter, took up land on the American side of the mountain. Two more brothers of George Taylor, Mike and Ike, pre-empted land on the Canadian side in 1903, and still another brother, Denny, staked a homestead in 1904. The Taylor family came from the southern states. In 1904, Alex. McKenzie and George Clark, an Englishman, who were running a laundry at Phoenix, took up homesteads along Richter Pass. In 1905, Alex. McKenzie went east to visit his sister, Miss C. J. McKenzie, who was living in Boston. She had been advised by her doctor to move to a high, dry climate and Alex persuaded her that British Columbia would be as good for her as California. She came to the mountain in 1907. The splendid health she still enjoys is proof of the beneficial quality of our climate. Miss McKenzie still owns property on the mountain, but now makes her home near Osoyoos. Her brother Alex. died at Grand Forks on July 5 of this year (1951). Tom Anderson, a native of Norway, came from Yakima to Kruger Mountain in 1905, and somewhere about the same time, Dan Drumheller bought about 600 acres on the Similkameen slope from a Boer War veteran, who had acquired it by army script. He never lived on it as it was too dry to raise crops. John Wentworth, of Loomis and Drumheller, staked several mineral claims on both sides of the boundary line. One of these, the Lone Pine, was worked for several years, but it is hardly likely that much ore was taken out. It was managed by a man by the name of Parasol for a good many years. An article in a Spokane paper in 1928, reporting the death of Dan Drumheller, stated that he had been the last of the original Pony Express riders who carried the mail across the plains.

The mines at Fairview and McKinney were bad for dust, and many of the men who worked underground were taken ill. One Tommy Grahame, who stayed with the Lacey boys for a year or two, died on the mountain and was buried by them at Fairview. In 1907, Tom and Bill Lacey both took sick. Bill died at the home of his brother, Nicholas, in Seattle in 1908. Tom was taken care of by Emil Schultz and his wife, who now live at Oroville, Washington, and who then had the hotel at Nighthawk. Tom died there in 1908. Schultz and Jim Baker hauled his body to Fairview. They intended to travel in the cool of the night, but lost their way in Richter's lower field and had to wait until daylight.

When his health failed, Phil Darragh went to stay with a nephew in Princeton. Nick Lacey and his wife moved from Seattle and took over the Lacey holdings. They lived alongside Kilpoola Lake. (The Indian word "Kilpoola" means "Lots of coyotes.") One year "Dad" Phelps, who settled with his family at Fairview, put in a crop at the Darragh place. Later he gave the crop to Kit Carr. Kit immediately made a deal to winter horses. There were more than he had hay for, and most of them starved to death before spring. He sold some of the hay to Nick Lacey who was running short during the hard winter. Kit insisted on weighing the hay. The only scales available were steelyards that weighed no more than 150 pounds at a time, so the hay had to be measured out into a blanket and weighed that way. It took longer to weigh the hay than it did for Kit to ride to Fairview and drink up the $13 he got for the hay.

My husband, Ed. Lacey, spent the summers of 1910 and 1911 on the creeks at Nome, Alaska, and came to the mountain in the autumn of 1911. Phil Darragh returned to the mountain about the same time, and stayed for a year or so. He died soon after he went back to Princeton. About 1911, Claude House brought his wife and five small girls to the mountain and staked a homestead at the end of Blue Lake.

Thousands of horses and cattle ranged around the high hills. Most of the horses were wild, but some of them were very fine horses, since some very good stallions had escaped from immigrants going through. Very fine colts were left by a fine Kentucky whip. Wild horses were caught at Tule Lake where there was a big corral with wings extending half a mile in each direction. Although there were so many horses and cattle grazing all summer, there was still wild hay to be cut in the draws.

In the early years on the mountain, crops were exceptionally good. All the lakes and pot-holes were full of water, there were heavy dews every morning, and there was lots of rain. One harvest, 89 pounds of government-tested Marquis wheat sowed in small patches among the rocks, produced 69 1/2 sewed sacks, averaging 135 pounds to the sack. The potatoes from the seed-potatoes procured by Tom Lacey were so big that they were hard to sell, and were stacked like cordwood. Seed was traded each year with Hiram Ingles at White Lake, and it was years before the seed ran out.

The first threshing was done by Hiram Ingles. Tom Anderson took measurements and plans of his machine and Denny Taylor brought back a cylinder from the Palouse country. Tom cut this cylinder down to twenty-two inches from thirty-two inches and made a complete threshing machine. He made the screens and rakers, cut birch trees and seasoned the wood for six and eight inch pulleys. He made his own gears from babbit as he had his forge. A sixteen-foot straw carrier sacker was made, so that by the turning of a little piece of birch a second sack would fill while the first was being tied. Oats, mostly Banner, came through too fast and apple boxes had to be substituted for sacks. The machine was run by a "Waterloo Boy" gas engine. The first one tipped over on the side hill roads and went to the bottom of a canyon. It was completely demolished but Tom rescued the cylinder and in the winter of 1911 built another one. This machine served the mountain and surrounding district for years and is still intact today.

As in all early settlements where there were few women, any young lady visitor caused a commotion. Kruger Mountain was no exception and when a certain lady came visiting one summer, Tom Anderson, a typical Norwegian, short of speech and very bashful, managed to get a date to take her buggy riding on Sunday afternoon. He borrowed the neighbour's hack, a vehicle on which the back wheels were higher than the front wheels. Before Tom left, someone changed the wheels around so that the two high wheels were on one side and the two low ones on Tom's side. Wearing a bowler hat he got from goodness only knows where, Tom drove all the way to Osoyoos and back, a matter of nine miles each way, with the young lady leaning against him all the way. He was too flustered to notice that anything was wrong with the buggy, and the lady from the city did not notice anything. Tom's attention was pretty well occupied by the mares, Daisy and Tessie, each of which had a colt following at the side. Whenever the colts decided it was time to eat, they stopped the mares until they were through, and Tom was kept busy slapping the lines at the mares and calling "Get up, Daisy! Get up, Tessie! " Truly, romance flourished under difficulties in those days.

Around 1911 or 1912, John Walker came to the mountain. Born in Iowa, John had spent some time driving freight team for General Custer, and had then tried wheat farming in the Palouse. The dry years sent him north looking for more fertile land. He had a fine team of young mares, Black Kate and Gray Kate, of which he was very proud, and a Great Dane dog. His cabin he built around a big tree stump which he used as a table until it rotted away. The cabin had a dirt floor, a sod roof, openings for windows which served to let out the smoke since he seldom kept the lids on his stove, but in which he put cardboard when the weather was bad. John was a scant five feet tall and weighed no more than 120 pounds. The full-grown dog weighed around 135 or 140 pounds. When the meal was cooked and on the table, the dog would not let John near the table, and John did not eat until the dog was through. Sometimes there would be nothing left, and John would have to cook a second meal, or if the dog was really hungry, a third meal, before he got something to eat. It was no use attempting to bar the dog out, because he would jump in through the windows. There were two bunks built against one wall of the cabin. John always had to take the top one since the dog would beat him to the lower one. These conditions John stood for about three years, and he was getting more afraid of the dog all the time. Finally he talked someone into shooting him. John then got a milk cow. He only took a lard pail of milk from the cow two or three times a week, and let the calf have the rest. He did not believe in drinking fresh milk, and he always had several pails of milk hanging from the ridge-pole in his cabin. It was from the stalest one, well clabbered with a heavy coat of blue mold, that he would eat.

The winter of 1927-28 was fairly cold. John, nearing ninety, was getting pretty feeble, but he was still independent. In February, 1928, riders looking for horses reported that he was not around, and no fresh tracks had appeared around his cabin or woodpile since the last snowfall. When we investigated, we found that the cat and the chickens which he always kept in his cabin in the winter, were frozen. Constable MacDonald at Oliver was notified and the next morning he and Ed. Lacey set out to look for John. There was quite a lot of snow and big drifts and after kicking over several ant hills they finally found him. He had evidently gone out to look at his horses, and struggling through the drifts had been too much for his heart. He had died just the way he would have wanted, out in the clean snow and on the range he loved. Because of the depth of the snow, a car could not be brought any closer than Richter Pass. On the way there, the men passed several bands of horses. Gray Kate was in one. As they passed by, with John's body loaded on the saddle, frozen stiff and covered with the old, yellow Kansas slicker he had worn for years, Gray Kate whinnied. When she got no answer, she came out of the bunch and stood on a hill, watching them as far as she could see. In the next bunch was Black Kate, who did the same thing. Then Sally, his gray saddle horse, spied him and came running down the road. She circled the little procession, calling to John and trying to understand why he did not answer or bring her a tid-bit. Coming closer, she muzzled the still form, whinnying softly all the time. She followed the procession for two or three miles. The last they saw of her she was still watching.

In 1913, Joe and Ed. Shea from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and their father, who was over eighty years old, came to the mountain, moving on to the Darragh place while they located homesteads for themselves. Their father was a tough old man like John Walker. Once, when he needed to have a tooth pulled and refused to go to a dentist, he persuaded Ed. Lacey to pull it for him. Laying the old man on his back on the porch close to the house logs, placing a knee on his chest, and using an ordinary pair of pliers, Ed. pulled the tooth. Ed. said that it hurt him more than it did the old man. Once when L. W. Shatford came around electioneering, Joe asked for money to build a stretch of road into his homestead. Shatford got him $110, and at the next election, Joe signed his ballot "Joseph Shea" so that Shatford would know that he had voted for him.

In 1914, Knudt Knutson, born in Norway, and his business partner, Mary Parker from Oregon, with her small daughter Edith, bought the Bill Lacey pre-emption. They had both been driving freight teams out from Hazelton. They had a beautiful team of black Percheron mares which they traded to Mrs. C. K. Stanton of Oroville, Washington, for some jersey cows. From this start developed the famous Sunflower jerseys, known around the world for their milk and butterfat records.

The next year, Walter Martin and his wife, originally from Ontario, and their two children, moved from Princeton. They leased the Darragh place, but had some difficulty in persuading the Sheas to move off. A third child, Eddie, was born here. Later, Martin staked a homestead and Wes Bird of Princeton staked next to him. In 1918 both families moved back to Princeton without proving up their claims.

Some time before 1910, Jack and George Bowerman of Oroville, Washington, located the Dividend mine, situated at the foot of the mountain and about four miles west of Osoyoos. It contained a good deal of valuable ore and a lot of work was done there. About 1917, Charlie Antonsine and another man from Oroville worked it on percentage for the Franks' Syndicate of New York. Handpicking the ore, they averaged $800 a car for themselves. It was hauled to Oroville in a big Studebaker truck, one of the first in the Valley, and shipped to the smelter at Tacoma by way of Molson, Spokane and Wenatchee. About 1933, the Northern Syndicate of Calgary bought the mine, brought in up-to-date machinery and had as many as fifty men employed there under the able supervision of the late Professor J. 0. Howells and his assistant, Captain John Davidson. However, restrictions caused by the war were responsible for closing it down again about 1942.

John Murphy, his daughter, Sally, and her husband, Joe Downey, not long out from Ireland, came about 1916. Joe Downey got work in the mines at Nighthawk and the next year Mrs. Murphy and son arrived. They worked hard and suffered considerable privation before they proved up on the place. Then they sold for what they could get and left.

When we were married in 1918, one more family was added. The Sheas left that year and Ike Taylor had been gone quite awhile. In 1919, W. J. Dignan brought his bride to the Darragh place which he had bought. Bill and Jack Dignan had owned the first picture show business in Princeton. Their father, a G.A.R. veteran who lived in an old soldiers' home in Great Falls, Montana, made a trip to the mountain every year until his death. Mrs. Dignan was the daughter of Frank Verdier, who was born at Saanich on Vancouver Island. Her mother's people were from St. Louis, Missouri. Their name was St. Louis. John St. Louis, John St. Maries (after whom St. Maries, Idaho, was named), and a third partner were among the first white men on the Tulameen. They prospected through all that country.

We used to look forward to regular visits from the prospectors who did assessment work on their claims every year. They were always good company, telling many interesting and hair-raising yarns of their travels in the rugged mountains, and bringing us news of friends and acquaintances. One of the prospectors was Davie James, of Welsh parentage, who had ridden with Reno for some years. Once he brought Tom O'Connell with him from Chopaka. O'Connell had ridden at one time with Quantrill's Rebels, and he and Davie had come into this country together. It was quite wonderful to hear at first-hand the experiences of these old-timers. Another who made regular visits to us was John Henry Davis (Stuttering Davis). He was born in Wales and sent to this country as a remittance man. In 1917, he drove a tunnel into the bed of Strawberry Creek and got enough water to irrigate a good-sized garden for three or four years. Two others were Paul Nelson, a Swede who worked at the Lone Pine for several years, and Nels Phinella, of Oroville. Phinella knew the names of every flower and plant on the range and the medicinal use of each one. Like all prospectors, he was looking for a rich strike, but in spite of all his knowledge, he never hit one that really paid off.

Ole Michelson, Swede Charlle (Charlie Bjorke) and Joe Murphy had a cabin just across the line and worked an American claim on the 49th parallel. Joe Murphy brought about twenty-five head of horses from Anarchist Mountain and turned them loose on Kruger Mountain, where they increased rapidly. They were the cause of considerable friction on the mountain since Murphy owned no land and these horses were half gentle and no respecters of fences. Things were interesting, too, when the Geary family from near Similkameen Station ran sheep on the mountain for two or three years. About 1919, a man named Curt Hoover came from Methow with a lot of horses, a fine Percheron stallion and several head of dogie cattle. He persuaded John Walker to take him as a partner. All John got from the partnership which lasted only a few years was a few good colts and a lot of grief. At that time the United States was "dry," and much to John's dismay, Hoover brought in a still and commenced to make moonshine. Once when he was brought up before Judge Neal at Okanogan, Washington, he pleaded guilty, but claiming he had no money, asked the judge to sell the twelve bottles and keep the money for his fine. John dissolved the partnership after this. Hoover died in Oroville about 1929.

About 1920, George Taylor got some sheep. Shortly afterwards he sold out to Fred Manweiler, who had worked on the Kettle Valley Railway at Penticton for several years before moving to Oroville.

In 1919, we traded a fine team of colts to Bob Gillespie, pre-emption inspector from Vernon, for a 1914 Model "T" Ford. All we got was the running-gear, engine, radiator, steering wheel and gas tank. We made a "bug" out of it, a kind of first cousin to the present-day "hot rod." Everything on it was home-made, and it served us for seven years. We only walked home once and that was because there was no gas in Osoyoos. Tom Anderson also got one the next year. In those days there were no gas pumps between Penticton and Oroville. Gas was hauled to Osoyoos in barrels and four-gallon cans and cost 75c a gallon from the barrel and 85c a gallon in the four-gallon cans. The price was 45c a gallon in Penticton, but in Oroville, where there was a gas war, the smaller gallons sold for 18 1/2c a gallon in 1920.

In 1920, we paid $16 a hundred pounds for sugar and $11 a hundred for flour. Butter was $1 a pound and eggs $1 a dozen. Strawberry, jam cost $1.65 for a four-pound can, and the other jams cost from $1.35 to $1.55. A big cow brought us $128 and two-year old steers averaged over $100 a piece-prices unheard of before. Wages were 45c an hour for a ten-hour day.

The Spotted Lake district was considered a part of the Kruger Mountain settlement because there were no families left on Richter Mountain. About 1918, the climate became drier and the crops were now mostly hay. North of Richter Pass, and close to Spotted Lake, Tom Confrey from Donegal, Ireland, Jim Ferguson of Scottish parentage but raised in a Swedish settlement, and Joe Johnson, a brother of Ernest Johnson of Bridesville, all had places. Spotted Lake is about half a mile north of Richter Pass and contains about 99% pure Epsom salts. The lake was worked at one time by a Seattle company which employed quite a crew of Chinamen, and hauled the salts by truck to the salt plant just west of Oroville. Joe Johnson remained at Spotted Lake only a couple of years, but Tom Confrey stayed ten or twelve years. Ferguson ended his days at Essondale.

Close to Richter Pass, Major C. C. Allen built a house on land he got from his father-in-law, C. de B. Greene. When his family of four boys were of school age, he moved away.

The last good years were 1921 and 1922. We had got down to raising rye hay. In 1921 we cut rye hay that was 7 and 8 feet tall. A rain came right after haying, and the rye came up again and we were able to thresh enough for seed the next year. Fall wheat was so heavy it lodged and we were only able to cut half of it. The cattlemen bought most of what was left. In 1924 and 1925 the Dignans left and Tom Anderson sold out. We bought all of Knudt Knutsen's Jerseys.

Now the whole mountain has gone back to range.

Stories of Early Settlement

Want to read more stories about early settlements on Kruger and Richter Mountains, by Ed Lacey, Doug Fraser and Dorothy Fraser? Click here.