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Coming of Age on the Trail




Part one of the story Introduces the principal characters, Spencer, Cory, Jaycee and "Reb" to the reader. It also sets the scenario for the cattle drive north to the gold fields around Dawson City, Yukon Territory--the so called "Klondike."


The cattle drive to follow is based on an actual cattle drive that took place in 1898; therefore I have included some vintage photographs related to it and the Klondike gold rush in general; i.e. the treacherous White Pass (otherwise known as "Dead Horse Gulch), etc. Some of these photographs are quite unique, so I hope you will enjoy seeing them.



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Spencer Twilingate


"Spencer Archibald Nathaniel Twilingate had been born on his family’s ancestral estate in Somerset, England. His father, the fifth Earl of Ardmore, had seven children of whom Spencer was the youngest and most precocious. Following several incidents that saw him expelled from two, prestigious boys’ schools, the staunchly Victorian earl drew the proverbial line when young Spencer impregnated a kitchen maid at about Cory’s age. Consequently, in 1861 Earl Twilingate took steps to prevent a ‘bastard’ child from appearing on his noble lineage by shipping her off to an unknown location, and young Spencer to Canada with a dockside handshake and a small remittance of £5,000." Coming of Age on the Trail.


"Jaycee" Collins


"Until he could orient himself for the long trip west of the Mississippi he [Spencer] headed south of the Great Lakes, through the more populated, northern American States, and while in Chicago he fell in with a tall, roguish-looking cowhand by the name of Jason “Jaycee” Collins. Collins appeared to be roughly Spencer’s age, with his Stetson shoved rakishly to the back of his head, and a shock of unruly hair tumbling over his forehead.


“Where y’all headin’, Limy?” he asked when he spied Spencer’s distinctive Bowler hat.


Taking this as a slight, Spencer didn’t shrink from it. "None of your damned business, Yank,” he replied and prepared to defend his British honour against this cheeky, former colonist.


However, Collins merely grinned, lopsidedly, and offered his hand. “No offence, Brit. It’s just my way o’ talkin’.”


Spencer quickly backed down as well. There was something compellingly likeable about this brash, young cowboy, and Spencer found him quite disarming. Therefore, he readily accepted his hand and they both laughed about it." Coming of Age on the Trail


Cory & "Reb"

Cory and Reb are fictional characters, of course, but this photo struck me as being particularly representative of these two. Firstly, because it is a candid moment in the lives of two, actual young cowboys on the trail or roundup, and because of the tenderness portrayed.

There can be no doubt of the care being taken by the older one not to injure his young friend (lover, perhaps). Likewise, the trust being displayed by the younger lad [note the open shirt and the bold display of skin]. It is the trust of an eronomos in the hands of his handsome erastes--cohorts. Photograph by Erwin E. Smith


Norman Lee's Route


Norman Lee's legendary cattle drive is the true-life inspiration for this story. In 1898, Lee set out to drive 200 head of cattle from his home in Hanceville, British Columbia (the so-called "settlement" in the story), to the Klondike goldfields - a distance of 1,500 miles. He was gambling both his cattle and his life. Throughout the daunting weeks of coping with mud, cold and sheer bad luck, Lee kept his sense of humour. When he returned from his Yukon trek, he rewrote the notes from his journal, illustrating his story with his own cartoons and sketches. He completed his manuscript around the turn of the century, but it sat untouched until 1960. [Norman Lee, Klondike Cattle Drive, Horsdal & Schubert 2005].


Click on image to enlarge.




Collin's Telegraph Company Trail

Norman Lee's 1898 Cattle Drive followed the Collin's Telegraph Trail, as did Cory and Reb. It was about 12 - 16 feet in width, for the most part.

This anonymous photograph shows an actual cattle drive along that trail, which could very well be Lee's. In any event it gives you some idea of the conditions he and the boys went through.


The Collin's Telegraph Trail as it looks today.

Fortunately, there is a group in British Columbia who have undertaken to maintain the trail for hikers.

A cattle drive down the main street of Barkerville

Occasionally the cattle drive had to pass through one of the small communities along the way, as this drive did in the 1890s.

Barkerville is mentioned quite prominently in Coming of Age on the Trail. It was the notorious goldmine town founded by Billy Barker--The first man to discover gold in the William's Lake area of British Columbia. Click on photo to enlarge.


White Pass

The White Pass trail brought out the worst in the men and women who traveled it. It came to be known as the Dead Horse Trail for the bodies of animals that lined its length like gruesome trail-markers. It is estimated that over 3000 horses died on the trail, their untrained owners caring nothing for their horses health in a mad lust for gold.

The difficulty of the trail made it all but impassable by September 1897. The trail was closed for a time while a proper wagon road was constructed and was reopened later during the winter of 1897-98. The stampeders who followed were charged a toll to use the trail; the grisly remains along the path were a constant reminder of the horrors that had taken place there.


Dead Horses

"While all this was understandably hard on humans, it was even harder for the animals. As the path was not wide enough to permit two animals to pass at a time, all movement frequently ground to a halt to await room to develop on the trail ahead. During these forced delays the wretched pack animals stood with crushing loads on their backs, sometimes for twenty-four hours at a time without any respite. Moreover, many of the men who shepherded these hapless beasts had never handled animals before, or couldn’t have cared less for their welfares. Therefore, thousands of horses and cattle lay dead along the way, sometimes in bloating clusters beneath the precipitous cliffs, or in putrid mud holes—their dead bodies forming a footing for others to cross." Coming of Age on the Trail.



Actual BC cattle drive - c. 1912


This is a photograph of a drive from Hanceville, British Columbia--the so-called "settlement" in the Coming of Age story. Norman Lee would have seen this landscape, as would (fictionally speaking) Cory and Reb.


The municipality in the foreground (middle right) is Ashcroft.




In Part One both Reb and Jaycee experience a stampede on account of the "Kansas shorthorns." If you can imagine this taking place in darkness, you will have some idea of what it was like. Moreover, almost every drive had a least one stampede before it was over.

"Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle's horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.

"When the storm breaks over his head, the least occurrence unusual, such as the breaking of a dry weed or stick, or a sudden and near flash of lightning, will start the herd, as if by magic, all at an instant, upon a wild rush. and woe to the horse, or man, or camp that may be in their path." Joseph G. McCoy


Some Typical Scenes From the Trail

Cattle Herd


The typical herd comprised about 2,500 animals, with the some herds consisting of up to 15,000. This herd is strung out in a 'trail formation,' i.e. one long column (see upper-left), and above it is a cloud of dust kicked up by thousands of marching hooves.

A Typical Crossing


River crossings were a necessary part of trailing, but also one of the most dangerous aspects of it. Hardly a crossing was without at least one or two crosses marking its shores.



Cowboy Grave - "The Lost Pardner"

And him so strong, and yet so quick he died,

And after year on year

When we had always trailed side by side,

He went--and left me here!


We loved each other in the way men do

And never spoke about it, Al and me,

But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true

Was more than any woman's kiss could be.

We knowed--and if the way was smooth or rough,

The weather shine or pour,

While I had him the rest seemed good enough--

But he ain't here no more! - Badger C. Clark


Dinner Bell


This scene is more likely on a roundup rather than on a trail drive. On the trail it would have been rare for the cook to have time to put up the canopy.The order was nine sacks of kidney beans - eleven hundred and twenty five pounds - a thousand pounds of sugar, coffee and dried fruits in proportion. It just occurred to me that if these one hundred punchers, horse wranglers, night hawks, silk tie foremen got their proportional part of those beans and sugar there would be some sweet beans on the trail to Wyoming."



On the trail there was no way of preserving beef and, thus, the menu was limited to items which would keep, i. e. beans, biscuits and coffee, or the occasional "slow elk," a cow belonging to another outfit. In the latter instance everything was used, giving rise to a trail delicacy, "S.O.B. stew," made of tallow, tongue, liver, sweet breads, brains, marrow gut, and anything else except hoofs, horn and hide.


Hungry and weary cowboy

This weary looking lad is the real thing - a cowboy from Montana in the 1930s. I like this photograph because it shows the rugged nature of the cowhand, solitary and independent.

Campfire Around The Chuck Wagon


One of the best times of the day was spent swapping tales, and playing cards or craps around the campfire. Photograph by Erwin E. Smith


Stag Dance


On the frontier women were generally scarce until later on. However, when the music started this didn't stop the men from dancing, and the "stag dance" was quite a common--and accepted--pastime. Photograph by Erwin E. Smith

Cowboys on chuck wagon with bedrolls

This group of cowboys was photographed in 1912. Just visible in the background is a "Hoodlum" wagon (for hauling supplies), and in the foreground are some typical bedrolls. Sleeping arrangements were usually two to a bedroll.

A Remuda

A remuda is a collection of spare horses taken along on any roundup or drive--usually 4 - 5 per man. The horses would be the responsibility of a "wrangler." This photograph shows a fairly typical remuda being held by a rope corral.

Cowboys branding a white calf

This photograph shows three cowboys in a typical branding position. Two "rastlers" to throw and hold the critter, and an "iron man" to do the branding.