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Month: June 1862

The Overlanders of 1862 in the Jasper Area

The Overlanders of 1862 in the Jasper Area

Submitted by: Cathy

In June 1862 a party of approximately 150 people set out from Fort Garry in Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg, Manitoba) for the goldfields of Barkerville, B.C. One of those men was Augustus Schubert. With him were his wife, Catherine (O’Hare) Schubert and their three children, aged 2, 6 and 10. They were the only woman and children on the trip. It was anticipated that the party would reach the goldfields within 2 months.

Visitors to Jasper may hike or bike on the Overlander Trail east of the townsite. Further west, in Robson Provincial Park in B.C. there is a viewpoint of Overlander Falls.

Cathy is the great-great granddaughter of Augustus and Catherine Schubert and is passing on this story to remind us that 155 years ago travel in Alberta was arduous and treacherous. When Cathy was a child, she would try to imagine what the journey would have been like in Catherine’s voice.

Our journey began on June 3, 1862 and the plan is to reach the goldfields in two months. Our cart is filled to the brim with food and other supplies. Within 1 month, we hope to reach Fort Edmonton, 900 miles away, where we can replenish our supplies. The road is rough even riding horseback, as I do. But the biggest challenge is the mosquitoes, which drive the children to tears. I can only bathe them in cold water and rub fat on their exposed skin.

After one month, we have travelled about 500 miles, fording several large, swift rivers (the South Saskatchewan, North Saskatchewan and Battle rivers) as we crossed the prairie. This required a lot of ingenuity, bridge-building and muscle; it was amazing to see how expert the men became at bridge-building. Particularly after we passed Fort Pitt (just east of the modern day Alberta-Saskatchewan border), even small creeks are rushing torrents, it rains daily, the fog is thick, and where there was once dry land, there is now only swamp.  I fear that someone may be swept away in the flood and despair of ever reaching Fort Edmonton. It is already July!

Finally, we reach Fort Edmonton on July 21. We thought we would be almost to the Cariboo by now. After a treacherous crossing of the river from the north to the south side, in which we had to lower horses down the cliff suspended by ropes, raft across, and then climb the cliff on the other side, we discovered that Fort Edmonton was on the north side after all! And the men from the fort can’t ferry us across because their boats have floated away in the high water.

We are made very welcome at the Fort. In the evening we have dances, sing songs and meet the local people. On Sunday, we will have a proper church service. During the days, we have been trying to sell anything we don’t absolutely need, because the road ahead is too rough for our oxen and carts. The men are selling them and buying packhorses. On the other hand, I had so hoped for some fresh food here, but all that’s available is pemmican. We are so tired of pemmican! Augustus wants me and the children to stay here and wait for him to send for us next spring. To that I said, “Why don’t we all stay here? There is gold and jobs and safety.” But he is determined to go, and I am more determined to keep the family together.

The men have been consulting with fort personnel and other locals, and they decided to attempt crossing the Rockies via Tete Jaune (Yellowhead) pass, even though some considered the trail nearly impassable, because it is the shortest route to the goldfields. A Metis man named Andre Cardinal, who was born at Jasper House, has been hired to guide us. Before we leave, we shall perform a concert for all those who have helped us here and made our stay so enjoyable.

On July 29, we leave Edmonton, first to St. Albert, and again our worst enemy is the mosquito. Camping by Big Lake probably doesn’t help but the fish caught for dinner are a welcome change. But we don’t have our cow anymore, so the children don’t have any milk to drink.

On August 15, we have reached the Athabasca River.  The past two weeks took us through Lac Ste. Ann and Pembina River, very brushy territory, not like the open prairie we were used to.  The most exciting thing was making our fires with coal gleaned from the banks of the river. It was also exciting to get fresh bread and eggs from the nuns at Lac Ste. Anne, as well as turnips, the first fresh vegetables in weeks.  But one morning I woke up and there was frost all around, and it was so cold until we got the fires going. Once my horse reared up and we knocked heads, with me losing a tooth.

After following the MacLeod River for a few days, beating our way through the thick brush and forest, and interminable swamps, we first glimpsed the Rockies.  I am now more than 7 months pregnant and beginning to worry that we shall not reach the Cariboo before the baby comes. Indeed, I thought I might give birth the day we saw a huge snake, I was so frightened! There are no snakes in Ireland and I am deathly afraid of them. Another day, two men almost drowned in the river but they were able to grab the tail of our guide’s horse and were pulled to the shore.

Already, we are running low on provisions and on short rations, but we have been able to pick some berries and catch some fish. Some Indians came by and we traded for some mountain goat meat they had. I make sure the children have enough, but all of the adults are continually hungry. There is so much to do, I have no time to feel sorry for myself. Even though we are so late in the season, we still stop on Sundays to rest, pray to God and dry out our clothes and remaining provisions.

Seeing the mountains for the first time was amazing and we all burst into cheers, even though we are still more than a hundred miles away. It has been decided that the men will fish and hunt on Saturday and Sunday, in hopes we can improve our food supply.

We are camping in the area of the northeast end of what is now Jasper National Park near Roche Miette. Our guide warns us that the trail on the south side of the river is very rugged and steep terrain but on the north side we will have to swim across 2 large rivers. We elect the south side.

The trail is so steep, I need help to ascend it, and at the top is a large hornet’s nest. Everyone is getting stung! On the downward section of trail, two packhorses and their gear were lost over cliffs, fortunately not ours. But after that, we have to take the packs off the horses and the men have to carry them so that the horses can keep their footing. From the top, we can see Jasper House across the river, but it is unoccupied and there is no hope of getting any provisions there.

On August 20th, we have finally reached Athabasca Crossing (likely near the confluence of the Athabasca with the Maligne River) where the river is 100 yards wide and 15-20 feet deep. The men constructed rafts in order to cross the river but my little Jimmy insisted on piggy-packing with Peter, who often carries him.

Now we leave the Athabasca and follow the Miette River upstream. We had to pass through a tangled mess of downed trees that had been burned in a fire to make it through Tete Jaune Pass, crossing the Miette seven times!

Today, after several more river crossings, we crossed the Great Divide [and passed out of what is now Jasper National Park], camping by Cow-Dung Lake [now called Yellowhead Lake].  Surely we will soon reach civilization!


Thus, it took the Overlanders about 4 days to accomplish what now takes about an hour by car, driving through Jasper National Park. On August 27, after weeks of starvation rations, they reach Tete Jaune Cache and were able to replenish supplies such as flour and obtain fresh and dried meat from First Nations people, along with salmon. At this point the party split up, with some continuing on their original goal of reaching Barkerville. The Schubert family, with Catherine by this point 8 months pregnant, elected to go south via the North Thompson River with another group. The distance was about 200 miles, and they encountered many hardships including lack of food, perilous navigation by land and by river, and native villages where they might have obtained food deserted thanks to smallpox.  They did find unharvested potatoes, which they ate raw while floating down the river on their raft, huddled against the cold. Finally, on October 13, 1862, after four-and-a-half months on the trail, the Overlanders reached Fort Kamloops, where Catherine Schubert gave birth to a daughter, named Rose for the rosehips that had helped sustain them on the last part of the journey.

In 1915, Catherine Schubert wrote a letter to her grand-daughter, Corinna. She wrote of the black flies and the mosquitoes, and called the journey across the prairies “difficult and exasperating”, then notes that after that it became “rougher.” She had many more adventures in her life, including several more children, and lived to an old age, albeit missing one tooth.

This information in this account is based on a monograph called The Overlanders of ’62 by M.S. Wade, written in 1931 as well as Journey Fantastic with the Overlanders to the Cariboo by Vicki Metcalf, 1970.