History: Learning about the legendary Overlanders

The story of the Overlanders has achieved legendary status in Kamloops.

There is a statue, a bridge, a beach, streets, and businesses, all commemorating this famous group who trekked across Canada on their way to the goldfields of British Columbia.

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There was in fact more than one group of Overlanders. But the group including the Schubert family which passed through Kamloops in October 1862 made the name ‘Overlanders’ famous.

Most longtime Kamloopsians are familiar with the Overlanders but newcomers to town and tourists may also want to know about them — a story worth recounting.

At the same time, a few myths can be dispelled.

The expedition actually consisted of four groups who completed the same journey in 1862 and collectively became known as the Overlanders.

One of the leaders, Thomas McMicking, wrote an account of the trek which was published in the British Columbia newspaper New Westminster.

As well, there were other accounts and diaries of the trip, which have created quite a corpus of history resulting in several books and scads of newspaper articles.

The Schuberts, Irish-born Catherine (née O’Hare) and her German husband Francis Augustus were living in Fort Garry (Manitoba) with their three small children when the Canadians en route to the goldfields of British Columbia arrived there from eastern Canada in June 1862.

Augustus decided to join the miners and his wife, pregnant with a fourth child, refused to be left behind.

After the Overlanders crossed the prairies in Red River carts and proceeded to Yellowhead Pass, at Tête Jaune Cache their provisions were nearly exhausted.

There they found a camp of Secwépemc people from whom they obtained dried salmon and berry cakes in exchange for ammunition, shirts, hankerchiefs, needles and thread.

It was here that the 126 Overlanders split up, a large group taking the Fraser River to the Cariboo goldfields. A group of 36, under Thomas McMicking, was accompanied by a Secwépemc guide to show them the trail to the head of the North Branch of the Thompson River.

This party comprised over 20 men, plus Catherine, 27 years old, and family consisting of Augustus, 35 years old, and three children — Augustus Jr., six years old, Mary Jane, four years old, and James who was two years old. Catherine Schubert was the only woman in the company.

At a place they called ‘Slaughter Camp’ near Thunder River, north of present Blue River, the Overlanders killed their cattle, dried the meat, abandoned their horses, and made rafts and canoes to continue their arduous journey. Upon encountering a set of rapids called Porte d’Enfer (Gate of Hell), rafts capsized and a drowning occurred.

The party constructed several new rafts but 64 kilometres farther, encountering the impassable Murchison Rapids near Mad River, a good trail was found for the last 193 kilometres to Thompson Rivers Post.

Some like the Schuberts continued by raft. It had taken them 40 days to get from Tête Jaune Cache to Kamloops where they arrived on October 13, 1862.

Local history records that the Schuberts landed their raft on the east side of the North Thompson and Catherine gave birth to a baby girl the day after their arrival.

According to Catherine, Augustus helped her with the delivery and received comfort from some Secwepemc women. She named her new child Rose Anna.

Contrary to popular belief, Rose Hill in Kamloops is not named after her. Catherine said her name was for the rose hips they ate along the way which helped keep them alive.

The Overlanders did not stay for long in Kamloops. Most of the North Thompson party continued their journey after a brief respite, heading to the coast for the winter.

William Fortune was the only Overlander who remained permanently in Kamloops, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company before buying land at Tranquille where he built a mill.

The Schuberts stayed at the old fort on the north shore over the winter. Augustus helped with the construction of the new fort on the south side of the Thompson while Catherine worked as a cook.

In the spring of 1863, they moved to Lillooet. Augustus spent the summers mining in the Cariboo, rejoining his family full-time in 1874.

Catherine in 1877 moved temporarily to work as matron of the Cache Creek Boarding School for six years. Augustus preempted land in the Okanagan where they all moved in 1883. Augustus passed away in 1908, Catherine in Armstrong in 1918.

McMicking, in his journal, praised Catherine Schubert for her courage and care for her children. “In performing this journey, Mrs. Schubert has accomplished a task to which but few women are equal; and, with the additional care of three small children, one which but few men would have the courage to undertake.” But Catherine was not the first woman to make such a trek.

Although the Overlanders may have been the largest group of people ever to cross Canada before the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, the Overlanders were not the first settlers to cross the Rockies, nor was Catherine the first woman on such a journey.

Two decades before the Overlanders, John Sinclair led an expedition sponsored by the HBC made up of 23 Métis families, totalling 121 people, and babies born on the trip, which left Fort Garry in June 1841 in Red River carts and travelled via Fort Edmonton south to White Man’s Pass through the Rockies on their way to Fort Vancouver.

Sinclair Canyon near Radium Hot Springs is named after the Indigenous leader. B.C. was at that time part of the Oregon Country.

Later, in 1854, Sinclair led a second, smaller party from Red River to Oregon, then American territory, this time a group of about 100, driving 250 head of cattle. After receiving reports of a shorter route, they crossed North Kananaskis Pass.

Ken Favrholdt is a freelance writer and historical geographer. He was formerly curator/archivist of the Kamloops Museum and Archives.

© Kamloops This Week



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