Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Margaret McGowan

Margaret McGowanI was born in 1923 at Camp 2, Yap Valley, Youbou, during a very heavy snow storm. Mrs. Francis Hawkins, the timekeeper's wife, was the midwife who helped my Mother. I spent all of my childhood and growing up years at Camp 6 on Cowichan Lake. It was a wonderful place for a child to grow up. We had such freedom, the hills and mountains to climb, the lake for boating and swimming, and Nixon Creek to explore. These were the big deals beside the usual games that kids play. Tag, skipping, marbles and a favorite, anti-I-over. Anti-I-Over you choose upsides, one group on one side of a building and the other group on the other side. You would throw a ball over the house and call out, "Anti-I-Over". If it didn't go over you had another turn, if it went over and the other side caught it, you ran around the other side and tried to tag as many as you could and then they would be on your side. The object of the game was to try and get all the players on your side. This must have driven the teacher near nuts with the ball landing and thumping on her roof.

Cleaning up bonfires was always a big deal too. We came out of school one day to see the Chinese crew had a good one burning below their bunkhouses, so hooting and yelling we all ran home for potatoes to bake and spent the rest of the day stuffing ourselves. When the train whistle blew, I went up to meet Dad at the crummy, as I sometimes did, so that I could carry his lunch bucket home. All the men gave me a smile and hello. Dad didn't say anything, he just handed over his pail and listened to my chatter all the way home. Mom was a different story, "Where have you been?", "What were you doing?", "Go wash!", "Did you meet the crummy like that?", "Just go and look at yourself"

I did and there I was completely covered with charcoal and soot, barely recognizable. It was worth it, we'd had a great afternoon.

When the old high line was abandoned and logging moved across the valley to the towline, we found another exciting pastime. Often there was a push car tossed off to the side of the track somewhere, so a gang of us would somehow manage to get it back on the rails. We'd push it up the old high line as far as we could and then, with an old branch or board for a brake, we'd sail back down into camp. That was exciting but hard work too, so we didn't make too many trips in an afternoon.

I think it's strange now, but I can't remember if we were ever reprimanded or told not to do something around camp. However, there was one exception and it was drilled into us: "Don't ever touch any of the switches"

Most of us kids learned to swim at a very young age, not only for pleasure but for necessity as well. It was a float camp, and most of the families lived in houses on the water. In the winter, when the water level was very high, the storms made the sidewalks very dangerous. Fortunately, we learned well to take care and none of us came to harm.

Then came the Great Depression. There was no work and all of the camps closed. Dad had begun to believe all the false propaganda from Russia. With many tears we moved to our house in Ladysmith, where we lived until the next group of Canadians and Americans were organized to leave for Russia. In Leningrad, there was a banquet for the immigrants. Al and I thought this was okay because there was a glass of vodka, and a package of funny cigarettes that were half tube and half tobacco by our plates too!

We were sent to the Upper Lumpi River in the far north. I don't remember much about that, except that Al and I had chicken pox in our hair and had to have it all cut off. I wouldn't let anyone near mine, so the next day when Mom went to the communal dining room for lunch, I cut it off myself. After all, she had promised that it would grow back in red! When she stepped back into the room, she gave one bloodcurdling shriek to see this stranger sitting in the middle of the bed with my hair all chopped off and the bed littered with it. But the job was done and we did get better.

When winter set in, I had scurvy so badly that I couldn't walk. Dad and I left the settlement looking for medical help. We left in a horse drawn sleigh down the frozen river, and stayed the nights wherever he could find a place for us. With Dad carrying me in the packsack on his back and hitching rides wherever possible, we finally reached Petrazavodsk on Lake Onega. In the city he located Dr. Meriarusso, an American, who had traveled with our group to Russia. He arranged for me to be admitted into the hospital under his care. Lack of fruits and vegetables is the main cause of scurvy, and they were also very expensive, when they could be found in Russia. The nurses pilfered freely of what Dad brought for me, until I saw them doing it at night and told the Doctor. He quickly put a stop to that and I started to get better.

Dad went to work at Bott Lake and visited me on Sundays.It was across Lake Onega, not far from the city. With the Doctor's help again, he arranged for the rest of the family to be transferred. When they arrived in Petrozavodsk, I was discharged from the hospital and we all settled at Bott Lake in another communal building. Each family had a private room, ours was fairly large, rations were shared and the women did the cooking and cleaning. Everyone worked. Dad logging and Mom doing the baking. She did this at night and took many chances by giving the Russian children bread when they came begging in the dark. This was strictly forbidden.

Letty worked scaling and sometimes in the office. Lil and Dot were sent to boarding school in Petrozavodsk. Al and I went to the local school and, in playing with the children, we quickly learned to speak Russian. When the men had any business or complaints, they took me along to the office as interpreter! At age nine, I had no understanding of what was under discussion and I just hated it but Dad told me to go... there was no one else.

Al had a wind-up train, and I had a doll with hair and eyes that opened and closed; a gift from Mrs. Len Romback. These so impressed the children that they were almost afraid to touch them. All they had to play with were the balls and dolls their mothers had made. 'We did find that most of the games that children play are universal.

AI and I had a special weekend when we went with a friend of Dad's to his home village. After an early morning start it seemed we rode and walked through the Birch forest all day to finally arrive at a few houses. You can imagine our surprise to find that a cow lived downstairs in the same house, and that most houses had the same arrangement. Everyone made a friendly fuss over us. The kids were especially happy to have someone new to play with. It must have been a holiday celebration because the next day there was dancing and games and tables laden with food. I now suspect that we were in Karelia, close to the Finnish border. The Russians didn't have food like that and they spoke a lot of Finn. Early the next morning, all the kids and most adults were out to wave and say good bye. It's a nice memory.

When we left Russia, Mom and Dad gave Letty's fur coat to his friend. Many of our heavy winter clothes and different things were left to a very grateful people. In Leningrad, when we left Russia, I don't remember sightseeing or leaving the hotel very often. Not like when we arrived and toured many sights and palaces. Our parents were very nervous. It was known that some were turned back and not allowed to leave. The tension was worse when we boarded the train. The bridge over the river separating Finland and Russia is painted red on the Russian side and white on the Finnish. When we hit the white side nearly everyone in that car was crying, leaving Al and I to wonder what was going on.

Helsinki is a beautiful, clean city. Dad's sister, Aunt Hannah, came to stay with us and to squire us around, mainly to all the cathedrals. She wanted Dad to go north to visit his family. He was also asked to be interviewed on the radio. He refused both being nervous about the publicity, and not wanting to leave the protection of the Helsinki Police. Our parents looked after and protected us as well as they could. For them, it was a journey that started with great anticipation and ended in total disillusionment.

It did end, and we finally boarded a ship and were on our way back to Canada and Lake Cowichan. When we arrived in Ladysmith, we stayed at the ranch with Grannie Solmie while Dad went back to his job in Camp Six. The Depression was over and all of the camps were working again. Al and I went to Oyster School in Saltair, and when our old house was readied for us, we went back to camp too. After all this behind us, we were finally home again.

The Depression had not been easy for the people either, most of whom had stayed in camp. The kids swore they would never eat venison or pick another blackberry, ever again!

We quickly settled in and took up our old pastimes. One ambitious hike we took, with parental permission, was over the mountain to McDonald Murphies Lake Logging. We were around eleven or twelve years old, so it was quite an undertaking, and what a great day it was! When we reached their tracks, a speeder going into camp picked us up and dropped us off at the cookhouse. Where else? We were made a big fuss over by the staff and had our lunch with them. They told us to run back quickly, when the speeder whistle blew later in the afternoon, to hitch another ride back to the pick-up point. Loaded down with cookies, we set off to explore their camp. It was much smaller than ours. Most of the women came out of their houses beside the track to talk, ask for news of their friends and show us their babies. We went swimming in the creek behind camp; our bathing suits were always under our clothes those summer days. The water was freezing, but floating down on the fairly fast current was wonderful. When the speeder whistle blew, we quickly ran back to the cookhouse and were again loaded down with cookies and fruit for the hike home. The trek home was much easier than climbing over the mountain, but it was a very tired (but still elated) group that trudged back into camp.

I always liked school, as I'm sure most kids do, though it was never admitted. My first teacher was Miss Elaine Fox, later Mrs. Bill Lloyd. She was very well-liked by the children and everyone. An added plus, for a very small school was that she played the piano and sang very well. Often on Friday afternoons, all the pupils gathered in the hall for singing and thanks to her, we all received a fairly good grounding in the popular classics. Later in the fall, the older pupils took up a collection around camp for the Christmas Concert, which absolutely everyone attended. The program was varied with recitations, small skits and a fully costumed play. There were lots of carols, some of which the audience joined in. It was always a big success. Later when Santa Claus came in with his fully loaded pack, every child from the newest baby on, received a present.

When Miss North Dwyer, later Mrs. M. Nicholson became the teacher, not being musical, she found the concerts harder to deal with. Mrs. Rene Warner took over the music very capably, and the mothers helped with the costumes. She produced very good concerts too! To her fell the job of organizing the annual school picnic, held either on the big island or at the mouth of Nixon Creek. The mothers made cakes and sandwiches, the company cookhouse supplied potato and other salads and ice cream! It was the only time we had ice cream in camp until much later, so it was a real treat. Early in the morning, everyone piled into the scow and the tugboat towed us to the chosen site. After a full day of races, games, exploring and swimming, everyone was ready to go home when the tugboat came back for us... especially the mothers!

I have said that I liked school, but it was hard to sit still in September when the sun was hazy and fire was drifting through the air. On one such day, Sophie just couldn't settle down, she was such a nuisance. Miss Dwyer, in exasperation, sent her home. A short time later, I happened to look up to see the teacher's face start to get red, and it got redder and redder. In order to see what out there was upsetting her, I grabbed a pencil and hurried to the sharpener on the windowsill. I saw Sophie, laughing and waving from the cab of the loci. She was on her way out to the woods with the train crew. Some punishment and oh, how I wished I was with her!

Mrs. Lloyd Sr. had a bi-weekly club for the girls. We did fancy work and made cookies and candy. When she left, Miss Dwyer took over the small group. We enjoyed these gatherings very much, mainly I think, to show that we could act like little ladies occasionally.

Lake Cowichan by Margaret McGowanDon't all old people say, "We had a lot more snow back then?" We really did and took full advantage of it, with rolling in the soft white stuff, snowmen and sleighing. To say nothing of the snow ball fights. These sometimes turned into real battles with name-calling and lots of noise; which quickly brought Mauno Pelto up the hill to send us all home.

When the weather was really bad, we were allowed to play in the hall as long as we did no damage. We didn't. We played blind man's bluff and tag. After much practice we eventually learned to play badminton. There was one thing that we sometimes did and never told anyone. We'd go up to the balcony, and climb over the movie projection room to the other side and walk along a narrow plank into the attic. We found it really thrilling to scare ourselves and each other in the near total darkness. It wasn't long before we'd scared ourselves badly enough to hurry back downstairs.

Years later, my own very small son came home from Sunday School to tell me that Jesus was there that morning. He was building a new toilet right in the hall. I thought, "Good! He's still there looking after everything!"



Charlie Mott (AKA Butch Cassidy)
In any history of Camp 6, Caycuse, or Cowichan Lake there must be a place for the story of Charlie Mott: a mystery figure, and a recluse who lived in a cabin built of hand-split cedar shakes on the bank of Nixon Creek, a short distance up from the mouth. A tall thin man, with a drooping handlebar moustache, he kept very much to himself. His only intimate contact with the world outside of the Lake area, was Charlie Mott, AKA Butch Cassidyunknown woman who sometimes visited him in the summer. He came only occasionally into camp to buy a few groceries and to pick up his mail. On rarer occasions, when he probably felt a need for company, he would visit with my Dad. The two of them would sit at a corner table in the kitchen talking together in very quiet voices for hours on end. It was rumoured that Charlie Mott had been a gunman and train robber in the American West, something Dad never denied but he never actually confirmed either. If this was true, it was ironic that the Game Warden and the Provincial Police boat making their inspection tours around the lake, called on him regularly to check on his well-being.

To the pupils attending Nixon Creek School, Charlie Mott was someone special. We always called him by his full name. Oh, the joy and excitement when one of the kids would come flying into the school yard to announce that he had seen Charlie Mott, and we were all invited to supper. Usually it would be on a Friday, as we were sometimes let out of school a bit early, that being the day the teacher, Miss Fox, was often ferried across the lake to Kissinger to catch the gas car that would take her home to Victoria for the weekend. On the big day, every kid that could get parental permission, by whatever means, would go whooping off down the trail to Nixon Creek. Charlie Mott kept his row boat tied to a stake just below the cabin. When we arrived on the opposite bank, we would find our friend waiting to row us across. Nixon Creek, in those days was quite deep and wide and, could be forded in only a few places. After we had admired his huge garden, and inspected any new projects he might have undertaken, we played with the squirrels. He had any number of tame ones that came down from the trees when he called. One in particular, Josephine, would sit in our hands too, and seemed to understand every word he said. Supper was a huge pot of mulligan stew, thick with venison and fresh garden vegetables, simmered on the back of the stove. It was more than enough to feed an army, but just enough to feed ten or twelve hungry kids, and with fat slabs of homemade bread slathered with butter. Where else could a kid relish such perfection? The children weren't the only ones entertained by Charlie Mott; Every now and again, the ladies of the camp would be invited to tea. These occasions were much more decorous, and the conversation much more polite. There was even jam for the bread! In retrospect, I wonder if the invitations weren't issued to forestall unexpected visitors, which he never trusted. He was constantly on guard, and always met approaching strangers on the trail, or the beach, with his rifle over his arm.

One summer, a few of the older girls (Lil and Dot Norman, Susie Coburn, and Helen Heino) went camping at Nixon Creek. The first night out they were badly frightened by weird noises, and crashing, in the bushes around their campsite; enough to bring them home at daylight. Charlie Mott was suspected of frightening them off to preserve his privacy. Two of the older boys, Rudy Hendrickson and Cyril Manus, quite often visited him to be regaled by hair raising stories of bank robberies, train robberies and daring escapes. He actually displayed bullet holes, in his shoulder and leg, which supposedly were received in gun fights at the time of these adventures. According to the boys, he was a superb marksman who never missed any target when showing off his prowess. At one time, Rudy entered the cabin and surprised him napping on the cot with his rifle beside him. In a flash, he was on his feet with his rifle aimed. Fortunately, he paused long enough to recognize Rudy before pulling the trigger.

Charlie Mott died in the Duncan Hospital in 1937. Shortly before his demise, two Pinkerton agents from the United States arrived at the hospital, having finally tracked down the man they had been searching for for many years. Knowing that death was very near, his doctors refused them permission to question or interview him.

As nearly as can be recalled, I clipped the accompanying article from a newspaper in about 1960. Is it just a strange coincidence that the content and time so closely parallel our story or could it be possible that the man we knew as Charlie Mott, who spent the last ten years of his life in the cabin at Nixon Creek, actually could have been Butch Cassidy?

By Margaret McGowan

Butch's fate still a puzzle
What happened to Butch Cassidy, leader of the turn-of-the-century Wild Bunch that robbed trains and banks in the West? The question still bothers history buffs. Cassidy's fate has been a puzzle for nearly 75 years. The movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its enigmatic ending showing Cassidy and Sundance shooting away at Uruguayan soldiers surrounding them, created a new wave of interest. Cassidy, whose real name was Robert Parker, was the subject of debate at a meeting this weekend of the National Association for Outlaw & Lawman History. What's known for certain about the Wild Bunch is that it existed from about 1896 to 1901, based in Wyoming, and ranged around the West on horseback, holding up banks and trains and taking as much as $30,000 at a crack. William Linn, vice-president of Pinkerton's Inc., whose agents trailed the Wild Bunch across the West, said a "preponderance indicates Cassidy and Harry Longbaugh, the Sundance Kid, were slain after fleeing to Uruguay. But "Cowboy Joe" Marsters, 82, of Doyle, California, claiming to be the last man alive to have ridden with the Wild Bunch, said he saw Cassidy alive in the U.S. as late as 1915. Cassidy's sister, Lula Betenson of Circleville, Utah, said she saw her brother in 1927. Mrs. Betenson, now in her *0s, said Cassidy lived out his life in the Pacific Northwest and died in 1937. Just where, she said, is a "family secret." Tim Dullenty of Kennewick, Washington, a writer, said his research showed Cassidy died a natural death in 1937 in Spokane, Wash. Cassidy, 71 at the time, was a respectable businessman living under the assumed name of William T. Phillips, Dullenty said.