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Death on the Dewdney Trail

Updated: 5 days ago

In 1989, Donna Bishop and Joan Field produced a report for the Salmo Arts and Museum Society entitled Dewdney Trail 1865. They wrote the following of the confluence of the Salmo and Pend d’Oreille rivers under the heading “Ghost Flats.”

There are many stories as to who was buried here. Some say the graves have been there since the turn of the century. What we do know is that they were travellers or settlers on the Dewdney Trail. This gravesite was apparently moved in 1949 when West Kootenay [Power] built the road paralleling the Salmo River. Old timers talk of a second grave site close to where Pete the Packer had his cabin. We could find no evidence of this grave site. Apparently, it was where a mail carrier was buried. The carrier froze to death in a blizzard and was buried right beside the trail.

Joan kindly took me to Ghost Flats, which despite its name is well up a mountainside. At Nelway, we turned right onto Pend d’Oreille Road, followed it across the bridge at the confluence of the two rivers, and then turned right onto McCormick Creek Road, which is unmarked. A steep climb took us to the gravesite near the intersection of district lots 9755, 9182, and 7192. (Pete the Packer’s cabin was approximately five kilometers east, on Lot 3116.)

According to longtime resident Denis Rorick, Ghost Flats got its name after some fellows who camped there claimed they saw a ghost. Rorick and others have cared for the site over the years.

Ghost Flats in June 2024

Much of the information Joan and Donna relied on came from Bernarene Stedile, the daughter of Bernard Feeney and granddaughter of (Canada) Bill Feeney, one of the earliest settlers in the Salmo Valley. More about them later.

I have established the name of one of those buried either at this site or at Pete the Packer’s and the approximate date of his death — late 1866. He was not a mail carrier but he was found by one. And while his body was frozen, hypothermia may or may not have been the cause of death.

It helps to know that the Dewdney Trail followed the Pend d’Oreille River east from the Columbia River, then went along the Salmo River north from its confluence with the Pend d’Oreille to Lost Creek.

The 720 km trail was built in the mid-1860s following the discovery of gold at several points in the interior. Future lieutenant governor Edgar Dewdney oversaw its construction. At that time, the Hudson’s Bay Company operated Fort Shepherd, on the west side of the Columbia River, opposite the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille.

Near the confluence of the Pend d’Oreille and Columbia Rivers, ca. 1861. (Library of Congress photo)

On Feb. 11, 1867, the Victoria Daily British Colonist reprinted a dispatch that first appeared in the British Columbia Examiner, published at New Westminster:

Messrs. Stronach and Ronald arrived in town from Kootenay during the week … Mr. Ronald states that when going to Kootenai [sic] from Fort Shepherd with the mail he found a dead man, on December 21st, on the Shepherd and Kootenai mountain. It seems the deceased had been engaged in trapping, and getting short of provisions, was on his way to Fort Shepherd to obtain supplies. The name of deceased is George Tynlon or Tynline.

He was actually George Tinline, who was born in Scotland in 1828 to William and Margaret (McPherson) Tinline. He was the third of eight children, the first four of whom were born before the family immigrated to Ontario in 1834. George appears on the 1861 census living with his widowed father in King, York County, Ontario, but likely set out for BC either that year or next. He would have been 38 when he died.

I haven’t been able to confirm the identities of Stronach and Ronald, but the same issue of the Colonist quoted above reported: “Mr. Roland will return to Kootenai in about two weeks, with the mail. Parties wishing to send letters are requested to leave them with Dietz & Nelson. There is 20 feet of snow on Shepherd mountain. Mesrs. Stronach and Roland travel on snow shoes.”

Was it Ronald or Roland? This ad that also appeared that day suggests the former:

Or was it Reynolds? Three days earlier the Daily British Colonist noted:

Barnard arrived last night in a canoe with Stronach and Reynolds, the Expressmen from Kootenay … The good accounts from Kootenay given by Milby are confirmed. A good deal of gold was taken out last season. More expected next; the miner are all doing well. Stronach’s shafts in the canyon are down five (!) feet and the bed rock has not yet been reached; the expect to make a strike. Stronach left Jan. 4 when everything was frozen up and mining stopped, but no snow. On Salmon mountain there were 20 feet of snow …

(Exclamation mark in the original.)

Fast forward to 1893 when new mining discoveries were being made on the Salmo River. A prospector named Baxter, camped near the Salmo/Pend d’Oreille confluence, sent two letters to the Northwest Mining Review of Spokane. Both were published in the May 22 edition. (In a separate post, I have transcribed Baxter’s correspondence in full.)

Baxter met the old letter carrier — Ronald/Roland/Reynolds or maybe even Renault was apparently in the area this whole time, although I can’t find anyone by any of those names on the 1870s voters lists or 1891 census. In any case, Baxter learned more details about the death of poor Tynlon/Tynline/Tinline. He wrote:

I met an old Canadian French man who has been in the country 35 years, he carried the mail for years from post to post, his route requiring two months time to the trip made on foot, carrying not only the mail but his provisions on his back. Postage was $1 per letter, and was worth it, correspondence was necessarily not large. An incident he related is worth repeating:
He said in 1866 “I was carrying the mail and not far from where we are now was a cabin occupied by a lone prospector, I stopped at the place one day and found him not very well and almost out of provisions, and told him that he had better go at once to the Hudson Bay Company’s post and get some more grub and not run any great risks. On my return trip many days later when within about a mile of his cabin I saw him sitting by a tree his head leaning against it, and when I got near I spoke to him but received no answer, he was dead, and frozen stiff his gun lying on one side of him. Starvation and perhaps sudden illness had done its work. There was nothing, not a scratch of writing to tell his sad story.
“When I arrived at old Fort Colville I told the general in command and he sent some soldiers up and they buried him and marked the grave, and that ended his search for gold. You can see the grave any day by taking not a very long walk from your camp.”

Baxter didn’t say if he visited the grave site. But Matthew Hill, who came to the Pend d’Oreille in 1893, did see it. His ranch was close to the Dewdney Trail. Decades later he told historian Elsie Turnbull about it and she reported in the Trail Daily Times of June 30, 1951:

In his travels through the district, Matt came across evidence of what he refers to as “early” settlers. The earliest record he came across was the grave of a trapper named Tinline who was buried along the [Pend d’Oreille] river in 1862 [sic]. Several other graves with headstones dates some 20 years later are still to be found along the river, he says.

Who did those other grave markers belong to?

According to Trail’s Golden Jubilee Old Timers (1952), p. 27-28: “Tony Sodja came to Trail from Butte, Montana in 1895 … Mr. Sodja recalls how five members of the party with whom he was travelling along the Dewdney Trail from Waneta to South Fork died and were buried along the way.”

Their names were not given, nor was there any explanation what claimed their lives. The date seems suspect; if it happened in 1895, it could hardly have passed unnoticed — by then there were local newspapers and death registrations were being filled out less haphazardly. But maybe 1885?

Back to George Tinline: if there is any saving grace about his tragic death, it is that his family back in Ontario did somehow learn of his fate. We know this because he is mentioned on the Tinline family grave marker in Aurora, Ont., seen below, which says “George Tinline 1828-1866/Interred at Fort Shepherd, BC.” Fort Shepherd would have been a ways from his actual grave site, but the closest European settlement.

Photo courtesy Raymond Wieser

George was survived by at least six of his seven siblings, of whom only two married and only one had children. The grave marker seen above was erected in 1945 or later, after the death of the last surviving sibling, Elizabeth, at age 96 or 97 (her name appears on the opposite side). Likely the marker was thanks to efforts of their nephew Thomas, who was the informant on Elizabeth’s death certificate.

I am glad George has a headstone, even if it is 3,600 km or so from where he was actually buried. The only reason I know about it is because of an inquiry to the Trail archives from Raymond Wieser, who has been researching the Tinline family. He says there are still Tinline relatives in Canada today, likely in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Two more items may or may not be relevant. First, from the Northport News of Feb. 18, 1897. I assume this was just a joke:

The following lines were copied from a slab at one end of a mound found in the Sheep-Lost creek mineral belt, not a thousand miles from Salmon city:


Here lies the bones of two men

One No. 6 and the other 19.

And the devil claimed both of them

From earthly service

While on earth they lied as a gale

And in ‘wild cats’ dealt wholesale

Till the devil blocked their trail,

And roped them

Their loss to heaven will not be felt,

For to their maker they never knelt,

But in Satan’s wares always dealt

And now he has them.

At the confluence of the Salmo and Pend d’Oreille rivers.

Meanwhile, the Nelson Daily News reported on Aug. 13, 1909:

“Joseph Morgan, June 8, 1869” reads a mining stake which was discovered close to the old Dewdney trail between Summit and Sheep creeks by John J. Campbell, the veteran prospector … There is, according to Mr. Campbell, only one way of accounting for this stake which is almost 10 inches square with the name and date cut in it and that is that it is one of the location marks of a mineral claim … There is, he admits, the possibility that the stake marks a lonely grave where lie the remains of one of the country’s pioneers, but Mr. Campbell says there is no indication of a grave and he points out that the stake corresponds to the idea of a claim stake.

Bernarene Stedile told me her father maintained three wooden crosses — probably not the original grave markers — on or near the Feeney property. She believes one was Tinline’s, the second was a mail carrier — although this may have been the result of confusion over how Tinline’s body was discovered [1] — and the third had a name on it, but she can’t remember it. “We tried to keep some of the brush pulled away so that you could see the graves,” she says.

Stedile says they were south of the junction of Highways 3 and 6, “on the other side of the shingle mill flats, just this side of the Black Bluffs. The shingle mill flats are on the same side of the Salmo River as the highway. The Dewdney Trail crossed the river about the mouth of Swift Creek.” The graves were within a few feet of the river but were not fenced, she says.

However, when West Kootenay Power built a road to service its new power line that crossed the river, the grave markers were bulldozed. Stedile says they received no notice and her father was “devastated” when he discovered what had happened. “They could have moved the road over a few feet and not disturbed them,” she says. “My dad was very upset about it.”

Sadly, no photo of the grave markers is known to exist and Stedile says there is no landmark to indicate their approximate location. Stedile and her brother ran trail rides for years and used a surviving part of the Dewdney Trail that ran from the end of their ranch.

So in all, there may have been as many as six graves at three different sites along the Dewdney Trail near Salmo. But with the exception of Tinline (and maybe Morgan?) we don’t know who they belong to.

— With thanks to Gloria Currie, Joan Field, Bernarene Stedile, and Raymond Wieser

  1. The Virtual Museum website on the Dewdney Trail notes that in early Salmo, it seemed like one out of four men was named William: “The characters [included] the upstanding newlywed postman who died tragically from a cold …” This was based on a story Rollie Mifflin wrote in The Early Salmo Story. The postmaster was William T. Beadles, who died on April 19, 1901, age 31. He was buried in Nelson.

William Feeney’s 1909 Crown grant for Lot 7710 indicates “Trail to Salmo.”

Updated on Nov. 30, 2020 to add more details about George Tinline’s family and to add the photo of the Aurora grave marker mentioning him. Updated on June 9, 2024 to add the photo of Ghost Flats.

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