The Fraser River gold rush of 1858 brought disease and hardship to First Nations, but it also included the devastating loss of many young Stó:lō boys who were kidnapped and taken to the United States.

Historian Keith Carlson was researching the effects of the gold rush on the Stó:lō First Nation, ahead of treaty negotiations, when he uncovered evidence that an eight-year-old boy was taken by a California miner.

Initially, Carlson thought the kidnapping may have been an isolated event but he recently discovered documents that suggest it was part of a broader practice. Many boys were taken, he said, to be used as free labour.

"Miners down there who had become ranchers and farmers then turned into people who needed labourers and would simply grab young kids from First Nations communities," said Carlson,a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Chilliwack Progress

A clipping from the Wednesday, March 16, 1904 edition of the Chilliwack Progress. The article contained detailed accounts of the impact that an influx of prospectors from the United States had on First Nations along the Fraser River including violence, kidnapping and disease. (The Chilliwack Progress )

Carlson found a 1904 article in the Chilliwack Progress that referenced the disease and destruction wrought by prospectors who set their gold mining claims along the Fraser River.

"No doubt there were good ones but the bulk of them were California gamblers, fugitives and criminals … a great many boys were stolen away by these vicious white men," the article read.

The same story contained accounts of the boys being abandoned along the river and dying under the supervision of their kidnappers.

Chief Terry Horne of the Yeqwyeqwí:ws First Nation, part of the Stó:lō Nation, didn't know about the kidnappings until Carson told him.

"It was pretty shocking. It is terrible," Horne told Stephen Quinn, guest host of The Early Edition.

Aside from a few supporting documents, little of the story has been captured either orally or in print, which is how it ended up as part of the Lost Stories project, a Canada 150 project that aims to shed new light on forgotten Canadian stories.

Lost Stories paired Carlson's research skills with Horne's traditional carving skills to capture the tragic narrative in a carving that was revealed on Saturday near Hope, about 150 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Horne has been working on the carving since March and has demonstrated the technique while sharing the history and significance of the carving in Chilliwack's secondary schools.

"It's part of the past that has to be known to everyone," he said.

Terry Horne carving

Terry Horne's carving honouring the lost boys is now placed at the Chawathil First Nation's Telte-Yet Campgrounds near Hope, B.C. (Terry Horne)

Buried abroad

The carving features a father and son facing each other with their arms outstretched. The boy is the eight-year-old whose abduction was initially uncovered by Carson.

His traditional name is unknown but his kidnapper, George Crum, was seen taking the him on a boat from the then settlement of Fort Hope, where the municipality of Hope now sits.

"The family was distraught. They made efforts through the Hudson Bay Company and the colonial office to get their son back," Carson said.

The child died of meningitis shortly after he was taken and was buried in Sacramento, according to letters from Crum.

His death was confirmed at the time by the British Consul and attempts to repatriate his body were unsuccessful, according to letters and documents unearthed by Carson.

Horne said he would still like to see the body repatriated to the Stó:lō people.

His carving honouring the lost boys is now placed at the Chawathil First Nation's Telte-Yet Campgrounds near Hope, a spot that was likely among the last glimpses of home for many of the stolen Stó:lō.  

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition