Cariboo Cameron Haiku

Pledge to beloved wife

Take her home in sketch coffin

Go full squirrelly

Today on BC Week, we turn to John A. ‘Cariboo’ Cameron, one of the many ‘interesting’ characters of the Cariboo Gold Rush.

Cameron was born in 1820 in Glengarry County in the future Ontario. He married his beloved Sophia, had a daughter with her, and the three traveled to Victoria in 1862 to go prospecting in the Cariboo. Their girl promptly died.

But they had to keep going. Cameron staked his claim on Williams Creek, and GOLD. LOTS of gold. Wow. Everything’s coming up Cameron!

Then Sophia died, right after she made her husband pledge to take her body home. Cameron did just that. First, he hauled her body 400 miles to Victoria on a toboggan. Then he placed her in a weirdly heavy lead coffin, pumped it full of alcohol, and sealed it. After taking a break to work his claim, he took that coffin ’round the Isthmus of Panama, landed in New York, then buried it in her hometown before the year was out. But!

At the funeral, Sophia’s family, not unreasonably, wanted to see her face one last time. (Especially as that coffin was weird and rumors were flying.) Cameron responded with a hissy fit, accusing them of believing terrible slander about him. He declared the coffin would never be opened and buried it. Because that’s not going to make everyone suspicious as all hell.

Cameron remarried and the rumors didn’t die. Indeed, his attitude and the way he threw money about made them grow. This included speculation that the coffin had no body in it and he got his fortune by selling Sophia to an Indian chief. (How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.)

It got so bad that he finally consented to open the coffin. And yep, there’s Sophia, well-preserved with alcohol, wearing her mom’s paisley shawl. Remember: this whole fuss could’ve been avoided if he’d just OPENED THE DAMNED COFFIN to begin with.

Cameron spent all his cash and returned to BC to find more gold. He didn’t. He died in 1888 in Barkerville.

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