Salt Spring Island Archives

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Myrtle Holloman

Mrs. Holloman tells the story of her grandmother’s trip from the U.S. to Salt Spring, and of the first Black settlers on the Island.

Accession Number 989.031.012 Interviewer Amber Hindle
Date 1977 Location Vesuvius
Media tape Audio CD mp3
ID 10B




Unknown Speaker 0:00
Hello, today we're talking with Mrs. Myrtle Holloman. Her maiden name is Wallace, and she's now living on Saltspring Island. We're taping her across from Wallace Island at Walker's hook here. It's April 18 1977. Would you like to say a little bit, just a little bit to describe the manuscript that your mother

Unknown Speaker 0:23
or mother had the idea, she said that she used to sit at her mother's knee and listen to her stories, because the one thing about Sylvia Stark, my grandmother was that she never became. So now, her mind was very, very clear. And it was quite a novelty to many people. She even had people coming from England, and reporters interviewing her. And they all marveled at the clarity of her mind. And mother said, she often said, listening to these stories, especially in the early days of slavery in the travel cross country, with no thought of putting it into a manuscript. And it was, as time went on, she felt that the family should know all of this, their early history and origin. And so that gave her the idea of this manuscript. Before I came here, she had written a handwritten, quite a bit of notes and whatnot. And we had an old under, she had an old Underwood typewriter here, it wasn't a very good typewriter, that's where the manuscript, the errors and whatnot, in there. And so I taught her she was doing a sort of a finger, and I taught her sort of a touch, you know, way of using the typewriter, which she was unable to do it much faster. And so then she became very, very interested. In fact, she amazed me, she'd have her dinner here at around six new evening, and she'd go immediately to her typewriter in the room and type steadily till one o'clock at night, night after night. At that age, it was really, I just wondered it her stamina because I didn't think I could do it myself. And then, when she was about 93, she felt that she had done all she could do on it and see. I think I should start off first to show that gold was discovered at service Creek in 1849. And that started fast the fortune hunters on the trail to California, and this was the dawn of freedom for the Estus family. However, it is just my great grandfather was a slave who worked for atomic justice. His wife, Hannah was from the island of Madagascar. She and her three children, Sylvia, Agnes, and Jackson worked for Mr. lineable, a German Baker, who was in favor of the abolition movement, but his wife was not in accord with her husband, and thought they should conform to the southern rules of handling slaves. Accordingly, working under these conditions made life very difficult for this family. Howard hoped that he could earn his family's freedom working in the rich gold fields of California. And his chance came when his boss Thomas does was stemmed in cattle to California. Howard went is a herder with a contract, agreeing to to give him his freedom papers on receipt of $1,000. It allows him to earn the money mining gold in California. He sent the money back to Tom who received the money but refused to give Howard his freedom and willing to give up Howard made another 1000 and send it back directly to Charles Leopold. Tom Esther's still cause much trouble, but eventually had to release Howard's papers. In the meantime, Howard paid Mr. Leopold $1,000 Each for Hannah, and some Jackson and $900 for Sylvia. Agnes had died while her father was in the Goldfields. So the family bought 40 acres of land in Missouri, and tried garden farming. Money was very scarce. And when Sylvia's brother Jackson came home from Marquette, he told his mother that eggs had raised to 10 cents a dozen. However, they did well selling vegetables, pigs and chickens. But life here also became unbearable. The night writers were going about beating and kidnapping colored people terrorizing them. So my grandfather wanted to sell and leave at the first opportunity. And that came when Charles Leopold was taking A large consignment of livestock to California. Howard went as a herder, also his subjects, and Hannah was the cook. It was the first day of April 1851. When they left Missouri, they made quite a jelly start making April Fool's jokes etc. as they went along, then they count where there was good grazing for the cattle at Humboldt Creek. It had once been a campsite for the Indians. They met two white women who has children had witnessed the slaying of their parents, a sister and a brother and themselves were captured by the Indians. In time they were rescued. They were both married and still living in the same isolated district, were stuck the ghost and memory of that dark tragedy. Their story cause Sylvia and her mother apprehension for the future of the long trail that lay ahead. But in spite of the dangers attending the journey, Sylvia and her brother found life on the Great Plains, something new and thrilling. From the little prairie dogs barking and scampering At sight of them to the stampeding of great herds of buffaloes. At sight of the caravan. Sylvia would gather the beautiful flowers while walking along. Sometimes swarms of locusts darken the sky and fell about the wagons and creeped inside the canvas getting into the cooking utensils, and other paraphernalia. Often, the only field they had was some dried buffalo chips. They made their pancakes and bacon tastes smoky, but they ate them with relish. Sometimes they were so parched for water from a stream where the carcasses of dead animals lay. And then it was hard for Sylvia's mother to get used to this. She went further up the stream, only to find more cow horns protruding from the water. One awful night on the journey Silvia could not forget seeing the use of the sheep, who were too heavy with young to travel left behind, only to be devoured by ferocious coyotes. She tried to scare them off by throwing stones at them. And at this she had to be careful of herself, too, because it was very dangerous for her to take the attempts. There was quite an uneasy feeling of the group traveling through this section of the country. So every precaution was taken to safeguard the animals. And at night, a cordon of wagons was placed around the camp, and the men slept with their gums stick close to hand ready for any emergency. The first information they had of danger was one night when Jackson sills his brother was on guard. He was sitting out in the bright moonlight, gazing at the mounds and shadows. Then he said something told him to sit in the shade of a wagon. He had scarcely moved from his seat when an arrow whizzed past him and stuck fast in the ground where he had been sitting. Instantly the alarm was given and every man grabbed his gun, but there was not a sound, and not even the howl of a coyote. Fearing the Indians might plan to raid the camp in the morning when the wagons were loaded and hitched, they left before dawn. One evening, they came to a spot for camping, where there was plenty of grass for the animals. They camped very early to let the animals graze, and they were making themselves comfortable. When someone put his ear to the ground to listen for sounds. They heard sounds alright, assume everyone heard who's coming in less time that it takes to tell. They were surrounded by a large band of Indians, whooping and howling as they raced around the camp to make the cattle stampede. But the poor beasts were too tired to run them they increase their howling giving out terrible deals as they raced around the camp. Miss dress just became an easy as the memory of preparing to put up a fight. But he was the only man who had his family with him, the head of the Indian Band could speak English. Howard's instance, talked with him, and he was they were able to pacify them and they exchanged gifts. And so they were able to go on their way.

Unknown Speaker 9:57
So they continued their journey. But watchfulness and care and soon came upon eight men traveling on foot, and they were a story spectacle as their cover caravan had been raided by the Indians during their care and making off with their heavy loaded wagons. In their haste, they spilled a quantity of flour, and that was all that was left to these eight men, and a few cooking utensils. So one of the men had slipped the leg of his pants up to the knees, and tied one end to hold the flour, which they scooped up from the ground. And they had traveled on this for three days. And we're very glad for the time of contact with the Leopold caravan, who shared their provisions with them. It was the first day of April 1851 When they left Missouri. The wagon train reached Sacramento exactly six months less three days. After they got finally to California, they stopped at Placerville about four miles out from Placerville, which was about 60 miles from the capital Sacramento. And there they moved into an empty miner's cabin, because as soon as these miners found gold, they would just leave with their gold and leave their cabins, empty cabins. And that was it. So they moved into one. And they were able to collect a Dutch oven and different pots and pans and whatnot. So they made quite a comfortable home there. And how it is just worked for one of the mining companies and and go, and Sylvia my grandmother, and her brother with 10 gold in the deserted mines, where they got just the gold dust as it was. And they were able to sell it for inmate about the average of $1 a day. Flower was selling at $15 a barrel. And then so Mr. Estes decided to take up farming. So he did vegetable farming, and they did very well that way selling fruit and vegetables. But then it seemed the legislature of California, were deciding to make California a slave state. And from pressure from Southern from white Southerners. And so of course, that made them very apprehensive about their future in California. So they'd heard of what was New Caledonia than the state of British Columbia. So they sent a delegation up to see a Sir James Douglas, who was governor then to see if they could be admitted to Canada, or when the group landed in Britain in Victoria, and had the audience with Sir James Douglas. Governor at that time, they asked permission to form an A Gru colony. And T refused. Absolutely. He didn't like that idea, though. He told them to just settle wherever they wish to settle. He didn't wish them to farm any small group or colony. He was very, very partial to these people because his wife was me growing up.

Unknown Speaker 13:34
The investigative group of 65 people who went up to see the first group up, how did they tie in with your family?

Unknown Speaker 13:44
Well, they were the original group of people who wanted to leave because of this legislation that was going to come up in California to make it a slave straight state. And they were merchants and some very well to do people. They were miners and farmers, the mix group, and they came back with quite a favorable report. And so a group of them got together, approximate 600 people, the men traveled overseas over land, diving the cattle and the women and children were put on board ship and came up the boat, they landed its silicon Washington, that was the women and children and waited there for the men folks in the cattle weeks. I think it was over a month or more before they arrived. Then the group took about him to Victoria where they met the governor who admitted them to to Canada as British subjects and they were permitted to purchase land at so much an acre. A few fillings maker. They settle first in the Saanich Peninsula and they raise the Well, they did mix farming there. And then around 1966 1860 They decided to move to Salt Spring Island. And that's when they came through in a sailing the ship and the cavalry lowered over into the water and swam to shore. And the people, climber down rope ladders into two Indian canoes over two Indians, a man and his wife who for many the two canoes, and that's where they had this episode with the Indians, where my grandmother thought she would never come out of it alive. They were seated on shore, she was with her two young children at that time, and all of their possessions. And her husband, Louis Derrick, was going into the settlement to get help to move this up to their cabin. And while he was gone, they were the Hudson Bay agent, Mr. McCauley to was traveling with him. And they saw this canoe coming laden with furs that Indians who, when they saw this party on the beach, this further from their route, and turn right into shore. And they were very hostile. And one had a knife that he put to my colleagues throat and threatened him with death. And my grandmother's so obvious that she just sat there and prayed, hoping that they wouldn't be her children with the same. In the meantime, while this was going on, the Indians were going through our possessions, turning everything over, the Indian wife slipped away, in the canoe, in her canoe to get help from the from her camp, I believe on one of the other islands. This was the union who was friendly to you and who is they were the ones who are taking them? Yes, that's right. And so, then this other group, they came, they got in their canoes, and came and so this group who would stop first they, they jumped back into their canoes and go away as swiftly as they could with the others following them. And of course, that's when the massacre happened in Ganges harbour massacre that I think has been written about so many times. And that was the result of that meeting. Later, after settling in the cabin, Saltspring Island work was very hard because they had to do everything by hand, and they had to cut the path through the bushes. By hand, the roads are made loose dirt built several roads. And in the meantime, a child's Curtis was a friend of the family was also living there with and he was murdered by Indians. And that's when the Estes family and Louis's stearic decided they should move to Fruitvale and Ganges Harbor. And that's where my mother was born. And they stayed there for quite some time. I believe Luce dark was just rather adventurous, and he decided he wanted to go to another farm on Saltspring on Vancouver Island. So he left and when part of the family went with him was dark. My uncle was left to take care of the farm at Fruitvale. And he, they said that they wanted to Nanaimo. And then they moved out and settled on a farm extension out of Nanaimo. Incidentally, in the firm, and Vancouver Island, people who learned that they were descendants of their living here on self spring, they came over and phoned us here and said that they still got apples from what they call a stark tree. Oh, beautiful apples. That Deluce there who planted that tree for you back in the 1800s. And they still have very beautiful apples from there. In fact, they broke some of the apples over and when I haven't have this trip there in 1967, as they showed me also Starks crossing is named after loose dark. The family came back eventually and first and settled on the farm where the Claiborne's are now my oldest sister, and that was the fourth time that they settled on and worked on. Willis was given permission by the government because of their poverty. He really here on the island. They were, he was given permission to shoot deer all year round outside of the hunting season as well. And I do recall many times we visited as children. He would give us Paragon some Jemison to take them to neighbors. And let's find we were very, very apprehensive as we travel along the roads, afraid of animals always, you know, and city kids, of course, because who really wants children here, please to laugh at this because they were all born here in Maryland, and their grandmother was mother's first cousin. That's the relationship with the Woods family.

Unknown Speaker 20:46
How, how did your family your pioneering relatives make their living on the on the land? Did they sell anything? Or did they just live off the land and live

Unknown Speaker 20:55
self sufficiently as they did, they lived on the land, of course, because they grew their own wheat, ground their wheat, they had sheep, and they made the clothing from they had no spinning wheel you noticed and made those sweaters and socks, etc. And then the produce was sent to market because they had chips from they sold eggs. Because even in the early years that I visited Sylvia Starkey, my grandmother, she was still shipping apes off to Victoria. And they sold fruit because they had quite a few fruit trees. The orchards gradually just failed. Because after the First World War, the costs were too high for shipping off the island. It wasn't profitable at all. And people just live fruit, fruit trees, the apples would fall and the fruit was left on the ground.

Unknown Speaker 22:07
I want to elaborate a little more on the family, the Stark family. And I believe I should tell you a bit more about Lewis Stark. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky. And he never knew his own age. But he remembered seeing the stars fall in 1833. No doubt he was at the discerning age for he had a very clear description of the occurrence. He said he saw people running from their homes, panic stripping, screaming and praying. And when a woman was perched on the fence shouting loudly that the judgment day had come and the stairs were falling all around them like snow. But Lowe's just laughed at their strange addicts. And he said only the humorous side of the thing. From his earliest reelection recollections, he wore a one piece garment, of course homespun cloth, and that was his only covering. It served to for a sleeping gown. And the children had a dirt floor and slept on all mattresses with rags for covering. And their dinner was from a large part which was placed in the center of one big room, and no seats for the children but a spoon and a piece of cornbread, and they all ate from that one pot of stew. In spite of all these handicaps, Lewis grew up to be quite a strong man. He also learned to graph fruit trees as his father kept the nursery and Lewis loved grafting trees. And he also learned the trade of a barber. And as a young man, he traveled on the boats in the Mississippi as a barber and recalls shaving Jesse James, the notorious outlaw at one time, also having dinner with him on the boat. When it comes to California's blue star came to California during the gold rush. If he was a free man, his free papers could not be trusted. And incidentally, at this point, I'm reading some of the history of Lewis for he had the past as a Spaniard to hide his identity. He came through the Panama route as hundreds of people came that same way from every walk of life. trekking through the mud and heat of the isthmus bound for the California Goldfields. The stagecoach had broken down and the crowd had to continue the journey on foot. The heat was so intense and travel so difficult, that top coats and various articles of clothing were cast off and left strewn along the highway. There were even shoes left sticking in the mud in their haste to catch the last one. All bound for San Francisco. But the Mexicans who carried baggage bundles and even babies for the immigrants traveled with apparent ease. In short, a Jewish woman collapsed by the roadside unable to go any further. She was following the Mexican who was carrying her baby, and he was well out of sight much to the distress of the mother. So loose dark, seeing the woman's plight, kindly carried her the remainder of the journey. It was a heavy load, but Stark was young and strong, and the woman was very grateful for the timely lift. They found the boat waiting for them and kind passengers were taking care of the woman's baby. And like most of the young immigrants, start tried goldmining this took him off into the nearby town of Placerville nicknamed Hangtown, because of the frequent hangings that took place there. Placerville was where they exchanged maiden go for cash. And so now I can refer back to the Howard Yes, this family. Howard is just and his wife, Hannah had three children was Sylvia, my grandmother, and Agnes, her older sister and Jackson a son. And when they came when they went to California, as Sylvia married Louis Stark there, and they had seven children. One of them was my mother, Marie, and mother married Joseph Wallace, my father. And we there were five of children of that union. We were all born and in Vancouver, BC, and ultimately, each one left one from Montreal, another to Chicago and the other two, California. My youngest brother had died during the 19, eight teen influenza epidemic at the age of 16. Then, to get back to Saltspring. It's seems strange. Each one of us came back here to return. The youngest sister from Montreal. I came back from Chicago and asked her and Ethel, my oldest brother and sister came back from California. And of course now we're all living here in Salt Spring Island. The Claiborne's are the only ones living on the old homestead, along with Oscar, living and Willis this original property