Toby Creek, Toby Glacier, Mount Toby
Shortly after his election to public office in 1863, Dr Isaac Tobey joined a group of prospectors hoping to confirm rumours of gold in the upper Kootenay and headwaters of the Columbia River. Dr Tobey, at least, was among a group that panned what became known as Toby’s Creek.
The namesake for Toby Creek isn’t hard to find. As summarized on the BC Geographic Place Names website, the creek was named for Dr Toby, a “physician and prospector, who came with a party of prospectors from Colville, Washington in 1864 to look for gold.”1 It seems that everyone can agree on the basic facts that the creek is named for a Dr Toby, and that this Dr Toby came from Washington State.2 Sources at the Windermere Valley Museum add that Toby’s first name was Levi. Try and find out much more about this Dr Levi Toby, however, and chances are you won’t get far. There may be agreement that Dr Toby is the namesake, but no one seems to have much idea about who this Dr Toby was.
This scarcity of information about Dr Toby likely came about because Toby’s arrival in the area predated that of other “old timers” who might remember him. In a letter dated 6 February 1912, Mr Fleet Robinson of the Geographic Board for B.C. writes, “The name was given so many years ago that I have been unable to find its origin. I have asked Mr William Fernie, formerly Gold Commissioner to the E[ast] Kootenay as to the origin of the name, but he could not tell me. He says the creek had that name when he first saw it in 1864.”3
Such is the widely accepted knowledge about the naming of Toby Creek. There isn’t a lot: a name (Levi Toby), a profession (doctor), and a rough date (before sometime in 1864). When I got a request to do this post on Toby Creek, I was reluctant. I knew there would be scarce pickings. But for those hoping for a short read this time around, think again. As I hinted in last week’s post on Findlay Creek, there is much more to be said about Toby Creek, at that includes a lot more about its namesake.
A Good Place to Start
The first point of note about the naming of Toby Creek is that its actual namesake was neither a “Toby” or even a “Levi.”* Dr Toby of Toby Creek was born Isaac Lathrop Tobey on 2 October 1816 in Buckland, Franklin, Massachusetts to parents John Tobey and Sybil née Lathrop.4 He seems to have been the eldest of at least three, although some genealogy sites suggest additional siblings.
Isaac became a physician and married Lomina (or Lovina/Lovinea) Griswold (b. 30 July 1813) in 1841, again in Franklin County, Massachusetts.5 That marriage is recorded as having occurred 10 August 1841, although a notice announcing the couple’s intention to marry was posted elsewhere on 16 September 1841, so the exact details are a bit murky.6 The couple settled in Cummington, Hampshire, Massachusetts and had two children: Sybil Adelia Tobey, born 2 October 1842, and Edwin L Tobey, born in September 1844.7
After the birth of his son, Isaac disappears for a time from the records. In 1850 Lomina and the two children were living in Buckland, Massachusetts with her father-in-law (John Tobey) and his second wife (Eunice) along with Eunice’s four children from her first marriage.8 Isaac Tobey was not with them. I was unable to establish his whereabouts in either the 1850 or 1860 United States census.
It’s unclear when or where Isaac left to. I found a widely circulated letter, dated 29 June 1848, written by Isaac L Tobey, M.D. and published in a number of newspapers. At that time he is reported as being of Jackson, Michigan and formerly of Hampshire (Mass) County (I was unable to confirm his residence in Michigan). The letter is a political one, and Tobey himself is described as being “well known as a radical Democrat.”9 Keep in mind that political parties in the United States did a weird mirror flip in the 1960s, and that what was once Democrat is now Republican and vise versa. A “radical Democrat” from pre-Civil War American would have been enthusiastically cheering on the slave catchers.
Time in the Territorial Assembly
Tobey reappears in the records in July 1863 when he was elected to the Washington State Territorial Assembly as representative of the Colville area.10 Tobey’s time in the Territorial Assembly included, in 1864, introducing an act to amend “An act authorizing George Melville to establish a ferry across the Kootenai river,” passed 12 January 1863.11 His most influential achievement, however, was his introduction and prominent role in passing “An Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into this Territory.”12
I want to spend some discussing this second bill. It came about after Tobey received a letter in November 1863 from officials in his territorial constituency asking him, “to get a bill passed immediately to tax Chinamen.”13 Tobey put the bill forward at the beginning of January 1864 and it was passed by the end of the month.14
Commonly referred to as the “Chinese Poll Tax Law,”15 or the “Chinese police tax”,16 the bill required people of Asian descent to pay a per person tax every four months. This tax was initially proposed at $5 per quarter,17 changed to $6 when the bill was passed,18 and raised to $16 two years later.19 If an individual were unable or unwilling to pay, the act gave the sheriff the authority to seize personal property and sell it at public auction with two hours notice.20 Of the money collected, the original bill gave half of the money to the Territory and half to the county.21 This was ammended two years later (when the tax was also increased to $16 per quarter) to give between 10 and 25 per cent to the sheriff doing the collecting.22
The tax was intended to make it more difficult for Chinese people to live in the Territory and, as Asian people were not permitted to vote at the time, they had no power to oppose it. It would have also been difficult to avoid paying. Part of the request from officials to Tobey in crafting the bill was that it extend the borders of the county so that the Chinese miners who lived or moved across the Columbia River wouldn’t be exempt.23
The tax also served to promote racial white supremacy. In 1908 Guy Russell Bay recalled that, in 1863, various miners in Pinkney City, Washington Territory were put out that they, “were constantly on the move hunting new diggings, their old ones being quickly jumped by Chinamen, who seemed to be able to make good wages where the white man had been unable to make enough to get on a respectable spree.”24 White miners hoped to get rich quick on extremely good diggings: Chinese miners tended to be more patient and put in the work to make average diggings pay well. Their success would have been an affront to white settlers who firmly believed that white people were superior, and the tax served to manufacture greater success for white miners by creating an economic barrier for Chinese ones. It made it more difficult for Chinese people to save money, and greatly reduced the likelihood of their being able to gain economic influence in the area.
Similar head tax laws were passed elsewhere in the United States as well as in Canada, although I have been unable to establish where the Washington Territory law stands in relation to these (ie. when different areas passed such laws). For Isaac Tobey, introducing such a law was the defining feature of his time in the Territorial Assembly.
A Military Career
Following Tobey’s stint as representative in the Washington Territorial Assembly in 1863/64,25 Tobey reappears in records as Assistant Army Surgeon for the United States Army in 1867, first posted at Fort Harney, Oregon in July/August, and then at Camp Steele, Oregon.26
Tobey’s exact roll with the military and the extent of his service is not entirely clear. He is later identified, in a 1912 letter from T.C. Elliott of the Walla Walla Public Library, as “a physician employed by the United States Government at Fort Colville,” where he served as what was known as a contract doctor, “a civilian from the medical profession employed by the Quartermaster to reside at the Fort and do the duties of a regular surgeon.”27 The length, location, and nature of his service with the military are unknown. Besides the two records noted above I was unable to find official records of his service, although given the repeated reference to Dr Tobey being at Fort Colville, it seems likely that he must have worked there for a time.
Details about Tobey’s life remain scanty after this. In 1871 he reappears on a census as living in Clark county Washington and working as a physician.28 The following year there is a listing for I L Tobey, physician, living in Vancouver, Washington again in Clarke County.29 This is the last record of Tobey that I was able to find.
I was unable to find any official record of Tobey’s death, although a genealogy book from Massachusetts states that he died in April 1874 in Shasta, California.30 That letter from the Walla Walla library included the detail that Tobey was “supposed to have come from California,”31 which might support this information. I was unable to find online newspapers for Shasta County, or any trace of an obituary elsewhere online.
The Tobey Family
As far as I could determine, Tobey was estranged from his wife, Lomina, and his two children from sometime in the mid 1840s until his death. Lomina passed away 22 March 1870, still living in Buckland, Massachusetts, and on her death certificate she is listed as being widowed.32 As Tobey was listed in an 1871 Washinton Territory directory, Lomina was certainly not a widow at the time of her death, although it is entirely possible that neither she or her children knew (or cared) if Isaac was still alive.
Descendants of Isaac and Lomina, who have otherwise done a very admirable job of putting together sources to create family trees on Family Search/Ancestry, and have some nice memorials on Find a Grave,33 have nothing to say about Isaac’s death.34
What About the Creek?
Of course it’s interesting to know that the namesake for Toby Creek was a racist white supremacist who has been all but written out of his family’s history, but that information doesn’t answer the question of how Toby Creek got named in the first place.
There are a couple of intersecting stories to go on. The first, related in the 1912 letter from T.C. Elliott at the Walla Walla Public Library, states that Toby went into the Kootenay country in the early summer of 1862. According to Elliott, “Manuel Felix or Felice was the real discoverer of gold in the Kootenay country… This man Felix, reported what he had found and Dr Toby organized a party in the early summer of 1862 and hired Felix as guide and proceeded to the Kootenay country, and this was one of, if not the original party, to find gold on Stud House (Wild Horse) Creek near Ft Steele. The party penetrated into the country around Lake Windermere and returned to the Colville country in the fall. I have records of them at Tobacco Plains in the latter part of September 1862 on the way back.”35
This account is a mix of facts that I was unable to corroborate and those that are inaccurate. It was definitely not Tobey, for instance, who discovered gold on Wild Horse Creek. I could also find no confirmation that Tobey was part of a prospecting party in 1862. The following year, however, is a different matter entirely.
Rumours of Gold
At the beginning of August 1863, a group of hopeful miners and prospectors left Fort Colville with a goal to give “further confirmation” to “new discoveries [of gold] on the upper Columbia.”36 This party was investigating rumours that had been growing for years. James Sinclair, who in 1841 and 1854 had travelled across the Rocky Mountains to the Windermere Valley then south across the border, described the area as, “very similar in appearance to the richest gold regions in California”, and apparently intended to return to prospect it. Sinclair died before he had the chance.37 Meanwhile other gold rushes were pursued, and prospectors were dissuaded from the Kootenay area by First Nations groups until 1862/63, when rumours of gold again reached Fort Colville.
The location of these rumoured discoveries was very unclear, and anyone who knew more specific directions seemed disinclined to share. Newspapers reported that the Fort Colville group departing in August 1863 aimed to go, “somewhere between the headwaters of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers” as these were the only parts of the general area that hadn’t yet been prospected.38
One of the prospectors on this trip was Dr Tobey. On 24 October 1863, a mail-carrier from Colville reported to the newspaper in Walla Walla, “that Dr Toby and party had returned to Colville from a prospecting trip on the Kootenay River and had found very rich prospects – some places yielding $5 to the pan.”39 This statement was substantiated a couple of weeks later by another man coming down from Colville, who “confirms the statement in regard to the news brought into that place by Dr Toby, of the richness of the gold prospects found by himself and party in the Kootenai Country.”40 Dr Toby must have been particularly vocal about his trip. Even into March of the following year a gentlemen came into the newspaper office to “confirm the statements made by Dr Toby in regard to that country.”41
The Squeaky Wheel
As this point I will suggest that last week’s post on Findlay Creek is a worthwhile read. In it, I discuss some of the inconsistencies with the traditional story accounting for the start of the Wild Horse gold rush, namely that the attribution of the initial discovery of gold by the Finlay brothers is too simplistic.
The role of Dr Tobey in the start of the rush plays a large part in forcing us to re-examine how the start of the rush is remembered. The Finlay’s sale of gold at an HBC post at the beginning of October 1863 was not widely published or circulated in print, whereas Dr Toby’s name appears in newspapers confirming the discovery of gold from the end of October and into March 1864.42 In comparing these two sources of information: rumours from a far flung HBC post, and written testimonials from a named physician, the latter was almost certainly given more weight at the time.
Rumours about gold strikes were common in the American Territories, and word about the Finlay’s sale of gold at an HBC fort was bound to get out eventually. It did, but it did not seem to make an immediate impression. It is unlikely to have been a coincidence that the first group of prospectors to announce their intentions to go north in search of gold the following spring was a group of prospectors from Fort Colville, who announced their decision in December 1863.43 It is unknown if they had heard about the Finlay’s sale of gold, but these prospectors would have certainly had first hand information from those (including Dr Tobey) who had travelled north the previous summer.
Given Tobey’s willingness to put his name forward to legitimize the rumour of gold, it is somewhat ironic that the identity of Isaac Tobey as the namesake of Toby Creek and any role he played in the start of the gold rush was largely forgotten. Most historic sources, for example, place Tobey as a prospector of the general rush in 1864 rather than as a precursor to that rush in 1863. His vocal role in assuring others that there was gold to be found has been forgotten in favour of attributing the start of the rush to the Finlay’s discovery of gold instead.
So Why Toby Creek?
It is extremely reasonable that the non-specific directions followed by hopeful Fort Colville prospectors in August 1863, to the headwaters of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers, led the group to Toby Creek. We might take the name of Toby Creek to be proof enough that this is where they prospected, but there is additional information that adds weight to this claim.
In January 1864, a gentleman known only as “T” who had “visited the Kootenai country on a prospecting tour last summer,” described the location of the new gold fields. It is likely that this writer “T”, a resident of Colville, was Dr Toby, but this cannot be confirmed. T points potential travelers “to what is called the ‘Columbia Heads’” and advises that, “the best and richest mines are located upon the west side of the Kootenai and south fork of the Columbia river.”44
The description of the west side of the Kootenay River is quite vague, but the second description, the “south fork of the Columbia River” gives us pause. It is common that an unnamed creek or river be referred to by its geographic location in relation to a known waterway. In this case, the south fork of the Columbia would refer to a tributary which, when looking at a map, was the southerly most feeder of the Columbia River. Depending on where one assumes the Columbia River starts, this might be Dutch or Toby Creek. Interestingly, at least one secondary source states that Toby and Dutch Creeks were once titled Toby Creek 1 and Toby Creek 2 accordingly, with the author possibly drawing on information from a map and reflecting some confusion over this “south fork” statement.45
Historically speaking, however, it is not uncommon for sources to assume that the Columbia River originated not at Columbia Lake but from the Columbia Lakes combined (both Windermere and Columbia Lake). Following this logic, the first creek flowing into Columbia River after the “source” of the two lakes is Toby Creek. So a decent argument can be made that “T”, in directing prospectors to the south fork of the Columbia River, was definitely referring to Toby Creek.
Despite Tobey’s widely published confirmations of gold in the Kootenay area and the directions given by T to “the best and richest mines” on the south fork of the Columbia River, Toby Creek itself is largely a footnote in the story of the 1864 gold rush. The two main creeks of the rush were Findlay Creek and Wild Horse Creek. This may explain why stories about the start of the rush tend to focus on the Finlays, with Tobey as a rarely mentioned after thought. For all of Tobey’s bluster, the 1864 prospectors who stayed in the area did not consider Toby Creek to be as rich or as important as Findlay or Wild Horse creeks. For those who came to tell the story of the Kootenay gold rush, Toby Creek was not an insignificant part of it.
This does not mean that Toby Creek remained entirely untouched. Word drifted south in April 1864 of a stream on the Columbia River that, “had been prospected for about 20 miles, for which distance miners were at work making $20 per day, using rockers, with raw hides for sieves.”46 This description fits Toby Creek.
By November 1864, as travelers returned to Victoria from the Kootenay area, they reported, “several companies [having] struck pay on Toby’s creek…”47 This is the first mention I found in print of the creek being named after Tobey, however recall that William Fernie also remembered the creek being already named Toby when he arrived in 1864 (likely earlier in the year).
The name “Toby Creek” seems to have gained some amount of official capacity by 1866. In letters addressed from the beginning of January 1866 during the exploration of the Columbia River from the Kootenay Lake side, land surveyor J. Turnbull refers to the divide over to Toby Creek with the confidence of it being an established geographic feature.48
Given all of this information, the story about how Toby Creek got its name can be told in more detail. Shortly after his election to public office in 1863, Dr Isaac Tobey joined a group of prospectors hoping to confirm rumours of gold in the upper Kootenay and the headwaters of the Columbia River. Dr Tobey, at least, was among a group that panned what became known as Toby’s Creek.
Returning to Colville, Tobey was quite vocal about the find, and news of Dr Tobey’s gold spread. Combined with further rumours from unnamed sources about gold being taken out of the area, a rush north started in the early spring of 1864. Those miners heading north, particularly those leaving from Fort Colville, would have been aware of Tobey’s direction to the headwaters of the Columbia River, and “Toby’s Creek” became attached to the creek that Tobey loudly advocated as having gold.
The misspelling of Tobey’s name in association with the creek is not particularly surprising. Although Tobey’s official and legal name was spelled with the “e”, it appears in print without with reasonable frequency (among records of his two terms in public office, the first is of Dr Toby and the second Dr Tobey).49 In addition many prospectors, such as William Fernie, would have heard about the creek name without knowing at all who it was named after, so questions about the spelling were unlikely to have been raised.
I should note that I was never able to reconcile the evidence found by TC Elliott back in 1912 that Tobey was in the Kootenay area in 1862. Without seeing the original records myself I don’t discount it, and it’s certainly possibly (though unlikely) that Tobey had prospected in the area in both 1862 and 1863. All I can state is that I was only able to confirm records for a prospecting trip in 1863.
After the Rush
Prospecting continued on Toby Creek following the Wild Horse Creek rush, although certainly not to the extent as occurred on Findlay Creek. There were prospectors working Toby Creek in 1878,50 and a mini gold rush broke out in 1885 after Bert Low and Manuel Dainard discovered gold there. Some twenty men worked the creek that summer, including John Hopkins Taynton.51
All of this work on Toby Creek likely contributed to prospectors combing the creek for other minerals, starting in the late 1880s with the staking of the Jumbo mine claim. A more general mining boom starting in 1897 saw further claims being made in the vicinity of the creek, although gold remained secondary to other minerals.52 It can be reliably said that while gold is still panned from the creek today, it is not in any commercial or “paying” quantities.
There are other names for Toby Creek. A band of Ktunaxa people, known as qatmukinik, once lived on Toby Creek, which they call qatmuk.53 In 1807, David Thompson referred to it as Nelson’s rivulet,54 and had a fort built near its headwaters. Invermere historian Basil G Hamilton later (unsuccessfully) petitioned for the name of the creek to be changed to David Thompson’s Creek.55
The landscape of Toby Creek itself is impressive. It is not hard to picture a party of prospectors in 1863, travelling north through the valley, to decide that the creek coming out of the mountains against the impressive backdrop of Mt Nelson would be an appropriate place to investigate. It’s a beautiful place, and worth a second look. Even if its namesake is regrettable.