In 1854, Joseph Morel, a teamster at the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Fort Colvile, noticed black sand while he was drinking from the Columbia River at the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille. He shook the sand in his hat and, finding flakes of gold, took back a half-cupful to Angus McDonald, clerk in charge of the trading post. McDonald sent word of the discovery to his superiors at Fort Vancouver.
Throughout the winter the men at Fort Colvile thought about prospects of the mountain being full of gold and sent private word to friends in Oregon. That spring,
a few French Canadians and half-breeds came, set up rockers, and made about three dollars a day each. Several went upriver and brought three or four ounces of splendid gold from the mouth of the Pend O’Reille where it empties into the Columbia River. In short, McDonald concluded, “we went and found the Pend O’reille mines, the first found in British Columbia” except for the Queen Charlottes. In the fall, McDonald sent seventeen pounds of gold to Fort Hope.
Gold in the Pend d’Oreille was soon overshadowed by the discovery of gold in the Fraser and the succeeding great rush to Cariboo. However, it may have had some influence on the decision of the Hudson’s Bay Company to set up a post across the boundary line on British territory. Ever since the Oregon Treaty of 1846 Fort Colvile had been in the United States and the Company could foresee customs difficulties if prospectors and miners flocked into the country. Chief Trader Angus McDonald was given charge of erecting a new trading post on the wide gravel flat above the Columbia opposite the mouth of the Pend d’Oreille River.
By 1857, two warehouses, a storehouse, men’s quarters and officers’ lodgings were built of hewn and squared logs within a fence of rough pickets. An Indian village of two to three hundred people camped nearby. Known first as Fort Pend d’Oreille, it was named Fort Shepherd in 1859, presumably in honor of John Shepherd, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1856-58) whose death occurred in that year.
During the 1860’s gold was found in the East Kootenay at Wild Horse. Fort Shepherd became a depot on the trail built by Edgar Dewdney from Hope to the goldfields. By 1866 the shallow diggings at Wild Horse had been exhausted and a new strike drew adventurers to creeks in the Big Bend area of the Columbia River. The bulk of the freight and passengers went up the Fraser and then overland but a considerable number of gold-seekers hired boats and canoes to travel from Colville up the Columbia.
During the years gold mining was carried on spasmodically along the Pend d’Oreille and the first steamboat to pass Trail Creek appeared in 1865. In the same year the Dewdney Trail was completed. This trail was intended by James Douglas, British Columbia’s first governor, to be an all Canadian route from the coast to the interior for the benefit of miners and settlers, and joined the water route at the mouth of Trail Creek.
Now adventurers were arriving by river and land route, lured by the tales of gold in the mountains and along the river banks. In 1890, the Centre Star and Le Roi claims were located and a growing stream of prospectors wound its way to Rossland. By this time the Dewdney Trail had fallen into disuse and all traffic was by boat, and in Trail the first permanent structure was built by Col. E. S. Topping and Mr. Frank Hannah.