What Happens in the Cariboo, Stays in the Cariboo...Until Now!

Photo: Stacey Ounpuu, Model: Ursula Hart,  Location: 108 Heritage Site

When you live in the lower mainland of British Columbia, sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the vast impact of our collective history, in terms of how life changing the Gold Rush was to the development of our province. However, when you live in the Cariboo, you see it everyday. Time worn log buildings still stand in grass fields, as we daily travel a meandering highway that was built for wagons. When we give our address to confused people, and have to explain the naming of 100 Mile House or the 108 Mile Ranch, history comes back to us on a regular basis. To me, the Gold Rush was a great catalyst, for it induced others to aspire to great feats and terrible sorrows. Human being tested their limits by traversing continents, burrowing leagues underground, and bearing loneliness and isolation from loved ones. For some women, the boundaries set by restrictive Victorian principles changed, and they found new freedoms and new follies. Together, the Cariboo rainbow chasers recreated their homelands in a tough, new land to the detriment and benefit of generations to come.

This story is a work of fiction; however, it is based on local legends about Agnes and Jim McVee. With the help of their son-in-law, Al Riley, the two supposedly ran the 108 Mile Hotel for owner William Walker from 1875 to 1885. Their story of murder, greed, abductions, and white slavery cannot be fully validated, but many facts remain. One of the most compelling facts is that buried gold has been found along the old Cariboo Wagon Road very near the property. In 1924, a local rancher found a cache worth $2,500, one mile from the roadhouse foundations. Then in the 1960’s, Block Brothers Realty developed the 108 Mile as a residential community, and unearthed $6,000 in nuggets while constructing the 108 Mile airstrip. Estimates have put the McVees’ caches at between $100,000 to $150,000, but only a fraction of this ill-gotten treasure has ever been unearthed. It has been said in various publications and websites that the McVees sold girls to miners, madams, and gamblers. Then they would have Al Riley shoot them, keep the girls, and Jim would take the bodies in his wagon to dump them in the small lakes around the hotel. The articles reveal that Jim McVee was known as a wealthy horse trader in the Kamloops area, and that between 49- 59 bodies were found in the surrounding lakes near the hotel. Some articles also mention the brute strength of Agnes, and that she kept ropes under her skirts so that she was ready for her next kidnapping. Agnes was reputed to be wanted in Scotland for seven murders and three beatings before she came to the Cariboo

The whole sordid business unravelled when a handsome gambler named MacDonald came through from Fort Langley and bought a girl from Agnes for $4000. Agnes had taken a shine to him and didn’t want him killed, but Jim did so anyway, and this insubordination got him served a rat poison breakfast. The McVees forgot about the girl MacDonald bought, who had escaped after he was shot, and informed the authorities. Eight emaciated girls were said to be found chained on the property, some say in the attic, others say, in the basement. Human bones were also said to be found in the fireplaces throughout the two-storey log structure. While awaiting her trial in June 1885, Agnes reportedly took her own life via poison in the Fort Kamloops Jail. Later in 1885, Al Riley supposedly went on to the hangman’s noose. In 1892, BX stage owner/driver Stephen Tingley and his son Clarence disassembled the 108 Hotel and moved the logs to the other side of the wagon road. They constructed the telegraph key/store and a post house, and those buildings remain today as a part of the 108 Heritage Site.

For further reading check out:

~ Barry Sale’s article: Murder and Mayhem at Mile 108, (January 8, 2014), The Williams Lake Tribune, www.wltribune.com/community/239279001.html

~ Website: “Along The Cariboo Trail”: 108 Hotel of Murder, (2014), www.historical.bc.ca/murder.html

~ Ana Ela’s article: Wild West Serial Killers, (March 7, 2013), BC Ghost Towns, Gold Rush.

~ Greg Joyce’s article: The Murdering Madame of 108 Mile House, (Sept. 1, 2001, P.13), Prince George Citizen.

~ Wikipedia’s article: Agnus McVee, (2014), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_McVee

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