As Cataline, he is a larger-than-life, almost mythic figure in the history of British Columbia, commemorated by a statue at Williams Lake. As Jean Caux or John Cox (as his name was usually pronounced), he was a prominent, and the longest lasting, pack-train operator during the era of packing transportation (1858-1914) in the province. Despite the legends that envelope him, and the paucity of reliable sources, his career can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty.
A native of France, born about 1829 in the Pyrenees region (possibly at Oloron), Caux appeared in British Columbia as a miner on the Fraser River in 1858. He had probably come there, as did so many others, from the gold fields of California. By 1862 Cataline - the origin of the name is not clear though some sources link it to the Spanish region of Catalonia - had switched to running a pack-train of mules and horses, the indispensable means of supplying the gold mines of the Cariboo and later those of the Omineca and Cassiar districts. Beginning with three or four animals, he slowly built up the size of his train until, by 1869, he was a principal packer. The maximum size of his train was around 40 animals, though the number fluctuated from season to season. In the 1870s and 1880s he wintered his animals in the valleys west of Ashcroft and in the spring he moved them north to the terminus of the Cariboo wagon road at Quesnel. It served as the loading point for the cargoes that his pack-train carried, in perhaps two or three journeys each summer, into the northern parts of British Columbia. By the start of the 20th century Cataline had shifted his base north to Hazelton, at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. From there he supplied the nine repeating stations between Hazelton and the Nass River on the Yukon telegraph line (after its completion in 1901) and the hard-rock mines in the far north.
By 1900 Cataline had become a legendary figure. Tall and broad set, he sported a flowing moustache and shoulder-length hair. His toughness, his resistance to cold, and his skill with a throwing knife were unequalled. When he took a drink of liquor, which he consumed in vast quantities, he would often massage the last drops into his hair. On the trail he always wore a sombrero, a frock coat, a stiff white shirt, and high leather boots in which he kept his knife. He would not take off his shirt until he reached his train’s destination, where he would purchase a new one and discard the old. He had children with at least two indigenous women. Reputedly made a naturalized citizen by judge Matthew Baillie Begbie* at a chance meeting on the Cariboo road, Cataline could sign his name (as Jean Caux) but could not read or write; he depended upon others to compose his letters and telegrams. His speech was a mélange of languages. His pack-train crews were made up of men of indigenous, Chinese, European, and mixed descent. His feats as a packer, including carrying huge pieces of mining equipment over long distances in the late 1890s, were widely reported and admired. He was known for his reliability - no mine or station was too remote.
Cataline’s qualities made him a legendary figure, and a poor businessman. He relied on loans from banks, but it was almost impossible to cost some shipments because of the vagaries of the weather and the condition of the trails. He accumulated no savings and about 1912 he was forced to sell his pack-train in order to meet his debts. He spent his last years at Hazelton, dependent on the charity of others, and died there in 1922. If Jean Caux was not, as sentiment would have it, “the last packer of British Columbia,” he did embody the qualities of the pack-train crews - men and women on the margin of settled society - and his withdrawal from the transportation business coincided with the close of the packing era.
BCA, E/C/B81.3; E/C/B172.2; E/E/C61; E/E/H85; E/E/M311; E/E/M963; GR-1372, F 1369, J. T. Pidwell, tolls collected at Clinton, 1869; GR-2025, 8: ff.231, 237; GR-3049, vol.1, mining licence, 19 Feb. 1859; MS-0676, 4, file 12; 9, file 19; MS-2018; VF42, frames 1197-99. LAC, RG 3, D-3, ser.6, vol.5 (mfm.). Victoria Daily Times, 27 Oct. 1922. R. J. Barman, “Packing in British Columbia: transport on a resource frontier,” Journal of Transport Hist. (Manchester, Eng.), 21 (2000): 140-67. Sperry (Dutch) Cline, “Cataline,” in Pioneer days in British Columbia: a selection of historical articles from “BC Outdoors” magazine, ed. Art Downs (4v., Surrey, B.C., 1973), 1: 98-103. Directory, Victoria, 1874: 89. Hilda Glynn-Ward [Hilda Glynn (Howard)], The glamour of British Columbia (Toronto, 1932), 116-17.