9)    NED MCGOWAN’S WAR 3:34

 

1858 was a pivotal time in British Columbia’s history. The new colony replaced the Hudson’s Bay fir reserve ‘till then known as “New Caledonia” and when gold was discovered in great abundance along Frazer’s River, it triggered an exodus of rough-and-tumble miners from California. Among them, a notorious villain named Edward McGowan. McGowan saw an opportunity; with Americans at the time greatly outnumbering British subjects in the area, he believed that possession of the new gold fields could easily be annexed to the United States. Ned never counted on Governor James Douglas who, with his decisive manor and stiff poker face quelled the would-be rebellion. The incident would come to be known as “Ned McGowan’s War.”

They say the nicest thing about Ned McGowan was his horse. At times in his life he had been a member of the Philadelphia Legislature and Captain of Police, Commissioner of Immigrants and an Associate Judge in San Francisco as well as the editor of a scandalous newspaper. Throughout the summer of 1858, wave vigilantism swept through San Francisco and Ned was forced to flee with his life.

 

When Ned McGowan arrived in the Fraser Canyon that winter he was among 30,000 Americans laying claim to the richest gold diggings at Hill’s Bar near Yale. An act of British Parliament had created The Crown Colony of British Columbia only weeks before and British claim to the gold region was still somewhat precarious. When violence irrupted in Yale on Christmas Day 1858 Ned McGowan saw his opportunity to raise a little fuss.

 

Our first Governor, James Douglas was quick to attend: he called out the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Engineers under Col. Richard Moody, The combined forces of 75 men braved winters snow & cold to assert British authority. The incident has come to be known as “Ned McGowan’s War” the greatest war that never was.

 


Ned McGowan was a crooked judge from San Francisco way

As vigilantes purged the town, McGowan slipped away
To the goldfields of the Fraser where he quickly drew acclaim
With the wave of Forty-niners from Californ-i-ay
In the year of '58

 

As winter came, the gravel froze, so they couldn't pan for gold
Bravado mixed with whiskey, as they tried to beat the cold
Up pipes Ned McGowan "boys, are ya feeling very bold?
What say we all kick up a fuss and start ourselves a war?


If you lived to be a hundred
And you roamed the wide world over
You'd never live to see the likes of Ned McGowan's war

 

In the town of Yale that Christmas day
Two of McGowan's men
Pistol-whipped the barber and they snuck right back again
To Hill's Bar and Ned McGowan, and he tells them never fear,
For there Justice of the Peace has no jurisdiction here
And we'll turn him on his ear!"

 

When word came back to Hill's Bar
That their constable was gaoled
They deputized McGowan's men to bring him back from Yale
They stormed into the courtroom, took the Justice custody
Then they fined him fifty dollars and they went out on a spree


If you lived to be a hundred
And you roamed the wide world over
You'd never live to see the likes of Ned McGowan's War 


The Justice wrote to Douglas, and appealed for relief
This shifty Ned McGowan, he's the cause of all our grief
He's a threat of annexation and if he is left alone
Of Californians he could raise an army of his own

 

With near two dozen Sappers came the Governor's reply
Fifty sailors & marines with a field piece close behind
And so a strange flotilla made way from Derby side
With a steamboat and a whaleboat, and a war canoe besides

 

If you lived to be a hundred
And you roamed the wide world over
You'd never live to see the likes of Ned McGowan's War


When Ned McGowan came to town
To the court he was arraigned
But they quickly dropped the charges as he craftily explained
The boys were sworn & deputize
When the Justice they'd detained
So court adjourned, and they all shook hands
And toasted with champagne

 

If you lived to be a hundred
And you roamed the wide world over
You'd never live to see the likes of Ned McGowan's war
You could sail the salt sea over
To the west, south, east and north
You'd never live to see the likes of Ned McGowan's war

 

Music & lyrics by Bruce Coughlan (SOCAN) 
From Tiller’s Folly: Ghosts of the Mighty Fraser CD (1999)


Bruce Coughlan:
 lead vocals, acoustic guitar

Laurence Knight: electric bass
Mike Sanyshyn: fiddle
Victor Smith: fiddle, whistles 
Craig McGregor: mandolin
Geoff Eyre: drums 
Chris Stevens: 5-string banjo


Produced by Laurence Knight

Engineered by John Ellis & Craig Stauffer
Recorded and mixed at Magic Lab Studios, Surrey, BC 
Mastered by Craig Waddell at Gotham City, Vancouver, BC.
Re-mastered by Joby Baker, Baker Studios, Victoria, BC.