In honour of our friends at Hells Gate we present this intriguing and enduring mystery. This is one of those wonderful Fortean type reports that could be categorised as possible UFO, Crypto, or maybe a ghost, or some other strange event and therefore we'll leave it to the reader to decide.
The Phantom Of The Cariboo Trail
By John L. Zeller
This is a mystery of the Old West that has never been solved. It's been over 100 years since the phantom of the Cariboo Trail operated in 1863 and left the West mystified and terrified. Any clues that may have existed are, of course, long since disappeared and the file must be marked permanently, unsolved. Nevertheless, the complete story as it was written in the old records is an interesting one and if any person has a solution to offer, let's hear it.
In 1863 construction of the new road from Yale to Cariboo in British Columbia was completed. It was considered one of the great engineering feats of the time, although the trail ran hundreds of feet above beautiful valleys and rivers and was somewhat dangerous. It led to Lilloet through the mountains and from there to Barksville in the untamed Cariboo country.
According to James Douglas, governor of British Columbia, the road was built to eliminate competition from Oregon in handling trade into British Columbia.
In the first two years of its existence little traffic went over it and often those who did take this trail never reached Cariboo. These disappearances were all blamed on the phantom of the Cariboo Trail. This mysterious creature first was acknowledged on August 5, 1863.
John Fillmore was traveling this trail with 50 pack mules loaded with supplies for miners along the Cariboo. On the night of August 5th Fillmore and his men made camp near Spencer's Bridge. They unloaded their packs and set a guard for the night. Then something unusual happened. In the dark sky, high above them a strange white light appeared and moved back and forth several times before vanishing again. The camp guard reported that nothing else unusual occurred during the remainder of the night. However, at daybreak it was discovered that three of the mules were missing. When Fillmore arrived in Cariboo he reported his loss to the proper authorities and the first victims of the Cariboo phantom had been officially chalked up.
Three nights later George Lateau, carrying gold on pack mules, made camp near Yale, the highest point on the trail. That night the guard reported some weird-looking lights which moved in a half-circle above him and then disappeared. Once again, as in the Fillmore incident, three of the mules were missing when dawn arrived. Every man in the camp was given the third degree but none confessed taking part in the theft.
The most puzzling aspect of these incidents is the disappearance of the mules. Even though men mounted on fast horses tried to capture the alleged mule thieves, their efforts were always in vain. Surely these missing mules had to be somewhere within short riding distance, mainly because of the treacherous road on which they had to travel. The camp itself was an open space dug deep in the rocks. Above was a huge cliff no man nor animal could climb. Below another cliff dropped nearly 100 feet down. A man trying to escape either up or down certainly would be killed.
Thus in the most baffling mystery that ever confronted the Old West mules and packs vanished almost every night along the Cariboo Trail and no trace was ever found of either.
The phantom of the Cariboo Trail became a topic of conversation from one end of the country to the other. Many persons were convinced that a "strange creature" lurked in the mountains; still others talked of devils or ghosts.
By November of 1863 the Cariboo Trail was practically deserted. In the following year, 1864, only $1,780 in gold was taken over it. Shipments from the States on this route almost ceased. The cost of constructing the Cariboo Trail to the government of British Columbia had been almost one-million dollars, so every effort now was made to solve the mystery.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency was asked to capture the elusive "phantom". A trap was laid. It was publicly announced that a mule train carrying $50,000 in gold was to travel the Cariboo. Every man making this trip was a Pinkerton agent.
The men slept very little on the night they camped along trail, mainly because of the unusual activity taking place. Th all witnessed those weird white lights moving above them, had been reported in all the previous cases. Other than that and also as in the previous cases, nothing else unusual reported by the alert guards.
Nevertheless, in the morning three of the mules had vanished. Once again, efforts to catch the "phantom" had failed.
Early in 1865 the phantom of the Cariboo Trail ceased ' peculiar activities. It disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
By 1866 the Cariboo Trail was back in business, with stage coaches, pack trains, and even camels traveling over it once again.
Soon this mysterious "phantom" was all but forgotten. However, it was never explained. How did it operate? How could mules suddenly vanish under the watchful eyes of guards? Where did the mules go? Nobody could lead them over high cliffs and it was equally impossible for them to continue on the trail without being sighted. What were those weird lights?
The question remains: Who or what was the phantom the Cariboo Trail?
Originally published 1961 Fate's Strangest Mysteries Clark Publishing Co.
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