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The legend of Frank Gott

Frank Gott was not happy to see the game warden.

It wasn’t the first time the famed Lillooet hunter, guide, and First World War veteran had had a run in with Albert Edward Farey, himself a decorated veteran and avid outdoorsman.

Gott, an Indigenous man said to have inherited his German surname from his stepfather, had been hunting and following traplines in the area around his home since he was a boy. But suddenly, authorities were harassing him for hunting without the proper tags.

It all came to a head on Oct. 3, 1932.

Gott had been discharged from the war in 1917 due to poor health from what he would later learn was tuberculosis. He was convinced that his declining state, at age 76, could be cured by deer meat—whether he had a tag for it or not.

So when Farey approached his hunting camp—which one account in The Vancouver Sun says was located near Gott Mountain (known today as Gott Peak) near Blowdown Pass, and others say was near the Bridge River—Gott was likely not in the mood to negotiate.

A Lillooet logger named James Thomas Dalton had accompanied Gott on the trip and later recalled the standoff to an attorney general.

“Why were not the tags on the hide?” he remembers Farey asking Gott, after producing a deer’s hide. “Why did you hide the meat? You can’t fool me. I’ve been too long at this game.”

Gott, who served as a sniper in the war, was standing about nine metres from Farey. That’s when he allegedly took a shot.

The warden didn’t stand a chance.

Tough and tumble

According to the sixth census of Canada, released in 1921, Francis Gott was born in 1856 in B.C., but his parents were both from Quebec.

While it lists his chief occupation as farmer—and he reportedly spent some time as a prospector, too—he was far and away best known for his legendary hunting and guiding skills.

An Oct. 19, 1932 article in The Windsor Star described how “in the homes of hunters all over the country there are photographs of grizzly bear and mountain sheep and other trophies of the hunt, with the figure of Frank Gott in the background holding up the head or antlers.

“All his life he had spent in Lillooet, tracking up and down the hills and through the timbered valleys. He knew a vast region of mountain and timber as the average man knows his backyard.”

Gordon E. Whitney, who grew up in Lillooet, remembers from childhood how Gott was regarded in the small community. Whitney, now in his mid-90s, published a book last year called Boyhood Memories of a Cariboo Town that included a chapter on Gott.

“Everybody in Lillooet knew Frank was a good shot,” he says. “I remember as a child … I guess a dog had rabies or something—it was standing across the river and somebody called Frank. It was maybe 400 or 500 yards away and Frank shot the dog … From what I understand, he had a reputation as a really well-known guide and hunting guide.”

Despite his small stature, Gott also had a reputation for being remarkably tough. While the age on his army enlistment papers is incorrect (more on that later), they describe him as just over 5’5” with a “fully expanded” chest size of 35 inches, weighing about 145 pounds.

“[He was] wiry and strong and could carry an 80-pound pack all day and even carry a sack of flour on top for short distances,” according to Frank Gott of Lillooet, written by Renee Chipman.

Widely beloved in his community, he was also known as a voracious reader and multi-linguist. Though he did have his run-ins with the law, largely stemming from racist liquor laws at the time—and, later, for illegal possession of deer carcasses.

The Chipman story—passed on to Pique by Vivan Gott, Frank’s great-grand-niece—says that, for some reason, Gott was considered white under the law and was able to purchase liquor, while other Indigenous people were not. As a result, he would often “oblige his thirsty friends.”

This could be because when he returned home from the First World War, he was required to give up his Indigenous status in order to receive a pension, according to his great-great-grand-nephew, Willard Abraham.

In the Chipman story, Gott’s close friend Artie Phair—Lillooet’s first white male child who became a well-known merchant, coroner, and perhaps most enduringly, amateur photographer and historian, in the area—is quoted as describing him as so tough he could “sleep in a snowbank when out in the hills.”
However, Phair also recalls his trouble with drinking. “He couldn’t stand up much and would go to sleep often on the road and be locked up. Once he was frozen to the ground and we had to chop him out.”

But in Frank Gott – explorer, guide and soldier, Phair’s overall sentiment of his friend comes through: “Some day, Frank Gott will be regarded as one of the more famous native sons born in Lillooet.”

‘He has done his bit’

Gott officially signed up to serve in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on Feb. 17, 1916.

According to his attestation paper, he was 44 years old at the time, single and working as a hunter and guide.

That turned out to be two truths and a lie. But of course, if he had revealed his true age, which, if we’re going by census data would’ve put him at around 60 years old, he would’ve been deemed too old to fight. (The age limit was between 18 and 45. There are stories of men younger and older lying to meet requirements—though Gott seems to be on the extreme end.)

Whether the army believed him—for a while, at least—or turned a blind eye remains a mystery. Either way, Gott joined the 102nd Battalion and arrived in England on June 28, 1916.

There’s one story that turns up many times about Gott’s encounter while being inspected by the Duke of Connaught.

The Duke reportedly looked at Gott’s white hair (though his hair colour in his attestation papers is described as black and grey) and asked, “What’s your age?”

“My military age is 47,” he replied.

The Duke whispered, “What is your real age?”

Gott relented, while staring straight ahead: “Over, 60, sir.”

In the spring, Gott and his battalion embarked for the European front, where they landed in the muddy trenches of Ypres.

“The trenches were no better than ‘wet, broken earth,’ according to Major Matthews, later of City Archives, Vancouver. The men dug in as best they could but not Frank,” the Chipman article says. “He scorned to shelter in the face of danger and sat erect in the mud, his rifle between his knees, his black, telescopic eyes fanning ‘The Front.’ The unit was under merciless shellfire the first afternoon and 20 of his comrades were killed around him but still he sat immobile, patient as a hunter waiting for his quarrie, a splendid example of coolheadness to skittish troops.”

But according to records from the army’s medical board, by fall of 1916, while in France, Gott began to feel weak and tired with “rheumatic pains in the shoulders and … [a] cough with expectoration.”

At this stage, it seemed the army was onto his true age because his “disabling condition before enrolment” was listed as “old age, aggravated by service.”

While he was given light duty for a time, he didn’t improve. The prognosis was grim: “At his age could not expect much improvement.”

Finally, in his “Medical History of an Invalid” paper, it appears the truth had come out. His age at his last birthday was listed at 62.

“This man is 63 years of age, a sturdy chap with a determined look,” wrote the president of the medical board on April 11, 1917. “Spent nine months in France as a sniper and from his … hair and general appearance he ‘has done his bit.’ The joints of his legs are stiff from exposure, has a chronic bronchitis.”

There are later mentions in many stories and articles that Gott’s true ailment was tuberculosis, but in his military papers “T.B.” is only listed in one place.

On Nov. 11, 1917, Gott was sent home.

A changed man

Gott’s friends noticed a change after he returned to Lillooet.

He was no longer the carefree man they had once known and he would disappear into the woods for extended periods.

“Many at first thought he was brooding over being returned before war was over, but he seems more to have been hiding his physical condition,” Chipman writes.

Some time later, around the ‘30s, Gott asked to join Phair and some others on a prospecting and hunting trip, which is when they finally realized how much his health had declined.

“He was short of breath, his legs no longer limber, nor his footing sure,” Chipman writes. “They were privately concerned for their old friend but Frank gave them no opportunity to be embarrassed on his account. He casually elected himself cook at the base camp and ‘lay around.’”

“We all knew then he could not last much longer but he just could not give up,” Phair says in the article.

It was soon after this trip that Gott decided to hunt a doe in hopes it might help cure him.

Newspaper articles aside, many of the writing recounting this time is critical of how the province’s hunting laws didn’t properly take traditional Indigenous rights into account.

According to Abraham, Gott’s great-great-grand-nephew, the story he had been told was Gott belonged to the Bonaparte First Nation near Cache Creek, but gave up his status for his veteran pension, which meant he also had to forfeit his hunting rights. “He didn’t have the status to hunt, but he still did,” Abraham says.   

He recalls hearing stories about Gott as a child, mostly from his grandmother. “I look up to that guy. He’s my hero,” he says. “Same with my grandfather.”

According to the book The Same As Yesterday: The Lillooet Chronicle the Theft of Their Lands and Resources, in 1932, deer tagging became law, with 14,838 tags sold. (Although rules around hunting seasons were in place earlier.)

But in October of 1932, when game warden Farey came to check his doe, Gott unsurprisingly did not have a tag.

‘So long, boys’

After allegedly shooting and killing Farey, Dalton, the Lillooet logger who was on the hunting trip, said Gott “did not offer any resistance” when he took away his gun.

But there was also a second person on the trip, a 14-year-old from Lillooet named Ramond Miller, according to a Vancouver Sunday Province article. After Dalton took the rifle, Miller recalled asking Gott if he could take his horse.

“He said yes,” Miller said. “I saw Gott fire at Farey. I heard no swearing. Frank Gott said I could have the horse. He said ‘I am done for.’ Frank seemed quite normal. I saw Frank bring the rifle up about half way, and fire. Mr. Farey fell at the first shot.”

Several accounts say when Farey’s body was brought back to Lillooet (stories differ on whether the hunting camp where the violence took place was at Gott Mountain or near Moha), there was a note on his body.

The Sunday Province story says it read, “He has been watching me once too often. I am going to expire myself. It’s all off with me, anyway. Good-bye to all my friends only. I am sorry, but I done it. Fixed the game warden. He had no business to bother me like that. So long, boys.”

According to a Government of B.C. website honouring Farey—one of only two conservation officers ever killed in the line of duty—three years earlier, Farey had fined Gott $25 (around $290 today) for illegal possession of another deer carcass.

“As a result of this conviction, Gott would bear a grudge against Farey for the next three years, growing enmity that would culminate in the Warden’s ruthless murder,” the write-up says.

In a letter to the editor of The Province, Gott’s old friend Phair disputed some accounts outlined in a column called “Back When” published in August 1960 that appears to have recounted the story.

“He was an old man, dying of T.B. contracted in the trenches of the First World War,” he wrote. “His mind was going with worry as he knew he was all in … He was not the character the articles make him out to be, but a man loved by everyone, whites and Indians. The shooting could have been an accident, as we never left a gun in the camp that was loaded. In his right mind he would never have shot the game warden.”

What happened next seems to be a little clearer: Gott fled.

‘I’ll never surrender’

Stories from various blogs like to speculate that Gott ran off into the valleys around Gott Peak and that’s how the mountain and nearby Gott Creek was named. As romantic as that might seem, it doesn’t appear to be true.

Neither Natural Resources Canada nor the BC Geographical Names Office could say how exactly those locations were named, but they do know the dates.

Gott Peak appeared on a map as early as 1914 and was identified in the 1930 BC Gazetteer, a dictionary of place names, but was officially adopted in September 1951. Gott Creek was likewise in the 1930 BC Gazetteer and adopted in 1951.

For Vivian Gott, Frank’s great-grand-niece, Gott Creek in particular is an important family landmark. (Gott’s descendants still live around the area, from Pemberton to D’arcy and beyond.) But what she knows about her great uncle is limited to stories from books and newspaper clippings.

“We used to do a lot of travelling from Kamloops to D’arcy,” she says. “We’d come for a month in the summertime and we’d stop at Gott Creek. That’s all I really know about it.”

What appears to have happened after the shooting on Oct. 3 was Gott ran from the hunting camp, sparking a manhunt. He managed to elude authorities for two days.

According to an Oct. 6, 1932 article from The Vancouver Daily Province, Gott spent the night in a barn with permission from the farmer who owned it, after declining offers of food.

He spent the next day in the woods, but “the posse” found his tracks. Early the following morning, someone spotted Gott near the Bridge River. The article says District Game Supervisor R.M. Robertson and Game Warden Paul Quesnel spent the night “under a blanket above the mouth of the Bridge River,” presumably meaning they were located where that river meets the Fraser River, north of Lillooet.

That account says that Gott emerged with “something in one hand” (later alleged to be a knife) and shouted, “I’ll never surrender. I’m a soldier.”

Robertson replied, “So am I.”

Even though the article does not seem to portray Gott favourably, it still described how “amazingly agile for an old man” he was when he ran towards the riverbank at attempted to jump down.

Both Robertson and Quesnel shot their rifles “into the bottom of a cloud of dust.” Gott kept running and they shot again.

That bullet allegedly struck Gott in the leg and thigh. The article says he “made a weak slash at his throat” with the knife as they approached.

He was taken to Lillooet for first aid then on to a hospital in Lytton.

But it was too late.

An untimely end

When news of Gott’s death broke in Lillooet, residents were upset.

Two weeks later, they gathered at a mass meeting where they decided to petition the attorney general to hold an inquiry into his shooting, according to an article in The Daily Province from Oct. 20, 1932.

“The people of Lillooet are not, in any sense, condoning the crime for which Gott was being hunted when he met his death,” it says. “But they were Gott’s neighbours, and acquainted with his character, his record and his circumstance and would like to be satisfied that the officers who took his life were justified in following the course they did.”

It’s unclear if the article was meant as an opinion piece, but its author agreed with them. “Even if Gott was a murderer—and that has never been proven—he was entitled to a fair trial before being condemned to death. In shooting him as they did, the officers denied him that fair trial and constituted themselves prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.”

Two days later, Attorney-General Robert Henry Pooley declared that two inquests into the matter—one into the death of Farey and the other into the death of Gott—had been held and no further investigation would turn up new information, according to an article in the Oct. 23 edition of The Vancouver Sunday Province.

“The only possible extension of these enquires would be in the form of manslaughter charges against provincial police who captured Gott,” Pooley said. “Such charges would be absolutely unjustified, in my opinion, and I have so advised the commissioner of police. The officers who captured Gott behaved with the greatest discretion, gave Gott every opportunity to surrender, and took the utmost risk themselves in enforcing the law.”

In his coroner’s report Dr. C. H. Ployart, who performed the autopsy, said Gott was suffering from tuberculosis in advanced stages and concluded “the causes of death were this disease, exposure and lack of nourishment, which weakened him, and shock due to having his leg fractured by a gunshot wound.”

Had he been in better health there would have been “a very good chance of recovery from this wound.”

A lost legacy

Frank Gott’s story doesn’t end in 1932.

During a Jan. 26, 2004 Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board meeting, Lillooet Conservation officer Bob Butcher asked for a letter of support to name a mountain or other landmark after Farey, who, again, is only one of two conservation officers killed in the line of duty since 1905.

According to the Lillooet News, the board was split. Ultimately, then-Area C director and SLRD chair Susie Gimse said in the meeting that they should follow suit with past directors and remain neutral on the controversial issue. They also urged Butcher to consult with First Nations about the naming.

In a separate article, Chief Garry John, chair of the St’át’imc Council of Chiefs, said he was disappointed they weren’t contacted about the efforts to honour Farey.

“This seems to be an indication of the way the government proceeds with things. They take all these actions and make all these decisions and then as an after-thought they think about talking to us,” he said.

For his part, at the meeting, Butcher said, “There is no reason to try to conceive some issue that is not there. The fact that he was killed by a First Nation person is irrelevant. He was killed in the line of duty.”

The government website post about Farey likewise laments that he was never celebrated. “While the local newspapers were keen to chronicle Gott’s guiding expertise, outdoor skills and wartime achievements, scant attention was paid to the life of the murdered game warden,” it says. “Game Warden ‘Bert’ Farey was buried in the Lillooet cemetery. His funeral never even made the newspapers of the day.”

To this day, there has never been a mountain named after him.

‘No ordinary man’

Gott Peak might not have been the location where Gott killed Farey or even the spot where he attempted to flee authorities.

But it is a stunning hike bordering on the Stein Valley that has a magical quality about it. High above the treeline, the rocky peaks boast a stunning array of natural hues.

The ridge walk to the true peak feels somewhat daring with a sheer drop-off on one side, but is fairly safe with sure footing. Unlike other summits, it offers a sprawling plateau; the perfect place to rest in the sun and take in the view from what feels like the top of the world.

A biography on from 2011 by Mike Cleven gets several details wrong about Gott’s life and death, but its conclusion poignantly captures the feeling of visiting the area.

“Whoever’s up there next, say a prayer for him and burn your sweetgrass or whatever you do to honour someone, because the mountain you’ve climbed wasn’t named after an ordinary man, [he was] perhaps a man even more extraordinary than the many other remarkable men whose names stud the map of the Bridge River-Lillooet Country and the High Cayoosh.”