Riley Brook (1960)
This story was written by Mrs. John Everett for the Historical Society of New Brunswick, and a copy was kept by Mrs. Grace Flanders. The article was submitted to and published by a local newspaper, and the clipping kept in a scrapbook by Myrtle (McAskill) LeBel, and donated to the Plaster Rock Public School Library.
Concerning the upper reaches of the main Tobique River as told me (1898-1900) by one of the first settlers at Riley Brook, a village named after a man by the name of Riley, which was drowned in the brook which now bears his name.
Riley Brook today (1960) is a beautiful village nestled among hills clothed with timber, 50 miles more or less from the mouth of the Tobique. The Tobique, since first known, was teeming with Atlantic salmon, the Serpentine branch being a famous spawning ground and its upper branches became an ideal sportsman locality, and Riley Brook headquarters for many of the guides employed; but sad to say the Beechwood dam on the St. John soon put an end to that lucrative industry on the Tobique.
The name Tobique is of Indian origin, meaning “tow-back”. You will agree that, Indian like, the name is appropriate to the custom of the time for the first settler built his own tow-boat and with oxen first, then horsed, towed supplies and mail for his lumber camps from Andover. The oxen rode down on the boat and towed it back up which took seven or eight days. At one point the river forms in the shape of an oxbow and at the bow or bend the water is so deep that the oxen were taken up on the boat and long poles used to push the boat around the bend, when the oxen would be put back on the job.
The boat was called The Everett tow-boat and the man who built it was William Everett, the first settler at Riley Brook. The family came from England, when William was a lad of four years. It is presumed the family settled at or near Andover, as that is where William came from when he decided to seek his fortune on the Tobique. He had married Rebecca Ross and she bore him a family of four sons and six daughters.
In those early days, ship building was largely carried on in Saint John and the forests of New Brunswick were rich in heavy timber. William gathered up some men and for several years he lumbered some miles above Nictau possibly ten or twelve miles above Riley Brook towing his supplies with oxen from Andover in summer, by ice in winter. The lumber, pine and birch, was squared and floated to Saint John in rafts. Bob Clyde was Everett’s picked man for steering the rafts through the Narrows.
Mr. Everett’s ambition was to have a sawmill to lessen the work of squaring timber and to encourage his men to build homes on land they could draw from the government. His dreams began to materialize when a fellow from Maine offered to back him in the enterprise, and in the early ‘60’s the mill was built on Riley Brook, near its outlet into the Tobique. Vanderbeck, Clyde, Watters, McDougall, The names of some of the men still cling to the Upper Tobique. His son John drove team for him at the age of 15 and he had another son Elbridge set out from Andover alone, at the age of 13, with a horse and a sled to travel on the ice to Riley Brook. When the lad had reached the mill house it was dark and there were two roads and not knowing which one to take he stopped and shouted. Someone at the house heard the shout, and said, “There’s going to be a storm the owls are hooting tonight.” John, too, heard and said, “That’s my brother’s voice.” And picking up a tin lantern, went out. Lanterns then were like high tin cans pointed at the top and slashed all over to allow the dim light of a tallow candle set inside, to shine through.
Meantime, William’s sons, John and Elbridge, had drawn farms at Riley Brook. When young men, John and William’s brother George, were close pals and when George married Phoebe Sloat, John felt the loss of his companionship so keenly he decided to do likewise and so wooed and married a beautiful girl, one Eliza Cox, daughter of William and Charlotte (Everett) Cox, and together they too went by oxen to Riley Brook on their honeymoon, the first woman to settle at Riley Brook. John’s sister, Edith, made her home with them as company for Eliza in that new part of the province while he continued working for his father.
Theirs was the first white child born at Riley Brook. No doctor nor nurse was available and the nearest woman was six or eight miles down the river at Blue Mountain Bend, where lived Duncan Blue and his family. Someone volunteered to go, saying they would fish salmon going down and hurry her back. Sad to say the baby was strangled at birth and no one was to blame. Seven more children were born to them at Riley Brook. When their fourth child was three years old (1872), Isaac Gaunce moved his family to Riley Brook from Oxbow where he had spent the previous year or two. In that same year, William Everett moved his family from Andover into an apartment over the mill.
While Mr. Everett’s mill was in operation, travelers some of them deserters from the American civil war, often stopped at the mill house and were always welcome and no one ever went away hungry. One man, a skedaddler professing to be a minister was the most frequent guest. He built himself a camp at the foot of Bald Peak and came down on weekends and held service. In time his coat became real dirty, and one day when the women were washing clothes they thought to do him a favour by washing it, and into the tub it went. Just then the Rev. sauntered by and saw it, but alas! not in time to save it from getting wet. With a frantic rush and an oath he seized the poor coat with one hand and with the other hand grabbed the scissors hanging nearby, all the while scolding and swearing, and hidden somewhere on the wet coat, he salvaged $900. He had stolen it from collection plates in the church. Such was the story, believe it or not.
About 12 miles below Riley Brook, William Everett drew a farm, the upper part of Dow Flat directly across the Tobique from a farm drawn by his brother George.
He sold his sawmill to John McDougal and moved down to Dow Flat. A family of Hathaways were squatted on the farm adjoining his whose owner or tenant had abandoned. All those pioneers were having it hard enough and the Hathaway brothers Gib and Caleb were no exceptions. As ever, Mr. Everett proved ready to help good neighbours and when Hathaway was badly in need of a horse and came to see if he could borrow, beg or buy one from William he agreed to give William a strip of his land in exchange for the horse. Next morning William told his own son to take the horse by the ear and lead it over to Hathaway and say “this horse is in payment for the strip of land.” In after years, William’s grandson Percy lost the strip of land because the transaction had never been recorded.
Not satisfied at Dow Flat, Mr. Everett went to live at the house of John Stewart in Andover, promoter of the C.P.R. to Plaster Rock. He married a second wife, a Louise Baker. But he was not contented at Andover. He had drawn his limit of farms and daydreams of another mill was urging him on so he got Martin Watson to draw a farm for him which included Burnt Land Brook. Here he built a grist mill and on the hill nearby a dwelling house where Ernest Jenkins now lives. He was a hard worker, improving his property through the day and grinding grists all night. For a time, all went well, but misfortune visited him in the form of a broken arm, but undaunted he carried on with the other arm and called for his son Elbridge at Riley Brook to come down to help him, promising to make it worthwhile. Elbridge was married to Susan Gaunce. They had a family of eight at the time and was prospering nicely on the farm there. However he answered his father’s call by moving down to a farm on the bank of the Tobique near the mouth of Burnt Land Brook on which stood the grist mill. That was in the year 1886.
Two of George Everett’s sons, Arthur and Tom, had each acquired 100 acre farms near their father’s farm across from Dow Flat. John Everett sold his farm at Riley Brook where Austin Howard now lives, in the spring of 1880, moved his family down to a farm half way between Two Brooks and George Everett’s farm which he bought from a man by the name of Faulkner. Five hundred acres held by five Everetts – small wonder the place came to be called “Everett” instead of Dow Flat as marked by travelers from the flat across the river. It is sometimes called Two Brooks from the stream by that name.
And now once again, John and his old pal George were neighbours, each with a wife and a family. Good neighbours, but pals no longer, for each began catering to the traveling public. John put up his shingle (advertising) 25 cents a meal. He catered chiefly to the labouring class – lumbermen, river drivers, peddlers, ministers, teachers, etc. George looked for the white-collared public. But this time there was a dirt road to Riley Brook and the day of tow-boats was over.
Jim McNair, Jud Hale, Dick Estey and son Fred, J. D. McLaughlin and Ed McCullum were some of the well remembered men who carried on extensive lumbering operations. On the Tobique, the loose logs were floated to their destination in the spring. Supplies and men were hauled with horses tho’ often the men would walk. I have seen as many as 50 men in one outfit arrive at John’s to spend the night and after breakfast resume the walk to Riley Brook depot.
About 1903 Lord Strathcona built a large tourist lodge about seven miles above Nictau to entertain the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter Princess Patricia. As I remember, it was a very fine building, shingled inside and a private suite for each guest, Princess Patricia’s being decorated in blue. A large dining room with fine linen embroidered by the church ladies in Andover and the best of silver. Completely across the front was a long wide verandah, comfortably furnished, commanding an excellent view of the river in front. A very desirable place for a comfortable, quiet vacation. But disappointment was lurking near as the invited guests never saw the beauty for at Montreal the Duchess became ill and had to enter hospital at Montreal.
Hover a few years later, Lord Grey, his wife and daughter, Lady Sybil, came on an unannounced vacation and stopped at George Everett’s to have supper and rest the horses. Because no appointment had been made for them, George refused to put them up, and half a mile further up the road, they stopped at John’s to see about accommodation. “Well,” said John, “you may stay if you’re willing to take what is going. If not, keep going.” They stayed and ate buckwheat pancakes and fresh pork plus, for supper and really enjoyed it. Mrs. Everett was so impressed with the friendliness of the ladies, especially the lady Sybil, that she named her young granddaughter “Sybil” in honour of Lady Sybil Grey.
Mr. Everett, now in his declining years, sold his mill to a Scotsman, Martin Watson, and retired. He had buried the mother of his children and had worked hard all his life. His second wife, Louise Baker, spared not herself caring for him in his child like dotage, and when so often he wandered away and had to be sought and guided back he would always say, “My name is William Everett. I came from England when I was four years old. I’m going to Riley Brook.”