Genealogy, History, Tall Tales & Ghost Stories
Every family historian knows that woven through the branches of their family tree are family stories and legends distorted by time.
Sometimes however, genealogy plays a role in the legends of entire communities. This could not be truer than in the story of Fernie, a small coal-mining town nestled in a peaceful valley in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada.
The Tall Tale
While out seeking his fortune in 1887, a young prospector named William Fernie was camped beside a hunting party from the Kootenai tribe. He noticed a necklace of gleaming black stones hung about the neck of one of the chief’s daughters. William Fernie knew at once that the stones were coal and asked the chief where they could be obtained. The chief would not tell him, so he pursued the girl, promising marriage in order to learn the secret. Fernie however, after learning the location of the coal broke his promise…deserting the girl.
Angered, her mother set a curse upon the valley and all who would dwell there to die from fire, flood and strife.
To this day, high upon the rock face of Hosmer Mountain looms the ghostly shadow of the abandoned Indian Princess, seated upon a horse: an eerie mark of the curse, which has since plagued the valley with death, disaster and destruction
The Seeds of Truth
In 1904, a large part of the city was destroyed by fire. In 1908 fire again claimed the city and with it the lives of several innocent citizens. Flood struck the city in 1916 and famine during the great depression. Relief came in 1964 when the Kootenai People and Chief Red Eagle lifted the curse in a ceremonial smoking of the peace pipe.
The city of Fernie is named for its founder William Fernie, the nineteenth century prospector responsible for establishing the coal industry. However, Fernie’s contemporary Michael Phillips discovered the coal.
Phillips, a pioneer famous for forging a route through the Rocky Mountains (The Crows Nest Pass) was prospecting for gold when he came across the coal seams…about which he told Fernie.
In 1886, Michael Phillips married Rowena David: daughter of Chief David and thus an Indian princess.
Legends and family lore are often deeply buried in historical fact. As time passes, these stories grow like a game of telephone: morphing into tall tales that are sometimes woven into the fabric of communities.
The moral of this story…
When digging through the roots of your family tree take some time to learn about the history of your ancestor’s communities. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.