Stephen Decker, for whom Decker Lake was named passed away on May 8,1911, in the Vancouver General Hospital at the age of 83 years old.
According to Kerry Guenter, a former resident of Burns Lake who is conducting research into the life and times of Decker, he is buried in Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery, in a paupers grave that is unmarked by a headstone.
Born at LeGrange, Maine on Aug. 24, 1827 Decker worked as a logger, a gold miner and worked as a foreman on the Collins Overland Telegraph Line.
One year before his death, Decker was interviewed by the Vancouver Province on May 14, 1910. He said, “It is long, very long ago, that I left my father’s little farm in Maine for the great West. What changes time brings. When I was a kiddie I remember the old folks were still talking angrily about the British and the Canadians and the war of 1812. My father lived a stone’s throw from the New Brunswick boundary and I tell you there was no love lost between him and his Canadian neighbors. There were very many battles between the Canadian boys and us fellows, but before I was 15 a great deal of the bitterness had died away.”
Decker left the family farm when he was just a teenager, bound for the circus. He joined a caravan circus in New York, touring the country, working as a general handyman.
After working with the circus for several months, Decker decided to return to the family farm.
In 1849, when he heard news of the great gold strike in California he again said goodbye to his family, this time heading to Boston.
Reminiscing about his gold mining days Decker said to the Vancouver Province, “There were Yankees and Mexicans and English men, German Jews, Chileans and China men. There was shootings every day, mostly bar room brawls, for the saloons sprung up as soon as the yellow metal was struck. But in spite of the wild and lawless crowds who were gathered there, if a man had the sense to keep his head about him and minded his own business and did not go looking for trouble, there was every chance in favor of his getting along all right. At least that was my experience. No one asked questions when a man was shot. If the dead man had any friends, it was up to the other fellow to get out as quickly as he could. If the murdered man had no friends in the camp then nothing more was ever heard about it. There were no hangings in the camp. The pistol shot did the work of crime and retribution.”
Decker reportedly made as much as $150 per day, for days at a time.
He said that after he had been working for a month, he was able to send $500 home to his father.
The work was hard, but profitable and he remained mining in California for several years until he received a letter from his brother, telling him of the riches that lay undiscovered in the Cariboo.
With dreams of striking it rich, he left the California gold fields, for British Columbia.
When he reached Yale, he was offered a job by the Union Pacific Cable Co. as foreman on Collins Overland Telegraph Line, working from the Fraser River to the Skeena River.
When the Atlantic cable was successfully laid on July 18, 1866, Decker and his construction crews were building the line through the Decker Lake area.
The Western Union Telegraph Co. then named Decker Lake after him, as he worked in the Decker Lake area during 1865 and 1866.
When the Collins’ Overland Telegraph was stopped at the close of 1866, he began logging.
He reminisced, “I have felled trees with 25,000 feet of merchantable timber in them and standing well on for 200 feet. Then every logger who was worth his salt was his own boss. There were no companies.”
Decker also said that he introduced jackscrews to the hand loggers of B.C. He said when he arrived, not a single logger was using a jackscrew, so he ordered some from San Francisco. He said a while later hand loggers in B.C. would not work without them.
Guenter said she is hoping that the residents of Decker Lake might have an interest in purchasing a headstone for Decker’s grave. “He was a pioneer of British Columbia. Stephen Decker was a bachelor and penniless pauper when he died, perhaps funding could be found to purchase headstones to mark his grave. I’m sure he would appreciate it, even though he died 100 years ago.”
For more information contact Guenter at; firstname.lastname@example.org.