John (Slim) Miller

Submitted by B. Vance


‘Slim’ Miller’s Giscombe Rapids Adventure – 1907
John Newman Miller 1886 - 1983

The Prince George Herald, Nov. 27, 1915 recalls this adventure that ‘Slim’
Miller had in 1907: In the article titled Mud River Wedding:
"A wedding ceremony of great interest is the old-time citizens of this
city and the neighboring Georges, was that of John Newman Miller and Mamie
Theresa Dodd, which was performed last Sunday by Rev A.C. Justice.
Both these popular young people have been residents here since the
beginning of development in this district. Mr. Miller known to his many
friends as "Slim" came to this country in the employ of the Grand Trunk
Pacific engineers and was engaged in the early work of surveying and
laying out railroad lines.
“While enroute to the old trading post of Fort George with a party of
fellow adventurers, the canoe in which he was a passenger was swamped in
Giscombe Rapids and several of the party lost their lives.”
Mr. Miller took a ranch on the Mud River seven years ago and has farmed
his place ever since. His Mud River Road House has been a popular one,
and as a genial host he left nothing to be desired.
Miss. Dodd is a daughter of Thomas Dodd of Mud River, one of the real
pioneer farmers of Central, BC.
The Herald joins in the general expression of hearty congratulations and
wishes the young couple the greatest happiness."
-----------------------
Now, in 1979, 72 years after the Giscombe Rapids adventure, ‘Slim’ (John)
Miller recalls the experience with clarity and accuracy that is much to be
admired. As I sat beside my Grandfather taking notes as he told me his
story.

It was September 1907 when Slim and his two companions were freighting on
the Fraser River in their 24-foot regular dugout canoe and along the way
picked up 3 more men. They soon approached the treacherous piece of water
they all dreaded, nine miles of rapids known as the Giscombe Rapids.
They had just got into the rapids when someone yelled, “We’ve made a wrong
turn! We are going to hit that rock!” At that instant the speed of the
water crashed them against the boulder and in Slim’s own vernacular, “the
canoe bust up into 4 or 5 pieces”.

Three men soon drowned in that icy cold water, the other three managed to
hang on to a piece of the canoe. Slim could not swim so he knew his only
chance was to hang on tight to this piece of the side and stern and ‘ride
it out’. He was in that wild, glacier water for a good hour which is how
long took for the swift current to carry him the full length of the
rapids. He chuckles now as he tell the story about, “coming down on a
chip wearing my wide brim, stetson hat all the way!”

When the current of the Fraser River finally brought him to shore he was
so numb he couldn’t even walk or stand up. He just rolled around on the
ground until he got his circulation started. The fact that it rained all
that night may have helped save his life as it kept the temperature
moderate. (Frosty nights were common on clear nights in Sept. in those
days) Even at that he never allowed himself to sleep and had to make a
concentrated effort to generate body heat and he did this by turning from
side to side all night.

The next morning as soon as it was daylight he walked to the rivers edge.
There! on the other side he saw something move, at that he started
hollering for help. It was two Indians and they came right over and
rescued a very cold, very wet and now very hungry Slim Miller. The men
made Slim breakfast and while he ate they unloaded the cargo from their
canoe so they could make better time taking Slim back to Fort George.
They would come back later and pick up their cargo as “there was no fear
of looting in those days,” Grampa reminded me.

Meanwhile, Arthur Cape and Bob Sheffield (the other two survivors of the
canoe) had made their way back to the Trading Post. They related their
accident and Al Hubble went back down the Fraser River to look for other
survivors that may need help. Soon they had to turn back to make it back
to the Trading Post before dark. Al Hubble was known to say about this
time, “Slim won’t drown, he was born to hang!” Grampa recalls with a
chuckle.