Telling my family's stories
Due to a research project I was recently involved in, I’ve been learning a lot about the first European men to come to southern Alberta and their histories. One of these was Martin “Mart” Van Buren Holway/Holloway, a gold-miner who began showing up here in the early 1870s. He was one of the original exploring party in the Crow’s Nest Pass that runs through the Rocky Mountains; they lost a pair of valued pinchers in a creek that was subsequently named Pincher Creek, a lovely little town in the Alberta foothills.
Once here, Mart, like the vast majority of the men he was travelling with, married a Blood First Nations woman and laid claim to a tract of land in the Pincher Creek area. Very little is known about his wife, only that her English given name was Eliza and/or Lucy. The Bloods were one of the Blackfoot bands that lived in southern Alberta and in Montana; Mart arrived before the treaty was signed, and it was common at the time for marriages between the traders/settlers and the Blackfoot to occur to cement trading relations. I have also seen reports that Eliza was of the Piegan band, but no documentation for this. The Blood designation comes from the Métis scrip applications that Mart and Eliza’s children filed around 1900.
Several children were born to the couple, including most famously Charlie Holloway, who was a scout and translator for the Northwest Mounted Police team that captured Charcoal in 1896. Charlie married Jane Lee, daughter of William and Rosa (Striker Woman) Lee, who was raised on the Blood Reserve; Charlie’s sister Mary Anne married Jane’s brother Henry. His other children, including at least Emma (b. 1879), Sullivan (1875-1877), and William Henry (1844-1890) died young; there well may have been other children whose names are not known.
While the main attractions to the area at the time were the whiskey trade at Fort Whoop-Up and gold-mining, Mart was known for opening a coal mine in the area where Lundbreck now is.
None of the Canadian biographical sketches and write-ups in the local community histories know where Martin came from, although it is clear he came through the US. The census information, varies quite a bit as to his age and origin: 1800 in the US (1881 census); 1832 in the US (1891 census); 1836 in New Brunswick (1901 census); and 1834 in New Brunswick (1906 census). Local histories say he was born in England. It is clear from his given names that he was of American stock; imagine for a moment a British citizen naming their son after an American President, Vice President and Secretary of State, after all!
A clue comes from a couple of sources that note that Martin had a brother named Horace (Martin’s son Charlie also named his first son Horace.) With two names like Martin Van Buren and Horace, it becomes much easier to track our guy down. The 1850 census – voilà! – shows Martin and Horace with their entire family.
Guess where they’re living in 1850? St. Albans, Somerset, Maine. Which is, oh, about 100 miles from the New Brunswick border. A-ha!
This turns out to be a relatively well-documented family, with roots going back to old North-East families of the 1600s. I won’t go into that here. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Martin is one of those branches of the Holloway family tree that just disappears. After 1860, he is nowhere to be found, though the rest of the Holloway family sticks around in Maine. In 1870, Mart and Horace are out in Montana, gold-digging in Cedar Creek Mine. By 1880, Horace has returned to the family fold, where he married and raised his family. But Mart kept on travelling and in fact left the country entirely. This is one of those times where moving backwards in time is the only way to make the connection, along with a good unique name, a brother, and a colourful history.