Some of the best cowboys in B.C. have been Okanagan natives. Their knowledge of the land and their incredible skill with horses has long been recognized.
One of the earliest and most remarkable was Susap, who was a member of the Nk’mip (Inkameep) band.
Eneas Susap, who was also called Eneas Joe and Yankin, was an Okanagan Native who was well known throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen as a cowboy and packer.
He was one of three brothers who made their mark in the region as honourable, honest men and excellent stockmen. One of his brothers, Baptiste, became Chief of the Nk’mip band in 1907.
Susap went to work for Barrington Price in the Keremeos area in 1872 and rapidly gained a reputation as an accomplished horseman and diligent worker. Before long, John Carmichael Haynes asked him to come work for him at his ranch near Osoyoos Lake. Susap took over the care and training of Haynes’ large herd of horses. He was an outstanding rider and could handle and break the most difficult of horses.
Susap soon proved himself indispensable to the Haynes family. When the Haynes house caught fire in 1878, it was Susap who rushed into the burning house and carried the Haynes children, Hester and Val, to safety.
A few years later, he was out on Osoyoos Lake with two of the Haynes children when he saw little Will Haynes fall into the lake and disappear under the surface. Susap dove into the lake, swam to the drowning child and pulled him out of the water. He tipped the boy upside down to let water pour out of his boots and mouth then ran with him to the house where he revived him and wrapped him in a warm blanket.
The Haynes family expressed their gratitude by giving Susap a new outfit of clothes and boots every Christmas.
Susap’s skills with horses made him an excellent packer and he was regularly entrusted with taking a pack train to Hope and back over the Dewdney Trail for supplies for the Haynes family and other south Okanagan and Similkameen ranchers. In 1880, after taking cattle to Hope over the Dewdney Trail, he became the guide and packer for Bishop and Mrs. A.W. Sillitoe from Hope to Osoyoos over the trail.
The trip is recorded in Mrs. Sillitoe’s diary and she mentions Susap’s ability to weave a bed of cedar boughs, “in the spreading of which the Indians are adepts. If skillfully laid, they form a very easy, springy bed, but woe betide the unfortunate traveller who tries to sleep on a brush bed not scientifically spread.” Susap, for some time afterward, was referred to as “Sillitoe” in memory of his services to the Bishop.
When J.C. Haynes died in 1888, Susap went to work for other ranches in the South Okanagan. He married Sophie and had two children, Manuel and Margaret.
Susap lived to be 106 years old and was esteemed by both natives and whites as one of the best horsemen and honest workers in the area.
Ken Mather is curator emeritus at O’Keefe Ranch and a Spallumcheen-based author.