Gold Bar Quest

Author Garnet Basque wrote that of all the treasure stories in B.C., the missing gold bars of Camp McKinney has the best chance of being solved. I decided to put my research skill, intuition and love of nature to the test. In my attempt to solve this one hundred and sixteen year old mystery, I have enthused some and disappointed others. Since my serious beginning of this venture in late January, I have searched second-hand bookstores and visited the seventh floor of the Vancouver Public Library, rare books and manuscripts.

Here are some of the facts as I understand them.

Editor’s note: At the time of the robbery, the mine was owned by three men from Spokane. Joseph Keane, James Monogham and George MacAuley bought the mine from Al McKinney and brought in machinery from Washington state. Several years later they sold the Cariboo Gold Mine to the company out of Toronto.

August 18th, 1896 the Cariboo Consolidated Gold Mining and Milling Co. of Toronto, three gold bars stolen en route by wagon to the rail head at Midway. Weighing a total of 656.5 troy ounces, evidence indicated the smallest of the three bars had been cut up and sold. Matthew Roderick of 329 Taylor Street in Seattle left enough evidence at the scene of the crime to be the main suspect. The BC Provincial Police force grew into the largest Canadian customer of the Pinkerton Agency and were asked to keep a close watch on the suspect. Accidentally shot dead as he returned for the remaining bars on October 25th, the gold remained hidden since that summer. Two specially sewn pockets on a belt indicated Matt’s intentions and the discovery of goggles on his body indicated to some they were hidden under water. While the suggestion has been made he may have used an abandoned mine that flooded, I think it highly unlikely. He would have needed to return dangerously close to the camp at a time when he was being sought. However, several lakes are in close proximity to the holdup area as well as an escape route along an old Indian trail.

The mine closed in January of 1904 after a decade of profitable operations. It became the first company in BC to pay dividends. But the company ceased to exist on paper and the stock holders were paid out. The fifteen hundred-dollar reward remained unclaimed and the story largely forgotten as decades passed. The stolen bars became lost treasure and others took up the challenge. Fresh eyes. A new perspective.

I grew up in the country and ran a family farm for several decades gaining a close affinity to nature and the outdoors. Maybe I see the world differently than most people. Yes I’m a dreamer but not in an idle way. I dream, I see, I do. Never waste a day, that’s my motto. And I have a great passion for history and in particular BC’s golden past. I spent several months as the site operator for the fabulous Yale Historic Site winding up the 2009 season. The tonnage of gold shipped out of BC is staggering. Most of it sold for seventeen dollars an ounce.

The two remaining bars could weigh forty-eight POUNDS. Now at about sixty-three per cent gold, these two bars could weigh thirty pounds pure gold at today’s prices. Remember troy are twelve ounces, still a sufficient sum to keep treasure hunters buying books and supplies for some time. I have. An expensive metal detector, too.

It’s one thing to set a target on a map, follow-up on Google Earth and pack the truck. Yet when the target is roughly ten inches by four inches and only an inch thick, times two, well hell they could be anywhere. Underground, under water or long since found and melted into cash. Not that I believe the latter. My own thought is that a treasure this sizable is hard to keep quiet. Sooner or later, word gets out.

Eight trips thus far to beautiful Boundary country. The third week of April 2012 saw the beginning of the physical quest. When a hint of summer teased with hot temperatures, I ventured onwards with the ever faithful Benz. The size of the car proved fortunate for the narrow trails however it seemed I may have been the first traveler since the snowmobile’s departed. Having never followed a forestry road before I crawled slowly along and savored the drive, occasionally stopping to move winters debris of branches and small trees. Being without cell phone service or fellow travelers, caution was paramount, especially with a low slung car, not mine. Here’s where the first of a few “Back Roads Maps” failed miserably with numerous inaccuracies. I drove until the snow pack refused to yield and hiked another kilometer or more. Several bear paw prints in the snow convinced me to end the journey but the excitement of my quest had been heightened. I marked my furthest point with the GPS to transfer to a map on my return home. The greatest surprise came in the form of dozens of butterflies, always a positive sign on any adventure. The needle covered trails hinted of a golden path to be followed. I was hooked.

The second trip went better with a truck and gear to last for several days. The area had gone from first hint of spring to coursing streams as daytime temps and longer days coaxed spring to the forefront. Best of all the trail followed made use of a downloadable forestry map, supremely accurate. BlackBerry in hand I followed the screens direction, thumbing the map to correlate with the terrain. I love history and modern gadgets. Two small streams raged full on so my driving stopped just as I arrived at the old lake bed. Good enough for the first visit to the target area. Little Fish Lake, one of three in the province, spoke to me of an unspoiled paradise of sorts. I experienced a level of quietness not experienced in some time. Even days of fairly remote agriculture were always broken by the sound of speeding vehicles or distant working machinery. Calm days of prairie winter carried the sound quite well.
The third trip was more an exercise in father/daughter relations. I strained ours by driving her relatively new car on a rocky forestry road. Sorry my dear. I walked the last kilometer to save her car and our relationship. A quick inspection of ‘my’ forest and we drove on. My fourth, fifth and sixth visits included enough gear for an overnight or two and a top quality metal detector. I found what I regarded to be some great search areas and am left with only one question…… How can such a beautiful part of the forest hide so much metal trash? Many nails, empty food cans, bullet casings and other debris had my White TDI Pro model singing regularly. More people had worked or visited the area in a hundred years than I thought. Oh and wire, don’t forget the numerous bits of smooth wire. But on the last trip I finally woke up and realized this may not be the area at all. The very appropriate stone outcroppings or old tree markers only pointed to more junk. I decided my enthusiasm with Little Fish may have been too much. Close scrutiny of my old maps show the old Indian trail went farther along, farther north. What if LFL held no purpose for Matt Roderick or what if the trail never drew close to LF? Perhaps he rode north and didn’t intend to hide a bar or two but was forced to by unwanted visitors or a horse that spooked and …. Well you understand. So I decided I needed to start fresh. Abandon LF and move on. Perhaps my intuition has been skewered by too many late night shifts.

Chin wagging with a couple of ladies horsing around Little Fish proved useful. They rode into 1890’s country with saddles, pack horses and dogs. Their hope was to ride north to Conkle Lake, once known as Fish Lake and which beget Little Fish. The previous night they rode on higher ground to scout the area and found largely unfriendly terrain for riding. I too was greatly surprised at the amount of blow-down around Little Fish. Didn’t see the ladies when they returned however as I scouted another area later that day. At one point I thought I heard faint voices but couldn’t be sure. Perhaps the trail north had also been strewn with too many crisscrossed lodge pole. After detecting what I felt were the best leads due to old markers along the shore, I decided Conkle Lake would be my next target. And the swampy area south of it.

I waited until after the long weekend, a favourable choice. Captured the best of both camps, as it were, quite accidentally. By catching the last day when overnight payments were required I gratefully received good information about the area from the park caretakers. As the park dwindled rapidly in campers the rest of us were put more at ease. Best of all the friendly campers next to me offered a canoe trip across the lake and back, almost three kilometers one way. Great way to gauge the area and see what I’m getting myself into. As we paddled along, perhaps half way across the sizable lake, a spider string swept across my left arm like the line from a fly fisherman’s rod. We noticed how it floated across the water while the other end seemed to rise a good height into the air. Very interesting to see. Had there been a spider on the other end? Is that an arachnid’s method of sailing to new frontiers? Later I searched a small portion of the sandy beach area for lost trinkets. The best I found without digging much was a small toy car, perhaps a youngsters lost treasure. More sand searching next trip as time allows. Time, ever the enemy as we fade toward autumn and the chilly months to follow. Before 2012 yielded to the New Year I made a final, physical search to Little Fish Lake. I confess to several overlooked details. There is no map references to the old Indian Trail running beyond Conkle Lake. The trail only went TO the lake. A summer fishing area perhaps. Therefore it was NOT an escape route, merely a route to a good hiding area. And Matt never had a horse. He hiked to the robbery area and hiked to a hiding spot, most likely not far from the holdup site. So again, my challenge is to convert the best map showing the hairpin curve to the reality of todays geography. Not easy. My December visit found this to be difficult. But the beauty of the area once more held me captivated in the solitude and silence of it all. My only mistake was encountering snow-covered forestry trails steeper than a two-wheel drive truck should attempt to negotiate. New tires made the difference and I survived. But again, no success, and again I’ll add, not yet. New years resolution…. I will succeed. JE.
To Be Continued

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About Jim

Sweet-themed historical fiction circa 1900 is my genre. Prairie life before dandelions, English sparrows and starlings. I spent decades living on the western Canadian prairie, fascinated by realities facing the pioneers, both First Nations people and immigrants. My grandparents met in an area first known as Sweet Valley in southern Alberta. Decades later, Mother nature flirted with me and revealed many of her secrets that I strive to share with my readers.
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3 Responses to Gold Bar Quest

  1. Greg says:

    Have you continued the story? I’m interested in hearing what you found after reading about this robbery a few years back. I’m also from the prairies and have retired in the lower mainland to get away from the snow and cold of the Canadian prairie winters.

    • Jim says:

      I will continue this remarkable journey until I’ve succeeded. All the evidence found to date was carefully hidden by one person. The hardware and supplies reveal careful planning and the wheelbarrow shows how he moved it all.

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