BC Provincial Archives photo Old bunkhouses at Bullion City in 1960.

HAPHAZARD HISTORY: Murder at the Bullion City

Bullion City was the name given to the mining camp which supported operations at the Bullion Pit.

Barry Sale

Haphazard History

Bullion City was the name given to the mining camp which supported the operations at the Bullion Pit.

It was located on a gradual slope at the northwest corner of the pit, about 10 kilometres from Hydraulic, the nearest stagecoach stop on the raod to Quesnelle Forks.

In its heyday, Bullion City was far more than a temporary camp. During the years from 1900 to 1905, when the mine was in full operation, it boasted a population of about 300 people, with more than 35 buildings.

These included bunkhouses for up to 200 workers, a hospital, a store, offices, a slaughterhouse, machine shops, stables, a blacksmith’s shop, a powder house, a smelting house, a few small family residences, and a big kitchen/dining hall. (That same dining hall was later dismantled, moved and rebuilt. It now serves as the Likely Community Hall.

On the upper slope, overlooking the whole town, was the “Big House” in which the mine manager and chief engineer J.B. Hobson lived and oversaw the entire mining operation.

READ MORE: The tragic story of Jennie Stephenson

J.B. Hobson had been a successful hydraulic mining engineer in California, and in 1892, he was retained by Canadian financiers to help develop large scale gold mining in the Cariboo.

Hobson was instrumental in the formation of the Cariboo Hydraulic Mining Company (later, the Cariboo Consolidated Hydraulic Mining Company) to “crush and sluice gravel from 2,500 acres of old river bed.”

The estimated worth of the gold throughout to lie in the 2,584 acres of land covered by the Company’s leases was $100 million (about $6 billion in today’s prices).

During his mining days in California, Hobson had a cook/personal Chinese servant by the name of Sam Lock, and when the Bullion Mine operations got underway, Hobson sent for him.

Almost as soon as he arrived, Sam Lock started having problems with the Chinese Society, or Tong, at Quesnelle Forks.

The tongs pretty much controlled all aspects of Chinese life, and this one, known as the Highbinders, was particularly vicious.

Virtually all the Chinese men in the area paid money to the tong, which was expert in the art of blackmail and extortion.

Despite great pressure, Sam Lock refused to join the tong or to pay any money to them, and he was frequently threatened with bodily harm.

The tong placed a man in Bullion City, a dining room servant named Chew Hong, and on more than one occasion the two men almost came to blows.

On July 9, 1906, at 4:30 p.m., just at the end of the shift when the men were walking up the hill from the pit, they heard screams coming from one of the bunkhouses.

They rushed into the building and found Sam Lock with a large bread knife in hand standing over the bloody body of Chew Hong.

It was Sam who was screaming. Over and over he yelled “May your evil spirit stay in your bones until they rot!” The men finally pulled him away from the scene but Chew Hong was dead.

READ MORE: The Othello Tunnels

Sam Lock was very popular in the town, and was a friend to most of the workers. Nobody wanted to see him turned over to the law, so a number of miners helped him to slip away into the forest to hide out.

Eventually, he made his way over to Cedar Point on Quesnel Lake where he built a pit house in which to live.

A reward of $300 was offered by the Provincial Police for his arrest, and although many men knew where his hideout was and supplied him with food and other necessities, whenever the police were in the vicinity, nobody knew anything.

As for Chew Hong, the miners carried his body down into the pit and buried it unceremoniously in the mine’s tailings pile.

J.B. Hobson was on his way home from Ashcroft when he received news of the murder and the resulting manhunt for Sam Lock. He dropped everything and hired the best legal help he could find to take on the case of the man who had been his faithful servant for so many years.

The $300 reward proved to be too tempting. A settler who lived near the mine told the police where Sam Lock was hiding, and he was arrested and taken to Clinton to await trial.

That trial was held in October of 1906. During the proceedings, J.B. Hobson, his foreman and his bookkeeper all acted as character references and tried to convince the jury that Lock deserved compassion.

He was about 60 years old and had been a trusted employee for 38 of those years.

They claimed that Lock was a victim of bullying, deceit and animosity from the Quesnelle Forks tong.

Petitions were signed by the mayors of Victoria and Kamloops, by respected clergymen, Chinese and white merchants in Vancouver and Victoria, and by many residents of Kamloops and the Cariboo.

As a result of the incredible pressure, the trial ended with a hung jury.

A second trial was held in May, 1907, and this one was not as successful. Sam Lock was sentenced to death by hanging.

This sentence was appealed, and a third trial took place in October, 1907. The death sentence was upheld.

On Dec. 6, 1907, Sam Lock was hanged on the gallows in Kamloops. Many people felt that had he been a white person, the outcome would have been completely different. It was a time of anti-Chinese sentiment, the juries were all white men, and even though there were extenuating circumstances, no leeway was given in the sentencing.

After 1907, the fortunes of the Bullion Pit Mine declined significantly. Major investors pulled their financial support and there were few returns for the investors who remained.

The mine limped along for a few years, but in 1912, J.B. Hobson died.

The mine then went through a number of lawsuits and legal wrangles and never did regain its past glory, although there was a brief resurgence of activity in the 1930s.

Many of the old miners remembered Sam Lock’s curse and the hasty burial of Chew Hong. They became convinced that these events, along with Lock’s hanging had cursed the Bullion Pit forever and had resulted in its change of fortunes and its ultimate demise.

For this article I relied heavily on a chapter from the book Ghost Town of British Columbia by Bruce Ramsey.

An apology: When I write a column I usually let my readers know where I found the background for that story. For last month’s column titled: The tragic story of Jennie Stephenson, I somehow neglected to do that. That information came from a good little book titled Gold and Grand Dreams by Marie Elliott, published in 2000. I apologize for my oversight.

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