Chinese miners’ cabins at Quesnel Forks at 1890. (BC Provincial Archives photo)

Chinese miners’ cabins at Quesnel Forks at 1890. (BC Provincial Archives photo)

HAPHAZARD HISTORY: The lost Chinese mine near Quesnel Forks

By 1862, the Cariboo gold rush had already passed through the Quesnel Forks area

Barry SALE

Special to the Tribune

By 1862, the Cariboo gold rush had already passed through the Quesnel Forks area.

Most of the white prospectors had moved on, following the gold up the North Fork (Cariboo River) to Keithley Creek, then over Yank’s Peak to the rich, gold-bearing streams of the goldfields.

Following on the heels of the white goldseekers were the Chinese miners. The restrictive laws of the time prevented a Chinese man from staking a claim on land that had not been previously worked. He could only get a mining licence, which cost him $15 a year compared to $5 a year for a white prospector, for areas that had been picked over and abandoned by white miners.

But the Chinese prospectors were disciplined and persistent.

The Government Agent at Quesnel Forks, William Stephenson, wrote of them: “As a class, they are industrious, sober and economical. They are not lazy, drunken, extravagant or turbulent; they do not violate the laws, but they will evade them in every possible way.”

The Chinese worked hard to glean every last bit of gold from their claims, using their knowledge to develop new techniques which proved to be much more efficient than those used by the whites who had gone before them.

The “Celestials” as they were called, invented panning machines to separate gold from mud, hand dredges to scrape the river bottom and rockers to concentrate gold-bearing paydirt in areas where water was unavailable.

One interesting method they perfected was the use of an ordinary potato to produce pellets from very fine gold sediment. A few drops of mercury were added to the pan to bind with the gold. Then, a potato was hollowed out and the mercury-gold mix was poured into the cavity.

The two halves of the potato were then wired together and it was thrown into a fire.

After a few hours, the mercury had burned off, leaving a small pellet of gold which was typically about 95 per cent pure.

Unfortunately, the names of most of these Chinese miners have been lost to history.

They were not allowed to vote, and they were excluded from registering births, deaths and marriages, so records are very sparse.

Their story was never properly recorded, and those who knew about it and could pass it along are now long gone.

For many of the men who toiled daily along the rivers and streams and in the mines hoping for that one big strike, literally nothing is known about them except that they were Chinese.

READ MORE: Quesnel Forks, a true relic of the gold rush

For a couple of years after the whites had moved on, the Chinese did quite well at reworking the abandoned claims.

However, these diggings too began to peter out, and these men started to prospect further and further afield.

As the story goes, two Chinese goldseekers crossed the North Fork and went north into the hills past Kangaroo Gulch near the base of Kangaroo Mountain.

Not much is known about these men — their names have been forgotten.

What is known is that they both came from the Canton area in China, and that one was several years older than the other. They may have been brothers, relatives, or in-laws.

About 10 days after they had left Quesnel Forks, they returned, each laden with leather pokes full of gold.

This gold was in the form of large course flakes, quite unlike the gold found in the area immediately around Quesnel Forks.

According to the Chinese who would later speak about this story, the diggings were approximately 10 miles due north of Quesnel Forks.

They were high in the hills and there was no water available, so the two men used a dry rocker to concentrate the gold.

The area they were working was likely once a high, ancient river channel which contained coarse gold that had not been worn down by water.

The men worked this claim for four seasons, from 1864 through to 1867.

By that time, they were very rich men, and they decided to return to China with their fortune.

They arrived back in Canton carrying several heavy suitcases of gold, and there they lived like royalty.

They lived a life of luxury and spent money freely. The older man died a very happy man sometime around 1869, and the younger man continued on enjoying the fortune.

READ MORE: The Prior House at Little Lake

But the money didn’t last, especially when gambling was involved, and by 1870, it became evident to him that he was running out of funds.

He was not too concerned, since he knew where to find more gold, so in 1871 he made the return trip across the Pacific and back to the Cariboo.

What he hadn’t planned on was that in 1869, a devastating forest fire had swept through the whole countryside around Quesnel Forks, reducing everything to ash.

Eighteen prospectors lost their lives in this wildfire.

All the landmarks the two men had used to guide themselves to the workings, including some marked trees, were gone.

The whole landscape had changed, and the area looked completely different.

The man looked for his mine for the rest of his life, but he never found it again.

The Chinese residents of Quesnel Forks were convinced that the diggings existed.

They had seen the gold, they knew the two men, and the details all added up. So, the legend began growing.

After the owner died in poverty in Quesnel Forks around 1880, men began searching for the site, hoping to strike it rich, themselves.

For more than 70 years, from the mid 1880s until the 1950s when the last permanent residents (all Chinese) of Quesnel Forks died or moved on, people searched every year for that lost Chinese mine.

No one ever found it again. It’s still out there, somewhere.

For this column I obtained the information from the old CBC TV program, “Gold Trails and Ghost Towns,” with Bill Barlee.


 


editor@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

The Horsefly highway at the Bells Lake Road junction is closed Friday morning, April 23, 2021. (Eric Irving Facebook photo)
‘There is no simple solution’: Floodwaters collapse Horsefly Road east of Williams Lake

Beaver Valley Road to Likely Road the best option for those with cars

Red dresses hang in front of the Cariboo Friendship Centre in Williams Lake. (Photo submitted)
Advocates call for stronger judicial protection for women of domestic violence

May 5 is National Day of Awareness on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

First Journey Trails CEO Thomas Schoen (from left), Jimco Services’ James Doerfling, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars and Sugar Cane Archaeology’s Marvin Bob break ground on a new mountain biking trail network project at WLFN. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
WATCH: Williams Lake First Nation breaks ground on multi-use bike trail project

Phase one of the project will see the construction of a 1,750-metre hiking and biking trail

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

Richard Desautel with supporters outside the courthouse in Nelson, B.C., in 2016. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
UPDATED: Sinixt, First Nation bordering Canada-U.S., can claim Indigenous rights, top court rules

The decision essentially reverses a 1956 declaration the Sinixt were extinct

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

Most Read