One of the best chroniclers of life in the goldfields in the 1860s was a fellow named Harry Jones.
He came to the Cariboo in 1863 as part of a large company of 26 Welsh miners.
Although he never struck it rich, he continued to search for gold throughout his life, doing all sorts of other jobs along the way.
Twice he was elected to the B.C. Legislature to represent the Cariboo District — once in 1903, and again in 1907.
In 1935, at the age of 96, he purchased his 65th consecutive free miner’s license.
He died in February of 1936, and was buried in the little cemetery at Stanley.
He left behind diaries and journals filled with anecdotes and stories about the early days of the gold rush. This is one of them:
It’s a story of bad luck, good luck and tragedy, and it involves a young man known by the nickname of ‘The Canadian,” who knew nothing about mining, came to the Williams Creek gold fields, didn’t even stake his own claim, and in a few months, walked out with more than $18,000 in gold (more than $1 million at today’s prices).
It was late August of 1862, and three Welshman, Abe Evans, Jim Williams and Rees Rees were headed up to the gold fields.
About 15 miles south of 150 Mile House they came across a young man sitting at the side of the trail.
He was exhausted, hungry, thirsty and his bare feet were covered in blisters.
The Welshmen stopped to see what they could do for the poor fellow, who introduced himself as Birkett, from Canada.
He had travelled from Upper Canada, now the province of Ontario.
It turned out that he had been travelling with four other companions, but his city shoes had disintegrated and he was unable to keep up.
They had left him there with a little food and water and continued on their way, an action which was pretty much a death penalty for the young man.
He had been there for about a week, the food and water were finished, and he was in poor shape.
He told the three Welshmen that he was “done for.”
“I have no boots, no food, no water and no money. I can’t go ahead, and I can’t go back.”
The three Welsh miners stayed with the young man for a few days.
They cut pieces out of their blankets to cover his feet after rubbing them with some bacon fat to ease the pain.
When they judged that he could continue on, albeit slowly, they left him with a supply of food and water.
They promised to stake out some ground for him in the goldfields and they urged him to take his time getting there, but not to give up.
Then they left to continue on their way.
It took the young Canadian another six weeks to complete his journey to Williams Creek.
He had stopped at 150 Mile House, done some work there, and made enough money to buy some boots and enough food to continue on. When he arrived at the goldfields, to his surprise, he was presented with a document which named him as one-quarter owner in the Welsh Company’s claims on Williams Creek.
The three Welshmen had been true to their word, and made him a full partner.
The young Canadian could hardly believe his good fortune.
He threw himself into the hard work of mining.
The British Colonist newspaper from Victoria published this brief news item on May 14, 1863: “The Welsh Company has also struck a splendid prospect, enabling two of the shareholders to sell out for the nice sums of $16,000 and $18,000.
One of the fortunate individuals is a Canadian by the name of Birkett from Ottawa. He came out last fall and now takes his pile and starts for home.”
Life on the goldfields had proven to be too hard and too lonely for the Canadian.
The winter of 1862 was especially brutal, and homesickness had set in.
Even though he had made his fortune, the young man was in poor shape mentally.
The British Columbian, the newspaper from New Westminster, ran the following article on Nov. 21, 1863:
“THE DANGER OF WEALTH … We learn that a young man who sold out a rich claim in the Cariboo a few months ago and left for his home in the East with the proceeds, some $18,000, is now an inmate of a lunatic asylum in New York, his pile having proved too much for his mind. What a melancholy warning.”
It has been said that gold messes with men’s minds.
That proved all too true in this tragic tale.