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Story of the Kentucky Cannibal

Based on the feedback I have received it would appear many Cariboo residents enjoy the sordid side of history.

Based on the feedback I have received about the column on murder and mayhem at Mile 108, it would appear many Cariboo residents enjoy the sordid side of history.

With that in mind, today’s article deals with Boone Helm, a notorious criminal who frequented the gold fields in 1862, and was responsible for three murders on the trail between Keithley Creek and Quesnel Forks.

Helm was born in Kentucky in 1828, and moved to a new border settlement in Missouri when he was very young. He grew up to be a real juvenile delinquent, delighting in rowdyism and fighting.

He was a very strong youth, and also a frequent consumer of liquor, which only served to make him meaner and more out of control.

In his mid teens Helm had burned so many bridges in his town that he had to leave. A neighbour and friends likely in order to pacify Helm during a drinking session, had promised to accompany him to California.

When Helm found out that the friend really had no intention of going with him, he stabbed him with a bowie knife and the friend died instantly. Helm fled west.

The friend’s brother and some of his friends pursued Helm and tracked him down. He was brought back for trial, and was convicted of murder, but his conduct while in confinement was so bizarre that, in the words of the court, “His manner was not only unbecoming, but unbalanced.”

After his conviction, on the advice of physicians, he was committed to a lunatic asylum, from which he eventually escaped and fled to California.

There, in 1858 and early 1859 he killed several men, but before he could be arrested he fled north to the Oregon Territory.

In the winter months Helm was not above resorting to cannibalism for a meat supply, and soon he became known as the “Kentucky Cannibal.”

He made is way over to Salt Lake City, where he was again driven out of town because of his atrocious deeds, including murdering two men in cold blood.

By July of 1862 Helm had made his way up to the gold fields of the Cariboo. He was in Antler Creek, about 16 miles southeast of Barkerville, and he and another shady character were looking for some easy money.

They followed a fellow named Sokolosky and two French Canadian associates, who were carrying $32,000 in coarse gold and heading towards Quesnel Forks.

The men stopped at Keithley Creek where they had dinner, then set out on the trail again.

Helm and his partner were lying in wait. They shot and killed all three men, buried most of the gold, and left the bodies at the side of the trail.

Then they headed quickly into Quesnel Forks, intending to come back for the gold after things had calmed down.

But it didn’t take long for the bodies to be discovered, and for the people of Quesnel Forks to figure out who was responsible.

Helm beat a hasty retreat away from the goldfields, with a posse on his tail. Somehow he eluded capture, and he reappeared in mid-October in Victoria, where the local newspaper, the Colonist, reported that “Boone Helm, represented as a bad character, was taken into custody … upon a charge of drinking at saloons without settling his score …”

Helm was brought before the Police Magistrate, where he was ordered to post a $90 security bond, but he defaulted and spent the next month building and repairing the streets of Victoria.

We next hear of Helm in the spring of 1863 where he was arrested at Fort Yale in the Fraser Canyon.

It is said that he was on his way back to the goldfields to recover the gold that he buried on the trail to Quesnel Forks.

A newspaper from Yale reports, “He was brought into the city last night strongly ironed … Helm’s conduct on the road is conclusive evidence that he was aware he was being pursued. He passed around the more populous settlements, or through them in the night time. When overtaken, he was so exhausted by fatigue and hunger that it would have been impossible for him to have continued many hours longer.”

Upon being asked what had become of his companion, Helm replied: “Why, do you supposed that I’m fool enough to starve to death when I can help it? I ate him up, of course.”

The man who accompanied him was never seen or heard from again.

Helm was transported to Victoria, and from there to the jail at Port Townsend where he dug out under the wall and escaped to the Bannock, Montana area.

There, he teamed up with Henry Plummer, another well-known thief and murderer. These men were tried in secret.

On Feb. 15, 1864, the Victoria Colonist reports: “Hung at Last — The notorious Boone Helm, who so long succeeded in escaping the ends of justice, has been lynched, with 12 others at Bannock Mines.”

If you go out to the graveyard at Quesnel Forks, you can still see the headboard for Sokolosky. It’s just outside the cemetery fence line, since because he was Jewish, he could not be buried in the cemetery proper.

As for the gold that Helm buried — it was never recovered.