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Cariboo Gold Rush

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Mining History
Barkerville emerged as BC's largest mining town during the Cariboo Gold Rush.
Historically British Columbia experienced two substantial gold rushes. The Fraser River Gold Rush occurred in 1858 when gold was discovered on the sand bars of the Thompson River. The Cariboo Gold Rush of 1862 was much more prolific, following upon the heels of the Fraser River Gold Rush as miners pushed their way further up north to mine the creeks of the Cariboo. Miners who had been unlucky during the California Gold Rush came to B.C., seeking a second chance to amass a fortune. Scores of immigrants made the long, arduous journey to B.C.’s remote Cariboo region coming not only from America, but also from as far as Scotland, England, Germany, and even China.[1] One of the first strikes of the Cariboo Gold Rush occurred in 1860 near Keithley Creek. In early 1861 most of Antler Creek close by to Keithley Creek had been staked out. The buildup to the Gold Rush was underway and miners began to arrive in droves, building small mining towns throughout the Cariboo where large strikes were being made along a number of creeks and rivers. The most prized strike of the entire Cariboo Gold Rush was made by William “Billy” Barker on his claim on Williams Creek. His strike led to the establishment of Barkerville, B.C.’s largest mining town. Barkerville and the surrounding area would emerge as the dominant center of the Cariboo Gold Rush.[2] Similar to other gold rushes around the world occurring within the same historical timeframe, the Cariboo Gold Rush spurred the province’s population growth and the development of roads and bridges, namely the 373-mile (600 km) Cariboo Wagon Road which opened up the province, providing miners and settlers much-needed access to the central interior.[3]


[edit] History

[edit] Getting to the Cariboo

When news of gold strikes in B.C.’s Cariboo reached the ears of the world in the early 1860s, it attracted thousands of men and women of different nationalities. Some immigrants came from as far as England where steamships were leaving six times a month for North America. There were three possible routes for the ships to sail. The most expensive route was from England through the Panama Canal. A second cheaper route but longer was sailing from England around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Most steam ships sailing either routes made a stop over in San Francisco where immigrants then boarded another ship heading to Victoria. A third option was to take a steamer across the Atlantic Ocean to Quebec or New York and travel over land to B.C. Immigrants would travel by train to St. Paul, Minnesota and then board a steamboat or coach to Ft. Garry (Winnipeg), Manitoba. The remaining leg of the journey from Ft. Garry to the Cariboo was made on foot. Traveling over land was the longest and most dangerous way to get to the Cariboo.[4]

[edit] The Overlanders

One group of people consisting of men and one pregnant woman named Catherine Schubert and her three children made the difficult journey from Ft. Garry along the Red River, across the prairies and over the Rocky Mountains to the Cariboo goldfields. This group became known as the Overlanders. They departed from Ft. Garry in June 1862 to make the 3,500-mile (5,633-km) journey on foot to B.C.[5] Provisions and supplies were carried in carts along the Red River to Edmonton. Some of group turned back at this point because the remaining journey looked too difficult to complete. At first the group drove their cattle and horses on rough-cut trails through the Rockies but eventually the trails disappeared. They set their horses free and turned the cows into jerked beef for the rest of the journey. Eventually they also had to abandon most of their luggage. The group split into two, once passing over the Rocky Mountains and reaching Tete Jaune Cache. One group decided to build large rafts and travel up along the Fraser River to the mining town of Quesnel. The other group traveled down towards Fort Kamloops along the Thompson River. Some of the Overlanders never made it to the goldfields, dying on route or drowning in the rivers. However, Catherine Schubert and her three children were all survivors of the expedition. While floating down the Thompson River, she also gave birth to her fourth child.[6]

The Cariboo Wagon Road provided a more accessible route to digging sites and mining towns.

[edit] The Cariboo Wagon Road

Becoming a miner and reaching the Cariboo to stake a claim was no easy feat. All miners had to make the journey first to Victoria to register and get their mining license. From there they bought supplies and equipment and had to travel by boat across the Georgia Strait up the Fraser River to New Westminster and as far Fort Yale. From Fort Yale the rest of the journey to the Cariboo had to be made on foot along old fur brigade trails lain down and used by the Hudson’s Bay Co. during the fur trade. In 1859 James Douglas, the governor of British Columbia and the Vancouver Island Colonies, ordered the building of the Douglas Trail from the B.C. coast up to the interior.[7] Richer strikes along the Fraser River and in the Cariboo spurned the development of better more accessible routes to the Cariboo. In 1862 construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road commenced. It is estimated that the British Government spent millions of dollars during the Gold Rush years on road- and bridge-building. In fact, the province’s first suspension bridge was constructed on the Fraser River as part of the Cariboo Wagon Road.[8] The road was built completely manually, with picks and shovels, from 1862 to 1864. Starting in Yale and ending in Quesnel, it was designed wide enough to facilitate the passage of wagons and served to accelerate the transport of men and supplies.

Many contractors were hired to build the road. They built bridges and blasted out footings for the road to go through the steep hillsides along the Fraser and Thompson rivers. Most of the construction costs were financed by large cash subsidiaries to the contractors who charged a toll to travelers. Government money for the building of the road was often slow in coming and many contractors had to put up their own money. Some who thought they would make a profit from building the road abandoned the project and chose to go mining instead. During the building of the Cariboo Wagon Road, camels were used to transport supplies to crews living in road camps. One particular group of men purchased 23 camels for $300 each from the United States Army.[9] Camels made ideal pack animals. They could travel twice as far and carry twice as much as a pack mule. However, it proved to a be a costly mistake as the rocky canyon terrain damaged the camels' hooves and turned them lame.

[edit] Mining the Cariboo

One of the earliest strikes in the Cariboo was made in 1860 at Keithley Creek. Nearby Keithley Creek was Antler Creek where gold was situated close to the surface and barely needed digging. In the early days of the Cariboo Gold Rush, a miner could earn about $40 dollars a day from panning. If lucky, some miners could earn between $75 and $100 dollars in a single pan.[10] Antler Creek was already fully occupied by miners by 1861 and this led others to push their way up to Williams Creek. Williams Creek would be reputed for the large amount of gold produced there. Many miners began to stake their claims along the Williams River in the winter of 1861 and then had to travel 70 miles (113 km) to Williams Lake to register their claims at the mining office.

Miners had to do much work before they even started mining. During the spring they were busy chopping down trees to make lumber for building both cabins and mining equipment such as sluices, rockers, and flumes. Most lived in tents until cabins could be fabricated from rough-hewn timber, usually without using any nails. The majority of miners working claims along Williams Creek resumed mining in the summer of 1861. Many miners were producing enough gold to turn a profit. Gold was not being measured in ounces, but rather, in pounds. By the end of 1861 about $2.6 million worth of gold had been pulled mostly from creeks in the Cariboo.[11] Output in 1862 was slightly higher. Creeks such as Antler, Cunningham, Lightning, Lowhee, Nugget Gulch, and Williams would be worked and later re-worked for gold. Many of the creeks where gold was found were made were named after miners. The news of gold drummed up a great deal of excitement, drawing more miners into the area. By the time they reached the area, though, most of the best claims had been staked out. In fact by 1863, it is recorded that over 100 companies had staked 3,000 claims and that the total value of gold removed was $3.9 million (the equivalent of $80 million in 2003).[12] Parts of Williams Creek were even worked until 1898 but the majority of gold produced was within the first five years of the Gold Rush.

[edit] Barkerville: B.C.'s Mining Town

The village of Barkerville circa. 1865 at the height of the Cariboo Gold Rush
Some of the most promising strikes during the Cariboo Gold Rush occurred along the Williams, Lightning, and Lowhee Creeks. Williams Creek proved to have extremely rich placer deposits that were being worked well up until the 1930s. The largest strike made on Williams Creek was by a miner named William Barker. As other miners gave up and returned home, miners such as Billy Barker and John Cameron persevered by moving into new areas. Barker started prospecting at the lower end of Williams Creek, sinking shafts deep into the ground in search of concentrations of gold. After digging down 55 feet (17 m), he hit the mother lode. A little further down at 80 feet (24 m) he extracted about $1000 worth of gold from a crevice.[13]

Overall, his claim produced about $500,000 and is perhaps the most famous claim of the entire Cariboo Gold Rush.[14] At first the town was simply a collection of miner’s cabins and select stores. News of Barker’s strike led to a rush of thousands of miners making their way to the area; by 1864 or 1865 the Cariboo Wagon Road had reached Barkerville and the town boasted a population of about 10,000.[15] One unique characteristic of the town was its construction. Many of the stores had to be built upon log posts to accommodate flooding from Williams Creek. Merchants then connected the storefronts with wooden walkways. In 1868 Barkerville burned down but the next day rebuilding of the town commenced. It never was quite restored to its former glory, as the Gold Rush was nearing an end. Similar to Barkerville, other small mining towns emerged throughout the Cariboo where digs proved to yield substantial quantities of gold. Some of the more recognized names of mining towns were Van Winkle, Richfield, and Camerontown.

Prospectors placer mining for gold in the Cariboo

[edit] Placer Mining in the Cariboo

Placer mining was the first stage of mining undertaken in the Cariboo. Miners learned how to divert streams and channel smaller streams off to the side to expose riverbeds. The heat brought on by summer was ideal for drying up riverbeds and lowering the water level in creeks to expose gold. Methods such as panning, sluicing, and using rockers were all common types of placer mining during this introductory phase. Eventually hydraulic mining was used to reach deeper placer deposits from about 1864 until the 1930s in and around areas such as Barkerville. Hydraulic mining demanded the use of hydraulic monitors that directed jets of water at hills and riverbanks to break them apart and wash them down into sluice boxes. Since 1858, recorded placer gold production in B.C. has totaled close to $100 million, half of the gold being pulled from creeks and rivers in the Cariboo.[16]

[edit] Hard Rock Mining in the Cariboo

Sometimes hard rock gold mining was carried out using machinery to reach and move veins of gold imbedded in quartz rock. To access these veins, miners sunk deep shafts and drew tunnels into the hillsides. Gravel would be dug and hauled up to the surface using a windlass and a bucket or a rail car. Sometimes these shafts were susceptible to flooding. A device called the Cornish Wheel enabled miners to control the flooding. Water was fed to the wheel using flumes and then cascaded over the top of the wheel into shelves that made it turn. The wheel then drove a rocker arm that pumped the water from out of the shaft. Hard rock gold mining continued in the Cariboo well until the 1930s with the formation of companies such as Cariboo Quartz Mining Co. Ltd. in 1927.[17]

[edit] References

  1. The Journey. BC Archives. Royal BC Museum. 2008-12-19.
  2. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Towns. Barkerville. Industrial Art Internet Group. 2008-12-19.
  3. Key Economic Events 1858-1865 Cariboo Gold Rush. Government of Canada. 2008-12-19.
  4. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Journey By Sea. Industrial Art Internet Group. 2008-12-19.
  5. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Overlanders. Industrial Art Internet Group Ltd. 2008-12-19.
  6. The Overlanders and Catherine Schubert. Essortment. 2008-12-19.
  7. The Journey. British Columbia Archives. 2008-19-2008.
  8. Key Economic Events 1858-1865 The Cariboo Gold Rush. 2008-12-19.
  9. The Cariboo Wagon Road. BC Archives. Royal BC Museum. 2008-12-19.
  10. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Gold Claims.Schoolnet Digital Collections Team. 2008-12-19.
  11. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Gold Claims.Schoolnet Digital Collections Team. 2008-12-19.
  12. Key Economic Events 1858-1865 The Cariboo Gold Rush. 2008-12-19.
  13. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Gold Claims. Schoolnet Digital Collections Team. 2008-12-19.
  14. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Towns. Barkerville. Industrial Art Internet Group. 2008-12-19.
  15. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Towns. Barkerville. Industrial Art Internet Group. 2008-12-19.
  16. The Cariboo Gold Rush. Gold Mining. Placer Mining Methods. Schoolnet Digital Collections Team. 2008-12-19.
  17. Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company Limited. Wells Archives. 2008-12-19.