The high expectations of finding gold and becoming rich was a condition that accelerated into what is known as “gold fever,” for many ambitious men and some women. This type of thinking set the scene for greed, skullduggery and even murder for a chance at untold wealth. The mystery behind the Cariboo Gold Rush is found in the Lost Lemon Mine. This tale has some twists which some have attempted to explain, but it is filled with questions that are left unanswered.
History of the Cariboo Gold Rush
The Cariboo Gold Rush was one of the largest in the British Columbia Colony. Rumors began in the late 1850s, that gold was found in the area. In 1859 and 1860, strikes were confirmed and this is what began the large influx of people out to make their fortune. The year 1861 turned the tiny Fort Victoria with scarcely 500 residents into a booming metropolis with over 20,000. The mystery of the Cariboo Gold Rush began with chief Hudson’s Bay trader Donald McLean. He came upon an Indian man who traded 800 ounces of gold dust for goods. The dust was sent to the San Francisco Mint to be made into coin. When James Moore heard of the trade, he gathered together prospectors to set out into the Yale area to begin prospecting. Within a short amount of tiime, they pulled massive amounts of placer gold from the Fraser’s River in excess of $2 million dollars, or $35 million in today’s market.
Lost Lemon Mine: The Creation of the Legend
Legends and mysteries are created by stories that have been told, retold and passed down through several years’ time. The stories may change, being embellished by the tellers. Their accuracy is not known but by reviewing each, it is possible to construct the most likely scenario of events that happened and find an approximate location for where the events took place.
The story of Lafayette French
In 1946, Senator Daniel Edward Riley retold the story of his friend and employee, Lafayette French’s version of the Lost Lemon Mine. Lafeyette French traded with the Indians at the Highwood River and Blackfoot Crossing aeras. He partnered with Orville Hawkins Smith to become one of the first predominant ranchers in Alberta. Before this achievement, he was a prospector in the British Columbian Rockies. In 1870, French set out on a prospectingn trip and met up with Blackjack, the man who first discovered gold in the famous Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia. Blackjack’s partner was Lemon. Blackjack and Lemon had no luck in their prospecting and set out on a Blackfoot Indian trail to return to Tobacco Plains. The two accompanied a group of half breed men for protection. As they reached a jamor confluence, the pair began panning and their venture paid off. They traced the source back to a rock ledge that was heavy with gold. The area was in the Crowsnest Pass area located in the High River or Elk Valley areas. The two got into an argument that evening over which course of action they should take. The argument became physical and after some fighting, Blackjack fell asleep. While he was sleeping, Lemon killed Blackjack with an axe. Panic gripped Lemon as he decided to leave the camp first thing in the morning. Lemon waited for dawn to arrive and as he did, he bagan to hear strange noises from the fire. Moans and wailing sounds convinced Lemon that Blackjack was haunting him. The event caused Lemon to go insane. What Lemon didn’t realize is that there were two Indian braves watching him and they were the ones making the noises to torment him.
Lemon left the next morning and the braves, William and David Bendow retold the story to their chief, Joseph Bearspaw. The chief ordered them to keep the story secret. Lemon made it back to Tobacco Plains and confessed his deed to the local priest. The priest sent a Metis to the area Lemon described to bury the remains of Blackjack and place a headstone over the grave. Bearspaw had braves watching the area and as soon as the Metis left, all evidence of the prospector and mountain man’s presence was gotten rid of. Lemon returned to the spot the next spring, with a group of mnors, but he could not find the spot. Lemon’s journey into insanity made a violent lunge as he was restrained and returned to his brother’s home in Texas where he lived out the rest of his life.
The priest arranged to make an expedition to the site with John McDougall, the Metis and only person who knew the location of the mine. While en route to meet McDougall, the location of the mine was forever lost because John drank himself to death. The priest tried to find the location himself with another party, but previous fires made it impossible to access. Lafayette French enquired about the location of the mine from the priest and spend the next 30 years searching without any luck. French believed that there was an Indian curse placed on anyone who came too close to finding the mine.
William Bendow agreed to lead French to teh locatioon of the mine in 1912. The evening before the expedition was set to get underway, Bendow died without explanation. Stoney Indians believed that revealing this tribal secret was the cause of death. As the band brought Bendow’s body back for burial, Bendow’s son in law died in the same mysterious way. French had gotten the location from Bendow before his death. The night prior to his launch into the expedition, his cabin burned and French barely escaped with his life. He was badly burned and later passed away from his injuries. He agreed to disclose the full story to Riley in the morning, but French passed away before he could tell the exact location.
Wild Horse Creek Story
Lemon and Blackjack were unsuccessful at prospecting so the two began robbing and murdering prospectors to steal their gold. When posses were formed to catch them, they ran to the mountains to hide. A party of Stoney Indians found Lemon wandering around in the Highwood River area and his partner Blackjack was lyind dead at camp with a bullet in his back. Lemon said that a group of Blackfeet had killed his partner in an ambush. The Stoneys did not believe him. Lemon used gold nuggets to trade the Indians for goods to return back to Montana. The story was handed down to a group of prospectors who believed that Lemon hid the gold and was unable to relocate it although he had made several different trips back.
King Bearspaw Story
Jacob Bearspaw sought to find the gold with well driller Jack Hagerman. They began the 70 year search in 1921. The two found a small amount of gold dust, but did not hit the mother lode. Bearspaw was believed to be the last person who had knowledge of the secret location which was passed down through his ancestors. He passed away in 1979 and took his secret knowledge to the grave with him.
The Mystery of the Cariboo Gold Rush Continues
The Legend of the Lost Lemon Mine consists of several different versions of the story that have been passed down over the years. Which, if any are true has not yet been determined. The one thing that analysts agree upon is that there is still a lost mother lode bearing gold mine, somewhere in the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, waiting to be rediscovered.