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.

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.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


Just Posted

A Cariboo Regional District director and School District 27 trustee, Angie Delainey is also a fourth generation business owner in downtown Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Angie Delainey appointed Cariboo Regional District representative on regional board

Delainey and Steve Forseth represent the CRD at the North Central Local Government Association

From October 2020 to April 2021 more than 540 centimeters of snow fell at Barkerville. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Not so average April snowfall in Barkerville

59 centimeters of white stuff fell last month

Quesnel RCMP Staff Sergeant Darren Dodge took the job in June 2020. (Sasha Sefter - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel RCMP Staff Sergeant praises work of mental health crisis team

“I know people will say, ‘is this the role for police?’ and I don’t know,” Darren Dodge said of the unit

Crews work to repair Horsefly Road east of Williams Lake . (Ministry of Transportation video)
MoTI activates district operations centre, response to flood damaged roads in Cariboo region

Engineers, experts being pulled from across the province to help

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

(Kamloops This Week)
Puppy’s home in question as BC Supreme Court considers canine clash

Justice Joel Groves granted an injunction prohibiting the sale or transfer of the dog

Most Read