For the last eight years, I’ve been searching the rugged forest in southern British Columbia for two bars of gold stolen in 1896. At the age of 61, I took up the challenge to find the lost gold bars of Camp McKinney. The adventure cost me dearly; a great relationship, expenses I couldn’t afford, and took a toll on my health. Yet I couldn’t stop, especially after finding more than twenty pieces of hardware directly related to the theft.
I drove more than fifty thousand kilometers in all seasons to a forested area east of Osoyoos, BC. During my two hundred plus days hiking the rugged area, I reconnected with nature and learned the value of ‘forest bathing’. In my quiet manner of walking, I saw deer, elk and moose, a black wolf, a reddish-colored cougar and a coyote. I heard the spring mating call of the spruce grouse and western meadowlark. I watched the American Dipper dive into the cold creek for bugs. Western tiger swallowtails and Painted Ladies visited on warm summer days.
But I never forgot about the missing gold. My interest in BC’s significant gold history began when I briefly managed the Yale Museum and Historic Site in late 2009. Much of BC’s history centered around gold discoveries from the southern interior to the far north over several decades. Miners flooded in from around the world and legends were born.
As with most legends, the true facts often became muddied or lost altogether. As I began to investigate the missing gold, I decided to only trust the details of the British Columbia Provincial Police files. And from those records came the single clue that set me on the right path. Within two years, I uncovered the hard evidence directly connected to the theft. Those artifacts revealed how the thief carried out the robbery; he merely camped and waited on the only eastern route from the mine to the US rail head. When the mine operations ceased for the one-day, monthly cleanup, Mathew Roderick camped along the trail and let the shipment come to him. He chose a sharp bend on the mountain trail where the wagon had to slow. On August 16th, 1896, he stole 656.5 ounces of gold bullion.
Roderick must have been greatly surprised by the amount of gold from the cleanup. In fact, the Camp McKinney mine produced fifty percent more gold than the average BC mine at the time. The weight forced him to make a decision: he would have to hide the two larger bars in the forest and return at a future date to retrieve them. Unfortunately for him, he was followed on a dark night in October and shot dead in a bungled attempt to follow him and retrieve the stolen bullion.
Although I had reduced the search area from the immensity of the forest to the size of a tennis court, success still eluded me. Even two of the best metal detectors available today failed to search deep enough into the heavily compacted gravel bed of the canyon floor. My greatest difficulties were yet to come.
Most of this journey can be found at http://www.campmckinneygold.com.