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Making Good in Canada
Chapter XIV - Prospecting the Minerals (continued)

The prospector is the epitome of honesty. When he strikes a town in the mineral area generally he is empty in pocket or else his purse is slender in the extreme. Yet, once his bona fides are established, he is extended almost unlimited credit, the tradesmen knowing full well that when metal is struck their accounts will be settled. Many strange worthies of this character may be mot in British Columbia. There was Archie McMurdo, for instance. A Scotsman, he was canny to an extreme degree, although he “was broke to the wide ” when ho came into the town. He had devoted the greater part of his life to scratching the rocks on the mountain slopes, and success had attended his perseverance. He staked two rich gold claims. Satisfied with this measure of success, he returned to the adjacent township to pass his time in indolence and ease until financiers, came his way and took over his properties, as he knew would be the case sooner or later. He would not do a stroke of work; he disarmed of the wealth in the air which was to materialize. Although he eking to his claim for ten year. without a sign of development materializing in the meantime he never grew down hearted.

One day some mining experts, acting on behalf of financiers who had heard of Archie’s finds—he took good care that attractive stories as to the value of his prospects should be sedulously circulated—appeared on the scene. They were desirous of investigating the McMurdo claims. Archie, as usual, was ran to earth in the hotel where he had been living gaily and had not paid a cent for years. Everything he had was written upon the slate, or rather in a good-sized account book. The mining experts expressed their intentions, and requested Archie to accompany them.

“I’ll see you to blazer first!” replied Archie.

“But, man, we cannot do anything unless we see what, you’ve got,” replied the experts.

“I dinna care,” was Archie's retort. “Unless you plank down a hundred dollars for my expenses, and deposit spot cash in the bank to be handed over to me when you come back, I’m not going. I’ve spent too many years among those darned mountains to go there again on chance.”

Argument was useless. The money he demanded had to be deposited, and then he sallied off to lead the experts to one of his claims. It was far up on the mountainside, and when they reached the bottom of the trail he told the experts to go ahead. He would wait for them.

“But you must come and show us the place,” urged the engineers.

“No, not me! I'm not going to pull up that slope any more. There’s the trail which I cut myself. It leads straight to the spot. You can’t miss it, so I’ll sit down here and wait until you come back.” Saying which, he planked down on a dead fall and puffed away at his pipe as if the engineers were miles away.

Having come so far, the latter did not care to return without having achieved their object. They could not shake Archie’s obstinacy, so they went alone. He waited patiently for hours, and upon their return inquired if they were satisfied. They responded in the affirmative, and Archie accompanied the party back to the town; highly elated. He went straight to the bank, and. drew out the £1,000 that had been deposited for his property. He sailed off to the hotel, called for his account which had been running for ten year&, and settled it up without a murmur. Then he strode up the street, and. entered the store where he had obtained unlimited credit for an equal length of time. It was no easy matter to tot up his debts, for they occupied a few score pages. But at last the bill was presented, and, without scanning a sheet, Archie paid the amount. He then returned to the hotel, completely satisfied with the world at large, and called for drinks.

His claim was opened up, and its success prompted another group to approach him for his second claim. The party were met just as nonchalantly. Archie explained its position, related how it could be reached, and told the engineers to start off right away. When they suggested that ho should come along too, ho laughed them to scorn, and told them point blank that if they couldn’t find their way with the instructions he had given them, they had better go back home and leave the claim alone.

Unfortunately, the rigours of exposure among the mountains, combined with excesses in the town, had undermined McMurdo’s constitution. He was stricken down with illness, and was hurried off to the hospital. On the last day of the year the second claim matured, and £10,000 were handed to the rugged prospector. But he never saw a penny of it. On the following day he succumbed, but he died with the satisfaction that he did not owe a farthing to anyone.

The vast tract of wilderness north of the Fraser River stretch ing away to the Arctic circle, but especially in the watershed of the Peace River, is associated with much yellow wealth. It has been difficult of access hitherto, but penetration is becoming easier every day now, owing to the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

The Pine River has been the scene of mining bustle in the past, for the river bed is rich in colour. The gold-bearing area extends over 100 miles, and miners using primitive rockers have wrested as much as £3 to £4 worth of gold per day from the silt. A few miners are to be encountered along its banks to-day, but its attraction appears to have disappeared. The gold is worth panning, the metal being in heavy flakes like fish scales, while in some places quite largo nuggets have been found. The working season extends from March to October, and certain success attends the industrious, despite the remote situation of the territory. As the Peace River country is being settled so rapidly, however, it is probable that a large number of prospectors and miners will force their way into the country. It should be a promising undertaking for some energetic prospectors to trace the part from which this gold is brought down, and undoubtedly many of the creeks and rivulets feeding the Pine River, and which rise high up on the mountain crags, would repay exploration. At the present moment the installation of a dredger should be remunerative upon this 100 miles of the river. I have been told that such could bo transported and launched upon the waterway for between £30,000 and £40,000, and that men competent with such means of extracting the gold, could make from £5 to £8 apiece per day in wages, doing as much work in that time as from 800 to 1,000 men with pans and rockers.

The fascination of prospecting is its glorious uncertainty. One never knows when a strike is going to be made. There was one coal prospector who had made a study of the eastern Rocky Mountains coal bed. One day he suddenly announced his intention of setting off towards Jasper House on the Athabasca River, to continue his investigations. It seemed a hopeless quest, because geological knowledge was dead against him. The prospector, however, had elaborated his own ideas, and he started out. He commenced operations on the southern side of the river, and he had not gore far when he struck a rich seam of coal. He probed the country through and through, and found coal of excellent quality on every hand. As a matter of fact, he struck one of the finest coal deposits in the West, and development more than confirmed his prospects. I was taken over the preliminary works, and the whole mountains seemed to be alive with the black mineral fuel. Before the prospector had completed his work, thirteen square miles of land were pegged off for operations, and geological knowledge was scattered ruthlessly to the four winds. To-day the Jasper Park Collieries give every indication of becoming one of the largest and most valuable coal properties in the West.

Yet this discovery was but a repetition of experience in connection with Cobalt. Geologists laughed at the mere Idea that silver was likely to be found in thin district. Why, the very character of the rocks was all against such a probability! How far geological science was correct one can judge to-day, because two-thirds of the world’s supply of silver comes from the very country which was ridiculed as being unable to yield an ounce of silver.

It is stated that the Cobalt mineral wealth was discovered by accident. Legend relates that a deer was being hunted through the bush. In its mad flight it passed near a blacksmith’s shack. The son of Tubal Cain was at work as the deer passed, and he flung his heavy hammer at the frightened animal. The missile missed the target, but struck a large dull-looking stone, breaking off a fragment. The blacksmith went to pick up his hammer, but in stooping, noticed that the stone gave a brilliant lustre, where it had been chipped. The boulder was picked up, and further investigation revealed the fact that it was a maws of silver!

It is a pretty story, but as a matter of fact the discovery oi tho metal was stripped of such romance. The wealth was found during prosaic prospecting by an industrious individual who cared little for scientific opinion. When he struck the silver veins, a frantic rush ensued, and in a few weeks, what was a picturesque sylvan f pot in the beautiful Temagami country, was stripped of its bush, and was dotted with tents and hastily-built shacks.

Fortunes have been won and lost at Cobalt by the score. One man was anxious to get into the country, but he had not the wherewithal to pay his railway fare farther than North Bay. He did not cherish the prospect of walking 200 miles, so he “beat” the train into the country. He landed in Cobalt without a penny in his pocket. When he returned south, he travelled not on the roof exposed to the elements, but in the luxury of the Pullman drawing-room car. Another prospector came into Cobalt with £00 in his pocket, and having had wide prospecting experience among the mountains of British Columbia, he soon turned his original capital into between £40,000 and £60,000. Some of the big finds in Cobalt have been made quite by accident. Outside one shack a plank-seat was supported on two largo boulders. One day an occupant of the meat was idly sharpening his jack-knife upon one of the masses of rock. Presently he became intensely interested in the stone, and submitted it to a closer inspection. The ungainly mass of rock supporting the seat turned out to be a silver nugget weighing over 1,000 ounces and worth about £400.

The prospecting and gold-camp of to-day is vastly dissimilar from the hotbeds of debauchery and crime pictured by Bret Harte. As a ride they are fairly well ordered communities, thanks to the action of the forces of law and order. Such tricks as jumping claims are very seldom practised; in fact, they are practically unknown. The miners are guarded by the Government, through their licences, which cost but a small sum per year, and these provide complete protection, as well as affording other benefits.

The wonderful discoveries of the Klondyke precipitated possibly the greatest rush in Canadian history. Though the easiest route was by water from western coasts port to Skaguay, many were lured into the effort to toil 4,000 miles across country from Edmonton. The fever broke out in this town with tremendous virulence, and some of the strangest vehicles it is possible to conceive were delivered to carry the gold-seekers through the most terrible country to be found on the continent. Some set off with wheelbarrows, undeterred by the prospect of having to trundle the same for such a tremendous distance, while large numbers set off on sleighs. It was a disastrous expedition. The majority turned back, abandoning their vehicles, provisions, and outfits to the mercies of the elements. The trail was blazed for a considerable distance with these discarded equipments. Some pushed on, desperately, determined to got to their destination at all hazards. One prospector was found trundling a wheelbarrow through the mountains some distance north of the Skeena River two years after he had set out from Edmonton! He had lost his way, his chum had died on the trail, and the survivor knew nothing about time, days, or months. When found, he was pushing forward with more or less energy. When he learned that he had beer, on the trail for nearly two years, he gapped, but that did not deter him. Privation and loneliness had almost deprived him of speech, and had dulled his intellect to the point that he could not comprehend anything beyond the fact that he was bound for the Klondyke and its gold. The hoys who found him, only persuaded him to return to civilization with them by impressing upon Lim the fact that the gold strike had “petered out,” and that he was on a lost journey. Two miles a day had been his average advance, and how he had contrived to cross the rivers single-handed was a mystery which his rescuers could not fathom.

The discovery at the Klondyke provoked a situation excelling in lawlessness any that were incidental to the Californian gold-rush. Ore noted desperado ruled the whole town of Skaguay. His avariciousness and crime knew no limits. Before he was shot down, it is stated that over fifty prospectors and gold-seekers had been sent to their doom after being robbed of their hard-earned gold. His usual practice was to waylay them on the trail, and to pitch their bodies into a canyon or gorge, where they were sale from discovery. When challenged for having caused a man’s health, Soapy Smith, which was the unpretentious name of this individual, always replied that he shot in self-defence. In some instances such was the case, and the desperado himself had many narrow escapes. One day he waylaid a returning prospector on the mountain pass. The gold-seeker, however, was not to be despoiled so easily. Ho met the hold-up with a drive from his rifle, and the bullet went through Smith’s hat. A second shot was impossible, because Soapy Smith pierced the prospector through the heart. On another occasion he held up a young English fellow who was returning to Skaguay. The boy did not take any notice of the challenge, and Smith fired, knocking him over. The young prospector whipped out his revolver, and blazed away at his adversary, twice wounding him slightly, before the desperado settled the boy with his third shot. Smith was a great anxiety to the Canadian authorities.

The Mounted Police were stationed on the Boundary at the summit oi the Pass, and received strict injunctions to arrest Smith if ho attempted any of his tricks on Canadian territory. In Alaska, which was United States territory, he could do as he liked or what was permitted —the desperado represented law and order of his own peculiar formation—but at times he enraged the honest citizens to such a pitch that ho had to make himself scarce for a while. On such occasions ho hurried towards the Boundary, hoping to snatch temporary asylum in Canada, until things quietened down in Skaguay. But his efforts were fruitless : the Mounted Police always frustrated his plans. Just as he was on the verge of stepping across the border, he was confronted by one of these guardians of the Great West. At last, the latter wearied of watching such a parasite. He was taken quietly aside by one of the police, and told very significantly that “if he were seen on Canadian territory he would receive more asylum than he cleared with a bullet. They would not trouble to arrest and try such carrion as him, as it would be waste of time and money.” Smith took the hint, and was never seen to make another attempt to penetrate into Canada. Shortly afterwards he was shot down by the infuriated townsfolk of Skaguay, and the reign of terrorism was ended.

A graphic and intimate impression of the adventurous life of the mineral prospector was conveyed to me one right round the blazing camp fire, by my companion on the trail, Robert C. W. Lett. When he broke away from the lonely calling of game-warden in Algonquin Park, be embarked upon a prospecting expedition. Two experienced companions joined him in this pursuit of fortune, the projected field for their labours being one of the innermost recesses of Ontario, which has since gained tame at the Gowganda country.

The definite intention of this trio was to find silver, if possible, though, of course, they were quite ready and willing to stake out claims of any other commercial minerals, should signs thereof present themselves. They started out from Latchford on the Montreal River, just south of Cobalt, in the early spring of 1907.

A steady 150 miles pull along the Montreal River confronted them at the outset, and it proved a pretty tough undertaking negotiating the fiendish rapids -with which the upper reaches of this waterway abound, with two heavily-laden canoes, carrying sufficient foodstuffs and other requisites for three months, prospecting, as they proceeded. The Cobalt boom was at its height at the time, and the fever-stricken prospectors, many of them amateurs, were rambling over the country in all directions. To many of these greenhorns the Montreal River proved a Waterloo. The stream swings along at a terrifying pace, bristles with perils of the worst description, and can only be navigated safely by an old hand. Yet many of the tenderfeet were foolish enough to attempt to master its idiosyncrasies and dangers without any previous boating experience whatever, with the inevitable result—fatalities were numerous.

Lett pushed along in one canoe, and hi» two companions managed the second boat. This was the order of the day, but when the long, arduous portages had to be made, the three boys joined hands, carting the baggage and boats over the interruption in the water journey. They drove their way for fifty four miles through swarms of prospectors, feverishly scratching the hillsides, to Elk Lake, which then was being st arched energetically. The trio, however, passed on, and once Elk Lake was left behind, they found the number of mineral-searching rivals grow fewer and fewer in number. This was not surprising, as the rock formation was extremely discouraging, and appeared to grow worse, ,so far as mineral wealth was concerned, the farther they pushed on.

The party reached the foot of Nine-Mile Rapids, so called because the river rushes through a narrow gorge at this point. It was late in the day, and a heavy lift of one mile over a towering hill confronted them. They decided to put off this stiff job till the morrow, so sneaking up in the eddy at the foot of the Rapids, the canoes were run ashore, the dunnage was thrown out, and camp was pitched. While the party were seated round the camp fire in the gloaming, discussing the next morning’s task, they heard a peculiar wail above the churning of the waters. It resembled the cry of a cat, but the idea of seeing this animal in such a wild spot was so extraordinary. that they dismissed its possibility from their minds, attributing the wail to the rapids, because one Imagines one can hear strange and fantastic sounds in the music of the waters. The howl continued, and grew more nerve-racking. At last, one of the boys, glancing round in the direction whence the sound came, spied through the dusk a large black cat perched on the top of a cedar-tree, on the opposite bank, and apparently calling for help. It was quite impossible to rescue the animal, as the river could not be crossed unless they dropped downstream a mile, and then there would have been very heavy going over rough country to got at the cat’s eyrie. Suddenly, to the astonishment of the party the cat gave a spring into the maddened waters, and was lost to sight! It reappeared just as suddenly downstream, swimming frantically, and as it was swung along in the swirling waters, it grabbed the stub of a tree with a clutch of death, pulled itself from the water, gave a bound, and landed on the same bank, from which it had started. The party thought no more about the incident, concluding that the cat would not reappear, after one such experience.

But to their amazement, in the course of a few minutes, the cry broke out again, more plaintively than ever, and there was the cat on the cedar-tree stamp. Once more they saw it give a spring to land in the rapids. This time pussy was taken well downstream, was lost to sight and the party thought that the last had been seen of it. But just as they were curling up in their sleeping-bags, the wail broke out for the third time. They were too tired to keep awake any longer, and fell into the arms of Morpheus, with the cat’s cry beating into their ears above the droning of the rapids. For days after they thought they could hear the cat calling, and wondering how such an animal happened to be so far from the haunts of men, inquired of the fire-warden, whom they met a few daj s later. Then the mystery was solved. The black cat belonged to a prospector, who had lost his mascot some weeks before.

On this trip the party accomplished an apparently impossible task—they built a cabin with eleven nails. It may seem incredible, but it was an absolute fact, for the simple reason that no more were available. When they struck a blacksmith working at his forge, they gave him one of the nails, which was a pretty big one, and he drew it out thin enough to make three nails. As may be imagined, the nails were driven home with extreme care, and in the right place every time. This particular blacksmith, Tom Sharpe, was a handy man, and one who had been kicked by Fortune pretty badly. He discovered the big Lawson Vein in Cobalt, which is a solid streak of silver fully nine inches wide, and polished flush with the country rock on each side. When Tommy made this find he was so new at the business that he did not know whether he had struck iron or silver, and the luck he struck brought him in only a miserable bagatelle of £140!

The party traversed country which was sheer wilderness, and which has still to await the coming of the surveyor with hit, tranbit and level. Their luck appeared to be dead out; so much so, in fact, that after they had crossed the height of land between, Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes, they retraced their steps, owing to the unpromising character of the rock, keeping to the Montreal River until they gained Wapoose Creek. Here they called a halt, two resting at the meeting of the waters, while Lett paddled up the creek to make a reconnaissance for a suitable spot in which to camp. After making one-and-a-half miles upstream, Lett was brought to a stop by rapids, and then he decided to wait until his companions came up, as they had promised to follow him. He kicked his heels idly about on the bank for half an hour, and then, growing impatient, drew the bow of the canoe ashore, and with his prospecting pick, decided to pass the time ferreting round. There was a large talus heap in the vicinity, and he started turning this over. He found the rock to be diabase, similar to that found in the Cobalt silver area, and this was very encouraging. He examined the broken mass carefully, and finally lighted on one piece which bad evidently broken away from a vein many years before. It proved to be caleite: the scent grew stronger. Indeed, it was the first promising find the party had made during many score miles of search, and this discovery proved that the country might possibly be very rich in valuable mineralized veins. Lett was so elated with his success, that he pitched a chunk of the rock into his canoe, and swung downstream to pick up his companions, to report the result of his find. He found the two boys slaving for dear life preparing a camping-ground, and having a lively time. The mosquitoes had turned out in force to repel the white man’s invasion, and they were about the most ferocious members of their race that they had ever struck. Before they could obtain the slightest respite from the vermin’s onslaughts, they had to don buckskin mittens, to plaster then skin with fly “dope,” as the Halve against bites is picturesquely termed, and to enclose their heads in miniature meat safes. Even then they failed to hold their own against the swarms of formidable insects, but had to abandon their camping-ground, and to withdraw their forcer, to a flat rock of slate, which projected into the river, and on which they raised their tent, weighting the ropes with heavy stones, instead of securing them to pegs.

The calcite find was discussed very eagerly that night after supper, and under the circumstances it was decided to follow up these indications in the hope of striking a rich vein. The next day they pushed towards the foot of the Wapoose Creek Rapids, and embarked upon a systematic investigation of the rock formation. Again Lett drew a lucky card, for after two or three days’ diligent prospecting, he lighted upon a tiny piece of cobalt bloom, which indicates the presence of smalltite, the ore of cobalt. The “ strike ” was made, and the trio set to work staking their claim.

The three prospector? have received the due reward for their temerity in venturing into an unknown country, and their arduous tracking through mile after mile of exasperating primeval country, for they hold no less than 410 acres, containing ample water power and innumerable indications of a rich deposit of silver, which has been proved in largo quantities by the men engaged in performing the assessment work required by law. Lett and his companions not only were among the first to penetrate the Gowganda. country, but their exploration work was carried out to such distinct advantage, that their results have become of value to the Government, and the foundations of a second Cobalt have been built, ready to go ahead directly the railway reaches it, and permits machinery to be brought in.

Thus it Will be realized that systematic search brings its fruits in due time. Yet the prospector does not always reap the harvest of his hard toil. There was Vital LeFort for instance. This French-Canadian from the East was among the first to track gold in British Columbia. A rush ensued to “Vital Creek,” as the hub of activity was called. Many made money out of that strike, but not so the man responsible for the excitement. He failed to rise to the occasion, being content to sit on his claim. When I met Vital LeFort, he ferried me across the Nechaco River, within sight of the Hudson Bay trading post at Fort Fraser. This was his only source of income, the Government having placed Him in charge of the means of crossing the waterway at this point, with the revenue from the traffic as his means ox livelihood. Even this calling is in danger of disappearing, because the iron horse is hurrying rapidly through this country, and when it arrives, there will be little traffic to be ferried across the river.

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