In 1864, gold fever struck in the south Kootenays east of Cranbrook, British Columbia as placer gold was discovered in the Wild Horse River. What followed was everything one can imagine from a mining town springing to life on the western frontier. As word spread about the bonanza, including the discovery of gold nuggets up to 36 ounces, the Fort Steele Region placer goldfields grew to become the fourth largest in Canada with the Wild Horse River producing more than 1.5 million ounces of gold between 1864 and the 1930’s. However, old newspaper interviews in the 1920’s, with some of the original placer miners, suggest that much of the gold was smuggled into the U.S.A. and sold for higher prices than the British would pay. The gold was collected from a pay streak approximately 6 km long that began at the confluence of Boulder Creek and the Wild Horse River.
Placer mining on the Wild Horse River and Boulder Creek continues today and the question still remains: “Where did all that placer gold actually come from….where is the lode source?”.
Several lode prospects along the east side of Wild Horse River including those along Boulder Creek have received intermittent exploration since first discovered in 1893. Those along Boulder Creek include the Big Chief on the north side and the Fisher Group on the south side. Exploration adits on the Fisher prospects include the Iron Cap, the Gaggenheim, and the Long Tunnel.
The Crown granted mineral claims are along Boulder Creek four kilometers from its junction with the Wild Horse River. They lie at latitude 49″ 40.5′ N, longitude 115′ 30.5′ W on map sheet 82G-12E and they are in the Fort Steele Mining Division.
The topography is mountainous with very steep tree-covered slopes. The northerly facing slopes on the south side of Boulder Creek are subject to snow slides and have considerable areas of slide alder. Even though the slopes are very steep, overburden is widespread and outcrops are sparse.
Access is from Fort Steele by gravel roads which lie along the east side of Wild Horse River and the north side of Boulder Creek. Direct distance from Fort Steele is 11 kilometers, however the road distance is about 18 kilometers.
The Dardanelles prospect, discovered in 1893, was one of the first discoveries of lode gold. By 1896 an arrastra had been built to process ore from this mine.
The Big Chief prospect of Boulder Creek was first staked in 1898. The Fisher prospects (Gaggenheim and Iron cap) were discovered and explored before 1902.
The first town, Fisherville, was built about 1894 on the flats of the Wild Horse River near the mouth of Fisher Creek. Discovery of gold underneath the town led to the removal of the buildings and the construction of a new town called Wild Horse Town on the north side of the river. In the early 1900’s the placer activity along the river dwindled to only the Chinese miners and eventually these also left.
In the 1930’s a new phase of placer mining began with the introduction of large monitors and hydraulic sluicing to remove the great depth of till and gravel along the east side of the river. The ditches to support this hydraulic sluicing were constructed about
Nearly all of the placer recovered was found on the bed of the Wild Horse River between Brewery Creek and Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek appears to occupy a hanging glacial valley into which the creek has eroded a canyon along its lower 2.5 kilometers. Placer mining along the canyon of Boulder Creek has been inhibited by the large boulders and the attempts to reach bedrock with adits above the canyon and just below the lodes on the Big Chief have been circumvented by the presence of quicksand on bedrock.
The placer distribution indicates that the source of the gold placer was either Boulder Creek and/or the side of the valley lying between Boulder Creek and Brewery Creek. However, it is believed that these veins were not the only source of all the gold, and additional sources are waiting to be found.
At today’s prices, the total gold recovered from this area is estimated at $490,000,000.