In the fall of 1860 George Weaver and Doc Keithley first climbed the steep southern slopes of the mountains range running down to Cariboo Lake to discover the great plateau and headwaters of Antler Creek running north. When they returned to Keithley for more supplies the word was soon out and by the spring of 1861 there were a number of claims staked along Antler as well as other parallel streams running northward – one of them being Grouse Creek. The first and most notably finds was the Discovery Claim which yielded a phenomenal amount of gold. Nearby a small settlement grew up along the sidehill next to the creek which the locals proudly called Grouse Creek City. It consisted of cabins and a store but as fate would have it for so many of wooden towns of the day most of it eventually succumbed to fire.
By 1864 the creek was being seriously explored. An American by the name of Robert Heron, while doing exploration work about a half mile downstream from the Discovery Claim, unearthed what he thought was an old pre-glacial channel running parallel with the bed. Heron and his partners then proceeded to take out over $300,000.00 in gold. At the time gold was running around $28.00 an ounce which meant Heron would have found at least 10,715 ounces of the precious metal. At today’s price, this would translate into over $19,500,000.00. Not bad for a season’s work.
Historical records from the Geological Survey of Canada report over 50,000 ounces of gold was recovered from 400 feet of this channel. At today’s current price that translates into a whopping $86,250,000.00 Canadian.
Having decided that the channel was worked out Heron sold it for $4000.00 and left the creek. The new owners formed the Heron Company and while doing further exploration discovered that the previous owner had shorted himself in more ways than one. A foot and a half below the original workings the new company discovered rich gravels that produced from 80 to 100 ounces of gold a week throughout the season.
By 1867 the Heron Company had found even more sections of this now famous channel, in particular one known as the Jimmy Allen tunnel which in a distance of 400 feet and along a narrow span of less than 8 feet yielded by today’s standards approximately $49,000,000.00 in gold.
Grouse Creek, near the historic gold town of Barkerville, in the Cariboo Mountains was the scene of some of the most colourful history in British Columbia, including the 1867 “Grouse Creek War” which saw hundreds of miners pitted against each other in a violent take-over and subsequent stand-off over this claim.
Because of the narrowness of the Grouse Creek valley in the area around the Heron claim which caused severe water problems for operations the Heron Company procured a franchise to build a several hundred foot long flume to divert the creek flow which, in turn, would allow the company to mine the actual gravels in the gutter of the creek channel. This at first proved to be an extremely lucrative venture that netted the company between 50 to a hundred ounces of gold each day but it also attracted others whose intentions were anything but honorable. Another outfit called the Canadian Company decided to stake right over the Heron property and then commenced to enforce their suspect actions by literally forcing the Heron Company employees to vacate the premises. When the Gold Commissioner, Henry M. Ball tried to dissuade the Canadian Company by swearing in about 25 constables to evict the interlopers they were met by a force of around 400 armed men who refused to leave the creek.
Eventually Ball had to wire the Governor of the province, Frederick Seymour, after further appeals to the Canadian Company fell on deaf ears. The Governor and his entourage arrived in Richfield on August 7, 1867 and met with the warring factions but in the interval between all the legal wrangling the Canadian Company was hellbent on high grading as much of the gutter gold as they possibly could. Seymour’s attempted resolution fell far short of justice and left a sour taste in mouths of the local residents who felt the Governor had sided more with the miscreants than the Heron Company. Eventually Seymour appointed a special commission to settle the dispute which finally saw the ground returned to Heron Company along with $3,600.00 in gold (likely no where near the amount removed).
The last successful entry into this ground was made in the early 1900’s before it was flooded out by groundwater. Successive attempts have not been able to overcome the water, and famous ‘Cariboo Slum’ which prohibited further exploration.
The total estimated production of gold from Grouse Creek was around 140,351 ounces valued today at approximately $256,000,000.00. A nice tidy sum indeed.
Today, a local, private mining company, Devlin’s Bench Mining, did what no-one has been able to do in the last 100 years. They have reached to the center of this historic ground and are beginning to excavate the remaining channel. In an intense six week period they have dug into the hillside and removed 250 thousand cubic metres of overburden to expose the historic shafts to the atmosphere, rather than trying to enter them from underground.
Their work has revealed a honeycomb of old shafts and drifts from turn of the century miners struggling underground in wet dangerous conditions. Pumps hoses, shovels and ore-carts have emerged from the mud and debris which has slumped into parts of the old workings. “This is an incredibly exciting project. The historical connection alone is worth it, but, of course, we’re here to discover gold,” one partner, Rick Mason said.
Pete Wright’s Devlin’s Bench Mining Ltd in conjunction with Hard Up Mining Ltd have been seriously busy stretching the long arms and buckets of their excavators deep into the hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of overburden along Grouse Creek in order to remove and uncover still further, unfathomed portions of the famed and fabulous richness of the pre-glacial Heron Channel.
Small as they are, they have made a living producing placer, or nugget, gold in the Cariboo for the last 15 years, and making a significant contribution to the local economy.
Many historic claims still yield gold from the ground, but the Heron Lead on Grouse Creek is the biggest treasure hunt yet!