The Leech River on Vancouver Island, B.C. was named after Peter John Leech. Peter Leech was a lieutenant and astronomer attached to Robert Brown’s Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition of 1864. Lieutenant Leech was a native of Dublin, Ireland and came to British Columbia with the Royal Engineers in 1858.
On July 17, 1864 Lieutenant Leech reported finding coarse gold to the expedition leader Robert Brown, and in a letter sent to Governor Arthur Kennedy on the Sooke River, at a point about six miles from the inlet and about a quarter mile above the canyon.
When Governor Kennedy publicized Leech’s gold discovery, hordes of miners flocked to the area. In less than a month, the bustling town of Leechtown was established. In addition to the 1,200 miners working the area, the town boasted several stores, saloons and hotels.
It is believed that over 3,000 men were engaged in placer mining at one time along Leech River. By 1876, it was estimated that 100,000 dollars worth of gold had been recovered. Later estimates place the actual value between 100,000 and 200,000 dollars. Signs of old workings are seen along the river upstream from the Sooke River, a distance of about 6.5 kilometres, to a point 1.5 kilometres beyond the first fork. According to G.M. Dawson the run of gold turned up the North Fork but rapidly diminished and ran out above the falls in the Devil’s Grip. Between 1924 and 1945 a recorded 192 ounces of gold were recovered. Of the tributaries to Leech River, Martin’s Gulch is notable for the gold that was found for a distance of 2 kilometres up from Leech River.
It appears that most of the gold was derived from bars or in crevices in the bedrock of the river bed, or from benches along the side of the river. The gold recovered from the benches was mined either at: a) a depth of 3 to 5 metres and 3 metres above river level on a clay “false bedrock” of a low bench on the north side of the Leech River that extends 400 metres upstream from its junction with the Sooke River or; b) on the bedrock beneath the shallow overburden on a rock bench about 3 metres above river level that extends more or less continuously on one side of the river or the other, at least as far as the first fork in the river about 5 kilometres upstream from Sooke River. Nuggets varying in size from 15.6 to 31.1 grams have been recovered.
One of the original prospectors was a Swede by the name of Hans Christen. Hans was a trained geologist with a degree from the University of Copenhagen, and set up his camp at the base of Survey Mountain. Not long after establishing his base camp, a violent storm blew in, panicking his pack mule. The panicked mule broke free from it’s tether and fled into the night.
The following morning, Christen set out to find his missing mule. He found the scared mule hiding in a small cave, and upon examination of the cave, he found a vein of gold 24 inches wide extending all the way into the cave. In celebration of his discovery, Christen went on a drinking binge. When he finally sobered up, he could not remember the location of the cave. He spent he next year of his life trying to find the cave, but was unsuccessful. He died of tuberculosis in a Victoria rest home in late 1865. Today, the cave still remains a mystery.
But yet, another story abounds. Readers digest published a story by Fairfax Downey that Rattlesnake Dick Barter’s Gang attacked a Wells-Fargo mule train in California, making off with $80,000 in stolen gold, burying it and who did not live long enough to retrieve it.
The Leechtown buried treasure story is that the bandit set up camp on the banks of the Leech River, enjoying fruits of the saloons and young ladies in the dance hall. He was eventually arrested by a U.S. Marshall and taken back to California where he died in either Folsom or San Quentin. On his death bed, he indicated the gold was buried 150 yards, or feet, or 250 yards, or feet, northwest from the northwest corner of the largest building in Leechtown. It is believed that $40,000 worth of gold nuggets is buried in a knee-high rubber boot, covered with an inverted frying pan, 18 inches below the surface.
Today, that boot of nuggets is worth approximately $3.6 million dollars!
Could these stories be true? Stranger things have happened and only time will tell. And for the record, they no metal detectors back then! Happy Hunting!