The Rock Creek gold rush took place in an area that was named the Boundary Country. It derived it’s name because it took place just to the north of the 49th parallel that separated Canada from the United States.
The rush started when First Nations braves pursued two American soldiers across the border. The soldiers managed their escape and three miles inside Canadian territory managed to find gold on the Kettle River where it met with Rock Creek. Adam Beam filed the first claim on the creek in 1860.
The rush that followed was comprised mostly of Americans and a few Chinese miners. All these men had come north from Fort Colville just south of the border, and some came all the way from the California gold fields. At the peak of the gold rush an estimated 5,000 men were in the area, and a new town called Rock Creek sprang into existence with a population of around 800. Governor Douglas sent Gold Commissioner Peter O’Reilly to the area in order to collect duties on items coming across the border as well as collect fees for mining licenses. Unfortunately, just as O’Reilly arrived at Rock Creek trouble broke out between the Caucasian and Chinese miners. The inexperienced new Gold Commissioner was driven from the mining camp in a hail of stones in what was to become known as the Rock Creek War. O’Reilly fled to Victoria to report of his demise to Governor Douglas.
In very short time, Douglas, accompanied by William George Cox, who was to become the new gold commissioner, and Arthur Bushby proceeded to Rock Creek. Douglas laid down the law and informed the American miners that if they didn’t behave themselves on British soil that he’d return with 500 marines. He further went on to say that the Chinese miners had the same rights to the gold workings as they had and any further molestations would not be tolerated. As the men left the tent, Douglas shook each of the men’s hands.
For the most part, despite the problems and setbacks, Rock Creek remained a quiet and orderly camp, aside from the daily amusements of drinking and gambling. It is reported that in the 16 months that Cox was in charge of the camp, only one crime was committed. A man was guilty of theft and was run out of the camp. However, in an article titled “The Rise And Fall of Rock Creek,” published in 1926 in the First Annual Report of the Okanagan Historical and Natural History Society, Leonard Norris wrote of a murder that was committed about six miles up Rock Creek. The victim was a Frenchman named Pierre Chebart who had invited an Indian he had just met to join him for dinner. After the meal, both men settled down for the evening in a vacant cabin. During the night, the Indian got up and stole a knife from under the sleeping Chebart’s head and stabbed him to death. The corpse was then thrown into the creek and drifted about 2 miles downstream.
This was a very serious situation for a man in Cox’s position. He could have constructed a makeshift gallows and hired a hangman, but there was no judge or jury to try the murderer. To send the man to New Westminster to await trial would have been too expensive. While Cox procrastinated as to what to do, it was believed by some historians, that his stall was merely a means to give the American vigilantes an opportunity to resolve the problem for him.
The Indian, who had confessed the murder to other Indians, had been turned over by the chief to the settlers at Osoyoos. He was then turned over to the American vigilantes who had administered their own brand of justice. “The wretched young man was marched to a large pine tree,” wrote Cox, ” & there executed in the presence of his former associates and comrades.”
Placer gold was first discovered on Rock Creek in 1860. The Rock Creek placer occurrence is located along Rock Creek at about 868 metres elevation, about 2 kilometres north of its confluence with McKinney Creek. Bridesville, British Columbia lies 5 kilometres to the southwest.
The first recorded production occurred in 1875 but a considerable amount was mined prior to this date. The creek produced well for a few years but work almost ceased entirely by 1900. There was a small resurgence of work from 1930 to 1935. In 1930, activity is reported for the Frank Wilson lease on a north fork of Rock Creek. Work was done from two open pits about 61 by 152 metres. Fine colours of gold were panned from certain parts but no continuous strata were found. Most of the gold was coarse and rusty. Occasional lemon-yellow nuggets were found. Gold was mined in Rock Creek below this lease in former years. In total, 152,905 grams of gold were recorded produced between 1874 and 1945.
Placer gold was recovered from the bed and small benches. A little drifting was done to explored abandoned stream channels with little success. Some platinum was recovered with the gold. As of 1931, the Quaternary stratigraphy of Rock Creek was determined to consist of recent gravels, followed by about 1.2 metres of slum, 0.61 to 2.4 metres of sand, 0.61 to 1.8 metres of cemented gravel, followed by variable widths of pay gravel on bedrock. Rim rock along the creek was also found to have good pay, at about 45.7 metres above the 1931 creek level.
Progressing upstream, gold became coarser and more jagged suggesting the source was not far. Opportunities exist today on Rock Creek as there have never been any reports of hitting bedrock. The next Rock Creek gold rush could be awaiting some modern prospector.