Gold was first discovered in Tranquille River in 1858 and was worked for many years by Chinese. The early yield of Tranquille is difficult to determine. It is known that by 1859, five men were said to be making $300 a day (when gold was $12 an ounce) using sluice boxes; individuals with rockers were making $10 to $12 a day. By 1861 it was reported that there were as many as 150 miners along the Tranquille, making $3 to $16 a day. By that time the stream had been effectively explored upstream for forty miles to its source.
Between 200-300 Chinese came to Kamloops in 1861, most venturing to Tranquille where they made an average of $4 a day. Many remained after other less hardy miners had moved on to the Cariboo goldfields. In 1867 there were 40 Chinese miners remaining on the Tranquille, many of who had settled down and cultivated gardens.
By 1868 there were only 25 men mining on the Tranquille at 2$-$5 per day. 1870 left only fourteen men. The completion of William Fortune’s sawmill and flourmill at the mouth of the river early in 1869 meant the necessities of flour and lumber for miners were close at hand. But placer mining was essentially a transient occupation. Those that persisted, like the Chinese, could make a fair living – 20 Chinese miners yielded $7,000 in 1876 alone.
Placer mining on the Tranquille gave way to hydraulic methods in 1892 when a company from the coast appeared on the scene. James Russell of Kamloops began ground sluicing two years later by erecting a 25-foot high dam across the creek and a flume 1200 feet long to work the benches along the west side of the creek. It paid off about $1000 in the first year. The new finds led to the formation of a company by Hewitt Bostock, M.P., and the chief promoter. The Tranquille Creek Hydraulic and Quartz Mining Company secured Russell’s lease. By 1896 there was a big mining boom all over again. Even William Fortune, settled near the mouth of the river and not a full-time prospector, boasted that he had enough gold in the ground under his house to pay off the national debt of England.
Tranquille grew quiet after the turn of the Century until the 1930s. At that time the depression lured many old-time prospectors back to the mother-lode rather than the relief lines. Paddy Docksteader who first came to B.C. in 1896 settled at Tranquille in 1924. Besides gold, he found small amounts of placer platinum in the creek.
When Fred Gilderdale came to the area in 1931 he put money down on a share of the Rattlesnake Claim there, only to discover the company was non-existent and the diggings slim. He persevered however, and took possession of the fraudulent claim remaining it the “Coronation”.
Life at Tranquille for the miners of the Dirty Thirties, notwithstanding the Depression, was beset with perils. In July 1935 heavy rains and a late run-off smashed two dams used as water storage for the Tranquille Sanatorium (on the site of William Fortune’s home). Gilderdale and many fellow prospectors were caught sleeping with water lapping at their bedsides. John Matsen, a veteran of the Fraser and Cariboo gold rushes who came to Tranquille in 1932, recalled broken trees and dead fish littering the riverbank in the wake of the flood.
Most of these hardy men made a meagre living but did not starve. In 1959 a dozen men, all pensioners, lived on the old mining rights. Thomas Mickey Fleming, who had arrived at Tranquille in 1928, was the oldest man at the diggings in 1960 at 93 years. The government finally forced these old-timers to leave Tranquille and many of them ended their lives in the Old Man’s Home in Kamloops.
The Tranquille, from its discovery as a gold-bearing stream in the 1950s, was widely known as one of only three “18 carat creeks” in B.C. Certainly it has produced more gold than any other stream in the Kamloops area. Between 1874-1945 it yielded 2,392 ounces of gold worth $1 million.
The river today is quiet like its name – after an Indian chief with a silent disposition – but for the occasional modern prospector lured by the history of the Tranquille. Today, we can still see evidence of the hydraulic mining along the river.
Watching Creek is a tributary of the Tranquille River. From the mouth of the river, the canyons narrow down to a gorge with lava flows, hoodoos, slot canyons, and cliffs for 15 km. At that point two gorges meet at the confluence. Watching Creek flows down from the south end of the Bonaparte Plateau through Porcupine Meadows Provincial Park. Miners staked claims on Watching Creek too and worked the gorge. There are still two claims on the north side of the creek and recreational gold panners can still be seen from time to time. Rock hounds also access the canyon for green opal nodules and agate geodes.
A rustic B.C. Forest Service Recreation sits on the west side of the river and the south side of Watching Creek is now part of Lac du Bois Provincial Park. This was the site of a homesteader named Paddy Docksteader. He was a horse trader who had worked for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.