We in British Columbia live in gold country.
All around us are magic places where the precious metal can be found, has been found, or will be found.
And with gold comes legends that have been passed down through generations – stories making us dream of the unimaginable wealth that is right out there for us to discover.
One of those legendary pots of gold is rumoured to be somewhere around Pitt Lake.
There are no known strikes of gold in the Pitt Lake watershed area before one reported in a small entry in a newspaper in November of 1869 about an “Indian” who had brought in a “good prospect of gold” he claimed to have found to the north of Pitt Lake.
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This nameless man was later assumed to have been Slum.ook, better known as Slumach, an elderly First Nations man who was hanged in 1891 for shooting and killing another man.
Over time, the promising sample mentioned in the original story grew into an exceedingly rich deposit that became known as “Slumach’s gold.”
During the First World War, American prospectors added a second discoverer of the gold to the story, a white man called Jackson who supposedly left a letter describing his find as a creek where the bedrock was yellow with gold dust and where nuggets could be found as big as walnuts: the Lost Creek Mine.
Overall, this was a more attractive story than the one about Slumach, which lacked the glamour of Jackson’s find.
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However, just before the Second World War, the press once again focused on Slumach – not the original, elderly Slumach, but a younger man, a drinker and womanizer, killing his female companions who helped him mine his gold so they could not reveal its location.
This character, his story enriched over time by many creative journalists, is the Slumach most often presented in newspapers and magazines from the late 1940s onward.
It is obvious that many of the journalists who wrote about the story of the Pitt Lake gold and its discoverers did little more than reading the stories written before in earlier newspapers or magazines. They repeated and embellished the old yarns, adding yet more fiction as time went on.
What they wrote was meant mostly for weekend entertainment, but many readers took the articles seriously and assumed they were accurate renderings of the history of discovery and discoverers of the famed gold.
The first and, until now, the only book entirely dedicated to the mystery-mine and its discoverers was Slumach’s Gold: In Search of a Legend, published in 1972.
This first version quickly and rightfully became a bestseller. In a revised edition – also a bestseller – published in 2007 by Heritage House, the authors lamented the absence of “provenance,” but did little to change that.
The content continued following the usual pattern of borrowing and enhancing with a focus on entertainment.
Supported by more than a decade of research, and drawing on information from original records – not from hearsay – Searching for Pitt Lake Gold offers a fresh look at the stories about the search for Pitt Lake gold.
It not only presents provenance, but also follows the development of the stories of key individuals, real and imagined, who played a part in the creation or evolution of the legend.
Included are the stories of daring searches for the elusive and some say cursed gold from which not everyone returned alive.
Fred Braches is a local historian who lives in Whonnock.