An Okanagan treasure hunt strike your fancy? There's actually gold in them hills - InfoNews

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An Okanagan treasure hunt strike your fancy? There's actually gold in them hills

Three gold bars stolen from a shipment from the Caribou-Amelia mine in Camp McKinney in 1896 are believed to be buried somewhere nearby.
Image Credit: B.C. Archives
June 26, 2019 - 7:00 AM

PENTICTON - A tale of nearly $1 million of lost gold continues to pique the interest of Okanagan treasure hunters.

High in the hills, to the east of Oliver, in the rugged country surrounding Mount Baldy some people believe lies a fortune in gold bars from a  robbery of a mine shipment in the 1890s.

“To the best of my knowledge, if anybody had found them they would have bragged about it," said Penticton historian Randy Manuel.

"It would have been quite a story to be told. I’d suggest they are still up there somewhere, but it’s going to be really difficult to find, due to forest fires, logging, mining, ski hill development, and everything else that’s happened in the last 125 years or so."

“For those of you who want to get bit by a rattlesnake, or chased by a bear, go for it,” he said.

The story, popularized by the late Okanagan historian Bill Barlee in his book “Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns” is focused on two, possibly three, gold bars hidden near old Camp McKinney by a masked bandit who robbed a stagecoach leaving the Caribou-Amelia Mine with a shipment of gold bars.

Camp McKinney was a mining community that came into existence with the discovery of gold veins at the southeastern base of Baldy Mountain, east of Oliver, in the 1890s.

Several mines began operations in the area, the most prominent of which was the Caribou-Amelia Mine.

The Caribou Amelia mine was pouring several gold bricks a month from its Camp McKinney operations, making regular and predictable stage runs with the bars from the mine to Midway, B.C., where it was then transferred to a stage into the United States.

On Aug. 18, 1896, mine shareholder George B. McAulay left the mine for Midway with a saddlebag in the back of the wagon containing three gold bricks weighing in at a little over 600 ounces.

The shipments were never guarded, the prevailing thought being the country was too rugged and barren for someone to risk a hold-up.

However, on that August morning, McAulay was only 45 minutes down the road when a masked man stepped out in front of the wagon, brandishing a rifle.

He demanded the saddlebag, and McAulay complied.

Told to continue on down the road, McAulay made it to Midway where police were informed.

They quickly returned to the scene of the crime, sealing off the limited escape routes from the mountain, but a subsequent search turned up only the empty saddlebag and two drained whiskey bottles.

A reward of $3,500 failed to bring any new facts to light, but days later one of the mine owners received an anonymous letter from a man who claimed he had met a man who discussed robbing the stage with him prior to the robbery. He said the man’s name was Matt Roderick.

An investigation revealed a Matt Roderick had worked at the mine but had not gone to work the day of the robbery, claiming illness.

He quit the mine several days later, but eyewitnesses said he travelled too lightly to be carrying gold bars.

The mine owners put Roderick, who travelled to Seattle, under surveillance and got wind of his intention to return to the Mount Baldy area in late October.

On the evening of Oct. 26, 1896, a small posse of three men from the mine got word Roderick was on his way up the road towards the mine.

They set off to intercept him with intentions of capturing him but didn’t find him until dusk. In the fading half-light, there was some confusion and bullets were exchanged.

When it was over, Roderick lay dead on the road.

A search of Roderick’s body didn't yield the gold bars, although he had two small chips of gold in his pocket.

The secret of where the gold bars were buried died with Roderick that night.

According to Barlee, it is believed Roderick hid the bars following the theft, with the intention of returning once the heat was off.  There are some who speculate he was able to get the smaller of the three bars out, and was returning to the area on that October night when he was shot before he could retrieve the others from their hiding place.

Manuel theorizes Roderick would have headed towards the community of Sidley, near the U.S. border, to hide the bars.

The three missing gold bars are worth over $800,000 at today's gold price.
The three missing gold bars are worth over $800,000 at today's gold price.
Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

“It was a little sawmill village near the border with a trail crossing the border. It would have been a logical place to go if you wanted to get out of British territory quickly,” Manuel said.

“If I were doing it, I would have found something that was going to stand out in the local geology, something that would guide me back to my hiding place,” he said, noting the countryside is still pretty much as wild today as it was back then.

Who knows? Maybe this is the summer someone will stumble across the gold.

At today’s price of roughly $1,420 an ounce for gold, the 600-ounce shipment would be worth $852,000.

That would make a pleasant day’s outing pleasant indeed.

There is little left of Camp McKinney today.
There is little left of Camp McKinney today.
Image Credit: Google Maps

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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