Volcanic Brown was game to the end, left mystery in his wake

It was there, where the Slave Glacier begins, that they found his last camp.

Grizzled prospector A.R. "Volcanic" Brown chased Dame Fortune all of his adventurous lifetime. More than once he found his fortune, only to wind up broke again and have to resume his elusive quest.

Finally, he made one trip too many and, in so doing, enshrined himself in British Columbia folklore.

He’d never been one to advertise his affairs but each summer during the 1920s he hiked into the rugged Pitt River country beyond New Westminster. About the middle of each September, he’d check into the provincial fish hatchery at the head of Pitt Lake on his way out. Those who knew the old prospector were aware that, although he never staked a claim in the region, he always came out with gold.

Until the autumn of 1930 when hatchery officials waited in vain for the 82-yearold to make his scheduled appearance. Weeks passed without sign of him and, with winter approaching, they knew he was in trouble. Thus it was that Game Warden George Stevenson headed into the wilderness with a search party and began an ordeal which would last all of 27 days Only their combined bush experience

permitted them to pack in during November. Experienced or no, one man was injured and a second had to be detailed to lead him out. In worsening weather, with just Roy McMaster for company, Stevenson was forced to carry on searching for human sign in what had become a hell of glaciers and driving snow.

Onward they pushed, up to the headwaters of Seven Mile Creek to Homestead Glacier. For five maddening days the wind shrieked without stop, almost burying their camp beneath an avalanche of flying white. Then the storm ceased just long enough to permit them to inch forward. Barely able to determine their bearings, Stevenson and McMaster continued, painful step at a time, across the ice. On one particularly bitter day, they succeeded only in gaining a pitiful 1,200 feet.

Finally the mile-and-a-half-wide glacier was behind them. Once into Porcupine Valley, they climbed to the timberline to pick their way across seven-mile-wide Slave Glacier. It was there, where the Slave begins, that they found Brown’s last camp.

They wouldn’t have seen his tent, buried in snow, had not quarrelling whiskey jacks caught Stevenson’s attention. Of Brown there wasn’t a trace but, upon probing in the snow, they found his shotgun, cooking utensils and a notebook. More interesting was a screwcap jar containing 11 ounces of coarse gold. Closer examination revealed the tantalizing fact that the gold had been chipped from a vein, as traces of quartz remained.

Which poses the question: Had Brown located the fabled Lost Creek Mine?

News of his death in the rugged mountains recalled an incident of years before when an aging prospector, exhausted and hungry, had staggered to the hunting cabin of four Nelson businessmen. The old man had been in poor shape but, somewhat revived after a hot dinner and fortifying rum, he’d regaled his hosts with tales of his adventures. Years before, he said, he’d met an old woman who identified herself as the granddaughter of Indian murderer Peter Slumach who, legend tells us, had a fabulously rich gold mine in the Pitt River mountains.

The granddaughter had been gravely ill and, in gratitude for his successful prescription of herbs, had told him the site of Slumach’s long-lost, longsought mine.

That garrulous old prospector was Volcanic Brown whose name is also linked, as told in Wednesday’s Citizen, to Copper Mountain, site of one of the province’s greatest-ever copper producers.

With the death of Roy McMaster, George Stevenson’s companion in finding Brown’s last camp, the game warden had become the only man to know of Volcanic’s possible solution to Slumach’s secret.

After 30 years with the provincial game department, Irishborn Stevenson retired to his Victoria home in 1956.

Some months later, he reminisced with former deputy commissioner of the B.C. Provincial Police, Cecil Clark, about the torturous rescue mission of a quarter-century before. The wiry bush veteran conceded that that trip had been the worst of his career and that, although always a slim man, he’d lost 13 pounds.

Had he ever returned to Volcanic Brown’s last campsite? No, he replied, although he’d had offers or "substantial financial backing" to lead others into that treacherous glacier country. But for reasons he wouldn’t state, he’d turned down all such propositions.

Several years before his death he told me that he was working on a book; so far as I know, it never came to be.

And with George Stevenson’s passing in 1971, aged 77, the secret of Slumach’s gold, and of Volcanic Brown’s rich vein, remains unsolved. That said, Brown is a "lost gold mine" himself, having had, in wealthier days, all his teeth replaced with solid gold dentures!