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!

www.twpaterson.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone has been re-elected as chairman of the board at the CVRD. (File photo)
Aaron Stone re-elected as chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

Salmon Blaise, director for Mill Bay/Malahat, elected as new vice-chairman

North Cowichan strengthens some COVID-19 safety protocols, and introduces new ones, as the pandemic enters ts second phase. (File photo)
North Cowichan and CVRD implementing new COVID rules

Municipality reacting to new public health orders

Search and rescue crews from all over Vancouver Island responded to calls to assist with the search for a 19 year-old man with medical issues who got lost on trails in the south end of Duncan on Nov. 21. The man was found Sunday morning and taken to hospital for assessment. (Submitted photo)
Duncan man rescued after getting lost on local trails

19-year-old taken to hospital for assessment

Duncan’s Knights of Columbus hand out cheques to a slew of deserving organizations in an online event Nov. 8, 2020. (Submitted)
Duncan Knights of Columbus hand cheques to lucky 13 in virtual event

Another historic first for the Knights was to have two area mayors join the presentation

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Firefighters try to put out a structure fire on the Island Highway in Nanoose Bay early Saturday morning. (Nanoose Bay Volunteer Fire Department photo)
Horses in nearby stable saved as building burns down in Nanoose Bay

Firefighters called out in the early-morning hours Saturday

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

Most Read