Those who tried to follow Jack learned only that his mine had to be within easy reach of his cabin, near the mouth of Boundary Creek.
The soaring price of gold in recent years has sent thousands of prospectors, amateur and professional, in search of their fortunes.
They might give serious thought to two lost mines which long intrigued pioneer prospectors.
The first, although it actually dates back almost a century and a half, didn’t gain notice until 1899 when legendary prospector R.A. ‘Volcanic’ Brown told a “romantic story of the discovery of a rich free milling gold property” to a Grand Forks reporter.
He’d just returned from Princeton where he’d been informed that two Swedes who’d been prospecting between “Staggett and the coast” (probably between Rock Creek and Osoyoos) the previous fall had found a large cairn. Although they’d seen other pryamids which denoted the international boundary, this particular cairn was larger than those. Intrigued by the incongruity of such a monument in the wilderness, they’d examined it carefully and were amazed to discover that the rocks used in its construction were composed of gold-bearing quartz.
“Did it contain a bottle?” Brown asked his informant, Ed Altison. “Yes, it did, but who told you so?” Altison replied with a puzzled frown.
Twelve years before, Brown explained, he’d been trapping in that region when he’d encountered a prospecting party. “One of them told me that in the early [’70s] he’d been engaged on [the] international commission entrusted with [the] task of delimiting the frontier between the United States and Canada. At one point the surveyors while erecting a monument had been startled to discover that the rock utilized for the purpose was very rich in gold.
“Realizing that the discovery, owing to the inaccessibility of the district, could not be utilized for many years, they placed a letter in a sealed bottle within the cairn, hoping to return at some future time. Years passed away and ultimately one of the members of the outfit, a subordinate, enlisted the services of friends to seek the golden cairn.
“They told me that after searching for miles they had been unsuccessful, and on account of my knowledge asked me to resume the search, promising to give me an interest if successful. I dropped my traps and with my new companions vainly searched along the boundary line as far west as Rock Creek.
“The discovery of last year was undoubtedly the mark we missed because we did not go far enough west.”
Altison told him that the Swedes had staked a claim and sold it to Seattle parties for no less than $60,000. Whether they succeeded in tracing the gold to its source is unknown.
The second lost mine of our tale is situated in the Boundary country. This is the unclaimed treasure of ‘Jolly Jack’ Thornton who had a cabin on Boundary Creek. Its shell was there until recent years — but the secret to his golden hoard remains unsolved.
Born in Durham, England, in 1824, he joined the gold rush to the Fraser River in 1858 after a lengthy career as a merchant seaman and as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. The year after his arrival in British Columbia, he became the second prospector to seek his fortune along the gravel bars of Boundary Creek. Then, following the Columbia River into Washington Territory, he located a claim on what became known as Jolly Jack’s Bar and enjoyed a handsome return for his efforts.
Where he got his gold remains a mystery. Sometimes he was broke but, invariably, he replenished his supply of nuggets and it soon became common knowledge that Jolly Jack had a ready source. Normally garrulous, he was close-lipped when asked about his claim. Another intriguing fact was that his nuggets were redder than those usually found in the region, resembling copper. Many tried to loosen his tongue with drink but had to admit failure; Jack could knock it back with the best of them.
Those who tried to follow him had to keep their distance because he was always armed. They learned only that he was able to return with a fresh supply of nuggets in short order, meaning that his mine had to be within easy reach of his cabin, near the mouth of Boundary Creek. Nevertheless, try as they might, they couldn’t find his source.
Jolly Jack Thornton died in 1903, aged 78; his name lives on in the form of Jolly Jack Creek, which joins Boundary Creek, southwest of Greenwood. As does the legend of his gold. He left a widow and several children but, so far as is known, took his secret to the grave.