The Lost Gold Bars Of Camp McKinney

By Garnet Basque - [1945 - 1994]

Garnet Basque operated Canada West magazine from 1985 to 1994, as well as Sunfire Publications in Langley, B.C.
He published numerous titles about lost treasures and frontier settlements under various imprints.

Our story began on a clear August morning in 1896 as George McAuley climbed into a buckboard at Camp McKinney’s, a dusty little B.C. gold mining town. McAuley, co-owner of the famous Cariboo Amelia mine, was visiting for a few days from Spokane, Washington, and had decided to make the journey. On the floor boards behind him, concealed in saddlebags, were three gold bars with a combined weight of 656 ½ ounces.

This represented the monthly clean-up of the mine, which, after delivery to Midway, was trans-shipped to the San Francisco mint. Forgoing the customary precaution of an armed guard, McAuley headed the buckboard up the dusty single street between unpainted frame buildings and out of town. The date: Tuesday, August 18, 1896.  As he rounded a turn near McMynn’s Meadows, about two or three miles from Camp, he jerked his team to a sudden stop. Barring the road, Winchester at the ready, stood a masked bandit. The robber motioned for McAuley to throw down the saddlebags. McAuley, who may have been reckless for leaving town without an escort, wasn’t completely stupid. Though armed, he could see the obvious disadvantage of arguing with a loaded rifle, and promptly threw down the bags.

"Now drive on and don’t turn back," warned the robber.

Whipping the team to a gallop, he proceeded down the trail for about a mile, where he found a spot wide enough to turn the buckboard, and hastened back to Camp to spread the alarm.

When McAuley’s partner, James Monahan, was notified of the robbery, his first act was a quick check of all the mining personnel. Everyone was accounted for, Monahan then sent McAuley for the Provincial Police stationed at Midway, while he organized a posse and headed for the scene of the robbery. A superficial search of the site and surrounding woods failed to unearth any new leads, however, and they returned to town.

Later that afternoon Constables William McMynn and Isaac Dinsmore arrived at Camp McKinney and, after asking some routine questions, were taken to the actual scene of the robbery. It was Dinsmore who apparently discovered the empty saddlebags which had been missed by the previous searchers. They also unearthed "some soda biscuits, apples, some raw fresh eggs, part of a bottle of whiskey, and a bottle half filled with water."

This was reasoned to be the robber’s good cache as he waited in ambush. These articles shed no new light on the mystery, however.

There was nothing substantial to go on, and for some time a lull developed in which no new leads were uncovered. Because of the isolation of Camp McKinney (it could be reached by only two roads), it was deemed impossible for a robber to flee the area. Yet, the general feeling now was that he had a clean getaway.

Rewards totaling $3,500 were then posted by the mining company, $2,000 for the arrest and conviction of the guilty party, and $1,500 for the recovery of the bullion.

The reward money again stimulated interest, and it wasn’t long after that the Company received their first big break. It came in the form of a letter addressed to Monahan, and was later published in the November 14, 1896 issue of the Grand Forks Miner. It read:

I met a man in a saloon in Oroville at about the end of May. We fell to drinking together and he told me that his name was Matthew Roderick, from Spokane, that he was very hard up and on his way to get the bullion from Camp McKinney, an easy job, he said.

He had a gun, a Winchester I think, and was going to stage a holdup. He liked the way I held my liquor, said I’d be one with a cool head and wanted me to come in with him on the job. I didn’t want to. Roderick said he was a dead shot and he wouldn’t hesitate to kill me if I revealed what passed between us that night.

"We went to Camp Mckinney where we both got work. After we had been working three months, and nothing happened, I left for Trail Creek late in August. After I’d been there three days I read an account of the robbery of the Camp McKinney bullion in the Spokesman Review, so I thought I’d better let you know about Roderick."

Armed with fresh information, Monahan did some quick checking and soon verified the fact that a man named Roderick had been in the mine’s employ at that time. He also learned that Roderick was far from being a model worker.

Each week after collecting his pay he would indulge in one of the frequent poker games held at Cameron’s Saloon. He never left the game until he was broke, often ignoring his shift for two or three days in the process.

Roderick had lived in a small cabin on the outskirts of the town. On the day of the robbery, and for a few days previous, he had been absent from work suffering from back ailment. Several days after the robbery he had decided to return to his Seattle home to recuperate. The miners, feeling sorry for the ailing Roderick, had passed the hat and collected $84 for his passage home. Those who recalled seeing him leave were convinced he had taken only a blanket with him. In those days it was recognized as a sign of respectability for a man to travel with his own blankets.

Further investigation revealed several old whiskey bottles in a dump behind Roderick’s cabin bearing the same label as those discovered near the scene of the robbery. This, and other clues indicated that Roderick was their man.

The Cariboo Mining Company promptly enlisted the aid of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Washington to keep Roderick under surveillance. They had no difficulty locating him as he was listed in the Seattle directory as a civil engineer.

The Pinkertons even had a lady operative move in next to Rodericks. In neighborly chit-chat she eventually learned that, since returning from British Columbia, Roderick had paid up some back taxes and had taken out a $3,000 insurance policy, a neat trick for a man who left Camp McKinney under the charity of the miners.

Certain Roderick was their man, and convinced that he had only managed to smuggle out the smaller bar (worth $1,600), they continued their vigilance.

Then one day, unaware that the information would lead to his eventual death, Mrs. Roderick announced that her husband was preparing to leave on a business trip "one that will make us rich," she said.

Unconscious of his being followed, Roderick traveled by train to Loomis, Washington, where he purchased a gray saddle horse and rode north for the B.C. boundary. Matthew was apparently returning for his stolen loot.

The town was a fever of activity in preparation for his arrival. Armed men were positioned at strategic vantage points around Bald Mountain, guarding every approach. Tom Graham, and an Indian called Alexine (or Long Alex), were hidden at the forks of the Sidley and Fairview Roads. From this vantage point they commanded an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.

That evening, October 26, 1896, the suspect was observed making his way up the dusty mountain road toward them. Alexine was immediately dispatched to town to give the alarm. Two Provincial Constables, Louis Cuppage and R.W. Dean were in Cameron’s Saloon with Superintendent Keane when the Indian burst in with the news. Arming themselves, they set off down the trail. It was then about 10:00 P.M. Outside, thick clouds obscured the moon in what was reported as being "one of the blackest nights of the year."

The small party had been walking about a mile when they perceived an object on the road, however the utter darkness made it impossible to distinguish what the object was, so they continued cautiously. After walking a bit further they heard horses hooves approaching.

The men stopped and waited, the blackness engulfing them.

Suddenly Keane was heard to ask, "Is that you Matt?"

There was a death-like silence for perhaps a half a minute, after which the night was shattered by a loud shot. Dean, fearing Roderick had felled Keane, fired his rifle at the dark figure of a man he had glimpsed in the flash of the preceding shot. His shot was expended for nothing, however, for it had been Keane’s weapon that had spoken earlier. His bullet had entered Roderick just below the left chest, penetrated the heart, and lodged in the back muscles. Dean’s bullet had been fired at the already dead, falling body of Roderick.

Roderick’s rifle, which Keane later testified had been aimed at him, was found to contain a rag stuffed in the muzzle. But it, and the pistol recovered from the body was covered with rust, indicating they had just been unearthed. A small amount of money was also found on the body.

Under Roderick’s coat was discovered a special vest with two pockets, one under each armpit, large enough to accommodate the two large gold bars. There was no sign of the bullion, however, and it was believed that Roderick was returning to the secret cache when he was killed.

A coroner’s inquest into Roderick’s death, held at Camp McKinney on November 11, 1896, decided it was a case of "justifiable homicide," and exonerated Keane of all blame. Regardless, he was brought to trial in Vernon in June, 1897 on a manslaughter charge, and found guilty.

However, the judge, Chief Justice McCall, said: "You have been found guilty in a technical and legal sense," and sentenced him to one day in jail, which Keane had already served, and he was thereby released.

Roderick’s death left many unanswered questions, and the author, in an effort to determine first the validity of the story, and secondly if the treasure does exist, began to sift through most sources of information.

That the robbery took place, and the gold bricks were never recovered, is a matter of record and undisputed fact, although it was generally believed that Roderick had managed to smuggle out the smaller bar. However, there are some discrepancies.

Despite reports by various writers that the McKinney bullion shipments were "shrouded in mystery" and "escorted under armed guards," this simply was not the case. Two newspapers of the period make that all too clear. The Grand Forks Miner, August 22, 1896, wrote: "These shipments have been made regularly for months past, and the public always knew within a day or two of the exact time at which they would pass through, so the only surprise created by the holdup is that it had not happened before."

And the September 5, 1896 issue of the Province dispelled all rumors of an armed guard when they wrote: "The robber’s success is not in any way a cause for surprise. What is astonishing is that some enterprising scoundrel had not had a try at ‘raising the wind’ at the expense of so small an amount of labor or difficulty. Ever since gold was first produced from the Cariboo Mine, bullion had been carried out as if it were of no more value than so much yellow bacon, without the slightest care or precaution being taken to guard for its arrival at its destination."

So much for the reported secrecy and security. Another point which many writers seem to disagree on, is who actually drove the buckboard on that fateful morning 100 years ago, McAuley or Keane? For the record, it was McAuley, as verified by the same issue of the Province. "Mr. G.B. McAuley, of Spokane, secretary of the Cariboo Mining Company, was ‘held up’ by a masked robber on his return from the mine in charge of three gold bricks."

Some writers claim that candles, matches and goggles were taken from Roderick’s body shortly after his death. Acting on this, they suggest that he buried the bullion in one of the numerous old water-filled shafts. This could not be confirmed, but it seems highly unlikely that Roderick would go to such elaborate measures to hide gold when he was pressed for time. It seems more likely that he would bury it in a convenient, safe spot between the scene of the robbery and the town.

One thing is puzzling, however. Roderick’s rifle and pistol, rusty and dirt-covered, were definitely buried. It seems odd that he would bury weapons in one location and the gold in another, when it would be more convenient to inter them together. If this was so, and not realizing he was under suspicion, Roderick may have planned to visit the town for a day or two before retrieving the treasure on his way out.

Or perhaps he was indeed on the way to recover it when fatally shot. All this is supposition, of course. But the robbery did take place, and the gold has never been recovered. And at today’s prices the two remaining gold bars are worth over $190,000.

Camp McKinney is deserted now. Even the ghosts have gone. Only a few piles of decaying lumber and an occasional log cabin mark its passing. A dusty, but good, gravel road leads to it from Rock Creek and passes through what was once its main street.

Somewhere around here are two gold bars worth $190,000. They are probably buried in a shallow hole, and should be easy to detect with a good metal detector. However, getting close enough to detect them may be another question.

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