The Lost Platinum Cache of Granite City


S.W. Nicholson

In July 1885, Johnny Chance, a cowboy of reputed lazy disposition, was driving a string of horses from Washington state en-route to New Westminster, B.C. Herding the horses north across the boarder, Chance followed the Similkameen Valley towards Princeton. Arriving in Princeton, he stopped for a few days rest at the Allison family ranch. For reasons unknown, instead of continuing his drive along the Dewdney Trail, Johnny Chance chose the unlikely route through the Tulameen Valley towards the old Coquihalla trail to Hope.
On July 5th, 1885, John Chance, true to his reputation, was said to have been shirking his duties when he accidentally stumbled upon placer gold in what is now known as Granite creek. As the story goes, John had wandered off to find refuge from the heat of the blistering hot July day. Taking his boots off, he put his feet in the cool waters of Granite Creek and fell asleep. By the time he awoke, the light of the shifting sun was reflecting off gold nuggets in the shallow waters of the creek. Johnny quickly filled his buckskin pouch with coarse gold nuggets and returned to camp. Bragging of his discovery, Johnny Chance was immediately transformed from a lazy loafer into local hero. The “Chance” gold rush to Granite Creek and the Tulameen was on.

On a related historical note, the phrase, 'Found by Chance', a term referring to acquiring something based entirely on luck, was also born on the banks of Granite Creek on that hot July day in 1885. For those not familiar with the phrase; 'Did you find it by any chance?' and 'I found it by chance.' are examples of derivatives of the original phrase.

It certainly did not take any time at all for hordes of miners to swarm into the Granite creek area. By the end of 1885 the vacant flat at the mouth of Granite creek had been transformed into the bustling mining metropolis of Granite City. Considered the third largest city in British Columbia surpassed only by Victoria and New Westminster, Granite City boasted a population in excess of 2,000 within the first year of being established.

On December 28th, 1885, Mining Recorder Henry Nicholson reported; “Granite City is rapidly increasing, buildings of one kind or another now probably number two hundred. Provisions are fairly plentiful, pack-trains coming in continually from the Nicola Valley. Potatoes are possibly scarcer and dearer in proportion to anything else, being seven cents per pound; flour varies from $9 to $10 per 100 pounds; beef 10 cents per pound, and groceries at fall prices. Board, $8 per week. There are at present between 500 and 600 white men, besides some 300 Chinese, in the camp, and with few exceptions this number will winter here."

For the year ending December 31st, 1885, Gold Commissioner G.C. Tunstall wrote;
“The Government has reserved 160 acres of land on the Tulameen River, at Six-Mile Flat, in the vicinity of Otter Lake, for a townsite, which will be an important center should the mines in the neighbourhood turn out as expected."

The town of Granite Creek has about 40 houses, to which a large addition will be made before spring, in anticipation of the large influx of miners, who will flock thither from different portions of British Columbia, and from the adjoining American territories and Pacific States. There are at present six saloons and hotels, and seven or eight stores well equipped with dry goods and groceries, which are disposed off at very moderate prices. The cost of lumber - $80 per 1,000 feet – has greatly interfered with building, but a new saw-mill will be erected this winter which will supply the demand at a reasonable rate.”

On November 23rd, 1885, T. Elwyn, Deputy Provincial Secretary reported; “On the 31st October, on lower Granite creek, there were 62 companies owning creek claims, averaging probably 300 feet to the company, who were working. Of these 34 were taking out gold and 28 either preparing to do so or prospecting. The gold admitted to have been taken out by the several white and Chinese companies, from 5th July to 31st October, amounts to the large sum of $90,000, which, considering the great loss of time caused by the freshet, and also the difficulty in obtaining lumber for sluice-boxes, is a considerable showing. It is almost certain that the actual total is more, but that yield can be given without any possible fear of exaggeration.”

In addition to the gold recovered in the Tulameen River and its tributaries such as, Granite, Slate, Cedar, and Lawless [Bear] creeks, substantial quantities of platinum were also recovered. The Tulameen River and the Amur River in Russia are the only two areas in the world where gold and platinum are recovered together.

The early miners had no idea what platinum was. The heavy whitish metal continually showing up in their concentrates was considered nothing more than a worthless nuisance and was simply thrown back into the stream or discarded into their tailings piles.

The quantities of this unidentified heavy whitish metal being recovered in such quantity was so much
of a curiosity that on December 23rd, 1886, Gold Commissioner, G.C. Tunstall wrote; “Mixed with the gold found in this district, and possessed of a greater specific gravity, is a whitish metal which, at first,was thrown away under the impression that is was worthless. For a considerable time no definite idea could be procured at to its value. Mr. Jensen, of Granite City, who forwarded a sample to a cousin of his at Manchester, England, for analysis, has kindly supplied me with the desired information. The metal is principally platinum, containing small quantities of iridium, osmium, and palladium. Its value depends on the percentage of the platinum, which varies in quantity, and may be considered as worth about $2.50 per ounce. The selling price at Granite City was 50 cents per ounce; so the purchasers will reap a handsome return from their investment.”

Gold Commissioner, G.C. Tunstall's reports for 1887 and 1888 also refer to the platinum; “I may mention that the production of platinum for the past season is estimated at 2,000 ounces. It now commands from $2.60 to $3 per oz, according to quality. It is a remarkable fact that many thousands of ounces of this rare metal has been thrown away by the miners as worthless, in consequence of the prevailing ignorance as to its true value. Last year samples were sent to various places, but the information elicited was so vague and contradictory that it only commanded 50 cents per ounce. The most favourable reply was received from Manchester, England, which stated that it would be worth $2.50 per ounce in Germany if consigned in large parcels; $3.50 per ounce is at present readily obtained for it in Portland, Oregon. The yield of platinum is estimated at 1,500 ounces. This is the only portion of British Columbia, wherein it is obtained in sufficient quantities to render its production a feature worthy of mention in the mining statistics. It is found associated with alluvial gold, and is composed of two grades, the magnetic and the non-magnetic. Competition has raised its value in the mines to $3.50 per ounce. An analysis has proved this metal to contain a certain quantity of iron, osmium, and inidium. The latter is exceedingly valuable, and is principally used for the tipping the points of gold pens; also, in a limited degree, for other purposes where great hardness and indestructibility are deemed essential qualities.”

In late 1892, a miner reportedly named Johansson, arrived in Granite City. It did not take long for the seventy year old prospector to gain a reputation for being the local platinum collector of the area. Not only did Johannson gather his own platinum, he also purchased it from other miners. The other miners were no doubt more than willing to oblige his eccentricity as most were simply throwing their platinum away anyway. From all accounts Johannson was well liked by everyone in the Granite City area although the miners were quick to good humorously label him, 'crazy', in response to his strange fascination for collecting the virtually worthless nuisance metal.

In 1895 Johannson decided to leave Granite City. In the three years he had been in Granite City, he is rumored to have collected several tins full of platinum. However, because of the weight of his collection he was unable to take it with him when he left. For safekeeping he reportedly buried his cache within sight of the front door of his cabin. The aging prospector left Granite City never to be seen or heard from again. His fate remains unknown.

Johannson felt secure in telling close friends roughly where he had buried his collection and that he would be back one day to retrieve it. In 1895, no one really cared exactly where 'Crazy Old Johannson'
buried his platinum collection, after all most miners were still throwing the 'worthless nuisance metal' away anyway. It was not until years after the fact, when platinum prices skyrocketed, that the location of Johannson's cache sparked serious interest. Like so many other boom towns of the gold rush era, Granite City was a virtual ghost town 15 years after John Chance discovered gold in Granite creek.

When fire broke out in F.P Cook store on April 4th, 1907, most of Granite City was destroyed by fire putting the finishing touch to the City's demise.

Some say that Johannson's cabin was one of the first to burn, suggesting that it was next to, or at least very close to, the F.P. Cook store. The F.P. Cook store was rebuilt and the remains of the building are near the cairn erected to honor John Chance's discovery. If Johannson's cabin was in fact beside or near the F.P. Cook store, there is a starting point for determining the general direction of the platinum cache.

Early accounts of Johannson's platinum cache state that the door to his cabin faced Granite creek. If his cabin was near F.P. Cook's store and the door of his cabin faced Granite creek, it would not be difficult to narrow down a tentative search area, provided both the location and position of the cabin is accurate.

It would seem logical for Johannson to want to keep an eye on his treasure even though there was little if any chance of it being stolen given the value of platinum at the time. Although Johannson could see his cache from the front door of his cabin he would also have undoubtedly taken the precaution of burying it where it would not be accidentally discovered by other miners. Line of sight combined with mining activities is again a significant indicator to reduce a tentative search area.

How much platinum did Johannson bury? No one really know for sure. Some say it was several tobacco tins full while others say it was coffee or lard tins full. One report suggests that Johannson poured all of the tins contents into a 20 gallon water bucket or barrel before he buried it.

What would Johannson's platinum cache be worth at current prices? No one can say for certain as no one really knows how much he buried. A one
gallon container full of platinum would weigh in excess of 150 pounds. Early 2011 platinum values were $1825.00 per ounce. Time era coffee tins were roughly equivalent to one-half gallon. Given this information it can only assumed each tin could tentatively contain 75 pounds of platinum. There are 12 ounces to a troy pound equating to an estimated 900 ounces. The possible value per tin buried is $1,642,500.00. If Johannson actually buried a 20 gallon container full of platinum, its value is estimated to be worth a staggering $65,700.000.00.

Johannson was not the only one who collected platinum in the Granite City area. Chinese miners also collected it even though they, like the rest of the miners at that time, had no idea of its value at the time. These miners kept their platinum in baking powder cans and hide them under the rocks of their digging or near their cabins. When the Chinese miners left with their gold, many of them often left their cans of platinum behind too.

Pioneers of the area say that some of the original Chinese miners came back to Granite City to retrieve their platinum caches between 1923 and1926, when platinum values soared to over $100.00 and ounce. With the fire destroying their cabins combined with other changes to landmarks and bearing that occurred while they were gone, many were unsuccessful in finding their stashes. There does not appear to be any record or account of the Chinese miners returning to the area when platinum was over $100.00 an ounce between 1917 and 1920 however this could possibly be attributed to the global effects of World War One.

Tony Lipkovits was a long time resident of Princeton very familiar with the local stories and legends. Tony worked at the Copper Mountain Mine during the 1950's and early 1960's and spent considerable time exploring the Tulameen and Similkameen Valleys. Along the way, Tony had befriended many of the original pioneers of the area who were still living at the time.

According to Tony, the 'old timers' firmly believed the stories of the platinum caches to be true. The only discrepancy in the legend, according to Tony, is that the pioneers always referred to the old prospector as the 'The Old Swede', he had never heard any of them refer to him by the name of Johannson.

Tony explored Granite City a couple of times and found some old coins and time era artifacts. Although he never found anything of significant value at Granite City, Tony said that one of his friends found a revolver and another found a pocket sized tobacco container with several ounces of platinum inside.

Whether it's Johannson's lost platinum cache or a long forgotten Chinese stash, a fortune in platinum may yet be 'found by chance', in the Granite City area.

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