Lightning Creek - Then and Now


.W. Nicholson


Bill Cunningham, Jack Hume, and Jim Bell, like miners everywhere, were not content with known placer regions and were constantly on the lookout for new creeks.

In the early spring of 1861 the refreshing warmth of the spring sun refreshed the trio's sense of adventure and dreams of 'striking it rich.'  The meager returns they were making on their claim simply was not as appealing as what might be 'laying just over the hill'.  With little prompting the trio decided to go on a prospecting venture.  They packed up their gear, left their diggings on Jack of Clubs Creek behind and headed southward over the uncharted mountains in search of new and unexplored territory.

Of the three, Bill Cunningham was the most soft spoken and is said to have possessed a command of the English language more eloquent than other prospectors of the area.  Rather than using the more common and offensive language to describe difficulties and adversities encountered, Bill was known for simply saying; “Boys this is Lightning

The prospectors panned the creeks and streams they encountered along their way but found nothing that interested them.  They were almost ready to head back when they decided to descended the steep banks of an interesting looking creek.  Part way down Bill Cunningham lost his footing.  He ungraciously tumbled down the steep embankment and into the creek.  Sitting in the cold water unscathed, he hollered up to his companions, “Boys this is Lightning

Bill's articulate descent must have been very humorous to watch and produced many good hardy laughs as it was being retold around countless campfires.  Probably with good humored intent, local prospectors simply began referring to the creek as Lightning.  The name remains and is a time honored tribute to a Bill Cunningham's 'tumble into history.'  After weeks of what the three prospectors described as, 'an exceedingly rough and laborious journey', they returned to familiar ground.  Although Bill Cunningham, Jack Hume, and Jim Bell found and named Lightning Creek, they said they were unsuccessful in finding any placer rich ground during their prospecting trip.

Regardless of their claim, Lightning Creek gained notoriety for it's rich placer deposits and prospectors began flocking to the area, not long after the three men had returned.  It did not take long before Lightning Creek became a major focal point of mining in the Caribou.

Within weeks of the word getting out about the rich gravel beds of Lightning Creek, the stampede was under way.   Countless prospectors converged on the area lured by the irresistible call of gold.  Many of these fortune hunters abandoned their paying claims in other areas in hopes of striking it rich in this new ground.

In 1862, it was reported that “not an inch of vacant ground could be found on the main creek.”  Cabins began to spring up in the uncharted wilderness that Bill Cunningham, Jack Hume, and Jim Bell had explored only months earlier.  It was not longbefore small settlements were also being established to cater to the needs of the miners.

One of the best known settlements in the area at the time was Van Winkle, originally known as Stanley.  Countless miners and literally thousands of pounds of gold passed through this unique little town during its' heyday.                          

Lightning Creek ultimately produced more gold than any other creek in the Caribou with the exception of Williams Creek.  Lightning Creek was well know for producing coarse gold and nuggets of considerable size.

There were many famous claims on Lightning Creek that yielded impressive amount of gold.  The largest nugget found in the Caribou weighed 30 oz - 1 dwt and came from the Butcher claim in 1864.

British Columbia's first Minister of Mines Report of 1874, reports that four claims alone on Lightning Creek had yielded $479,890 that year.  The following year the Mines Report states that $500,000 was recovered from the creek however the clean-up from the hydraulic operations had not been done and therefore those returns were not included in the report.

Lightning creek has been hydrauliced and dredged, worked and re-worked, yet gold is still being recovered there to this day.
In the summer of 2008, a retired couple from Ontario drove out to B.C. for a holiday.  It was the first time they had both the time and money to do any traveling outside the province.  Not only were they looking forward to seeing British Columbia's scenery they were also especially looking forward to visiting Barkerville.

Like most tourists visiting the world renowned historical site, they tried their hand at gold panning for the first time and immediately became 'prospecting enthusiasts.'  Enchanted by the history of the Caribou gold rush combined with a little bite from the 'gold bug', they were inspired to purchase two plastic gold pans and extend their visit to the area for a few days.

The couple spent a couple of days simply traveling around to the lesser commercialized historical sites trying their hand at panning the creeks and streams as the explored.  It was on Lightning Creek, somewhere near the old town-site of Van Winkle, where they decided to pan an old tailing pile left by miners decades before.  In three days they recovered 7 ounces of gold.  The gold was fine but plentiful with flakes as large as 3 grams.

Loyal to her true character, Lightning Creek is still willing to show her true colors to those willing to take the time to probe her gravels.

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