THE YEAR 1858, THE REASON... GOLD!
This was a time when over 30,000 people immigrated to British Columbia (New Caledonia). Many came from the California goldfields where 250,000 people were waiting for the next “rush”. History and grave headboards on grave sites indicated that the fortune seekers came from all corners of the world.
Fine gold along the bars of the lower Fraser River was the initial draw but many people knew the larger nuggets had to be upstream, too heavy for the creeks and rivers to carry. After following native trails and fur trader routes along the Fraser the gold seekers made strikes on the Horsefly and Quesnel Rivers in 1859. In 1860 the city of Quesnelle Forks came into being at the junction of the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers.
Not far upstream from Quesnelle Forks, “Doc” Keithley discovered gold on a creek which now bears his name, and the gold seekers who followed him established the town of Keithley near the mouth of the creek. Spurred on by gold fever, Keithley, Weaver and several men ventured up and over the Snowshoe Plateau (the same route we hike today) to discover gold on Antler Creek.
Keeping a new gold strike secret was impossible and by the spring of 1861, over 1200 miners were mining on Antler Creek and another city “Antler” was built. There was a sawmill which produced the first commercial lumber used in the Cariboo for the construction of buildings at Antler City. To provide entertainment for the newly rich miners, one of the first race tracks in British Columbia was marked out with boulders on nearby Maloney Flats. The discovery of gold brought with it a fair degree of affluence; one reads of thoroughbred racehorses being imported from the States and Great Britain to enhance the racing at Maloney Flats. A latecomer to the Antler rush was William Dietz or “Dutch Bill”. By this time there was little ground not already claimed or mined out, so he and several other miners followed Antler Creek up to the alpine of Bald Mountain. Again, this is the route we hike today). They eventually descended into a valley and reached the creek that was to carry his name, “Williams Creek.” As on most creeks that produced lots of gold, another new town came into being, Richfield. Soon miners such as Bill Cunningham, Billy Barker and John Cameron made large strikes, and the towns of Barkerville, Cameronton, Marysville and Grouse City developed.
It is recorded with a certain degree of latitude that thousands of people were in the area. The long cold winters that allowed the wealthier people to go to warmer climates may account for the population discrepancies. As time passed the gold waned and Barkerville eventually became the only surviving town, now a restored gold rush attraction and the northern terminus on the 1861 Gold Rush Pack Trail.
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