Of the new El Dorado in Northern Ontario, Edwin Morris writes entertainingly in Pearson’s Magazine. He gives some readable stories of the discovery of the Porcupine Camp and of the earlier adventures of one Bill Woodney in the same region.
There is about as much uncertainty with regard to who first discovered gold in Porcupine as there is with regard to who discovered America. George Bannerman, however, appears to be the Columbus of the occasion. Bannerman, an old prospector, in July, 1909, scraped the moss from a bit of the surface of a projecting rock and saw wet flakes of shining gold staring up at him from the quartz. But the first great discovery
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was made by a gang of prospectors headed by Jack Wilson. Wilson, or one of his subordinates—no two reports on this point are alike—found the great “Dome” that bears Wilson’s name. The “Dome” is a ridge of rock, 550 feet long, 40 to 80 feet wide, 20 to 30 feet above ground, and no one yet knows how deep, that is heavily laden with gold. Pull the moss from it anywhere and there is gold. Three shafts have gone down 100 feet and still there is gold, with the bottom of the rock yet to be reached.
Nothing in the history of the goldmining better illustrates the eccentricities of gold-miners than the discovery of the “Dome.” The discovering party consisted of three men, headed by Jack Wilson. The expedition was financed by
a Chicago man named Edwards, who was engaged in the manufacture of lighting fixtures. EdAvards Avas to put up all the money in return for a half interest in anything that might be discovered. Wilson was to have a quarter interest, and each of the other tAvo an eighth.
For several Aveeks they prospected, first to the east of Porcupine Lake, in Whitney township, then to the Avest, in Tisdale toAvnship. They found gold and staked some claims. But the great “Dome,” although they camped, some of the time, within sight of it, almost escaped them. It Avas finally discovered, according to the story that is generally believed, only because one of Wilson’s subordinates stumbled across it. He was not a miner, knew nothing about geology, but did know enough to scrape off moss. Also, he had eyes. When the moss Avas off, he could not help seeing the gold. The great ridge that was henceforth to be known as the “Wilson Dome” had been found. Stakes were driven and claim laid to the huge boulder.
Now comes the first amazing feature of the discovery of the “Dome.” The discoverers, it would appear, knew little about gold mining. At any rate, none Avas a mining engineer, or even an experienced prospector for gold. Nobody knew whether the find was of great value. Apparently, none of them had the slightest conception of what the great rock Avas Avorth. At any rate, Wilson’s two subordinates, who wanted money, sold half interests in their “eighths” for $1,000 each. Each was thus left with a sixteenth interest in the mine.
The man who, according to this story, actually discovered the “Dome” had a passion for diamonds. During the preceding winter he had leaped across the aisle of a railway car and feverishly clasped the hand of a man who wore a big solitaire. The passenger was about ready to “knock his block off,” as one of the miners explained when he realized that the man who was gazing so intently at the ring only wanted to look at it. So, when the diseoA7erer of the “Dome” received the $1,000 for which he exchanged half of his interest in the mine, he at once put himself in communication with a Toronto jewelry firm, which took his $1,000 and sent him two solitaires, big enough to choke a chicken.
“After that,” said a miner, “he was
a great sight in the bush, Avith his big ring-s. He Avas the only man north of Cobalt Avho Avore'diamonds.”
Another good story is related of the way “Bill” Davidson, an old prospector, met with a piece of ill-luck, merely because a fat porcupine chanced to cross his path.
“Bill” was prospecting in Tisdale toAvnship—the heart of what has since been proved to be the gold country. Believing that the high spots were most likely to contain gold, he had climbed trees to see which spots were the highest. He had gone to the spot that seemed to be the most favorable, and begun staking off his claims. With SAvinging stride he Avas measuring off the distances—400 steps, 1,320 feet, the length of a claim. For eA7ery 100 steps he crooked a finger on a hand. He had crooked three fingers, and had but another 100 paces to go when a porcupine crossed his path.
“Bill” stopped both walking and counting and drew his gun. He could not resist, because the stomach had countermanded all orders of the brain. With a single shot he dropped the porcupine. But when he resumed pacing, instead of crooking three fingers, he crooked two. As a result, he staked, on the last claim, 100 paces more than the law allowed. If he had not stopped to shoot the porcupine, and thus lost count, he would have staked an additional claim, because he knew that all the ground included within his incorrect stakings looked good.
A few days later Ben Holinger came along and beginning at a point somewhat beyond where Davidson had stopped staking, staked claims back toward DaAÛdson’s property. When the Ontario mining officials had figured the matter out, it was found that the two adjoining claims of Davidson and Hollinger overlapped. In other words,it was discovered that Davidson’s last claim was unlawfully long.
Of course, Hollinger’s lawful claim stood, as against Davidson’s unlawful claim, and “Bill” had to give up part of his last claim. Moreover, he gave it up cheerfully. Perhaps he gave it up more cheerfully than he would have given it, if he had known how rich it was in gold. Maybe not. At any rate, the 100 paces of land that Bill didn’t get con-
contained what has since become known as the “Hollinger vein,” with enough gold in it to buy bacon for some time.
But what is said to be the best tale of all relates to Bill Woodney. The winter before Porcupine was discovered, Bill was in Cobalt. He was given a rich piece of gold quartz by a widow, whose husband had found it near Lake Abitibi.
Her husband and two other men whom she named had found the vein. They had not staked their claims and registered them with the government at Toronto, because such registration would have been a notification to the world that they had found gold in the region. Winter was near when the discovvery was made and they wanted to return in the spring, prospect the country thoroughly, and stake out everything in sight.
During the following winter, the husband of the woman who was so soon to become a widow was seriously injured in a mill. In a few days, he realized that death was near. He sent for the two prospectors who had accompanied him to Lake Abitibi. They came.
“Boys,” said he, “I guess I’ve got to die. I can’t go back with you in the spring to stake the claims. I want you to promise me that if I die you will give the old woman a third of what we found last year.”
The men promised. The wife heard them. But she didn’t believe them. Something in the way they said they would made her believe they wouldn’t. So, after her husband died, she told her friend “Bill” Woodney about it. She wanted to know what she could do.
“You needn’t do anything,” said Bill, “I’ll do it for you.”
The widow had told Bill who the men were. He knew them. He knew where they were working. Bill hired out in the same place. In the course of a few weeks, one of them told him that they were going to quit at a certain time in the spring and take a long canoe and hunting trip in the country far to the north.
That was good enough clew for Bill. Two weeks before the announced time for the men to start, Woodney quit his job, packed his kit and started for Lake Abitibi himself. Get a map of Upper Canada and you will see how rivers and
lakes are so interlaced that, by occasionally carrying a canoe a short distance, one can go, in summer, almost anywhere. Woodney knew the river by which they would enter the lake. His plan was to beat them to the lake entrance, hide in the bush at the opening until they came along, and then follow them—at a safe distance, of course.
When he reached the lake, he drew his canoe from the water, hid it in the “bush,” as Canadians call a forest, and prepared to wait. Bill wasn’t exactly nervous, but he knew he should not be reckless. His life, if he were found, would quite likely go out rather suddenly. His old companions of the wintertime would know he was following them. So, he built no fires, and ate concentrated food tablets*, and such other provender as he could prepare without making smoke.
On the eighth day of his vigil, as he was peering out from the bushes, he saw the sight that he waited so long to see. Down the placid river came two canoes, cutting their ways through the cool waters and leaving flatiron wakes in the rear. Bill hardly dared to breathe as they were going by. He didn’t dare move until sometime afterward. But when the canoes were mere specks in the lake, Woodney crawled from the brush, put his canoe in the water, loaded it with his provisions, axes and so on, and set out for the chase.
Late in the afternoon, Bill saw the two specks disappear in what seemed to be an inlet. He kept in the offing until dusk, paddled what he believed to be a safe distance past the point where the men disappeared, and then landed. A mile back from the lake was a high hill. Bill made for it. He knew he could best see from the hill, what was going on. He knew the men would build fires. From the hill, he might see the fires in the daytime, and thus know precisely where the men were. From the hill, he could hardly fail to see the fires at night.
The first night, there was no fire, but the next day Bill saw a blue spiral of smoke curling from the bushes back of the lake. His business was to watch the men, day by day and night by nighty and when their fires no longer burned, indicating that they had gone, go down to the place where they had been, find their staked claims, and stake others all around them.
For five days and nights, the fires burned. Then there was no more fire, day or night. Evidently, the men had gone. Bill wanted to be sure, so he waited three more days. Then he went down to the lake where his canoe was hidden, put it into the water, took pains to observe that there was on the lake no sign of human life, then slowly paddled his way along the shore, looking for the inlet.
He found it. From the lake, it looked like a crooked finger of water, perhaps twenty rods long, not more than 100 yards wide at the opening, and tapering down to a point. As silently as only a Canadian woodsman knows how to paddle a canoe, Woodney turned his craft into the inlet and began the ascent. Dewey crept into Manila Bay no more carefully than Bill crept up this arm of the lake. He felt no danger, perhaps1— why should he, the men were away?— but everything seemed to make it fitting that he should be quiet. Nature herself was quiet. The fathomless silence® of the far North were about him. Besides, he had waited long and traveled far to reach this day and place. Within the hour, he might see the vein, whence came the widow’s quartz.
Bill was paddling as quietly as he could when, at the “knuckle” of the water-finger—a point where the inlet was not more than 50 feet wide—he suddenly saw on the left bank—the two prospectors! The next instant, one of the men threw an ax at Bill’s canoe that all but cut it in two and sunk it as quickly as a mine could sink a battleship.
Woodney doesn’t know yet why he is alive. He seemed to have no chance to live. It was two against one and the one was in the water. So were his food, his weapons and his tools. If he were not murdered during the next second, it seemed certain that he Avould starve during the next month. Not that he thought out all of these things while he was sinking. He thought out nothing. All he did was to act first and think afterward. A few strokes with his hands and a few kicks with his feet put him against the bank. No rabbit ever took a trail faster than Bill took to the brush. He didn’t stop at the bank, like a dog, to shake himself. Probably he didn’t know he was wet. All he knew was that he wanted to get away, and he ran because he couldn’t fly.
Bill needed no wings. His legs answered every purpose. When he stopped running, he again seemed to be alone in the northland. He could not see the lake; nor the inlet; nor the hill from which he had watched the fires at night. Brush, brush, trees, trees—everywhere. They seemed like friends, too. Life-preservers—every one of them. Stretched under a bush, he lay stiller than he ever sat in a canoe. A crackling twig might betray him to his pursuers, if they were near. He lay this way until nearly sundown. And the next thing he knew, it was mbrning.
Sleep, and a little time to dull the edge of memory, make brave men of us all. Bill hardly needed the restoratives, yet they helped him. When he awoke, he arose. He didn’t know where he was, except that he was somewhere west of the lake, so he looked at the shadows. He knew the lake was in the opposite direction from which the shadows pointed. He had no particular reason for wanting to go toward the lake, but he started. The forest seemed like a racetrack when Bill sprinted in; it seemed like a cage, now that he was going out. But fate guided Bill’s feet, and before nightfall, he was again at his old watchtower—the top of the hill.
Home is sweet, even if there is nothing in it—and the top of the hill looked good to Bill. Now that hunger was beginning to bore hole® through his abdomen, it even seemed pleasantly tantalizing to look at the spot where, a few days before, he had eaten real food. And while Woodney, lacking even a piece of twine, was cheerfully trying to figure out how he could make a quail-trap, night came on and he saw-
The campfire, down by the inlet!
The rest of this story can be told io short sentences. Hunger, within the next forty-eight hours, drove Woodney into the very camp of the men who would have slain him. He crept up to them, late at night, and stole their food. He could not steal much at a time, but he stole enough to keep him alve. He stole, not once, but three times. The next time he went to steal, they were not there. They had pulled up camp and gone, bag and baggage. He took his life in his hands the next day and went down to see the claims they had staked. He didn’t find a stick, or a sign of a daim. He couldn’t even find anything himself
that seemed worth claiming. The men had been crafty, he reasoned, They had not camped near where they meant to stake. Perhaps after spying him in the inlet, and throwing the axe at him, they had decided not to stake anything until the next summer. He could only surmise. He could be certain only that the men had disappeared, that his trip had come to nothing, and that he was 300 miles from Cobalt, with nothing to ’’get home on but his feet.
“Doe” Cook is said to have looked somewhat thin and mussed up when he returned to Etah. Woodney says Cook was fat and well dressed, in comparison
with the way he (Woodney) looked when he returned to Cobalt. In thirty-six days, he had only seven quail, which he trapped Indian-fashion, and a handful of berries now and then.
The prospectors never returned. Whether they were upset and drowned in one of the many rapids; whether they fell to fighting and killed each other, no one knows. Nor have they ever filed a claim to ore-bodies along Lake Abitibi. The mine that the widow hoped would make her rich is lost again, and the only proof that it ever existed is the heavy rock, flaked with yellow, that her husband brought home to her.
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