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The Photographic Record of the Boundary Survey - Rock Creek

This Rock Creek photograph may be one of the earliest documented photographs of the early mining settlement at Rock Creek, British Columbia. Like the Grande Prairie photograph, it was created in 1860, by the same survey photographers, as they traversed the Nehoialpitku River Valley. The photo appears in at least two online archives. The Library of Congress print is captioned (The Gold mining town of Rock Creek, British Columbia 1860). A cropped version of it appears at the top of this page ... and a full-sized copy can be previewed here: (Link) 

The Victoria & Albert Museum Archive print is similar but includes a small label attached at lower left: (No.35 Town at Rock Creek, Tenasket-Ville, Newhoialpitu River). The Tenesket-Ville reference is unclear, and certainly curious.

About the Rock Creek Mining Camp

As the gold discoveries and reserves in the Fraser and Cariboo were appearing to fizzle out, American "Gold Diggers" began looking at other lesser known discoveries in the Similkameen, Okanagan and the Boundary. The Rock Creek mining camp was situated just north of the international boundary along the survey pack trail shown in white on the annotated map below. (full-sized version here) Gold diggings were discovered here by a Canadian, Mr. Adam Beam, in October 1859 and within a year there were estimated to be nearly 500 miners operating at the Rock Creek camp, many of them former Oregonians.

View a historic 1861 map of gold discoveries in the British Colonies (Link).

The Douglas government had recently accommodated the deluge of miners to the Fraser Valley, establishing law and order, a system for regulating customs duties, taxation and the distribution of crown land. But irregularities in the boundary survey perpetuated the confusion in the West Kootenay-Boundary. While Boundary Commission officers were contemplating the problematic survey, settlers were building cabins on both sides of the "questionable" border at Boundary Creek, and gold miners continued their operations at Rock Creek, staking claims and avoiding payment of customs duties, royalties or taxes, not surprisingly being quite anxious when suspicious official-looking visitors happened to venture into their camps. Their worst fears were soon to be realized when James Douglas made plans to investigate the matter personally in 1860, organizing an expedition to Rock Creek along the recently surveyed route of the Dewdney Trail to address these issues.

View a historic 1859 map showing the first leg of the Douglas reconnaissance route to the Similkameen. (Link)

The following clipping from Governor James Douglas' Despatch No.14 (paragraphs 01-12 omitted) to the Duke of Newcastle, Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs, describes his visit to Rock Creek in 1860. (note the curious reference to a "Colvile River" at its junction with Rock Creek):

Douglas convened a meeting with the miners and announced the appointment of Mr. William J. Cox as "Justice of the Peace and Assistant Gold Commissioner for the District of Rock Creek; and that he was duly authorized to punish offences, to attend to the maintenance of civil order, to the registration of mining claims, and to receive all dues payable to Her Majesty's Government". The meeting was amicable and Douglas used the opportunity to inform the miners about the virtues of being law-abiding and tax-paying British citizens. He then left the Boundary Country leaving Mr. Cox with the "less pleasant task of levying the regular customs charge on goods found at Rock Creek which had not been entered for importation".

View Mr. William J. Cox  J.P. (Justice of the Peace) account of conditions at the mining camp in 1861 (Link)

Charles Wilson at Rock Creek

A visit to the Rock Creek mining camp is also documented in the daily journal of Lieut. Charles Wilson, a Royal Engineer and a secretary to the Boundary Commission, charged with the procurement of provisions, keeping of records and payment of wages and other accounts. He is portrayed in a rare photograph taken at Fort Colville (Link), another one of the official 100 existing survey photographs, dressed in a buckskin outfit with (in his own words) "skull cap, leather coat & trousers & moccasins; and my old gun which has been my constant companion". Wilson accompanied Captns. Haig and Darrah and their survey team of sappers as they ventured into the BC southern interior, embarking from Victoria by boat in 1858 to Astoria and Fort Vancouver, then following the Columbia River to Fort Colville and northward into the southern BC interior over the next three years.

View an excerpt from his journal describing his observations at Rock Creek as he approached it from Lake Osoyoos in the west, just prior to the visit of Governor Douglas' party (Link). His complete journal can be found in the British Columbia Archives in Victoria.

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