Monday, July 1, 2013

Claim Jumpers

On Friday, I said I was going to tell you about the case of Robert Sproule. And so I am!

In 1881, Robert Sproule staked a claim on a ledge of a galena cliff that rose above the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake. (Galena is a mineral source of lead. It may also contain up to 1% silver in place of lead. This also makes it an important source of silver) Sproule named his 45 metre high and 6 metre wide claim 'Bluebell Mine'.

Staking this claim wasn't as easy as some may think. According to the provincial Minerals Act, a claim could not be left unattended for more than 72 hours. However, the nearest claim office was more than 700 kilometres away so Sproule camped out on the ledge all summer. Then, when the mining season ended in October, he left and returned June 1, 1882. On July 31, the District Gold Commissioner William Fernie dropped by his camp and Sproule was successful in registering his claim.

Here's a photo of Galena, taken from the Mineralogical Association of Canada website.
In 1879, an unscrupulous prospector by the name of Henry Doan convinced wealthy San Francisco politician and businessman George Hearst, father of publisher William Randolph Hearst, that Doan had obtained rich silver samplings from the same ledge. (This ledge was considered to be economically inaccessible due to the lack of nearby road or rail.)

So Hearst travelled by boat up the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers and crossed Kootenay Lake to get his own samples from the area. Those samples proved to contain mostly lead and Doan was forced to admit that his samples were a silver mine in Colorado.

However, Hearst had noted other rich natural resources in the area and was planningto exploit them. With his partner, George Jennings Ainsworth and Ainsworth's son, Hearst sent a group of prospectors back to the Kootenay area. 

Thomas Hammill led a trio of prospectors to the area and they staked numerous mining claims and set up camp at the site of a hot springs on the west side of Kootenay Lake. Directly across from Sproule's claim.

Sproule was actively guarding his claim but long before the end of the season, he fell ill. Following proper procedure, Sproule filed a former request for a leave of absence with Gold Commissioner Fernie. His request was granted and Sproule left for Bonner's Ferry in the south.

Across the lake, Hammill had been waiting for such an opportunity. As soon as Sproule had been gone for three days, Hammill rowed across the lake and restaked Sproule's Bluebell claim, - renaming it the 'Silver Queen'. On November 15, 1882, Hammill somehow managed to get Fernie to legally register the claim.

Sproule returned to the Bluebell in the spring of 1883 and found that Hammill had jumped his claim.

The plot thickens! This honest man who is trying to do everything legally has just gotten shafted by the system. Wednesday I will tell you more on this story. I will consult the Kootenay Lake history page where I got my information today.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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