If you see a dead man with an axe in his head, you may be close!
It was back in 1870 or so, when a group of prospectors came into Canada, from Montana, to search for gold along the North Saskatchewan River. Two of their number, Lemon and Blackjack, decided to strike out on their own, and left the group to explore the southwestern foothills of Alberta.
The two adventurers followed up the river spotting small pieces of gold. In an article published in the Alberta Folklore Quarterly in 1946, Senator Dan Riley, who was Mayor of the town of High River in 1906, wrote an account of the find this way:
"Blackjack and Lemon found likely showings of gold in the river. Following the mountain stream upwards toward the headwaters they discovered rich diggings from grass roots to bedrock. They sank two pits and, while bringing their cayuses in from the picket line, they accidentally discovered the ledge from which the gold came..."
(Note: A cayuse is a small native range horse used to carry gear)
Lemon and Blackjack were rich!
But all was not happy in gold country. Senator Riley continued:
"In camp that night the two prospectors got into an argument as to whether they should return in the spring or camp right there. After they had bedded down for the night, Lemon stealthily crawled out of his blankets, seized an axe and split the head of his sleeping partner. Overwhelmed with panic when he realized the enormity of his crime, Lemon built a huge fire and, with his gun beneath his arm, strode to and fro like a caged beast till dawn."
It was rumoured that some Blackfoot Indians witnessed the slaughter and reported it to their Chief, who, in turn, put a curse on the area of the deed. In a cruel turn, the Blackfoot were blamed for the murder rather than Lemon.
Shortly after the murder a robust trapper named John McDougall was dispatched to bury the body of Blackjack. Later, McDougall was hired to lead a party back to the mine area. On his way to meet the group of miners that hired him, he stopped at Fort Kipp, Montana and drank himself to death,
(Could it be the curse?)
Lafayette French, a prospector who initially funded Lemon and Blackjack, also went looking for the mine. It is possible that he succeeded as he wrote to a friend stating that he had found the mine. Unfortunately French was killed when a cabin in which he was staying mysteriously burned to the ground. He did not live long enough to share the secret of the mine’s location. (The curse strikes again?)
Even Lemon, who you would assume knew the location of the mine, had trouble. His was the anxiety he felt and exhibited when came close to the location of his evil deed.
Did Lemon and Blackjack actually find gold in Alberta. Geologists will tell you that the chances of the story being true are remote. Gold deposits are generally associated with volcanic activity, which is why BC is filled with gold while Alberta is not. Did Lemon and Blackfoot steal the gold from other miners? Did they find any gold at all?
Just to make the soup a little murkier, in 1988, Ron Stewart, a geological technician with the University of Alberta, and later author of the book "Goldrush, The Search for the Lost Lemon Mine", announced that he had found traces of gold in the Crowsnest Volcanics formation and a mini gold rush was on. The newspapers were full of reports that at long last the mystery of the Lemon Mine had been solved. However the gold found was in such poor concentration in the ore that it was uneconomical to recover. This would have been at odds with what Lemon reported as their find.
Fred Kuhn, and his wife, both of Winnipeg, spend 5 weeks per year looking for the Lost Mine. But Fred states that even if he finds it, it will remain lost! He stated in an interview:
"I might go up and get the odd nugget or two...but as far as I’m concerned, there’s more appeal in looking for it then probably finding it".
Seems that the Lost Lemon Mine will remain a Mystery of Canada!
Below is a Google Map of Coleman, Alberta. Happy hunting, but watch out for the CURSE!
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