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The Gold Brick Robbery

by Arthur Cosens

 

(as published in the Okanagan Historical Society's 7th Report)


A Log Cabin Near Victoria Mine, Camp McKinney, BC Archives

The “Cariboo Mine” at Camp McKinney of which Robert Jaffray was president, George B. McAulay, managing director, and Joseph P. Keane, Superintendent, was a paying proposition from the grass roots down.  James Monahan of Spokane was also a director of the Company and very instrumental in getting it underway after purchasing the property from the first owners, McKinney and Rice.

Monahan brought in the first unit of the stamp mill from the state of Washington, hauling it in with teams, and passing the customs at Osoyoos.  It was said that he presented a check for the amount of the duty which was accepted by Theodore Kruger, Customs Officer, although it lacked a signature, and that by the time it again reached Monahan with a request that he remedy this oversight the mill was running and producing enough bullion to meet all requirements.  This story was currently accepted, but truth compels me to add that it was with the consent of the Deputy Minister of Customs at Ottawa that the mill was brought in and erected before the duty was paid.

A certain amount of caution was usually taken when gold bricks left Camp.  Sometimes I have known them thrown into the jockey box of one of the wagons hauling concentrates or tailings to the railhead for shipment to the smelter at Tacoma.  In this case, the wagon would be met at its destination by one of the officials or trusted employees of the Company, the brick extracted and shipped, sometimes without the driver of the wagon knowing that he had been its custodian at all.  At other times it would be hidden in a sack of concentrates and the same procedure followed.  Then again it would be taken by the Superintendent on horseback, or driving a buckboard and followed by an armed employee a hundred yards or so behind.

The morning of the robbery in August, 1896, McAulay, who had been spending a few days in camp and was returning to Spokane, left Camp at 7 a.m., driving a buckboard and had the proceeds of the last clean up with him, some $14,000 in the form of three bricks, the value of the smallest brick being $1,600.  About two miles from Camp on the road to Rock Creek he was ordered by a masked man, who stepped from the woods with leveled rifle, to throw out the bullion and keep going.  McAulay obeyed until he reached the ranch of C.W. Hozier some eight or ten miles farther on.  Here he enlisted the services of Hozier’s son, Leonard, a boy of some twelve years of age, to ride to McKinney and notify us of the happening.

On being informed of the hold-up the Superintendent called out a number of the men and a thorough search of the woods in the vicinity was made, however, without result, nor was at that time the slightest suspicion attached to anyone.

Matt Roderick, who hailed from Tacoma, Washington, had been employed by the Company as a miner for some time.  He was a very reticent, quiet man, very well built, of medium height, and neither drank nor smoked, but was an inveterate gambler.  Every pay day he would get his check cashed, pay his bills at the store and immediately get into a poker game where he would usually stay until broke – sometimes over a period of two or three days – ignoring the time he was due to go on shift.  He lived in a cabin on the outskirts of the Camp and at the time of the robbery was laid off – ostensibly being sick.  The writer remembers that he was looking extremely pale, and owing to his indisposition there was nothing unusual for him to be in the store at 10 a.m. on the morning of the robbery.  Some days later he stated that he had better go home to Tacoma and would return when he felt better – he had had the usual gambling reverses and I believe was assisted financially by some of the boys to enable him to go home.  The stage left at 7 a.m.  Roderick climbed aboard, sitting next to the driver in the front seat.  He had with him a roll of blankets (it was customary, and I might say, a sign of respectability for a man to travel with his own blankets in those days).  Just as the stage was leaving Keane appeared, and Roderick said to him, “Will it be alright for me to come back to work when I feel better, Joe?” Keane replied, “You needn’t bother coming back, Matt.”  Hearing this conversation, I took it that Roderick’s work hadn’t been satisfactory and that Keane did not want him again for that reason.

Management enlisted the services of a detective agency in Washington.  First thing they did was to check up on the movements of the few individuals who had left Camp since the robbery – among them Matt Roderick.  They found that shortly after his return home he was paying up taxes on some property that had been considerably in arrears, and generally spending money freely.  This naturally threw suspicion upon him and his movements were continually watched.  Soon it became apparent that he was preparing for a journey.  The supposition was that he had brought out the small $1,600 brick with him, concealed in his blankets, and disposed of it and intended to return for the two larger bricks, which he would probably have cached in the vicinity of his cabin.  The Camp was notified that Roderick was headed north and instructed to keep a close look out for him.

There were two roads leading into camp McKinney, from the south and southwest, one from Anarchist Mountain, known as Sidley Road, the other, from the Okanagan, known as the Fairview Road.  These roads converged about two miles from Camp.  At this point of vantage an Okanagan [Native], one Alexine from Inkameep, selected for his intelligence and woodcraft, was stationed with instructions to notify the Superintendent of the approach of anyone unknown to him coming toward the Camp after dark.

On the evening of October 26, 1896, at about ten o’clock the writer had just closed the store and adjourned to Hughie Cameron’ s saloon, and was watching the various card games.  Two provincial constables, Louis V. Cuppage and Deane were present, also J.P. Keane, when a knock came at the door.  It was Alexine with a request to speak to Keane.  The message was, “He is coming.” We left the saloon hurriedly for the store where the writer at their request provided the constables with six-shooters.  It was an absolutely pitch black, dark night.  Keane, who was a very alert man of very quick action, was on his way, followed by Thomas Graham, before the constables had finished selecting their weapons.

Less than a mile from Camp, Keane overtook Roderick walking in the same direction leading his horse.  As he was upon him almost before he realized it owing to the darkness, he accosted him, “Is that you, Matt?”  Roderick wheeled around.  Involuntarily the muzzle of the rifle, which Roderick was carrying in the crook of his arm, was raised.  Keane thought he intended to shoot, and quick as a flash discharged his own gun.  Roderick fell dead, shot through the heart.

Roderick had left camp broke, but on the body about $100 cash was found, and under his coat a canvas harness with two pockets, one under each armpit, of just the right size to accommodate the two larger gold bricks.  The jury’s verdict was “justifiable homicide”.  There was not the slightest doubt as to the guilt of Roderick.  Keanes was tried for manslaughter the following year, and sentenced to serve one day’s imprisonment, which had already been served.  As it is, the bricks were never found – they still await someone to stumble upon them in the jack pines at Camp McKinney.

Freighters’ Barn at Camp McKinney, from left to right: Henry Nicholson; Sydney Cosens, storekeeper; Charlie Jones, later at Fairview’s Golden Gate Hotel; Lorne Sanborn, clerk in Shatford Bros. Store; Arthur Cosens, partner in Cosens Bros. Store; Johnny Blough, miner; Andy Kirkland, stage driver; Henry Main, druggist; Hughie Cameron, host of Hughie’s Hotel and “Father of Camp McKinney”.  BC Archives Collection