NEW LIGHT ON LOST LEMON GOLD DIGGING. – John Ewing Maintains Claim Never Existed. Refutes Story. Claims Lemon Murdered Partner, Took His Gold, Invented Claim, But Unable To Find It Again.
The Lost Lemon gold diggings have been for more than fifty years to prosectors of this district what the fountain of youth was to Ponce de Leon, and what the northwest passage was to Columbus. Subsequent information gathered after the “loss” makes it appear that they were probably just as ephemeral, too.
The matter was brought to public notice a month ago by a letter in this paper written by C.M. Edwards of Canal Flat suggesting the possibilities of rediscovery of the lost diggings in the placer claims staked last fall and this spring in the Flathead valley. Mr. Edwards’ account of the Lemon expedition runs as follows.
“A French Canadian named Lemon and an English sailor who went by the name of Black Jack set out from Wild Horse to prospect when that location was worked out some time in the 1860’s. Some time later Lemon arrived alone at Fort Benton, Montana, with considerable gold dust, but without his partner. His story was that they located gold on a creek, that Black Jack made for him with a knife, and that in self-defense he shot him with his rifle. Excitement ran high at Fort Benton, and a party was organized to look for the claim, with Lemon as guide. He soon became lost in the untracked wilderness, and threat of hanging were to no avail. The digging was never found, and Lemon died some years later in an insane asylum.”
John Ewing, old-time miner, and one of the East Kootenay’s two remaining prospectors from the period between the two Wild Horse gold excitements has disagreed completely with this story, and adds many details which put the Lost Lemon diggings in a new light. His story is garnered from conversations with many people who were in the Kootenays when the incident happened, and from a prospecting trip through the same country which was almost undisturbed thirty years later. Mr. Ewing believes that the Lost Lemon claim never existed, except in the mind of a man deranged first by consciousness of guilt of a murder, then later by delusions. His story is that Lemon was a typical bar room bloke of a mining camp, while his partner, Black Jack, was a steady and intelligent worker. These are the facts according to Mr. Ewan.
When the excitement of the 1860’s in the Wild Horse was on the wane, and the good claims were used up, Black Jack bought an outfit of three mules, two saddle horses and grub to travel southward prospecting new territory. He had worked for others during his time at Wild Horse and had saved what he had found, with the result that when he had his remaining gold dust weighed out by Michael Phillipps of a Hudson Bay post at Old Town on Perry Creek, after his outfit and grub were bought, he had $2000.00 worth. In search of a partner for the expedition he finally chose Lemon.
They set out prospecting along the river, eventually reaching the Elk which they crossed, then proceeding farther south to the South fork of the Elk, known as the Wigwam, which crosses the international boundary. From the head of the Wigwam they continued south to Grave Creek, which the trail of the Flathead follows. Then they continued to Beaver Creek, set up camp along the creek bed and prospected.
What happened next to Black Jack and Lemon can never be told with certainty. But not long afterward Lemon followed Grave Creek north and west till he reached the Little Round Prairie, the American extension of Tobacco Plains. He had no idea where he was, but continued north till he reached a Mission, where he told the priest he and his partner were eating breakfast when they heard Indian war whoops; he ran to get the horses, heard shots, and returned to the camp fire to find Black Jack shot. He assembled pack and horses and fled.
Black Jack was a Roman Catholic, and the priest assumed the responsibility of finding the body and giving him proper burial. He sent four Indian bucks and a squaw and they set out in search of the spot.
Lemon turned up later at Helena, Montana, arriving with $2000.00 worth of gold dust, which, he said, came from his diggings in the Flathead. Excitement simmered and a party of sixty men organized to go out with him to find the diggings. The party followed the east side of the mountains on an old buffalo trail, eventually reaching the Flathead valley. To the whole party it was obvious that this was unknown country to Lemon, and his peculiar behaviour aroused suspicion. Some thought he was stalling, deliberately misleading them, but serious threats of hanging brought no action, and the party eventually petered out.
He died in an insane asylum at Missoula, with the white walls of his cell webbed and shadowed with pencil maps of where the claim might be. Father Coccola, investigating the matter some thirty years later, said he found mention of the incident of Lemon’s arrival at the Mission in the priest’s diary. Ralph Ramsdell, a member of the Helena expedition, who was later located at Palmer Bar told of conversation with the four Indian bucks who found the body. Black Jack, they said, was sitting cross-legged before the dead campfire, with his plate in his lap. He had been shot through the back of the head with no warning, and had died instantly falling forward onto his plate. There was no gold on him. There had been warfare between the Kootenay and Stony Indians three years before, but ever since that time there had been peace.
Ewing and Young followed the Lemon trail from Wild Horse in 1891, a trail barely touched in the thirty intervening years. They could see where the two had set up camp, blazed a trail, and where they had moved dirt along the various creek beds. They located the squaw on a Montana reservation who was said to be a member of the party which found Black Jack. They took her to the general vicinity, but it was smoky and she was unable to locate the place.
Ewing says it was an obvious case of murder for gain, substantiating his claim with the fact that Lemon who said the claim was in the Flathead was obviously lost in unknown territory when the Helena party eventually reached that district.