June/July 2010

Finding silver in Keno

Striking it big after the Klondike Gold Rush

By C. Baldwin

Louis Beauvette

Louis Beauvette, circa 1930s

It was in the fall of 1918 when Louis Beauvette, an expert woodsman and occasional miner, came across rocks containing silver ore while hunting in the hills above Duncan Creek in the backwoods of the Yukon. He began tracing the rocks further uphill to find their source, but it grew cold and began to snow. He was forced to turn back, determined to return the following year.

Prospectors had long known that silver existed in the Yukon, but few had sought after it. There, gold was everything. It was not only worth more than silver but had more glamour as well. The Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing just ten years earlier and the discovery on Bonanza Creek in 1896 began a stampede that brought some 40,000 entrepreneurs to the ramshackled boomtown of Dawson City.

Like all booms, it did not last. First, gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska, and by the early 1900s, the largest gold deposits in the Klondike had begun to be picked clean. The rest of the stampeders were eventually drawn away to fight in World War I. For a time, copper mining responded to wartime demands, but this, too, tapered off when the war ended. The Yukon economy was on the verge of collapsing.

Luckily, a handful of men stuck around to keep searching the creek beds and hills for the next big find. They were in a relatively good position — Yukoners were becoming stampede-proof after too many false rumours, and there were far fewer prospectors around. The Duncan Creek area where Beauvette was waiting out the winter was nearly deserted.

Just as the snow cleared in early July, he heard that an investor named Fred Bradley was in the area to consider the Lookout Mountain property. Hoping to entice him with his own find, Beauvette quickly set off to claim his silver. He soon found the ore and tracked it to its source, where he collected samples and staked a claim. But as he approached the town of Mayo, he heard the whistle of a steamboat as it left for Dawson — he had missed Bradley by mere minutes.

Beauvette was in a bind — he needed his samples assayed, but he also wanted to prospect the hill more thoroughly before too many others heard about his find. He approached Jack Pickering, whose Lookout Mountain property Bradley had just turned down, and who was now quite broke. The two agreed to work together. Pickering would take the samples to Dawson and catch Bradley, and Beauvette would head back to the hill.

Pickering left on the next steamboat, but when he got to Dawson he was too late: Bradley was already gone. Pickering instead turned to the trusted Alfred Kirk Schellinger, an assayer for the Yukon Gold Company. Schellinger was so impressed with the samples — among the richest he had ever seen — that he packed some supplies and left with Pickering on the next steamboat back to Mayo. They were now a party of three.

Meanwhile, Beauvette had enlisted James Anderson, an experienced miner and a colleague of Pickering’s, to help him prospect the hill. When everyone met up in Mayo, they had become a party of four. One more man was required. Together, they hired the eccentric “Pegleg Scotty” Mowatt and his two-horse team to carry supplies up the hill in one of Pickering’s wagons.

Finally, after a brief incident in which one of the horses left camp during the night and Mowatt set off on wooden leg to find it, all five men stood together on top of Beauvette’s hill. Schellinger surveyed the area, and Beauvette and Anderson prospected more thoroughly, finding another silver vein. Together, on July 29, they staked and claimed the hilltop. There were six claims among them, including Beauvette’s original Roulette claim — a nod to prospecting’s gambling spirit. Following his lead, Pickering named the spot after another gambling game: Keno.

Schellinger returned to his office in Dawson to assay the silver and to sell the claims to Yukon Gold on behalf of the entire party. A rush to Keno Hill followed; the next year over 600 claims were filed and over 100 men were employed on the Yukon Gold property. The town of Keno City was settled and by the middle of the 1920s, the Keno mines had brought the once-flagging Yukon economy back to life.

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