It was bitterly cold in the winter of 1861 and William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz only had time to stake a claim at an unnamed creek before being forced to turn back. He named the creek after himself as a way of marking the claim. Sensing that Dutch Bill had found something big, Ned Stout and three others travelled by snowshoe to ‘William’s Creek’ and they too found gold.
Word soon got out and by the first week of March 1862 many more prospectors soon arrived at Williams Creek. They built shafts on the hillsides and as the ice retreated from the creek itself, it became possible for all claims to be worked. Shacks and business establishments were built close by and a town emerged with stores, restaurants and saloons.
Assistant Gold Commissioner Nind based in Williams Lake was overworked with covering the entire Cariboo district as more mining claims were being registered and disputes needed to be resolved. Nind’s health began to suffer and he requested a leave of absence in early May.
Thomas Elwyn, the former magistrate for Lillooet, was named Nind’s replacement and upon seeing the amount of work to be done, recommended that the Cariboo be divided into two districts. Peter O’Reilly was assigned the western district while Elwyn was appointed head of the eastern section which included the area of Williams Creek.
By the end of May, 1862 more than twenty businesses were established to serve the needs of the prospectors who numbered over five hundred. Soon though, the deplorable state of the trails made it nearly impossible to bring supplies.
High food prices proved to be too much of a hardship for many miners who had arrived with a small amount of provisions on their backs and little money. Many left the Cariboo altogether.
Those miners who pooled their resources were able to stay and reap the profits of their claims. In one month, Cunningham & Company took out gold at the rate of three thousand dollars every twenty-four hours. Steele & Company’s claims yielded two hundred ounces a day.
On the last day of August, Judge Begbie arrived and the first Grand Jury was assembled in the newly constructed courthouse. Among the topics discussed was a name for the town. The jury recommended it be called ‘Elwyntown’ after Thomas Elwyn.
‘Elwyntown’ didn’t make it on the map. Instead, Lieutenant Palmer, in his role as Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Works, decided upon the name Richfield.
Richfield retained its significance even as Barkerville grew and the neighbouring towns of Cameronton and Marysville were established in 1863 and 1864.