Cox’s gold rush in the Monashee Mountains

The gold rush on Cherry Creek in 1862 in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia started as a result of a request to find a route through the mountains. It was probably the only one promoted by a gold commissioner.

Early in 1862, W. George Cox was instructed to find out if there were any routes through the mountains between the Okanagan and the Columbia valleys. The purpose was to find an all British route to the gold diggings on the eastern part of the colony.

Spruce Grove
Cox followed Douglas’ instructions and in July 1862 he went to the northern end of Okanagan Lake where there was an Indian community that the Okanagan’s called Nkama’peleks which means  “Head of the Lake”. When the early French Canadian fur traders arrived at Nkama’peleks they discovered a cluster of spruce trees near Tsin-th-le-kap-a-lax (Cayote) Creek, known as Irish Creek. To the fur traders the presence of spruce trees at this low elevation was very unusual and for this reason they called the place Taillis or Talle d’Epinette’s a name which translates into English as Spruce Grove.

In his report to Young, Cox states that he left “Talle d’Epinette’s” on July 17th for the purpose of exploring the road to the Columbia River. He had engaged two Okanagan Indians from Nkama’peleks as his guides and each guide brought one of his sons along. Cox wrote that these men were the only people in the country familiar with the route and their last trip to the Arrow Lakes was made three years earlier.

Highway 6 follows the trail
Between Vernon and Lumby, Highway 6 follows the same path of the old Indian trail as it does from Lumby to the old bridge site, below Shuswap Falls on the Shuswap River. On the left hand side of the map, Cox identified the “Head of Okanagan Lake” and three trails starting at or near the Lake, all of which pass through Vernon. All three trails combined to form a single trail just before crossing Coldstream Creek.

From Vernon to Lumby, Cox noted that the trail passed through “a rich fertile valley.” At Lumby, he indicated that a large swampy area covered the land to the hills in the south and up into the lower reaches of Creighton Valley. From Lumby to Shuswap Falls the trail passed along the north side of Rawlings Lake. Cox states that the standing and fallen timber east of Lumby made traveling difficult and in places the trail was “completely obliterated”.

William Peon finds gold
From his Indian guides, Cox learned that a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader named William Peon had discovered gold in 1859 near the northwest shore of Sugar Lake. William Peon was the guide for Father Pandosy and his group of settlers when they walked into the Okanagan from Colville, Washington in the fall of 1859.

Cox put his hand into the bank at Cherry Creek (also known Monashee Creek) and noted that “…fine scale gold was visible amongst the sand that I took out.” In his report he states that he took four handfuls of sand from the creek and washed it in his frying pan. He enclosed the gold dust from his washing with his map and covering letter to the Colonial Secretary.

On his return trip to Rock Creek as gold commissioner, Cox told some miners of his discovery. These miners immediately left for Cherry Creek, named after the wild choke cherries that grew along the banks of the creek. This news sparked a gold rush on Cherry Creek.