Unsolved Mysteries of the World
The Lost Lemon Mine S01E14
This is Unsolved Mysteries of the World, Season One, Episode 14, The Lost Lemon Mine
The legend of the Lost Lemon Mine is one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of the Canadian Rockies with adventure, murder, madness, ghosts and a curse at the heart of the story.
The tale has many versions but we will stick to the most plausible one that begins in 1870 in Tobacco Plains Montana where a group of prospectors hearing that there could be gold in the rocky mountains of what the British were calling the Northwest Territories and present day province of Alberta in Canada.
Two men from the group, Frank Lemon and his partner, a man known as “Blackjack”in the modern telling of the story, or Dancing Bill in previous accounts, set out on a route of their own to the Highwood Range. As they passed through the valley near The Highwood River they noticed outcroppings of minerals that would indicate that just below them were most likely veins of gold.
Not wanting to share the discovery with the others, the two men made quick work and located a small vein and took samples from the rock. They would need some samples to take back to an assayer to determine the quality and also to convince wealthier individuals to bankroll the mining effort.
Once they had collected a sufficient number of ore samples, the pair set up camp for the night. They planned to begin heading back to Montana early the next morning.
Sometime during the night, Frank Lemon, convinced that Blackjack was going to cut him loose from the claim, took a pick-axe and drove it into Blackjack as he slept killing him in after several violent swings.
But Blackjack remained. Frank Lemon stumbled backwards and stayed close to the fire all night as the vision of Blackjack haunted him. Frank Lemon later stated that glowing eyes watched him from the darkness and the translucent form of Blackjack was haunting him throughout the night and into the next day. Frightened, he set off for Tobacco Plains and confessed his evil deed to a priest.
The Priest indicated that perhaps the only solution to stop the haunting was to give Blackjack a proper burial and a man named John McDougall was sent north to find and bury Blackjack’s corpse.
After following Lemon's directions, he found the corpse and buried him in a shallow grave covered with stones. Upon returning to Tobacco Plains, he learned that the burial did nothing to stop the tormenting of Lemon. The Priest indicated that not only did Jack Lemon appear insane, but he was at times possessed by some sort of evil spirit, perhaps one that previously convinced him to carry out the murder itself.
But insane or not, possessed by evil spirits or not, the lure of gold was too strong and a group of men encouraged Jack Lemon to accompany them back to the area to find the lost gold. At first, Lemon seemed almost normal, but as he drew closer to the area where he murdered Blackjack he started going insane and when he reached the area he was totally uncontrollable. One man subdued Lemon, and rode back to Tobacco Plains with Lemon bound to a horse. Once in Tobacco Plains he seemed less frequently bothered by the spirit of Blackjack and what other evils bothered him. He decided to travel to Texas to live with his brother, but years later, the ghost of Blackjack followed him there and he was forever tormented by the haunting.
The men who were looking for Lemon's lost gold were unsuccessful. Several fell ill, while others gave up early when no sign of gold, or indications at least, that gold may be present were noted. The entire expedition was a bust.
McDougall, the trapper who had buried Blackjack a year previous was hired to lead a party of prospectors back to the site to find the gold. On his way to meet the group he stopped in Fort Kipp, Montana. He would never leave this place; he ended up drinking himself to death taking the location of the mine with him to his grave.
Lafayette French, the one who funded the original expedition went searching on his own for the mine. He searched in vain for close to 30 years with the help of the Blackfoot tribe. On a few of his expeditions, he lost some of his men to unknown sicknesses.
Over the course of many years many prospectors tried to relocate the lost gold but all came up empty handed or ended in disaster – forest fires, death, illness and even another prospector coming down with the same type of possession noted in Lemon.
Upon returning from his last expedition, he wrote a cryptic letter to a friend that stated he had found the location and would explain everything when he had the opportunity. After mailing the letter he made camp in an old log cabin close to the town of High River. Mysteriously that night his cabin was burned to the ground, with French inside. The location of the mine, once again, gone.
Rumours swirled that a medicine man with the Blackfoot tribe had been watching Lemon and Blackjack and also witnessed what Lemon had done and had put a curse on the gold and the general area.
Even natives in the area, throughout the decades also tried to find the mine, but were fruitless in their search.
Geologists have always claimed the chances of the story being true are remote because by contrast to say, the neighbouring province of British Columbia, Alberta has very little gold due to the lack of prehistoric volcanic activity in the area.
However, in the mid-1980s, Ron Stewart, a geological technician for the University of Alberta in Edmonton, began a serious search for the lost lemon mine and the $7 Billion dollars in gold it is keeping secret.
'It turns out there is a basis of truth for the old legend,' Stewart said in an interview. 'I'm still in a state of shock.'
It took Stewart 18 months to determine the mine's location. He said there was mention in the various stories and diaries he read of the Crowsnest Pass Lake, located near the site of the Lost Lemon Mine. Across the mine's upper limit is the Racehorse Creek, which was also mentioned in early accounts of the mine.
An account of the prospectors' trip written in an 1870 edition of the Rocky Mountain Daily Gazette provided Stewart with additional information, suggesting to him the mine was located in the Crowsnest Pass near the town of Coleman.
Stewart believes he has pinpointed the mine's location and has conducted a number of sample studies
estimating there are 17 million or more ounces of gold in a 150-square-mile area near the town of Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass.
The bonanza discovered by Blackjack and Lemon was said to exist in acidic, volcanic rock, much like the gold formations in the state of Nevada.
According to Stewart, geological maps revealed there was only one area in the Crowsnest Pass with volcanic rock.
Last September, Stewart collected a number of samples from a six mile area near Coleman that were later found to contain 'significant gold values,' including some very rich samples taken from along the highway that runs past the town.
'I was completely taken by surprise,' Stewart said. 'The gold was precisely where you would expect to find it. It was much too easy.'
Stewart said he has taken a lot of ribbing about looking for lost mines, but figures he and partners Bob Cantin, an Edmonton businessman, and T. Gilbert Cook, owner of a lumber company, are 'right on the money.'
The three formed a private company called Crowsnest Metals which staked a 25-square-mile claim near Coleman. An adjacent claim was filed by Ventana Equities, a public company that lists hockey legend Wayne Gretzky as a director.
Stewart said his claim, which covers only a small portion of the 150 square miles of gold-bearing formation, is probably the easiest to mine because it is closest to the surface. In other areas, the gold is found at depths of 1600 feet.
However, it is reported later, after a frenzy of gold fever, the gold that was found was poorly concentrated in the ore, and uneconomical to recover.
And today prospectors of various backgrounds continue to search for the Lost Lemon Mine as its location still remains a mystery.
However, an old prospector with the alias Jimmy White believes he has an answer to the unsolved mystery. Jimmy White told historians he came to Fort Steele in British Columbia at about age 12 in the year 1885 and prospected for gold. Here, he says he had met Jack Lemon on several occations and found him to be ornery and tended to spend all his money on liqueur.
One time, Jimmy remembered Lemon had came to Fort Steele to seek help from a bullet wound in his leg to which the North West Mounted Police investigated. Lemon is said to have told the NWMP that Indians had attacked him and his partner Blackjack and that Blackjack was killed. Jimmy remembered that Blackjack was Lemon's partner but he had sometimes gone under the name McGowan. Once patched up Lemon packed up and said he was leaving for Montana.
According to Jimmy he learned that Blackjack was not dead at all and that after an argument and a shootout over the gold, Blackjack believed he had killed Lemon and rode out to California where he admitted himself into a Sanitorium to cure his ailing lung disease and a case of smallpox. His caretaker, a man named McIver, is said to have nursed him back to health and the two became friends. Blackjack drew a crude map of the location of the lost mine and the two planned on retrieving the gold together but it seems McIver made this journey alone. It is not known if Blackjack passed away during his time recovering in the Sanitorium.
McIver is said to have travelled to Fort Steele and met up with a surveyer by the name of Bill Essay who helped him pinpoint the location of the map.
The map location led to a cabin, who Lemon and Blackjack were using. McIver was instructed to dig up the floorboards to find a stash of gold. The gold was said to never come from a lost mine in Alberta, but was stolen gold, as both Lemon and Blackjack were bushwackers who would steal gold from prospectors in BC and hide it in the cabin to later transport and spend in Montana.
White indicated the cabin was only about 15 miles from Fort Steele along a creek, however, he indicted the gold was long gone, dug up and spent by McIver.
According to White, Lemon made up a story of a mine so that others seeing him use gold to buy provisions, alcohol and prostitutes would not cause suspicion of his criminal deeds.
He says that when Lemon would not identify the location of the mine to others and the growing suspicion that he had murdered Blackjack (who remember went to California), he fled to Montana and then disappeared to history.
Native storytelling tells us the mine location was most likely further north in Alberta, most likely by Morley, Alberta, however, no gold has ever been found in this vicinity. There are stories of tribal elders holding nuggets of gold, and being sworn to protect the location of the mine, however, even Natives such as Chief Bearspaw tried to locate the gold for decades with no luck. Chief Bearspaw said he knew of no gold on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and therefore often travelled into British Columbia to seek out the treasure. He later accepted the fact that the whole story may have been fabricated and that both Lemon and Blackjack were simply thieves with stolen gold.
This mystery it seems, will forever attract prospectors to the region as there is a group currently investigating volcanic rock formations around Coleman and Blairmore Alberta in hopes to find the lost treasure and perhaps when they do find some evidence another gold rush will commence.
Until then. Happy Hunting.
Please join us next time on Unsolved Mysteries of the World as we unravel the Zachary Ramsay Disappearance. If you enjoyed this podcast, please remember to subscribe, rate and review.