“You may set your minds at rest, gentlemen. Your gold has not yet been melted down.” John Bowron, the Gold Commissioner at Barkerville, smiled at Joe Burr and Fred Hussey, and the two policemen breathed sighs of relief.
When news had reached Burr, the head of the Provincial Police detachment in Ashcroft, that the mysterious Martin Van Buren Rowland had sent a shipment of gold to Barkerville to be melted down into bullion, he’d been afraid that he had lost his last chance to prove that the nuggets didn’t come from Scottie Creek, as the miner claimed. He’d immediately sent a telegram requesting that the gold be held for examination, and had then communicated with his superior, Chief Constable Fred Hussey in Kamloops. The two men had traveled to Barkerville as quickly as they could.
“And I was intrigued by your request to examine the gold to see if it could be determined where it came from,” continued Bowron. “I have considerable experience in that area.”
“That is what we were hoping to hear, sir,” said Hussey. “As we said, we have reason to believe that the gold Rowland claims as his own was not from Scottie Creek, but was instead stolen by him from the BX Express stage in July last year.”
“Well, I’m afraid I cannot say whether or not this gold” – Bowron gestured at a bag of nuggets which sat on his desk – “came from the BX stage or not.” The policemen’s faces fell. “What I can say, without hesitation or doubt, is that if any of this gold came from Scottie Creek then I am a Dutchman.”
Bowron explained that he had examined the gold carefully. “Everything I observed about it – colour, feel, size, weight – indicates that none of it could have come from Scottie Creek. Indeed, I am almost certain that it comes from up to a dozen or so rivers and streams within a very few miles of Barkerville.”
“So it could well be the gold that was stolen last year, which was being shipped from Barkerville,” said Burr excitedly. Bowron shook his head.
“It is true that a strongbox shipment from Barkerville would likely contain the variety of nuggets, from many local sources, that we have here,” he said, “but it is impossible to say whether or not this gold is from that precise shipment. However, we can be sure that your Mr. Rowland will be here shortly, to collect his gold. I would suggest that a little judicious questioning might well reveal the truth of the matter.”
Thus it was that when Martin Van Buren Rowland arrived in Barkerville, doubtless expecting a short and uneventful stay, he found two policemen and the Gold Commissioner taking a very keen interest in him and his gold. He denied everything, sticking with his tale about the claim at Scottie Creek, but it was clear he was having difficulty keeping his story straight. When Hussey suggested that he might prefer to write down his account of how he came by the gold, Rowland jumped at the chance; an action which was to prove his undoing.
He was given paper and pen, and spent some time writing out an account of how he had prospected for gold at Scottie Creek and hit it lucky. When he was finished Burr, Hussey, and Bowron took it in turns to read the document. When they had finished they looked at each other in silence, which was finally broken by the Gold Commissioner.
“Gentlemen, I have lived here for almost thirty years, and gold has been a part of my life for all three of those decades. I have known gold in all its shapes and forms. I have studied it, cleaned it, prospected for it, and bought and sold it. I have known hundreds of prospectors, and am familiar with all the ways in which they coax gold from water and earth. And I will say to both of you what I am sure you already understand from having read Mr. Rowland’s statement.”
Bowron paused, and then a gentle smile spread across his face. “Martin Van Buren Rowland knows no more about prospecting for gold than does a newborn babe.”
Rowland, still protesting his innocence, was immediately arrested and sent to trial. As John Bowron had admitted, there was no proof that the gold in Rowland’s possession came from the BX stage robbery, and Rowland continued to deny his involvement with that theft. Bill Parker, who had been driving the stage when it was robbed, was unable to identify Rowland as the man responsible. “The voice sounds about right,” he said when questioned. “But I never got a look at his face. He’d covered it with a red bandana, and his hat was pulled down low. Best I can do is say it might be him.”
In the end there was not enough evidence to convict Rowland of having robbed the BX stage. The Scottie Creek story was, however, quickly shown to be false, and Rowland could not come up with a satisfactory explanation as to how he came to have $4,000 in gold which had clearly come from the area of Barkerville. He was convicted of having in his possession stolen gold for which he could not account, and sent to the Penitentiary in New Westminster.
Anyone hoping that Rowland would eventually reveal more about the case was disappointed, for he refused to speak of it. Two years into his sentence he succeeded in breaking out of prison, and was reported to have headed south, away from the region that had been his undoing.
Martin Van Buren Rowland was never heard from again.