Fred Wells: Prospector & Adventurer

Prospector, miner, and adventurer Fred Marshall Wells was born in Whitefield, New Hampshire on August 4, 1861. There are conflicting reports as to how Fred ended up in British Columbia in 1882. One story tells of Fred crossing over the Rocky Mountains from Calgary on a pony “just to see what lay on the other side of the mountains.” Another story says he came into the Windemere area to look after a ranch owned by a fellow he met in Calgary and that he left his employer to go prospecting shortly after arriving. Either way, his compulsive mining career began once he arrived in BC and Fred Wells became one of the leaders of the Second Cariboo Gold Rush.

Full of energy and spirit, Fred was involved in a variety of mining enterprises – from prospecting on the Columbia River at Spillamacheen to developing the Nickel Plate Mine near Rossland – before he came to the future site of Wells. Fred was first interested in the Proserpine area in 1922, but was unable to finance exploration at the time. That same year William C. Drake, an artist and prospector from California, ventured to the Cariboo Mountains and found a large, exposed outcropping of gold-bearing quartz. Drake sent a sample for assaying that yielded results of $3520 in gold per tonne of quartz. Drake then met with a broker friend in Seattle who arranged for Fred Wells to meet with Drake in the Cariboo to look at Drake’s find. Drake did not arrive on the arranged date, however, and when he finally did show up a few weeks later Fred had already made a discovery of his own on nearby Cow Mountain.

Al Sanders, a resident of Seattle, had singlehandedly taken more than three thousand dollars from the famous Sanders Vein on the surface of Cow Mountain. Sanders was unable to continue with further development due to poor health, but had great faith in his old friend Fred Wells. Fred built a cabin and for the next four years successfully prospected Sanders’s claims, along with seven adjoining claims. He crushed the quartz by hand and then separated the gold by panning the resulting pulp and gravel.

Fred’s initial belief in these claims produced more than three thousand dollars. Fred later purchased the Rainbow claims at the northeast end of Jack O’ Clubs Lake from Sanders in 1927, as well as five adjoining claims owned by Charles Law and Bob Clark. Fred used stock in the newly formed “Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company” instead of cash to pay Sanders for his claims.

The original Cariboo Gold Quartz (CGQ) was located at the lower end of Jack of Clubs Lake, on the north side of Cow Mountain. The CGQ began as a syndicate, formed in the fall of 1926 by Dr. Will Burnett, Mr. Fred Wells, and Mr. Oscar Solibakke. It later became a limited company. Fred originally filled the role of Director, but later took on the lesser position of Manager in order to pursue other prospects.

Fred Marshall Wells was 65 years old when the Cariboo Gold Quartz venture began. While associated with the CGQ, Fred was in charge of all company development, and was known to display integrity to anyone who met him. Prospecting was Fred’s life and his dogged pursuit of gold made him a legend in mining communities throughout British Columbia. He was “Fred M. Wells, “the wizard of the Cariboo” [Evening Guide, September 2, 1933].

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