The first alleged discovery of gold in the San Juan River started in 1777 when the First Nations of Vancouver Island had a Spanish trading Schooner (possibly Santiago) arrive on the Island's southwestern coast. The Spanish anchored in the Harbour and traded with the Nitinat Natives. The Spanish discovered gold in the San Juan River and tried to recover the gold. The Nitinat Natives slaughtered the Spanish expedition. There is some evidence to support this story. There also records of attacks on Spanish by First Nations.
Although local Indians had long known of 'pretty yellow stones' in the San Juan, it wasn't until 1859 that prospectors began to show keen interest in this area, but soon moved on disappointed after reporting only small quantities of the precious metal. There the matter might have rested had not a mysterious American named Foster made his dramatic debut. He first appeared in Port San Juan (Port Renfrew) with two companions. The close-mouthed trio had trekked overland from Victoria, picking and panning their way along the many streams. Somewhere high up the San Juan they made a rich strike.Taking the coastal boat to Victoria, they apparently went their separate ways and were more or less forgotten .
Then, in 1907, who should reappear but Foster, now known as Old Foster. The aging prospector mumbled something about one of his partners having died, the other having disappeared. Laying in a large stock of supplies, he hired Chief Peter, the White Man's Guide, as the sign over his door advertised, to take him upstream in the chief's canoe.
"Ten or 12 miles later," the story goes, he waved Peter in to shore, shouldered his pack and curtly ordered his guide back to town. More succinctly, he ordered Peter not to look back and only to return in precisely six weeks. For five summers, Foster made his annual pilgrimage to the San Juan's upper reaches.
Speculation as to the location of his mine started - no one doubted for a moment but that he was taking out gold. Some forsook their homesteads to pan "every little creek where bedrock could be uncovered, picking at cliffs and roaming all parts of the valley in efforts to wrench the mystery man's secret from the forest - but all in vain."Others tried to fallow Foster, who- at the first unnatural rustling of leaf, or the cracking of a twig, blazed away with his Winchester.
Even old Chief Peter tried his hand. But he wisely saw Foster onto the ship before he and his son hurried upstream to the spot where Foster usually landed. All they found were the remains of a few camp fires and a miner's pick. Foster's secret remained intact.
Finally, the more persistent agreed to pool their resources. When Foster arrived as usual the following summer, no one attempted to follow him. Punctual as always, he boarded the steamer six weeks later. But this time he had a friend. It would seem that even Foster, after a month and a half in the rain forest, welcomed a little company so they hired a man to ply him with drink, subtly lead him around to the subject of mining, then let nature - and liquor - take its course. Before long, Foster was flashing gold - not just nuggets, but solid chunks of it, hacked from a ledge high up the San Juan.
The plotters had overestimated their spy's drinking capacity. Foster had drunkenly babbled away his secret, all right, but, come next morning, his treacherous companion was suffering a king-size hangover. When his friends eagerly questioned him later, their agent couldn't remember anything beyond the size of Foster's gold!
Summers came, summers went, but Old Foster came no more. And the secret of his gold mine, high up in the San Juan, remains a mystery.