by Bruce Cherney (part 5 of 5)
An article in the January 31, 1912, Manitoba Free Press declared: “The turkey mine at Minitonas is no more. The last straw was broken today (January 30) when one of the nuggets found in the crop of one of Elliott’s turkeys was assayed by an expert, revealing the fact that it did not contain one grain of gold, and when given the acid test melted away like a snowball in boiling water.”
The newspaper reported that some experienced miners had wanted to put down a shaft beside the old well at Jack Elliott’s farm to determine the nature of the deposit in the soil. It was near the location where Elliot’s turkeys had been foraging, which allegedly resulted in pieces of gold being swallowed by a turkey(s). It was claimed that Elliot had found the gold in the bird’s crop when killing and dressing his turkey flock for the Christmas table.
Elliott refused to allow them to bore into the ground and the miners subsequently became suspicious of the motive behind his refusal.
I.J. Armstrong, who had participated in several “real” gold rushes, including the Hope Fields and Klondike, in a letter to the Winnipeg Tribune, questioned the qualifications of the assayer J.P. Hughes, who was allegedly responsible for intensifying the rush to Minitonas by announcing the widespread presence of gold.
“I would also like to point out a fact not generally recognized — that very few people look into the crop of a turkey after it is killed.”
The land office in Dauphin was notified of the “fake” gold find and was urged to persuade people not to venture to Minitonas.
Even with all the evidence of a swindle taking place, some residents of Minitonas were convinced the gold find was genuine and were still going to Dauphin to file claims. In total, over 500 claims had been staked during the so-called gold rush, half of them by residents of Minitonas and vicinity, although only a handful were properly filed.
The Free Press offered the explanation for the “fake gold” find being traced to a railway right-of-way cut through the Duck Mountains 37 years earlier, with camps established at different points along the route, including near Minitonas.
“It is believed where the ‘jewelry junk’ was found was no other than the site where a large railway camp was destroyed by fire and that the ‘turkey gold’ was at one time worn by the men in the form of rings, watches, chains and other trinkets. Pieces of melted glass, nails, etc., were also taken from the sand.”
Years later, Dr. R.C. Wallace, who had been a geologist at the University of Manitoba during the gold rush, offered his own explanation of the gold found in the crop of a turkey (he mistakenly remembered it being a goose) to a Tribune reporter on April 8, 1947. He said an earlier fire on the farm fused composite zinc-copper nails that had been used for building construction, and the turkey had picked up a few of these fused nuggets in the form of an alloy resembling the colour of gold.
A Manitoba Provincial Police detective related to newspapers that seven men were under investigation with regard to the “Minitonas Bonanza Myth,” and arrests were shortly expected, although there is no evidence that anyone was ever charged for participating in the hoax.
“Well,” one young gold seeker told a Free Press reporter on January 29, “I did not make a strike and did not get rich, but I sure had a good time and it was worth the $15 I paid out.
“By the way,” he added, “if you want to buy a claim I’ll sell you mine for thirty cents cash money.”
Obviously, there were no takers.
Surprising, well after it was found to be a hoax, the February 18 New York Times was still reporting about the discovery of gold in Minitonas.
For a brief period of time, the so-called pieces of gold in a turkey’s crop was reported in newspapers across North America and even in England, New Zealand and beyond.
Following the Minitonas hoax, articles began to appear in newspapers about turkeys being trained to find gold nuggets. In one such story, Aaron Kwarts, a settler at One Eye Gulch, California, who owned an 80-acre ranch on Wild Gooseberry Creek, was frequently killing and dressing turkeys and found gold dust and tiny nuggets in their crops. After his discovery, Kwarts was of the opinion that turkeys could be turned into good gold prospectors, so he turned his attention to achieving that goal.
“He feeds them only wheat and corn and worms that have been covered with gold paint. In this way they are getting to reject anything that doesn’t glitter.”
Kwarts then sent the turkeys out onto a hillside to forage for themselves, and “let them pick nuggets until they become humpbacked from carrying the gold and then open the crop and extract” (Seattle Star, April 1, 1912 — the article was also published in other newspapers across the U.S.).
Since the turkeys became quite valuable trained fowl, Kwarts said he would have a surgeon relieve the birds of the gold and sew them back up so they could continue their good work.
Of course, there was no such place as One Eye Gulch and no such person as Aaron Kwarts. Still, just like the finding of gold in the crop of Minitonas turkeys, it makes for a good tall tale. The only difference between the two tales is that no one was taken in by the story about training turkeys to find gold, but thousands were duped by the whopper about how gold was found at Minitonas.
There are gold deposits in Manitoba — just not in Minitonas and definitely not in any turkey’s crop. Real mining in the province involves sinking shafts to reach gold-bearing veins in quartz, such as near Bissett. Gold is also found in association with other metals, such as copper, being mined.