The legend of the Giberson Gold

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This is just one of the hundreds of streams and rivers that flow into the Tobique River. Who knows? Perhaps it too holds secrets of lumberman George Giberson's gold. Photo: Lane MacIntosh

One hot September afternoon, more than a century ago, a lumberman was tramping through heavy brush near Plaster Rock, when he came to a small river known as the Wapskehegan, which flows into the Tobique River. Stopping, he dunked his head into the water to get some relief from the heat. As he bent down, he noticed some fingernail‑sized, yellowish coloured stones under the exposed roots of a cedar tree.

Fool’s gold, he thought, as he blinked underwater to flush the sweat and dust from his eyes. That’s when he noticed a polished‑looking stone on the stream’s rocky bottom. For George Giberson, who lived in a cabin in the woods on the Tobique, the yellowish chunk was too much to ignore.

When he realized what he held in his hand was gold, he hurried back to Plaster Rock to show his younger brother. Together they paddled to Andover where George caught a steamer to Saint John to have the gold assayed.

Despite his best efforts, Joe couldn’t get George to tell him where he made the discovery. The last time Joe saw his older brother, he was standing on the back of the steamboat waving goodbye, laughing wildly.

The storytellers of the Tobique have passed down numerous versions of the Giberson Gold legend, but the central theme is the same; a poor man’s prayers are answered, and he is delivered from his arduous life by sudden wealth. Finding gold was the 19th century equivalent of winning the lottery.

Giberson’s future, however, was not as rosy as he might have thought. As the various stories go, the lumberman either never arrived in Saint John, or if he did, never made it back to the Tobique. The exact nature of his fate is unknown. Some say he contracted a fatal disease on his journey and died, while others say he was murdered or drowned.

Some say there was a woman who lived on the Tobique during the last part of the 19th century who used a large nugget of gold‑coloured quartz as a doorstop. Two California prospectors, passing through town, inspected it and declared it to be the purest gold they’d ever seen.

An article published in the Dec. 1, 1897, edition of the Saint John Weekly Sun reported that Giberson died because “…in his haste to reach the place (Saint John) he rode on a train loaded with fresh arrivals from the old country, and from them caught `immigrant fever’ so called.”

The late William Miller II, who was a master canoe builder in Nictau, swore the Giberson Gold was real. He saw it. In 1928, when he was just six years old, Miller remembered a man came to stay with his family because, as his father, explained, it was too dangerous for him to stay at the local hotel.

“He was an old fellow,” Miller described, “kind of grizzly lookin’. I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget what I saw him do. Right there at our kitchen table, he took out a handful of gold nuggets – they looked like kernels of corn – and threw them down on the table.”

“This,” the grinning stranger roared, “is the lost Giberson Gold! But it’s not all of it.”

What happened to the Giberson Gold? Did it ever exist? Did the nuggets in the grizzled old stranger’s hand come from the original find? And what happened to George Giberson?

Some say the gold never existed, while others say there’s no doubt it still lies among the rocks at the bottom of the Wapskehegan. If trees could talk, the whispering boughs of cedar swaying in the breeze might tell us the secret of what happened on its banks so long ago.

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