Captain James Scarborough’s Gold

The Columbia River, where the ships that stopped at Fort Vancouver anchored

The bank of the mighty Columbia River off Fort Vancouver, where the ships anchored

This is a story especially for Washington State residents, because many of you have heard the story of Captain James Scarborough’s Gold. Alexander Caulfield Anderson played a part in this story — long after his death in 1884, Anderson was accused of absconding with Scarborough’s gold cache.

It’s easy to find something of the old story. It was first published in a book called Lost Mines and Treasure of the Pacific Northwest, by Ruby El Hult. If you google “Captain James Scarborough’s Gold,” you will come on several stories online. The story’s not dead yet, by any means.

So let us start my story with the question: “Who was Captain James Scarborough?’

From Bruce McIntyre Watson’s Book, Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858, I pull the following information:

“James Allen Scarborough, 1805-1855, British: English — James Scarborough joined the HBC on October 31, 1829, and was appointed second mate and boatswain of the Isabella. In 1832, John McLoughlin Sr. claimed there were several complaints about him because he didn’t have any respect of the men and appeared to be fond of liquor… Scarborough was continually promoted and, by 1849, already had a functioning farm at the mouth of the Columbia River. He was discharged July 23, 1850, when he began to act “as one bereft of reason,” and went on to his claim at Chinook Point (mouth of the Columbia River, north side). He then acted as bar pilot till his death. He died intestate, a widower, in 1855, and was survived by Edwin and Robert, two of his four sons, who were left in the care of James Birnie [my great-great-grandfather]. His farm, a conspicuous landmark for approaching vessels, consisted of fruit trees and a large herd of cattle and was reputedly cultivated by his wife. He introduced pigs and Shanghai chickens from China and also took pains to bring ornamental shrubbery, perhaps introducing the “Mission Rose.” Stories persist, most likely because of his sea-faring background, of his lost grave and a buried treasure.”

I have recently found out a little about James Scarborough, quite by accident. This quote, below, came from a letter written by Chief Factor James Douglas to Governor Simpson, on 7th of June, 1850. Clearly Scarborough had been misbehaving for some time. This is what Douglas wrote:

“The seamen [of the HBC ships at Fort Victoria] are ungovernable, the Masters in general little better. Scarborough is a perfect [phrase hidden in line of fold] had, have become completely muddled. The fellow instead of assisting is a preacher of mutiny to his own crew. Last summer when dispatched from Victoria with the [miners to Fort Rupert], I could hardly get him off, and 6 days after he set sail, I received a note from [John] Work who was on board, informing me that the vessel was still at anchor about 7 miles from the Fort. He [Scarborough] afterwards lost upwards of 20 days at Fort Rupert, after the Mary Dare was loaded and ready for sea. The very seamen [were] urging shame up him. You will ask why did we submit to such imposition: it was with the worst grace imaginable because I had no way to replace him: young Matt, his mate, being [words] to command ship: I spoke to [Captain James] Sangster about taking command of the Mary Dare if Scarborough refused duty, as I at one time thought he would, but the former declined the offer, saying he would rather leave the service. He [Scarborough] had behaved very badly at Fort Vancouver, lately, having given [Chief Factor Peter Skene] Ogden a great deal of trouble, his men except two all left the ship. Ogden hired a fresh crew at 120 Dollars a month, for the trip to Victoria, and he [Scarborough] strove hard to spread disaffection among them, but was finally despatched and left this place a few days ago…” [D.5/28, fo.278-9, HBCA]

About 1853-54, Alexander Caulfield Anderson retired from the fur trade and settled next door to his father-in-law James Birnie, at Cathlamet — halfway between Chinook Point where Scarborough had his home, and Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, WA]. As a British citizen among the many Americans who now lived in the area, Anderson became a justice of the peace and represented the other British citizens in the area. Hence, when James Scarborough died, Anderson became responsible for his estate while Birnie looked after the children.

For Anderson, the first job as executor was to inform Governor Simpson, of the HBC, of James Scarborough’s death, and to request access to his money, which the HBC still held. The HBC’s London office informed Anderson that Captain Scarborough had seven hundred English pounds to his credit in his account with the Company. At the bottom of the page, Anderson penciled in additional records that added twenty pounds to Scarborough’s wealth, giving his estate a value of $3,600 in American money. In addition to this, Anderson appraised Scarborough’s personal and real property at $7,000 American. [Source: “Correspondence, Accounts, inventory re estate of James A. Scarborough, Cathlamet, WA, by A.C. Anderson,” Cage 4183, Manuscript Archives and Special Collections, Washington State University, Pullman, WA.]

It is clear that there were more funds available to the family, for Scarborough had worked for the years after his retirement from the HBC as a river pilot for ships crossing the treacherous Columbia River bar. He had also exported salted salmon and other commodities to England. The rumor was that Captain Scarborough had been paid for the salted fish in gold ingots. [Ruby El Hult, Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Binford & Mort, 1957) p. 144-46].

It was also generally believed that the gold ingots had been buried by Scarborough somewhere on his property, in a place known only to himself and an old woman, who kept her secret. But Scarborough died suddenly and unexpectedly. Here is a letter that explains what Anderson thought Scarborough might have died of. This might be new to people interested in Scarborough’s gold, and I am not sure anyone has written anything about this part of his story!

“Fort Vancouver, Feby 25th/55 to A.C. Anderson, Esq — “A Vial has been placed in my hands, together with a note from you, relative to the death of Capt. Scarborough, requesting my opinion on the Subject.

“The Vial I conceive contains nothing more than Simple Tinct. Iodine… It is not a very concentrated preparation. Of itself, Iodine is not a poison and could only cause death by inducing violent inflammation of the Stomach and perhaps perforation of that organ which would prove fatal in a very short time. There are not many instances of poisoning by this [substance] on record, and it is a remedy which is of no value  in giving relief to pain or other internal distress, and therefore not often found in domestic use.

“From the facts stated in your note I judge that the deceased had taken a considerable quantity of the tincture and whether it had been administered with the [intention] of poisoning him, or whether he had taken it himself for that purpose, or accidentally, could only be settled by collateral evidence.

“The symptoms however which would be produced by a large dose (say an ounce) are those of inflammation of the stomach, viz — pain and vomiting, succeeded in a short time by collapse, which might speedily prove fatal. Nothing could clear up the mystery satisfactorily, but a postmortem examination, which would at once reveal the condition of the Stomach as well as that of the other organs and thus put an end to all doubts on the subject…. Henry A. Tuzo.” [Source not noted, sorry].

I am not sure a postmortem was ever done and so we are left with this mystery — how did Captain James Scarborough die? However, the story in this post is that of Anderson’s supposed theft of Scarborough’s gold, not Scarborough’s death itself.

Acting as Scarborough’s executor, Anderson requested a year’s interest on Scarborough’s account from the London office of the HBC, and in October this interest was given. By this time Scarborough’s funds had been placed at Anderson’s disposal at Fort Vancouver. But as the Scarborough children  were well looked after by James and Charlot Birnie, Anderson invested Scarborough’s money in Allan, McKinlay & Co. In spring, 1858, Anderson left Cathlamet for Fort Victoria where he was immediately involved in building a road into the Fraser River goldfields. By November he had moved his family north. By 1859 he’d been fired from his job and was out of money. He wrote to Thomas Lowe, Allan, Lowe & Co., to withdraw some more investment money, and that is when Lowe reported to Anderson that the Scarborough estate monies were in the hands of a subsidiary company, Allan, Lowe & Co. That subsidiary company had already paid interest on the Scarborough investment for many years. What was worse: Lowe’s letter also stated that Anderson had already pulled out all the money he had invested in the Company, there was no more. [Thomas Lowe to A.C. Anderson, Dec. 10, 1859, in Thomas Lowe Letters Outward, E/B/L95A, BCA.]

So Anderson was out of money, and Scarborough’s money had been left behind in Washington Territory. I believe Allan, Lowe & Co. had invested the money in a mill, which may well have failed.

If Anderson had any awareness at all of the stories of Scarborough’s buried gold, he mentioned it nowhere in any of his writings or letters. We know he had gold at Fort Victoria, and he bought property with gold — but everyone carried gold in those days. Nor was the gold in ingots, as far as I know, but coins. So how much gold did Captain Scarborough bury? If Anderson actually absconded with Scarborough’s gold, there was very little gold buried in the Captain’s hiding place.

Still, the stories of buried gold resonate in the Pacific Northwest, and even today its residents scour the grounds around the Captain’s old house on Chinook Hill. The stories continue: in 1957 — one hundred years after Captain James Scarborough’s death — his descendants accused Alexander Caulfield Anderson of absconding with Scarborough’s gold and money, leaving his children bereft. [Statement in support of Bill for the Relief of the Heirs at Law of James Allan Scarborough and Ann Elizabeth Scarborough, filed in court by Richard L. Merrick, Attorney for Claimants, May 8, 1957.]

James Birnie, who actually raised the Scarborough children, was unable to explain where the money had gone. Reading Thomas Lowe’s letters at the time it is easy to see that Birnie suffered from mild to moderate dementia, so he would never have been able to answer that question. And for Anderson: I doubt very much he absconded with Scarborough’s gold, but of course I can prove nothing. It’s a fun story, and I hope the Scarborough descendants received help in their application for assistance from their Government.

By the way, many years ago I sent this story to one of the Scarborough descendants who still lives in Cathlamet. He may not know about the suspected poisoning, but he does know where Scarborough’s money went. Whether he believes that Anderson took Scarborough’s gold I do not know. It doesn’t matter anymore: it is history.

UPDATE: After I wrote and published this post, I received some information from a most unexpected place!

“Nancy,” someone named Robert wrote to me: “I have some important information about the Scarborough treassure: It has been found!”

Well, a beginning to a story such as that will get your attention, and so I got his story — here it is:

When my twin brother and I were about 12 or 13, we went to Fort Columbia [the Army base on Scarborough’s old property] to play…. One day my brother came to me and said “You have to see this!” We went to where there was a staircase going over the side of the hill below where the Scarborough house had been, and there were two guys digging something out of the ground. They emptied the cedar box they had dug up into a box of their own and wrapped it in green canvas. We talked to them for a while because they were very nervous about whether we would rat them out or not. They wouldn’t show us what was in the box, other than a gold item or two. They then asked if we knew a way of not going out the front gate because they were worried about being discovered. I told them the old Indian trail across the dam would take them to the Catholic church, where they had parked their car. The men told us they had researched the treasure for a long time, and had an idea of the area in which it was buried. Then they carried the box away with two 2×4’s, one on either side — we could tell the box was very heavy. We didn’t even tell our mom about this, because to us it was pirates’ booty!

So, what do you think? Has the treasure been found, or not? I sent Robert on to my Cathlamet historian who told me the story in the first place, and surprisingly, these boys all went to school together. Now they are getting together and hashing out old times, trying to figure out whether or not the treasure has been found!

It’s a good story, and a modern story too. History is never in the past; it is our future, too.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Captain James Scarborough’s Gold

  1. Linda Amelia

    Hi Nancy: I am a descendant of Capt. Scarborough through his son Edwin Scarborough, Sr. Louise was one of his daughters and was my great-grandmother. I have a great deal of information from my father’s files. I would like to find more information on Paly Temaikami aka Ann Elizabeth Scarborough, a daughter of Chief Comcomly. I just wondered if you ran across any information about her? I hope to visit the area this year. My father, Roy Domingo Amelia, was born in Cathlamet and so was my grandfather and grandmother. Edwin married a Cowlitz Chief’s daughter. I have her name on my family tree.

    Linda Amelia
    Elk Grove, CA
    916 682-7786

  2. Mark

    I grew up on the long beach peninsula and have heard and read alot of things about Scarboroughs gold; I believe the story in your blog may have been fabricated to some point or vice versa to about what iam going to say; there is a old book at the library; i checked out the book, i think the name of it was early pioneers of the pacific nw; theres a thing about scarboroughs gold; it went something like this; there were 2 men working at the fort when they were making it an army defense site; goes on to say that there was a landslide up behind the fort; they found 2 boxes in the dirt which contained stuff like trade beads ,pocket knives, silverware, furs,tokens, maybe a few coins, but no one really knew exactly what was in the boxes but the two men; they took the boxes home;and thats about it from what i can recall;it could have been the treasure but i kinda dought it because it sounded more like a indian stash; there were also some old pistols . scarboroughs house was suppossedly near battery 2 , which i believe was actually bat 246 ; i have a old picture of a cabin on the hill near bat 246 which i believe is scarboroughs cabin before the military tore it down. why would they leave there car at the church? if it was me i would of drove up to the fort, parked my car nearby ,set the gold aside , then drive over there real quick ; throw it in the trunk , and get the heck out. it just doesnt make sense to leave the car at the church, and walk through the tunnel? i dont think so! ive been on the old indian trail before its not a easy walk with 180 to 200 lbs of gold on 2 2 by 4s . to find the gold in the 1st place they would of needed a metal detector ; which is also risky business becaus e detecting is not allowed at the fort; the story holds some water, but just not enough; but storys do change from one person to the next; so who really knows?

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, I have forwarded the story along to my Cathlamet historian who told me of Scarborough’s gold. He happened to know exactly who these two brothers were, as they went to school together. So they are sorting out the story. I will forward this to them too. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Mark

    thankyou nancy, iam curious as to which story is true;the one in that book i read or the one about the two boys, i myself may have known them , or at least their 1st or last name ; also i wonder what year this took place.

  4. Margaret

    Hello Nancy,

    I was wondering if you would email me your information on Paly Temaikami aka Ann Elizabeth Scarborough, daughter of Chief Comcomly as well as Linda Amelia email address. I have been researching Capt. Scarborough because his niece , whom he was guardian of, Mary Anne Allen
    was my 2nd cousins great grandmother. Mary Anne Allen parents died when she was a young child and it is possible that she was sent to her uncles to live by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). It appears she was not very well educated when she married William Lucas Hardisty in 1857 and a possible reason could be the fact that she was raised by Paly Temaikami aka Ann Elizabeth Scarborough.

    Along with my research on Capt. Scarborough, I have also researched Chief Comcomly (very interesting individual) and his family. I have found three possible wives when it is reported he had four. Names of twelve known children (three males and nine females) with another possible one (female). Of which, I was able to researched eight daughters who married HBC employees (Paly Temaikami being one); one daughter who did not marry a HBC employee and the possible female who I have not yet confirmed as a daughter. I would like to share this information.

    Best wishes,

    Margaret

  5. Margaret

    I left an earlier post today and now is not is not there. Here is what I said:
    Hello Nancy,

    I was wondering if you would email me your information on Paly Temaikami aka Ann Elizabeth Scarborough, daughter of Chief Comcomly as well as Linda Amelia email address. I have been researching Capt. Scarborough because his niece , whom he was guardian of, Mary Anne Allen was my 2nd cousins great grandmother. Mary Anne Allen parents died when she was a young child and it is possible that she was sent to her uncles to live by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). It appears she was not very well educated when she married William Lucas Hardisty in 1857 and a possible reason could be the fact that she was raised by Paly Temaikami aka Ann Elizabeth Scarborough.

    Along with my research on Capt. Scarborough, I have also researched Chief Comcomly (very interesting individual) and his family. I have found three possible wives when it is reported he had four. Names of twelve known children (three males and nine females) with another possible one (female). Of which, I was able to researched eight daughters who married HBC employees (Paly Temaikami being one); one daughter who did not marry a HBC employee and the possible female who I have not yet confirmed as a daughter. I would like to share this information.

    Best wishes,

    Margaret