Blackjack’s ghostly legacy

The story of the Lost Lemon Mine has, with great justification, been called „the great mystery of the Canadian Rockies”. As the story has been around for well over a century there are, by now, many versions of “the truth” but all begin in 1870 at Tobacco Plains, Montana and end not far from Calgary.

A party of prospectors made their way from the outpost in Montana to the Highwood Range. Two men from the group, Frank Lemon and his partner, a man known as “Blackjack”, set out on a route of their own. As they made their way along the course to the Highwood River, the pair was gratified to notice showings-outcroppings that indicated veins of gold below the surface of the ground that they were traversing.

Not wanting to share their find with anyone else from the original party, Lemon and Blackjack scrambled to gather as many pieces of gold ore as they could. They knew they would need these samples in order to attract someone to bankroll a potential mining operation. Once they had collected a sufficient number of ore samples, the pair set up camp for the night. They planned to begin heading back to Montana early the next morning.

Several variations of the tale exist to explain what might have happened next. Some say Blackjack and Lemon got into an argument that eventually escalated into a physical fight. Others say that the two were on the best of terms when they turned in for the night. What is known for a fact, however, is that by sunrise Blackjack was dead – murdered by his former friend and partner, Frank Lemon. As for Lemon, overnight, he had gone stark raving mad.

According to this version of the story, the now badly deranged Lemon left the body of his former friend where it lay and headed, as best he was able, back to Tobacco Plains. When he got there he immediately
sought counsel from the local priest and confessed his terrible crime, no doubt hoping that this confession would free him, not only symbolically from the spectre of his deed, but in a very real way from the spectre of Blackjack himself which, Lemon was sure, had been with him from the moment that he’d killed the man.

It would seem that Blackjack’s ghost, not wanting Lemon to profit from his foul deed, had decided to spoil his former friend’s plan by appearing as a ghost and literally, frightening Lemon out of his wits. Throughout the long night after he’d committed the felony, Lemon had been terrorized by ghostly moans and the sight of disembodied glowing eyes leering at him. Blackjack’s understandably angry spirit tormented the murderer until the guilty man had gone almost completely insane.

After listening to the confession, the priest decided that he had to do something to try to calm the distraught soul of the deceased. Hoping that a proper burial would put the enraged phantom to rest, the priest sent a man named John McDougall north to find and bury Blackjack’s corpse. McDougall was successful and, after dropping the remains into the hole that he’d dug, the man decided to pay a small tribute to the deceased by marking his burial site with a mound of stones. Unfortunately, despite all this effort, the spirit was not laid low. When he returned to Montana he was shocked to learn that Lemon was still being tormented by evil spirits and, at times, actually seemed possessed by some supernatural force.

The following spring, Lemon was deemed well enough to join an expedition to stack a claim in the Highwood area. The party was not successful, for the closer Lemon got to the place where he’d killed his friend, the more insane he became. Eventually the group gave up and returned to Montana where they immediately made arrangements to send Lemon to his brother’s ranch in Texas. There, it is said, the crazed man lived until his death many years later, never having fully escaped the ghost of the man whom he’d killed.

Over the next few years there were other attempts to find the treasure. All ended in disaster-forest fires, an additional bout of insanity and a strange, sudden and serious illness. Even the most determined prospectors began to realize that “Lemon’s Mine”, as the much-fabled riches had become known, was haunted by a spirit that would not allow anyone to get near it. To date the Lost Lemon Mine remains exactly that-lost.

Barbara Smith is the author of Ghost of Alberta and More Ghost Stories of Alberta, published by Lone Pine Publishing.