In the fall of 1886, thirty-two Chinese placer miners had moved onto the bar at the mouth of Deep Creek, six miles up the Snake River Canyon from the mouth of the Imnaha River. There were rumors circulating that they had as much as seventeen flasks of gold dust, each worth between $500 and $1,000.
In early spring of 1887, eight hired hands employed by a rancher running cattle on the east rim of the canyon, plotted to ride down to the Chinese camp, shoot all the Chinese, locate and bury the gold, and climb back out of the canyon back to their job tending cows. When the excitement died down, they would go back and dig up the gold.
The night before the planned massacre, one of the younger men, Carl Hughes, changed his mind and begged to be left out. So there were seven men who arrived at the mouth of Deep Creek early the next afternoon. As they rode into the Chinese’s camp, they opened fire immediately, at close range. The Chinese had no chance to escape. All thirty-two were killed and their bodies thrown into the river.
The investigation that began when the waterlogged corpses reached Lewiston quickly spilled over local borders to become a national—and even an international-incident. An indemnity claim was filed by the Government of China against the Government of the United States for $275,000. Frank Vaughan, one of the murderers, eventually broke down and confessed. He and Carl Hughes, the man who had backed out on the morning of the massacre were arrested. The others got away and were never caught. Fifteen years later, two young men who had been trying their luck panning gold at Deep Creek showed up in Joseph one day with a flask partially filled with gold dust that was worth about $700.
It was all that was ever found of the purported Chinese treasure.