Shooting at the Ovens

Gold rushes in the 1800s in California and Australia had significant amounts of crime. Little law enforcement, alcohol, bad living conditions and dreams of quick riches, legal or not, inevitably led to trouble.

This was generally not the case during Nova Scotia’s early gold rushes.

Joseph Howe, then-provincial secretary of Nova Scotia, visited the Ovens in 1861, a few months after gold was discovered there and when hundreds of people had descended on the area in the hope of making their fortunes. Howe wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, The Earl of Mulgrave, on September 4 and said: “There is no stipendiary magistrate and no police, no arms are carried or required. Crime is unknown, and property is as safe on the road or at ‘the diggings’ as it is in the shire town.”

However, the Ovens’ gold rush did lead to the shooting death of one man. But in keeping with our peaceful and polite Nova Scotia style, his death was an accident!

The December 7, 1861, edition of the Morning Chronicle reported the details:

F. Traunweizer, who ran a shop at the Ovens, was chatting with a customer, Reuben Tooker of Yarmouth, when Traunweizer pulled a revolver out of his pocket. According to the coroner’s inquiry, Traunweizer told Tooker he would show him “what it could do.” Despite how that sounds, Traunweizer meant he would shoot the gun at a target to show it off. The two men went outside for some target practice.

Traunweizer loaded the gun and Tooker put up a board as a target.

Two other men showed up and joined the fun: George Mitchell of Chester and John Redman. They each took turns firing at the board. Traunweizer then went back into his shop to re-load the pistol.

Someone suggested that they “fire for drinks” – bet on who was the best shot, in other words. More shooting followed (Tooker and Redman lost the bet) and the men went back into the shop.

Traunweizer saw a close friend, James R. McDonald, approaching and called out: “Hello, Mac! stand off!"

Traunweizer pulled the gun out and pointed it at MacDonald, who raised his hands with a laugh.

A loud bang was heard but when MacDonald fell to the ground, the other men thought he was kidding. Traunweizer had pulled the trigger, believing the gun had been emptied by the earlier shooting, and shot MacDonald.

Traunweizer grabbed a pillow and put it under MacDonald’s head. MacDonald “gasped once or twice, and never moved a limb after."

The men who witnessed the event testified that Traunweizer and MacDonald were good friends and the shooting was an accident. Reuben Tooker said, “I have known both deceased and Traunweizer to have been very intimate friends ever since I have been here (some weeks). After the accident Traunweizer showed much emotion, I thought he would go crazy.”

George Mitchell said, “"I thought there was another charge in the pistol. I said nothing about it to anybody; had not time to say ‘Be careful’ before the [gun’s] report was heard, it was done so quick. I did not know any of the parties intimately; but they appeared as friends. I feel almost certain it was quite accidental, it could not have been otherwise, under the circumstances. I dare say I would have done the same thing to any of my friends in joke, believing, as I think Traunweizer did, that he had just discharged the last shot out of his pistol.”

Today, the Ovens is a beautiful park and campground where you can still try your luck panning for gold!

The Government of Nova Scotia deserves some of the credit for crime being “unknown” during the province’s first gold rush. It passed a law in 1862 that gave the government authority to establish and regulate gold districts. This led to a legal process for staking claims and imposed order on what might otherwise have been a free-for-all as Nova Scotia was hit with gold fever (learn more about the early regulation of gold mining in Nova Scotia at

See the story of the Ovens’ gold rush at