STEEP AND CROOKED: THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER
By Bill Laux
EUREKA CREEK 1896 – 1902
Responding to the urgings of Spokane mining men, the American Congress opened the north half of the Colville Indian Reservation to mineral entry on February 21, 1896. Among the prospectors quietly leaving Rossland for the newly opened lands in the Colville Indian Reservation, were Phil Creaser and Tommy Ryan, both grubstaked by James Clark. By grub staking the prospectors, Clark would receive a half interest in whatever the prospectors should find.
Creaser and Ryan bought horses and supplies at Bossburg, on the SF&N line, the jumping off place for the Boundary country. They traveled up the Kettle River trail into Canada, and west to Carson, where the Kettle flowed out of the U.S. Here, beside the river, they found the Welty Brothers, George and John, who had come north from their illegal camp in the Reservation to get news of the expected mineral opening. Creaser and Ryan gave them the welcome news and were invited to join the Weltys who now could stake the mineralized outcrops they had found near the headwaiters of the San Poil River.
On February 28, 1896, Creaser and Ryan, following the Weltys, came into an area of rolling hills covered with ponderosa pine. Here they found long, dyke-like outcrops of a crumbly, white rock they identified as “porphyry,” a massy rock enclosing many small rocks of differing composition. Veins of quartz ran through these crumbly outcrops, and in the quartz veins, tell-tale black streaks of some heavy mineral. Creaser and Ryan knocked off some chunks, licked the samples shiny, and brought out their hand lenses. Through the lenses they could see gold in minute specks in the black streaks. All around them were more outcrops and all of them showed gold. Creaser and Ryan, picking what looked to be the richest of the outcrops, staked the Iron Mask, the Copper Belle, and Lone Pine, and took samples from each. John Welty, naming the draw he was prospecting, Eureka Creek, staked the Black Tail.
The men continued to prospect the ground around Granite and Eureka Creeks. On March 5, Creaser and Ryan staked the Republic and Jim Blaine, and then headed back to show their samples to James Clark and have them assayed.
In Rossland the assays were disappointing. Only a trace of gold in most of them, just $ 2.06 in their best specimen. Clark sent Creaser and Ryan back to Eureka Creek to begin digging on their claims and bring back deeper samples. The two men dug on the Republic, the Iron Mask, and the Lone Pine. This time the assays turned out much better: $4.00 to the ton from the Iron Mask, and $35.00 from the Lone Pine. As they went deeper, the values continued to increase. In August, James Clark came himself. He looked, he approved, and went away convinced that a significant mining district had been discovered. He went to Spokane and shared the news with his brother, Patrick, or “Patsy” as he was called.
Patsy Clark came to the Eureka Camp at once and began developing the Republic claim, the biggest of the visible ledges. Soon it began to show values in hundreds of dollars per ton from a large vein fifteen feet wide.
With the Republic producing paying ore and shipping it out by wagon to the Northport smelter, Patsy Clark incorporated the Republic Gold Mining Company and bought out Creasers and Ryan’s interests for $55,000, while investing $70,000 of his own money. Creaser and Ryan used the money to develop their Lone Pine and Iron Mask mines. They were successful and a few years, as the town of Republic began to take shape on the low hog back ridge across Granite Creek from the Republic mine, Phil Creaser built the Hotel Creaser there.
When rich pockets of ore were discovered at 60 feet, James Clark came to take over the Republic mine while brother Patsy went to Toronto to negotiated the sale of their War Eagle mine in Rossland to the Gooderham-Blackstock syndicate for $700,000 cash. With that money, he came back to the Republic Camp in 1897 to develop the Republic mine into a property equally valuable.
Patsy Clark was the monarch of the camp. He was a popular man, running the biggest mine, a mill, and a boarding house where he played accordion for the miners’ dances. At his urging, a townsite was platted on the low ridge opposite his mine, to be called Republic with its main street named Clark Avenue. Still, in 1898, most of the miners lived in the Eureka Creek camp at the mouth of that creek. It was a wild place in those early years when the district was not organized. Legally, it was still the Colville Indian Reservation and the nearest sheriff was in Colville, two days away by horseback. This allowed a certain amount of lawlessness. An entry in the Boundary Creek Times of Greenwood, B.C.., dated January 8, 1898, reads:
“Bad whiskey, the absence of officers of the law and the general looseness which prevails in the vicinity of Eureka, Wash., were responsible for a serious shooting affray in the mining camp on Friday last. Three men were wounded, and one of them, Frank Gottfriedsen, is in the Greenwood hospital with his elbow splintered by a rifle bullet and a flesh wound in the other arm. Gottfriedsen was brought to the hospital in Sunday. “It is a difficult matter to learn the particulars, but it appears that early Tuesday morning Gottfriedsen, La Fleur and others were in Bennett’s saloon in Eureka. Bennett and Gottfriedsen got into a dispute about claim jumping and words led to blows. Bennett got the better of the fight, and then Gottfriedsen pulled out a six shooter and opened fire. Before the gun could be taken from him he succeeded in wounding his antagonist in the cheek. Bennett went off to get the wound dressed and Gottfriedsen left the house at the same time. Later in the day Gottfriedsen returned for his coat and the quarrel was started anew. This time Bennett used a repeating Winchester, and opened fire. Gottfriedsen grabbed the barrel of the the Winchester, but Bennett continued firing and almost shot the clothes off Gottfriedsen’s body. He appeared to have a charmed life, however, for he escaped with the two wounds mentioned. La Fleur tried to stop the shooting and was rewarded with a bullet from the Winchester. His wound is not dangerous.”
The ores from the Eureka Camp were not free milling. The gold and silver they contained were encapsulated in lime and silica, and required treatment in a mill to break down that coating. Costly processes were tried in Clark’s “Big Red Mill” and the Mountain Lion Mill, north of town. None were entirely successful. The coarse particles of gold and silver were recovered, but the fine ones were lost. As well, the lack of cheap transportation was a serious drawback. The wagon haul to the Spokane Falls and Northern was costing $25 per ton. Rail freight to the Northport smelter was another $6.00, and the smelter charges were $10.00 per ton.
This meant that only $40.00 ore ore better could be sent to the smelter. The Republic had such ore, and their shipments ran as high as $12,000 per carload at Marcus, with an average of $4,000 per car. Railroads were projected. One was to come up the Columbia and San Poil Rivers from Jim Hill’s Great Northern at Wenatchee. Another was to come down the Spokane and Columbia Rivers from Spokane and turn up the San Poil to Republic. Everyone with a map and a pencil played at paper railroads, but investors could not be found.
Patsy Clark went to Montreal again in 1899 and negotiated the sale of the Republic mine and mill, plus the Surprise and Lone Pine mines, for an extraordinary $3,500,000 to a Canadian syndicate. The Canadians moved in, bringing their own bank with them, the Halifax Trust and Guarantee (later the Royal Bank). This was to last as long as the Republic mine operated, the only American branch of the Royal Bank outside of New York at that time.
Patsy Clark was extremely fortunate in selling the mines. The Petalan-Clerici process he was using in his mill to release the fine gold from the ore was costly and only partly successful. It involved a preliminary roasting of the ores to break down the silica coating on the gold and silver. Wood was the only fuel and the Republic Mill was firing six boilers of 500 total horsepower. The hills around the Eureka Camp were being rapidly depleted of firewood. Patsy Clark had build a five mile flume up Granite Creek down which firewood was floated to the mill, and the water used to generate electricity. Up at the headwaiters of Eureka Creek, the Mountain Lion Mill, firing three 100 horsepower boilers, had strung a half mile cable across the Swamp Creek valley and was bringing in wood on this overhead cable tram from the mountains beyond. The camp could not last long with these pioneer methods. If a railroad would build in, the costly milling procedures could be dispensed with, and the ore could go directly to the Granby smelter. Jay Graves in Phoenix realized this, and bought into a number of Eureka Creek mines, developing his plan for a custom smelter in Grand Forks to treat non-Granby ores.
As the new Century began, the town of Republic took shape, Ferry County, Washington was organized, and a sheriff and deputies hired to keep the peace. As well, a railroad was surely coming. Jim Hill had promised one. But so had an unknown, Tracy Holland, a bank manager in Grand Forks. Two railroads building to the mines. It began to sound like Red Mountain all over again.