STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux





Phoenix BC at the Height of the Mining Boom – Photo Credit: Global News

          Today the Boundary Bonanzas are nearly forgotten except in Republic where miners still extract the low grade deposits of Cooke Mountain.   The Burlington Northern has cut back its Republic line to the sawmill at San Poil Lake.   A weekly freight makes the run from Kettle Falls to Republic picking up loads of lumber and abrasives from the industries at Grand Forks and lumber from the San Poil mill.

          Phoenix is utterly gone.   Only the WWI cenotaph with its list of the fallen of 1914 – 18 stands at the rim of an abandoned pit a half mile across and 400 feet deep, where the town once roared with life.   The graveyard, a mile down the road, had no copper under it, and has survived, visited by curious tourists each summer.

            Rossland continues a vibrant city, a bedroom community for the smelter workers commuting to Trail each day.   The mines have been leveled and sealed. The huge dumps of waste rock have been hauled away to fill the gulches that once fingered through the town.   And excellent museum and underground tour of the Black Bear workings give visitors a sampling of Rossland’s glory days.   Red Mountain today is renowned for its ski hill and the champions who got their start there.

            The great smelter at Trail roars night and day, processing the ores of the Sullivan mine at Kimberley and the Red Dog mine in Alaska.   The sulfurous fumes that once kept Trail children indoors on bad days are now collected and converted into sulfuric acid from which fertilizer is made at the Warfield plant.   Each morning a pair of diesel locomotives with three or four cars of chemicals crawls up the 4.6 percent grade from the smelter to Warfield and the fertilizer plant.

            At Northport the smelter has long since been demolished, and a sawmill operates on its site.   The great railroad bridge is gone, but the Burlington Northern trains still run up Dan Corbin’s Spokane Falls and Northern tracks to Sayward, Fruitvale and Salmo.

            In Grand Forks Shelley Dahl and Mario Savaia pilot their switch engine down the fragment of the Hot Air Line that has outlasted the mighty CPR in the Boundary, and the Canadian traffic goes out on the Burlington Northern.   The CPR which rushed into the Boundary District in a panic in 1900, abandoned it in another irrational panic in 1995 and Jim Hill’s line, under the old Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern charter, remains, still hauling Boundary products to Spokane

            Of the men and women who found and developed the Boundary Bonanzas, only photographs of those confident, Nineteenth Century faces remain.   Joe Moris lived out his long life in Rossland under the slopes of the mountain that made him famous.   Joe Bourgeois went on to discover the Sullivan mine in the East Kootenay, now, after a hundred years of exploitation, nearing exhaustion.

            Colonel Topping never did find his “Second Le Roi,” although he spent most of his fortune looking for it in Oregon, Washington and northern B.C.   After Frank Hanna’s death in Texas, he and Mary Jane were married in Rossland in September, 1906.   They moved to Victoria to live out their lives in retirement.   Colonel Topping died January 17, 1917, at the age of 73.   Mary Jane moved to Ventura, California to live with her daughter, Estella.

            Fritz Heinze died in New York in 1914 of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 45, surrounded, as he had been all his life, by a cloud of litigation.   He and his brothers had held off the established Eastern financial community until the panic of 1907 when he was driven from his bank.   In the end, worn out, sick and perhaps unfairly discredited, he died in disgrace.

            Jay Graves was caught up in the Interurban Railway boom of the Teens and Twenties.   With his profits from Granby, he built a 117 mile electric line from Spokane to Colfax, Washington and Moscow, Idaho, and a hydroelectric plant of the Spokane River to furnish its power.   His Inland Empire Railway was a pioneer of 25 cycle, single phase, alternating current for electric traction and his electric locomotives were the most advanced of the day.   Unfortunately, the building of his interurban railway came at the beginning of the automobile revolution.   As all season roads were built, patronage dwindled and his line slid into bankruptcy in the 1920s.   He was able to sell it as a steam operated freight line to the Great Northern, which held most of its debt.

            Jay Graves invested what funds remained to him in a series of unsuccessful mining ventures.   Like Colonel Topping seeking another Le Roi, Graves counted on a second Knob Hill.   He never found it, dying in retirement in California in 1948, leaving his widow $45,000 and the worthless stock of six mining companies.   In a curious irony, eighteen years later, the International Nickel Company opened a glory hole on Jay Grave’s old California mine ground on Red Mountain and mined molybdenum from it until 1972.

            The pompous Charles Mackintosh remained Rossland’s resident “Guinea Pig,” the nominal head of the BAC company, until its mines passed to Cominco.   He and his wife than bought the Halcyon Hot Springs on Upper Arrow Lake, built a spa and hotel, and bottled the springs’ lithia water for sale in England.

            James J. Hill died of infected hemorrhoids in 1916.   With his passing, the great railway war subsided.   His son, Louis, took over the Great Northern, and free from his father’s obsession with the CPR, suspended work on the “Third Main Line” (Spokane to Vancouver).   Hill’s incursions into southern British Columbia are barely mentioned in his biographies and are given only cursory mention in Great Northern Railway histories.   Hill’s total investment in his Canadian subsidiaries exceeded $38.5 million.   Of these lines, only the Crowsnest Southern ever paid a dividend.   The rest were, in the words of Hidy, Hidy, Scott & Hofsommer”s recent history, The Great Northern Railway, “costly failures.”   The reason cited by American railroad historians for building these B.C. lines, was to offset the Soo Line’s rate making advantage from Minnesota and North Dakota to the West Coast.   If that were truly the case, the Canadian expenditures were wasted.   The Soo was not defeated.   Hill never obtained control over it.   It flourishes today as the successor to the Milwaukee Road’s Midwest lines.

            William Cornelius Van Horne resigned from the presidency of the Canadian Pacific on June 15, 1899, frustrated and worn out from his long struggle with J.J. Hill and the machinations of George Stephen.   After his departure he built railroads in Cuba, even selling four shares worth $200,000 to Jim Hill.  In his retirement he collected French Impressionist paintings and divided his time between Cuba and his summer home in New Brunswick.   He died on September 15, 1915.

            Thomas Shaugnessy took over the CPR from Van Horne, and held the presidency until 1918, when he turned the position over to Edward Beatty, the first Canadian to become CPR president.   Shaugnessy died in 1923, grief stricken at the death of his son, Fred, in the Great War.

            Tracy Holland became an unpopular mayor of Grand Forks, probably owing to the unusual method that put him into office without a vote.   He had to face at least one public meeting calling for his resignation.   At the conclusion of his term he moved to Vancouver and disappears from the record.

            Volcanic Brown lived to see four railroads running from Grand Forks to the Cardinal Points.   He was among a group of prospectors who located the great Sunset Copper mine near Princeton, B.C.   He sold his interest in it for $45,000 and had a dentist make him a set of solid gold false teeth.   Thereafter, children on the streets of Grand Forks would beg him to smile for them, which he obligingly did. Brown died a prospector’s death in 1930.   At the age of 82, the unstoppable Volcanic Brown went up the Pitt River alone, searching for John Slumach’s gold discovery.   When he did not return a search party went in to look for him. They found his abandoned camp and a screw top glass jar with 11 ounces of coarse gold on pieces of quartz.   His body was never found, nor to this day, the source of that gold. .

            The Boundary Bonanzas demonstrated in the space of ten years, a single pattern of economic development, three times repeated.   A rich mineral strike was followed by both an American and a Canadian railroad making their steep and crooked way to the mines.   A period of fierce rate competition ensued, with each of the lines intent on monopolizing the traffic.   In each case, as soon as the ores were exhausted, the foreign railroad withdrew at once, leaving the domestic line to furnish government mandated service until abandonment could be granted.

            It might be thought that the construction of these duplicate lines was wasteful and unnecessary.   Paradoxically, the opposite was true.   The savage competition reduced haulage rates to “bare cost” or below.   This in turn made the low grade ores commercial and permitted the processing of many thousands of tons of ore which would have been left in the ground if only one rail line, making its own rates, had served the mines.

            This mining beyond normal returns by artificially low haulage rates, extended the life of the mines, and supported with substantial payrolls, the growth of the cities of Rossland, Trail, Phoenix, Greenwood, and the town of Republic.   Equally important, an agriculture was initiated in these districts otherwise remote from markets, to feed the thousands of miners and related workers.   Although fewer than one in a hundred mining claims made a mine, and fewer than one mine in twenty made money, it was the “wasted” investments in unsuccessful mines that made the boom.   “Wasted investments employed miners, created retail businesses, established farms and ranches, built railroads, set up banks, and started lumbering and saw milling that exists to this day.   Capital does not always move rationally; “wasted” money is never wholly lost.

            Although by 1912, the Roaring Days of Rossland were over with the mines consolidated into one enterprise and the town settled into a normal course of life, the wild days of gold and glory were fondly remembered in Spokane.   For those who had been there in ‘94 and ‘95, the experience had been unforgettable.   The intensity of life in a bonanza mining camp was like nothing else on earth.   Poor men were made rich overnight.   Substantial investors were fleeced of their very boots.   Wages were the highest in North America, and were spent with careless extravagance.   It was a roaring, woman-less town of three thousand with forty-two saloons, seventeen law offices, and five dance halls.   Men worked harder than they ever had in their lives before; more money passed through their hands than they had ever seen.   Optimism was not just the pervading spirit, it was the only spirit, and it infected everyone.   And then, slowly, the bankers took control, the mines consolidated, and it was all over.

            The American Mining Congress met in Spokane in 1912.   To entertain the delegates, local mining men constructed a replica Rossland, called “Spokane Diggin’s” in a hockey rink.   The intent was to recreate those gaudy days on Red Mountain with a saloon, gambling tables and a dance hall.

            The “Diggin’s” were a huge success with the public who were delighted to celebrate those days of gold and unreason.   By the second night, 5000 people crowded into the “Diggin’s” to relive an exotic past.   The evening was climaxed by a dance hall girl stripping nude on the stage and scampering off to the whistles and stamping of an enthusiastic audience.

            This slightly scandalous recreation of Rossland’s notorious International Dance Hall brought out the Spokane clergy, its women’s groups, even, curiously, its Socialists, to indulge themselves in a public display of moral indignation.   There were some aspects of the past, they felt, that ought not to evoke nostalgia.

            This early Theme Park demonstrated the public hunger for a nostalgic re-creation of the Roaring Days of but a few years before.   That wild intensity of life, which was a bonanza camp, seems available to us now only in the chemical bonanza of drugs. The rest of us pay to have our past slicked up and served to us in a thousand theme parks and Hollywood fantasies.   We are today much too cynical, much too timid, to pick up a shovel and begin digging furiously on a wild hope. The real bonanzas are out of bounds for us now.


3 thoughts on “STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux

  1. You are completely right with your last paragraph, dear Peter. People used to be much more adventurous 150 years ago. Hamburg was one of the important ports from which a lot of people emigrated to the USA and Canada with very little money but with courage.
    Have a nice day, slowly spring is coming to Hamburg, hope the same for you, kind regards Mitza

    Liked by 2 people

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