BONANZAS BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS
It was the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 that finally opened the Kootenays to commerce and settlement. Its mineral resources had been known for forty years, but its isolation behind the mountains had been broken only by brief rushes up its rivers to wash out gold which a man could carry out on his back. The Canadian Pacific was labouring toward the Columbia, it was true, but over a difficult pair of passes, and having difficulty paying its contractors. For Canadians the Kootenays remained a hinterland, the land behind all those glaciers and mountains, moated by a pair of swift rivers that encircled it in their icy arms.
Approached from the east, the Kootenays lay somewhere back of the Rockies, accessible only by a few Indian trails. From Victoria and rest of B.C. the Kootenays were a hinterland, a few hundred Americans and the same number of Chinese, at the end of the infamous Dewdney Trail. Each attempt to establish a line of communication had proved a ruinous chimera to the Province; no one was ready to throw more money at another ten week bonanza. And it was all Americans, anyway; no one from the Coast had ever done well in the Kootenays, unlike the wonderful Cariboo that had made Victoria and New Westminster rich.
From the South, from Washington State, however, the mountains ranges, beginning north of the Spokane River, looming blue against the sky and rising steadily higher as one crossed the line into British Columbia, were welcoming arms stretched out southward, sheltering long, north trending valleys. Up those valleys easy trails and navigable rivers led into the Kootenay mineral country. Nearly every old timer had been up those rivers and those valley trails in the Fifties and Sixties panning gold for a season or two below those distant peaks where a half-comical little Englishman and his constable had kept the camps orderly and peaceable, and taken fifty cents tax out of every ounce of gold. There was more mineral in those B.C. mountains; everyone was sure of that, and any young man would be keen to go and find it if someone would only stake him.
With practical transportation for mineral ores via the Northern Pacific Railway which skirted the southern reaches of Kootenay, now possible, three experienced and well financed American entrepreneurs reached for control of the Kootenays and its mines. They were Captain John C. Ainsworth, Portland transportation magnate; Daniel Chase Corbin of Spokane Falls who had built a narrow gauge line into the Coeur D’Alene mines to connect them to the Northern Pacific, and begin the Coeur D’Alene mining boom; and the young Butte copper millionaire, Augustus Heinze, who would enter in the 1890s when a rich copper-gold deposit would be found close to the Columbia River. The British Columbia capitalists, badly stung by the Big Bend fiasco, had turned their backs on Kootenay, a virtually uninhabited place, impossible to reach, and, they believed, of dubious value.
The Ainsworths had sold their Oregon Steam Navigation company to the Northern Pacific Railway as soon as it was clear that railways, not steamers, were the future on the American Columbia. As major stockholders allied to the NP, they devised a scheme to control the new silver-lead mining district on Kootenay Lake. The B.C. Board of Trade was sick with frustration at the thought that the NP might build a spur line to Bonner’s Ferry and via steamboats take the Kootenay Lake trade for Portland and itself. They were wholly unaware that John C. Ainsworth had been the owner of the sternwheeler, Forty Nine, which had stolen the Big Bend Trade in the 1860s, and were apparently unaware of his connection with the NP. The Ainsworth Syndicate, Captain John C., his son. George, and Enoch Blaisdel, working through their B.C. agent, road builder Gustavus Wright and the B.C. Board of Trade, proposed a counter to the supposed NP threat. In 1883 it was generally believed that the CPR was bankrupt, and would not complete its transcontinental line. It was not even yet certain what by what route that line would enter B.C. A northern route via Yellowhead Pass was favoured by Vancouver Island people, reaching the Pacific at Bute Inlet with some sort of monstrous bridge to their Island.
The Ainsworths proposed to the B.C. legislature that Wright would build a wagon road over Eagle Pass, linking the steamers from Kamloops running up the South Thomson and into Shuswap Lake with the Columbia at Big Eddy. The Ainsworths would then put a steamer on the Columbia and institute a service to the mouth of the Kootenay River. Here, they would build a 40 mile portage railway around the rapids and falls of the lower Kootenay River to Kootenay Lake. With this all-Canadian link, Kamloops to the Kootenay mines, the ores could come out to Victoria via the Cariboo Road, and British Columbia merchants would provision the mines. In exchange, the Ainsworths asked for a grant of 750,000 acres of land of their choosing in the Kootenays. In 1883 the B.C. Legislature passed a bill incorporating the Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Transportation Company authorizing the railway and the connecting steamer services. At the same time Gustavus Wright, who was running a store at Farwells, (now Revelstoke) was given the contract to build the Eagle Pass road. The government of B.C. was making one more attempt to reach the distant Kootenays, but this time economically using the Amercans’ money and handing them Kootenay land in exchange.
The CPR, though in serious financial difficulties, saw the Ainsworth’s scheme for what it was, a deliberate move to shut the CPR out of the Kootenays before it could reach them, and to establish NP dominance there. As well, the land grant was deemed by many British Columbians, to be excessive, a scandalous giveaway to American interests. By the terms of the bill, the Ainsworths could pick and choose, 3/4 of a million acres of the best land in the Kootenays, farm lands, mineral lands, potential townsites, and potential transportation corridors. With CPR urging, the Dominion Government disallowed the C&K bill as an American incursion contrary to Canadian interests. The Dominion Inspector of Railways pointed out something which should have been obvious to B.C. Legislators, but was not. The Ainsworth’s wagon, steamer and rail corridor could deliver American goods to Kamloops and drain all the trade southward to Portland. It all depended on how you looked at the map. From Kamloops the Ainsworth’s route looked like a connection to the Kootenays; from Bonner’s Ferry it looked like an American route to Interior B. C.
The Ainsworths began a seven year battle in Ottawa and in the courts to get their bill reinstated, joined by many British Columbians who bitterly resented the Dominion government’s nullification of their legislation. It may have been a bad bill, but it was intolerable to be dictated to by a senior government which was still in violation of its pledged word to build the Pacific Railway. As the struggle continued, it became clear that the huge land grant was the plum, the portage railroad around the falls, a minor consideration. Whoever promised to build the railway could have the grant, and various groups with no interest in the railroad, but greedy for that huge grant, came forward volunteering to take over the Ainsworth’s plan.
Against all expectation, the CPR managed to get Dominion government backing for its railway bonds, and with new financing was finishing its track twisting over the Rockies and Selkirks and down to the Coumbia at Farwells in 1884. The Ainsworths, shipping the ore from their Kootenay Lake mines out through Bonner’s Ferry to the NP at Kootenai Station, though blocked in their grand plan by the CPR in Ottawa, shipped the small steam launch Alpha up the Northern Pacific to Spokane Falls, and then wagon hauled it to Marcus, where it was launched on the Columbia. Captain Pingston was promoted from his rowboat, and given command of the Alpha. The Ainsworths put it to work hauling provisions up the Columbia and through the Arrow Lakes for the CPR construction camp at Farwells. Although the rival railway was laying track on Gustavus Wright’s wagon road over Eagle Pass, the Ainsworths contracted to supply its camps with provisions.
The Alpha was too small, or the Ainsworth’s rates were excessive, for the next year the American contracting firm of Henderson and Mc Cartney who were building portions of the CPR through the Columbia region, built the sternwheeler, Kootenai, at Little Dalles, where a wagon road connected with the NP at Spokane Falls. Materials for the railway construction were shipped west on the NP, wagon hauled to Little Dalles and put aboard the Kootenai under Captain Lindeman, for the construction camp at Farwells. The Kootenai was a big, ugly work boat, powerful, but with few amenities for passengers. She was 140 feet long, by 25 feet wide with 14 x 72 inch cylinders and 557 gross tons. In 1885 she ran on a rock and was towed to Nakusp for repairs. By the time she had been patched up, the CPR had been completed, and with no work for the Kootenai, she was beached at Little Dalles, awaiting a call to service.
William Brown, merchant and ferryman of Marcus, Washington had had his business reduced by the collapse of the Big Bend and the financial panic of 1873. In the 1880s he was supplying just 200 Chinese who still worked the bars of the Columbia and Pend Orielle. There had been a short boom supplying the CPR camp at Farwells via the Kootenai , but now, that too was over. Like other merchants in the Colville Valley he hoped for another mining rush and the return of boom times. Selling salt, sugar,and tea to Indians and farmers was a dull trade. Miners, though, were always free spenders and paid in gold nuggets, not credit, not barter.
In an effort to get something going in 1886, Brown grubstaked a party of local men to go north, cross the border and search more untested Canadian creeks for gold. The party consisted of the Hall brothers, Winslow and Osner, with Winslow’s five sons, Osner’s adopted son, three men of the Oakes family, Charles Brown, William White and two Indians, Dauncy Williams and Narcisse Downing. Numbers of versions of the story exist, as in later years each member of the party told the tale the way he remembered it with his own embellishments. The following account seems the most probable.
The fifteen men crossed the mountains to the northeast of Colville on the old Kalispel Indian trail to the Pend Orielle River. They then went down river, cutting a trail as they went, to cross the border into British Columbia. At Jolly Jack Thornton’s old placer claim on the Pend Orielle, they turned up the Salmo River and moved slowly upstream, cutting trail, and testing the creeks on both sides. It is odd that they missed Ymir Creek which was to prove such a rich source of lode gold in later years. Possibly, a pan taken from some barren spot and washed out, discouraged them, and they passed it by.
By the time the party got to what is now Hall Creek, they were low on food, and nothing of worth had been found. The discouraged party decided to give up the search and return to Colville. The boys were sent up into the alpine meadows to bring in the horses which had been turned loose to forage. While hunting the horses in that alpine country, the boys found chunks of brightly coloured peacock ore. The Hall brothers recognized copper and suspected silver. In haste they staked four claims: The Silver King, the Koo-in-oor, American Flag, and Kootenay Bonanza. There was no one to record their claims nearer than Revelstoke, a 150 mile trip up the Columbia. So, with their carefully collected samples, they returned to Colville.
There, Colonel Nelson Lindsley assayed their find, and told them it was insignificant; the copper was not worth packing out of such a remote spot. But he questioned them so persistently about just where they had found those valueless rocks, that the Halls became suspicious: they had heard of assayers giving low values to uneducated prospectors like themselves, in hopes that they would abandon their claim, allowing the assayer to claim it for himself. They then took their ore to another assayer, Jake Cobaugh, who found high silver values in it.. Since the Halls had not been able to record their claim, they took Cobaugh into the venture to purchase his silence. Although the Halls refused to divulge any information about what they had found, the secret did leak out. In the spring of 1887 they were closely watched by all in Colville to see which route they would take out of town when they headed for their discovery.
The Hall party departed, this time rowing up the Columbia, and followed discreetly by other parties of Colville prospectors. At Beaver Creek, the Halls pulled in to shore, cached their boats and supplies and hid in the bush until the following prospectors rowed by, some continuing up river, some ascending Beaver Creek on the old Dewdney Trail. When all had passed, the Halls rowed back to Marcus and took the road to Colville, now emptied of prospectors. From Colville they took the Kalispel Trail again to the Pend Orielle River and the trail they had cut the year before to Hall Creek on the Salmo. They then cut a trail up onto what they called “Mineral Mountain” and their discoveries, all undetected. By September of that year, their location was known, probably from the Halls making trips out for supplies. Just where and with whom they recorded their claims is undiscoverable. Alfred Wheeler at the Ainsworths’ Hot Springs Camp is a likely guess. Although he was an American citizen and not eligible to be named Mining Recorder, he may have arranged to make records of the locations and forward them to the recorder at Fort Steele (Wild Horse.) In view of subsequent developments, the recording of the Halls’ Mineral Mountain claims may have been deliberately muddied by interested parties.
The Colville merchant, Charles Montgomery, went in to the discovery that year, and found 30 men at work. Other prospectors were present as well. The Americans, Ben Thomas, Charlie Townsend, J.R. Cooke, James Fox, Newlin Hoover, and A.H. Kelly were staking other locations on what was called Mineral Mountain, or by some, Toad Mountain. The first shipment of the Halls’ ore was packed out to Colville, and from there sent by wagon to Spokane Falls and put on the Northern Pacific for one of the Montana smelters. It returned $7000 after paying shipping and smelting charges amounting to $80 per ton. This first ore assayed $3.03 per ton in silver, $2.50 in gold, and an extraordinary 28% copper content. This news galvanized the whole Northwest. Prospectors and miners from the Coeur d’Alene mines, broke camp, bought maps and supplies, and headed for the new strike.
The high cost of shipping the Hall’s ore was substantially reduced when Joe Wilson from Colville, cut a trail from Toad Mountain north down Cottonwood Creek to the West Arm of Kootenay Lake where the Hendryx Company’s new steamer, the Galena, could forward scows loaded with Hall brothers ore to Bonner’s Ferry, and then over Herndryx’ toll road to the Northern Pacific at Kootenai Station.
In this year, 1887, four railroad towns existed in Kootenay: Field, Golden, Donald and Farwell’s/Revelstoke. Beyond the CPR line, were only Wild Horse, (now called Fort Steele), the Ainsworth’s Hot Springs mining camp, and cluster of cabins on Toad Mountain around the Hall’s Silver King mine. All the non railroad towns got their supplies from Spokane or Colville by pack train or boat on the Kootenay Lake and river.
At Farwell’s Landing on the Columbia, the CPR was unwilling to purchase lots in the townsite for its station and shops. Instead, it platted a townsite a half mile to the east, to be called Revelstoke. Since the new Revelstoke had the railway station, the hotels, eating houses and commercial establishments quickly moved east to the CPR site. This procedure would be standard for the CPR, and indeed, for all major railways in North America. Existing towns would be invited to donate lands to the railway for its use; if they refused, the railway would preempt a townsite at some other location, and the businesses would be obliged to pick up and follow. Once the tracks had arrived, the railway station would become the centre of the settlement, the place where arriving visitors could be solicited for accommodation, the place where mail was dispatched, and where all goods from the outside arrived.
Like the Halls in 1887, other American prospectors were opening silver mines in the Kootenays. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, Revelstoke became a new centre of mining enterprise for the silver-lead deposits found up the Illecillewat River. Daniel Chase Corbin, a mining and railway entrepreneur of Spokane, with J. P Kennedy, bought the Jumbo Mine, and with the CPR nearby, were able to ship its ores to England for smelting. The generous returns from the Jumbo convinced road builder, G.B. Wright, the Ainsworth’s agent in British Columbia, to form the Selkirk Mining Company and buy the Lanark mine for the Ainsworth syndicate. The Lanark and the other Ainsworth mines shipped 237 tons of ore to England by the CPR in 1887 for a return of $17,000.
Silver needed smelting to release it from its ores, and to promote a smelting industry the British Columbia legislature passed the 1886 “Act to Encourage the Erection of Smelting Works” which would pay a bonus of $2 per ton of ore smelted. A smelter was built in Vancouver in 1888 by an English company, and George De Wolfe bought the Monarch mine near Field and shipped 600 tons of ore over the CPR to the Vancouver works. The Vancouver smelter proved to be a failure, probably because of inexperienced management. At its first run the metal hood over the blast furnace connecting to the stack overheated and the furnace had to be shut down. The metal hood was replaced by a brick flue and the furnace fired up again. This time, after about two hours of running, the slag in the furnace froze and the furnace had to be shut down again. The difficulty was thought to be an excess of lime and sulphur, which should have been removed by preparatory roasting. But the investors were not willing to spend more money and the smelter was closed down.
The smelting of ores is a highly complex process, a fact not appreciated by early mining men in the Northwest. They had the naive idea that one simply cooked the rocks in a big iron pot until the silver and lead ran out in gratifying streams with the government subsidy cheques arriving in the mail. The B.C. government subsidy encouraged other investors to put up lead-silver smelting works in the Kootenays in the 80s and 90s, all but one of which failed. Again, inexperience was the cause, together with the fact that the subsidy was paid on ore smelted, whether the smelting was sucessful or not. It was not a program which encouraged careful management.
As 1888 opened the activity in the Kootenay Lake mines became a rush and the British Columbians, once the American had demonstrated its value, made a determined, if frugal effort to get in on it. Bob Lemon, who ran a store in Revelstoke, built a scow in May and loaded it with goods for the Toad Mountain mines. George Owen Buchanan, lumberman, recorded his first trip.
“I made my first visit to Kootenay Lake in May of 1888. R.E.. Lemon constructed a scow at Farwell of 20 tons capacity, loaded it with merchandise and with the help of one half dozen men navigated it to Sproat’s Landing. I went along as a passenger. Several American outfits were camped on the banks of the Columbia. Lemon pitched a tent, opened out his stock, and continued to do business there…. then walked to Nelson, the principal feature of which was John Ward’s tent hotel. The trail extended out from Sproat’s Landing 8 miles only. Beyond this we walked on windfalls and tore our way through thickets of willows and rose bushes… We ran down the Slocan River on a raft of our own construction and crossed the Kootenay, narrowly escaping the descent of the rapids below the junction. We reached Kootenay Lake in 2 days, and the next day went to the Hall mine. A snowstorm was raging and we found the Halls in their cabin.”
The rush of American prospectors warranted appointing surveyor Henry Anderson (who had laid out that first trail over the Cascades) mining recorder for the new district and sending him in. Anderson laid out a townsite he called Salisbury, on the lakeshore where the ore from the Silver King was transferred to the Galena to be forwarded to Bonner’s Ferry. Later in 1888 Gold Commissioner, Gilbert Malcom Sproat, a pompous Englishman, contemptuous of every opinion but his own, arrived, and curtly began wielding his authority without reference to local sentiment. He officially renamed “Mineral Mountain,” “Toad Mountain,” and with a short piece of rope began laying our lots along “Vernon Street” in the townsite he called “Stanley,” about which he boasted , “…could we but keep out newspapers and lawyers, the town of all towns for civilized habitation. ” Both Anderson and Sproat were stubborn, self important men, and the lakeshore camp continued to be known as “Salisbury” by the Mining Recorder, and “Stanley,” by the Gold Commissioner. It was not until it applied for a Post Office as “Stanley,” that the name was changed again, a “Stanley” Post Office being already in existence. The new and final name was “Nelson.”
Up on Toad Mountain the Americans had built some 25 log cabins, and called their camp “Fredrickton,” with an office building for the new mining companies, a sawmill, a school, and the “Grandview Hotel.” Down on the lakeshore in cabins, tents, and shacks “Salisbury” or “Stanley” was being built along Ward Creek by Americans from Bonner’s Ferry and Spokane Falls, and British Columbians coming in from the railroad towns of Donald and Revelstoke. Denny and Devine, from Spokane Falls operated their American store; Bob Lemon from Farewells was building his Canadian store.
The isolation of the Nelson camp and the lack of a decent trail to Sproat’s Landing meant that mail went out with U.S. stamps on the Galena to Bonner’s Ferry and the U.S. Post Office system. Even when the Canadian Post Office was authorized and a man contracted to carry the mail on his back to Sproat’s landing, the U.S. route was quicker and cheaper. For its first two years, a third of the stamps sold in the Canadian Post Office were American.
In far off Victoria the B.C. Board of Trade was disturbed that once again the Americans had the trade of the miners in the Kootenays. They wanted the Hall brothers’ ore to go out by an All-Canadian route via the Columbia River to the CPR at Revelstoke and be smelted in B.C. However, as against the easy boat and wagon haul to the NP at Kootenai Station, there was only the crudest prospector’s trail from Toad Mountain, down 49 Creek to the Kootenay River and along it, scrambling over bluffs to the Columbia. And from there some means must be found to get it upstream 160 miles to the railway. Clearly, this was uncompetitve.
Gold Commissioner Gilbert Sproat was consulted as to how the trade of the Toad Mountain camp might be saved for B.C. He recommended that the CPR be urged to build that Ainsworth portage railway to connect Kootenay Lake with the Columbia, and that a steamboat service be established from Revelstoke to his new townsite of Sproat’s Landing he had laid out with his knotted rope at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia. He further urged, that until the railway were built, an all-weather trail be built from Sproat’s Landing to the Toad Mountain mines, and ferry franchises be granted for the two river crossings required. In a typical bad-tempered reversal, he then observed that the U.S. government did not spend money on miners’ trails, but left that to the gumption of the citizens involved. The American miners, he thought, (for there were few Canadians at the Toad Mountain camp), should build the trail themselves.
His advice on the latter was not taken; at the urging of the Board of Trade, the B.C. legislature appropriated money for a government trail along the right bank of the Kootenay River.
A ferry franchise was granted to Frank Fitzgerald for a crossing of the Slocan River near its mouth, and to “Long Tom” Ward for a ferry across the Kootenay at Big Pool. The trail was then to run up 49 Creek to the Toad Mountain camp. No provision was made for a link to Nelson, for that settlement, like Ainsworth and Bluebell, was an American camp on the U.S. route to Bonner’s Ferry, the NP railway and Spokane, and the B.C. legislature did not choose to further it. L. Macquarrie took the contract, and with a crew of Indians, set to work building the government trail. 1000 tons of ore lay on the Silver King dump and the Halls waited to see which route would give them the best rates.
As soon as the appropriation for the government trail was passed, three Revelstoke merchants, J. Fred Hume, William Cowan and Captain Robert Sanderson found the confidence and funds to build the steamer, Despatch, and put her on the run from the CPR connection at Revelstoke to Sloat’s landing, from which the government trail led to the Toad Mountain mines.
The Despatch was a 54 foot catamaran sternwheeler of 37 gross tons with 2 8 x 24 inch cylinders. She was reportedly a cranky vessel, difficult to steer, but with shallow draft. Except for a crude cabin at the stern containing a galley and a few bunks, she was enclosed with nothing but canvas, and offered a single chair on the roof from which a passenger might admire the scenery. With the Kootenai beached at Little Dalles, it was the Despatch that hauled Silver King ore packed out by Joe Wilson to Sloat’s landing, to the CPR at Farwells. The Canadians had at last, and very modestly entered the Kootenay trade.
The Hall brothers were uneducated men, and their method of running a mine was to dig the ore in sight, sort it, and send it down to the lake by Joe Wilson’s pack train. When the receipts arrived from the Montana smelters, they would head to town to spend them somewhat extravagantly, and when the money was gone, go back to dig more ore. The Halls were typical “good ole’ boys,” and refused to accumulate working capital for a professional development of the mine. They had found their dream, a fine, rich mine from which they could at need dig out a shipment of ore, have it packed down to the lakeshore and wait for the cheque from the smelter. They spent the money on whiskey, tobacco, horses, and fine living, and were wonderfully content.
Professional miners and businessmen were sure the Silver King could be operated much more efficiently and productively. Richard Day Atkins, an Irishman who had mining experience in South Africa, and his partner, E. Ramsey, a Montana mining engineer, visited the Hall’s mines in July, 1888, coming in via the government trail. They were impressed and offered to buy the Halls out. The Halls scorned Atkin’s nominal offer. They had no wish to sell, they told him, and put their price at a contemptuous $1 million. Another investor, M.S. Davys offered them $350,000 but was also premptorily refused.
Atkins located in Nelson and continued his efforts to buy the mine. He offered the Halls a $20,000 loan, and took a mortgage for that amount on the property. However, instead of using the money to develop the mine, the Halls spent it. Money was money in their view, and it was best spent in good living. Atkins loaned them more money, took more mortgages. In a year, the Hall brothers were deeply in debt to Atkins.
Atkins then took advantage of the uncertainty regarding the staking of the Hall claims. Secretly, he hired three men from Victoria to jump the Hall brother’s claims and file suit in court for possession. Atkins, as an educated man, was now able to convince the Hall brothers that they would probably lose their mine in a court fight and be ruined. He, however, would be willing to fight the case for them and cancel the mortgages he held, if they would make over a half interest in their properties to him. The Halls, facing the loss of all their claims, panicked and agreed. Atkins then by means unknown, had all legal proceedings stopped, perhaps by persuading the claim jumpers to withdraw their suit. But now the half owner of the enormously rich Silver King Mines, Richard Atkins never profited from his skullduggery. On August 17, 1890, he died of pneumonia in the Nelson House hotel.
All this time the Ainsworths C&K bill continued to wind its way through a succession of court battles. With the new silver excitement in the Kootenays, some resolution was obviously essential; a railway to connect Kootenay Lake with the Columbia was needed, and it must be a Canadian enterprise. It was finally, the CPR’s Superintendent of its Pacific Division, Harry Abbot, who put together the Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Navigation Company to do under the CPR flag what the Ainsworths had proposed. The B.C. Legislature was convinced this was the way to resolve the issue. In 1890 they passed a bill authorizing the Harry Abbot’s C&K Company to build the portage railroad, and operate a steamer service on the Columbia and Kootenay Lake. The land grant, however, was reduced to 200,000 acres. The Dominion Parliament then kicked in a cash subsidy of $3,200 per mile, and declared the work to be “For the general advantage of Canada.” At once the CPR leased Henry Abbot’s C&K for 999 years, and began building the railway themselves in 1890. The American contractors, brought the Kootenai off the beach at Little Dalles and used her to haul rails, timbers and supplies from Little Dalles to the construction crews.
Up at Revelstoke, British investors, counting on the easy availability of the Monarch and Lanark ores, organized the Kootenay Smelting and Trading Syndicate in 1889, and built a smelter on the banks of the Columbia at Revelstoke, south of the present High School. The lessons of the Vancouver smelter had been heeded and a reverberatory furnace was installed ahead of the blast furnace to roast the feed to reduce its sulphur content. It was blown in on July 20, 1891, and appears to have operated successfully using coke fuel imported from the U.S. and a much cheaper, locally produced charcoal. This time an experienced smelter man was in charge, and had laid in supplies of the various fluxes required for the different ores received.
Lead bullion was produced and sent to the U.S. for refining and silver-gold recovery. This was the first successful Canadian lead smelter. However a continuous source of zinc free galena ore was not available. The smelter could not efficiently operate on intermittent shipments from the local mines, nor could it successfully smelt the zinc-rich Monarch ores. After a year’s operation was closed down. A foolish dispute with the Provincial Government over who was responsible for the Columbia River undermining the clay bank beneath the smelter led to a stubborn refusal to act on the part of the owners, and eventually the smelter was washed away by high water in the Columbia, probably in the flood year of 1894.
A second company, the Galena Mining and Smelting Company went after those tempting Monarch ores –the mine being located just yards from the CPR tracks a few miles east of Field. A smelter was erected at Golden . But the zinc content of the Monarch ores again proved refractory to smelting. In melting, the zinc would alloy with the lead, forming a eutectic with a higher melting point than either led or zinc, and the whole mass would “freeze up” in the crucible and have to be laboriously chiseled out by hand. In the Revelstoke smelter apparently, the zinc-rich Monarch ores were carefully diluted with enough of the straight galena ores from the Illecillewat mines to overcome the problem. At Golden, not enough of the zinc-free ores were available, and after a few unsuccessful runs, the smelter was closed.
A third smelter was erected at Woodbury on Kootenay Lake to treat the Ainsworth District ores (and collect the Provincial subsidy). However, its crucible cracked at the first firing and its inexperienced operators gave up.
Despite the failures of the Kootenay smelters, the presence of numerous deposits of silver-lead deposits, some of them very rich, and the profitable Silver King, silver-copper mine, continued to attract investor attention. Kootenai Station on the NP was established as the American railhead for the Kootenay district. Dr. Hendryx’ 35 mile wagon road led to Dick Fry’s camp at Bonner’s Ferry, and then from there the Kootenay River was navigable to Kootenay Lake except when closed by ice in winter. The steam tugs, Bluebell, Galena, Halys, Midge, Idaho, and Surprise operated during the Eighties bringing ore out and provisions into Dr. Hendryx’ Bluebell Camp, the Ainsworth’s camp across the lake, Nelson and the Silver King mine on Toad Mountain. The Canadian connection operated via the Despatch from Revelstoke, and the pack trail to Toad Mountain with the C&K under construction.
But a new and second American reach for the Kootenay mines was underway. In Spokane Falls, Daniel Corbin who had invested in a number of B.C. mines, was putting together financing to build a railway running northwesterly from the Northern Pacific at Spokane Falls to the Columbia River, and on to Kootenay Lake to compete for that Silver King and Ainsworth ore.