At the same time the Hall brothers had been opening their Silver King mine in 1887, a pair of prospectors, George Leyson and George Brohman were toiling over the Dewdney trail. They had left their their exhausted diggings on Rock Creek to have a look at the new silver-copper discoveries at Toad Mountain mines. After climbing the long set of switchbacks out of Little Sheep Creek, they were on top of the divide looking down the headwaters of Trail Creek about a mile and a half north of the boundary. As they halted for a short rest, they noticed some dull grey quartz outcrops beside the trail. They examined these and suspected silver.
Leyson and Brohman were hard rock miners, and they knew that quartz sometimes carried gold. Although they were simple miners without resources, they knew how to make a crude field test for minerals. Gold bearing quartz, they knew, was most often a clear white or a rusty brown. Quartz with silver, they had heard, was dingy grey, an oyster colour, or sometimes almost black. The field prospector’s first test was to knock off a small piece of promising rock and lick it with his tongue. This was long established procedure. Every prospector had a tongue, and it was his first tool of assay. The mining camp saloons of Rock Creek, of Colville and Ainsworth, were full of men displaying specimens of ore to their cronies, who would at once apply their tongues, and then examine spit-shiny surface with the hand lens each carried. The saliva — water would do as well — made any flecks of mineral shiny and more visible. A quick gulp of whiskey took away the foul metallic taste if the mineral were copper or lead.
Leyson and Brohman, up on the Trail Creek Divide, licked their samples and held them to the sunlight, peering at them through their hand lenses. What they saw were thin, spidery dark blue lines running through the quartz, possibly carrying gold or silver. They had no commercial assay outfit such as that George Hearst had carried. However, they knew a few tricks. They knew that a piece of rock barren of mineral and the size of a small egg, should weigh two ounces, more or less. They hammered out an egg sized chunk of the quartz they had found. They carried no scale, or set of weights. But they had knives and a shot glass from a saloon. They whittled out a stick, notched its ends and balanced it on the edge of a shovel. Two identical tin cups were hung from its ends. The egg sized chunk of quartz was placed in one cup; in the other they poured two shot glasses of water. If two ounces of water failed to balance the rock, some heavy mineral must be contained in it. The rock in the cup refused to rise: they had mineral.
Next, they crushed the rock to powder by pounding it with an axe head in their frying pan. They then carefully poured the powdered rock into their “matrass.” Every knowledgeable prospector carried his “matrass.” A “matrass” is a test tube. The word is Arabic, coming from the very first Mediterranean miners. It went into Spanish, and the Mexican miners in the Southwest taught it to the American miners along with these ancient techniques.
To the powdered sample in their matrass they added mercury, which every miner carried in a small bottle to amalgamate small fleck of gold too tiny to separate by washing. Salt and soda from their food supply were added , and the tube was filled with water, shaken well, and boiled. A tiny, pinhead button formed in the bottom of the tube. This was an amalgam of mercury with some metallic mineral. The button was carefully removed, washed, and placed on a shovel which was held over the fire to vaporize the mercury. A very tiny pellet of sponge gold was left. Their sample contained gold. The discovery was worth staking.
The field test for silver was more complex. We do not know if Leyson and Brohman carried nitric acid with them. If they did, they would have added nitric acid and salt to some of the pulverized rock and gently heated the mixture in their matrass. If any silver was present it would form a thick, white cloud of silver chloride in the bottom of the tube. If this were held up to bright sunlight, the white cloud would quickly turn a purply black, an infallible sign of silver. If the sunlight refused to darken the cloud, they had lead. If they suspected copper, they could add ammonia. If then, the white cloud turned blue, copper was confirmed. Or, lacking ammonia, a knife blade could be dipped into the mixture, and if copper were present it would be deposited on the knife as a reddish stain.
Whatever tests Leyson and Brohman made, they convinced themselves sufficiently to set up camp there on the divide and begin digging on the showing with hand tools. They staked the location as the Lily May, and worked on it all summer, with picks, sledges, rock drills and shovels, putting down a pit some eighteen feet deep. They hauled several tons of ore out of the pit and piled them beside it. They took samples of this ore to the nearest assayer, probably in Colville. He reported that the ore ran $4.00 in gold and 29 ounces of silver ( at 90¢ per ounce) to the ton. This was not enough to pay for packing the ore to the Columbia for boat transport to a smelter. Leyson and Brohman therefore abandoned the Lily May, leaving the ore on the dump until such time as the politicians made good on their promise to improve the Dewdney Trail to a wagon road.
In 1889 Newlin Hoover and Oliver Bordeaux restaked the Lily May. With E. J. Roberts laying Daniel Corbin’s track toward Colville at a blistering pace, and intending to push it to the Columbia in the next season, abandoned claims were being restaked all over Stevens Country and across the line in B. C. Ore that had been too low in grade to pay for packing and wagon haul to Spokane, now might turn out to be commercial with cheap rail transport..
Wintering in Colville, as many prospectors did, was Joe Moris, a French Canadian miner. In the Spring of 1890, he was hired by Hoover and Bordeaux to go north with Oliver Bordeaux, cross into Canada and do the assessment work on the Lily May.
Even though snow still covered the ground around Colville on March 17, 1890, Bordeaux and Moris left by sleigh for the Columbia. Hoover remained behind. He had claims on Toad Mountain to visit and planned to meet them in Nelson later that Spring. March was much too early in the season for prospecting, but Bordeaux and Moris wanted to be the first on Trail Creek Divide that spring to scout the ground and to locate claims before the less zealous arrived. They would then be in a position to sell locations to newcomers. But packing into the Kootenay mountains over the snow was a brutal proposition; only the strongest and most determined of men could hope to succeed.
In later years Joe Moris was taught to read and write by his wife, and left this account of that 1890 expedition.
“We left Colville on the seventeenth day of March, 1890, and went as far as Little Dalles by sleigh, and there Mr. Bordeaux hired a boat and two men to help us up the river to the mouth of Trail Creek. Here Mr. Bordeaux expected to have horses to do the packing from the river to the claim, but we found too much snow on the Trail so we could not use horse for packing. So Mr. Bordeaux and I had to pack everything on our backs and as I remember it now, it was hard work as we had to travel over five feet of snow, and in the afternoon (when the sun would have softened the crust on the snow) it was impossible to get over it at all. It was not until we were very nearly through with the assessment work that the snow had gone off enough so I could see some bare patches of ground on the south slope of Red Mountain, which showed the surface to be very red and which attracted my attention at once.
“As we were about through with the work, Mr. Bordeaux informed me that he did not have any money to pay me there but he said he had some in Nelson, and I would have to go there for it. I did not mind that as I had to go somewhere for supplies so I could come back and prospect.
“We got through with the work at noon on the 18th day of April, and in the afternoon I started across the country with the intention of going to Red Mountain, but on my way I found a good looking cropping and I stopped right there and located the Home Stake mineral claim and went back to camp.
“The next morning we left for Nelson. When we got there Mr. Bordeaux said he would leave the money for me in a day or two. However, after some four or five days’ waiting, he told me that he had no money and could not pay me. So I had to look for work. I went up to the Silver King mine on Toad Mountain and got employment. I worked there seventeen and one half shifts.
“Then I went down to Nelson and bought what little supplies I could pack on my back and started down the river (on the Government Trail to Sloat’s Landing) for Trail Creek. But when I got there I found the weather was too bad to prospect so I went to work on the Home Stake and continued that work until Mr. Bourgeois and partner made their appearance. They started to prospect together and I began prospecting also. But it was only three days after they got there that Pat, who was Mr. Bourgeois’ partner (but his surname I cannot remember) had enough of the country and quit prospecting in disgust.
“It was then the Mr. Bourgoeis and I began prospecting together and on the second of July, 1890 we located the following claims: Centre Star, War Eagle, Idaho and Virginia, and I put two stakes on the extension of the Centre Star and called it Le Wise.
“We did not stake this claim with the intention of holding it, but just to secure the ground until we could get back from Nelson in case someone came in while we were gone — and also in case we might be able to do something with it. We could not hold the ground ourselves as we had two claims apiece and that was all we were allowed according to the mining laws of British Columbia. So we could not hold it even if we wanted to.” (Evidently, Joe Moris had dropped the Home Stake claim.)
“The next morning, the third of July, we left for Nelson. We arrived there on the fourth of July,
the next day.” (Moris and Bourgeois must have caught the steamer to Sloat’s Landing and made a very quick hike over the 24 mile trail to do this.) “We had our samples assayed and out of ten samples the best was $3.25 and six of them showed no trace. So as a natural consequence we were not very much excited over our find, in fact Mr. Bourgeois said he would not go back as the claims were not worth recording. I thought better of it and told Mr. Bougeois that we had better have the claims put on record and go back and do some work on them, and see if we could not find some ore that had more value. He consented to do that but he said he did not feel like paying out money to to have traces put on record. Mr. Bourgeois said he knew Mr. E.S. Topping, who was Deputy Recorder at Nelson at that time, and if I did not mind it, he would go and see Mr. Topping and show him the ore and tell him how much we had of it. And if he would pay for recording our four claims we would put him on a good extension on the west end of the Centre Star claim, which was as good as any one of our four locations. This proposition was at once taken up and on the seventeenth of July we started for Trail Creek — and went to work on the Centre Star claim.”
Little Joe Moris was born Joseph Maurice, the fifth of ten childen in a Quebec family in 1864. He left home at age 11 to work as a galley boy on board a boat on the Great Lakes. He left the boat for kitchen work in a hotel. When the Canadian Pacific Railwwy was building west, Moris with a partner joined a CPR construction crew, whipsawing lumber. When three of the crew were killed by Indians, Moris decided he had enough of railroad construction and struck off alone. With a small donkey carrying his possessions, he showed up in Colville, Washington around 1885 and sought work at the Old Dominion mine. Moris recalled in a Spokesman-Review story in 1928, that Big Jack Hanley was looking for someone to wriggle into a narrow vein and mine out the high grade silver ore without wasting effort dealing with the waste rock. Small Joe Moris was just the man he wanted, and hired him on the spot. For the next five years Moris would work off and on at the Old Dominion, earning enough for a grubstake, then taking off into the mountains with his burro for some amateur prospecting on his own. He was known as an honest and hard worker, uneducated, but could find work mining whenever he needed funds. Prospecting in the open air, rather than underground mining, was his life and his chosen vocation. He continued this life of winter mining and summer prospecting until the trip to the Trail Creek Divide with Oliver Bordeaux in 1890.
After the Red Mountain discovery, Moris worked at opening up his and Bourgeois’ claims on Red Mountain until they were able to sell them. With money in his pocket, Moris then went to Spokane to renew his acquaintance with Miss Rebecca Trego, a schoolteacher from Kansas City. The pair were married in California in 1894, and Mrs. Moris taught her husband to read and write.
For a time the couple lived in Rossland where Moris worked at the Le Roi Mine whose manager, Colonel Peyton, took a liking to him and hired a tutor to help him complete his education. Moris farmed for a while near Spokane, but prospecting drew him back to Canada. He joined the Klondike Rush in 1898 and worked and prospected there. He continued prospecting trips with his wife by air into the Big Bear Lake country of the Northwest Territories, and to camps in Utah, Montana, Idaho and Nevada. His last prospecting trip was in 1938. This tough and honest little man died in Spokane Feb. 7, 1964, just short of his 100th birthday.
8 thoughts on “THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 18”
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You had to be an adventurer to take all that hardship upon you for a claim that might not be worth anything. Especially the winters must have been cruel.
We took a virtual trip with the CPR from Toronto to Vancouver together with Chris Tarrant. He has a tv series “The craziest train rides of the world” or something similar. It was very interesting to see all these places. The first leg of the journey he didn’t take the CPR though, but a local train on a parallel line, mainly for moose hunters. He had to sit on the floor in the waggon there weren’t any seats, but the nature that train went through, so beautiful! And later on the Rockies, breathtaking!
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Soon it will be time to take the real trip through Canada, if you can afford the journey. I understand it is quite expensive and the trip is very long …
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I really would like to do it, but maybe not by train. I mean, it doesn’t stop at night while you sleep … 😉 … My husband is in theory game, it all depends on money. I have to get my pensions first. That will be in 2021, I think.
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That gives you plenty of time to do some good planning, you two. Best wishes! Peter
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I planned a route already … 😉 with about 250 km every day. Some places might not be so interesting and one drives through quicker, in other places one might want to stay a day or two … hehe, one can always dream … 🙂
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Sounds good! 250 km a day is a reasonable distance to travel in a day und ist keine Kilometerfresserei.
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Fascinating account of people living pretty much by their wits and driven by a need to earn fortune and fame. Equally fascinating is that these tales got told.