Colonel Eugene Sayre Topping was born on Long Island, New York State in 1844. He acquired a fairly good education before going to sea at the age of twelve. After eleven years at sea and on the Great Lakes, (exactly as Joe Moris was to do twenty years later), he went west in 1868. He worked as a tie contractor for the Union Pacific building west through the Wyoming territory. When that transcontinental was completed he headed north to the Yellowstone River country in Montana. Here he prospected, mined, guided tourist parties to the newly discovered Yellowstone region, and by his own testimony, he worked as a “wolfer,” one who puts out poisoned baits for wolves and retrieves their carcasses for the pelts which were in demand. He located in Bozeman, and tried various other enterprises, meeting personally many of the Montana pioneers whose stories he told in his popular book, Chronicles of the Yellowstone, published in 1884.
He acquired his title of Colonel probably by being of service to the Territorial Governor, in some way unrevealed. Among North Americans in the 1880s and 1890s, a military title conferred a certain social and commercial status on a western gentleman, particularly in the mining field. Technically, these Colonelcies conferred the command of a non-existent regiment of State or Territorial Militia supposed to be ready to spring into action in case of Indian troubles.
“Colonel” Lowery, one of the pioneer newspapermen of the Kootenays, was bluntly accurate when he referred to his own title modestly as “More millinery than military.”
Colonel Topping’s newspaper articles, occasional poetry, and his book display a terse, energetic style, entirely free from the tedious pedantries of most writers of the period. His book is a good read, a chronicle of twenty years of Indian fights in Montana and North Dakota. His Indians are always treacherous, evil and cruel, as the popular belief of the time ran, though he does make a qualified exception for the Nez Perce. His prospectors and ranchers are always noble and heroic. His first Yellowstone Park tourists are uniformly inept greenhorns, a considerable burden to their guides, of which he was one of the first. His version of the Custer massacre has been superseded by later research, though he does fault Custer for his folly in attacking a force whose strength he did not know.
In later years, Topping made the claim that he furnished Hubert Howe Bancroft with much Wyoming and Montana material for his histories of those states. In short, he was an educated man of conventional beliefs, and an amateur historian of events he had witnessed and men he had known.
However, once the Northern Pacific came through Bozeman and brought the trappings and settled amenities of civilization, Colonel Topping moved west, just as he had moved north into unknown country when the Union Pacific had been completed. In 1888 he was on the frontier again in the Coeur d’Alene mines, when he heard of the rich Toad Mountain strike in British Columbia. He set off at once for this newest mining frontier, hoping to get there before all the good ground had been staked.
From the Coeur D’Alene mines he would have taken Dan Corbin’s narrow gauge train to the boat dock at Mission and there boarded Corbin’s sternwheel steamer, Coeur d’ Alene for Coeur d’Alene City at the dock at the foot of Third Street. The next morning he would have taken the NP train into Spokane Falls and outfitted himself for a prospecting expedition into British Columbia. At 3:00 AM the NP eastbound express would have picked him up and let him off on a cold, grey morning on the muddy single street of Kootenai Station, gateway to the Kootenay mines. A rough, all day stage ride up Dr. Hendryx’ toll road would have brought him to Bonner’s Ferry on the Kootenay River. There he would doubtless have watched with interest as sacks of high grade silver-copper ore were unloaded from the small, twin screw steamer, Idaho. This was Hall brothers’ ore from their already famous Silver King.
Although the fare to Kootenay Lake points was an outrageous $20, about the same as an NP ticket to Portland, Colonel Topping paid, and took passage for the steamer landing at “Stanley/ Salisbury.” Two days later he was stepping ashore on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake at the start of Joe Wilson’s pack trail to the Toad Mountain mines. William Cockle, who operated the even smaller, steamer, Midge, describes the point of disembarkation.
“At Stanley we pushed the nose of the Midge ashore, or as near shore as the mud would allow, and disembarked our six passengers, who evinced remarkable agility in negotiating leaps from rock to rock or
the balancing acts required to negotiate the round (logs) with which some of the intervening spaces were filled. These (logs) had the bad manners to sink when an undue weight was placed upon them, or to slide out sideways when (one’s) balance was improperly adjusted by the shifting of a quid (of tobacco) from one cheek to the other; the adhering mud only adding variety to the landscape. The landing was made about the foot of (what was later to be) Hall street. There faced us as we looked ashore a steep bank on which three or four log shacks had been erected… Fire had left nothing of the heavy growth of timber that had previously covered the ground, but a profusion of blackened logs lay everywhere, through which a trail had been cleared from the ‘steamboat landing’ along what is now known as Ward Street.
“Adjoining this trail were located two tents, the first being occupied as a general store which was
owned by Messers. J. Fred Hume and Bob Lemon. The other tent served as a primitive hotel, under the management of John Ward. It was provided with a stock of both solid and liquid refreshments without which no self-respecting mining town could ever start business. As everybody packed his own blankets in those days, linen was not furnished with the sleeping accommodations.
“A little to the west of this trail near where the provincial jail now stands was a shake shanty occupied by the Spokane mining promotion firm of Denny, Devine & Co., dealers in evrthing a prospector
could ask for or desire. It sure was a “bum looking layout…”
Scraping mud from his boots and trousers, Colonel Topping climbed the clay bank and entered the burnt over, “bum looking layout” which called itself Stanley or Salisbury, the American gateway to the Toad Moutain mines. The fire had not been accidental. It had been set to burn off the townsite so that the the two surveyors could lay out their streets and lots. The accepted view of forests at that time was that they were to be got rid of as quickly as possible to make way for farms and cities.
Advertising his presence as a gentleman prospector, the Colonel made a quick tour of the camp, Denny & Devine’s outfitting store, Hume and Lemon’s establishment, and John and Josephine Ward’s hotel, a three room tent. In the days following, he introduced himself to most of the inhabitants including Nick Moon, Tom Collins, Dr. Labau, Ike Naile, Charley Malley, Ike Loughheed, John Commerford, Cy Johns, and Bart Henderson. Most of these men were prospectors or miners working up on Toad Mountain for the Hall brothers.
Topping shortly became friendly with the American couple, Frank and Mary Jane Hanna in their snug log cabin. Frank was the camp blacksmith, and Mary Jane was willing to board the Colonel who found her meals superior to any in the camp. He found a cabin to share with another gold seeker and began prospecting at once.
As winter came on, most of the prospecting community took passage on the twice weekly trips of Richard Fry’s 37 foot steamer Idaho for the steam heated hotels and settled amenities of Spokane, Colville or Walla Walla. Colonel Topping, however, decided to stay the winter, one of just a handful of men who chose to do so. He was doubtless encouraged in this by his friendship with the Hanna family. Mary Jane in particular earned his regard as the first white woman to spend the winter on the shores of Kootenay Lake with its legendary snowfalls.
As the first snow of winter came sifting down through the grey October skies, the Wards
folded up their tent hotel and with others, boarded the tiny six ton Idaho. Captain Fry whistled a final farewell to the tiny camp, and churned out into the choppy waters of the West Arm heading for Bonner’s Ferry where he would lay up his boat for the winter. He would not be back until Spring.
The winter isolation of the tiny camp that was to be Nelson is difficult to imagine today.
Once the snows fell, the trails would be closed until the surface crusted in February. Ice formed on the West Arm during those winters, colder than ours today, and passage by boat or canoe was risky. Some game might be shot, a few fish might be caught, but supplies of tea, sugar and flour and dried apples would have to last until the Dick Fry brought the Idaho back in late April. If a man had a prospect, he could spend the winter lengthening his tunnel or deepening his shaft. That was lonely work. When the lake was open or when a hard crust had formed on the snow, miners from the Ainsworth camp and 49 Creek would make the trip to Nelson, just to have someone to talk to. Hume and Lemon’s store would be called upon for tobacco, bottle goods, and tinned delicacies, and a feast would be held in one of the smoky cabins where the talk would go on all night, perhaps two. When the weather looked suitable, the miner would shoulder his supplies and head back to his mine and his solitary cabin. It was a brutal life, but the confidence that each one of them would shortly become very rich, kept them at it. That and the dreams of a life of ease and boozy pleasure once the big bonanza had been struck.
The next May, the one eyed newspaperman, Randall H. Kemp made the trip from Spokane to visit the Kootenay Lake camps and reported to his readers,
“By sundown we touched at the principal camp on the lake, Hot Springs, known since that year
(1889) as “Ainsworth.” About 200 miners and prospectors were at the landing to greet our steamer… After discharging passengers and freight, the little boat crossed the lake to the Bluebell mine, as in the absence of wharves, that was the safest place to tie up for the night. As there were no hotel accommodations at Hot Springs, I remained on the boat, and … slept in my blankets under the dining table at the cabin of the Bluebell mine…
“A portion of the next day was spent in looking over the famous and historic Bluebell mine. I went through the cross-cut (tunnel) which showed a very low grade (deposit) of 86 feet and nine inches in width at a depth of 86 feet from the surface. Evidences of Hudson’s Bay mining to secure lead for their flint lock muskets were to be seen. Also the ruins of an old Scotch hearth furnace which George Hearst of California (constructed) about twenty years before, and also the dump on which Thomas Hammil stood in June, 1885 when a bullet ended his earthly career… In the evening … I crossed the lake in a row boat to the Hot Springs.
“Major Gus B. Wright was at that time working the Number One mine under bond. Between the Major, Josiah Fletcher, and General John Adair of Astoria Oregon, I was royally entertained while at the camp. They had a cook tent presided over by Earnest Harrop, now a prosperous merchant and mine owner of the Slocan, as their chef, while for a bed I had a section of the floor in Fltecher & Co’s log cabin store, the first mercantile establishment on Kooteany Lake…
“…it became necessary for me to go to Nelson so as to examine the budding bonanzas of Toad Mountain. The Cockle brothers… were running a small stream launch called the Mud Hen (Midge) which towed a large skiff between Hot Springs and Nelson… To size up the town was not a difficult job… John F. Ward… had a huge tent which covered dining room, sleeping apartment and bar. In fact, it was the only hotel in this part of West Kooteany. J. Fred Hume… had a small stock of merchandise in a log cabin. E.S. Topping… was the clerk, generalissimo, and walking encyclopedia of the camp. Mr. Topping was a U. S. subject, but he had been interim mining recorder pending arrival of Mr. F. H. Griffin… I called on Mr.Griffin…I can scarcely recall the first Government House of Southern Kootenay, but the following description is not far wrong: The building was about 10’ x12.’ Its floor was composed of native dirt, the sides and roof of split cedar shakes and very wide cracks. A hewn plank along on side made a substitute for a desk on which were piled the record books and archives of this portion of Her Majesty’s domain. In one corner was a bed of poles, and the walls were embellished with handcuffs, leg irons etc. as a menace to would-be evildoers.
“A track through the wilderness had been cut from the Columbia River to Nelson, a distance of twenty-eight miles, which by courtesy was called a trail… I stuck out along this path, my objective being the Poorman Gold Mine, six miles below Nelson. I found “Ike” Naile, one of the owners, in the cabin; his partner, P.J. McDougal was across the river hunting caribou…
“Next steamer day Ike and I went up to Nelson. Among the incoming passengers were James F. Wardner and John C. Davenport, both after the Poorman gold mine, but neither aware of the other’s intentions. When they did find out, however, a game of Seven-Up played on a log in front of Ward’s tent hotel, and won by Davenport, caused him to purchase the claim for something like $35,000…
“About the time of my advent in the future capital of Kootenay, there appeared upon the scene the first two real pioneers of their class, but a sample of the unfortunates found in all mining camps, two women of a class utterly degenerate and lost to any feeling of decency. These frail sisters of the world had walked over the trail mentioned above (twenty-eight miles!) from the Columbia River. One was young and fair as the lily and a fair sample of the Caucasian race; her companion was aged and of the Afro-American-Canadian style, black as the festive crow.
Mr. Wardner… and myself had decided we would visit Hot Springs Camp in company, and on a Sunday afternoon were awaiting the arrival of Dick Fry’s small steam tug, Idaho, which towed a barge, to come down the outlet (West Arm) and we would take passage on her return trip. A white engineer and pilot were on the tug, but the scow was mangled by a swash (Indian) crew. Jim (Wardner) and I went rustling for provisions for the trip and managed to raise a two-pound box of soda crackers, a can of Bartlett pears, and a quart bottle of Canadian Rye. When we went aboard the boat we found the two females mentioned and about twenty prospectors had preceded us. Soon we were steaming up the outlet, Jim and I intent on watching an aged Swash in the rear end of the scow making preparations for supper. When the meal, consisting of bannocks, potatoes, bacon and tea was ready, the cook picked up the gangplank over which barefoot Indians and hobnailed miners had been trampling and placed an end on each guard rail on the sides of the scow. On this were placed the food, tin plates, tin cups and iron knives and forks. We were at our evening meal around this festive board, and if we didn’t enjoy the edibles, we did he novelty of he surroundings.
“As there happened to be rough water out in the main lake, Jack Adler who was purser and master of ceremonies in the scow, decided to land the outfit and camp for the night. Accordingly we made a landing… On the down trip of the boat a considerable quantity of baled hay had been unloaded at Balfour, destined for Hot Springs camp. Several of these bales were opened and the hay distribute over the floor of the scow for bedding purposes… The remembrance of that night on Dick Fry’s scow will never be effaced. It is amusing …to meet one of the whites who was there at the time; they generally say, ‘You remember that night on Dick Fry’s scow!’”
Colonel Topping remained in Nelson acting as its de facto postmaster which meant laying in a supply of American stamps, since all the mail went out by the Fry’s tug to Bonner’s Ferry in the Washington Territory. As well, he seems to have been constable, clerk in Hume and Lemon’s store, and becoming deputy mining recorder when the Government Agent, Terence Griffin, found other duties taking up all his time. But chiefly he prospected, hunting for that elusive gold mine that all the Nelson residents believed would make them rich and independent some day. On one of his prospecting expeditions Colonel Topping accidentally shot himself in the wrist and was disabled from active gold hunting for a time. The Kaslo neswpaperman, Colonel Lowery, gave his own version of the accident.
“Colonel Topping…instead of prudently drinking from a bottle like the rest of us, stooped to a creek to slake his thirst when his .44 dropped out of his pocket and opened a crosscut on his wrist.”
This was the situation when Bourgeois and Moris found him nursing his bad wrist in Hume and Lemon’s store and persuaded him to take one of their claims in exchange for paying the recording fees for the other four. A few days after receiving the Le Wise claim from Moris and Bourgeois, he set off, bad wrist and all with his friend, Frank Hanna, a strong, hearty man with two good arms and ready to dig, to have a look at his new claim which he had renamed the Le Roi. The route they took was the connecting trail over Granite Mountain to the government trail to Sloat’s Landing. This Nelson link was in such bad shape that travellers, extricating themselves from treacherous bogs and slipping from improvised steam crossings, had hung hand lettered signs at every outrage expressing their ferocious opinions of the contractors. The Reverend Mr. Cameron, travelling this trail in 1888, reported primly to the Kamloops Inland Sentinel, “Some of the notices put up by the bums are most profane.”
Probably expressing some profanity of their own, Topping and Hanna reached “Long Tom” Ward’s ferry over the Kootenay River, and on the far bank had some stretches of the unfinished grade of the Columbia & Kootenay Railway to hike on. At Sproats they awaited the arrival of the Kootenai which was hauling supplies from the railhead at Little Dalles for the C&K contractors.
The partners took passage on the Kootenai and 30 mile downstream disembarked at Trail Creek. Here they found a crowd of prospectors already on the ground. The news of Moris’ and Bourgeois’ strike had gotten out, probably spread by the Nelson assayer, and Red Mountain was beginning to draw a crowd. A tent restaurant was already in operation on the beach, and was crowded with prospectors spitting on chucks of ore brought down from the mountain and showing them to their cronies. Eugene Topping must have felt very lucky; here a mining rush was developing and he already owned one of the discovery claims.
The next morning Topping and Hanna rolled out of their blankets, gobbled down a quick breakfast of flapjacks and scalding tea at the tent restaurant, and hurried up the old Dewdney Trail. Short of the pass, they bore to the right to the red mountain on the northwest horizon. There they found Bourgeois and Moris who led them to the Le Wise, now the Le Roi. Frank Hanna with his two good arms pounded and chiselled out some ore samples for assay. A few hundred feet away Moris and Bourgeois were putting down a pit on their best claim, the Centre Star. The rock, to Topping’s eye, appeared to get richer a few feet down, so he encouraged Frank to go deeper on the Le Roi and take samples at depth.
They were back at the river the next day, and Eugene Topping, taking a walk around the little flat at the mouth of Trail Creek, observed that this would make a perfect townsite. If paying mines should be developed up on Red Mountain, all supplies and passengers would have to be unloaded from the steamers here. Miners would need meals and a night’s sleep before heading up the trail. Returning from the diggings to celebrate or advertise their claims for sale, they would need the bottled cheer of a bar. Topping and Hanna decided that as soon as they could get back to Nelson with their samples for assay, they would file with the Government Agent, Terence Griffin, for 300 acres at the mouth of Trail Creek for a townsite. The sale of town lots, Colonel Topping hoped, would pay for the development of his Le Roi.
Back in Nelson, the new assays decided the Colonel and Hanna. Their specimens assayed $398 in gold per ton, plus two ounces of silver. This was with gold at $18 per ounce. If we convert this to the current gold price it would amount to some $8,000 for something like a pickup load of rock. Colonel Topping applied to Victoria for Canadian citizenship so that he could take up the township claim, a procedure restricted to British subjects.
As other prospectors brought in their samples and got similar assays, the whole Northwest broke wide open with a serious attack of gold fever, and came scrambling to the Columbia for transportation to the new camp. Within a few days Trail Creek Landing became an instant mining camp, as men from Washington, Idaho and Oregon piled off the Kootenai and the brand new Lytton onto the beach. Colonel Lowery, who put out his newspaper in a succession of mining camps describes such a settlement,
“The camp was new and short of frills, boiled shirts, parsons, lawyers, and prohibition orators. It had plenty of whiskey, a few canaries and other birds (prostitutes are meant) and several pianos. All the rest of the population were mule skinners, packers, trail blazers, remittance men, and producers, with only a slight trace of tenderfeet. The police slept only in the daytime.”
On the 14th of August, their townsite filed for, Colonel Topping, Frank and Mary Jane Hanna, and their four children, packed up their belongings and left Nelson, starting down the unfinished railroad grade to Sproats, their goods on twenty of Joe Wilson’s pack horses. At the Columbia they had to wait for a steamer. The Lytton had been mobbed at Revelstoke by miners with their tents, horses, mules, tools and boxes of provisions, all trying to get on board. Departure was delayed and it did not get to Sproats’ until the 16th. Topping and the Hannas
pushed their way on board, piling their possessions on the deck as the cargo space was full.
At their arrival at Trail Creek they watched the eager miners mobbing the tent restaurant and swarming up the Dewdney Trail. Once they had their property on shore, Frank and the Colonel set about choosing a site for Trail Creek Landing’s first hotel. They picked a creekside location on the left bank, about where the Civic Centre now stands. Frank Hanna got out his axe and began felling trees.
Back in Nelson in July Bob Lemon’s curiosity had been roused by he sudden decamping of his store manager. In a bonanza crazy town, the unannounced departure of a resident, bag and baggage, was thoughtfully noted. Topping must be onto a good thing, Bob Lemon decided, and it would bear investigating. He quickly gathered a few supplies and saddled his horse. At Sproats he was assured that the Colonel and Frank Hanna had indeed taken passage for Trail Creek. Bob Lemon followed on the next trip of the Lytton. Arrived at the chaotic camp on the riverbank, he too climbed the steep eight miles to Red Mountain, and staked the Josie claim just above the Colonel’s Le Roi. Lemon at once hired men to begin digging on the Josie and piling the rusty looking ore on the dump. Just below, at the Le Roi, Colonel Topping was doing the same, hiring men with the first proceeds from his lot sales. Down at the Columbia Frank Hanna was building a log hotel. In a few weeks it was opened as “Trail House,” with Mary Jane running the bar, and providing meal service with her children waiting tables. Ordered from Spokane, on Dan Corbin’s railroad and shipped upstream on the Lytton, was a supply of picks, shovels and miner’s candles for sale under a tree. Frank worked out back, hauling in logs to build himself a blacksmith’s shop.
When he learned that Topping had already filed on the Trail Creek delta as a townsite, Bob Lemon crossed the river and staked out 200 acres on the east bank for his townsite. If it were approved, he planned to erect a store there. Meanwhile, he got himself back up to the Josie and began hand sorting and sacking the best ore coming out of his claim.
As soon as pack stock became available, Bon Lemon and Eugene Topping loaded their best ore on the animals for the steep trip down to the river. On its next trip north, the Lytton carried this first Red Mountain ore to the Revelstoke lead smelter. However, the smelter men at Revelstoke were unfamiliar with copper smelting. Topping’s and Lemon’s ore contained $300 – $400 of gold in every ton but the Revelstoke operators were unable to recover a minor percentage of it. The rest was dumped on the riverbank to harden into a black, refractory mass.
Topping was deeply disappointed. He had rich ore in the Le Roi, but more than half its value was being rejected as unworkable by the unskillful smelter men at Revelstoke. It would be necessary to ship the Le Roi ore all the way to the Butte, Montana copper smelters to realize its full value. There was a company there, the Montana Ore Purchasing Company, that would accept small lots of ore from mine owners and custom smelt them. It was managed by an aggressive young American named Frederick Augustus Heinze.
Only the best of the Red Mounain ore would pay its way to Butte. It had to be sorted out by hand at the mine, sacked and shipped down to the steamer landing on pack animals, then loaded onto the Lytton for the trip to Little Dalles, where it would put on the SF&N for Spokane and forwarded to Butte by the NP. This left the bulk of the ore from Topping’s and the the other mines on the dumps at Red Mountain. It was good, commercial ore, but not rich enough to pay for that expensive haul to Butte. What was needed, everyone saw, was a copper smelter, right here at the mines. But the cost of such a works was far above the capacity of the still small community of Trail Creek. Men of wealth would have to become involved. Now that the pre-emption of his townsite had been approved and the land was his, Colonel Topping needed money to begin clearing streets of stumps, laying out lots and installing a water system. He would have to raise the money by putting up a portion of his Le Roi mine for purchase.
With that in mind, Colonel Topping took samples of his very best ore and boarded the Lytton on one of its Tuesday and Friday trips down the Columbia to Little Dalles. There, getting on the cars of the Spokane Falls and Northern, he headed for Spokane where investors were to be found.
On the trip south he met two Spokane lawyers, George Forster and Colonel W. N. Ridpath. Forster and Ridpath had been inspecting the Dead Medicine mine in Stevens County as a potential investment, and Topping was extremely lucky to encounter them in a mood to buy.
Forster and Colonel Ridpath were impressed by his samples. In Spokane they introduced him to other potential investors they knew, including Colonel W. W. Turner and Colonel I. N. Peyton.
Topping, a Colonel among Colonels, was able to convince the group to take a bond on 16 thirtieths of his Le Roi. This bond obliged the Colonels to spend at least $3,000 sinking a shaft and gave them the option, but not the obligation, to buy the 16 thirtieths by June 1, 1891 for $16,000. Forming a syndicate were Colonels W.W. Turner, W. N. Ridpath, I. N. Peyton, and Major Armstrong, plus the civilians George Turner, Alexander Tarbet and Frank Graves. With them was the experienced mining man, Oliver Durant. And, since all of the syndicate owed considerable back rent and board to their host, hotel owner W. S. Harris, they took him in as a settlement of their accounts.
“Bonding” a mining property was the usual means of development at the time. For an agreement to buy at a specified price, the mine or a certain interest in it, by a specified date, the prospective purchaser got the right to work the mine and sell the ore developed. There was usually a down payment on the purchase price to seal the agreement and sometimes monthly instalments to be paid. At the expiry of the time period, usually six months, the purchasers ad the right to “throw up the bond.” and walk away without further payment or liability. Or they could pay the remainder owning on the purchase price, and the mine or the fractional interest in it was theirs. The system was a good one. It allowed a prospector without funds, to have others open his mine for him for sale if it proved valuable, while investors were able to discover a mine’s worth without being obliged to buy a possibly barren property.
Oliver Durant and Bill Harris of the Colonels’ syndicate, set out that winter with Durant’s mining foreman, Ed Kellie, to inspect the Le Roi on Red Mountain. The steamer service of the CKSN had been withdrawn because of ice and low water. The men had to make their way over the crusted snow from Little Dalles to Trail Creek. There, they did not stop overnight at Trail House with Colonel Topping, but camped in a shelter up on the bench where the Trail Smelter stands today. Most probably they did not want to advertise their presence. Oliver Durant was a well known mining man, and Trail was now crowded with Americans who knew him at sight. His appearance in Trail would give rise to speculations that would have instantly inflated the asking price of every property on Red Mountain. And as it turned out, Oliver Durant was not merely making the trip for a look at the Le Roi; he intended so see if he might pick up an adjacent claim for himself.
The next morning the three set out early on the hard crusted snow for Red Mountain, 8 miles up the creek. Durant examined the amateurish Le Roi workings, climbed down into Colonel Topping’ shallow shaft and was satisfied with what he found. He instructed Ed Kellie to hire four men and begin sinking a proper shaft at once on the main Le Roi vein. He also told Kellie to send him weekly samples of the ore he encountered. Then Durant went over to look at the War Eagle and Centre Star to see if perhaps they were worth bonding.
By the spring of 1891, Ed Kellie had the shaft down 35 feet on the Le Roi and had ten tons of good ore on the dump awaiting shipment. With a good cover of snow on the ground it was rawhided down to the Columbia. Rawhiding was the preferred means of transporting ore in the winter. The sacks were wrapped in a green cowhide, hair side out, and dragged by a horse down the trail over the snow. A packhorse could carry on its back but 400 pounds of ore, but pulling a rawhide bundle, it could easily move 1500 pounds. The especially tough hides of old Texas Longhorn cattle were favoured for this service. A triangular block of wood was fitted into the neck hole and the hide nailed securely to it. On the point of the block a clevis was inserted and the singletree hooked to it. Eyelets were let into the edges of the hide for lacing up. with rope. A good prepared rawhide ready to pull cost about $28.
Winter rawhiding was by far the cheapest means of moving ore off Red Mountain until a wagon road should be built. The winter trails had to be prepared by hauling light loads to make a trough down the center of the track. With multiple use, the trails often iced up and means had to be found to brake the loads. This was done with a “rough lock,” a heavy chain slung under the hide to bite into the ice and retard the load. Should the load get away from the driver on a steep slope, it would ride up onto the horses’ legs. In such cases an experienced animal would simply sit back on the rawhide and steer himself with his front feet. As well, a rawhide was the safest way to bring an injured man down from a mine to the doctor, as long as the horse did not sit on him. Rawhiding cost from $2.50 to $ 3.50 per ton down to the river. Packing on horses in the summer, was $5.00 to $8.50. Most mine owners stockpiled their sacked ore on the dump, waiting for winter to rawhide it down to the river.
The smelter returns from that first shipment to Montana in 1891 were $70 in gold,, $2 in silver and 5% copper in every ton. Delighted with these returns, the Colonels’ syndicate took up the bond on June First, and paid Colonel Topping the $16,000 agreed on. For another $16,000 they then bought his remaining 14 thirtieths and became sole owners of the Le Roi mine. What the Red Mountain miners were digging on was the rim of an Eocene volcanic crater.
All of the discoveries lay in a wide arc from Monte Cristo mountain the northeast to Red Mountain and Deer Park Mountain to the north and west, and including the Lily May on the Southwest rim to the Tiger and the Lookout Mountain mines to the south. Trail Creek had eroded away the core and east rim and it is possible that the gold found on the Columbia River bars by teamster Morell in 1854 had eroded originally from Red Mountain.
Now along the south facing slope in what had once been the crater of the volcano, a collection of log huts and tents sprang up, just below the mines. Joe Moris and Ross Thompson from Great Falls, Montana, built the first cabins, and in the evenings the men working the mines would assemble in one of the cabins and smoke or play cards in the light of a coal oil lantern.
Down at Trail Landing Colonel Topping began laying out a water system and building a new three story frame building to take the place of the old, log Trail House. From his office, he sold lots, offered mining claims on Lookout Mountain, and planned an up to date town to include an Opera house, a Post Office, and a when a line could be brought in, a telephone office. Mary Jane Hanna was to get a house of her own, and as Developer, Builder and Hotel Manager, the three companions began to thrive as Trail grew up around them.
2 thoughts on “THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 19”
I never would have survived a week in that winter. And the work so hard.
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I feel the same about the hardships these people had to endure. Thanks for the comment, Ruth!
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