THE SPOKANE COLONELS
The Spokane Colonels formed a Washington company, The Le Roi Mining and Smelting Company and issued 500,000 shares at $5. George Forster was elected president with W. Williams as Sectretary, and the nine original members became directors of the new company. A hundred thousand shares were held in the treasury and the rest put on the market. Results were disappointing. The shares traded at around fifty cents on the Spokane exchange. Frank Graves was successful in bringing in some Illinois investors on a trip to his home, but could get no more than 25 cents per share. Reports from Red Mountain continued encouraging. An inclined shaft, following the vein, was down 60 feet, and numerous open cuts had been made on the surface to open other veins. Assays of the best ore ran from five to twenty percent copper, with three to ten ounces of silver, and gold from $48 to $470 per ton. But with pack train transportation to the river costing $12 per ton, the ore was stockpiled at the mine awaiting winter and rawhiding. The cost of sinking the Le Roi shaft was $20 per foot, blasting powder was 25¢ per pound, drill steel, 20¢ a pound, miner’s candles, $7 for a 40 pound box, and rough logs for bracing, $15.00 per thousand feet. Miner’s wages were $3.50 per 10 hour day. To meet these expenses it was necessary to put the remaining 100,000 shares on the market. Money came in slowly, and the Colonels were unable to hire a larger crew.
Down in Colville, Newlin Hoover and Oliver Bordeaux, encouraged by the rich ore the Le Roi was encountering, sent a crew of men in to develop the Lily May. At Red Mountain, Moris and Bourgeois bonded their Centre Star and Idaho claims to Oliver Durant and Alexander Tarbett of the Colonels’ syndicate for $25,000. However, few experienced miners were available; most of the men on Red Mountain were prospectors and scorned mining as long as there was good ground available to locate. The Centre Star development proceeded haltingly. Durant and Tarbett gave it up, sold their Le Roi stock for cash, and tried the War Eagle, bonding it from Moris and Bourgeois for $15,000, $1,000 to be paid in cash at once and $6,000 more in 6 months. They were unsuccessful in finding any rich ore in the War Eagle as well, and failed to pay the $6,000 in the appointed time. Moris and Bourgeois re-bonded the War Eagle to Captain Burbridge, for $17,500, $1,750 downa nd $6,000 in 6 months. The Captain also failed and threw up the bond.
Meanwhile the Centre Star was bonded to the Pyritic Smelting Company of San Francisco. They sent in their own expert who condemned the mine, the camp and the whole boom as a fraud, and that bond too, was thrown up. Finally, Moris and Bourgeois bond their War Eagle to Engineer, E. J. Roberts, W.J. C.Wakefield of Spokane and Austin Corbin of the SF&N Railroad. These men were joined by Patsy Clark and John A. Finch, experienced mining men from the Coeur d’Alenes, and they opened a new vein which proved productive. They took up the bond, and the mine was theirs. By 1895 the Centre Star Mining and Smelting Company was organized by Spokane investors under P. A. Langly, and serious work began in it as well.
Still, with nothing but mules and winter rawhiding for transportation, most of the ore was piling up on the mine dumps awaiting a wagon road to Daniel Corbin’s railroad at Northport.
At this time all the Red Mountain mining was done by hand. The ore was found in a bewildering network of nearly vertical veins, the fissures and cracks in the walls of the ancient volcano. The veins ran in all directions, intersecting one another and changing direction unpredictably, which accounted for many of the early failures. The ore bodies, when found, proved to be lens-shaped pods from 25 to 50 feet wide, and generally about 250 feet long. The mining procedure was to extend a tunnel horizontally from the shaft, following the vein until a pod of commercial ore was encountered. Then this pod, would be “stoped,” worked upward, with the ore blasted down into the tunnel to be hand shovelled into small mine cars on 18 or 24 inch gauge track. When miners working at the bottom of a stope could no longer reach the ore above them with their drills, a framework of squared timbers would be built in the mined-out space and a heavy wooden floor nailed on top. The miners would work on this floor, shovelling the loose ore to a square hole left in the floor. The ore fell through the hole into the mine car on the tracks below. When this level had been extracted another timber framework would go up and a higher floor erected. This process was continued, building upward, until the top of the ore body was reached. The ore below the track level would be sent down a chute to the next track level below, usually 100 feet. This “overhand” mining could be quite efficient, with the ore falling by gravity into the cars, eliminating the need for “muckers” (shovelers) to hand-shovel it into the cars.
This method of “Square set timbering” was slow and costly with a huge consumption of timbers and a force of carpenters constantly at work. Mining costs at Red Mountain at this period ran around $12.00 per ton of ore hoisted to the surface. This put a bottom limit on the grade of ore worth mining.
At first the loaded ore cars were pushed singly by hand to the hoisting shaft where they were brought to the surface in a cage. Later, as the mines became bigger, the ore cars were hauled in trains of six, by mules with “headlights,” a candle, or later a carbide miner’s lamp in a jam tin, hung around the animal’s neck. Horses did not work well underground. On encountering a low beam or projecting rock with his ears, a horse would instinctively rear his head, cracking his skull on the tunnel ceiling. In the same situation, the more placid mule would duck his head and pass under. The mules were stabled down in the level on which they worked, and feed sent down to them. The presence of feed grain in the mine brought in rats, and each mine had its cat which prowled the underground, often passing from mine to mine through ventilation tunnels. Some more compassionate mine owners, would have their mules hoisted to the surface on Sundays to give them one day of sunlight a week. But Monday morning, it was back down underground. The sagacity of these mine mules was much admired by their teamsters. The mules had evidently learned to count the jerks, one for each car, when starting an ore train out of a stope. If there were a seventh car attached, the mule would feel the seventh jerk and refuse to pull until the extra car was detached. One mule in the Slocan, working without a driver, was reported to have learned to blow out his headlight when tired, and then rest quietly in the dark until someone came along and lit his lamp again. Mules worked the Red Mountain mines until the coming of electricity in 1898 when small electric locomotives called “Mules” replaced them on the rails.
In 1892 the Spokane Colonels, with an ample supply of commercial ore on the Le Roi dump, built a steep wagon road out through the pass into Little Sheep Creek and down its valley to the border at Patterson’s. From there it was a fairly easy run to the Columbia River opposite Daniel Corbin’s huge freight shed at Northport. A small reaction ferry carried the traffic across the river. The Colonels ordered forty, extra heavy, five ton freight wagons from a Chicago builder and put them on this run, hauling Le Roi ore to the railroad and provisions and supplies back up to the Rossland Camp. In 1893 the Le Roi shipped 700 tons (140 wagonloads) of ore down the Little Sheep Creek Road and from there on the railroads to whichever smelter bid highest for the ore.
In January, 1892, Ross Thompson from Great Falls, Montana, applied for a 160 acre townsite just below the mines. Two years later his application was approved, and for a payment of one dollar per acre, the land was granted to his Townsite Company. He wanted to call his town ,“Thompson,” but as there was already a Post Office with that name, he settled for “Rossland.” Rossland was in the opening years of the decade a very speculative promotion.
Some few mines were shipping high grade hand sorted ore, but with only a pack trail for transportation, the bulk of the ore remained on the dump. The completion of the wagon road to Northport and a stage service to the railway, made Rossland an American settlement, just across the border in Canada. Its investors were Americans, largely from Spokane; most of its miners were from the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho, where a labor dispute had closed the lead- silver mines. Its merchants drew their supplies from Spokane wholesalers via the railway and the wagon road.
It was still all very chancy; no one counted on a long run for these mines so distant from the smelters.
Down on the Columbia, Trail was still a largely Canadian town, linked to Canada and to the U.S. by the twice weekly trips by the CKSN steamers. In 1891 the CKSN had a new and larger steamer built at Little Dalles, at a cost of $75,000, the Columbia. She was registered as an American vessel, and was 152’ long by 28’ wide, 534 gross tons, with two 18” x 72’ cylinders powering her sternwheel. She was the most powerful steamer yet launched on the inland lakes and rivers, and took over the passenger run. Under Captain Gore, she left Revelstoke on Mondays and Thursdays at 5:00 AM with passengers and freight off the CPR for Arrow Lake points, reaching Nakusp at 10:00 AM. At 6:00 PM she tied up at Robson, new steamer landing to which the C&K track had been extended. The old Sloat’s Landing had been unsatisfactory for docking large sternwheelers, as the shifting sandbars at the mouth of the Kootenay River resulted in numerous groundings. At Robson, the water was deep and steamers could dock at any season of the year. Discharging her Nelson-bound passengers and freight at Robson, the Columbia tied up for the night. It was too risky to try to make the tricky run down the shallow and twisting river to Trail at night, since the Columbia had no electric generator and no searchlights. But at 5:00 AM on Tuesdays and Fridays, Captain Gore guided his vessel down the treacherous riffles of the river for an 8:00 AM arrival at the new Trail townsite, and then on down across the border for a 10:00 AM arrival at Northport. This schedule could be maintained only in the summer and fall months. In the winter and early spring low water limited the tonnage boats could carry from Robson downstream, and the smaller Lytton would have to be used on this part of the run. At extreme low water in March and April, runs would have to be cancelled. In cold winters, the shallow parts of the lakes and the river at Burton and between Arrowhead and Revelstoke would freeze solid and steamer service would be suspended until the ice went out.
The CKSN captains did everything possible to extend the profitable river service during low water. At Rock Island Rapids, below Trail, and at Cottonwood Narrows at Burton, iron ringbolts were set into the rock bluffs and the crew would splash through the shallow water hauling a cable to hook into the ringbolt. Then using a steam capstan on her foredeck, the vessel would winch her way across the gravel bars or up the Rock Island Rapids into deeper water.
When the boat would ground on a bar and no ringbolts were available, a more heroic method called “Grasshoppering” could be resorted to. In “Grasshoppering,” the large 8 x 8 sheers bolted to the sides of the vessel are lowered and pivoted to the gunwales so that their submerged ends, pointing slightly forward,are slightly below the keel of the boat. The boat was then run at the bar or winched over it with the capstan with the “Grasshopper Legs” raising the hull just the few inches necessary to clear the bar. “Jumping” the boat in this way, though it delighted the passengers, shortened the life of the steamer considerably. River sternwheelers were worked hard, expected to pay for themselves in the first season, and not calculated to have long lives. In order to operate in very shallow water, they were built with very little depth to the hull which gave them little rigidity. With the heavy boiler in the bow and the engines at the stern, putting the cargo space in the middle, an unladen steamer would tend to ride low at bow and stern and high in the center. A system of posts and steel cable “hoglines” was supposed to create a truss to hold the nearly flat-bottomed vessel to its proper shape. But with constant boarding and disembarking of cargo, the hoglines would loosen and the hull would become as flexible as an old shoe. When a boat was in this state, “hogged,” its boiler and machinery would be removed and placed in a new hull with the old one converted into a scow. Most sternwheel engines went through two or three vessels in their lives.
With the Le Roi Company’s wagon road to Northport carrying the largest share of the business from the mines and the Rossland Camp, the citizens of Trail lobbied the B. C. legislature for funds with which to build a wagon road of their own to connect the Red Mountain mines to their own landing on the Columbia. The legislators, still wary of Kootenay golden chimeras, appropriated the money but instructed the Minister of Finance not to release it until the Red Mountain mines proved that they were a substantial investment. The next year,1893, after a strike of very rich ore in the Le Roi, the funds were released, and the Canadian road was built, 11 feet wide and 9 miles long.
With wagon haulage, the cost to the mine owners for ore down the Little Sheep Creek road to the railroad at Northport was $4.00 per ton. With a mining cost of $12.00 per ton, plus rail and smelter charges of another $12.00, this means that $30.00 ore could be smelted at a profit. On the Canadian route down Trail Creek, across the Columbia by ferry and down the east bank of the river to Daniel Corbin’s rail siding at Waneta, the cost was $4.25 per ton. Probably, with mine owners having to pay toll on the Le Roi road, the two routes were equal in cost. In the winter, sleighs were substituted for wagons and “roughlock” chains were wrapped around their runners to hold them back descending the steep grades. Passengers preferred the comfort of going by stage to Trail and steamer to Northport. A through ticket, Northport to Red Mountain was $2.00.
The CKSN steamer Columbia caught fire and burned in 1894 and had to be replaced on the Northport run by the Lytton. For the run down the lakes from Revelstoke a new steamer, the Nakusp, was built in Nakusp in 1895, with the most powerful engines on the Canadian Columbia, two 20 x 72 inch cylinders. She was a big, luxurious vessel, 171’ by 33.5 ft, of 1083 gross tons, and drawing 6.3 ft of water, too much to allow her to run downstream of Robson. The Nakusp was equipped with a steam driven electric dynamo and a pair of electric searchlights for loading cargo and navigating at night. Still, all freight and passengers transferred at Robson to the smaller Lytton for the run down the river to Trail and Northport.
The Trail – Northport business boomed in 1895 with new discoveries of rich ore in the major Red Mountain mines. To handle the traffic the Lytton was put on a daily schedule, leaving Trail every morning at 8:00 AM, arriving at Waneta, the border point, at 9:00 and Northport at 10:00. At 1:00 PM she left Northport taking two full hours to churn up the swift waters to Waneta, and not getting back to Trail until 4:30 PM. Two hours for the downstream run, and three and a half with the sternwheel flailing at its top speed of 22 rpm. to climb the 75 vertical feet of swift water to Trail.
Although the wagon haul had enabled the mine owners to ship more of the ore from their dumps, it was not enough. Their miners were worming their way through the dark underground galleries searching for those pockets of bonanza ore that would make their employers rich. But in this expensive exploration they have to pass up vast tonnages of low grade ore that will not pay its way to a smelter. A railroad at the mine mouth that would haul their ore for something like $1.00 a ton would allow those vast low grade deposits to be mined at a profit.
It is not just the prospect of hauling ore to the smelters that catches the interest of the railroad men. Moving ore is a one way traffic. There is no profit in hauling empty cars back to the mines. The major traffic of all mining railroads was coal. At that time a ton of ore required roughly a half ton of coal to mine and smelt it. As the Rossland mines had gone deeper, hand windlasses and horse whims were replaced by large steam powered hoists. Steam pumps had to be installed to drain the deep workings. Steam powered air compressors were required when the new air drills were installed to replace hand drilling. In the beginning, all this steam was generated in wood fired boilers. The mountains around Rossland became denuded of trees as the woodcutters move farther and farther out for fuel, and its cost increased with the length of haul. A producing mine at that time would have had a 60 or 80 horsepower boiler supplying the steam for operations. The Le Roi, at the height of its production, had three 200 horsepower boilers, two of which were fired night and day. An 80 horsepower boiler at that time burned 2 pounds of coal (1Kg) per horsepower per hour, roughly 2 tons per day. To keep the pumps running, the boiler has to supply steam 24 hours a day. Two tons a day, for a modest mine like the Iron Mask, means a carload every two weeks. A large mine like the Le Roi or the War Eagle will consume ten carloads a month. With more than a dozen mines developing at Rossland, some thirty to forty carloads of coal will be required each month for the mines alone; double that if a smelter were to be built.
The profit to be made hauling cars of coal up to the mines, and then filling them with ore for the downhill trip was making railroad men eager for this business and willing to build extensive branches to serve these Kootenay mines.
As early as 1887, the coal mine owners of the Nicola Valley persuaded the Kamloops Board of Trade to hire J.A. Coryell to survey a railroad route from their coal mines via the Salmon River to Vernon and over Monashee Pass to Lower Arrow lake at Edgewood. From there the coal was to move on barges and the promised portage railway to the Nelson and Kootenay Lake mines. Coryell ran his survey and reported that a practical line could be had. But B.C. investors were unwilling to risk their money in the distant Kootenays, and potential eastern investors were discouraged by the powerful CPR. It had its own coal route to protect. CPR coal went from the Vancouver Island mines by rail to tidewater, by ship to Vancouver, by CP rail to Revelstoke, by barge to Robson, and via the C&K (after 1890 ) to Nelson. This long, tortuous, and costly route made coal $22.00 per ton laid down in the Kootenays, most of it freight charges by the CPR. As long as any shorter and competing route can be blocked, this extremely profitable traffic would belong to the CPR. As the Kootenay and Boundary mines expanded in the succeeding years, the Nicola to Kootenay project would be revived by one group or another. Each time, it would be buried by the opposition of the CPR.
The coal traffic to Kootenay Lake was already making a profit for Daniel Corbin and his SF&N lines. The Northern Pacific had opened coal mines at Roslyn, west of Ellensburg, and coal could move via the NP and SF&N to Five Mile Point on Kootenay Lake to be barged to the Pilot Bay Smelter, and the new wagon road to the Silver King mine above Nelson.
In 1892 Daniel Corbin and his Chief Engineer, E. J. Roberts bought the Yellowjacket and Standard claims on Red Mountain, and his son, Austin joined the War Eagle Mining Company. As well, Peter Larsen, a contractor of Helena, Montana, who had built the N&FS line for Corbin, had a look at Red Mountain, bought the Iron Horse claim, and set a crew of men to opening it. The next year Corbin chartered the Red Mountain Railway in B.C. to run from Rossland down Little Sheep Creek, the route of the Le Roi wagon road, to the border at Patterson’s. B.C. legislators were favourable to the application, feeling that by letting Corbin in, the CPR would be prodded into building its promised Crowsnest line. At the same time Corbin got a U.S. charter for the Columbia and Red Mountain Railway which would build the U.S. section from Patterson to Northport with a bridge over the Columbia River. He sent E.J. Roberts to survey an inexpensive route. The cheapest way to bridge the Columbia was at the narrow defile at Little Dalles, but this would require 6 miles of track on the right bank duplicating the SF&N on the left bank. Corbin opted for a longer and more costly bridge at Northport to shorten the line. He directed Roberts to run his survey up Big Sheep Creek and include Sheep Creek Falls in the right of way to make its water power potential available to further developments. Corbin proposed to build this new line exactly as he did his previous railways: he would take $20,000 of stock and bonds of the Red Mountain Railway for each mile built, plus a cash grant of $115,000 for the Columbia River bridge.
There was one serious obstacle to be overcome before construction could start. The right of way from the Columbia River to the Canadian border lay within the Colville Indian Reservation, and only the U.S. Congress could give permission for Corbin to cross it with a railroad. Daniel Corbin made application to the Congress and awaited its approval.
Corbin’s move was seen as a disaster for Colonel Topping’s Trail. If the Red Mountain Railway were built, all the Rossland ores would go out via Northport to the U.S. A. Rossland would become he mining centre of the Kootenays with a direct rail link to the Northern Pacific at Spokane, and Trail would wither to a dusty steamer landing on the Columbia, a ghost town like Little Dalles. A few residents began to sell out and move to Northport to be in on the coming boom. Almost desperately, Colonel Topping advertised his Trail House in 1894 as “a homy atmosphere for those satiated with the turmoil of Rossland city life. One of the proprietors will drink and the other will smoke with every guest.” Yankee Topping was writing letters to B.C. newspapers opposing the Red Mountain Railway as a Yankee grab for Kootenay trade. The editor of the Nelson Tribune disagreed; Corbin’s line will bring in the CPR, he believed, and that would be the making of Nelson.
Although the American Congress had still not acted on Daniel Corbin’s application to cross the Colville Indian Reservation, the year 1895 was the making of Rossland. First the War Eagle struck bonanza ore and on the First of February, began paying dividends. Next the Centre Star hit high grade ore, and within a few weeks rich strikes were reported in the Black Bear, the Josie, the Nickel Plate, the Iron Mask and others. Dividend paying mines were irresistible to the investing public. Funds flowed in, more miners were hired, larger machinery was ordered. Rossland’s population which had stood at 75 on January 1, jumped to 3000, mostly Americans, by the end of the year. It was suddenly the fifth largest city in B.C., surpassing Nelson, and Revelstoke, and Vernon, and as long as the rich veins persisted and dividends were posted, its future would be secure.
Down in Trail Colonel Topping was attempting to interest American investors in building a smelter for Trail. Three smelters maintained offices in Spokane at that time to buy ore, Montana Smelting of Great Falls, Omaha and Grant of Helena, and the Helena Works of Denver.
Topping had talked to all of them regarding a smelter for his Trail townsite. In 1894 Frederick Heinze of the Montana Ore Purchasing Company in Butte had quietly come to examine the Rossland mines. He was convinced that there was an opportunity for a local smelter, and had attempted to buy the Le Roi mine. But when he could not produce the substantial cash down payment the Colonels insisted on, the deal collapsed.
Helena contractor, Peter Larsen, now the owner of the Iron Horse mine, was also interested. He was at that time engaged in standard gauging the Great Falls and Canada Railway line which supplied coal to the Great Falls smelter from Lethbridge. He had taken up the old 28 pound narrow gauge rails and had shipped a quantity of them to Trail with the idea of building a light horse drawn tramway up to his mine. On June 1, 1895 he announced he had obtained a Federal charter for his Trail Creek and Columbia Railway. However, the rails remained on the beach, and nothing was done.
Then Martin King and A.E. Humphries, the latter a mining promoter from Duluth, proposed an aerial tramway to bring the Red Mountain ores down to the river. Again, nothing was done.
It was the success of the Kootenay mines, and nothing else, that eventually brought in the railways. In the 19th century the district had nothing to offer the agriculturalist but a few small coves along the lakes and rivers and some farming acreage at Creston. But without the miners there was no market at all for farm products. Had the Kootenays been barren of minerals, no railroad would have entered until the lumbermen moved in about the time of WWI.
With the success of the Toad Mountain, Slocan, and Red Mountain mines, a population supporting those mines, merchants, hoteliers, farmers, established itself. Miners, all of them optimists, and making the best wages in the Northwest, demanded the best — they had the gold and silver to pay for it. Mining towns, responding to the optimism and free spending habits of the miners, were among the most progressive in the west. The first street railway west of Winnipeg was opened in Nelson in 1899, the Nelson Electric Tramway Company. Nelsonites “rode the cars” to work and home at night, while Vancouver, and Victoria residents still slogged through their muddy streets. It constructed a dam on the Kootenay River and generated its own municipal electricity. Most of its merchants dealt with the Spokane wholesalers, and until the end of the Nineteenth Century, Nelson, Trail and Rossland were firmly within what Spokane boosters chose to call the “Inland Empire.”
In Vancouver, Victoria, the merchants seethed at this bright, prosperous society growing up behind those formidable mountain ranges, an American dependency they had neglected for so long. They projected a wonderful paper railway to somehow follow that Dewdney Trail and bring the commerce, the profit to the Coast. But who was to build it? Daniel Corbin from Spokane? That was the problem. No one but the grasping Americans were willing to risk their money in such a costly undertaking. And the Americans, of course, were thinking in terms of tying Vancouver to Spokane, not the Kootenays to Vancouver. It was a dilemma that would agitate politics and commerce in British Columbia from 1890 until 1915.