Category Archives: Kootenays
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.
Please note this is the last chapter of the late author, artist and castle builder Bill Laux. The hitherto unpublished book ‘THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA’ is now located at the Arrow Lakes Historical Society in Nakusp, BC.
Curious Forms and Shapes
On a recent walk along the beach with my wife I made some unusual discoveries. Guided by the theme ‘Curious Forms and Shapes’ I did not have to stretch the imagination to see a colossal head of stone above a hollow steaming under the burning afternoon sun. Then I viewed a craggy mountain created by an old tree stump, which was stretching into the blue sky above. Then I discovered a witch lying in the sand with her long nose sticking out and a striped cape covering head and shoulder. As you can see, all is a matter of perspective. All of these shots I took while lying down. Enjoy.
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.
More from the Drop Hunters
Dew drops, rain drops and all kinds of other drops look great in any kind of light, but when the sun shines out of a cloudless sky, the drops begin to scintillate like diamonds on a necklace. My wife and I took advantage of such a brilliant day in search of those elusive diamonds on the trees. Here are the results from the drop hunters. Enjoy.
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.