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THE MINING ERA OF THE CANADIAN COLUMBIA by Bill Laux – Chapter 13

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SILVER ON KOOTENAY LAKE

The placer miners of the 1860s had noted in may places the presence of gold and silver in hard rock veins but had been obliged to pass them by. Lode deposits required money and machinery to develop. Tunnels and shafts would have to be dug, and the ore crushed by powerful machines. Lode mining was for capitalists; the ordinary prospector had but his pan and his shovel, and needed a gravel bar with gold at the bottom of it.

For the silver and copper showings, a smelter would be required to extract the metal, and none existed in the North American West in the early Sixties. Transportation was again the deciding factor.  Without an economical means to bring in heavy machinery and to move the ore out to a smelter, investors would not risk their money on lode mines.

However, that lead deposit on Kootenay Lake continued to attract attention. In 1868, American prospector Henry Doan investigated the surface showings of galena, on which he staked a claim.  In 1873,  he sent a very rich sample of ore which he said was from his claim (it was not) to some San Francisco investors who were impressed. They bonded the claim for $10,000, paying Doan $1000 in advance.  They then sent mining engineer, George Hearst, to examine the deposit and advise them if it was worth buying. Hearst came north from San Francisco by boat to Portland, by steamer to Walulla, and stage coach to Colville.   At Marcus, Hearst and Doan engaged Captain Albert Pingston, now without a steamer, but with serviceable rowboat, to take them up the Columbia, and then to portage around the falls and rapids of the Kootenay River to reach Kootenay Lake. On the portage Doan suggested to Captain Pingston that he “lose” the assay outfit that Engineer Hearst had brought along. Pingston indignantly refused.  At the lake Pingston rowed them across to the peninsula with the huge iron stain on the bluff overlooking the lake. Here was Doan’s claim. Hearst tested the surface showings and apparently built a small furnace of stones where he smelted  some of the ore over charcoal to test its lead and silver content.   Hearst’s assays revealed a low grade deposit with  6% lead, 8% zinc, and 2.8 oz. of silver to the ton. True, there was a lot of it, and it was on the surface, but it was nothing like the bonanza silver-lead ore Doan had sent him.

Furious at having been duped by the false sample, and having come all this way at considerable expense, Hearst, who had hired the boat, refused to let prospector back into it for the return trip. Captain Pingston protested to Hearst, “You can go and thrash him if you like but you cannot leave him there to starve and you must let him come back in the boat to where he can get something to eat.”   Presumably well thrashed, Doan was allowed back in the boat to return to Colville, though a still furious Hearst may have kicked him out at Fort Shepherd. It was supposed by prospectors around Colville, that the sample Doan had sent to San Francisco was specimen silver ore from one of the Colorado mines.

For the remainder of the Seventies, the Big Ledge of lead-silver ore on the east side of Kootenay lake remained undisturbed, except perhaps by Kootenais and Sinixt Indians casting balls for their Hudson’s Bay Company trade muskets..

There was a Canadian Pacific Railway promised to British Columbia by the Dominion government as part of the terms of union in 1870.   But it was virtually in limbo, as the result of a political scandal concerned with its financing.   The Conservative Party, which supported it, was out of power as a result of the CPR scandal, and the Liberals were offering money instead, and a government dry dock to the new Province to try to get out of the very costly railway promise.

In the 1880s with CPR, still unbuilt, it was the Northern Pacific Railroad, building from Duluth on Lake Superior, to Tacoma on Puget Sound, that revived mining interest in the Kootenays.   The Northern Pacific was to run down the Clark Fork River in western Montana to Pend Orielle Lake and Sandpoint, Washington.   This would put it just 30 miles from Bonner’s Ferry by that easy valley bottom route of the Walla Walla trail.   Suddenly, that low grade lead and silver deposit Henry Doan had tried to sell George (now Senator) Hearst was going to be within reach of a railroad.

  Robert Sproul, an American from Kennebec County, Maine, was in the Washington Territory in the 1870s prospecting for coal to supply the Northern Pacific Railroad which was under construction.   He was accused of claim jumping by another coal prospector, John Stone of Puyallup, and apparently framed by Stone or some other for a barn burning.   He was released by the Puyallup magistrate, who could find no evidence he was the culprit, and he quickly put the Cascade Mountain between himself and his adversary. 

In 1880 he turned up in Colville, and was befriended by the Jacob Meyers family.  In the spring of 1881 he was in Bonner’s Ferry helping the Fry brothers, Richard and Martin build a scow with which they intended to begin a transportation service down the river to Kootenay Lake.   The Frys, who as trappers and traders, knew the lake well, told him of the big galena outcrop on the east shore of that lake.  The next summer he obtained a grubstake from a Colonel Hudnut of Sandpoint, and with his friends, Jesse Hunley, and Jacob Meyers from Colville, borrowed a rowboat from the Frys to go down the river and prospect Kootenay Lake.   With the map the Frys had drawn for them, the three men found the place.   Sproul staked the Bluebell, and, believing himself to be the discoverer, staked an extra claim, the Comfort, for Col. Hudnut.   Hunley staked the Kootenay Chief, and Meyers staked the Ruby.   The mining law in effect in British Columbia at that time had been drawn up for placer miners working their claims though the summer season.   It required the claimant to remain on his claim throughout the season, June 1 – Oct. 31, not leaving it for more than 72 hours at a time.   This was intended to prevent disputes in which one miner might mine another’s gold in his absence.   It had no real relevance to lode mines, few of which had been staked in the Province up until this time.  It was amended to accommodate lode mining the following year.   But the law in effect in 1881 also required the claim to be registered at the nearest mining recorder’s office, which at that time was William Fernie at Wild Horse Creek, a difficult journey back to Bonner’s Ferry and up the old Wild Horse trail which could not possibly be accomplished in 72 hours.

Sproul, Meyers and Hunley were not the only prospectors interested in Kootenay Lake that summer.   By this time the Northern Pacific crews building from Wallula on the Columbia had laid rails as far as Sandpoint.   This brought the Ainsworths of Portland back into the boundary country.   They had put two steamers on Pend Orielle Lake and the Clark Fork River to supply the Northern Pacific contractors, and now an Ainsworth prospecting party came up the just completed line to Sandpoint.    With the rails a scant 30 miles from Bonner’s Ferry and navigable water to Kootenay Lake,  Kootenay minerals could have the transportation that had so long been lacking.   The Ainsworth syndicate’s party comprised Captain John C’s son, George; Enoch Blaisdel; the Englishman, Thomas Hammil; a man named Maxwell; and New York journalist, A. Y. Woodbury.   They were to investigate mining possibilities on Kootenay Lake.   The provision of bringing along a New York journalist ensured that any mines the expedition might discover would be reported in the American press and so generate investor interest.  With wise forethought, Woodbury wrote William Fernie, the mining recorder at Wild Horse, asking him to come to Kootenay Lake to give legal sanction to their mining enterprise, and record what claims they might stake.   All of this careful planning suggests that the Ainsworths had advance knowledge that there was mineral on Kootenay Lake and even where it was to be found.

William Fernie, who may well have been the source of the Ainsworth’s information as he knew the Lake region well, did come and met the Ainsworth party.   Sproul was able to record his Bluebell claim with Fernie on July 31, 1882.

Hunley and Meyers did not stay the full season, as required by the law, to hold their claims.  They probably did not think low grade lead worth the trouble, since Sproul had been unable to sell a half interest in his Bluebell to Fernie.   Fernie doubtless informed them that their discoveries had been recorded and abandoned several times previously, and in his opinion were not worth much.   Sproul, though,  stayed on, developing his claim and building a stone powder house.   It seems clear he intended to mine it if he could not sell it.   But on October 25 he tacked a note stating he was ill and out of food to one of his claim stakes, and set off in the Fry’s boat to row to Bonner’s Ferry.

  Upon his departure, Hammil and Woodbury came to the Bluebell camp and jumped Sproul’s, Hunley’s and Meyer’s claims.   This, under the law, was technically legal, as the men had left before the end of the season.    William Fernie was right there to record Sproul’s Bluebell for Thomas Hammil, Hudnut’s Comfort and Meyer’s Ruby for Woodbury, and Meyer’s Kootenay Chief in the name of Enoch Blaisdel.   Fernie’s actions in so openly favouring the Ainsworth party are open to question.    He had told Sproul that he was not the discoverer of the east shore galena deposits, and therefore not entitled to a second claim, though recording a claim in the name of a friend was a common American practice and sanctioned by most miners.   But it was clearly not proper for Fernie to record two claims for Woodbury.   Jumping claims, even under the color of a legal technicality, was a despicable act in the view of the miners of the Eighties, and William Fernie’s actions strongly suggests that he had been co-opted by the Ainsworths.

On the other side of the lake, the Ainsworth party set up their camp at the hot springs where they filed a townsite claim for 160 acres around the spring to be called Ainsworth.   As well, they located other mineral claims on the west shore in the area of their townsite.  This was obviously no speculative prospecting expedition; the Ainsworths intended to become the dominant influence on the lake.

The following spring Sproul and Hammill  returned to Kootenay Lake.    Robert Sproul  found the Ainsworths had jumped his claims, and Thomas Hammill was setting up camp at the Big Ledge as it was called, a few hundred yards from the disputed claims.  Sproul filed a lawsuit against Hammill, but since the decline of the Wild Horse diggings there was no experienced civil servant assigned to the Kootenays as magistrate.   Instead, a well liked but largely ineffectual local storekeeper at St Eugene Mission on Moyie Lake, the elderly Edward Kelly, had been  appointed Justice of the Peace.

At the end of August, 1883 Judge Kelly came to Kootenay Lake to hear the lawsuit.  Hammill had wanted to bring in a prominent lawyer from the Coast, but the man either could not or would not make the arduous trip. Sproul engaged the English sportsman, W.A. Bailie-Grohman, to speak for him. This was probably a bad choice, since Baillie-Grohman was a notorious meddler, more interested in the figure he cut in the wild Kootenays, than concerned for his client.   The trial was a choice morsel for the book of Western Adventures, Baillie Grohman was writing.

Baillie-Grhoman’s description of the trial, probably somewhat embellished for his English audience,  follows.

“…Judge Kelly, a genial old timer, whose silvery locks and quaint Irish humour soon gained him the respect of all concerned, arrived in due time.   It was a somewhat memorable scene.   The canoe bringing him had been sighted from the enemy’s camp,  for the little cove in in which it lay, faced south.   Forgetting for the moment all the dire threats exchanged by both camps, Winchesters and six shooters were laid aside, and the inmates of both camps streamed down to the shore to receive the representative of the law.   We were a motley little crowd, six or seven for our side, for some necessary witnesses had arrived, and twice that number in Hammil’s party…  It became unavoidable that Judge Kelly should take up his quarters in one or the other of the rival camps.   ‘Now boys,’he addressed the crowd, ‘I think it would be fair to both camps if I grub in the one and sleep in the other, so just let me know which has the better grub outfit.’   A hasty exchange of information concerning our respective culinary possessions…left no doubt that the enemy’s grub box was far better stocked then ours.   Molasses, onions, and canned stuff, of which we had none, decided the question in which camp the judge would take his meals.   Every morning and evening he was escorted to and from from one camp to the other by one of his late hosts, the distance being a few hundred yards…  

The largest of the three shanties in the two camps was selected as the courthouse where the trial took place… The court opened on Aug. 31, and the first thing Judge Kelly insisted on was that all revolvers were to be deposited in a box at his side so long as the court sat… The litigation had resolved itself into four distinct cases,  for each of the two parties had taken up the same four claims on the Big Ledge.  As several important witnesses were absent, two or three short adjournments became necessary, and it was only on October 16, 1883, that Judge Kelly gave his last judgment.   All four were decided in our favour!   Judge Kelly was an old miner himself, and knew little of  law; hence he took the view which from the first I had recognized as the saving of our case, namely the common sense interpretation of the actions of men, who, from causes beyond their control, could not possibly comply with the strict letter of the mining regulations…”

Thomas Hammil had the resources of the Ainsworth Syndicate behind him, and at once appealed Judge Kelly’s decision to the B.C. Supreme Court.   Justice Begbie heard the appeal

in March, 1884. His decision reversed Judge Kelly in respect of  Hunley and Meyers.   They had in fact abandoned their claims, Begbie decided, and forfeited them. But Robert Sproul had made a genuine effort to stay with his discovery until the end of the season, so he was entitled to a leave of absence, being ill, and could retain his Bluebell claim.   Justice Begbie made it clear that he considered Thomas Hammill a despicable claim jumper and Baillie-Grohman a meddlesome obfuscater.   

Sproul, who had meantime secured an appointment as Road Commissioner for the Third District of Kootenai County, Idaho, organized a  company to construct and operate a 32 mile toll road from Mud Slough, near the Northern Pacific’s Kootenai Station, to a spot he called Galena Landing on the Kootenai River near Bonner’s Ferry.    Having lost his associates’ claims to the Hammill-Ainsworth party, he intended to control their access to the Lake.    In 1883 Sproul had assigned a 1/3 interest in his Bluebell claim to Col. Hudnut, but the Colonel refused to pay the court costs of the transfer. To settle the debt the 1/3 interest was put up for sale. It was bought, to Sproul’s fury, by Thomas Hammill.   The fact that neither Sproul nor his partners bid on the 1/3 interest suggests possible collusion between the court and the Ainsworth interests.

  In June, 1884, Sproul met Dr. Wilbur A. Hendryx of Grand Rapids, Michigan in Sandpoint.   Dr. Hendryx was representing a brass fabricating company in Connecticut owned by himself, his brother, and Edwin W. Herrick of Minnesota.   Sproul took Dr. Hendryx to inspect the Bluebell claim at the Big Ledge Camp on Kootenay Lake, and convinced the would-be mining entrepreneur of its value. He also pointed out to the Doctor that he held a toll road franchise for the route Bluebell ore would have to travel to reach the Northern Pacific at Kootenai Station. Sproul sold Dr. Hendryx a half interest in his toll road franchise and transferred his interest in the Bluebell claim to the doctor in exchange for shares in the Hendryx brothers’ Kootenay Mining and Smelting Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Once the toll road was built, the Hendryx brothers intended to mine the Bluebell ore and bring it out to the Northern Pacific for shipment to a Missouri smelter. 

Now the Kootenay Lake region became the focus of two rival groups of American capitalists grasping for control. The meddlesome Baillie-Grohman was fortunately distracted, getting up a Mountain Goat hunt with the future American President, Theodore Roosevelt.   Looking down from the high mountains on the wide bottomlands of the Kootenay River near present Creston, Baillie-Grohman conceived the idea of draining the marshy lands to reclaim them for farming. He had the idea that if he went to the Rocky Mountain Trench in the East Kootenay north of Wild Horse, he could divert the Kootenay River into the Columbia, a scant five miles away. Then the lowered flow down the Kootenay would leave the bottomlands dry and farmable. Roosevelt refused to become involved in such a visionary scheme, but did make inquiries about mines which might be for sale before returning to the U.S. Baillie-Grohman, infatuated with his idea, approached one of the construction engineers for the Northern Pacific, then building through Sandpoint. He brought the engineer to the flooded lands and took him over to the site of his proposed canal, and asked for his professional opinion on the scheme. The engineer pronounced the thing possible, and Baillie-Grohman lost no time in forwarding the engineer’s report to his English friends, soliciting their funds for his Kootenay Lands Reclamation Company.

What Baillie-Grohman apparently did not know was that the Ainsworths were deeply involved in the Northern Pacific Company, and the NP engineer dutifully reported Baillie Grohman’s scheme to George Ainsworth. Ainsworth in turn set up his own Kootenay Lands Reclamation Company, and the dispute as to who was to get or drain the drowned lands went into the courts.  The incident demonstrates that the Ainsworth Syndicate’s intent was to dominate the Kootenay region, in mining, agriculture and whatever other possibilities might surface, shutting  all others out. 

Baillie-Grohman’s schemes, though well financed from Britain, came to nothing. He built his canal with Indian labor, but it presently silted up with debris from the spring runoff, and became useless.  The Ainsworth’s stronger rivals, the Hendryx group, proposed to ship Kootenay Lake ore via boat or scow up the Kootenay River to Bonner’s Ferry, and then wagon haul it down their toll road to Kootenai Station and the Northern Pacific Railroad where the Hendryx brothers had set up their headquarters.

  The Ainsworth group’s plan was revealed to be even more ambitious. They intended a portage railroad from the outlet of Kootenay Lake (Balfour), around the falls and rapids, 40 miles to the Columbia, and from there via one of the Ainsworth’s sternwheel steamers to Portland. Captain John C. Ainsworth had commissioned Captain Pingston and his rowboat to survey the Columbia from the Canadian line down to the then head of navigation at Priest Rapids to determine if it could be worked by steamboats.   Captain Pingston reported that with several short portages, at Priest Rapids, and  Rock Island Rapids, the river could be run for “2/3 of the season.”   However a 15 mile portage railroad would be required from Rickey’s Rapids around the 20 foot Kettle Falls, to Marcus.  

Captain Ainsworth then began lobbying the U.S. congress for the improvements  Pingston had recommended. Congress in turn sent out the Army’s Lieut. Symons to repeat Pingston’s survey and report precisely what engineering works would be required to allow U.S. steamers to reach Canada. The services of journalist Woodbury were next used to plant alarming stories in the B.C. newspapers about a supposed Northern Pacific invasion of the Kootenay district with a branch line from its Kootenai Station.   Once the fear of losing a potential Kootenay trade had gripped the Victoria and New Westminster merchants, Captain Ainsworth presented himself at the Legislature to request a charter for his portage railroad.

  Posing as a friend of British Columbia, and concealing his connection to the Northern Pacific Railroad, he painted a picture of a wagon road to be built from Shuswap Lake, navigable from Kamloops, across the low Eagle Pass to Farwell’s (Revelstoke) on the Columbia.   From there, he told them, his steamers would carry merchandise down through the Arrow Lakes to the mouth of the Kootenay where his railroad would connect to Kootenay Lake.   The ore from the Kootenay Mines would come out via the same route and the trade would be preserved for B.C., defeating the Northern Pacific’s plan to build a branch to Bonner’s Ferry. The B.C. Board of Trade and the Provincial legislators were enthusiastic about this scheme.  They  gave the Captain his charter in 1883, and let a contract to G.B. Wright, who represented the Ainsworth’s Syndicate in B.C., to build the Eagle Pass wagon road. To finance the costly and isolated piece of track, they set aside a strip of Kootenay Land from which Captain Ainsworth might choose any 750,000 acres for his Syndicate.

All of this, and especially the generous land grant, aroused opposition, particularly in Victoria where the huge grant of some of the Island’s best land to the CPR to build the Esquimault and Nanaimo Railway was being  bitterly opposed.   Handing his choice of Kootenay lands to this American for a mere promise of a distant railway to an even more distant bluff of lead, was held to be scandalous. However, before he could build his railway and claim his grant the Captain had to obtain Federal Charter as well. In Ottawa, apparently for the first time, someone actually consulted a map.  While Captain Ainsworth had concealed his backing for the sternwheeler, Forty Nine which had stolen the trade of the Big Bend for the Colville merchants in the Sixties, it was perfectly obvious to the Federal Minister of Railways and Canals that an Ainsworth steamer could just as easily connect the Columbia terminus of his proposed railway from Kootenay lake to Marcus, Washington Territory, as to Farwell’s and the proposed wagon road to Shuswap Lake.   The hated “traders out of Colville” could then use the railway to steal the Kootenay Lake trade, and Ainsworth’s Columbia and Kootenay railway would become a feeder to the Northern Pacific at Spokane Falls. Accordingly, the Dominion government disallowed the B. C. legislation, which brought on another crisis between B.C. and Canada.   In British Columbia, it was thought wicked enough for the Federal Government to intervene in Provincial matters, nullifying its legislation, but the worse insult was that in doing so it exposed an egregious B.C. blunder.   

The matter went into the courts for the next seven years, the Ainsworth’s with the backing of B.C.. trying to get back their charter and land grant, the Federal Government blocking them in favour of the nearly bankrupt CPR which was making its halting way toward the Kootenays, where it, and not the Portland merchants, could profit from a portage railway around the Lower Kootenay River rapids and falls.  The tragic events of 1885 were to be the result of this bitter struggle between the Eastern Hendryxs and the Portland Ainsworths for control of the Kootenay mines and commerce.

As the mining season of 1885 opened, Robert Sproul, now an officer of the Kootenay Mining and Smelting Company, hired three miners in Sandpoint, Charles Howes, from Shoshone County, Idaho, and the two Wolfe brothers, Adam and Charles, part Indians, from the Palouse.  The four arrived at the Big Ledge on May 29.   The Hammill party of six miners, was camped at the Ainsworth townsite across the lake.     On the 31st both the Sproul party and the Hammill party were working their adjacent claims.   A rifle shot was heard in the forenoon and at noon, miner Velnoweth of the Hammill party found Thomas Hammill lying on the ground, alive, but shot through the pelvis and spine.   Hammill was carried to his cabin where he died without being able to say who shot him.

Constable Anderson was summoned from the Ainsworth camp across the lake.  On questioning the other members of the Sproul party, he learned that Sproul had set off in a rowboat, for Bonner’s Ferry.   The Constable swore in a posse, and pursued Sproul in another boat.   Picking up a pair of Indian paddlers at the Outlet (Balfour), Anderson rowed furiously up the lake.   Sproul’s boat was shortly found abandoned on the lakeshore, but no trace of the miner was found.   Anderson had his men men row on up the Kootenay River to the boundary where the Boundary Commission’s 100 foot swath cut through the timber twenty years before, formed an open corridor down which anyone trying to cross into the U.S. could be spotted.   It was crucial for Anderson to intercept Sproul here, since if he managed to cross into the U.S. he could not be arrested.   

Three days later Sproul was spotted, walking out of the timber, and arrested for the murder of Hammill.   He was bound over for trial at Victoria before Judge Grey.   Adam Wolfe’s rifle was established as the murder weapon, and the defence did its best to implicate the two Indians. But Sproul was the only person at the Big Ledge that day with a motive for killing Hammill, and had been heard to make threats to him. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.   The fact that only circumstantial evidence linked Sproul with the murder, and the repudiation by the two Indians, Adam and Charles Wolfe of their testimony raised a cry in the press for commutation to life imprisonment. The case went through appeals, up to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the Americans, and the Hendryx party protesting Sproul’s innocence, but judgment was eventually upheld.   Sproul was hanged at Victoria, still claiming to be innocent, on October 29, 1886. 

The controversy surrounding Sproul’s guilt or innocence brought general opposition to  the Ainsworth’s Kootenay projects. It was noted that the Ainsworth’s employee, the victim, Thomas Hammill, had been cited as a despised claim jumper by Justice Begbie. Miners in particular, sympathetic to a man who may have shot such a hated figure, began to oppose the Ainsworths.  For their part, the Ainsworths shunned publicity, while labouring quietly in Ottawa to reverse the Federal Government’s decision.     

With the Ainsworths in self imposed eclipse, Dr. Hendryx staked the Silver King claim along the shore of Kootenay Lake just west of the Bluebell.  From this spot he began tunnelling toward the Bluebell, intending to intersect the Bluebell glory hole at depth and bring out the ore though the tunnel.  In 1885 he bought a 31 foot screw propeller steamer named “Surprise” in Chicago, and had her shipped by rail out to Kootenai Station, where she was hauled by sled  to Bonner’s Ferry over the toll road, and launched. Pushing a scow ahead of her, the Surprise brought the Bluebell ore to Bonner’s Ferry where it was wagon hauled to the railroad and shipped to an eastern smelter.  In 1888 she was replaced by the larger twin screw steamer, Galena, built at Bonner’s ferry and capable of taking two scows on her trips to and from the Kootenay Lake mines, serving both the Hendryx and Ainsworth camps. Over on the Columbia in 1884, Captain Pingston bought a tiny steam launch, the Alpha, built in Hong Kong, and used it to barge supplies up to the CPR railroad camp at Farwells, for the Canadian Pacific Railway crews were  now across the Rockies, and would reach the Columbia river in 1885.

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