Daniel Corbin had invested in the Jumbo mine in the Illecillewat district in the 1880s.  He had built a narrow gauge railway line in 1886 to tap the Coeur D’Alene mines in Idaho, which had been an instant success.   The mining men of Stevens County, Washington, wanted a rail connection to the NP for their ores, and to bring in coke and coal for their smelter near Chewelah.   Several Northwest lines had expressed interest in building to Colville.   The Klickitat and Golden was interested, but had no money.   The Seattle, Lakeshore and Eastern, locally called “The Seattle and Elsewhere” for the unconnected bits of lines it had commenced in various parts of the State, was drawing lines of track on its maps.    Even a Victoria group had proposed a narrow gauge line from Little Dalles on the Columbia to the mines at Chewelah.    The Stevens County people were prepared to accept any but a Canadian Pacific line.    The CPR was out of favour because of its high rates and monopoly tactics, insisting on guarantees it would be the sole railroad permitted in the area before it would build.

A consortium to build a line from Spokane to Colville was formed by Helena banker, James Monaghan, and James Golver, A.A. Newberry and Frank Moore.   Daniel Corbin was brought in by his friend Monaghan as the man to construct the line.   Corbin was a man with Kootenay mining properties, and had learned from his profitable little narrow gauge in Idaho that mining railroads were as good as gold mines.    General William J. Palmer, who had built more mining railroad mileage than anyone in North America put it, “A population engaged in mining is by far the most profitable of any to a railway.   A hundred miners, from their wandering habits and many wants, are better customers than four times that number otherwise employed.”     Corbin saw farther than Colville.  He wanted a line to Kootenay Lake to serve those profitable miners and to seize the ore and trade for Spokane.   The first link would be a line from a NP connection at Spokane to a steamer landing on the Columbia.   If he could link the CPR at Revelstoke with the NP at Spokane by a rail-boat service he could offer shippers of ore the option to ship via either line for the best rates.    This would introduce the first freight rate competition into the Kootenays, and it won him the enthusiastic support of both Canadians and American shippers frustrated at the monopoly rates of both transcontinentals.   

The Spokane investors were unable to raise the financing necessary to begin the line, and they were displaced by New York financier, Horace Thurber, who was able to place $2,500,000 in bonds for the line.   Eastern investors were beginning to hear the name, Kootenay, and were willing to risk their money in a railroad line which, if the mines prospered, would find a ready sale to the Northern Pacific.

  Corbin agreed to build the line himself for $40,000 per mile to be paid by Thurman in half shares and half bonds.   He  hired, E. J. Roberts, who had been Chief Engineer for Jim Hill’s Great Northern extension from Minot, North Dakota to Great Falls, Montana, to be his engineer and to build the line as quickly and cheaply as possible.    When the country was settled up, there would be time to upgrade the track.   Meantime, he said, the trains would run slowly and carefully.    Roberts agreed, saying, “I’ll build it cheap, and you run it cheap.”    

Construction of the Spokane Falls and Northern  got underway in 1889.   Roberts laid out a sinuous line avoiding all difficult rock work, and reportedly going around big trees rather than digging out their stumps.    He claimed to have saved Corbin $1000 per mile by this means.    

The SF&N climbed from Spokane at 1900 feet to cross the low Huckleberry Mountains at 2432 feet and then descended down the valley of the Colville River to Colville at 1500 feet.  Two Baldwin 2-6-0 Mogul locomotives arrived in April to operate the line, and by October 18, 1889, the first train arrived in Colville.   It was a remarkable feat, to have built 100 miles of railroad in a single season.   

Colville the seat of Stevens County, had already a population of miners and prospectors working the silver-lead mines in the region and prospecting for more.   The Old Dominion mine and the Mutual Smelting Company were the chief operations.    From its beginning Colville had been a somewhat rowdy place.   The Silver Crown Hotel, described as “a bar that had a hotel attached,” erected a veranda out front so that patrons could watch the street brawls from the comfort of armchairs and not need to muddy their feet.   

The next year the track reached the Columbia at Marcus with the first train arriving on the river on April 20.    Work was underway to extend the line to the ghost town of Little Dalles to bypass navigational hazards in the river, and Corbin now sought a steamer connection with the CPR at Revelstoke.    The trio of Hume, Cowin and Sanderson with their cranky Dispatch, did not have the financing to build new boats and  provide a scheduled service to Corbin’s railroad, so a new company was formed to take over the old one, with substantial backing from men long in the B.C. transportation business.   These were Captain John Irving, son of the famous Fraser River boat owner;  Member of Parliament, J.A. Mara, a Kamloops businessman, who had run the old HBC Marten on the Thompson; and Frank S. Barnard whose father had founded the B.C. Express Company with its service to the Cariboo.    These men had steamboat experience, political influence, and the funds to expand the Columbia River service.    The new company, the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company (CKSN), was funded with $100,000 to build and operate steamers on both the Columbia and Kootenay Lake.

  In July, 1890, in Victoria,  Daniel Corbin signed an agreement with the new CKSN for a through service connecting the two transcontinental railways via the Columbia River and his SF&N stump dodging railway.  It was a superb coup.   At one stroke, Corbin had put the growing railroad town of Spokane,with its population of 7,000, in a position to control the trade both of the new mining districts in Stevens County, Washington, and of the Kootenays of British Columbia.   

The total cost of building the SF&N had been $1,297,842.    By agreement with its owners, who were to pay Corbin $40,000 per mile in bonds and shares, he received $3,524,000 worth; this made him the nominal owner.   The SF&N, with E.J. Roberts’ pioneer construction methods, had cost him but $8,604,50 per mile to build.    It was an extremely profitable method Corbin was to use successfully in subsequent railroad construction: contracting to build for an inflated sum in bonds and shares per mile, thus earning equity in the road he built as cheaply as possible.   Passengers were to curse Corbin’s jerry-built constructions when in later years, they had to be strapped into their sleeping car bunks to keep them from tumbling out into the aisles on his rough and crooked  track.

Now, with the substantial profit he had made, D.C. Corbin was ready to extend his line.

The engineer, John F. Stevens, another graduate of the CPR’s Selkirk crossing, was hired by Roberts in 1889 to survey a possible line to Metalline Falls where extensive silver-lead ore bodies had been found.   This was never built.  Another undefined right of way was applied for to cross the Columbia at Marcus and run up the Kettle river through both countries, to cross into the Okanagan and run to the new silver mines being opened at Ruby City in Washington.   But it was Kootenay Lake that was Corbin’s immediate goal.   To cross the border with his line he would have to obtain a B.C. and a Dominion Government charter.

At the same time the CKSN let a contract to the shipbuilder Alexander Watson of Victoria, to build a first class passenger and freight sternwheel steamer at Revelstoke for the Columbia River run.   While she was under construction, the syndicate bought the old Kootenai for $10,000.    The Kootenai was at once put to work hauling materials and supplies for the American contractor building the Ainsworth’s portage railway, now the CPR’s Columbia and Kootenay Railway, from Sloat’s Landing to Nelson on Kootenay Lake.    These supplies and provisions, of course, came up Daniel Corbin’s SF&N line from Spokane.    His gamble was proving profitable from the very beginning.

At Revelstoke, the new sternwheeler, Lytton, was launched in May, 1890.  She was 131 feet long, by 25 feet wide, 284 gross tons, and drew but 19 inches of water light.   With a load of cargo she drew but 2 feet, ideal for the narrow, twisting channel of the Columbia.    She was powered by two 16 x 62 inch cylinders, a powerful engine for her size, and giving her a speed of 12 miles per hour.    She had cost $38,000, and with a good depth of water in the river, could crowd on board 200 passengers and 125 tons of freight.

Her first trip began on July 2, 1890 with Captain Frank Odin in command..  Aboard at Revelstoke were 65 tons of railroad rails and iron fittings for the new Columbia and Kootenay Railway.    Among the passengers were owners Frank Barnard and J. A. Mara, joined by CPR president William Van Horne and Director R. B. Angus who were on their way to inspect the work on the C&K.   Departure was delayed by a crowd of excited prospectors anxious to get to the new gold-copper strike at Red Mountain.   

Sproat’s Landing, at the confluence of the Kootenay an Columbia Rivers,  was reached the following day where the men of substance took horses to inspect the C&K construction.    Sproat’s Landing, a townsite laid out by Gilbert Sproat and managed by his brother, consisted of the Genelle sawmill with cabins for its employees, a depot for the railway under construction, an express office, Lemon’s General Store, a drug store, a government building with a post office, the Kootenay House hotel, and three restaurants.    A few frame houses and a number of tents and log cabins plus Joe Wilson’s corral for his pack stock, completed the town.    Today it is altogether gone.

The Lytton, like all the river steamers at this time, burned wood, and each trip up or down the lakes required a number of stops to “wood up” where men under contract were clearing land and piling cordwood on the beach for the steamers.    On August 15, the SF&N was complete to Little Dalles, which was enjoying an unlikely second boom, and Corbin ran a special train to meet the Lytton and inaugurate through service from the NP in Spokane to the CPR in Revelstoke.    The first published timetable listed departures from Revelstoke on Monday and Thursday with arrival in Little Dalles on Tuesdays and Fridays.    The one way, combined fare from Revelstoke to Spokane was $13.50.

  J.A. Mara was amply satisfied with the progress of the new company and recorded,

“Business has been good, fully up to our expectations, although the river did not open as early as usual.   We have taken to date, passengers, 1325, animals 63, tons of freight, 1275.   Future prospects are


The 1325 passengers carried by the two boats, Kootenai and Lytton, exceeded the entire population of the Kootenays at that time, and his remark about the late opening of the Columbia was to be prophetic of future problems.    Winter ice on the Columbia would disrupt schedules and enforce cancellations of steamer runs from their beginning in 1890 until the end in 1954.

In 1891 the CKSN launched their Kootenay Lake sternwheeler, the Nelson, at that town. She was a near duplicate of the Lytton, at 131 feet and 496 gross tons.  She had the old engines of the Skuzzy II, and SkuzzyI, not quite as powerful as those of the Lytton, but adequate for the lake and the slow waters of the Kootenay River.    She made her maiden voyage in August and was put on a schedule leaving Nelson every Monday at 8:00 AM for Pilot Bay, Ainsworth and Kaslo and return.   On Tuesdays and Fridays she left Nelson at 3:00 AM for Pilot Bay, Ainsworth and up the Kootenay River into the U.S. for Bonner’s Ferry.   On Wednesdays and Saturdays, leaving Bonner’s Ferry at 3:00 AM for Pilot Bay, Ainsworth and Nelson.   With its two new boats the CKSN controlled both the Canadian gateway to the Kootenays  via Revelstoke down the Columbia, and the American gateway via Bonner’s Ferry, to Kootenay Lake and Nelson, while the CPR’s subsidiary, the C& K railway hustled passengers and freight from lake to river down its 28 miles of track.   

A unique and isolated community was now forming in the Kootenay mountains, centred on Nelson and almost exclusively busied with mining.    The ore came down from the mountainside mines in sacks carried on horses, and was piled on the wharfs at Ainsworth, Bluebell, Crawford Bay and Nelson.   The Nelson on her twice weekly rounds, would pick up these sacks and take them to Bonner’s Ferry and the wagon haul to the NP at Kootenai Station, bringing back provisions, liquor, tools and miner’s supplies from Spokane.     Over on the Columbia at Revelstoke the CPR dropped off passengers and freight for the Lytton which took them down the Arrow Lakes to Sloat’s Landing and the C&K cars to Nelson. 

The Revelstoke route was suspended in winter when low water and ice closed the Columbia and Arrow Lakes.   The Bonner’s Ferry route operated most of the winter, sometimes having to be suspended when ice formed in the shallow West Arm of Kootenay Lake.


Daniel Corbin had gone to Victoria in 1889 while his graders were beginning his line out of Spokane, to petition the Legislature to grant him a charter for a Canadian railway from Waneta at the border to Nelson, B.C.    A railway needed a government charter to give it the power to expropriate rights of way across private property in cases where the owner refused to sell at a reasonable price.   The court would set a price and the graders could then enter private property to build the line.   Just as important, was a grant of public land to the railway, in addition to the the right of way, which the Legislature might be persuaded to give.   Few men, and certainly not Daniel Corbin, would build a railroad with their own money.   A grant of public lands could be used to back the bonds issued by the company to raise construction money.     These lands could be chosen by the railway officials; they did not have to be adjacent to the track.   Then, when the track was laid and inspected by the government, the lands would be transferred as a bulk grant.

It was the responsibility of the grantee to have them surveyed and measured.  When this had been done, title could be issued.   These grants of Crown Land were the necessary inducement to financiers to build railways into empty country where costs could only be recouped if the land could be sold to settlers.

Corbin’s proposed Nelson line would ascend Beaver Creek from the Columbia and alongside the Dewdney Trail run through an easy pass to the Salmo River and follow that stream to its source.   From there, it would descend Cottonwood Creek on a 2 per cent grade, reaching  Kootenay Lake at Five Mile Point.   Here it would reverse and run back along the lakeshore to Nelson.   Corbin knew the objections  British Columbians had to an American railroad entering the Kootenays and draining its traffic south to Spokane.    So he sweetened his proposal with a second charter request for a “Coast to Kootenay” railway which would run from Vancouver eastward to the Okanagan and then over the Monashee Range to the Kettle Valley and connect to his line at Marcus Washington.   This was the line coastal merchants had been soliciting the CPR to build.   Perhaps this American’s proposal, some thought,  was just what was needed to goad the CPR into action.   

Corbin was very vague about the route of this “Coast to Kootenay” line; he did not have a survey to present.   He said only that the Nelson line and the line to Vancouver “…would form one continuous line of railway from the south (sic) end of Kootenay Lake to the Coast, with a short detour into American territory, rendered necessary by the difficulties of penetrating the chain of mountains on the west bank of the Columbia River.” 

The people of Nelson and the Kootenays generally, a majority of whom were Americans pursuing their fortunes in the mines, were strongly in favour of Corbin’s lines.   Any railroad, by whomever built, with dollar a ton rates on ore and coal would boom Kootenay commerce and mining.   But the merchants of the Coast remembered Captain Ainsworth; this appeared to be just another plan to divert B.C. Interior trade to the U. S.   Corbin already controlled the Columbia trade with his railhead at Little Dalles; the new line would put him on Kootenay Lake and with his ally, the CKSN which was building a sternwheeler for that trade, he would control commerce there as well.

The distrust of the coastal merchants convinced Corbin that he needed a Canadian ally to front for him.    The ally presented himself in the person of Colonel James Baker, member of the Legislature for East Kootenay.   Colonel Baker was a flamboyant personality, the brother of the famous British Imperial official, “Pasha Baker.”   Baker had extensive claims to the coal lands of the Crowsnest Pass region and needed a railroad to develop them.   He proposed his own paper railroad, the B.C. Southern, to run from the town he was promoting, Cranbrook, to the Coast, but he lacked the funds to build it.   He was willing to trade his political influence in the legislature for Corbin’s financing of his B.C. Southern.   Corbin accepted, but when he saw the railway bill Colonel Baker had introduced, which gave the land grants to Baker, while Corbin was to build the line, he quickly backed out.   Without B.C. backing, Corbin’s two charter proposals were voted down.

CPR President, William Van Horne, had been giving consideration to a line entering the Kootenays from the east through Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies but would not begin  construction until government subsidies and land grants could be obtained.   On the 20 August, 1890, the Dominion Cabinet authorized the CPR to lease the Columbia and Kootenay Railway for 999 years, just as Daniel Corbin was signing his agreement with the CKSN for joint rail, steamer service from Rovelstoke to Spokane.   Some writers have thought that if Corbin chose to abandon his plans to build across the border into B.C. he might have negotiated use of the Columbia and Kootenay Railway to reach Kootenay Lake with a steamer connection from Sloat’s Landing to Little Dalles.    This would most probably have resulted in the CPR leasing or buying the SF&N.  The Canadian Pacific, as future developments were to show, was not willing to share the Kootenay trade with any other railway.    The CPR began construction of the C&K in 1890, and Corbin went to Ottawa to present his dual charter petitions to the Dominion government.  The Coastal B.C. opposition followed him.   Premier Robson, deeply suspicious of American schemes telegraphed the parliamentary Railway Committee insisting that the charters, if granted should insist that both railways be built simultaneously.   The City of Vancouver opposed Corbin’s charters as well, suggesting that the vague “Coast to Kootenay” line was merely bait to get the lucrative Nelson to Spokane line.   Finally President Van Horne of the CPR weighed in and promised that if Corbin’s charters were rejected, the CPR would build its own line into the Kootenays from Lethbridge.   This was what most parliamentarians wanted, and many admitted they had entertained Corbin’s proposals only to force the CPR to commit itself to build the Crowsnest Line.

Back in Nelson, the residents, mostly Americans, were outraged at loosing a potential rail connection to the outside and vented their anger by boycotting Canadian goods, and continuing to send their mail out via the U.S.A.

Corbin now called on his partners in the CKSN, John Mara, Frank Barnard, and Captain Irving.   If he could get rails to Kootenay Lake, they would be able with the boats they planned to put on Kootenay Lake, to move ore to his railhead, rather than to Bonner’s Ferry and the wagon haul to the NP.   This steamer-rail route with no wagon haul, would mean a lower rate for ore moving out and coal moving in.   

Again the B.C. legislature was asked for a charter for a Nelson and Fort Shepherd Railway.   This time, however, it was presented by five well respected British Columbians as a British Columbian line.   Very cleverly, Daniel Corbin presented his Marcus to Vancouver charter application at the very same time.  The legislators were so righteously preoccupied with turning down the American’s charter flat, that they granted the Nelson charter to the five British Columbians without a thought.

  The next year, 1892, Corbin bought the N&FS charter from his CKSN allies and got the legislature to give it a land grant of  10,240 acres per mile.   The year following, he persuaded the Dominion parliament to add a federal cash subsidy of $3,200 per mile, and permit it to connect to the American rails of his SF&N at the border.   This seeming reversal of policy by the B.C. and Ottawa legislators reflected the fact that the CPR had completed the Columbia and Kootenay line in 1891 to serve Nelson from Revelstoke via boat and rail;  Corbin’s line was welcomed as a desirable competition to break a CPR monopoly and keep rates down.   The same thing happened all over the Canadian west:  the Canadian Pacific would be lobbied to build a line into a district, but no sooner was it in place than the agitation began for a competing railway to come in and force down the CPR’s monopolistic rates.

Corbin had located his own townsite seven miles north of Little Dalles, called it Northport, and extended his rails to it in 1892.   This was now his wholly owned Columbia River Port and gateway to British Columbia.   Without telling Washington D.C., he had the Little Dalles Post Office, put onto a flat car and hauled to Northport and set out there with its new name lettered on.    As Little Dalles, without a steamer connection, collapsed, a ghost town for the second time, the Washington D.C. government recognized  reality, and Northport, Washington was in business.     

With his way cleared into Canada, Daniel Corbin pushed his rails from Northport to the border at Waneta and let a contract to Peter Larsen and Patrick Welch of Helena, Montana to grade his line to Nelson.    Chief Engineer Roberts, reported indignantly that each morning when  his steam shovel crossed the border to begin making grade, the Canadian Customs agent demanded he pay duty on it.   This problem was eliminated by moving the construction camp to Sayward, across the border into Canada.    To avoid paying duty on American rails for the line, Corbin had English rails shipped as ballast in empty grain ships to Portland.   These, in bond, were allowed across the line into Canada.    Speedy construction was essential, the charter required completion by the end of 1893.   The steep, 2 per cent grade down to Kootenay Lake was put on trestles for much of its length to eliminate the need for time consuming and costly drilling and blasting of the rock bluffs.  However, when the graders reached the lakeshore, they found their way blocked by the CPR.

Van Horne had not forgotten his promise to the Dominion parliament.   He was determined to shut Corbin out of southern B.C. and monopolize its trade for the CPR.   He sent out surveyors to discover whether the much discussed, “Coast to Kootenay” railway was feasible, and what route it might take.    They reported, that though costly, such a line was possible.  The C&K portage railway would be its center segment.  A line in from Lethbridge, Alberta over Crowsnest Pass would join it at Nelson, and from its terminus at Sloat’s Landing on the Columbia, a line could be built west to the Okanagan and on west to rejoin the CPR main line at Hope.   To block Corbin, Van Horne, working through Harry Abbott in Vancouver, presented his proposed line to the B.C. legislators and got them to establish a “CPR Railway Reserve” on the lands covered by the route.   This reserve now covered the south shore of Kootenay Lake from its head to Nelson, and E. J. Roberts, who had intended his line to run back to Nelson from Five Mile Point, found the lakeshore preempted and was obliged to end his railway at the water’s edge.   However, an arrangement was made for the CKSN’s new sternwheeler, Nelson, to meet all trains at Five Mile Point and transfer freight and passengers to the Nelson dock.   With a daily train service to Spokane on Corbin’s line, the run up the river to Bonner’s Ferry was discontinued.  The old charge on ore for the smelters had been $30.00 per ton, largely owing to that awkward wagon haul from Bonner’s Ferry to Kootenai Station.  Now Daniel Corbin offered a $9.00 per ton charge on ore from Nelson all the way to the Tacoma Smelter.   This rate meant that lower grades of ore were now suddenly commercial.   No longer did the output of each mine have to be sorted by hand to pick out the high grade which would pay its transportation to the smelter.   Since now fifteen dollar ore would return a profit, investors from Spokane took the train to the Kootenay mines to buy properties that previously were too low grade to mine.

That first winter of N&FS operation, 1893, the Columbia froze solid from Revelstoke down the Arrow Lakes, severing the CPR’s Canadian connection until May, while Corbin’s trains ran daily to Spokane.   With nothing moving on the Columbia, the C&K line with its one locomotive and 19 cars, shut down operations until Spring.   Mail had to got out via the U.S. and a letter to Revelstoke travelled to Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver (by water) and back to Revelstoke, 10 days in all .   The CPR’s water route into the Kootenays had proved an admirable  tourist attraction, a delightful trip in the summer, but not dependable, year round transportation.  That severe winter, and Corbin’s railway, rough and crooked as it was, definitively attached the Kootenays to Spokane.   

The Kootenay Lake silver-lead mines were not the only beneficiaries of Corbin’s line with its new, lower freight rates.   With rail transportation now a reality, the prospectors in Colville were taking another look at other mining discoveries that had been neglected in the pack horse era.   Newlin Hoover, of Toad Mountain, and Oliver Bordeaux of Colville in the enthusiasm of the railway’s arrival in Colville in 1889 restaked a claim that had been abandoned along the Dewdney Trail west of the Columbia, believing its ore might now be commercial.   It was an act that would have enormous consequences for all of Northeast Washington and the Kootenays of B.C.




The first report of a mineral occurrence in the Upper Columbia Basin was that of British naturalist, David Douglas.   While accompanying an HBC trading party in 1825, he reached Kootenay Lake and either observed, or more likely was shown, the prominent outcrops of “chicamon rocks” by the local Indians.    British Columbia historians have assumed that the Hudson’s Bay men had shown the local Indians how to break off chunks of the galena outcrop above the lake on the Riondel peninsula, and melt them in a fire to cast bullets for their muskets.    It may have been that the Sinixt and Kootenay Indians had shown the HBC men.   The fact that the Indians had mined galena from outcrops east of Northport, WA before they were “discovered” by American miners, suggests that it was the aboriginals, rather than the HBC men who began the mining of galena in a small way.   All of these deposits of galena (lead sulfide), they called “Dead Medicine,” their term for musket balls.

The chief factor at Fort Colvile from 1833 – 1844 was the educated and energetic Archibald Mc Donald.   Learning of the Kootenay Lake lead deposit from his men, he visited it personally in September, 1844 to determine its value.   He drew a map of the location, collected  a number of samples, and sent them down the river to Dr. John McLaughlin at Fort Vancouver to be forwarded to England for assay.   In his letter to HBC Governor James Douglas,  he describes the location.

“The ore is picked up on the 2nd eminence of the Presque-Isle at “A”, about 100 feet high.   There is something of a crater at top, and ‘tis from the debris or heaving up of old, covering the land side of  the conical hill that the ore is found in loose lumps among the earth…I cut my initial in a large tree along side…”

Chief Factor McLoughlin forwarded the samples to Archibald Barclay, the Secretary of the Company, in London with his observations in a letter of November 23, 1844.

From a small portion of the metal tested here, a considerable  quantity of very fine soft lead was obtained; but our mode of analysis was not sufficiently accurate to detect the traces of any more precious metal.   

“It is not probable that mining operations could be carried on to advantage at Flat Bow (Kootenay) Lake,  the distance being about 600 miles from the sea coast, and the water navigation so difficult and dangerous that the metal would have to be transported with pack horses more than half the distance by land.   The mine is also on the south side of the Columbia River, and will therefore, in all probability, eventually fall within the limits of the United States Territory, and, if the reported mineral wealth of that part of the country becomes known to the Americans, it will raise its value, and may become an additional motive with their Government to make good their claims.”

Several things are clear from this letter.   Mc Loughlin, if not Governor Simpson and the  HBC, already accepted that the British would eventually have to cede the land south of the Columbia to the Americans.   But as long as the status of dual sovereignty endured, it would be best to keep knowledge of any mineral deposits in the District of Columbia confidential, lest it arouse the cupidity of the Americans.   

A source of lead for musket balls was a significant find in the Northwest.   All HBC lead was coming from England by ship, and a local source would be a source of considerable profit for the company.    But the letter also indicates the impracticability of exploiting the deposit since the Bonnington Falls and rapids of the Lower Kootenay River blocked the usual HBC transport by bateaux, and a portage of about 30 miles by pack animals would be required around these obstructions. 

A discovery of lead might be kept confidential within the Company, but gold was a different matter.   The news of the rich gold strikes in California was being discussed all over the Northwest in the 1850s.   Dozens of HBC employees deserted to join the parties of men heading south for the California diggings.   A few, still loyal to the company, or unwilling to leave their families and ranches in the Washington Territory,  wondered.   Was it worth heading south to join the rush, or might there be gold on the Columbia or its tributaries?   The HBC posts in the Interior had been supplied with small sample of gold nuggets from the California diggings.  These were shown to employees and Indians and the question asked:  Had they ever seen anything like this?  The possibility induced Fort Colvile teamster Joseph Morel, who was gathering driftwood on the shore of the Columbia in 1854, to experimentally wash out a few pans of gravel.    

In the Northwest 1854 was one of those years when one era comes to a close and new one opens.   In that year the fur trade in the Northwest was dwindling owing to a reduced demand for beaver pelts.  The HBC was more and more turning to its farms, coal mines, and sawmills to try to develop a trade in flour, coal and lumber with the growing market of Americans to the south.    Two events in the same month metaphorically signalled the change.   On September 27, in Oregon City, that most intrepid of all the HBC fur traders, Peter Skene Ogden slowly slipped from life.    In the same month, HBC teamster Joseph Morel and his fellows found placer gold in the gravel bars and rock crevices of the Columbia River near Ft. Colvile.   

Placer gold consists of the particles and nuggets eroded out of the quartz ledges in the mountains by glacial and water erosion.    They are carried downstream by any fast running current of water, but being heavier than sand or rock, are dropped to the bottom whenever the current slows down.   What had been found in the California rivers in 1848 were the accumulated nuggets and grains of gold that had been caught in rock crevices on the bottoms of the river, and underneath gravel bars on the insweep of curves of the river where the water runs more slowly than on the outsweeps.    This was what Morel and his fellow miners were looking for in the late summer of 1854 as they probed the rock crevices of the Columbia during low water and and dug into the gravel bars at the river bends.

  The first few flakes of gold shining up from the HBC men’s pans were enormously and immediately consequential for the region.   A gold strike could not be hidden, no matter what the HBC policy might be.   Gold miners (the secretive Mexicans aside) cannot be silenced; they will pour out their take for the day on the saloon bar to impress their cronies.    All that fall, excited men from Fort Colvile dug into the Columbia river bars, working slowly upstream.   The treaty of 1846 had set the British – American boundary at the Forty-Ninth Parallel.   Exactly where that line intersected the Columbia was a matter of guesswork.   The crude instruments available to Colvile Chief Factor, Angus Mc Donald suggested that border would fall somewhere close to the confluence of the Pend Orielle and the Columbia, but a precise determination would have to await the arrival of the Boundary Commission surveyors.   Meanwhile, a man named Walker, part Indian, found gold on the Pend Orielle, a large tributary of the Columbia.    The swift running Pend Orielle, on joining the Columbia, slows down to the rate of the larger river, and drops its gold.   Here the richest bars were found.   Men digging these gravels were making  $4 to $10 per day, better than a month’s wages for most.  Two hundred ounces were taken from the Columbia that season.   It was bought by Chief Factor Angus Mc Donald at Ft. Colvile for $12 per ounce.   That autumn it was discreetly sent overland by pack train on the 1849 HBC trail to Ft. Hope, and on to Victoria the next year.    As it turned out, the Pend Orielle diggings were a bare half mile inside British territory, and became the first mining entry into the Canadian portion of the Upper Columbia Basin.     Just across the Columbia from these rich diggings and a quarter mile upstream, the HBC men began construction of a new post, Fort Shepherd, in 1856, on British soil, from which they hoped to control any commercial entry into the British Columbia.        

The post was needed at once.  The news was out: there was placer gold on the Upper Columbia.   Men rushed north from Walla Walla and from the exhausted diggings in California, and in the spring of 1855 the first Colvile Gold Rush was underway.   That year the Columbia, the Pend Orielle, and their tributaries were lined with men, almost all Americans, digging the gravels for the gold that lay along the bedrock.  The mining era on the Upper Columbia  had begun.

   But this Columbia mining was being carried out by a largely American force, in an area chiefly served by American merchants whose merchandise came up the easy military wagon roads from Walla Walla and White Bluffs on the navigable Middle Columbia.    The isolated HBC Fort Colvile (and after 1856, Ft. Shepherd), were linked to Victoria only by the old HBC Brigade trails over the rugged Cascades, one from Osoyoos Lake and the other from Kamloops.   These were crude horse trails with no bridges, no easy switchback gradients, and dangerous in the extreme.   The fur brigades and special expresses always took extra horses along; it was not uncommon to lose half their stock on the terrible mountain descents which were taken by the Indian packers straight down in a wild slide.   Until some dependable, year round, link with the Coast could be established, the Columbia mines would remain largely an American operation.

The Pend Orielle diggings were located approximately where the boundary was believed to be located, as the river ran east from its mouth on the Columbia and no one possessed an instrument capable of accurately establishing latitude within a few hundred yards.    However, in 1859, British Army Captain John Palliser’s “British North American Exploring Expedition” was making its way west into British Columbia with the intention of reuniting its scattered parties at HBC Fort Colvile.  Captain Palliser himself came down the Kootenay River from Kootenay Lake to the Columbia.   Traveling down river he stopped at Fort Shepherd where he was asked by the HBC men at the fort and the miners from the Pend Orielle to take an observation to determine definitively whether the Fort and the placer grounds were actually in British territory as supposed.   Palliser took his observation and finding Fort Shepherd to be 3/4 of a mile ( 1.2 Km) within British Columbia, reported,

“While I was observing, a circle of Scotchmen, Americans, and Indians, surrounded me, anxiously awaiting my decision as to whether the diggings were in American territory or not; strange to say, the Americans were quite as much pleased at my pronouncing in favour of Her Majesty, as the Scotchmen, and the Indians began cheering for King George.”

George III had been dead thirty-nine years, but was still fixed in the Indian imagination as their protector against the “Bostons.”    The Americans’ gratification had much to do with the fact that many of the Pend Orielle miners were deserters from the U.S. army.   The long tradition of the Kootenays as a refuge for disaffected Americans begins with the Pend Orielle miners in 1859. 

Kokanee’s Name Spread Far and Wide

The Origin Of Kokanee’s Name

Article Credit: Arrow Lakes News (December 3, 2015)

by Greg Nesteroff
One hundred and fourth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

In addition to being a fish and a popular beer, kokanee is the name of 14 geographic features in BC: a settlement, bay, creek, two provincial parks, glacier, recreation area, lake, landing, narrows, pass, peak, point, and range. As a result, it’s probably this areas most widely used indigenous word. Kokanee is derived from kekenit the Sinixt term for the landlocked salmon once plentiful in this region. (There’s no need to capitalize kokanee when referring to the fish, al­though many people do anyway.)

Kokanee spawning at Taite Creek
Kokanee spawning at Taite Creek

However, when Europeans first adopted the word, they didn’t know its definition. The earliest reference in the Nelson Miner of June 15, 1895 said: “The jagged ridge visible from Nelson away up the lake to the North-East is Ko-ko-nee, of the meaning of which we are sorry to say, we are ignorant”. The present spelling was adopted the follow­ing year when the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Co. launched the SS Kokanee on Kootenay Lake. The Trail Creek News of March 21, 1896 explained the name was “after the range of mountains near Nelson.”

Kokanee Creek, also known as YuiU Creek, was so named by October 1896 and a town site called Kokanee was laid out at its head, adjoining the Molly Gibson mine. The Sandon Pay streak of Aug. 14, 1897 kidded that “its inhabitants, when they become numerous enough to need a name, will be called the Kokakanucks.” Kokanee Glacier was first called by that name in The Ledge of lune 17, 1897. After climbing the glacier in the fall of 1898, mining promoter Ernest Mansfield renamed it after Lord Kitchener, but following his departure from the area in 1901, it reverted to Kokanee. Near the spot that the creek emptied into the lake was Kokanee Landing, first mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of April 9, 1899. The earliest known reference to kokanee mean­ing the fish was in a promotional booklet produced in late 1899 or early 1900 called Health and Wealth: Kaslo, BC: “During summer months in many streams emptying into Kootenay Lake, spearing a peculiar red fish of the trout species, called by the Indians ‘Kokanee is quite an amusement. Long strings of these are frequently seen.”

Biene Klopp hiking with me in Kokanee Glacier Park
My wife hiking with me in Kokanee Glacier Park 2001

Somewhere along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake — probably at Lasca Creek, directly oppo­site Kokanee Creek — was what the Sinixt called Yaksakukeni: place of many kokanee. However, it was many more years before kokanee was com­monly used by European settlers to refer to the fish. Two Kokanee post offices existed, the first ap­parently at the townsite, from 1902-11, and an­other at the landing, from 1911-15.

Biene’s Nephews Norbert and Christian at Kaslo 2005

But what made kokanee a household word be­yond West Kootenay was a conversation between Nelson mayor Tom Shorthouse and H.F. Puder of Interior Breweries in 1959 about the company’s recent move from Nelson to Creston. Shorthouse pointed to the potential of Kokanee Glacier Park — created in 1922 — as a tourist attraction and sug­gested the company name a beer brand Kokanee. “This thought really stuck,” Puder told Shorthouse a year later, “and the more the name ‘Kokanee’ was considered, the better we liked it … To you goes full credit for originating the idea and you may be assured that you will be among the first to sample the product.”

Popular Kokanee Beer
Popular Kokanee Beer

Kokanee pilsner beer first appeared in the spring of 1960 with a label featuring a painting of the gla­cier by Vancouver designer George Me Lachlan. While the artwork has changed over the years, it continues to use a glacier motif and remains one of BC’s best-selling brands.

The name has since spread far and wide. Lots of businesses adopted the name — including Kokanee Springs golf resort. There’s a Kokanee Bay in the Cariboo; a Kokanee elementary school near Seattle; and streets named Kokanee in Nelson, Cranbrook, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Ontario, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, California, and New Mexico. Most of these were presumably taken out of atlases and don’t have anything to do with our area, but there’s a Kokanee Bend fishing area in Montana.

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