Idaho History November 26, 2017

1940’s Big Creek / Edwardsburg

Independence Mine 1940s

Independence-Mine-1940s-a(click image for larger size)

“The Independence cabin some time in the 1940s, not sure who the man in the pic is.”

– photo courtesy Sandy McRae
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1940 Census Big Creek Edwardsburg Precinct

1940BigCreekCensus-a(click image for full size)

Name Sex Age Marital Status Relationship to Head of Household Birthplace Birth Year

Claude M Taylor Male 54 Married Head Colorado 1886
Elsie E Taylor Female 43 Married Wife Idaho 1897
Roland A Clark Male 29 Single Head North Carolina 1911
Willard V Wiles Male 24 Single Partner Iowa 1916
Thomas Brummett Male 60 Widowed Head Texas 1880
Orville Jackson Male 50 Single Head Washington 1890
Robert Rentahl Male 46 Single Partner Idaho 1894
Alfred O Ricksen Male 30 Married Head Norway 1910
Annabelle Ricksen Female 18 Married Wife Washington 1922
Annette Ricksen Female 0 Single Daughter Washington 1940
John Mclean Male 53 Widowed Lodger Scotland 1887
Jacob Janson [Jensen]Male 66 Single Head Finland 1874
Erik Janson [Jensen] Male 76 Single Brother Finland 1864
George H Mccoy Male 27 Married Head Idaho 1913
Marion Manis Male 29 Married Head Idaho 1911
Grace Manis Female 38 Married Wife Idaho 1902
Richard H Cowman Male 34 Married Head Canada Alberta 1906
Sophia M Cowman Female 30 Married Wife New Jersey 1910
Mary C Cowman Female 0 Single Daughter Idaho 1940
Miles Howard Male 67 Widowed Lodger Arkansas 1873
Wade M Justin Male 34 Married Head Iowa 1906
Helen Austin Female 29 Married Wife Colorado 1911
Eleanor Austin Female 5 Single Daughter Idaho 1935
Beverly Austin Female 3 Single Daughter Idaho 1937
Ronald Austin Male 1 Single Son Idaho 1939
Louis Butler Male 40 Married Head Nevada 1900
Letha Butler Female 25 Married Wife Oregon 1915
Delva Butler Female 4 Single Daughter Idaho 1936
Darla Jean Butler Female 4 Single Daughter Idaho 1936
Dan C McRae Male 63 Married Head Minnesota 1877
Grace McRae Female 54 Married Wife Idaho 1886
James E Collord Male 29 Married Son-in-law Idaho 1911
Mar Collord Female 28 Married Daughter Idaho 1912
Grace K Collord Female 2 Single Granddaughter Idaho 1938
William A Edwards Male 71 Widowed Head Georgia 1869
Napier Edwards Male 41 Single Son Maryland 1899
William Lotspeich Male 66 Single Head Mississippi 1874
Linsey Smith Male 35 Widowed Head Washington 1905
Joe Davis Male 70 Single Head Washington 1870

source: Family Search (requires sign-in)
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Big Creek (Gold)

Prospecting of the Salmon River mountains increased considerably after the Sheepeater War of 1879, and organization of Alton district on Big Creek, June 15, 1885, extended mining from Warren’s east into that region. Although there were a number of prospects on upper Big Creek, the main production was realized at the Snowshoe which yielded $400,000 between 1906 and 1942.

source: “Mining in Idaho 1860-1969” by Ernest Oberbillig, Idaho State Historical Society Number 9 1985
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Charlie with Danny and Wanda LeVan at Big Creek

Photo from “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977
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Snowshoe Mine

“The Snowshoe Mine Is The Most Important Mineral Property In The Ramey Ridge District. It Is In Snowshoe Gulch, On The North Side Of Crooked Creek, About 19 Miles By Rough Single-Lane Road From Big Creek Idaho. Workings Also Extends Into Valley County.”

source: Western Mining History
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Snowshoe Mine

by Fred Fred Bachich

(first trip 1926, this story from second trip)

… We went on down Monumental Creek and ran into packstrings down on Big Creek that were hauling supplies into the Snowshoe Mine, which had developed into quite a property at that time. It recalls the old Jensen boys who had sold this mine and our earlier trip through there.

from “Yellow Pine, Idaho” complied by Nancy G. Sumner Pg 64
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Blackie Wallace packing pipe to the Snowshoe Mine on Crooked Creek, tributary of Big Creek. The rig could carry two lengths of pipe.

Photo from “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977
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Jensen Brothers and The Snowshoe Mine

by Duane Petersen from information provided by Ron and Myrna Smith

When the gold rush hit the Salmon River Mountains in the 1800’s, the miners came from everywhere; the gold fields of California, Nevada and from about every country of the world to strike it rich. Two of these men, Eric and Jake Jensen, were more into following the booming camps for reasons other than mining. Both were professional gamblers earning their money from cards rather than a pick and shovel.

In 1889 they, along with their sister Olga, had migrated from Finland to the United States. Their sister didn’t like the idea of the rugged mining camps and decided to stay in Fort Bragg, California. The two young men ended up in Grangeville in the Idaho Territory. From there they followed the new gold strikes and camps, first to the Buffalo Hump area, then on into the Thunder Mountain District. Here they found the boom-town of Roosevelt in which to ply their trade. To say they only gambled wouldn’t be right. They did do a lot of prospecting, but the gambling supported them. It is said that somewhere in this area Eric was in a big poker game. In one pot he bet a bear hide and $100 against a quit claim deed for claims on Crooked Creek. Eric won, and that was the start of the Jensens living in Crooked Creek and the beginning of the Snowshoe Mine. The first winter the brothers trapped to help keep grub on the table and worked to get the mine ready to operate the following summer.

The Snowshoe mine is located about eighteen miles north east down Big Creek from what was then called Edwardsburg. It was later changed to Big Creek headquarters. The Snowshoe Mine was located along the route from Warren to the Thunder Mountain mining region. With a large enough open area, it was served not only by a trail, which later became a road. In later years, the mine also had air service.

In those first years Eric traveled south to California with his fiddle to spend the winter. Play his way south with the fiddle and cards, he would then try to save up a nest egg to buy supplies for the summer back on Crooked Creek. It was told by a good friend that one year things didn’t work out too well, so come spring Eric wired Jake for money to come home. When Jake got the message back at the mine, he wired his brother back: “You fiddled your way to California; you can fiddle your way back.” In the mean time, Jake was working alone to get the mine ready to operate. He was a master builder with almost any material. When Eric was at the mine, Eric did the cooking, house cleaning and mucking in the mine.

The brothers moved down to Crooked Creek where they first met and befriended John Routsen. John had a ranch about seven miles from the Snowshoe Mine. John was looked upon by neighbors as the country doctor of the area. He had very little formal training but was always ready and willing to help, sometimes at the risk of his own life. John noticed that many of his patients were people suffering from a tooth ache. So on one trip out Routsen consulted with a dentist in Weiser. The man was very helpful. He gave John two forceps, one for using on the smaller front teeth, and another one for the bigger teeth. Then the dentist spent time showing John how they should be used.

Once back in his mountain home it wasn’t long before word got around that John could pull teeth. Soon John had removed several teeth for local neighbors. Most of their teeth were almost gone before they ever came to have them removed. To ease the pain, John only had a jug of whiskey on hand that he freely gave out before the tooth was pulled.

Noel Routsen, a son of John’s, wrote stories in a newspaper about his dad. He said that whenever a person came to get a tooth pulled John always sent the kids away. Of course, like all kids they never got very far away. They usually hid somewhere close by where they could watch the show. Even with the whiskey beforehand, the squirming, screaming and shouting was a good show for the kids. The patient would be down on his back, usually out in the yard. Then, with John holding their arms with his knees, his left hand was placed on his or her forehead. The forceps were held in his right hand, and put in place deep down on the tooth. The dentist had shown him just how to twist to get the right leverage. Like everything else John did for the people of that region, he never charged a dime for his services.

Noel wrote that one patient was Eric (Spider) Jensen. He showed up one day with a badly ulcerated tooth and wanted John to pull it. After two water glasses of whiskey, Eric decided his tooth felt fine. He didn’t need it pulled, especially after he saw the forceps in his neighbor’s hand.

The Jensens were what the people called “Russian Finns”. They spoke with quite an accent. With a little whiskey, Eric’s speech usually got worse. Telling John his “toot” felt better, he added, “brutter Yake is a bleeder.” He said he might be the same and could bleed to “det”. He went back down the trail singing a Russian song.

A week later Eric showed up again complaining about his tooth. He begged John to pull it. Again, after a couple glasses of whiskey he tried to back out. This time John held strong, “all you want is to drink my whiskey we use for medicinal purposes. Now, this time the tooth is coming out.” Sure enough it did. Eric never did bleed to “det” either.

In December 1915 was another occasion the Routsens were awakened in the night by dogs outside raising all kinds of hell. When John opened the door Eric was calling as he ran towards the house, “John, John, John! Come quick, my ‘brudder’ Yake is dying.” Before John could find out more, Eric was heading back down the trail calling for John to hurry. John finally got him somewhat calmed down and, after much pleading, found out what was wrong with Jake. ‘Yake’ hadn’t had a bowel movement in two weeks. He was running a high fever and was out of his head. John packed up some supplies and tried to follow the little man back to the Snowshoe Mine. John was a good traveler on snow shoes after traveling this country for many years delivering mail, but this night he couldn’t keep up with the little miner. Eric raced ahead calling back for John to hurry. They made the seven-mile trip from Routsen’s to the Jensen cabin over the narrow, icy, steep trail in one and a half hours. John was able, with use of many a mountain home cure, to get Jake back on his feet.

In February of the [next] year the Routsen’s family saw something coming down the trail that was hard to figure out. When they figured it out, it was Eric in a harness pulling a queer looking sled. Following it was Jake steering the sled with handle bars. It turned out to be an old fashioned baby cradle. It would have made many a furniture maker jealous. John’s son, Noel said, “My mother was pregnant at the time. The cradle was Eric and Jake Jensen’s way of saying thank you to dad for his efforts in saving Jake’s life.”

When talking of the Jensen brothers you can’t leave out Eric and his fiddle. Whenever there was a party, Eric would show up with his violin in a case slung over his shoulder. To him he was without a doubt one of the best fiddlers of that time! As Noel said, “Eric and his fiddle to us kids meant some good entertainment was ahead. It wasn’t he played that good, it was just fun to watch him play.” He added, “at times the kids would sneak off to the bedroom to laugh so they wouldn’t hurt his feelings.” On one occasion Noel’s ten-year-old brother Emmit asked him to play Turkey in the Straw. Eric turned to the boy very indignant to say, “you nincompoop, I just got through playing that.” This brought down the place with laughter.

Over the next few years the Snowshoe Mine grew. It now had a water-powered mill, built by Jake with Eric’s help. The water wheels and belt pulley were hand built of wood. All joints were doweled, not a nail or bolt was used. The craftsmanship was almost unreal because of the tools they had to work with. Eric’s favorite statement when anyone was talking about Jake was, “My brudder, Yake, is a yeenus.”

By the 1920’s the mine was having good and bad years. Like most mines they had good ore and then would run into streaks of poor ore. About the time they were ready to give up they would hit a hot pocket of rich ore. Then things were great again. The ore at the Snowshoe usually was around $20 to $50 dollars a ton (gold was $35 an ounce). During this time, investors would buy and lease out the smaller mines. The Snowshoe wasn’t any different than the other mines. Payments would be missed and the mine repossessed, to be sold again to someone else.

A story in the Okanogan County Rancher in 1936 mentioned the Snowshoe Mine. It stated that, “H.T. Maib and Thomas W. Nevitt recently packed a stock of supplies into their gold mine, the Snowshoe, located 27 miles south of the Salmon River near the old Thunder Mountain camp. Nevitt is a resident of Clarkston and former superintendent of schools. Consulting Engineer E.J. Daily of Seattle recently completed a five-week inspection of the property and will submit his report soon. The Snowshoe Mine has been in operation for two years past, during which time from eight to forty-two men have been constantly employed. The average value of the ore is $32 per ton in gold. The mill on the property will start running about June 1st, when the number of employees will increase to twenty men. This is the property that gained a good deal of publicity last winter when food was dropped from a plane into the mine due to the camp being snowbound and short of supplies.”

The last buyer, in 1936, who paid the Jensens in full was Pierce Metals Development Company. They paid $50,000 for the mine. Between 1902 and 1942 the Snowshoe Mine produced somewhere around $400,000 in gold. It also produced Silver and Copper. The Jensens developed another mine not far from the Snowshoe Mine. They named it the Yellow Jacket. After possibly many other owners, this claim was sold to a Mr. Scott. In the 1980’s it was still being worked.

Noel Routsen and one of his brothers sold a mine they had started between the Yellow Jacket and the Snowshoe that they called the Buckhorn. They got $3000 for the claim.

Many people were neighbors and friends of the Jensens. Besides the Routsen family, there was Jess Root and the famous cougar hunter who was known as “Uncle” Dave Lewis. Lewis lived at the place on Big Creek now called the Taylor Ranch. It is currently owned by the University of Idaho.

In 1939 Lafe and Emma Cox came into the area as newlyweds. Lafe subcontracted the 45 mile mail route from Yellow Pine down to Cabin Creek. They lived at Mile High and when Lafe was busy Emma would deliver the mail. Her route was from Yellow Pine Post Office to the Post Office at Big Creek. The mail would be separated and sorted for delivery to all the mines and families on down Big Creek. By this time a road had been build from Edwardsburg to the Snowshoe Mine so when she could, Emma delivered the mail in their pickup truck. The road was very narrow and not much wider than the pickup. Emma wrote in her book about her and Lafe’s lives, that when they started a family she had a crib alongside her in the cab and her baby, Janet, went with her. On her trip to the mine she had to cross over two very narrow bridges with little or no railings. She dreaded crossing them whenever they were covered with snow or frost. People at the mine knew when she was to arrive, so they traveled the road accordingly.

Emma says she wishes now that she had written down many of the stories they [Jensen brothers] told her. From listening to Emma talk about Jake and Eric, I think the feelings were mutual about how they felt about each other. The mail route on down to Cabin Creek was either by horse-back or walking.

Several miners who worked at the Snowshoe Mine over the years have told stories and written about their lives there. One of these men was Loyal (Red) Rice. Red had been working in the Coulter Tunnel at Cornucopia, Oregon. The rock was hard to drill, and the tunnel was very wet. After losing a finger on his right hand, he decided the hole was “deep enough”, as the miners would say when they were ready to quit. He went to work at the Snowshoe Mine as the underground foreman in the late 1930’s.

During this same time Red talked of having bad teeth. Friends called a dentist in Cascade to fly in and pull all of his teeth. He worked the graveyard shift, then walked eighteen miles up to Big Creek Headquarters. The dentist pulled all twenty-six teeth at one time. Red spent the night then walked back to the mine the next day in time to go back on his graveyard shift. He wrote later, “It’s a wonder I didn’t land in the graveyard by trying to prove how tough I was!” Because of stories like these, we realize what life was like for men working in these remote mines.

Fred Bachich, a long time resident of Yellow Pine wrote an article about the Snowshoe Mine for Nancy Sumners’ Yellow Pine book. He talked about the craftsmanship of the Jensens in building the mill at the mine. He seems to have the brothers’ names and abilities sometimes mixed up.

Fred stated, “They had dug a ditch around the mountainside for at least a mile to get a head of water for the overshot waterwheel. This overshot waterwheel was about 12 feet in diameter and made of hand hewed lagging. Jake had hand hewed these boards about 2 inches thick. This wheel fitted together very beautifully and was doweled. There wasn’t a nail in it any place. This wheel had a small bull wheel on it and flat belt that drove the bull wheel and a one-stamp mill. A very symmetrical and beautiful job. That little one-stamp mill they had there, I have no idea where they got it. The only metal in the whole thing was the battery, the stamp and naturally the shoes, dies, camshaft and the amalgamating plate.”

excerpted from: Jensen Brothers and The Snowshoe Mine by Duane Petersen from information provided by Ron and Myrna Smith, “Pans, Picks & Shovels – Mining in Valley County, Idaho”, Valley County History Project. Pages 27-34
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Emma’s Mail Run (1940’s)

by Emma Cox
from “Idaho Mountains Our Home” by Lafe and Emma Cox – Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books pgs. 99-108

That spring [1942] Lafe subcontracted a mail contract. The mail was to be delivered from Yellow Pine to the Big Creek post office, then on down Big Creek to the Snowshoe Mine and on down a trail from there to Cabin Creek. The contract was for 45 miles, to be traveled by auto when accessible, in summer and early fall. In the winter mail was flown in by Penn Stohr from the airfield at Cascade to Big Creek, to be taken the rest of the way by horseback, dog team or team and sleigh.

We purchased a pickup to deliver from Yellow Pine to the Snowshoe Mine. The baby and I rode along with Lafe so I could learn the route, as he had to deliver up a few side roads to places I had never seen. We knew I would have to be the substitute driver when hunting season opened.

That fall Lafe catered to his hunting parties and would be gone a week to ten days at a time. We had a tent house at Jake and Eric Jensen’s place on Crooked Creek neat the Snowshoe Mine. A book should have been written on these two fine Finlanders who had built their home and other outbuildings on their property. They were both skilled carpenters, log home builders, cooks — you name it. It was interesting to hear of their experiences and stories about the time they operated a saloon at Roosevelt. They were always very careful how they expressed themselves in front of me. They were such gentlemen!

When Lafe was hunting, I drove to Yellow Pine to pick up the mail, … I delivered mail and freight from the Yellow Pine post office to the Big Creek post office, where it was sorted and put in mail sacks for each of the individuals along the way, and for the 12 to 18 employees at the Snowshoe Mine.

The road was narrow. At one point, above the transfer camp, was an incline where you could not see over the hood of your pickup. You had to know which way the road turned. I also had to drive across two bridges, that I often think about today. The bridges had very little railing and the logs were laid crosswise. When the first frost came, this was dangerous. It was always bumpy — rough driving over. About the only time the baby was disturbed was when we crossed these two bridges, due to the roughness and noise. The stream at Big Creek was almost the size of some rivers. I always breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the other side.

The miners always knew when I was coming. If their trucks were coming out with loads, they always waited at a turnout for me.

The people at the mine were always glad to see me come. Perhaps they were concerned with my driving — I will never know. However, they really looked forward to their mail. Someone was always there to help me unload the mail and freight, as at that time everyone ordered through the Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs. In the spring they ordered seed from the catalogues to plant in their gardens.

On mail days everyone at the mine gathered at the large dining room table, where the mail was sorted out. While this was going on, Mrs. Rodman, the cook, always had a cup of hot cocoa and a piece of pie or cake for me. I could also warm up the baby’s bottle on her stove.

The caretaker at Mile High met me at the mine to pick up the ongoing mail down Big Creek, which was only accessible by horses. He delivered to the Phil Beal ranch, Cabin Creek and Mile High, which at one time was a designated post office called Clover. In early days settlers came there for their mail. When we sold the ranch many years later, the post office pigeonhole cabinet was still hanging on the wall.

In the summer we delivered the mail every Tuesday and Friday; the rest of the time it was just once a week. Otherwise the baby and I stayed at Jensen’s place awaiting Lafe’s return from his hunting trips.

In November the snow on the summit got too deep for the pickup. Even though we had a compound gear, it was too hard on the vehicle.

Johnson’s Flying Service based in Cascade had the contract to fly the mail directly to Big Creek airfield. Penn Stohr did the flying. He was not only a great pilot, he was a wonderful person.

Before the snow got too deep …, Lafe picked up the mail by auto. On the way to the mine he had to make a stop at Copper Camp and Little Ramey cabin. The others who lived along the route had gone out for the winter.

It was typical snow country and each day we watched it pile up. Some days a real blizzard would blow. As the snow accumulated, we knew it was set in for the winter.

The next trip, Lafe got as far as Little Ramey, where he had to leave the sleigh. It would stay where he left it until spring, as there was too much snow. He loaded the outgoing mail onto one of the work horses and rode the other, continuing his trip to the Big Creek Post Office.

Soon it was time for Lafe to make another mail run. He started out by riding one of the work horses and packing the other, but after several tries, he could see he couldn’t make it. So he took the horses back to the mouth of Crooked Creek and started them back up the road to our cabin at the mine. He left the riding and pack saddles at the Little Ramey cabin to be picked up later. He put a pack sack with the outgoing mail on his back and webbed up to Big Creek. The trip took him two days. It was real arduous going with snow falling hard. In places the drifted snow was three to four feet deep.

From Copper Camp, Lafe phoned to tell me the team would be coming in sometime that night. I put hay and grain in their feed boxes in the barn, thinking they would go right in to the hay.

For Lafe’s next return trip back, he had rented three dogs and their harness from an old timer living near Big Creek. With so much snow, he needed a dog team to travel. He also called his dad, asking Clark to try to locate some good dogs with harness and have them flown in with the coming mail plane.

Clark sent a good lead dog and two others. With the dogs the old timer had given him, and his own dog, that gave Lafe seven dogs, which were what he needed for some of the loads that went to the mine.

On the crank Forest Service phone in our cabin, I could talk to Lafe in Big Creek. He called real often to check on the baby and me.

With lots of snow, Lafe made weekly trips by dog team. Sometimes the weather would warm up and cause snow slides. You had to keep an eye on the mountain above the trail in case a slide came in. That year there were several small slides and two or three large ones. The dogs all worked well together, and each knew their duty.

We continued to deliver mail all summer [1943], driving over Profile summit to Big Creek. The mail route went over many side roads, as the summer people were back, then on to the cabins that were occupied year round, and then to the Snowshoe Mine. It was the same route as in the winter, but now we were driving a vehicle.

Hopeless point – the mail run up Big Creek

Photo from “Idaho Mountains Our Home” by Lafe and Emma Cox – Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books
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Smith Children with Napier Edwards’ wagon, Edwardsburg 1948

The Lawrence and Paul Smith kids from Stibnite playing with Napier Edwards wagon at Edwardsburg. The Passengers are: (L to R) Patty, Karen, Lorene and Gary Smith. The two ‘critters’ doing the pulling are Ron on the left and cousin Tim on right -1948

“Nape Edward’s wagon is what they used to call a ‘Hack,’ a light, get-there-quick-type of wagon, sort of a poor man’s buggy.” – Ron Smith.
(photo courtesy of Ron Smith)

source Valley County, ID GenWeb Project
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Skis and Skiers

by Harry Withers

In the mining boom days, skiing as a sport in this part of the country wasn’t considered at all. At least, I have never heard any of the real “Old Timers” speak of it as such. Skiing was only a very necessary mode of travel. Some of those old timers were the real experts when it came to making arduous trips such as getting mail into the back country: Thunder Mountain, Warren, Florence, Dixie, Buffalo Hump, and others.

I know some of those old timers and heard some of their accounts of their experiences and never grew tired of listening to them. To name a few, there were All Hennessey, Charley Newell, Jake and Eric Jensen, Rufe Hughes, Ray Call, and Dan McRae. Big Dan was strictly a snowshoe man.

from “Yellow Pine, Idaho” complied by Nancy G. Sumner Pg 42
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page updated September 23, 2020