Category Archives: Weekly History

Idaho History Oct 2, 2022

Cougar Dave Lewis

(Part 3)

Big Creek – Wilderness

CDphoto1Longtime Idaho hunter “Cougar” Dave Lewis poses with his prized team of hunting dogs. Photos courtesy Pat Cary Peek

CDphoto-headerTall tales?
Viola author sifts fact from legend in book about Idaho mountain man

By Laura Pierce – Daily News staff writer

When Idaho mountain man “Cougar Dave” died in 1936, he left a stack of legends nearly as tall as the mountain that state officials later named for him.

For Viola resident Pat Cary Peek, sifting through those stories became a quest that ultimately yielded a book.

But she cam across some major surprises in writing “Cougar Dave: Mountain Man of Idaho.”

“As I did the research, the only thing that held true was that he died,” Peek said of her research into the life of hunter/trapper Dave Lewis, who apparently had a yen for telling whoppers.

That included explaining to 1910 census workers that he’d been born in Arkansas, in the 1920 census revisiting that story to say Wales, and in 1930 opting instead for a birthplace in Illinois.

It was only after tracking down Lewis’ death certificate, which led her to the funeral home that sipped his remains to Oregon, that Peek ascertained her subject had been born just outside Yoncalla, Ore.

Peek, whose quest to learn the truth about Lewis led her to Oregon and central Idaho, and to scores of people who knew of the wily outdoorsman, isn’t completely sure why Lewis told the tales he did.

Bitterness over family relations back home and possibly a need to give his guiding business a more exotic bent might be culprits, she noted. But the most apparent reason Lewis told the stories he did – including several fictitious accounts of fighting in the Civil War – was that he simply could make people believe him.

“He just liked to tell stories and was very smart,” Peek said.

Lewis, who lived in the central Idaho wilderness on Big Creek, northeast of McCall, made believers out of a number of influential men during the ’20s and ’30s.

The charismatic guide/outfitter shared hunting camps with the likes of Idaho Gov. H.C. Baldridge, timber magnate Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Bunker Hill Mine manager Stanley Easton of Kellogg and a number of high-powered lawyers, doctors and magazine editors from across the country.

“Oh they loved him, all those doctors and lawyers and mucky-mucks,” Peek said. “David just charmed them. It was the persona he built.”

It was with Lewis that these men marveled at the wilderness surrounding them and discussed how they could preserve the beauty of the land for future generations.

Cougar Dave Lewis, then, for all his embellishments and revisionist history, had a hand in turning one of central Idaho’s most wild places into protected wilderness, outside the encroachment of industry and development, Peek said.

“Around David’s fire, talk of preserving the vast central Idaho region as a primitive area first took shape, and eventually the primitive area became what is now the 3,678-square mile Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest and most isolated wilderness in the lower 48,” Peek states in her book.

Peek first encountered stories of the enigmatic outdoorsman while living at the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch Field Station, which was at Lewis’ homestead site.

CDphoto2Lewis is shown in this undated photo at his cabin in the heart of central Idaho wilderness. Photo courtesy Pat Cary Peek

Peek spent the winter of 1992-93 at the ranch, in addition to other, shorter forays over the years. Her husband, Jim Peek, at the time a professor of wildlife biology at the UI, was doing research at the ranch and Pat regularly accompanied him.

Her reflections of that one winter season yielded an earlier book, “One Winter in the Wilderness,” which was selected as the Idaho Library Association’s Book of the Year for 1998.

At the ranch, where a segment of Lewis’ workshop still stood and where some of his tools still lay, Peek found herself captivated by the apparent romance of Lewis, after hearing tales of his Civil War service and apparent Welsh background.

“I was just really curious about him,” Peek said. “But the more I got into it, the more I realized nobody knew the truth about where he was born and raised.”

A self-avowed fan of research – “I just love digging around in libraries – to me that’s fun,” Peek said – it wasn’t long before she started finding material on Lewis. Much of it was write-ups in various outdoor publications from the ’20s and ’30s, when Lewis was actively guiding hunters in the rugged Idaho wilderness and getting a reputation as a real character.

But Peek found she hit pay dirt when she located Lewis’ death certificate and contacted the Boise-area funeral home listed on the document. Sure enough, the funeral home had records going back to 1936, which stated Lewis’ remains had been shipped back to Yoncalla, Ore., to a man Peek learned later was Lewis’ half-brother, Kit Letsom.

As a former longtime resident of the Eugene, Ore. area, Peek had no trouble heading back to where she still had family and tracking down some of Lewis’ relatives.

It was there that she got a hint why Lewis had been so closemouthed about his beginnings. One source of major friction, she said, involved Lewis handing over property to his stepfather.

“He was very angry,” Peek said of Lewis, who apparently left the state for good, shortly after agreeing to give 620 acres of farmland over to his stepfather, John Letsom.

Peek noted it’s not clear why Lewis gave the property to Letsom, but there seemed to be a lot of rancor attached to the transfer. She added that Letsom, in turn, left the property to his full-blooded son, Kit. And to the frustration of the rest of th Letsom clan, Kit later deeded it back to Lewis’ survivors – the children of Lewis’ sister.

“The Letsoms are still unhappy about it,” Peek said, of the reactions she got when she went to Oregon to interview Letsom family members.

In her research Peek also discovered that a number of Lewis legends were simply untrue. The fibs included his age (to which he added 10 years), his Civil War service and his place of burial (which is on the family homestead property in Yoncalla – not in Boise or Cascade, as some historical references have noted).

From the information she was able to gather, plus her firsthand experience of living in the wilderness Lewis called home, Peek crafted what she calls a story of “narrative nonfiction” about Lewis’ life.

Her book reads like a story, with characters Peek has researched speaking for themselves, and the hunting parties Lewis led unfolding in narrative fashion.

Peek, who self-published the book in 2004, said she’s been pleased with the response of readers.

“It’s sold over 800 – it’s doing quite well,” she said.

“Cougar Dave: Mountain Man of Idaho” is carried locally by BookPeople of Moscow, as well as by Hastings at the Palouse Mall in Moscow.

CDphoto3Pat Cary Peek is the author of “Cougar Dave” Mountain Man of Idaho.” (Geoff Crimmins / Daily News)

Editor’s note: Standing more than 9,000 feet, Lewis Peak is located in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

source: Moscow Pullman Daily News January 20, 2005

Further Reading

“Cougar Dave, Mountain Man of Idaho” by Pat Cary Peek
Link to Book at Amazon
The state of Idaho named a mountain for him when he died in 1936. Cougar Dave Lewis, miner, guide and bounty hunter, was as wild and free as the mountain, as independent and solitary, as unfathomable and some would say as stubborn and immovable as the peak that bears his name. He lived alone in the center of what is now the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and played a part in establishing the original Idaho Primitive Area…

“One Winter in the Wilderness” by Pat Cary Peek
Link to Book at Amazon
Highlights the experiences of the Peeks and their daily life at the Taylor Ranch Field Station, and includes historical and fictionalized stories of an existence among Idaho’s wildlife.

Link to More Dave Lewis photos from the Idaho State Historical Society
Link to 1928 Photos Warm Lake to Yellow Pine to Big Creek to Cougar Dave Lewis Ranch. Harry Shellworth Album Idaho State Historical Society, photographer Ansgar Johnson Sr.

Link to Cougar Dave Lewis Part 1
Link to Cougar Dave Lewis Part 2
Link to Taylor Ranch History
Link to Frank Church Wilderness
Link to Big Creek / Edwardsburg Index Page

Link to Deer Hunting
Link to Elk Hunting
Link to Idaho Hunting Stories
Link to A Hunt in the Rockies 1892
Link to The Carlin Party Tragedy

Idaho History Sep 25, 2022

“Cougar” Dave Lewis

(Part 2)

Yellow Pine to Edwardsburg to Cougar Dave’s for a hunting trip in 1925


Idaho Game Trails

by Claude P. Fordyce

An account of a big-game hunt by pack train into an almost inaccessible part of Idaho, where good game fields still offer that chance for hunting which you have looked for and seldom found.


The privilege of a hunt in one of America’s last bits of almost virgin wilderness, plentiful with big game, was sufficient incentive for the writer to jump at the chance of accompanying Sam Cupp, guide, and his party into the region of Big Creek, tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Central Idaho, last fall.

The Forest Service has a system of arriving at a pretty accurate estimate of the big game resources in America, and it was indeed surprising to learn that Idaho has hundreds of square miles of forests as primitive and unfrequented as it was centuries ago, where big and small game live unmolested in native haunts — one of the last of our heritages of wild life which has not been touched by the mania of destruction which characterizes modern America.

The cumulative summary of big game in Idaho’s national forests for 1923 gives these surprising figures: there are of deer, 45,021; elk, 5,213; moose, 579; mountain sheep, 1299, and mountain goats, 3,452 — this last the largest number of any state in the Union and surpassed only by Alaska. Idaho has more game and fish than any other state, more natural resources and more unexplored territory, and is one of the few states in the Union that is not hunted to death.

This bountiful supply of game resources is due first to the fact that so much of the state is still wild and inaccessible — much of’ its mountainous wilderness is not penetrated by trails; and second, and perhaps the main reason, is that this region has not had publicity. It is with extreme reluctance that I give even this account of the hunting possibilities of this paradise, for once its potential possibilities are known there are hundreds of nimrods who stand ready to go even to the far ends of our hemisphere if the game is really there. That means depletion in time.

OL-1photoCircle – One of the hunters and a goat.
Left – The writer with a black bear.
Bottom – A nice buck.

The northern and southern portions of the state of Idaho are totally dissimilar as far as climate and topography are concerned; the northern part called the “Panhandle” has the largest and heaviest stands of timber, many large lakes and much mining, while the southern and eastern portions, chiefly sage brush deserts, have been made to blossom as the rose and yield bountiful crops thru irrigation. Near the dividing line of these vastly different regions runs the Salmon River — a territory of great mountain ranges, fine trout and salmon haunted streams, wonderful forests, with a rough terrene [sic] offering but little grazing, therefore there are but few ranches and ideally suited to game production and general recreation.

Last year the Forest Service projected a trail far toward the David Lewis Ranch on Big Creek, 235 miles from Boise and in the very heart of the big game country. Harry C. Shellworth hunted there last year and his party brought out their full quota of big game. He saw in one band 32 mountain sheep (which are now fully protected), bears, deer and many mountain goats.

Our party consisted of Charles F. Speed, Dr. R. G. Davenport, Sam Cupp, guide, and the writer, who met in Boise where we got acquainted with 150 of Idaho’s sportsmen at the unique hunting camp banquet, which was one of the monthly dinners of the Boise Fish and Game League. This league is a model and their organization has been copied by other groups of similarly interested men in Idaho as well as other states. They not only stand for but ACT for conservation, their meetings foster good fellowship, and their most recent achievement was the establishment of the game refuge on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Our party left by auto for Yellowpine [sic], a distance of 150 miles, which is the real “jumping off place” for here we bid farewell to the automobile for a month and met our pack train and the rest of the personnel of our party — Floyd Morden, Harold Young and Cy Johnson. Yellowpine is a log cabin settlement at 4,700 feet altitude, in the bracing air of the lower mountains and surrounded by a yellow pine forest without a peer in America. It is destined to be a great summer resort and a number of Easterners have already built cabins.

After a hard day’s journey we appreciated the hospitality of the log hotel, and F. F. Foster won our hearts thru the medium of his famous raisin bread. We took stock of our provisions and laid in our last supply of candy and “ropinos” to smoke, at the commissary of A. G. Behne. Behne is a real pioneer of the old school — one of the type of men who have built the West — and this is the third community he has started in his life. Next by is the United Mercury Mines and many smaller holdings. While awaiting our outfit we observed the packing of 35 mules with dynamite destined for the Cinnabar Mines. In season Yellowpine is the rendezvous for deer hunters and they “get their stuff.”

Before us lay 85 miles of trail along Profile Creek and Big Creek to the Dave Lewis Ranch. The first day out our party naturally organized into an exact status — dudes and buckeroos. Sam Cupp, head guide, was our flapjack wrangler, and he was “there” and an expert horseman and packer, having taken second money on “Lightfoot” at the Pendleton roundup. Floyd Morden and Harold Young were fine young fellows and always ready to do their “stunt,” and past masters at the gentle art of “snaring” ponies. We were advised to take particular notice of Cy (37) Johnson. During the World War Cy and Cupp broke 30,000 horses in nine months for the French army. The “37” meant that he wouldn’t sit down to breakfast unless there was sitting before him a stack of 37 flapjacks “to start in on.” Perhaps this was one reason that our pack-train numbered some 35 horses. Of the hunters Doc Davenport of Colorado came with much experience, chiefly with deer in Texas in the days when it was wild and woolly, and his only pretext for being with us was his enthusiasm for bears. Speed of Evanston came all primed for the experience of his life, and he got it, along with some beautiful trophies of the hunt. The humble writer just came, saw and conquered; while he bravely assumed a certain dignity, he exactly qualified as the ace tenderfoot, and with 20 miles a day in the saddle after a year in an office chair he couldn’t keep his mind on his feet.

OL-2photo1Top – Lewis ranch cabins

OL-2photo2Center – Doc got his bears and hit the trail for home.

OL-2photo3Bottom – Our party divided into groups, each hunter with a guide and supplies and pack-horses for the ten-day bear and elk hunt.

One of the chief joys of any outdoor trip is the camaraderie among the fellows. The close association for a month under trying circumstances of hard work, extreme fatigue and occasional exasperating circumstances brings out whether a man’s a man or not.

Of neighboring camps there were few in this new country. At one night’s trail camp we sat around the friendship fire of Gill and he told us how to cook tough goat meat tender, and I pass it along to you: “You place the goat meat with several rocks in a big kettle and cover with water and cook it for all it is worth. When you can stick a fork in the rock, the meat is tender.”

Our introduction to Big Creek was at Edwardsburg, the site of the Forest Service headquarters — a log cabin and tent settlement of generous proportions. An immense log structure for headquarters was under Construction and near by lay the bodies of two bears which had just which had just been brought in. Doc Davenport went wild at the sight of them. In the corral was a string of fine pack mules and in the commissary were panniers of supplies ready for any emergency fire call from any point in the great forest acreage faithfully and continually under observation from the summer fire lookouts. The Forest Service personnel are big men. Some day the reading public will come to know them, as their exploits are just as worthy as the much-vaunted Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Their calling is as picturesque; they are intrepid as any group of men on earth, and seem imbued with the strength of the great pines which are their wards. It is indeed a privilege to know a man like J. P. Rutledge, the assistant supervisor of the Idaho forest, whose fine spirit exemplifies Uncle Sam’s best policies in administering the outdoor heritages of the people.

Edwardsburg was named after W. A. Edwards, whose ranch adjoins the forest headquarters, an accredited eastern lawyer who came west for his health and settled here to develop his ranch and to mine. With vision into the future when a town will be here, he is the type of the empire builders. Near his hospitable cabin home he has caught 25-pound salmon which had come 700 miles up from the mouth of the Columbia to spawn.

A pack-horse trip down Big Creek is one of the most inspiring journeys in America — sheer walled polychrome canyons, the beauty of trout-haunted roaring streams, camps in clearings amidst great trees, and trails thru endless aisles of the silent forest. In the entire 85 miles from Yellowpine to the Dave Lewis ranch there are but four or five ranches, as the grazing value of the land is low and widely distributed. When winter comes these people are snowed in from October to June and must pack in supplies for that time and visit their neighbors miles away on snowshoes or skis. What a boon the radio must be to shut-ins like these!

OL-3photo1Top – On the trail

OL-3photo2Center – “Cougar” Dave Lewis, who has killed more than 1,000 mountain lions and whose ranch was the headquarters of the hunting party.

OL-3photo3Bottom – The gang.

On the third day we came to Dave Lewis’s ranch — a small clearing with three cabins and the largest one of four rooms allotted to our party. Uncle Dave is famous in these parts, a professional cougar hunter who has hunted these predatory animals for fifty years, first off the stock ranges, then out where the great deer herds are wintering, and he has killed more than 1,000 mountain lions — 500 in Idaho and the rest in California and Oregon. Dave is one of the few men who voted for Abe Lincoln. You conclude that he is old, but he could out walk any of us. Such is the efficacy of the simple outdoor life. He has always lived in the wilderness just ahead of the march of civilization. After the Civil War he came West during the days of the survey of the Union Pacific and as a young man knew General Dodge, Joe Meek, Ezra Meeker, Jim Bridger and others of our famous old scouts. He saw the West when it was black with buffalo, and men of his type as well as the big game of America are making now their last stand.

Lewis is a dead shot. The sheriff at Cascade relates how many forehead shots are in the cougar pelts brought in by Lewis for the $50 bounty. One of Dave’s records is 13 cougars out of 14 shots. He is absolutely unafraid — fear never enters his mind. He said that he learned deliberation in shooting in the old muzzle-loading days when every shot had to count. He waits until within a few feet of his quarry and then drops his animal. He uses a .44-caliber model ’92 Winchester, and for cougars his favorite is a .32-20 carbine with open sights. His winter cougar hunts usually last three days each, and he carries a minimum of equipment and sleeps under the lee of a big tree with a big reflecting fire in front.

The very happy news he gave us was that during the summer his dogs treed 20 hears in the valley near his cabin, but he shot none of them. He saw 420 deer in one gulch within 3 miles of his ranch. The season before, Shellworth’s party got its full quota of goats on the ridges back of the ranch and saw one band of 32 mountain sheep up there.

Laying east of Dave’s cabins, 6 miles, is the union of Big Creek and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and the trail was a particularly difficult one. To the north across Big Creek, which is here a swiftly-flowing, broad stream of 50 feet, loom great stretches of brown grass-covered hills backed by the density of pines, and far back beyond lie the Black Buttes, where we were to go on a bear hunt. Twenty miles north of the ranch are the Cottonwood Buttes, northeast of Chamberlain Basin, where elk were plentiful. The few lazy days in camp gave us opportunity to peer north over the broad reaches of the brown hills to feast our eyes on browsing deer which know that the season was closed, because when the season did open they were wary and cautious and had to be really hunted.

Short sorties from the headquarters cabins daily up Rush Creek showed occasional signs of big game, but the deer and bears had left the valley after the berry season and had gone higher up where the bears could get the pine nuts, and the deer for sanctuary until the first snows should drive them down again to the valleys for a time. As the snow disappeared they would return to the heights and sporadically return until the winter snow came for good, and the valley floor would then be the home of hundreds and the easy prey of the predatory cougar — the wilderness Fight for the survival of the fittest.

The goats remained high up in the crags and pinnacles. The first few days were occupied in reconnaissance trips verifying the locations that bears and deer were “using.” Daily our larder was replenished with fish from Big Creek; never a time did the disciples of Izaak Walton whip the clear, cold waters without landing, with the lure of spinners and bacon strips, a full quota of Dolly Varden and cut-throat trout — the stream seemed a veritable fisherman’s paradise.

Came the time for organized hunts. Packs made up with tents, bedding, mess kits and food supplies for ten days. With complete equipment and our saddle and pack horses we headed one day up Big Creek 6 Miles, fording the stream several times past sheer walls, to Conyer’s Ranch, where my out-fit camped for the night. Speed and Cy Johnson headed on for Cave Creek and Crooked Meadows for elk — if unsuccessful they were to go over to Mosquito and Moose Meadows. Davenport, Cupp, Uncle Dave, Hap Young and I blazed our trail next day to the top of Black Buttes, where we established camp. Each day we hunted afoot over heavily timbered and rocky buttes and saw plenty of bear sign.

One day Cupp and I kept to the top-most ridges while Dave and Doc went down the west slope toward the breaks. Suddenly we heard an outlandish yelping of the dogs and then a shot. Cupp and I literally “fell” down the mountain side and came to the scene of conflict — Doc had shot his first bear. That night it snowed and when we got out of our tents in the morning we shoveled away 2 feet of flakes. We rearranged our kitchen leanto tent and built a big reflecting fire in front and did our cooking and eating there (we don’t “dine” in the wilderness, we stow it away in amounts). This blizzard weather was a trying test for Cupp’s novel sleeping bag arrangement. In spite of the common belief that the air mattress is cold to sleep on our new arrangement proved that it could be used in the coldest weather. There is no question that it is the ultimate in sleeping comfort. Atop the air bag were spread inch-thick pads of wool as it came from the shearer and then cleaned, and above this was placed the regular sleeping bag — double Kenwood wool warmth bags encased in a light canvas shell. I used Fialas no-hide-fur bag in a comfort sleeping pocket. We slept perfectly comfortable every night and feel we have established the utility of the air mattress in cold weather by the use of an adequate insulating pad above it.

On another day we all kept to the top ridges as we supposed the likely places for bear to be the talus slopes below which after the snow Bruin would be hunting for a winter den. After a particularly arduous jaunt we sat down to rest when Doc suddenly sighted, on a small clearing between the trees on the valley floor 200 yards below, a sure enough grizzly. Now a grizzly bear trophy was Doc’s cherished ambition — he talked it, he dreamed it — it would be the fulfillment of his most cherished ambition. It was enough to excite anyone and Doc was excited. He blazed away, and altho in calmer moments he proved his worth as a sure shot here he emptied his gun and missed every shot down hill and at the rapidly moving target. I lost my head, for this was Doc’s bear, but I added a fusillade from the powerful .30-’06 -Winchester, which J. A. McGuire has used so successfully in Alaska and elsewhere, but missed. In a short space of time Dave had difficultly in holding the younger dogs of the pack, but the leader, the Norwegian huskie, stood on a jutting rock poised as a statue and with every fiber of his being aquiver. He would not “break” — he was the perfect hunter — until Dave gave command, and then the whole pack leaped down the rough mountain side with marvelous speed and was gone. Only a few minutes elapsed before we could no longer hear the yelping — they were on a hot trail. We descended to the valley and tried to pick up the trail; found one dog, Cub, who was bewildered. We concluded that a black bear would be treed, but this was certainly a grizzly, and no telling how many miles away he was by now, so we returned laboriously to camp.

Next day one dog returned and the day after two more dogs came, one with his snout filled with porcupine quills. Dave said this was the dog’s third experience — they don’t seem to know that they can’t beat the “buzz-saw” game. The fifth dog did not return to our camp, and when we got back to the ranch a week later Floyd told us that the dog got to the ranch five days after our hitting the grizzly trail. If dogs could talk —

OL-4photo1Monarch of the wilds. (Photo by Dr. A. E. Weaver.)

Now our party broke up, Doc and Dave returning to hunt south of the ranch, from which place they planned to hunt bears. Hap Young went after two lost horses, and Cupp and I, with a string of pack horses and full equipment, went north along a good Forest Service trail to Disappointment Creek and Cottonwood Meadows for elk. There we hunted in the densest lodge-pole thickets I ever saw, and the wonder of it is that elk can wedge their antlers thru the trees and travel as fast as they do. We came to the camp of a party from Nampa and at another camp met our fellow hunters, Cy Johnson and Speed, who had their elk; then joining forces, we all returned on a two-day trip back to the Lewis ranch. We saw a number of elk and many deer and some bear sign.

Shortly after our arrival at Lewis’s Doc, Dave and Hap came in from a successful bear hunt and Doc announced that he had come for bear and had secured his trophies and was ready to go out so next day he, Cupp and Young took the trail for home.

The Mormon Mountains south of the Lewis Ranch are the rendezvous of many mountain sheep and goats. Lewis estimated that there were 500 sheep here in 1906, but they are not so plentiful now because of their destruction from scab disease probably contracted from domestic sheep. He has seen many dead with a mass of scab on their bodies. One mountain sheep has become a pet of old Dave’s and has been within 30 feet of him several times in three years before he was killed by a poacher.

Our quest for goats was the most interesting feature of our trip, and as hunting goes, the easiest we had, for on the very day that each went for his trophy that day he got it. Dave’s definite knowledge of the country, of course, saved us time. Riding saddle back up the canyon south of the ranch to the top of the ridge we left our horses to be returned to camp by one of the packers and we crossed the ridge afoot and trailed down the adjoining valley to Rush Creek then to Big Creek and home.

Coming to a jutting promontory high up in the pinnacles and crags, we peered across a small canyon and on a brown ledge 200 yards away we saw the beautiful white of a mountain goat slowly moving; as Speed was the first to sight it it was his goat according to our accepted rule in hunting. One shot mortally wounded the animal and by the time we reached it it was dead. Traveling down this canyon was the roughest walking I ever experienced, and but one example of the many days of similar travel. There was no trail, of course, and we laboriously fought our way over the rough, rocky terrene, over and thru down timber, down steep slopes and thru a maze of the underbrush of briars, where only a few feet progress was possible before a stop had to be made to recover vitality. We had to literally drag ourselves into camp and so fatigued that every step seemed the last one possible, but after a wonderful feed prepared by Floyd and Cy our spirits were soon revivified — a few yarns by the fireside with sleeping dogs on the floor, then the welcome wool, a seeming few minutes of the densest slumber, then the morning call of the cook to “come and get ‘er,” and we were again fresh and ready for another day in the wilderness.

Time approached for homeward plans preceded by the days set apart for the open deer season — two trips on the ridges west of the ranch and our quota filled — chosen from among dozens of possibilities. Then the trail to the “outside” and back to city life— indeed a far cry from those idyllic days in America’s last frontier — days of opportunity which come to few men and, as time flies, opportunities which will soon be no more for this treasureland of big game will go like the rest of America’s outdoor heritages.

As I write comes from Shellworth a copy of the bill sponsored by the friends of conservation and passed by the legislature of the state of Idaho creating the Middle Fork Salmon River Game Preserve, whose west boundary comes just east of the Dave Lewis ranch. This does not cover the region of our hunt. The Middle Fork Game Refuge will likely in time become a national game preserve and it ought to — else we are dealing unfair toward posterity. The people of Idaho are nobly conserving their big game resources — and before it is too late.

Outdoor Life June 1925

Courtesy Sandy McRae: “I found the Outdoor Magazine in the William Edwards old Big Creek house in the 1950s.”

Link to Outdoor Life June 1925.pdf
Link to Outdoor Life 1925-06: Vol 55 Iss 6

Further Reading

Link to More Dave Lewis photos from the Idaho State Historical Society

“Cougar Dave, Mountain Man of Idaho” by Pat Cary Peek
Link to Book at Amazon
The state of Idaho named a mountain for him when he died in 1936. Cougar Dave Lewis, miner, guide and bounty hunter, was as wild and free as the mountain, as independent and solitary, as unfathomable and some would say as stubborn and immovable as the peak that bears his name. He lived alone in the center of what is now the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and played a part in establishing the original Idaho Primitive Area…

Link to 1928 Photos Warm Lake to Yellow Pine to Big Creek to Cougar Dave Lewis Ranch. Harry Shellworth Album Idaho State Historical Society, photographer Ansgar Johnson Sr.

Link to Cougar Dave Lewis Part 1
Link to Cougar Dave Lewis Part 2
Link to Cougar Dave Lewis Part 3
Link to Taylor Ranch History
Link to Frank Church Wilderness
Link to Big Creek / Edwardsburg Index Page

Link to Deer Hunting
Link to Elk Hunting
Link to Idaho Hunting Stories
Link to A Hunt in the Rockies 1892
Link to The Carlin Party Tragedy

Page updated October 2, 2022

Idaho History Sep 18, 2022

Grace Carrie Turner McRae

b. 1885, d. 1974
(Big Creek, Thunder Mountain, Stibnite)

The cabin at the Dewey. Grandma Grace, Bob and Marjorie and Fred Holcomb. courtesy Sandy McRae (c. 1914 ?)
— — — — — — — — — —


[My] “Grand parents went from the Gold King to the Dewey mine by foot in April of 1914, so my dad was 6 years old and Marge was 2 years old, they stayed over night at the Condon cabin the other side of Bear Lake and then made it to the Huges Ranch on Big Creek and then to the Dewey mine.
– Sandy McRae
— — — —

Daniel C. McRae and Grace Carrie Turner McRae

Dan McRae married Grace Carrie Turner in 1906 at Meadows. They had two children, Robert “Bob” (born in 1908) and Marjorie (born in 1912).

source: The Wolf Fang – Deep in the Mountains, a Family Mine By Robin McRae
— — — —

Dan McRae had mining claims on Big Creek and Thunder Mountain. He and his wife Grace’s children were Robert James born 1908, married Carolyn Ruth Cook 1934 and Marjorie G. born 1912 who married E. James Collard 1935.

excerpted from “Free Land! Hopes and Hardships of Pioneers of Valley County, Idaho”, Valley County History Project, Valley County Genealogy – Compiled and edited by Eileen Duarte, pg 281
— — — — — — — — — —

Grandma Grace’s Honeymoon Diary 1907

1907 Trip from Meadows, Ida. to Grangeville, Elk City, Clearwater and Little Salmon near the Montana Line. Dan and my brother Elmer and I.

June 22, 1907 — Saturday morning at 9 oclock we started. Drove until 8 oclock then camped at McCullys. We had a hard day and at night it rained.

June 23, — Sunday — Started late and drove 20 miles to Levanders. Halfway. Camped early, We were tired and slept. Dan has a dreadful caugh.

June 24, — We drove 30 miles to White Bird. Got there after dark so stayed at the hotel. It has about 200 people. They are obliging and enterprising. Every store is painted white and with electric light it is quite a city.

June 25, — A year ago today we started out trip to Yellowstone Park on our wedding trip. Today at 5 oclock we arrived in Grangeville. I was disappointed in not seeing Mrs. W. Jones. We camped about half mile from town. Dan met Mr. Ricker, a friend.

June 26, — Dan was sick- We bought our supplies, about $40.00 worth.

June 27, — I went down town. Grangeville is not as large as Hidley. The valley or prairie is very wide and all cultivated. It is a wonderful wheat country. I never saw such grass. It is a cattle country, no sheep.

June 28, — Friday – We left our camp in Grangeville at 9:30, passed through Harpster, a small town on the Clearwater river. We then followed down the river for 3 miles. Camped at 3:30 on a nole under a big pine near a fine fruit ranch. We put up the tent for it began to rain. It rained every day since we came in sight of Grangeville. At time of writing we are all under the tent very cozy. Elmer and Dan reading. Dick, the dog, is asleep. We are 15 miles from Grangeville. We had a fine fried chicken.

June 29. — We had a long hard days pull for all our journey was crossing the divide between 10 mile creek and Clearwater. We camped late at a stage station on an old camping ground. We did not put our tent up and about 3 oclock A.M. it began to rain. Dan had to get up and put things away. We pulled the tent over our bed but things got pretty wet. I cooked by a campfire and the wind blew and with the rain I had a terrible time. We made 16 miles today.

June 30, — It rained on us all day. We came to Newsome creek and are now camped two miles down it. All the ground is placer here and been mined long ago. We came 10 miles today. It is 17 miles to Elk City.

1907 – July

July 1, — We had a nice warm day but the longest, muddiest roads we have seen. Nig, the horse, fell off the road down the mountain side. We had a time to get him up. We arrived near Elk City at 3 oclock. We put the horses out on the hills and flat. The first time that we have had feed without paying high for it. We camped about 1/2 mile in a pine grove on a flat near Elk City. The town looks like Meadows.

July 2, — A very warm day. Had to grease the horses to keep the flies away. Dan and I went to town. We bought some groceries.

July 3, — I was sick all day. Dan got breakfast and dinner. Elmer washed the dishes. A year ago we were in Seattle.

July 4, — We were awakened with several deafening salutes and they have been going on ever since. It is a cooler day and I feel better. We are getting ready to move into the hills. We will go to see the ball game and races this P.M. We took in the sports but they were tiresome and the weather cold so we returned to our tent. (A year ago we were in Seattle attending the races. Two years ago I was in Halley with Addie.) I took an awful cold and have a bad caugh.

July 5, — Still caughing hard and can’t move to the mountains.

July 6, — Still camped near Elk City and caughing. I think I have the whooping caugh. The boys took the wagon and harness to town and stored them. We are getting ready to leave.

July 7, — Got up at 4:30, Elmer went for horses, Dan got breakfast as it was so damp. My caugh is the same. Travelled 14 miles today. Started at 9:30. Arrived at the beginning of the Hot Springs and Nez Perce trails. We are camped near a ranch owned by the Harsh Brothers.

July 8, — Still camped at Harsh brothers. Dan left his box of caps at the camp near Elk. Elmer went back for them and brot them and some graham flour and other things. Dan went prospecting. I was in bed all day, My head hurt dreadfully from the Heron tablet.

July 9, — It rained hard in the morning so we couldn’t get up early. The boys left to look over the trail. I am going to wash. I feel much better today.

July 10, — Sick in bed all day until the boys came home at 2. Elmer shot a deer tonight. Dan and he have gone with pack horse to pack it in. I feel better. Wrote Mama.

July 11, — Thursday – Felt fine all day. Left for Hot Springs at 8 oclock. It is a 11 mile trail. The water is fine. Rode home in 3 hours, it rained a little and thundered much. At 6 PM. I am ready for bed. We all had a fine bath and are tired from the ride.

July 12, — Elmer and I went to Elk City and brought the wagon out to Harsh Bros. It was a nice day but it was awful riding in the wagon over the rough road. Dan had washed up everything and had supper ready for us. We rode in in 2 1/2 hours and drove back in 4. I made some caugh medicine.

July 13, — Saturday- Dan and Elmer shod the horses. We had to send to Elk for shoes so wont leave until Monday.

July 14, — Saw a deer in the Harsh Bro. field while we were at breakfast. Went fishing. Elmer and Mr. Harsh caught a nice lot. At 2 oclock it began to rain, continuing until night. Got ready to start.

July 15, — Started at 11 oclock. Mr. Harsh came from Elk brought our mail. I got my shoes. We came up in the mountains 8 miles and camped where some forest reserve men were. It snowed and rained on us. Got into camp about 3 oclock.

July 16, — Started at 10:30. We have now turned our watches an hour faster than at Elk. Our time is now like Meadows. We came over an enormously high divide, traveled until late. Found good feed near the Salmon River. We have come 18 miles today. Dan has been quite sick since we ate some black berries and fish.

July 17, — Left our camp this morning at 10 oclock and came over the worst trail. The horses had to jump fallen timber and Dan had to chop some logs. We only came 3 or 4 miles today. Found a nice dry camping place and stopped. Put up the tents and are planning to stay here a while. (A year today we returned to Meadows from the East). The boys will look over the mountains and trails. We have named this camping place “Prospectors Resort”. So many people have camped here and left their names on trees. We are 43 miles from Elk, 105 miles from Grangeville. The boys are making me a fine table. My stove is put up high on legs. We will have our bed in with the kitchen. Elmer will have his in the other tent with the alforkoses. The tents are very cozy this way and not crowded.

July 18, — The boys left at 9:30 and tramped all day over the high range of mountains without seeing chicken, deer or bear or mineral. Dan lost his pipe and they came home tired and disgusted. Tomorrow we will take the other side of the river. I had a good dinner waiting for them at 2 oclock but they did not come until 5:30. For dinner I had rice with raisins, brown beans with pork, stewed apples, roasted venison and potatoes and biscuits and tea. The mosquitoes are big and quantities of them also gnats. I sat up until 11:10 to bake my six loaves of bread. I had fine luck with it and it tastes good after doing without it three weeks.

July 19, — We took our saddle horses and followed the Nez Perce trail for 7 miles. It was rough and steep. We stopped on a high ridge and from it we could see “Old Granite” near Meadows also all the mountain ranges and ridges that we have traveled over to the east we had a fine view of the Rockies that bound Idaho on the east. It looks very dangerous in that direction and not very much sign of mineral. To the South we could see the snow capped Thunder Mountains and could locate Warrens and Big Creek. Beside the trail we saw 5 and 6 feet of snow in some places tho most of the ground was dry & bare. We traveled longer today without seeing water than ever before on this trip. Dick, the dog, was nearly famished. The boys had to carry him a good way. And My! the way he bathed and lapped the water when we did come to a mountain stream. Dan didn’t like the looks of the country we were headed for so we will return and take another trail in to some other mts. When we got back to camp, our other horses were gone. Elmer went after them. About 4 miles on the trail home he found Old Prince had caught his hobbles on a log and fallen. He had to help him up and when he arrived in camp he was scratched and bleeding and dizzy laying with his head down hill so long. We doctored him and he was glad to see us and the other horses again. This is the nicest day we have had. But it is threatening and thunder showers at 6 oclock.

July 20, — Elmer was sick all day. Dan shod the horses and I washed a big washing. Dan made me a fine washing machine out of a can and stick. It beats a patent machine. About 3 oclock two nice looking men with 4 horses came up and camped near us. They were from Spokane Wash. We are packing up to return about 10 miles if Elmer is well and it looks a nice day. Today was quite rainy.

July 21, — We got started at 9:30 and came 23 miles. The Forest rangers had cleared the last 11 miles of our trail so it was like traveling on a road. We are camped tonight at Mountain Meadows. Just about a half mile from here it began to rain on us and it rained and hailed so we had to fix up our camp in the rain. We had everything fixed up and I was getting supper at 6:15 after coming 23 miles in a Mt. trail. That is pretty quick work. Mr. Roche and Schrader were the men who camped with us last night. They went on to the Montana line today. Well it is the 21st of July and still it rains on us every day or night. We are getting tired of it.

July 22, — Got started at 9:30. Came 8 miles to Harsh Boys. Got here at 2 Oc. We had lots of mail. I received a card from Mrs. Jones. She is coming out to Elk City on a camp trip. I think she will arrive in Elk tonight. Dan and I are going to town. We met she and the 4 others she is chaperoning. They will stay a few days near us at Mrs. Finleys.

July 23, — Dan and I started at 9 oclock to town. Rode in in 2 1/2 hours. Had dinner at the Hotel. Mrs. Parrs. She was lovely to us. We got several letters. Dick followed us and got there almost as soon as we did.

July 24, — Made light bread. Went over to Finleys to see Mrs. Jones, Miss Moore, Miss Snell. Had a nice visit until 11:25. Came home to mix my bread. Cleaned camp. Helped Dan get things packed to go and also the things that we are to leave. Baked my bread in Mr. Harshs stove. Also two pies. It was all fine. At night we built a big camp fire and Mrs. J., Miss M. and Mr. Cole came over. There was a partial eclipse of the moon. We all sat around the camp fire watching it. Went to bed at 9:30. Got up at 4:20 to get started.

July 25, — Started over the Hot Spring Trail. Went to Coyote Camp. Had a bath. Met some Elk City people.

July 26, — Traveled about 25 miles over a hard trail. Started at 8 oclock. Traveled until 6 oclock. Found a poor camping place. Met the Wiley boys cattle, Had to stop.

July 27, — Came 1 mile up the Clearwater or Selway. Have a nice camp and good feed. It is 13 miles to Wileys. We are 59 miles from Elk City. This is a rough country. No mineral at all so far. There is a Railroad set of surveyors through here. They will come thru from Grangeville across the state to Montana. This country is worth nothing I can see except as a game reserve and timber to hold water. There is very little good timber, mostly small and straggly. We got some white or yellow pine gum and it was fine. Dan cached some of our provisions here.

Sunday July 28, — We didn’t start early, about 10 oclock thinking it was only 12 miles farther on. Dan discovered he had left his louger at our last camp. We picked huckleberries and sarvice berries. Came to the Lone cabin at 4 oclock and having traveled over the worse trail imaginable, just up one big mt. and down so the horses would have to slide to get down, I never saw such berries in my life. Bushes just black with sarvice berries. After deciding the Lone Ranch was not Wileys we went on, and on crossing the river 3 times. It was quite high and rocky then up steep trails and so bushy you had to dodge right and left or have your eyes put out. We had to carry Dick and our berries and lead the horses. It was the worse predicament we have yet been in. Finally at 8 oclock we decided to camp on top of a level Mt. where there was good feed but water 1/4 mile away.

July 29, — Started at 8. Went down the steepest mountain yet. It was awful. Came 3 or 4 miles and found the Harsh and Wiley Ranch. We found a nice camping place. Pitched our tent, arranged camp. Elmer got some new potatoes at the ranch of the trapper who lives there. He is a young and bright looking man. Very generous. We got some soap of him. Dan having forgot to put ours in, also some bear oil for lard. He had no sugar. I thought there was plenty but the can was not full so we will have to return soon. We went fishing, caught 13 nice ones. I gathered berries to dry for winter. I made 2 huckleberry pies. They were delicious. We had oyster soup, pie, new potatoes, homony and biscuits for dinner.

July 30, — We are 70 miles from Harshes. The horse flies and gnats are something terrible. We built smudges for the horses then they bite us. We couldn’t eat our supper for them this afternoon. The gentleman who lives on the ranch made us a visit. Elmer has gone to swim and shoot a deer. Dan to see the horses. I am packing up as we will start tomorrow morning back again.

July 31, — Instead of going back we all went with the trapper to a elk lick to see some elk. We rode 6 miles up and back thru a hot sun and then we didn’t see any. Dan took pictures of the licks. They have a cable ferry to ferry one across the river. It is a sort of chair seat suspended from the cable. I went out on it. Dan took my picture while I was hanging in the air over the rushing river. We came home got supper and I am in bed while the men are at the ranch. This is 1500 feet high. We saw a fine piece of land for a farm today just joining this Wiley ranch. They only have 2 feet of snow here and can raise fine fruit of all kinds. It is more on the tropical order of any of the places I have ever seen in this state. Sarvice berries are the thickest and biggest! I hate to leave them to dry up.

Thur. August 1st, — Started at 9:30. The boys had to shoe some horses. We forded the river 6 times. Came 10 miles. Stopped at the Running Ranch. The hardest part of our trip is over safely. This was the worst trail we have gone over. The horses are having a feast of timothy grass. I will now note the trappers name as I forgot it before. W. J. Murtha. The horse flies and no seeums are thicker than ever as it is so warm.

Aug. 2, — Started at 8:10. Arrived at Warm Springs Bar 4 oclock. 13 miles more of our trip over and the hardest is all over. We found our provisions that we had cached were all OK. I wasn’t feeling very well. We had a nice supper of chicken and huckleberry pie. I have fish for breakfast. It is glorious to eat berries and get fresh game and make your meals on them. Dan lost his knife. The huckleberries were the biggest we ever saw. We gathered enough for two pies.

Aug. 3, — Left Warm Springs Bar at 8:15. Came 18 miles to below Green Mountain. The horses are having a feast of lovely fine bunch grass. I was sick today and riding seemed so tiresome so we camped at 4 oclock and did not make the Meadows.

August 4, — Came on to Harshes. Stopped at the meadow near the Springs for lunch. Arrived here at 6 oclock. Traveling 21 miles.

August 5, — Camped at Harshs. Got a lot of mail. We are resting and straightening up camp.

August 6, — Got up early, washed a big washing. The boys did nearly all of it. In the PM they went prospecting and I took my light bread over to the Harsh cabin and baked. It was fine.

August 7, — Washed a few more pieces then went to pick huckleberries. Dan fixed up our pack outfit. We will only stay a few days, just until the H. boys brought the wagon, old Dan and harness. There doesn’t seem to be much mineral here. No gnats or horse flies but lots of house flies.

Aug. 8, — Went to see the boy’s mine. It looks fine. We are preparing to leave early tomorrow.

Aug. 9, — Left at 9 oclock. Took a short cut to Orogrande by a trail. It began to rain and was awful cold. The bushes near the trail got us soaking wet. When we came to a mine and mill called “The Cleveland” we took a wagon road instead of keeping on our trail, the road brought us 5 miles from Elk. When if we had kept the trail we would have been 10 miles from Elk. We struck a camping place about 5, still it was raining.

Aug. 10, — Still cold and rainy – I nearly froze to death. We did not leave our camp until 11. Then it cleared off. We came to Orogrande at 1:30. Stopped to pick huckleberries. They are the thickest and biggest I ever saw. Orogrande, I had heard a great deal of and imagined it was quite a place but it isn’t. It was the dirtiest, oldest, decrepted looking town we have gone thru. Some few mines working but the big mill is closed. We came on over the summit to an old deserted mining camp. The buildings were standing like skeletons. Machinery, furniture and all inside fixtures were taken away and what had once been a lively booming camp was now left to squirrels and the winter snows, save but the rushing mountain stream, there was no sound. It was cold, we camped in an old blacksmith shop and soon had things warm. The Buffalo Hump is 3 1/2 miles from here.

Aug. 11, — Sunday – Our road wound around and up the Buffalo Hump Mts. It is a beautiful road. Mountain streams and springs come gurgling down the Mts. every little way. The mountains are high and masses of gigantic rocks. As we ascended to the summit, we could look back and see our road several miles behind us, also the town of Calendar, which is now the deserted mining camp. Looking toward the right of the gulch we could see the buildings of the “Cracker Jack” mine and hear the thumping of the mill. The first working mill we have seen on our trip. At the top of the summit we saw the famous “Big Buffalo Mine” owned by Sweeny of Spokane. It was also in a dilapidated state, altho men who have worked there say it is very rich. The owner is working some kind of a mining scheme. We took the wrong road and after traveling 2 1/2 miles we came to the town of Concord. The original town of the Buffalo Hump camp was on the mountain near the Big Buffalo mine. It now lays in burned ruins. This is the best looking country we have seen. It is 26 miles from Elk to B.H. We traveled 6 or 7 miles from B.H. and are camped near a meadow.

Monday Aug. 12, — Came 6 miles by road towards Adams Camp. Met a prospector who told us of a trail by which we could reach Florence this evening. We followed it about 12 miles and came to Florence about 4 oclock. Found another apparently deserted village, there was a hotel and store combined where we found some one living. We saw 6 or 7 girls and a band of cattle to remember the town by. It is an old placer camp. We saw rotted cabins and banks of rock and dirt where the old timers placered. Tall trees have now grown up on the banks.

Aug. 13, — Left Florence at 8:30 and came down to the Salmon River 12 miles to the ferry. It was very warm. Camped on a side hill the levelest place we could find on the Salmon River. Even the ranches have to have a picket rope attached to them or they would slide down hill. Dan had to level me off a place to put my stove and for me to stand and cook. Then my cooking utensils would slide down hill ever once in awhile. We killed three grouse and I picked lots of sarvice berries.

Aug. 14, — Started at 10:20. We expected to go to Resort but coming along the road we picked up some quartz, so decided to camp 6 miles from there at 2:30.

Aug. 15, — The boys went prospecting, I stayed at camp and washed, sewed and read.

Aug. 16, — We are now on the mountain where we found the quartz. The boys are working. We can’t find anything of value so came to camp at 12, ate lunch, packed and started by 3. We had gone about a mile when the horses took fright at some ladies and a dog. Billy, the horse, I was riding plunged to one side then ran down the hill. I was taken so by surprise that it was several seconds before I knew what to do. I finally stopped him and got him turned up hill. Jack, our pack horse with the stove, ran thru the brush and timber tearing all his pack off that he could. Dan was still at camp so he didn’t know of it until the pack horses came running into our old camp. It was all done in 10 seconds but took much longer to get things all together. We came to the resort. Met Mrs. Burgdorff and several men that Dan knew. Camped a half mile from Burgdorf at Thorpes cabin at the saw mill. It is a lovely big meadow. Went back to resort for a bath.

Aug. 17, — Left camp early, went to Resort, phoned to Resort. Met Harold Culver. “Ships that pass in the night may run adrift of each other again.” Expected to stay all day but packed up at noon, came to Secache [sic] meadows 6 mi. so the horses might have good feed. I haven’t felt well for a few days.

Aug. 18, — The boys layed over today as they thought they had found a good prospect and I needed a days rest. Dan met Mr. Ross of the Golden Rule. He is operating in Mexico and wants Dan to go there. I hope he can. We got ready at 10 and came to Resort. Stayed at Resort.

Aug. 19, — Came to Fishery. Saw the biggest bear track.

Aug. 20, — Came home. Mrs. Jones and party were here. All had rooms here. Went to a party at the hall that night.

[Aug.] 21, — Baked all day,

[Aug.] 22. — Rested, wasn’t well.

[Aug.] 23, — Baked. Had Mr. and Mrs. J to dinner also Mr. Fenton. Ate ice cream.

[Aug.] 24, — They all left at 3 oclock.

The winter of 1907 and 1908 was spent in Meadows.

June 14, 1908 we made the trip to Big Creek. Ida, Carl and Elizabeth Brown, Miss Ulm and our dog Dick. It took us two weeks to make the trip because of the snow. We spent July at Big creek and returned to Meadows on August 5th. [handwritten] Horseback over snow on summit – Elk Summit.

August 11, — Robert was born. Monday at 11:30 PM.

(courtesy Sandy McRae)
— — — — — — — — — —

Grace McRae Sunnyside Wagon 1935

Grandma Grace circa 1935 at Sunnyside Mine.
(Photo courtesy James Collord)
— — — — — — — — — —

Grace Turner-McRae

Mrs. McRaeGrace

(Absent member)
“With every impulse, deed or word
Wherein love blends with duty,
A message speeds along the chord
That gives the earth more beauty.”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Grace Turner-McRae

This is dedicated to one in whose life and personality were so integrated with the high qualities of teacher, gentle-woman, and Christian – that it would be impossible to separate these in evaluating the measure of her influence upon the lives of those who were so fortunate as to have known her.

To teacher extraordinary — Grace Turner McRae!

She was born November 8, 1885 in Hailey – a little back-woods mining town of Blaine County, Idaho. Her mother had come from Illinois to teach in the West. Her father (Alonzo P. Turner — long time citizen of Alturas and Blaine Counties) had been a Scout for General Howard during Indian troubles. Later, he became owner of the Idahoan Mine; also Probate Judge and Justice of the Peace in Blaine County.

Grace’s only sibling is her brother, Elmer S. Turner, who resides in Seattle.

After graduation from High School, Grace attended the University of Idaho for one year. It was prerequisite that teachers take examinations at that time, which certified them for teaching. These she took under Miss Permeal French and then taught her first term in a little country school out of Hailey.

At teachers’ Institute she met a Mr. Keyser, who asked her to fill a vacancy at Meadows, Idaho. The teacher, Miss Hazeltine, had resigned to go to Boise. So Grace finished the term (1/2 year) and taught grades 4, 5 & 6 the following year. So began her teaching career.

Now romance entered her life. While teaching at Meadows she met Daniel McRae, and fates seemed to decree that they were meant for each other. An account of their wedding (about 1906) from the Meadows Eagle reads — in part:

“At the home of the brides’ mother, Mrs. Louisa Turner, at nine o’clock Tuesday morning, Miss Grace Carrie Turner and Mr. Daniel McRae were united in marriage by the beautiful Episcopal ceremony, performed by the Reverend Stover of Council. The bride was given away by her brother, Elmer, and attended by Miss Lapp. Mr. W. B. Hart was best man. The bride was simply but elegantly gowned in white organdy, trimmed with lace, and carried a bouquet of brides’ roses and ferns.

Mr. and Mrs. McRae have the sincere and earnest well-wishes of every body in the Valley!” (Meadows Eagle.)

(Note: It should be mentioned here that prior to the wedding Graces’ father had passed away. Hence, her brother officiated at the ceremony.)

I (the writer) was not very old at this time, but vivid in memory is the visit paid my family at Weiser by the “Honey-Mooners” – (Dan & Grace) and how beautiful was the bride!

Dan McRae’s consuming interest was in mining. His life work included promoting, selling, and operating of mines. With his wide experience, certainly he possessed the knowledge of an engineer without formal schooling. The development and eventual selling of the Independence Mine was a sizable project. Later on, the McRaes developed several Thunder Mountain projects. The Dewey, The Sunnyside and others in that region. They were active, also, in the Logan Creek area.

The McRaes raised two children: Robert and Marjorie. Robert graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in mining engineering.

I’ve heard it said that he amazed his professors with his knowledge of mining, which, no doubt, his father had taught him. For years Bob was chief engineer for the Bunker Hill, Sullivan mine in North Idaho.

(Note: Dan passed away in 1954, Bob in 1969.)

Marjorie attended the College of Idaho for three years, then married James Collord — a mining engineer. Presently they reside in Cambria, Calif., where Jim carries on in mining interests and “Marg” — with a group of helpers supervises the care of the many rooms of the famous Hearst Castle — one of Americas’ Tourist Attractions.

During the war (W. W. I) Grace taught one year then decided that she must have more training. While Dan operated the Sunnyside mine she took the children and moved to Lewiston where she enrolled in the Normal School. During summer vacation she helped at the mine then returned to Lewiston for the ’26-’27 term. In the Spring of 1927 she graduated from the Lewiston Normal with the life diploma.

A quarterly report card shows all A’s in her Normal subjects. Early teachers’ contracts show $100 per month paid a teacher in 1903, with a raise to $335 par month in the 1940’s.

In those days teachers’ applications for a teaching position must contain recommendation from Superintendents or other important person. Here is an excerpt from one as typical:

“It is a sincere pleasure for me to testify to the high character and and splendid ability of Mrs. Grace McRae, and to her efficiency as a teacher. I have watched with deep interest her work in the schools. Her zeal; her industry; her wonderful tact with children; her exceptional faculty for instruction; her potential influence on pupils; and her charming personality, made her a successful and popular teacher.
— A. B. Lucas

In all Grace taught eleven years at McCall, but they were not sequential years. Time was interspersed by sojourns at isolated mines where she cooked for mining crews, and we might mention that the cuisine was “fit for a king!” Good Cooking was another of her attributes!

During these times of isolation, Grace taught her children — not forgetting the reading of the Bible and playing phonograph recordings of hymns on Sunday.

Now came W. W. II and changes were wrought; not only in the lives of the McRae family, but in all our lives.

At Stibnite, near Yellow Pine, Idaho, crews worked around the clock to get out the precious antimony, a metal sorely needed in our war effort. (Prior to this time, we had imported the little antimony tungsten we used from China.) Stibnite, the main discovery in the U.S., became the major producer and some 6000 tons of it were out-put here. I have read that trucks ran night and day, out of this camp over treacherous mountain roads carrying the precious cargo.

Teachers were much needed, so at the request of Doris Squires (The Valley County Superintendent of Schools) Grace McRae went to this booming, “roaring” mining camp to teach.

Note: In fact, nearly all the McRae family answered their country’s call. Dan was in Stibnite working for the Bradley Mining Company, and Bob had moved there with his family. He (Bob) was Superintendent of the Smelter. His children attended the Stibnite school.

The Collards lived at McCall and/or Whitebird during the War period.

Here, Grace taught for ten years in the Intermediate grades. There were 130 pupils and four teachers in the Stibnite School which was quite up to the minute. Hot lunches were served; physical ed. classes were held for all grades in the huge recreation hall.

From clippings, I have gleaned that something other than plain curricula was always brewing in Grace’s room. A fifth grade wrote and presented a historical play — Our Sacajawea; another grade (the 4th) wrote and presented a patriotic pageant — The Birth of Old Glory; the study of Washington and Lincoln, and the condition of our country when they lived and served it, was another “live” history lesson.

A project relating to their own environment in which the pupils created a Book – Composite of the school life, the mines, recreation, and all student activities of Stibnite, with illustrations, became a priceless memento.

Needless to say that during these busy, bustling years Grace McRae was an integral part of the civic, social, and cultural aspects of life in this remote mining town.

So in 1950, it came as no surprise, that our subject should be nominated in Valley County for Mother of the Year. The fine letters of commendation from many, many sources well illustrated the esteem in which she was held by those who knew her.

From the Bradley Mining Company Personnel Department we find this letter:

”Mrs. Grace Turner McRae is one of the few cultured women who pioneered the mining industry of the state of Idaho. We know her as a woman who has experienced the real trials and hard-ships of life and at all times has come through with a smile and courageous spirit. She is one who is keen to sense the trials and troubles of others, and to lend a helping hand of friendship, words of wisdom, and bolstering cheer.”

From one of her old McCall friends come these beautiful lines — in part:

“I have known Mrs. Grace McRae for a period of 40 years. Her beautiful, optimistic character had had a great uplifting influence on the lives of all of us With whom she came in contact.

Though she gratefully accepted the present modern way of living, for a great many of her earlier, younger years, she lived the life of the early Pioneer. Always during her married life, there have been mines located in the wilderness over the high mountains in Idaho. She has ridden horseback, snow-shoed, ridden dog sled, trekked, and flown to get to their mining properties.

For the many students who have been privileged to come under her teaching guidance, she had added love, courage, ambition, and inspiration to their scholastic attainments.

In her friends she has looked only for good — and her friends are legion.

An excellent wife; a loving mother; and an outstanding cook and home-maker; an inspiring teacher; a priceless friend; a patriotic peace-loving citizen of whom all Idaho should be proud!”
–Helga Cook

From a Pastor:

“I an glad to support Mrs. Grace McRae for this honor. She is an outstanding women.

She is a lady, a very gracious one — at ease in the most polished of society or in a mining camp.

She is a woman. of high moral standards. But more than that, she has Christian convictions that have given her a strong interest in others and in their welfare.”

Grace did become Mother of Valley County!

In all her books, diaries, and even address books one can find poetic treasures she has copied as keepsakes. This one is a favorite and how well it reflects her own philosophy and personality:

“These are the things I prize and hold of dearest worth,
Light of the sapphire skies;
Peace of the silent hills;
Shelter of the forests, comfort of grass —
Music of the birds —
Murmur of rills —
Shadows of clouds that swiftly pass —
And after showers, the smell of flowers,
And the good brown earth —
And best of all along the way, Friendship and Mirth. “

Note: Grace is now retired and living with her daughter in Cambria, Calif.

— By Adelia Parke

Remember Me

Do not forget me altogether, please.
Remember me sometimes when April snow
Mists the new tender green leaves of the trees
That helped me grow.
Remember me when sunset color lingers
In winter skies, and, reverently gay,
Shines through bare trees’ devout, uplifted fingers
That helped me pray.
Remember me sometimes, but not with sadness.
Look at the pleasant things of earth with eyes
Made glad by them because they gave gladness,
And realize
That I was happier, my whole life through,
Remembering you.
– Jane Merchant

To Marjorie – Bob – Ruth – Jim – Kay – Robin – Lorie (?) – Jimmy – Carrie

From Sandy McRae courtesy Scott Amos
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1942 Stibnite School

courtesy Idaho State Historical Society
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1951 Stibnite School

photo courtesy Sandy McRae
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Grace McRae

To the delight of Browns and many others, Grace McRae was nominated by Valley county as Idaho Mother for 1950. She had been a young teacher at Old Meadows in 1905 when she met Dan McRae. He ran a livery stable and. owned the townsite. He also owned the Sunnyside mine in the Thunder Mountain region and was a stockholder in the Independence – that was where he and Carl Brown first met. Even then Dan was “mining glad” – his wife’s word.

They were married in 1905 and her livelier life began. She lived at mines and away from them, wherever circumstances dictated, but like Ida Brown, she was forever cheerful. Once she and Ida rode along a narrow lake road so slick with ice their wagon began to slide toward the edge. Because Ida was half ill Grace was driving, and she shouted desperately to the men ahead with the horses and packstock. They rushed back and held the wagon on the road until danger was past. But this slowed things down and that night the party camped in the snow. Ida, it was clear, was getting worse rather than better, but she had Grace to lean on and refused to turn back.

In 1908 Bob McRae was born, and when he was three, Grace went to Thunder Mountain to live, taking two days for the ride, holding the little boy in her arms all the way. At the mine they lived in a house built by the fabled Colonel Dewey of Nampa, which enjoyed steam heat from the mine – when the mine operated. When Bob was ready for his Three R’s, his mother taught him. A second child, Marjorie, was born later.

In 1924-25 Grace McRae taught school in McCall, when two of her pupils were Dorothy and Margaret Brown, who loved her. During the Depression, the McRaes spent two years in Boise, then returned to Sunnyside for another ten years.

After 1945, Dan McRae was associated with the Bradley Mining company, and the family moved to Stibnite. Here Grace again taught from 1945 to 1956. Their son Bob, now a family man, was also employed by Bradley as chief metalurgist, and Grace had her own grandchildren in her school.

After Dan McRae’s death in 1956, she moved to McCall to make her home. Strangers could hardly believe that this well-informed, carefully dressed woman had lived in isolated mine cabins, and knew the weary, sometimes dangerous trail. She was a genuine pioneer who didn’t look like one.

That Mrs. McRae didn’t win in the state Mother finals was a big surprise to McCall, but not a thing to grieve about. Her friends had had a chance to present her name and to dilate on her accomplishments and worth. If judges didn’t realize her superiority over other candidates, that was their misfortune.

Extracted from “The King’s Pines of Idaho; a Story of the Browns of McCall” by Grace Edgington Jordan, Binfords & Mort Publishers, Portland, Oregon, 1961; p. 196

source: Valley County, ID GenWeb
[h/t SMc]
— — — — — — — — — —

source Find a Grave

Further Reading

Link to McRae Family Thunder Mountain, Big Creek, and Stibnite
Link to Story of Marge McRae and James Collord
Link to Women in Thunder Mountain
Link to Big Creek / Edwardsburg Index Page

Idaho History Sep 11, 2022

Wilbur Wiles

(Edwardsburg and Big Creek)
(part 3)

Picture of Wilbur taken by Hilda Hansen in the 1950s / 60s

In Search of the Perfect Prospector

by Bob Weldin, February 7, 2006 Mining History News

During my early field years, 1960s and 1970s, I frequently depended on prospectors to serve as guides, especially in mining districts that were not familiar to me. Most of those I became acquainted with were hard working, adamantly independent, rugged individualists, who loved the out-of-doors. A few were dishonest and nearly all exaggerated the size and worth of their “discoveries”. Characteristically, they were dedicated, one might even say ‘driven’, to explore for mineral deposits that they clairvoyantly knew were out there somewhere. I met very few young or married prospectors; most were middle-aged and possessed the physical endurance of a marathoner. Having been “stung” a few times by promoters, claim jumpers, and “officials” who administer the public lands, prospectors tended to be suspicious of all outsiders; I learned very quickly not to say things like, “I’m with the government and I’m here to help you.” In general, prospectors are an interesting and unique group and I would like to tell you about all of those I have known, but time and space will allow for just one.

Wilbur Wiles was unique; he had all the qualities but none of the vices of a typical prospector. Therefore, in my mind, he will always rank among the very best. It was probably the summer of 1967, or at least that was the year I started the mineral appraisal of the 1.5 million acre Idaho Primitive Area and Vicinity (IPA). When I inquired about local prospectors, Wilbur’s name always came up. along “with seemingly mythical tales about his prospecting and cougar hunting adventures. It was several weeks before I finally meet the legendary mountain man and it probably took even longer to gain his confidence. He was a raw-boned, six-footer, probably in his late 40’s and a man of few words, especially around women or strangers. He had a cabin near the Big Creek Ranger Station, just outside the west boundary of the IPA. His cabin, dog pens and horse coral were almost as clean and well kept as my mother’s kitchen. He had another cabin on Monumental Creek, near his opal mine, situated well inside the IPA boundary. His area of prospecting included Stibnite, Thunder Mountain, the old mining camps around Big Creek and Yellow Pine, as well as a lot of under-explored areas that stretched eastward to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It is a region of favorable geology, impressive histories of past metal production (Sb, Hg, Au, Ag, W & Cu), and good potential for the discovery of new mineral deposits. Wilbur was a smart veteran prospector who was physically adept and familiar with most of the western half of my study area. What else could I ask for? I had found the “perfect prospector”, in a “perfect area” for the discovery of new ore deposits.

Wilbur and I had some similar interests and experiences that made for an amiable relationship. He was trustworthy and honest beyond modem concepts of those terms. As a guide, Wilbur would not take money for showing me his mining claims, nor did he think it proper to show me claims that belonged to someone else. His concept of a day’s pay was $20, and since the government required $100 worth of annual assessment work, Wilbur reasoned that was at least 5 days of hand-digging of test pits and trenches (5 days @ $20/day = $100) for each of his unpatented claims. He treated every other task and relationship with the same degree of integrity. I learned to accept whatever Wilbur told me as being the honest truth, as he knew it.

My project was not the only scientific study that needed Wilbur’s help. Maurice Hornocker, a zoologist, and Wilbur, the ex-cougar hunter, had a working relationship that lasted from 1964-1969. It was during the winters of those 5 years that Dr. Hornocker did his mountain lion study, which was patterned after the grizzly bear study pioneered by Drs. John and Frank Craidhead. Maurice’s study area was in a steep and rugged part of the IPA, that required the skills of a mountain man like Wilbur, plus the tracking instincts of his two redbone hounds. You can Imagine Maurice having similar thoughts to my own, “he had found the perfect man and the perfect location for his study.” Cougars are best hunted in the winter to allow for better tracking and easier treeing – a convenient circumstance that allowed Wilbur to have his summer free to prospect and work at his opal mine. Of course, the areas with the best cougar population are those that are remote and roadless, with steep granite crags and deep canyons – and that’s where Wilbur Wiles stumbled upon a “secret” mineral discovery.

Near the end my allotted time for the economic appraisal of mineral deposits in the IPA and vicinity, Wilbur showed me a piece of high-grade fluorspar (95% CaF2) he had chanced upon while tracking cougars. His description that followed indicated to me a deposit of potential economic size and grade. I asked him where he had found it and he said, “In a very rugged, isolated part of the IPA, and you will never find it.” This was an obvious challenge, but I didn’t take it as an insult because Wilbur knew we were facing an unrealistic deadline, and besides I had officially been told not to look for new deposits. Congress was adding new study units as a buffer zone around the original IPA, faster than we could appraise their mineral potential. Some thought this was a scheme to keep the Geological Survey and Bureau of Mines from adequately exploring the interior of the IPS for undiscovered mineral deposits. I asked Wilbur if he had staked his new discovery and he said, “No, I didn’t have time.” That is when I made Wilbur a proposition that no typical prospector would be able to refuse. I told him, “In the morning, at first light, you and I will take the helicopter into this remote site and you can help me map and sample the deposit, and I will help you can [sic] stake the necessary mineral claims. As the discoverer and sole valid claim owner you will have access to my maps, assay data and economic appraisal.” Wilbur thought for awhile and then said, “If you do all of that, won’t you have to publish your results?” I said, “Yes, of course.” Wilbur said, “In that case, I can’t do it.” Frustrated because, (1) the offer I had made to him was probably against several government regulations, (2) I had never made such an offer to any other prospector and (3) I was sticking my neck out for him, because I knew he would not lie and I trusted him. I asked, “Why?” Wilbur said, “Well, if you publish your results, someone will eventually want to build a road to the deposit and I don’t want that to happen.” I said, “But as the sole claim owner, you would have control over that, and besides Congress is almost certain to classify all this area as Wilderness, with no roads allowed.” To that, Wilbur said, “I can’t take that chance. The area is prime mountain sheep country – rugged and isolated – I can’t take the chance that someone might build a road to it.”

Wilbur was right, we have never found his secret mineral deposit. If it was because of lack of time or respect for Wilbur’s wishes that kept us from finding it, you will never know. I did, however, ask Wilbur for a description of the deposit which I published, without speculating on its location or its potential value. That was the first and only time I published “hearsay” information about a mineral deposit, but you don’t question the honesty and integrity of the “perfect prospector.”

source: Mining History News March 2006 with references
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Map of Study Area

Excerpted from: (link)
Mineral Resources of the Idaho Primitive Area and Vicinity, Idaho
By F. W. Cater, D. M. Pinckney, W. B. Hamilton, and R. L. Parker, U.S. Geological Survey, and by R. D. Weldin, T. J. Close, and N. T. Zilka, U.S. Bureau of Mines
With a section on the Thunder Mountain District
By B. F. Leonard, U.S. Geological Survey, and a Section on Aeromagnetic Interpretation by W. E. Davis, U.S. Geological Survey
Studies Related to Wilderness Primitive Areas
Geological Survey Bulletin 1304 : 1973
Library of Congress catalog card No. 73-600164
An evaluation of the mineral potential of the area
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Wilbur Wiles c. 1954

Left to Right: Ross Gieling, Harry Sargent, Wilbur Wiles C. 1954
source: Sandy McRae courtesy Scott Amos
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Big Creek Valley
New-Doc-2018-08-03_2-asource: Sandy McRae courtesy Scott Amos

Further Reading

Link to Wilbur Wiles (part 1)
Link to Wilbur Wiles (part 2)
Link to more Big Creek / Edwardsburg stories

Idaho History Sept 4, 2022

A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain

Tenderfoot4-1(Part 4 of 4)
by William Allen White Saturday Evening Post November 29, 1902
Tenderfoot4-2The Pot Of Gold

Tenderfoot4-3If A Man, apparently sane, should come back from a journey and declare that there is really something in the story about a pot of pure gold being found at the foot of the rainbow, averring that he had been to the foot of the rainbow and had seen with his own eyes and felt with his own hands the pot of gold, and had brought pieces of the gold home and had them satisfactorily assayed, other men would tap their foreheads, or smile, or shrug their shoulders. So, before deponent goeth further with the true tale of the pot of gold, he feels it but just to warn his readers that he is not a mining expert, that he doesn’t know gold-bearing ore from Tennessee marble except as he pans it or roasts it, that he has had no mining experience other than that acquired in purchasing haphazard in the open market a few ounces of worthless Cripple Creek stock in the days before values there became definite and certain; and, further and finally, that all affiant knows of mines is that they are damp, black holes which make many men poor and a few men disgustingly rich. What the subscriber hereto has learned ordinary men may learn who use their eyes and legs and hands; and wherever he has been fooled, if he has been fooled, the ordinary mortal might also be deceived, no matter how he questions or doubts or discredits the evidence of his senses. Things that shall be hereinafter set down are written only after having been discounted forty per cent. and run through the wringer of two months’ absence from the foot of the rainbow, so that the sap of enthusiasm might be pressed out of the narrative. It seems only fair to set forth this prefatory warning, for the account that follows will sound so improbable that the readers may think it was dashed off by a man under a spasm of excitement, surrounded by the agencies which made him daft. With this introduction the account of gold discoveries in the Big Creek district, Thunder Mountain, Idaho, may proceed.

Tenderfoot4-4Gold mines and gold prospects on Thunder Mountain proper are located in porphyry reefs and intrusive dikes of talc. These reefs and dikes occur in steep, dust-covered hills, soft in outline and about three thousand feet above the gulches about them. The ore is found free in porphyry or talc, with little quartz and few crystals. It is a comparatively lowgrade ore, but is found in large streaks and pockets, and seems to be running richer in values as the tunnels go in, for the gold appears to be coming from below, rather than to be a sedimentary deposit. This is a brief repetition of what has been written in a former paper, but it is necessary to understand the formation at Thunder Mountain to appreciate that part of the district known as Big Creek.

Big Creek, situated a dozen or so miles west of Thunder Mountain, is a ledge country. The hills slant more perpendicularly on Big Creek, and there are crags and cliffs and great bluffs a thousand feet high and nearly straight up. When one crosses Snow-slide Summit coming west from Thunder Mountain the character of the country changes. From Snow-slide Peak twenty-five miles west one finds a rough country. The trail is a hard trail, over “down” timber, across great ledges, into yawning canons; and along narrow “hog-backs.” For two years the gold hunters have been coming through this country hurrying into Thunder Mountain. This year some one stopped and began to look at the ledges, and early in September the real value of the ledges became known to a few mining men outside of the hills.

The Big Creek territory is about twenty-five miles long and, so far as has been explored, fourteen miles wide. In this area a mineral belt may be traced as plainly as, the track of a cloud. It does not require special training in mineralogy to trace this belt. Any man who is willing to use his eyes and his legs and an ore sack and a sample pick may know as much about the country as the best mining expert. For here Nature has exposed her wealth with the most wanton carelessness. All one has to do to make a surface examination of the country is to go down Smith Creek, Logan Creek, Government Creek, Big Creek or Profile, and climb from the canon to the hills above, use a sample pick on the ledges, put the specimens in an ore sack, and at night roast the day’s pickings. If bubbles of gold come out on the ore there is gold in the ledge from which it came. If the gold does not bubble out — the question is open for debate.

In the Big Creek country there are perhaps a dozen outfits this winter doing development work on prospects. All these outfits are developing properties located by experienced mining men. There is no hit-or-miss about the situation. A typical camp is that of the Empress group. It was located by a prospector who has been in the Idaho hills a dozen years. The Empress group is owned by some New York capitalists who represent one of the most important industrial combinations in the mining world. These people have put up a group of cabins and have employed a force of men to dig tunnels into the mountain on their claims, and if the present indications continue, next summer a town called Empress will be located there and a great mine opened up. The word great is used here for the following reasons: Back of the cabins of the Empress outfit is a ledge. It is eight hundred feet high, and is exposed most of the way up. It is about seventy-five feet broad. The writer went up that ledge, pick in hand, and broke off bits from the solid rock at random every ten or twenty yards, with no one to suggest where to hit the pick. When that rock was put in the fire three pieces out of five showed gold. In one of the tunnels he broke a piece of ore at random from the vein, and it came out of the fire speckled with gold. This ledge is traceable along the hill for a mile, and across the gulch the same ledge may be traced with the eye, and the same test of the pick and the fire may be made. That ledge is also about eight hundred feet high and about seventy-five feet wide on an average, and is part of the Empress property. It runs back over half a mile. Now the assays show that the ore in this mountain contains gold and silver and copper in merchantable quantities. If the ore values are shown by the tunnel workings this winter to run far into the mountain, the Empress group will be a great mine.

It is either that or nothing. It may not be the greatest mine in the world, for there are other mines in the Big Creek district as great and one or two that seem to promise even greater things. H. L. Hollister, a New York capitalist, is working a property called the Werdendorf [sic], which is greater than the Empress. Hollister also has the Glasgow, and the Dundee, and the Hand, and the Passold, and the Lucas group, any of which is as good as the Empress. At each of these mines there is a mining crew, and work is going on day and night pushing the tunneling. Each of these mines is located on a great ore-hearing ledge. The ledge in the Glasgow runs over a hundred feet wide in places and is as high as the ledge of the Empress. The ore is found in broad veins of quartz that run through the ledges and are exposed in scores of places on the face of the cliff. Sometimes oxidization has removed the gold from the surface, but a chunk of dynamite will lay bare rock that is rich in gold and silver, and in several of the prospects they have found nickel and antimony. The Franklin group, owned by J. J. Shelby, of the P. 1. & N. Railroad, is another ledge mine and one of the best. There is reason to believe that Colonel Dewey, of the famous Dewey mine on Thunder Mountain, now has a large interest in the Hand property, which is controlled by H. L. Hollister and the New Yorkers. It is a curious fact that none of these properties is in the hands of the prospector who uncovered it. The reason for this is simple. The Thunder Mountain country is not a poor man’s country. Mining there is expensive. Food for an outfit eight months costs more than the prospector can pay. The gold of Big Creek is not free gold, as a rule, and requires expensive machinery for its treatment. This machinery may not be purchased on credit, with the mine as security, because the expense of getting the machinery into the country would cost almost as much as the machinery itself, and the danger of losing or breaking important parts of the machinery in transporting it over the hills on pack-horses is too great for the transaction to remain an ordinary risk, and no supplying house would take it. A mine which seems to be one of the world’s big mines is of no particular value to a poor man, except as he can sell it. Then it is worth just what he can get for it and no more. For, until the railroad comes in, this whole Thunder Mountain country will be a rich man’s country. The Dewey people have a little stamp mill and ship their gold out in bricks. Other little stamp mills may come in next year, as the winter’s work seems to justify them. But to ship ore out of the country by pack-train even the richest ore — would be folly, and would eat up the profits of a first class mine. When the railroad comes the poor man may come and find his fortune, for the country has hardly been scratched. There are miles of country where no man has struck a pick. The prospect of finding a mine — and a great one — will be almost as good a year or two years from now as it is to-day if the railroad is delayed that long. For the mineralized area is comparatively vast. Cripple Creek — to revert again to comparisons to show the magnitude of the Thunder Mountain country — is mineralized over an area of seven by three and one-half miles. And Cripple Creek was prospected for a year with profitable results after the railroad got in. It was considered a big camp, and is the greatest gold camp in America to-day. But the Thunder Mountain country is now known to be mineralized, and properties are now being developed showing remarkable values, over an area of fifty by fourteen miles. A strike was made October 10, twenty-five miles east of Thunder Mountain, by J. G. Hall and T. H. McKinney, of Seattle. The Werdendorf [sic] and the Glasgow and the Dundee are twenty-five miles west of Thunder Mountain. The Hall-McKinney strike is on Deadwood Creek and the orebearing ledge is four hundred feet wide, and the assay is said to run over $200 to the ton on an average. It is like the Big Creek ore, and seems to prove that the mineralized country extending through Central Idaho in ledges — except in the small area where the porphyry reefs prevail on Thunder Mountain — may become one of the world’s great mining districts. In October, E. J. Sencerbox, the postmaster of Roosevelt, opened a property on the south fork of Monumental Creek, exactly similar to that found on Big Creek and Deadwood Creek. The south fork is south of Thunder Mountain, and indicates that this quartz-vein ledge country extends through from Profile to Deadwood Creek like a band of gold. Probably the west boundary of the belt does not stop at Profile Creek, for within the last two weeks authentic strikes have been reported four miles west of the head of Profile Creek in the Yellow Pine Basin. In one of the ledges pure quicksilver was found, and the property was sold to some New York people for $300,000 after two experts had passed upon it. Similar prices have been paid for the other properties above named, some have brought a trifle more, and some less. But as buyers are few, and as the country is inaccessible, and as an expert can’t be hired to take the trip in and report for less than a thousand dollars, and from that up to five thousand, the prospectors have to take what they can get.

Prices are absurdly low, if there is anything in the mines at all but surface indications. The writer has talked to half a dozen experts who have come into the country for other people and who have no interest in the district; some of these experts have advised their clients to invest; others have made adverse reports owing to the inaccessibility of the country and the limited capital of their clients. But without exception these men say that the gold is there, and that it is found in quantities that will make men rich whenever the railroad comes. The lowest estimate as to the value of these ore ledges was that the ledges from wall to wall — and remember that means veins from thirty to one hundred feet wide — will run from $6 to $15 to the ton; and that with concentrators the ledges from wall to wall could be made to turn out concentrates that would average $50 to the ton. When one stops to figure up the immense tonnage that will come from a property like the Glasgow, for instance — an average Big Creek ledge — it makes one doubt the result of his figuring. The tonnage covers the entire ledge, six hundred feet tall and sixty feet wide and over half a mile long; these Big Creek ledges, if they do not fail as the work goes in, which is unlikely, will make the business of gold mining one of manufacture rather than of hazard. If -there is anything in these ledges, if we are not all fooled — prospectors, experts, assayers, investors and tenderfeet — or if we are not all lying, which is to be considered also in this connection — then the proposition of running a mine on a Big Creek ledge is simply one of getting machinery into the country which will turn this mountain of ore, into metal. This sounds crazy, and it is crazy if it isn’t the sober truth. There is no middle ground. Either the ore is there by the mountainful or it isn’t there at all.

This will be proved by the winter’s work, and if the fact is shown that the mountains are ore clear through there will be no difficulty about getting railroads into the country. There are two or three well-known water-grades to Roosevelt and to Big Creek that may be followed by crossing only two divides, and the divides are not high. The greatest elevation in the whole country is less than ten thousand feet, and the average ridge is less than seven thousand feet. There are no engineering problems so puzzling as those at Georgetown, Colorado, or at Glorietta Pass, Arizona. The Oregon Short Line and the Northern Pacific have sent engineers into the country, and when the spring opens, if the news from the mines justifies it, one or both of those roads will have men at work pushing a line into the district. And when the railroads get in there will be no great trouble to keep them running; for, though it is a snow country, it is not a windy country, and though the snow is deep it does not drift. The engineers will have to build away from the region of snow-slide and will have to make their bridges strong, for the mountain torrents are vicious in the spring, but those drawbacks are as nothing compared with the business that awaits the railroads if the mines prove themselves worthy. For no road pays as an ore-carrying road does, and with these great hills to haul away the railroads will be rushed for many years to come. One is tempted to speculate and dabble in the pool of prophecy about the impetus these mines may give to the settlement of the great Northwest; one is almost ready to compare the future of Idaho with the present of California; for Idaho is a State of most wonderful soil and natural resources; but to yield to the impulse of fancy is folly. There is such a big and cumbersome “if” in the road that it would crush the most commodious castle in the air: If the mines prove worthy. The mere fact of probability, however strong, should not cause a rush to the country till June, when everything to be known will be known, and when the highway is fairly safe. For the Thunder Mountain trail in March and April and May is as hard and dangerous as the trail to the Klondike. And if there should be a big rush into the country in the early spring, before horses can get in with supplies, hundreds of men will be facing the hard, unsympathetic fate of famine. All the gold in the world will not buy food on Thunder Mountain when it once runs out; for the game has been chased back into the hills, and the deer and bear which were abundant two years ago now are scarce. Grouse and fool-hens are not so plentiful as they were, and the woods in spring are as barren as the desert of any other food than game. In all the Big Creek district there is not a shelter for man or beast save in the dozen miners’ cabins that will be filled this year before the winter shuts out the world. The man who goes into the country before June must go prepared to live on what he can carry on his back. And twenty pounds goes a short distance and grows ten pounds heavier every twenty miles. A bed rind a month’s and supply is all a seasoned mountaineer can carry. A tenderfoot should try to carry only his bed.

There are men on these mountainsides who face dangers, and suffer hardship, and endure privations, and yet they have come to look upon their life as a good life to live. One of these men is J. M. Crown, the prospector, whom they call “old man Crown” out there. All his life has been spent in the mountains. He is a tall, lank Vermonter, tawny skinned, straight as an Indian, with a body long from the hips up — like a bear’s — and with big animal eyes that are as honest as the sunlight. He has the gentle taciturnity of men who live apart from the world, and he seems to boil his words and phrases down in a simmering kettle of reflection before using them. Many mountaineers and plainsmen who work alone have this habit of deliberate speech. Often the boiling process puts the tang of epigram on what they say, but with the old man Crown it merely puts the stamp of sincerity into his words. He has just sold his mine — the Empress group — for $100,000. The mine is worth millions or nothing; $100,000 is a neat sum, and for ten years Crown has lived alone in the mountains, working like a slave, going for weeks in the winter without seeing a human face, and toiling all day in his tunnel. One would fancy that when a man who has worked as Crown has worked got $100,000 he would quit, but Crown is laying in provender for another winter’s work. He is going to open a new prospect hole. Some one asked him: “Why don’t you quit, Mr. Crown, and go down to Boise and enjoy your money? You’ve got enough, haven’t you?” Crown looked across the gulch at the moon rising over the mountain, and then chewed a twig before replying. Finally he said: “Yes, yes;” a pause and a long gaze into the fire. “But it isn’t money I’m working for. I like it.” He smiled and looked at us all. “I kind of like the mountains — and — “The old man looked at the ground with a selfdeprecatory smile, half ashamed to make his confession. “Well, you see it’s my business. Should a man quit his business just because he makes a little money at it?” Crown doesn’t want a million dollars; he doesn’t care for an automobile, nor to have his picture in the papers. He is willing to get along without seeing Weber & Fields and knowing about Mary MacLane. The spell of the mountains is upon him and the joy of his work for the sake of his work is in his heart. It has lifted him above his work — above the mire of it; it has put the gentleman’s angle in his chin and made men defer to him. He knows the rocks of these hills, how the veins dip and drift, how the ledges play hide-and-seek across canons, and how God made the mountains. Everything is in the viewpoint; certainly this prospector has as much right to be proud of his profession as an artist or an author or a stockbroker is of his. And Crown has the simple courage to let money go, and the things money will buy, which take him from his work.

The best-known mining expert who has been in the Thunder Mountain country is H. H. Hunter, of Seattle. He came in representing a group of New York capitalists with whom he has been connected for several years on a salary. In a letter to his clients, which, by the way, has never before been printed, he sums up the situation thus:

“My first visit to the Thunder Mountain section was made early in May, this year, at a time when snow in a measure prevented systematic work or investigation, and owing to my inability to obtain admission to the underground workings of the Dewey mine — the only property that had been developed to any extent — I was obliged to come away with what information I could glean from a superficial surface examination and that vouchsafed by their superintendent’s statement that the members of the company were satisfied with what they had and cared nothing for the outside public.”

An inference could of course be drawn two ways from this statement. The country was, however, interesting, presenting many geological features new to the average man, and the fact that gold could be obtained by pan tests from the surface led me to the opinion that the section was well worthy of development, but in no way justified the boom articles written about it.

“Later and more careful examinations showed me that from Warrens, Idaho, to the top of what is known as Elk Summit, and extending northerly and southerly, is a practically uninterrupted belt of granite. In the vicinity of Warrens several apparently valuable fissure veins are now under process of development, and I am informed are holding their own both in size and value as depth is obtained. On crossing Elk Summit it does not need an experienced eye to know you are in a country full of wonderful mineral possibilities.

“The veins are large, occurring on the contacts of granite and slate, quartzite and slate, slate and porphyry, and quartzite and lime. These veins can be, or rather have been, traced on this trend through the country for at least twelve miles, and though it seldom happens that a vein is ore-bearing for its entire length, in no instance coming under my observation, from the head of Profile Creek across the heads of Big Creek, Logan Creek, Government Creek, Smith Creek and Beaver Creek, where development work is being done, has the ore failed to show phenomenal values in gold and silver. In fact, on the two extreme ends of the belt as so far demonstrated, the Hollister properties on Profile and Smith Creeks, ore assaying from $300 to $400 per ton in gold and silver, and in apparently large bodies, is being encountered. A system of east and west cross veins cutting the formations in many instances also show high values; in 3000 feet in length on the Werdendorf [sic] properties no less than twenty-four cross veins already having been opened up, all carrying more or less value. When it is realized that these veins are simply feeders to an immense outcrop of ore in many instances 200 feet wide, and that, owing to the ruggedness of the country, hundreds of feet of depth can be obtained by tunnels, thus doing away for years with expensive pumping plants, also that the country is abundantly watered for power and covered with a dense growth of timber for mining purposes, insuring economic production, I feel justified in predicting a great future for this section. Of course one of the serious drawbacks to the country is lack of transportation and a long snow season, but the demonstration of tonnage will bring with it not only one but several roads, as the country presents no serious obstacles to railroad building. With the Coeur d’Alene and Buffalo Hump mines to the north and Silver City to the south, I see nothing unreasonable in predicting large mines on the same belt in this heretofore unexplored region. Do not understand me as in any, way connecting this section with the Thunder Mountain country, as my investigations there were limited and would not permit of my speaking for or against it.”

Now this much credence is to be given to Hunter’s statement, no matter what sort of a man you may happen to think he is: If the Big Creek country does not turn out as he has represented it to his clients he will lose his job. For his clients have nothing to sell. In fact none of the properties herein mentioned is owned by companies offering stock for sale. The men who own these prospects are able to develop them. If there is any money to be made when the prospects become mines, these men will keep it. It may be convenient to operate the mines through corporations and the stock will be properly listed, but it will not go on the market. At least that is the intention of the men who owned these properties this fall. They are following the advice of the old song which says, “When you get a good thing, save it, save it; when you get a good thing, save it till you die!”


For the Ear of the Small Investor

The attitude of investors who have actually got into the Big Creek country is that of the man who bought a big ledge on Smith Creek near the Empress properties, and replied when they asked him why he didn’t buy another property: “Well, if I’ve got anything I’ve got enough. That ledge there is worth $50,000,000 or not a penny. I’m not sure which, but I’m going to see.”


It is altogether likely that a wagon road will come to Big Creek next summer and with it will come stamp mills for such of these properties as shall become real mines. A little mill, capable of handling in a year enough ore to develop a really great mine, may be put up on Big Creek, after the wagon road arrive, for six or seven thousand dollars. If a property has any sort of prospects with a wagon road running to it an owner can borrow that much money on it, and development may go ahead without soliciting money from the sale of stock in the open market. This explanation of the situation seems to be due to the readers who may see tempting offers of Thunder Mountain mining stock next spring, and therefore be inclined to invest. The advice of deponent is — not to invest. The country may be infested with wildcat schemes with the Thunder Mountain or the Big Creek brand on them. But unless some reputable expert passes upon a proposition, the small investor should not touch it.

Mines may develop this winter on Big Creek as great as the Homestake, which has paid nearly one hundred million dollars in dividends. This is possible. But on the other hand, frauds as magnificent as ever disgraced the country will follow the great development. There is no silver lining without a cloud! If these great mines do develop, every citizen of the country will get his share, for the great increase of gold will give an impetus to every line of trade. It is just as well to let the rich grow richer, if they grow rich in gold mines, for they can afford to lose if they lose; and anyway the law of the talents, “to him that hath shall be given,” will operate in spite of the poor man’s protest. The law is as old as the universe. No chance discovery of gold in Idaho’s hills can change it. But it never affected the world’s happiness, and never in the world’s history can affect it so little as now. For what we call creature comforts are given to nearly all who care to possess them, and the keys to all the world of learning and the latchstrings of such content as learning brings are in every one’s hands. After a man is sure of three meals a day, a comfortable bed to sleep on, a bit of grass to play on, and a friend to talk to and plenty of work to keep him from rusting, nothing else is of real importance. Nature’s stamp mill may have ground gold out of the Idaho rocks by the ton, and for all the average man should care whoever gets it should be welcome to it.


The road to Thunder Mountain may be black with men next year, and as the year grows old some men may come back over the road weary from carrying gold. And others may stay in the hills and find happiness. For the chief glory of gold-hunting is in the chase and not at the end of the hunt. For if a man does not love the hills, if he does not find joy in life in the open, and rejoice in trying his strength on a steep hill or across a cliff, if he does not find peace and comfort in work though it be hard and grimy, if he has no pleasure in heavy feet at night and a hard bed and a simple meal — these gold-hills have nothing for him but torments, and all their gold will be ashes to him when he touches it. Or if he takes it away and would make it serve him, the gold will curse him and mock him and burn his hands like coals. And yet men do not curb their lusts with the wisdom of the race. Wise saws about the folly of men who try to buy real happiness with money will not stop one man of all the thousands that will swing into the Thunder Mountain trail next spring. And if they really find the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow it may build an empire in the West, cause cities to spring up in the wilderness, make civilization wax strong in the desert ; the course of a million lives may be changed and the destinies of nations; but will one soul be happier than it would have been if Thunder Mountain had hidden its gold and men had never found it?

And that is the riddle of the sphinx again.

Editor’s Note — This is the fourth and last paper by Mr. White on the Thunder Mountain gold strike.

source: Saturday Evening Post November 29, 1902 (requires subscription)

Further Reading

Link to Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History Index Page
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 1)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 2)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 3)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 4)

Idaho History Aug 28, 2022

A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain

Temderfoot3-1(Part 3 of 4)

by William Allen White Saturday Evening Post November 22, 1902

The Foot Of The Rainbow — Concluded

Temderfoot3-3The Steep Hills of Idaho

Temderfoot3-4The miners of Thunder Mountain this year are picked men. The mere fact of their presence there argues that they are men of grit and perseverance and industry. Although the newspapers that reach Thunder Mountain are from four to ten days old, they are read like old-fashioned Bibles, line upon line, precept upon precept. These miners are up to the times. They can tell you the latest funny thing from Mr. Dooley and what George Ade said of the fellows and the girl. A miner’s pay is two dollars and a half for eight hours’ work, and board and keep. And the board is good. Considering that freight into Thunder Mountain adds about eighty per cent. to the first cost of any article, the fare of the miners in the new gold-field is remarkably good. We ate breakfast at the Fairview mine with the miners and had beefsteak – a “T” bone each, broiled — potatoes, evaporated fruit, hot biscuit, bacon, pancakes and oatmeal or mush of some sort. For dinner at the Dewey mine the cook served soup, rare roast beef, potatoes, rutabagas, peas, hot bread, pie and tapioca pudding. Of course, tea and coffee are served at all meals. The men cannot complain that the operators are making money on the mess table, for flour brings twenty dollars a hundred in Roosevelt, meat thirteen cents on the hoof, and butter a dollar a pound. At a restaurant any sort of a meal costs fifty cents and a good rib-spreader costs a dollar or a dollar and a half. The miners are housed in warm log cabins and their bunks are just as clean as their occupants care to keep them. But there is one odd thing about the population of Thunder Mountain: there is not a fat man in the district. Climbing up and down the hills takes the adipose off a man better than any “treatment” or system in the world. The men are bronzed and lean, and many of them are bewhiskered. The barber of Roosevelt starved out with the price of a shave at fifty cents and a haircut seventy-five. When man leaves his mate he reverts rapidly to the simian. There is but one laundress in the town and she is not overworked. When one stops to think that one woman does the washing for two hundred and fifty men it gives him an idea of the situation. Two years of that kind of life and men will pin on fox tails and run wild!

This also is a strange thing about the men of Thunder Mountain: the urban type and not the rural type prevails. It raises the question whether or not the type of the efficient American citizen is changing, whether or not the daily newspaper, the rural free-delivery system, the suburban street-car system, and the suburban telephone have not removed many of the differences that mark the two American types. If there are farmers here or if there are city men here, they merge into the common mountain type which is distinctive and peculiar. Into this type has come a shade of the melodramatic. Perhaps it is the influence of their hill clothes, or perhaps it is the absence of women, but something makes the mountain men more direct of speech and gives them an unconscious recklessness of thought and action. The scenery of the mountains seems to be a stage setting for melodrama, and any mining camp, the Wisdom outfit, the Sunnyside or the Dewey, would make an excellent scene for one of Joaquin Miller’s old-fashioned plays. Across the foreground runs the mountain stream. R. U. E. is the bunk-house; L. U. E. is the mess cabin. Between are the stumps on which men sit or beside which they stand, with one foot on the stump, gesticulating with one hand, and resting the other on the crooked knee. In the background is the hill, with the pack-train zigzagging down it, and far up the hill is the white dump where the mine gophers have kicked out the earth behind them. Men in laced boots and flannel shirts and slouch hats come and go across the stage, and the Chinese cook flits through the scene like a frightened jaybird, making the comedy. The mine foreman, handsome, well-dressed, in corduroys and a hat with the gambler’s three dents in it; the mine owner, nonchalant, suave, superior; and the lank, loose-jointed packer — maybe Mexican, maybe half-breed — made up for the villain of the piece, furnish a fine cast of characters for what the old-fashioned show-bill used to call “the full strength of the company” — except the women. Still, those who are there need no make-up.

The whole place seems charged with the atmosphere of the stage and the citizens talk in that conscious “character tone” that actors use on street cars and in public places. Yet nothing dramatic has occurred in Roosevelt nor on Thunder Mountain. The only surprising thing that ever happens to a man is to go up there and find some old friend, who left home a year before, running a “game” at one of the saloons. No great fortunes have been made suddenly. The plot is entirely lacking in the place to justify so much stage setting and such a cast of characters. Yet here the whole “business” is, and it is so raw and undisguised that one passing through and failing to become part of it all wonders whether it is natural and inevitable, or the unconscious reflection of “M’Liss” and “My Partner” upon the minds of mature men, who have seen these plays twenty years ago and have forgotten them. It may be the natural attitude of men in their crude stage. Has man the artist imitated Nature in the old mountain plays? or has man unconsciously gone to imitating art? It is a question for the psychologist, and it is immaterial how he answers it; for next year women will come into the camp and change the life there. Either they will inject plot into the play, or bring men back to normal living and break up the show.

Temderfoot3-5To prove that Roosevelt is entirely in tune with the times it may be well to record that at the first political meeting held in the town the two candidates nominated were McNair and McMahon, and Johnnie Conyers of the Congress saloon was the boy who “done the trick.” The spirit of liberty does not die in the true Irishman’s breast no matter how his environment may change. And the difference between Thunder Mountain and the Borough of the Bronx is only skin-deep. The millionaire who comes whizzing down Fifth Avenue out of Thunder Mountain, next year, in his automobile, may be sitting on a candle-box at a hand-made table, at this minute, eating canned corn with a three-tined fork; but when he arrives in New York he will not have to be curried nor be fed condition powders to put him in the thoroughbred class. For Thunder Mountain differs from nearly every other gold-mining camp in this: the big strikes have all been made by experienced mining men. Cripple Creek, Colorado, to-day the great gold-mining camp in America, is typical of the other sort. The men who made the big strikes there were men who barely knew the difference between a tunnel and a writ of mandamus. The element of what is called “bull-luck” governed in most of the big strikes in Cripple Creek. In Thunder Mountain, after the Dewey had been established as a real mine, the work of finding mines and developing them was in the hands of real miners. Cripple Creek when it was discovered was a day’s tramp over the mountains from Manitou; naturally a vast crowd of youths stumbled into Cripple Creek who had barely enough sense to tell you how many toes they had if you looked hard at them and asked them quickly. In the law of averages some of these fellows had to win. But to Thunder Mountain the road is long and steep, and so crooked that a horse on the trail often tangles his tail in the throat-latch of his own bridle, and the man who gets into the country has some good stuff in him. He is usually a man of mining experience. And that means a good deal. He has seen more and has experienced more and had more hard sense ground into him by good fortune and bad than men in any other trade or calling. For the trail to Thunder Mountain is a year’s post-graduate work in the knockabout university, from which the degree of O. K. means business.

Every Man His Own Columbus

This, of course, does not mean that every one in the Thunder Mountain country is a model of honesty and perspicacity. There is one outfit from the East that is going to be most hilariously fooled next spring. The members of this outfit leased a claim back of the Dewey and did some work on it. They ran fifty or seventy-five feet of tunnels and struck some first-class ore. But they said nothing about it, and walked down to Roosevelt and said they were tired and wanted to quit. They said there was nothing in the country and that Thunder Mountain was a false alarm. The men from the Wisdom and from the Sunnyside tried to buy the tools and kit of the Easterners, but the tools and kit were not for sale. This was suspicious. The owner of the mine heard of these things, and putting two and two together made five. He went into the workings, saw what the gentlemen from the East had struck, and let out a reef in his price. They expect to come back from the East next spring and get the mine for a pleasant look and perhaps a chew of good eating tobacco. They will meet Mr. Owner, with his arms akimbo, his feet wide apart in an attitude of satisfaction, and a merry squint in his eye. The mine will bring the contract price or he will ask for his letter and his ring and his copy of Lucile, and it will never be The Same Again.

The trouble with most people is that they look more than they know. Once in a while out in the mountains one runs across a man whose education has been from men, not from books, who knows more than he looks. The gentlemen from the East will find when they come back in the spring that though there are no chairs in Thunder Mountain, and though the people sleep behind doors on wooden hinges, fastened with latch-strings, a man may think as deeply on a four-legged bench as on a revolving chair. Some way in making these discoveries men don’t trust to the map of human experience. Every man has to be his own Columbus.

Temderfoot3-6The Stamp Mill of Dewey Mine

The People Who are Dissatisfied

Three or four thousand people have gone into the Thunder Mountain country since last March and less than three hundred of these will spend this winter there. Most of those who go out will complain about the country. There are three kinds of complainers: those who did not get clear into the heart of the district, but turned back at some hard place on the trail; those who went in, but were improperly equipped to stay in, having no provisions, or no money with which to buy them at the prevailing high prices; and thirdly, those who went in with other men’s money as grub-stakes, or as money to invest, and failed to get adequate returns for their time or their investments. Naturally it follows that men of any of these classes will have to condemn Thunder Mountain to justify themselves, and they will not hesitate about twisting facts to make a plausible case for themselves. That is not lying in the exact sense of the word – it is human nature. And with such a battalion of croakers attacking it the wonder is that Thunder Mountain has stood siege even this long. But every mining camp has to go through just that kind of a trial. During the first three years of the history of every mining centre in the world more money is put in than is taken out. Every year dozens of camps rise and fall in a few months and pass into the world’s experience. Unless a district can overcome its growing pains and its infantile ailments it disappears. The law of the survival of the fittest governs mining camps as well as the men in them. For, being human contrivances, these camps are amenable to human laws. It would be folly to say that a camp with but one mine in it, and a dozen good prospects and a big cage of wild-cats, is bound to become a great mining region. And yet in view of the facts, and especially considering the great discoveries and marvelous — and this word is used conservatively and with due reflection — the marvelous surface indications in that part of the Thunder Mountain country known as Big Creek, it would be more than mad vanity for a man to condemn the country out of hand. The Big Creek region is of such wide area, and of such a different character from the region near Thunder Mountain, that although Big Creek is a part of the Thunder Mountain country, Big Creek seems destined to be the greater part, and should be considered in a separate paper. Until that paper is before him the reader, if he is a fair man, will suspend judgment. For the case is not ready for the jury till the evidence of things seen on Big Creek is in.

Temderfoot3-7The Dewey Mine

By the time these words are printed Nature will have put her eight months’ time-lock on Thunder Mountain. From now until June all news that comes out and all that goes in must travel on snowshoes and at the traveler’s peril. Mails are uncertain, and reports will be vague, and probably exaggerated, for both good and bad. Men are staking much money, and some men their lives, that there is gold in these steep, earth-covered hills, and when the stakes are high in a game the excitement is so great that truth is shy and does not come out boldly. But this much is sure: mining is an ancient trade and men have learned little about it, with all their science. All they know of gold is that it is where you find it. This Job knew thousands of years ago. For did he not write:

“Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone. Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it.”

Editor’s Note — This is the third paper in the series, and continues Mr. White’s description of The Foot of the Rainbow. The fourth and concluding paper, The Pot of Gold, will appear next week.

source: Saturday Evening Post November 22, 1902 (requires subscription)
Courtesy Sandy McRae

Further Reading

Link to Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History Index Page
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 1)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 2)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 3)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 4)

Idaho History Aug 21, 2022

A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain

(Part 2 of 4)

by William Allen White Saturday Evening Post November 15, 1902


II — The Foot Of The Rainbow
Roosevelt, Idaho County, Idaho, is a town of two hundred and fifty souls, a string of log frames with canvas tops, set beside and across a trout stream. It lies in a crease in the mountains like a tear in the folds of an accordion bellows. It is without sidewalks, without streets, without officers, without export commerce, without a wagon road, without benefit of clergy, almost “without form, and void.” Yet it was the Mecca of thousands this summer, and to-day it is the journey’s end of ten thousand who expect to brave the hardships of the trail and go into the Thunder Mountain gold-fields next spring. For Roosevelt, with two hundred and fifty people, is the metropolis of the Thunder Mountain country. It has no rivals; it has destroyed them. Time was when Thunder Mountain City was a town of prospects. It rose to the dignity of a Fourth of July celebration this year, with a sack race and a greased pole; but to-day not a soul lives in Thunder Mountain City, and the chipmunk, the camp-robber and the owl own the place by quit-claim from its former human inhabitants. The town is one with “Nineveh and Tyre.” And the procession of pilgrims near the end of their week’s journey over the trail from the railroad to Thunder Mountain passes by the ruins of the town that rose and fell and passed into history in half a year. They do things with a rush in Idaho; the Old Settlers’ Association of Roosevelt will be drawing the line at newcomers next spring, though the town has not seen its first Christmas. Nothing better illustrates the domination of commercialism in the world than the peaceful conquest by Roosevelt of Thunder Mountain City. In the days of Homer it would have cost the lives of a thousand men, and would have given birth to an epic. A generation ago there would have been a county-seat war at least and a formidable display of pocket-artillery. Gentlemen from one town would have visited the other town, to return in such desultory fragments as an overworked coroner had time to patch up. But the mere announcement that the one-hundred-stamp mill of the Dewey mine was to be located next year at Roosevelt and not at Thunder Mountain City caused that town to crawfish into its past while the moon was changing. Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, nor the bark of a protesting pistol. Capital merely shut one eye and jerked its head toward the town site of Roosevelt and Thunder Mountain City became a pile of interesting ruins.

The topography of the town of Roosevelt, like many other things in this world, is best described by its enemies. They call it the beaver dam. The town lies at the base of two almost perpendicular mountains rising from Monumental Creek. The enemies of Roosevelt further say that it will be food for a snow-slide some of these fine days. For the hills on both sides of the town are bald, porphyry drifts where slides have delighted to caper, and if a slide does not come down and dislocate the town site, it will be due to the firm belief of the Roosevelt boomers in the power of mind over matter. For they declare most convincingly that there is no danger. But if a snow-slide or a water-spout should come tripping down the valley it would have easy picking, as Roosevelt is about a mile long and one hundred feet wide. It is one of the largest towns in the world that has never seen a wagon or a wheeled vehicle of any kind. Though it is a horseman’s town there is no livery stable in the place, and no herder and no pasture near. Oats bring from fifteen to thirty cents a pound, and the feed of man or beast for a day at Roosevelt costs the same. But when a man gets into the goldfields who desires to stay any length of time he turns his horse loose on the mountains, and when he gets ready to go he takes two or three days to find it — or buys another horse of a newcomer. This plan is cheaper than tying a horse to a tree and feeding it with oats at a dollar a “feed.” Provision for the entertainment of man is not better than that for his beast; there are no hotels in Roosevelt and few restaurants. At these the bills-of-fare run along the hard path of the third-class railway lunch counter. It is presumed that if a man is in Roosevelt he is there to work, and expects to live as cheaply as his system will permit. Life there is the simple life raised to the nth power. The only members of the leisure classes in the town are six saloon-keepers and the Chicago Kid, a tin-horn gentleman. Every one else works, and works till he is dog-tired at night. Steady work and baking powder bread will keep men in the path of rectitude when sermons fail.

Tenderfoot2-3The Raw Material For a Western Novel

By day the white string of a thoroughfare in the crack of the cañon is deserted save when a pack-train comes in or when some newly arrived pilgrim waddles up the street with that bow-legged walk peculiar to horsemen who have ridden far. By day even the saloons are deserted and the cloth signs flap in the wind over the log stores lonesomely and no one reads them. But at night the miners gather in the cloth-topped, earth-floored saloons and talk in subdued tones, and those who are not too weary risk a quarter or so on faro or “studpoker,” and then listlessly leave the game to others. There is just as much wild abandon about a Roosevelt saloon and gambling hell as there is about a deaf and dumb prayer-meeting. At Klondike Kate’s, the leading saloon in the town, there is a phonograph to keep the customers awake. It grinds out the newest popular songs, and as the machine is supplied with fresh records only two weeks old from New York every few days, the young blades from Thunder Mountain, when they go back to eat the fatted calf, will not embarrass their relatives by whistling the Washington Post March nor the Sextette from Florodora. The crowd was enjoying a ditty called Take Me Back to Herald Square this September and was complaining because the music of the new comic operas and the new jokes from the Rogers Brothers were not in the shipment of records that arrived the day before. Not enough drinks were sold that evening to pay for the candles which stood in empty beer bottles along the pine bar. The miner of the new school and John Barleycorn may speak as they pass by, but they no longer smile with the fervor of the days of ‘forty-nine. The Rum Fiend in Roosevelt is mangy. Saloon after saloon has failed, and one whole mining crew of three shifts passed two pay-days this September without sending a check to a saloon for cash. The town has been running six months without an officer and without even a misdemeanor committed to give a constable a fee, if there had been a constable in town. The men of Roosevelt are young men. A majority of them are men of some education and attainment. The hard-rock miners, many of them, are college men, working in the mines to get the lay of the land, saving their money and all of them flirting with opportunity. There is no hurrah, no yip and kiyoodle, nobody wild and woolly and full of fleas in Roosevelt. No one carries a gun and no one fears robberies. Thousands of dollars’ worth of gold is blocked out in the mines on the hills and left unguarded. No ore thief, no horse thief, has ever appeared in the place. Each man is his own policeman. And yet certainly, if occasion should come for the individual police force to organize, the American instinct for law and order would organize the town as naturally as affinities unite.

About the only devilish diversion the town has is to watch Lawless John, the Horrible Example of Roosevelt, work the stranger for a drink. John is part of the human drift that floats on the crest of waves of gold excitement. Every camp has them. They like to tell about the winter of ‘forty-nine and the spring of ‘fifty. They were caught in the eddy at Leadville, and rose with the foam at Cripple Creek. In the San Juan country they were still driftwood. For two years this drift has been floating into Thunder Mountain and out again. For provisions get high in wintertime, and with bread at a dollar and a half a loaf and flour at eighty dollars a sack, men who are working within sight of the front elevation of the house of hunger don’t care to have relations with men who are rated as “low-grade” propositions. For there is this difference between ore and men: low-grade ore always has its rich streaks which make profits for the business, but a low-grade man runs low all the way. So there is little patience with Lawless John and his nightblooming inebriety at Roosevelt, and the men at Klondike Kate’s ignore him, and before the night is old they go to their bunk-houses, and by nine o’clock the town is asleep, and the lights are out by ten o’clock all over town. A late light makes as great a scandal in Roosevelt as it does in a New England town, and once this fall when the postmaster was sitting up enjoying a frugal game of draw the whole town stayed up, thinking that he was expecting the mail!

In the morning the miners scatter to their work on the hills and the day drones on in the deserted town. Within three miles of Roosevelt this fall there were half a dozen mines operating. The most important of these is the Dewey mine. Indeed it is the only real producing mine in the whole district. It is located near Mule Creek on Thunder Mountain, two miles from Roosevelt. The Dewey now employs over fifty men and has twelve or fifteen hundred feet of tunneling. It must be understood that in all the Thunder Mountain country there is not a shaft. The mountains are so steep and so small that all the work is tunneling. The Dewey tunnels, however, are now slanting downward. They run through porphyry reefs and the ore is rich. It is free-milling ore and runs as high as two hundred dollars to the ton, and the ore bodies are big and easily traceable. It is believed that as the reefs and dikes of Thunder Mountain and the district immediately around Thunder Mountain go downward they will run base, though now the ore is found free in talc or in porphyry, with sometimes a little quartz. The ore of the Dewey mine, as the tunnel slants down, is running green, indicating the approach of copper. The ore of the Wisdom and the Sunnyside, two mines on Thunder Mountain, is also found free in pure white talc that is unctuous to the touch and as soft as putty on the dump, but it hardens in a few hours to a chalklike substance. In the Fairview, which is across the gulch from Thunder Mountain, the talc is stained green fifty feet from the mouth of the tunnel. The ore in these three mines runs from sixteen to one hundred dollars the ton in free gold. The dikes of talc are broad and are often found at the points of contact with a ledge, or more commonly a fault. The ore is found in streaks or pockets.

Tenderfoot2-4Only a Little Stage-Setting is Needed to Make This Up For a Joaquin Miller Play

The Dewey people now are operating a little ten-stamp mill night and day, which they brought in by pack-train, and the marvel of it is that pack-mules could get it in. It was taken apart, but there are some parts of the mill that are as big as a horse. There was no wagon road within seventy-five miles of the mine when the mill came up, and yet there it stands, operating as a monument to the ingenuity of the mountain packer. The woodwork of this mill is hewn out by hand, and a photograph of the interior of the mill has a quaint Bradley poster effect. The Dewey people have a hundred stamp mill on the railroad at Emmet, one hundred miles from the mine. They are building a wagon road to the camp on which to transport the big mill. It will probably be in place next fall. In the mean time other strikes are being made almost every week in the country. It is a fact that not a tunnel fifty feet deep has been sunk in the Thunder Mountain district which has revealed a barren vein. The volcanic dust which covers Thunder Mountain will pan and show color that will assay over a dollar a ton. Of course all the creeks below Thunder Mountain, and all the creeks running out of the district, and all the rivers within two hundred miles of the mineral belt now known to extend fifty by thirty miles west of Thunder Mountain, have been worked by placer miners for nearly fifty years. There are dates on the trees as far back as ‘fifty-eight, and the records show placer entries in the early ‘sixties. It was at a placer mine that the Dewey was first discovered and developed. The history of the development of the mine is of interest.

They held a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the first unfurling of the American flag at Warrens a few weeks ago. Warrens is seventy miles from Thunder Mountain, and it was a placer camp forty years ago. White men have been followed by Chinamen in those placer fields, and Chinamen by other Chinamen, and other Chinamen by white men with dredges, and all have taken out much gold from the placers. This is but one point; there are scores of such points, north, east, south, west; wherever rivers run away from the mountain of gold there are successful placer mines. Year by year the placer miners kept coming nearer the source of the deposits. In 1869 a gentleman known as Three-Fingered Smith crossed Snow-slide Summit with a rifle and some salt, and came out the next spring with the first showing of the white, fine, light gold peculiar to the district. Men wondered at it, and others went in — only one or two others — and Monumental Creek came to have a little local fame. In 1884 there was a placer excitement on what is now called Sugar Creek, and in 1893 the White Pine Basin was worked extensively. Little by little the crowd was edging toward the head of the golden stream. Then a curious thing was noticed. The placers would be cleaned out by the crowds; the crowds would leave, and in two years the placer discoveries would revive again on the very locations that bad been worked a season or two before.

Tenderfoot2-5In Hill Clothes

Then came the Caswell brothers and edged up much nearer to the fountain-head. They had a theory that the streams and basins were being replenished every year by some live source. They went up Monumental Creek to Mule Creek, and went up Mule Creek and found strange things. They found what is called the “Mysterious Slide.” Here on a comparatively level area, something over half a mile square, the trees slant in a dozen different directions, and so recent have been the changes that trees are standing split in three parts by the dropping and sliding of the earth over a talc deposit. It is believed by some mineralogists that auriferous talc veins are still rising, and that gold — to put it popularly — is not all “made” in the district. Not far from this “slide” the Caswells found a gold-bearing porphyry reef exposed. They went to work on the reef and took out many thousand dollars’ worth of free gold in a few months. They were not miners, but cattlemen, who were temporarily resting from their “loved employ.” They established what may be called a cowman’s mining outfit. Their cabins are in use on the Dewey properties now. All these cabins are lined with deerskins; deerskins keep out the cold from the door-cracks, deerskins cover the floor. The logs are rough-hewn and poorly chinked, but they sufficed in their day, and the Caswells worked their mine as best they could, taking out fifteen or twenty thousand dollars a year and bringing it down to Boise, where they deposited it in the banks. Other miners went into the country and worked — not over half a dozen for the first few years. Harvey G. Taylor, who located the town site of Roosevelt and discovered the Fairview mine, was one of these. The pioneer miners depended on hunting for most of their fare, and the loss of a mink skin or an otter, which meant cash with which to buy flour, was a loss too deep for tears. For they did not all find the mountain of gold. They were prospecting with scant pickings. They lived on venison until it was thin skating around the scurvy with them many times, and the hard winters ground them as in a mill.

In the mean time the Caswell brothers were trying to interest real mining men in their mine. After several years of failure they succeeded in getting Colonel Dewey, of Nampa, Idaho, to take the mine under a three-years’ bond for $100,000. And of this amount he was to pay $25,000 by building a wagon road into the district within a year from the beginning of the contract. Dewey put men to work on the reef. The year slipped away. His men told him what he had. The road had not been touched. Dewey had to put up the entire $100,000 in cash at the end of the first year or forfeit his bond. He paid the Caswells the cash and the Dewey mine became known to the mining world. There is no doubt that it is an unusually rich mine. It is at the head of the gold supply for all the streams. After the Dewey mine became a fact in the miner’s geography — and that was in 1900 — there was an influx of quartz miners to Thunder Mountain — hardly a rush, but a rapid growth of population. On Thunder Mountain men found that these intrusions of gold-bearing porphyry are almost of contemporaneous occurrence. They saw when they scraped off the surface of volcanic dust that this must have fallen during the present geological epoch, for under it are charred forests revealed by pick and shovel at the mouths of tunnels, and the trees are clearly like those that are standing rooted in the ashes to-day. It is curious to note that this charcoal or carbon from these tree-trunks will pan with exceptional richness, but the gold is as light as gold leaf, and unless one’s wrist is limber as a willow withe this light gold will float out of the pan with the refuse.

Tenderfoot2-6The Town of Roosevelt

The Danger of Development by Proxy

When the little Dewey stamp mill was shipped in, it established Thunder Mountain as a camp. There are now half a score of legitimate mining propositions in or near Thunder Mountain; the best of these are the Wisdom and the Sunnyside and the Fairview, the Rainbow group, and the Lava Creek outfit. A Kansas City company has thirty-seven claims and is shipping in supplies to prospect their properties this winter, and in the due course of nature should find something worth while. This summer considerable Pennsylvania capital was invested in Thunder Mountain, some carefully and profitable, and some not wisely but too well. Campbell and Moore, of the Wisdom, are types of the best sort of mine developers on Thunder Mountain. They “personally conduct” their operations and they have a property which the winter may turn into a great mine. The danger in doing development work by proxy and under the auspices of a corporation even a few hundred miles away is that the opportunities for deceiving even an honest manager, who is not actually on -the ground all winter, are as the stars in the sky. There are hundreds of Thunder Mountain mining companies which have no other basis of hope than a few gopher holes in the mud of a hillside. It should be remembered by prospective investors that but one real mine is now operating in Thunder Mountain, and that is the Dewey, and not over ten holes are actually being dug into Thunder Mountain by real prospectors who are trying to develop real mines, and the writer does not know that stock is for sale in any of the companies operating these ten holes. The tunnels are being run either by private individuals, or partners, or by close corporations. Next year, if these holes in the wall show real mines, probably thousands of companies will spring up peddling stock all over the East.

There is but one safe rule to follow when investing money in a new mining district. Either to go to the mine one’s self, or to hire a reputable mining expert to examine the mine or mines owned by the company in which one is inclined to invest. It may be suggested that this is an expensive business. To which reply may be made, that mining is a poor man’s vice and a rich man’s luxury. It should ever be borne in mind by investors of small holdings in mining property that a mine is a hole in the ground into which one is always putting money and sometimes taking it out. However, there may be readers of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST who fancy that if they could have an accurate, scientific description of the country by a practical mineralogist they might invest their money wisely. For such readers this statement was prepared by Newton R. Hibbs, of Roosevelt, at the writer’s request. Mr. Hibbs has been in the Thunder Mountain district for four years and in the Western mountains all his life. He says:

“It is the general conception of the public that the Thunder Mountain gold-field is of sedimentary origin. The fact is, no primary rocks are found in the free gold-belt. In an area of four hundred square miles, of which Thunder Mountain is a central figure, the primary rock formation has been entirely removed. Unlike the ordinary mountains, our high ranges are made up of intrusive dikes with no tilted schists or granites. While there is no evidence present of violent earth disturbances, there being only an occasional fragment of scoria found to indicate eruptions, the ridges and peaks are generally held up by from six to a dozen distinct intrusions, or distinct porphyry dikes. It is evident that an old system of water-courses at an old geological age was completely reversed in this whole mountain region by an intrusion of porphyry that broke the earth crust in an east and west trend, along the main river of this ancient water system, and reversed the course of the rivers and creeks. The primary schists and granites were evidently so much broken by the first disturbance that the reversed water-courses soon cut deep cañon leading at right angles from the east and west porphyry dike, the course of which is marked by Lightning Peak, Rainbow Peak and the basalt ‘Nigger-Heads.’ Later other intrusions broke the earth crust along cations formed by the new water-courses, making ridges with porphyry backbones where the cañons had been. These successive upheavals so crumbled the primary earth crust that the old formation was easily reduced to sand and soil by erosion. In the years of transformation the old, decomposed rocks all crumbled from the mountainside and slipped and rolled into the streams, and were disintegrated and distributed far below the present level of the little valleys. Then came successive intrusions along the line of the contacts, first of the porphyry and the old formation and then between the porphyry dikes. After the tilted primary rocks were broken and rolled away by successive uplifts, the older porphyries were tilted more and more till that formation is fast following the primary rocks into the creek beds. After many intrusions the newer porphyries have tilted the outside contacts beyond the perpendicular; and the mountains have split, as is the case at the Dewey mine, and formed horizontal reefs. These successive intrusions have had the effect of wedges, and they have in some instances turned the earth crust upside down, which is true of the Dewey reef. It is an accepted fact that porphyry intrusions are the source of all the gold of our mines. Though it may not have become thoroughly established that the porphyry of one age was more prolific of this precious metal than that of another, such a conclusion is not improbable. At any rate, the theory is well founded that the region which has the most various porphyry formations is the most prolific of gold. It is often remarked that the number of intrusions almost determines the importance of mineral belts. Thunder Mountain, with its succession of intrusions, has no primary or ‘country’ rock — only a porphyry bed-rock. The occasion of the general distribution of placer gold throughout this region is the excessive waste of broken, soft gold-bearing porphyries — broken by the uplift and subjected to erosion in the disturbed state. Primarily it is the disintegration of various kinds of porphyry that carry auriferous deposits in leads and ledges. One inquiry remains unanswered in relation to this district: Are the conditions favorable for the secondary enrichment of great ore bodies? A logical answer would be that large intrusive dikes, in accordance with scientific principles, form large contact cavities, and the waste from rich porphyries must afford rich vein-filling. And, so far as explored, even the surface fissures are filled with rich conglomerates. The wide contacts left in the process of cooling were surely filled to unexplored depths with breccia with which the gold was concentrated by the flow of hot solutions through the natural sluices. It is not a matter of surprise that the-porphyry bedrock of this whole region is seamed with gold-filled strata. Logically there should be here one of the most extensive systems of contact veins that could exist in any rock formation, and the conditions are favorable for the enrichment of this vein system. Not only should there be, in this district, large, rich, brecciate ore bodies, but the porphyry dikes should be rich. There should be encountered here, by exploration, large zones of telluride, phonolite, sylvanite and sulphide gold ores. In fact, it is well demonstrated that the free gold encountered here is a precipitation, and then a concentration from the liquid gold of the ores named above or from kindred natural deposits that have not been named in any laboratory.”

Tenderfoot2-7A Porphyry Outcrop on Monumental Creek

The Host of Jack Rabbit Millionaires

This is the “what should be” of the geologist. The “what is” of the miner will be reported next spring when the country opens and the result of this winter’s work is known. For, excepting the Dewey, the whole Thunder Mountain region is a prospect. It is where Colorado was twenty-five years ago. Last winter and the winter before men went in on skees and snowshoes, and because investors could not get in to examine what they were buying claims were sold that had no place on the map when the snow melted. For five miles from the Dewey last winter every foot of ground was staked off though there was ten feet of snow over it all, and surveys were as impossible as any real discoveries were. Yet these claims were sold, and the men who bought them as a rule never went into the country to investigate them ; they preferred to stay at home and abuse the district. This didn’t yield dividends, and yet it is a question whether or not there is not more real, unalloyed comfort in blaming others for our own negligence than there is in the mere sordid act of money-making. The real fun to be had in connection with money is not in actual ownership. It is in convincing ourselves that we should have it, by all rights, or that we are about to have it. The happiest men in all these Salmon River Mountains are the prospectors who lay out claims, and add a million dollars to the value of their properties every time they change the date on their stakes to save assessment work! These men are holding their claims for millions, and really fancy they are worth the money they hope to get, yet in the winter they go about chasing jack-rabbits to death through the snow to get something to eat, and every summer “lean up” all day in camp and spend the night in riotous living at some other man’s expense. And scarcely less happy is the miner who wears out ten pounds of shoe-leather to one of pick-steel, who prospects a mountain in an hour and a district in a week. It takes two men to drive his stakes fast enough to keep up with his location, and when he goes down to Boise he barters his golcondas to the barroom miners for a bluesky-and-thin-air bond, and goes on his way of dreams crowding Pierpont Morgan and Dave Moffat off the earth, as long as he is good for board at the Overland. Last winter untold millions were made and lost by jackrabbit millionaires in Boise. Every sheepherder was an expert, and because the snow was so deep on Thunder Mountain that many prospectors found it inconvenient to go down to the surface of the earth for samples, the mines of Trinity County, California, were stripped for speckled ore, and the pockets of the gentry of the barroom exchange bulged with evidences of wealth beyond-the dreams of avarice. Hot-foot miners were plenty, but hard-rock miners who had actually struck a pick in the new country were scarce.

Editor’s Note — This is the second paper by Mr. White on the newest-found gold-fields. The third will appear next week.

source: Saturday Evening Post November 15, 1902 (requires subscription)

Further Reading

Link to Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History Index Page
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 1)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 2)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 3)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 4)

Idaho History Aug 14, 2022

A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain

(Part 1 of 4)

by William Allen White Saturday Evening Post November 8, 1902


Tenderfoot1-2-aDrawn By J. J. Gould

I — The Trail

The words Thunder Mountain do not mean much, if anything, in the East. But in the West — and by the West one does not mean Buffalo and Rochester, nor even the region around Cleveland and Detroit, nor perhaps the territory tributary to Chicago and St. Louis — but rather in that newer West where one does not know or care who his neighbor’s father was — in that West, Thunder Mountain is known as the name of the new gold-mining region in Central Western Idaho. One reason why news of Thunder Mountain has not come East is that Denver has closed the gate; Denver is the clearing-house for everything west of the plains. Money, Indian blankets, scenery, mining stocks, statesmen, and news from the desert and the mountains, from the coast and from the cow-country to the southwest, are dumped into the hopper at Denver. Whatever the Powers there find fit to go East, goes; other things are lost. They can tell you of Thunder Mountain in San Francisco, and in Portland, and in Salt Lake, in Butte and Los Angeles; but east of Denver is the great silence. Denver is hardly to be blamed, for there are enough great mines in the front range of the Rockies to keep a town much larger than Denver busy for many years to come.

Thus it has happened that the story of the rush to Thunder Mountain has not been told in the East. It is a brave story, certainly worthy of record. The hegira engaged thousands of men, and cost a few lives and much treasure, and it uncovered a mining district that may be one of the richest in the world. It shall be the purpose of this paper to set down something of the beauties and the hardships of the journey to the foot of the rainbow, and in another paper to tell of the pot of gold men found there.

August and September are the fairest months in Idaho. Crossing the desert, warty with sage brush, on the railroad from Huntington to Pocatello, one would never imagine that Idaho could be fair at any season, for the railroad seeks the level country, and the plains of Idaho are bald and gray and forbidding as an ocean turned to sand, and the passing seasons leave almost as little mark upon them as upon the sea. But north of the railroad, across the desert, lie the mountains. There are many little groups of mountains, the Saw Tooth Range, the Seven Devils country, the Salmon River Mountains, all so close together that, in Colorado, where the mountains are high and one may see across great distances from the peaks, these mountains would be grouped under one name. But the mountains of Idaho are not high — they are steep volcanic hills, and not a dozen summits in a hundred miles rise to the timber line. But how they do drop! A gorge or cañon five thousand feet deep is gouged out of the hills on one of the trails to Thunder Mountain. There is but one deeper cañon in the world — so they say. And yet these mountains rise so slightly above the plain that they are not visible from the railroad seventy-five miles away.

At Weiser, near the Oregon line, a little road branches northward to Council, which curls around one of the foothills of the mountains. This year the best route into Thunder Mountain lay by the way of Council, which is one hundred and fifty miles by wagon road and footpath from Thunder Mountain. Next year the wagon road may be pushed farther from some other point, or the railroad may run in to some town nearer the gold-fields — a year is bound to make great changes in that country — but this year sixty per cent. of the travel out of the Thunder Mountain country came by way of Council, though the travel into the country was evenly divided between four routes. Council is a three-square, board-sidewalk town, where the saloons do not screen their bars and the two hotels serve canned tomatoes for dinner, in little oval side-dishes, three hundred and sixty-five times a year. At Council, one day early in September of this year, five ordinary citizens in sack coats and white linen went into the parlor bedroom of the “American” hotel and came out in their hill clothes — as vicious-looking suspects as ever trailed their faces across the top of a yellow journal after a train robbery. Clothes may not make a man — probably they don’t — but when a man sheds his linen and gets into flannel he divests himself of two or three generations of civilization, and when he laces his trousers inside his boots and cuts loose from his necktie he does not need so much police protection as he did in a four-dollar cravat and his patent-leather shoes. Life in one blue shirt a week loses many of its tangles, and becomes direct and simple. Right and wrong do not merge into “questionable methods” when a man is in his hill clothes, and with the passing of the complicated forms of business the sugar-coating wears off the words one uses. so that in the hills a liar and a thief and a sneak often have bitter pills to take. This is not digression, as it may seem.

The Beginning of the Blue Shirt Country

It is necessary that the reader should know that when we left Starchland at Council and crossed into the Blue-shirt country an important border was passed. It was passed in a great lumbering stage-coach that had the rich guttural rumble of a circus wagon and suggested mysteries and marvels. The road out of Council winds through a meadow before it begins to climb; it is not a pretty meadow as meadows go, but it is shut in by most beautiful hills. The air of Idaho is colored, like the desert air, and where it lies upon a hillside a faint lavender haze or wraith seems to envelop the land. In autumn the chaparral turns scarlet and the hills glow with purples and pinks and heliotropes. They are not craggy hills. Their outlines are softened by a covering of volcanic dust.

The stage whisks over the meadows and up the hills and down again, and finally at late moonrise whirls into The Meadows. At The Meadows the log house appears, and the towel and the wash-bowl disappear from the bedroom. But the big, cheerful fireplace with its roaring fire of crackling pine logs makes up for much. Things generally even up in life. Bed springs halt at Weiser, but at the day’s end one is too tired to miss them. Meat fried till it curls at the edges needs but one sauce — hunger, and the day’s ride serves it a-plenty. Nothing really changes men; the man who grumbles at the street cars has just as much to complain of in the stage; the man who finds his steak too rare at home will find flies in his biscuit in the wilderness, and the man who takes things as they come will pick out the flies, thanking Heaven they are not chipmunks, and go on his way rejoicing. People who are unhappy “mid pleasures and palaces” will be just as unhappy when they wrap the drapery of their couches about them at The Meadows and hear the fat party five doors down the hall swallowing his collar button and spluttering over his own back hair as he throttles a desperate escaping snore.

The stage stops at The Meadows, but the wagon road goes forward sixty miles toward the gold-fields. On this wagon road, which is open but four months in a year, three thousand gold-seekers traveled this year. A few rode in wagons, many went on horseback, but by far the greater number of travelers walked — most of them carrying packs. The rush to Thunder Mountain began late last fall, and a few hundred miners and prospectors got into the new land of gold before winter put up the bars. Hundreds of others pushed as far into the country as they could with wagons and horses during the winter, and camped until the snow had melted on the trail so that they could get their horses in. But that was not until early in the summer. Thousands had gone in afoot before that, and in March and April the road from The Meadows to Warrens, a matter of sixty miles, was a lively thoroughfare. It was open to horses then and the tinkle of the pack train-bell was in the pedestrian’s ears all day. As one goes over the road to-day he sees tree-stumps beside the way five, six, eight and ten feet high. There were not giants in those days; but the snow was deep and men needed fuel and cut the stumps high. Hundreds of pine-bough beds on the hillsides show where gentlemen slept who couldn’t ring for hot water and didn’t leave a call in the office for half-past eight. There is nothing like “a hillside for a pall” to get a man up early.

The road from The Meadows to Warrens is a State road and a bad one. Those who ride over it in a wagon wish they had gone horseback, and the horsemen regret that they did not ride in the wagon. The road lies through a heavy black-pine forest and beside Payette Lake, a dark green body of water a dozen miles long and two miles wide. It seems to lie in the crater of an extinct volcano, for there are unfathomed places in the middle of the lake. By the wayside are many brooks and deep fern brakes, and in the underbrush in season quantities of huckleberries grow, and blueberries and chokecherries and thimbleberries, and great clusters of vermilion sumac that look like holly. The road runs up hill and down dale, but the summits one reaches are low and there is no view. The Payette River crosses the road nine times in an hour’s drive, making a pleasant diversion in summer and in autumn; but in spring, when the river is turbulent and riotous, the man with a pack has to leave the road and go to the hills and fight his way through the underbrush where there are no trails and no landmarks. When the road leaves the Payette the traveler has come a score of miles. It is afternoon and the men on horseback are all talked out. As the day grows old they ride silently through the deep forest, and there rises in them that dumb intelligence which Nature gives to brutes; at such times men slough off language and by some quickened instinct know one another and each the other’s moods. Many days and weeks and months of this will knit men closer than blood ties. The word partner to a miner or a forest-dweller has a meaning beyond its business significance. When a grunt or a shrug will start an hour’s mute debate or end it the things one calls the souls of men have been welded firmly, and the influence of such a union may not be ended in a lifetime. In cities and towns, jostling in cars, elbowing in offices, crowded in shops, we grow calloused and do not touch our comrades save as cattle in a chute. But the spell of the woods dissolves the supercuticle of civilization and brings men back to primitive things, to first principles. A month in the forest or the mountains will uncover the man God made to his fellows and to himself, naked as a bone and as simple of understanding as a dog or a horse.

We came slowly over the Warrens road toward Resort and night came upon us long before we reached our journey’s end. So we rode for many hours through the forest in the darkness, and with that loneliest of earthly sounds ever in our ears, the sob of unseen waters in the woods at night, and the moaning of the pines. It is freezing cold in the Idaho woods at night in September, and when one is stiff from his first day’s ride on horseback, and aching and chilled through, a light twinkling through the aspens is unspeakably beautiful. Probably, if the mines of Thunder Mountain reveal after a winter’s work what they seem to hold, thousands of pilgrims will cover the ground between The Meadows and Warrens, so that a few words of advice about the route may be timely. Therefore the reader who expects to join the gold-seekers in the rush to Thunder Mountain is admonished to go by the way of Resort and its hot springs. It is the only place in the world, so far as this affiant knows, where one may get something worth having for nothing. They do not call it Resort out there, though that is the name of the post-office, They call it “Fred’s Place.” Fred Burdoff [sic] has been there forty years. He preempted the hot springs there a generation ago, before the Government stopped granting patents to lands containing mineral springs. Fred dug a hole at the mouth of the springs fifty feet wide and one hundred feet long and five feet deep. He walled up the hole with rough pine logs, and put a roof over his walls and made a free bathhouse there for all the people of Idaho. It is absolutely free, and the generous old German is proud of the fact that he has never charged a man for a towel or for the use of the bathhouse.

The Long Trail Over the Mountains

From Resort the ride down Sesesh [sic] Creek and over two hills to Warrens, about twenty miles, is made easily in three hours. Warrens is the last town on the trail. It is typical of its kind — an interior mining town, forty years old, suspicious of booms and new discoveries, sufficient unto itself, ramshackle, hopeless. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been taken from the placer fields near Warrens, and much more from the gold and silver mines on the hills about the town; half a dozen mines lie idle near the town — no one in Warrens cares to work them. Some Richmond, Virginia, people came to town and opened up the Silver King not long ago, and have uncovered half a million dollars’ worth of ore in a few months. No one in Warrens is surprised. Every one knew the ore was there, but no one worked. No one is enthusiastic about it. No one cares. They outfit for Thunder Mountain at Warrens; pack trains loaded with groceries and supplies worm over the hills for the new gold-fields every day. The two or three merchants in Warrens are getting rich, but they are not interested in the gold at the foot of the rainbow. You will hear less about Thunder Mountain at Warrens, the last town on the trail, than you will hear in Salt Lake City five hundred miles away. Warrens is a log town with a few false fronts of lumber. At the tavern the wayfarer is introduced to the bear-grass bedtick, a practical substitute for a mattress. Bear grass grows rank and abundant all over the mountains, and deceives many travelers, who try to feed it to their horses. Unless a horse is nearly starved he will not touch it, for it is full of colic and its way leads down to death. But a tick full of it is the only luxury there is in the mountains. It is even better than a spruce-bough bed, and there are sybarites who make the base or foundation of their bed of pine overlaid with spruce and on that lay a tick of bear grass, but these choice spirits are few, for a rough road and a hard day’s work put feathers in any bed.

The wagon road ends at Warrens and the trail begins. The first day’s journey on the trail is not so bad; here and there a rock has been kicked out of the way and a log moved off. There are even tin cans at the springs on this first day’s ride; but after that men have picked the tin cans up; they become precious, and the man who finds one leaves those who follow to use their hats or sip in the pool or go dry, and the rocks that one man can climb over, at peril of his life, may kill the next man — that is his lookout. Life is too short and powder too expensive to waste it blowing out rocks on the trail for the hindermost — he’s the devil’s meat, anyway. From the top of Shafer’s Hill, which is four miles by the trail from Warrens, to the Valley of the South Fork of the Salmon River is 4000 feet. The drop is made in six miles. It’s a pretty steep incline, and when a man makes it limping, pulling a leg-weary cayuse plug by the bridle, with a pack train kicking the dust in his face so that he has no breath to swear and has to sweat it out ; when he makes it at night and has to guess at the trail, with his life-insurance as the prize for a wrong guess, if his feet are inclined to get cold the temperature will drop somewhere on that hill, and if it does not drop there, when he reaches the bottom and suddenly whirls around the corner of the hill and finds himself on a ten-inch path with a big, burly, unsympathetic mountain on his right and the South Fork three hundred feet almost sheer below, he can see the frost gather on his shoes. For the road is on a level and a tired man is on his horse, and if he gets off on the mountain side of his horse the horse will begin bucking, and if he gets off on the white man’s side it is three hundred feet to a good landing place — rather too long a distance for one jump. And besides, he might miss the river and hit a rock with the upholstering gone. And at the end of a three-hundred-feet jump that would be an unhappy place to stop. Coming back over that part of the trail in the daytime and with due warning, and with the river on the “Injun” side of the horse, it does not seem so bad. But at night to have it thrust under a man’s nose without warning, that mile-and-a-half jog seems like a tryst with death. But at the end of the ride there is always a warm supper at Jack Shafer’s and a merry company coining into the land of gold or going out; and there is much talk of strikes and leads, and at the end of it all there is a bear-grass mattress with a ten-million-dollar dream in it, all for fifty cents.

The Passing of the Last Amenities

Shafer’s is the last ranch house on the trail. A number of amenities disappear when a man leaves Shafer’s, notably children and women, and eggs and fresh milk, and earthenware dishes and lamps, and newspapers less than a week old, and fresh vegetables and politics. But for all that, life does not lose its interest. As one rounds the hill from the South Fork and goes up the Elk Creek trail there are many things to keep one from going to sleep. Because the hills of Idaho are earth-covered, and not scarred with cliffs and crags, people used to the Rockies are deceived. The dangerous places on the Rockies are the stony places; the dangerous places on the Idaho mountains often are the steep, earthy hillsides. Colorado packers first coming into the Thunder Mountain country used to tail their packs — that is, tie one mule’s head to the back of the mule in front. Dozens of pack trains were lost this spring before the Colorado packers learned that the Idaho hills were steeper than they looked. There are miles of trail between Shafer’s and Thunder Mountain where the path crosses hills rising at an angle of fifty-five degrees. When one animal of a tailed pack train began to stumble on the trail at that angle, the whole train was in danger, and train after train has been dumped into Elk Creek and lost. When the water is high and fording impossible there is a point on the Elk Creek trail where the earth is entirely worn off the path, and horses have to walk ten feet across rock slanting sixty degrees, with the Elk River writhing and foaming and hissing two hundred feet below like a monster snake, dying with its white belly turned skyward and its green body curling in sheeny rapids behind some great boulder. When a man is on the horse and the horse is jigging and slipping and mincing his way across those slanting rocks above the stream, he can see floral anchors and carnation pillows and white roses dance before his eyes like a moving picture. But generally a man who has any sense gets off the horse when he comes to one of those ticklish places. But the trouble is one never knows just when he is going to find one. It may turn up with the next step of the horse, or it may be a mile farther on; or on a perfectly plain path, midway between the blue sky and Elk Creek, the horse may poke his nose around the tail of a ridge and find a big rock in the path. If his left foot is next to the mountain he can get off the horse; if not he can stay on and either pull the horse up the hill around the rock, or risk his neck by letting the horse scamper over it. The result of these impediments in the trail is that a man rides mostly with his toes in the stirrup, like an Englishman, and keeps his eyes glued to the path in front of him. He has no time for scenery. Probably there is more beautiful scenery left absolutely unused and as good as new on the Elk Creek trail than anywhere in the country. If it could only be gathered up and brought to some gently rolling country like the Rocky Mountains, where people could see it from a cog road, it would make its finder a fortune.

Naturally, on the Elk Creek trail men do not engage in airy persiflage. The ride is generally made in silence, and even swearing stops. Mathematicians have figured it out that more praying has been done on the ten miles of the Elk Creek trail than on any other ten miles in Idaho. Men who have come along this trail when it was full of frozen snow or slippery slush say they shall remember that trip when they have been dead three hundred years, and will never venture over it in April without a rope, even though they are angels with wings. Yet no one ever was killed on the trail by falling, but hundreds have been scared out of ten years’ growth; so it has reduced the life rate even if it hasn’t been fatal. At the thought of going out many a strong man has dallied with the temptation to stay in till a railroad shall come. But as he goes farther into the country other cañons yawn at him, and the memory of Elk Creek fades, or by comparison rises like a dream of peace. It’s all in getting used to it, as the man said going through the threshing machine.

Near the head of Elk Creek is the spring where travelers stop to eat their luncheons. There one bids farewell to light bread if he has been wise enough to ask Owen, the Chinaman at Shafer’s, to make a sandwich. For in Thunder Mountain men do the cooking, and the prevailing bread is a stuff called bannock, made of water, flour and baking powder —a kind of cross between chicken food and a flapjack. There never was a man who could cook anything who couldn’t make a flapjack, and when he can put in the base, as it were, with his left hand, and make it harmonize in bannock, the average man thinks he is a camp cook ; just as the average High School girl thinks she is ready for Life’s Duties when she can make angel-food cake and two kinds of fudge. On a busy day three or four outfits would be sitting on the grass at the head of Elk Creek eating luncheon, the pack animals browsing up the gulley and the men trading news of the world for news of the gold-fields. For the Elk Creek trail was a highway of commerce this year and men met there from “every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball”: round-headed Finns, brown-eyed Welshmen, “cousin Jacks,” Micks, big-fisted Dutchmen, lean cow-punchers and fat bartenders, little Chinamen and big Englishmen; and as the bells of the pack mules tinkled memories of home for the travelers, images were conjured there from the uttermost parts of the earth. From Elk Creek the trail rises abruptly to Elk Summit, and much of the way lies through burned timber. It is a desolate way; the naked bleached trees stand up like gray spectres, and the gray volcanic ashes that make the soil, and the gray granite stones that bulge through give the scene the atmosphere of long-forgotten death, death without sorrow. It is a cheerless place, and depresses men as they ride through it; but it is only the vestibule to the black despair of a recently burned forest, where all the tree-trunks are charred, and the underbrush stands blackened and the earth is covered with black mould. As we rode through this gloom with its grimness upon us there came from far up the mountain the voice of a man singing. We knew it was a song before we could tell what the man was singing, for the thin wire of tune seemed to tangle in the trees, and we could not hold the strain. But soon the voice came nearer and filled the blackness as with a light ; he was evidently running down the hill pell-mell, for his breath was a trifle short at times. In another moment he had burst through the black background, and we saw a great hulking man with a whole summer’s crop of pick-and shovel whiskers lamming a dilatory mule with a push-pole, and we heard him roaring from the core of his heart, “Home — home, Swe-e-et, Sweet home,” and we lifted our hats and cheered him as he passed. Whereupon the despair of the place went away and we rode merrily into the green woods and up the hill toward the sky-line.

In the Path of the Avalanche

At Elk Summit the character of the country changes. We had been riding two days through a granite country with here and there a little lava running over it. But on Elk Summit the granite stopped and the rocks, which grew barer and balder upon the hills, were porphyry. For many miles from the Summit one could see yellow hills, stained often with iron and sometimes with copper. Great raw places torn by snowslides revealed porphyry drift, ash-white or brown or yellow, and gashes down a mountain’s pine hide showed the red ledge outcropping. For several miles down the hill the trail lay through the paths of snow-slides, and once beside the path we saw the clothes of men who were killed last March in a slide. There were three killed, and one who faced the avalanche and jumped upon it as on an approaching wave was saved. The others who ran were borne under and crushed. When they found the bodies a week later the snow was melted all about one poor fellow by the heat of his body. He must have lived several days out there alone with his bones broken. When Nature hides her gold she is often cruel to those who seek her treasures. But her cruelties do not stop others, for the caravan has been passing that little heap of clothes by the trail all summer and none of the gold-seekers have been stopped by it. The trail down from Elk Summit to Big Creek lies through a dreary waste. Even in autumn when the mountains should be beautiful there is little to charm one away from the desolation of the scarred hills. The tracks of the snowslides show one how steep are the mountains, who is perhaps tricked by the forest about him into forgetting the slant of the hills above him and below him; and the roar of the innumerable mountain streams fills one’s ears and proves what a downward plunge the waters must be taking. In spring one who comes out of this wilderness may hear that roar in fancy above the clatter of wagons and cars and the boom of trade in great city. Those who have heard it then say that it haunts one for weeks like a dreadful dream. And they say that one who has heard the terrific crash of a snow-slide can hear it all his life. There is no other sound on earth so awful. The slide is the one thing they fear in the Thunder Mountain country. Man can conquer everything else. A capitalist from Pennsylvania who has seen the kittenish little slides of that country blew into Thunder Mountain and started to open a camp on Lava Creek. He picked out the place for his cabin, but the foreman objected that it was in the track of a slide. The man suggested building a forty-foot bulkhead across the track, but the foreman, who was an eloquent man, shook his head and said sadly: “No, no, that’s too much trouble; just pin up a trespass notice. That will do as well!”

Between Shafer’s and Thunder Mountain, a distance of sixty miles, there is no place of public entertainment for man or beast. If the wayfarer cannot persuade some miner to divide his cabin, the wayfarer will have to sleep out. There were no miners to persuade until this August, so most of the gold-seekers camped out for one or two nights. That is what made tin cans so valuable on the trail. Until a man has had to shift for himself, without an elaborate cooking outfit, he does not know how many uses there are for a harmless, necessary tomato can. It serves as coffee-pot, stewpan, cup and saucer, and water-glass. An ordinary shovel also makes an excellent frying-pan, and there are men so expert that they can also make gravy on it, and by covering it with ashes bake biscuits on it. A man never knows until he tries to get along without them how independent he is of the fortifications civilization has put before him to protect him from manual work. Of a cold, starry morning on the trail, coffee tied in a sack and pounded with a little rock on a big one is as well ground as with a patent grinder. Arm an American citizen with a stout pocket-knife, equip him with a slab of bacon and a few pounds of flour, set him astride a cayuse plug, and it will surprise his friends to find how far he can go into the wilderness. And every mile he goes from Shafer’s to Thunder Mountain he learns selfreliance, and that is the important element in character. Riding a cayuse through the solitude one keeps his eyes fixed between the horse’s ears, but his mind has time to see the soul of things as they are, down at the base of life. One finds why the simple life in which every man is more or less dependent upon his own actions for his daily bread gives a community strength and makes an army invincible. On the trail, alone, one understands better than in a great crowd in towns that individualism is the heritage that America got from the Indian; perhaps it is in the soil or the climate or that mysterious intangible something we call “environment,” but certainly wherever American character is typically vigorous it shows the self-reliance of the man on the trail. And the mountains and the plains, and the farms and the railroads, and the mines of this country are schools where this raw, ready courage is taught. A cowboy was riding down an Idaho mountainside. His horse tripped and fell. The rider’s feet were in the stirrups; he could not kick them loose; in the second that the horse was getting ready to rise the man saw that he should be kicked to death if the horse ever got up. Before the horse had stiffened his forepaws the man had drawn his gun and shot the horse dead. Two seconds spent ii n deciding what to do would have cost that cowboy his life. A man going through a daily routine, with nothing to do in the morning but to turn on the heat, who finds his courage put to a test when he squats in a bathtub of cold water, may have an academic admiration of courage, but when the time comes to use courage and judgment with the precision of a machine, if he fails the failure is fatal. It is a hopeful sign that the majority of the gold-seekers in Thunder Mountain are American-born. At Hunter’s cabin, the first night out from Shafer’s, they built a big campfire, and around it sat Hunter, a mining expert from Nevada; Hollister, a capitalist from New York ; Lucas, a Texas oil boomer; Call, a Warrens politician, Seibre, a prospector from Seattle; Perine, a teacher from Chicago; Watson, a Klondike man; Crown of Coeur D’Alene, and Howland, a California Irishman — all men with at least one generation of free institutions in their blood. European blood is good blood, but it makes a man happy to see that American institutions do not make his own people flabby and afraid of a draft.

The Frontier Theory of Materia Medica

We talked of these things as we lay with our feet pointed toward Hunter’s campfire, and Seibre told us of the hardships of the winter in Thunder Mountain, of the trips on skees and snow-shoes, of the perils of the April journey, when men fear to bat their eyes lest it should start a snow-slide. And finally, as he warmed up to the work, he related how a miner’s life was saved by the presence of mind of the foreman during the winter on Mule Creek. The miner was taken suddenly ill, with symptoms of cholera morbus. The directions on the medicine chest prescribed number fifteen for cholera morbus, but when the foreman went for number fifteen he found the bottle empty, and with that rare instinct born of a life on the frontier quickly poured half a teaspoonful of number ten and half a teaspoonful of number five into a tin cup, added sugar and water, administered the dose and brought the suffering man out of his pain in short order. Later Seibre tried to convince the crowd that the mosquitoes are so big in the Yellow Pine basin that hunters mistake mosquito tracks at the spring for grouse tracks, and that at night mosquitoes get so thick that one has to throw a rock through them to make a hole so that he can see if the horses are all right. But one could tell that this story was not received with that gaping credulity which Seibre had hoped would welcome it. We went to bed feeling that he had tried to impose on us; the element of improbability in his story worked against Seibre. If he had merely said that the mosquitoes had sat on logs and barked at the horses, his story would have been trimmed with that adornment of verisimilitude which makes a counterfeit pass current, till it strikes the man who bites.

In the morning we set out on our journey over the hills and far away. It is thirty-five miles from Hunter’s cabin on a fork of Logan Creek to Roosevelt, at the base of Thunder Mountain. There is not a stretch of two hundred consecutive yards in the whole way where one may gallop a horse. The road goes straight up. or straight down from Big Creek to Thunder Mountain. It is a desolate way in the main — through miles of dead forests, over bleak hillsides covered with decomposed porphyry and yellow ashes, down blue-gray cañons walled with gray rock that is not granite, across long, steep wooded mountains and by lakes that lie in the desolation of the place, mute and radiant, like angels’ souls cast into a pit. As the procession of gold-hunters winds across this wilderness, and past Snow-slide Peak, the bleakest and highest of the Salmon River mountains, it is silent of any bird-call, save the raucous jeer of the Camp Robber, as he whirls along the path mocking the wayfarers. By the time one has ridden four or five days on this trail his conversation has dried in him and he becomes a kind of moving vegetable. No dangers arouse him, no beauty thrills him. The lavender haze that covers the hills and deepens into purple in the arroyos may delight his soul, but he is silent as the solitude about him. Deep speaks unto deep in the dumb eloquence of perfect peace. There seem to be hours, though of course that is the spell of the time and place, when the shrilling of the pack-train bell is hushed and the slipping, sliding of the horses’ feet in the cluttered trail ceases and one appears to be going forward through a strange, wild place as though he were moving on the unstable gossamer of a dream.

When the trail drops into the cañon of Monumental Creek the insistent babble of the stream, stained with tailings from the Dewey mine many miles above, forces the world and reality into the pilgrim’s mind, and the daydreams vanish. For in the cañon half a score of trails meet from as many hills, and other travelers join the procession bound for the foot of the rainbow. The horses that have come this way with packs or with men on their backs are tired to desperation. And the last fifty miles of the trail is a boneyard. Hundreds of poor beasts have dropped in their places and their carcasses have been pushed out of the way for the vultures and the wolves to feed upon. Monumental Gulch is the last long pull before reaching the journey’s end, and the pack-drivers who swing into the main trail along the Gulch take new hope and revive their languishing vocabulary of saw-toothed profanity.

Pirates swore to cauterize their souls against the prick of conscience for their own misdeeds; but the pale cast of thought of a pirate with his sword in his teeth, his pistols in his hands and his toes sloshing in gore is to the sonorous, diaphanous, diabolical snorts of the Idaho packer as the soporific cackle of the helpful hen to the cyclone’s roar of wrath. And the packer who releases all this rage may not be a wicked man nor an impious man. Old man Bull, who packs from Warrens to Roosevelt, who has sworn every tooth out of his head, and who may be heard on a clear day over half of Idaho, is a good man and pious at heart as a monk. But his mules require high-potency profanity and he makes a virtue out of necessity. Throw the ordinary pneumatic cussword of commerce at a pack-mule and he will not brush his tail in response. Curse him with the milk-and water maledictions of a railroad section-boss and a burro will change his weight from one shoulder to the other, but will not move. Pound him raw with spiked clubs and your arm will weary before you have driven him a mile. Only the concentrated essence of all the blasphemy of the greaser, the dago, the Siwash Indian and the abandoned white man, poured like a boiling poison into his drooping ear, will keep the motor of the pack-mule moving. They say that old man Bull’s journals get so hot that his language often starts forest fires, but there is no well authenticated case where this has happened.

As the footpath climbs up the Monumental Creek Gulch one sees why the creek bears its name. For men in the mountains throw their names at things with skill and precision. The cañon is a gallery of monuments. Nature has cut quaint capers, with erosions and with earthquakes and with fire and flood, and the rocks along the way have taken fantastic shapes. When this gulch is well known of men the photographs of these monuments will be as familiar in depots and hotels and railway guide-books as are the stone freaks of the Garden of the Gods or of the Great Stone faces of the Eastern hills.

The Pilgrim’s Untiring Persistency

A mile from the town of Roosevelt, the only town in the gold-fields, the trail rises into a forest. Here, a few months ago, a forest fire raged, but did not check travel. Pack-train after pack-train scooted through the blazing timber, with burning trees crashing across the path, and the fires bursting from the canvas-covered packs upon the animals, and smoking brands dropping on the shoulders of the men. But gold is an exacting mistress, and when she beckons men rise and follow. If it be through fire, they enter the pit without faltering. And so into these gold-hills the trails from the uttermost parts of the earth have been spilling their human flood. Men have come on snow-shoes in winter and spring, and in summer have waded torrents; all have passed through perils and have walked along precipices touching elbows with death. Other crusades have had their insignia and their badges; but the crusaders of Thunder Mountain wore the strangest badge of all. It was a pack on the back rampant, held in place by blue overalls, couchant, with the legs crossed on the wearer’s breast and pinned to the rear elevation behind. Day after day these crusaders hit the trail and kept it hot through freezing weather. And night after night they lay out under the stars on their spruce beds, and such was the enchantment of the crusade that the pines and firs and tamarack trees lifted into arches and domes and graceful columns, and, before the alkali patch on the milky way had been worn bald by the dead weight of night, these crusaders of Thunder Mountain closed their eyes and “dwelt in marble halls with vassals and serfs” at their sides. And it came to pass that some of these crusaders did find the foot of the rainbow at Thunder Mountain, and now they are digging for the pot of gold.

Editor’s Note — The next installment will be about the town of Roosevelt and the Thunder Mountain mines. The third paper will cover the Big Creek division of the Thunder Mountain district where the recent marvelous strikes have been made.

source: Saturday Evening Post Part 1 – November 8, 1902
(requires subscription)

Further Reading

Link to Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History Index Page
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 1)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 2)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 3)
Link to A Tenderfoot on Thunder Mountain (part 4)

Idaho History Aug 7, 2022

1950 Stibnite Letter

Letter from J.J. Oberbillig to J. D. Bradley

October 13, 1950

Mr. J. D. Bradley
Executive Vice President
Bradley Mining Company
Stibnite, Idaho (Mailed to Bradley Field, Boise.)

Dear Mr. Bradley:

In order to complete the list of questions submitted by you for the school children, concerning the history of the Stibnite country, I am going to run off remarks from my memory and besides I will enclose one of my letters to the stockholders dated February 25, 1927, which is just about the time I first submitted the property to your father, F. W. Bradley.

1. The first question, I think, can best be answered by stating that all of the discoveries made in the vicinity of both Stibnite and Cinnabar and the East Fork deposit, which is a great open pit mine on the lower end of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, should be credited to the old time prospectors who are the ones that are deserving of this credit for all the discoveries which made it possible for me to outline and follow the strike and courses of these vast and interesting deposits.

2. The Meadow Creek mine at Stibnite was extensively developed by the United Mercury Mines Company and the mining of the ore was undertaken by the Yellow Pine Syndicate during the year of 1931.

3. Both Mr. Bailey and myself planned to name this section of the country for the purpose of obtaining a post office. Our first name was Bradley. After we discovered there was such a post office in Idaho, we decided upon the name of Stibnite.

4. The first road was constructed by the Yellow Pine Syndicate from the Profile Creek to the Meadow Creek mine in Stibnite during the years of 1928-1929.

5. The discovery of antimony and tungsten also dates back to the old time early prospectors, all of which was done on the surface and consisted of shallow open cuts and short tunnels. The first real tungsten deposit was disclosed through the drilling program of both the Bureau of Mines and the Geological Survey.

6. The first adequate machinery was brought over the Thunder Mountain road and down the range following on the West side of South Meadow Creek to the Meadow Creek mine during 1928. This consisted of a 30 Caterpillar Tractor and compressor.

7. The first dog team to be driven into Stibnite was by John Nickelson accompanied by the writer.

8. United Mercury Mines Company.

9. The store was constructed in 1928 by the Yellow Pine Syndicate. The building of the recreation hall, hospital, school house, smelter and airport were done by the Bradley Mining Company under the supervision of John D. Bradley, Executive Vice President.

10. The first mill was constructed by the Yellow Pine Syndicate during the year of 1930, under the direction of Mr. F. W. Bradley.

11. The first mail was carried in from Yellow Pine by the workmen for the United Mercury Mines Company, up to and including the years 1918-1927, and thereafter the mail was carried by dog team either by John Nickelson or whoever desired to make the trip to Yellow Pine.

12. The writer does not recall the name of the first teacher. However, you will note from the enclosed report that for quite a number of years the first school house was in the left wing of the building shown in the picture of the report of February 25, 1927.

13. These places were named under the supervision of the United Mercury Mines Company. There was Meadow Creek, East Fork Deposit, and the Cinnabar Mine.

14. Virgil Adair flew the first airplane into camp and from then on the mail and supplies were carried by airplane through the winter months. First George Stonebreaker, then A. A. Bennett and finally Johnson Flying service from the Cascade airport to the Stibnite airport.

15. There were a lot of bosses during the progress of development of this field. As to the doctors, and nurses, consult the records of the hospital.

16. For first baby born at Stibnite, consult the hospital. Previous to the time of the hospital, the first child may have been one of the William Newell’s.

17. The reservoir above South Meadow Creek was constructed by the Yellow Pine Syndicate under the supervision of George Worthington and Andy Anderson.

18. The Yellow Pine Syndicate constructed the first hydro-electric power plant from the South Meadow Creek reservoir to the mill.

The second power plant was constructed at Sugar Creek during 1929-1930, also by George Worthington and Lloyd C. White.

19. The first settlement in the Stibnite section of the country never exceeded over four men and now and then a woman cook. The first building in Stibnite and Meadow Creek is the one you see in the United Mercury Mines Company report of February 25, 1927.

20. There were several pack outfits that passed through this country but the principal packing to this field in the early days was done by the writer and with a pack string that consisted of anywhere from 8 to 20 horses.

21. This is answered by No. 20 also.

Trusting that the foregoing gives you the information desired I am

Very truly yours,
United Mercury Mines Company
J. J. Oberbillig, President

2 cc enclosed.

courtesy Sandy McRae (personal correspondence)

[*Note: unable to find the letter with the questions he is replying to, or the United Mercury Mines Company report of February 25, 1927.]
— — — — — — — — — —


1950 Halloween at the Stibnite School

1951 Stibnite School photo

Stibnite Residents (date unknown)

Stibnite Picnic (date unknown)

Photos courtesy Sandy McRae (personal correspondence)

Further Reading

Link to John D Nicholson A Stibnite Story by Bob Clarkson
Link to 1930 Bradley Meadow Creek Report
Link to 1943 Letters to Stibniters
Link to Stibnite, Idaho 1940s Mining Camp Memories
Link to Stibnite 1949 Radio Script Part 1
Link to Stibnite 1949 Radio Script Part 2
Link to Stibnite 1949 Radio Script Part 3
Link to Stibnite History Index

Idaho History July 31, 2022

1948 Stibnite Mine Roads


Payette Lake Star January 15, 1948

Truck Drivers Having Difficulty On Stibnite Road

Cascade, January 15 — The untimely three day rainy spell which hit this area late last week played havoc with the Stibnite roads and caused considerable inconvenience to the drivers.

Johnny Nock, driver of the Stibnite Stage, reports that he left Cascade Tuesday morning for Stibnite, and things went smoothly until he left Yellow Pine. This stretch of road is usually dangerous because of rock slides, and as he got within a couple of miles of Hopeless Point, a big slide slid in just ahead of him — about six feet deep and thirty feet wide. After backing up and taking a run at it time after time, he finally had it worked down enough to drive on over it. Then right at Hopeless point, another slide came in behind him, close enough to give him a thrill.

He left Landmark about 8 a.m. on his way out the next morning (Monday) and it was necessary for the rotary to pull him over Warm Lake summit. He was met by the jeep driven by Lee Watson in Scott Valley about 3 p.m., where he left the stage with Watson and drove the jeep and the mail to Yellow Pine. The roads were so slick between Yellow Pine and Stibnite that he couldn’t stay on the road, so he stayed in Yellow Pine that night and went on to Stibnite the next morning when it wasn’t quite so slippery.

But it isn’t just the stage driver that gets the hard knocks. This instance was recounted concerning the truckers: On a trip to Stibnite Bud Harp started up a hill, followed by Carney, when a truck stalled in front of Bud’s truck causing him to put on the brakes so suddenly that the truck back of him rammed into him smacking one headlight off and guaging [sic] a hole in the side of the door. The truck in front received a broken oil pump in the fracas and Bud Harp pulled and Carney pushed him on to Yellow Pine, where he unloaded his load of coal onto Milton Burlile’s truck and went on into Stibnite.

This trip is dangerous at any time, but at this time of year, it is particularly hazardous. So when you hear the big diesel engines roaring out of town in the chill of a winter night, just remember that Bud Harp, Milton Burlile, Lloyd Marnella, Barney Skogerson, Jake Smith, Sam Stillwell, Jerry May, Sasner, and Bobby Hoobler aren’t in a nice cozy bed like you are, but are starting out on a long, cold trip where most anything can happen – and usually does.

source: City of McCall Laserfiche Public Portal
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– Whitmore Photo
This is a 939 Chevrolet Suburban, used by Carl Whitmore to haul the mail and passengers to Stibnite. This was maybe one of the first rigs Carl used to haul mail to the mine. I suppose there are many people who can remember traveling in this bus.

– Whitmore Photo
This was Carl Whitmore’s 1945 Ford Special-built mail and passenger stage from Cascade to Stibnite. This picture was taken on the rote to Stibnite. The printing just below the windows reads “Cascade, Warm Lake, Landmark, Yellow Pine and Stibnite.” Carl took over the mail route on July 20th, 1944 and turned it over to Ray Arnold in 1988. I didn’t ask Carl how many years he used this bus, but I do know many types of vehicles were used.

– Leonard Photo
Truck Number 9 was converted to a tanker after Gordon MacGregor bought the trucks. A snowplow was added during the winter months to help plow the road. This pictures was taken while plowing the rim of Warm Lake Summit after a wet storm. With one truck pushing, they were eight hours opening the rim of Warm Lake. Frank Leonard drove the number 9 truck and Bobby Harrison drove the pusher truck.

– Leonard Photo
Frank Leonard was the driver of truck #9 when wet, heavy snow sucked the plow into the ditch on Warm Lake Summit.

from: “83 Miles of Hell The Stibnite Ore Haul 1942 to 1952”
by Duane L. Petersen
Valley County Museum and Bookstore link:

Further Reading

Link to Stibnite History Index Page