Sunday, January 23, 2011


Northern Pacific Railroad Depot at Heron, Montana (circa 1890s.) Courtesy Elizabeth Larson Weber collection.
Prospectors had continued to climb the rugged mountainous region, struggling into impossible canyons, always at the mercy of nature's forces, dependent on their own resourcefulness, or that of their partners, if they had any. Many were trying to re-orient a life disrupted by the Civil War, or the earlier lure of the California gold rush that had taken them from homes and loved ones. Others had social, political or religious motives for pursuing the elusive fantastic strike. The railroad building era, itself, and the desire to see the lands populated, had brought foreign immigrants in vast numbers. All were searching for something.

A great stroke of good fortune befell the Northern Pacific Railroad when gold was discovered in the high Coeur d'Alene mountains of Idaho at Prichard and Eagle City just as their line was being completed through the Clark Fork valley.1.

The railroad promoters capitalized on it with all manner of advertising to bring people west to where the railroad owned every other section of land twenty and forty miles each side of the tracks. Land that had timber to log. Land that could be sold to pay for the cost of building the railroad.

Posters, newspapers, flyers, magazines; every way possible was used to tell of the great riches waiting in the mountains. This caused a second rush of prospectors through the valley.

Thompson Falls, Belknap, Trout Creek and Heron each had the advantage of having a railroad station on the Northern Pacific railroad -- only a trail away from the gold discoveries at Prichard, Eagle City and Murray. Men flocked through the area in great numbers.

Thompson Falls was the railroad's preferred jumping off spot for the mines. They maintained a land office there. But there were other trails, other men who wanted the rich trade.

During the summer of 1883, Heron grew to a fair sized community of about 400 population.1. It was entirely a railroad town.2. Three general stores were in business: Savage and Reed, Kincaid, and the Northern Pacific Railroad store.3. There were five or six saloons and two hotels. Soon there were to be two restaurants.*3. Northern Pacific Railroad Company was building a large hotel.2. Chinese settled and grew excellent gardens. A town water system was installed to serve the businesses.4. The town needed a post office. Two story frame houses with fancy yards bespoke a different climate than the saloons on main street evoked.

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Caption: Heron (circa 1890s.) Courtesy Don Maynard collection.

The brand spanking new railroad was not without hazard. At a sharp curve by Elk Creek a wood train and a gravel train collided. Two Whites and eighteen Chinese were killed. Another twenty five Chinese were wounded.5.

Every ten miles the railroad had a depot to maintain and administer their business in these uncharted forested mountains. Some were sizeable buildings. Some had depot agents to sell tickets, send telegrams, and mind the railroads business of transporting. Others were only whistle stops. Some of these had small wooden frame buildings, approximately 10' x 12' where passengers could have shelter while waiting for the train. There were no agents here, and tickets would then be purchased on the train.6. Noxon had a depot, but offered no trails over the mountains to the mines, no lodgings or eating establishments for travelers.

Train wreck at Quinn's Cut (circa 1890s.) Courtesy William Finnigan collection.
A. A. Fairbairn became the first depot agent at Noxon, occupying the depots living quarters.*7. Andrew Knutson was the section foreman. The young Norwegian and his pretty, slim wife, Mary, lived in the two-story house. Many of the train crews stayed over between runs and Mrs. Knutson's table provided for them with the help of a Chinese cook.6.

A scattered population of about fifty were the inhabitants of Noxon the summer of 1883.8. The Montana Company built a sawmill one mile west of the railroad depot.9. The forest crowded close, thick and dense. The Northern Pacific railroad had put a dam on a nearby creek (which later would be named Pilgrim) to create gravity flow water to their water tanks, which supplied water for the steam engines. The first water tank was located between the depot and the section house on the south side of the tracks.10.

Noxon - "that curious name which is spelled probably like no other city or town in the world" ... was named after a Mr. Noxon, who was chief construction engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad at the time the road was built through in 1883.11. The tiny settlement was forming near the western border of a county nearly as large as the whole state of New York.

Depot stops Furlong, Tuscor and Tone City were east of Noxon. Fifteen miles east of Noxon, Tone City was the second railroad division point in Montana, where tie hackers, trappers and prospectors could fill their needs in saloons and stores. The railroad crews that manned the vast roundhouse and maintained the engines, cabooses and cars had lodgings in cabins and hotels. NPRR maintained a hospital. Activity at the blacksmith shop vibrated the mountain air.12.
Northern Pacific Railroad Division point and roundhouses at first town of Trout Creek, Montana. Referred to as Tone City and, later, as Larchwood. Courtesy Edna McCann collection.
In December, 1883, Peter Tone and Josephus Hamilton each took up 80 acres of homestead at the NPRR station at the mouth of Trout Creek. They had twelve men working for them on a trail up Trout Creek, over the rugged passes, into Idaho.13.

Downstream at Heron, H. J. "Bony" Davis and Fred Weeks were ahead of them. At a meeting in October they had raised $450 to build the new trail they had located from Heron to the mines at Pritchard (30 miles) and Eagle City (20 miles).14. Heron now had four restaurants, seven saloons and the railroad division building.

Andrew Johnson committed suicide. He laid on the railroad tracks and was run over. W. A. Shannon, Methodist, preached at Heron's Siding on Sunday to 20 of the population of between three and four hundred. The majority of the rest were in saloons where saloon keepers, Ira Hawes, William Fitz and Gus Smith served them a variety of liquors.15.

After James Campbell and Sam Morris were snowbound in November for five days on the trail from Heron to the new diggings at Pritchard, Dave Leamer and Fred Weeks tried to open it. But there was too much snow and the trail was reported to be too hazardous for winter travel.16.

A German lady bought James Kelly's right in the town site for $150, and Fred Fender opened a chophouse in late 1883. F. M. Dodge took out a mortgage on his saloon Sept. 20, 1883. He sold the bar, restaurant and two story frame Pioneer Hotel to Gustavus Smith on October 28.17.

Horse riding competition at Heron, Montana 4th of July celebration. Circa 1890s. Courtesy Georgia MacSpadden collection
The town was a blend of elegance and bunko elements. A newspaper said,
"At Heron the railroad company has built a hotel that for thoroughness in all its appointments is perhaps superior to any dining house owned by the company on the entire line ... All trains have the car wheels tapped to test for flaws, all change locomotive crews; all passengers eat, many stroll around to take in the romantic scenes, and while doing so they are frequently invited by the spider to 'walk into my parlor, Mr. Fly!'...
"A gang of the most expert bunko sharps infest the railway yards away up there mid the solitudes, where the lover of nature would say he could commune with God and get some news right fresh from Heaven. "When a train pulls into the yard the 'steerers' go through with some such baiting as this: Man with satchel rushes out from a saloon to board the cars; meets with acquaintance he hasn't seen for years; greets him warmly; postpones his journey, and invites his friend to partake of the hospitalities of his home.
"Spectators, tenderfeet, pilgrims, hollow-eyed men from Pike county, Missouri, from Hooppole township, Indiana, from Egypt, Illinois and the ague bottoms of Meredosha, seeking fortune or fame, or the medical lake waters that restore ... these stand by and witness the affectionate greeting ...
"Among the crowd there are always a few suckers for whom the angler does not have to bait so deft and debonair, as he does for the mountain trout; and these are soon towed in and taken under his escort up his winding stairway and done in for the frying pan in the further corner of the spider's web ... "18.
One such happenstance was described in the following news account,
"... the sucker who succumb to their wiles and craft, was a portly aldermanic looking, well fed and well wined minister of the gospel, who far from his flock, thought he had struck a surer thing than Grant and Ward's profits and could double his salary in a holy minute ..."18.
He lost his gold watch and chain, surplus funds from pew rents, and foreign mission funds.
"His attitude (toward his loss) did not excite any sympathy in the breasts of the bunko men. They chuckled over his dismay and whetted their appetites and greased their throats for more...."18.
Good eating was one reward the traveler could count on in these mountains. A restaurant tempted travelers by "serving genuine blue mountain grouse, pheasants, trout, salmon on trout, salmon, choice butter, rich cow's milk with oat meal mush, and everything bon-ton."19.

Logging at Heron, Montana, circa late 1890s. Courtesy Elizabeth Larson Weber collection.
Still, bunko was the name of the game and selling land ranked high with the schemers. Before long the railroad was publishing denials that it had sold a town site at Belknap, Thompson Falls' rival for the gold trails.
"NP denies that the Belknap Town and Improvement Company, C. C. Howell, President, acquired any land from the railroad for town site. Parties purchasing lots or lands in the said town of Belknap from the said Howell or E. O. Baker or from Belknap Town and Improvement Company or from grantees of said parties, or either of them, will do so at their own risk," appeared. It was signed by Chas. B. Lamborn, Land Commissioner, NP Railroad.20.
At the same time, Thompson Falls' expansion was touted; "Thompson Falls, which two months ago had no existence, is now a city of 2000-3000 people."20. Houses, tents, camp-outs, all resulting from the rush to the Coeur d'Alene mines, the NP railroad, and the Thompson Pass 'wagon road' leading to the mines.
"Among the three thousand people who have thus early found their way to the Coeur d'Alene mines, a large proportion are business men. They are men of means, of energy, of intelligence, who come here to obtain the first opportunities of investment, which are so desirable in all new camps. They are shrewd, thoroughly informed men, who eagerly compete with each other for the numerous business prizes, which are to be drawn in this great mining excitement lottery. 
"There are hundreds of laborers here. Hewers of wood, and men who are content to earn honest wages for honest work. They are stalwart, sinewy fellows, who toil early and late, in snow and storm or sunshine. These are they who are building cities in these desolate mountain wilds.
"There are gamblers here. Of that rest assured. There are hundreds of them. Gamblers of the genuine Bret Harte style. Men of large hearts, of generous impulses, men to whom, all of that are in camp, you would go first to ask a dollar with which to buy a meal. Men who would never refuse you so long as they had the dollar. Gamblers there are, too, who are not of that stamp. Men who are constantly begging stakes of the better class with which to fleece victims.
"And victims there are here. Lots of them. Some are workmen, and lose their wages every week. Some bring a little money with them to the Coeur d'Alene, and return home broke.
"The 'girls' are here, too, and more of them come every day or two. Some of them dress stylishly and wear silks and diamonds. Some dress coarsely and slovenly. Quite a number wear men's clothes, and walk the streets in garments which would excite the envy of Susan B. Anthony.
"Boys are here, mere youths not yet out of their teens. It is a terrible school for lads, yet they have come with the rest.
"There are old '49-ers here. Men whose hair and beard have been silvered in the tireless, persistent search for gold which will never end till life's close. They are prospectors, and you find them living a hermit's life in little cabins up lonely gulches.
"And the miners are here. The true, grand scaled old-time miners, with their blue shirts and open palmed hands. Their cabin, their fare, their blankets will be shared with the stranger just as it used to be in the golden days on the American and Yuba, just as it always has been where there were miners. If any class should be monarch among men, it is these same miners. They laugh at hardships and privations, they never think of shirking work or doing a dishonorable act, and when the dust is panned out, it goes as easily as water.
"By and by many a rough, hard character will come, many a bully, cutthroat, scoundrel, but so long as the miners are in the majority, the camp will be all right. The miners are the men upon whom depends the fate of the country, the men, of all others, who will rule the camp.
"Ah, yes, and another has come, the Angel of Death. Neither the snow nor the rugged mountain, nor the silent forests, nor the deep, dreary canyons could hide from him this newborn camp. He has come, and his pinions have borne some of our number beyond the worry and weariness of this struggle for gold. Under the hillside snow lie four of the boys who came eager and thirsting, little dreaming that their bodies evermore would rest among the gold dust they came to find. Yes, the Angel of Death is here, and scores and hundreds will acknowledge his presence ere the year closes, and next winter's snow will find them sleeping under the snow, among the golden swirls."21.
"During the winter of 1883, 5,000 people lived in Thompson Falls which was then little more than a tent village. The crowds were waiting for spring to open the trails for the rush into the newly discovered Couer d'Alene (sic) gold country. Twenty saloons operated in Thompson Falls that winter, among them the famous and notorious "Shades," where hundreds of newcomers were swindled out of their funds by the gamblers. One of the crooked gamblers operating at the "Shades" that winter was Jack McDonald, who was known throughout the west for his ability as a card sharp. One of the first large buildings erected in the town was a dance hall, which served as a hotel when the festivities of evening had closed.
"Leading light in the gay entertainments of the winter was one Bronco Liz, a dancehall queen from Dodge City, who dressed as a man and drove freight wagons during the summer months. Popular tunes of the day were Drunken Sailor, Shamus O'Brien, Buffalo Girls and Arkansas Traveler.
"Thompson Falls also knew its vigilantes during that memorable period and hanging threats were mailed to 25 men during the winter of 1884. Twenty-four of that number left without saying goodbye but one of them, Jim Hardy, hid out in a saloon. He was hunted down and when the vigilantes were just about to hang him they changed their minds and a collection was taken up and given to the man with the warning that he leave town immediately. He did. The Thompson Falls vigilantes used the famous symbol 3-7-77, which had been used by the vigilantes of Alder Gulch."21.
And of course some of these same men scattered down the Clark Fork valley, searching, struggling, and staying to find treasures other than gold
."The completion of the railroad brought a new era to the Clark Fork country. Sawmill towns grew up along the right-of-way and Chinese did much of the lumbering. Two communities close together battled for the location of the railroad station ... Belknap and Thompson Falls. The railroad favored Belknap, but the citizens of Thompson Falls changed that. To force the stopping of trains bringing settlers west they placed logs on the track and while the train crew was removing them a delegation was sent aboard to persuade the settlers to stay in Thompson Falls. The trick worked and soon the village was so much larger than Belknap that the railroad company was forced to make it a stop."22.
The vast stand of timber enticed some of them. Land, and the possibility of agriculture appealed to many as time went on. Lumberjacks and sawmills arrived. In January 1884 the Montana Improvement Company was reportedly turning out 50,000 cedar shingles a day at the Noxon mill.23. Clearings were hacked out and seeded to grow food for men and beasts.

Twenty-five miles east of the Idaho-Montana border on the railroad line, in January of 1884, Tone and Hamilton laid out a town site at Trout Creek, calling it Tone City.24. The next day deed records show that lots in Tone City were sold to Jonathan Baker and to W. R. Campbell and Company.25. By February James Dixson's Lodging House, managed by Mrs. Anderson, was advertising at Tone City, Trout Creek. That same month L. C. Tuott opened a restaurant at Trout Creek, "said population of 500, a hurdy-gurdy with ten dancing partners." Two general merchandise stores existed. Lynch and McDiarmid ran one and Shelton and Company owned the other.26.

Logging at Heron, Montana. Circa late 1890s. Courtesy Elizabeth Larson Weber collection.
 January 7, 1884 Heron's first post office was created. William J. Quirk was appointed postmaster.27. On April 30, the county commissioners at Missoula approved a toll ferry for Heron, granting Gustavus Patrick and Nicholas Bluerock, the baker, the right to operate it.28. Located one and a half miles north of the NPRR depot, it was primarily to serve prospectors crossing the river.

In July, Miss Wood was the first person to die in Heron of natural causes.29. By August the new three and a half-story railroad hotel with rooms for 300 was opened. "The hotel cost $40,000 to build. It was operated by the dining car department of the railroad and all flunkies serving in it were colored."30.

The railroad continued to promote the trails over the rugged mountains between Thompson Falls and the discoveries being made in Idaho as the preferred route to riches. The Frontier Index, a newspaper published in Thompson Falls, printed weekly articles to that aim, flagrantly disparaging other access routes.
"The Belknap trail is so narrow between the trees and the spruce swamp that the packers could not get full-sized animals through, and therefore they have sent for a carload of little Mexican burros - jackasses - one size larger than jack-rabbits."31.
A trip into the Coeur d'Alene placer discoveries via Thompson Pass in 1884 was not an easy accomplishment, according to Eugene Smalley, who wrote about one such trip he made,
"The best way to visit the mines is to go in on the trail from Thompson Falls, over the mountains, and come out by way of the river, floating down the swift current in a canoe. As a mode of travel the canoe is much more comfortable than a Cayuse pony, but on the other hand, it is much more risky. The tourist can avoid the canoe, but the only alternative to the pony is going afoot.
"My companion and I set out from Thompson's Falls one morning, mounted on sorry nags, and dragging a pack animal along, Indian fashion, by a rope attached to his neck and twisted about his lower jaw. We turned to take a last look at the broad, green river, slipping along to the foaming, roaring rapids, at the raw little shanty town beyond, which has three hundred inhabitants and thirty saloons, and at the near horizon of mountain summits, and then entered the forest.
"You can't get off the trail, unless you cut your way out with an axe," were the parting words of the owner of the ponies."
He was right. Nothing less nimble than a deer could wend easily through the jungle of the fallen trunks and underbrush that covered the ground between the tall pines, tamaracks and cedars.
"This superb forest of the Pend Oreille is a vast lumber preserve for future generations. The bull pine is the predominant tree; but there is considerable white pine, tamarack and fir, and in places the cedar excludes all other trees and attains a surprising girth and height.
"Following a trail through the gloomy solitudes of this wilderness is not a cheerful proceeding. The sky is rarely visible and there are no sounds to break the stillness, save the roar of a torrent, or a crashing in the underbrush and a whiffing grunt that tell of the retreat of a bear. There are incidents of fording streams, scrambling over rocks, and plunging through mire. In our case there was the adventure of running the gauntlet through a forest fire. There were flames on both sides of the trail. There was no way of getting around them with the horses, and it was a question of turning back or dashing through; so the little caravan was put to a gallop, and after an exciting minute in the smoke, came out with no damage, save some singeing of hair.
"If the traveler be tough and well mounted he can go in a day's hard ride from Thompson's Falls to Murray, the chief mining camp; but one unused to the saddle gets all the journey he wants for one day when he reached a half-way station called Mountain House, where there is a clearing big enough to see the sky through. A log hotel, a store in a tent, two canvas lodging houses, and three saloons give the place quite an urban look. The hotel has two rooms--the front room being the bar, sleeping apartment, and sitting room, and the rear division the kitchen and dining room. The sleeping accommodations consist of two tiers of berths, in which tamarack poles serve as springs, and pine boughs as mattresses.
"Half a dollar seemed a reasonable price to the tired wayfarers for the privilege of spreading their blankets on the boughs and enjoying the sense of shelter and the pleasant warmth of a fire burning without stove or chimney, in the middle of the room, and send its column of smoke up through a big square hole in the roof.
"Of the fare served in the other apartment by the dignified, military looking gentleman who acted as cook it can truthfully be said that, if not choice, it was abundant, and the flapjacks were beyond criticism. In the days of the stampeders and the toboggan trains, this was the only house on the trail, and a blessed haven of rest it seemed to many a poor fellow struggling through the snow.
"The forest grew denser. The day before it seemed as if trees could not grow closer together than they did along that part of the trail, but higher up they stood in such serried array that a pack mule could not squeeze through between them. Away up in the air some two hundred feet was a little slit through which the sky could be seen. It was like looking out of a deep crevice. The trail grew more and more abrupt, and the divide was reached after three hours' travel."32.
Promotion of mining opportunities provided the bulk of news reporting and radiated out from all directions around Thompson Falls. The newspaper said,
"Trout Creek trail last winter was noted for toboggans, now that the snow has disappeared, brogans are hunting rock with mineral along the line of those steep mountains that reach Eagle City and the Coeur d 'Alene gold fields. The late finds last week, near the old toll gate, was a sixteen foot vein of silver and solid quartz that assayed $87.00.
"In Trout Creek gold has been panned out averaging 10 to 18 cents to the pan ...There is every prospect of a rich development in this part of the district within the next few weeks.
"On the other side of the river from Trout station, four miles away, a gold mine has been discovered that dazzles the eye with glasses, when you take up and look at the quartz rock that assays $4,000 to the ton. This is in the Vermillion creek district. Wonderful discoveries of quartz leads are now being made in these vicinities, which, when developed by a little capital, will make Thompson Falls ring with the splendor of her golden industries in the shape of smelters."33.
Of all the prospects in the western end of Missoula County, the Vermillion drainage yielded the most speculation and actual production. It continued to attract capital and development for many years while the majority of the other prospects soon gave way to disillusionment and abandonment.

Animosity against the Chinese was another popular newspaper topic during 1884.
"A gang of 50 Chinese, at work on the railroad at Trout Creek go to the mouth of the creek every evening, fire a charge of giant powder among the immense schools of Trout always found there, and pack the finny beauties off by the barrel. This is against the statutes for (fishing) and the rice eating, rat devouring, opium smoking sons of degraded sires should be made to suffer the full penalty of the law."34.
The newspaper articles about Tone City trail ran very briefly. For several months in the late winter and early spring of 1884, large ads headed TONE CITY urged people going to the mines to use the Trout Creek trail. When the ads stopped, the town name reverted to Trout Creek.35.

At Trout Creek that spring there were now five mercantile houses. Felix Vernon was the tollgate keeper for the toll road up Trout Creek.36. Frank Buckley sold the lodging house formerly occupied by H. Millot to William McDonald.37. The end of May, the sheriff sold some lots in Tone City to settle a debt.38. The end of August men were sauntering from a chat with W. G. Broderick, who was managing Lynch and McDiarmid's store, on down the street to D. S. Tutro's saloon. After a chat with F. M. Franks, the assayer and agent for Wells Fargo, they might take a room at E. L. Vanderwerker's hotel.39.
Northern Pacific Railroad train wreck on line between Noxon and Smeads, Montana.
Chapter 4

  1. History of Montana, by M. E. Leeson (1885).
  2. Missoulian, June 22, 1883.
  3. Missoulian, April 27, 1883.
  4. Georgia McSpadden, tape-recorded oral interview 1972.
  5. Missoulian, June 29, 1883.
  6. Charles Knutson, tape-recorded oral history, 1983.
  7. March 7, 1962 letter from N. M. Lorentzsen, Spokane District Sup't. NPRR.
  8. The Polk Gazeteer.
  9. History of Montana, by M. E. Leeson, 1885 page 880.
  10. Clifford R. Weare, Frank Berray, Don Maynard, tape-recorded oral history.
  11. The Buzzer, Noxon High School, Noxon, MT, December 20, 1928.
  12. History of The Northern Pacific Railroad, by Eugene V. Smalley.
  13. Missoulian, December 14, 1883.
  14. Missoulian, October 12, 1883.
  15. Missoulian, October 19, 1883.
  16. Missoulian, October 26, 1883 and December 7, 1883.
  17. Missoula County courthouse deed records.
  18. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, MT, April 1884.
  19. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, MT, April 1884.
  20. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, May 10, 1884.
  21. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, April 12, 1884.
  22. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 17, 1937, (source - Walter Ed Taylor, Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 17, 1937.)
  23. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, MT, May 1884.
  24. Missoulian, January 18, 1884.
  25. Missoula County courthouse deed.
  26. Missoulian, February 1, 1884; February 29, 1884.
  27. National Archives.
  28. Missoula County courthouse, commissioner's records, April 30, 1884; May 2, 1884; May 23, 1884.
  29. Missoulian, July 14, 1884.
  30. Missoulian, August 18, 1884.
  31. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, April, 1884.
  32. Century Magazine, October 1884.
  33. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, May, 1884.
  34. Frontier Index, Thompson Falls, Saturday June 7, 1884.
  35. Missoulian; Missoula County Times - winter and spring 1883-1884.
  36. Missoulian, March 28, 1884.
  37. Missoula County courthouse deed, March 24, 1884.
  38. Missoulian, May 30, 1884. Spelling of Bascomb varys: Bascom; Bascomb; Bascombe, found in various records.
  39. Missoulian, August 29, 1884.

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