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Letters from the Salmo River, 1893

Updated: Feb 8, 2018

In 1893, a prospector named Baxter wrote two letters to the Northwest Mining Review of Spokane from the Salmo River (then called the Salmon). Both were printed in the May 22 edition and are available through Google Books, but to my knowledge they have never been reprinted. It’s unclear how the letters were mailed, but it was either via Northport, whose post office opened Nov. 1, 1892, or Waneta, where the office opened on May 1, 1893. Baxter comments in the second letter on the difficulty of sending mail.


Below: This stone mural on the back of the Salmo museum commemorates early placer mining.

I quoted from the first letter in a previous post about a burial along the Dewdney Trail in 1866, but here is the full text with annotations and some extra paragraph breaks to make it easier to read. I have also corrected some typos in the originals.


SALMON RIVER, BC, April 19, 1893

Editor, Northwest Mining Review:

Here I am at last, camped in the placer fields of the Salmon not far from its junction with the Pend d’Oreille. The weather is no improvement on that of Spokane. One day the sun shines, the next it snows and rains making out door life hideous, and camp miserably wet.The birch timber in this camp is the first I have seen in years, there is much of it fully one and a half feet in diameter. It makes a rousing camp fire.


I am told that we will have to lay off work on the Queen’s Birthday, but as we Americans celebrate the same day there will be no time lost. Doctors Misner and Wolf

are camped not far from us, and well it was for Death on the Trail, for he came

very near passing in his checks a few days ago with pneumonia. He was a very sick man and the doctors remained by him all one night, he is now much better. [1]


I met an old Canadian French man who has been in the country 35 years, he carried the mail for years from post to post, his route requiring two months time to the trip made on foot, carrying not only the mail but his provisions on his back. Postage was $1 per letter, and was worth it, correspondence was necessarily not large. An

incident he related is worth repeating.


He said in 1866 “I was carrying the mail and not far from where we are now was a cabin occupied by a lone prospector, I stopped at the place one day and found him not very well and almost out of provisions, and told him that he had better go at once to the Hudson Bay Company’s post and get some more grub and not run any great risks. On my return trip many days later when within about a mile of his cabin I saw him sitting by a tree his head leaning against it, and when I got near I spoke to him but received no answer, he was dead, and frozen stiff his gun lying on one side of

him. Starvation and perhaps sudden illness had done its work. There was nothing, not a scratch of writing to tell his sad story. When I arrived at old Fort Colville I told the general in command and he sent some soldiers up and they buried him and marked the grave, and that ended his search for gold. You can see the grave any day by taking not a very long walk from your camp.”


Well by this time you will wish to know what I think of this country in a mining way, as yet I cannot give a decided opinion, but I am favorably impressed, as it has the appearance of making a great gold placer camp. I find that the old channels cross the hills and even on the tops of them you find old wash. Prospects I have seen are favorable to the belief that this country will produce gold largely in time. Of course “old wash” on the hill sides means a large outlay of capital and labor before water can be obtained to work the ground.


Messrs Sutor & Co. of Spokane have a fine placer property on the river, that prospects as high as six cents to the pan they are busy preparing to work it this season, and it is safe to say if prospects count for anything they will make big clean ups of the yellow metal. The hills are heavily timbered with pine, cedar, tamarack, balsam fir and birch

trees.


From Waneta landing where we leave the steamer, we tramp, tourists have to depend on packing in our supplies as the electric system of railways has not as yet been introduced in this section, and may not be necessary if Prof. Langley’s balloon system of navigation should be a success. The next time I write I hope to be able to speak more positively on the gold prospects.

BAXTER


  1. John W. Proctor had the extraordinary nickname Death on the Trail long before he met his demise on Jan. 1, 1897 by falling from a cliff near Hope, Idaho.


LITTLE SALMON, BC, May 14, ’93

Editor, Northwest Milling Review:

Since my last we have been steadily engaged in prospecting when the weather would permit, but it has been raining almost incessantly with only few pleasant days to date. Of all the mountain country I have been in this is the most charming, and to use the oft quoted phrase, this is the Sportsman’s Paradise; and it does take the cake. For the information of those who desire to visit this section, and wish to know the cost of the trip, I will say that the fare from Spokane to Waneta Landing is $7, the steamer furnishes elegant meals for 75 cents and a bed is 50 cents.


From the Landing to our camp the distance is 18 miles, and saddle horses for the trip can be hired for $1.50 per day. Leaving Spokane in the morning you will arrive at Little Salmon the next day. I expected to have been able by this time to have written more definitely about the gold prospect of this section, but the lateness of the season has prevented results from being reached.


Messrs. Sutor, Gorkow & McCormick have been vigorously pushing work to get their ground open, but have been subjected to many vexatious, delays caused by land slides filling their ditches up. [1] There are quite a number of prospectors on the Salmon about two miles above its junction with the Pend d’Oreille river.


Very few gold ledges have been located and those that have appear to be very base, but the supposition is that they will make a camp for the erection of a pyritic smelter, as it is believed that the pyrites will run high in gold.


Nels Demer (and he is our authority) says you can find gold from 500 to 600 feet above the siver [?] and that the old wash extends clear back on the mountains. [2] I am of the opinion that as the country is developed excellent hill diggings will be discovered and worked. As it is in many places over 100 feet to bed rock all you can do is to prospect the surface and if the panning is satisfactory, locate your claim and take chances for what is underneath.


Last Sunday, as our larder was getting low, I took a hunt. Saw a deer; was sure of meat; took a shot at him, missed; he took a mope down the hill and left me

gawking at him. Of course the gun was to blame. Since then I have concluded that beacon was pretty good.


At the landing a big company is operating. I am told that they have so far invested $80,000 and expect large returns when their plant is in full blast, and it is the general opinion that they have a big thing. [3]


The last mail I sent out had bad luck. The packer it was intrusted with got into deep water and came near drowning him self and horse, and was glad to get out and return to camp.


It is useless to come in here before the latter part June and try to get around, but when that time comes we hope to see our friends and have them enjoy a mountain camp second to none. In my next I hope to give more exact data concerning

prospects.

BAXTER


Unfortunately, no further dispatches from Baxter appeared.

  1. According to the Nelson Miner of March 4, 1893, the partners were Leo Sutor, R. Gorkow, and Capt. S.J. McCormick. McCormick Creek, which flows southeast into the Salmo River, may have been named for the latter. But there was also a George McCormick who held mining claims int he area and was later manager of the Fort Sheppard Hotel.

  2. Probably Nels Demars, for whom Demars on the Arrow Lakes was named.

  3. The Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co. Although they issued some beautiful stock certificates, investors saw little return.

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
05 feb. 2018

Oh, you're probably right! I thought it might be a typo for silver, since he was talking about gold in the same sentence, but that doesn't make much sense.

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Nathan Wilkinson
Nathan Wilkinson
05 feb. 2018

Where it says "siver [?]" in the second letter, could it be "river"? That seems like it would fit the sense.

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