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The Anaconda standard. [volume] (Anaconda, Mont.) 1889-1970, November 19, 1899, Morning, Image 19

Image and text provided by Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84036012/1899-11-19/ed-1/seq-19/

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That there :ere e:once camels in this
state is a statement that will be a mat
ter of surprise "to the average tender
foot and it will doubtless be received
incredulously by many of this genus,
yet it is a fact that at one time in the
early 'days of transportation in Mon
tana, there was a herd of camels which
threaded its way through the winding
passes and along the valleys of the
western part of the state, carrying huge
packs of merchandise and heavy loads
.of gold dust. These. beasts of burden,
novel for this part of the world, were
imported as an experiment by the
United States .government- for use in
Southern California and Texas. With
the discovery of gold in Mdntana'*
gulches, the subsequent building' of
towns and the development of mercan
tile enterprises in the new state, the
problem of transportation became an
important one. There were mule trains
and horse trains, wagon trains and bull
teams, but there was still room for im
provement. As a railway was at that
time out of the question, some ingenious
fellow, hearing of this herd of camels
in the Southwest, negotiated for seven
of the animals and brought them up to
Most of those who were in Montana,
in' the early 'S0's remember the excite
ment that attended the arrival of these
queer pack animals when they first came
to the state. When it was known that
the camel train was due, there was
sure to be a crowd to see it come in
and there was always a good delega
tion to witness the loading for the re
turn trip. It is said that the expert
ment was successful and that the
owner of the herd did a good business
.with his peculiar property. The camels
did well in this climate and the loads
that they packed were the marvel of
old packers.
Tney were used principally to freight
out of Helena first. They carried mer
chandise to the camps in the gold-pro
ducing gulches in the western and
southern parts of the state and the
miners in Bear gulch, Alder, Gold creek
and Deer Lodge became accustomed to
the arrival of the camel train. At
length the train was put on the old
Walla Walla trail out of Missoula and
made trips to the western country in
stead of doing local work among the
Montana camps as at first. Then came
another change and they carried bur
dens along the coast south forqp Wash.
lngton. ... -
As has been stated, there were seven
in the herd that came to Montana, but
there were only six when it went away.
The fate of the camel whose remains
were buried in this state was related
the other day by Charles W. Cannon to
an interested audience.
"I can't recall," said Mr. Cannon, "the
name of the man that owned the cam
els, but I remember that they used to
load in front of the store of Gaston &
Simpson at the upper end of Main
street in Helena, back in '66. They used
to carry tremendous loads, too. They
would be loaded with sacks of flour un
til you couldn't see anything of the
camels except their heads and legs.
They would carry all you could pile on
them, and never show that the pack
was any load for them at all. They
would go up and over the mountains
in the roughest and steepest places and
never refuse to keep moving along in
their slow way. They would be loaded
at the gulches with gold dust in nail
kegs and bring the dust into Helena.
"One of the camels met his fate in
Montana, and the way it happened was
peculiar. The camels were grazing one
day somewhere on the route between
Helena and Deer Lodge. There was a
crack shot from Kentucky who was a
great hunter. His name was James
MeNear. He got sight of the camels
and mistook them for moose. He
crept slowly and carefully over the
brow of the hill, fearful that the moose
would scent danger and run away.
He took careful aim at the nearest
one, blazed away and brought down
his prey. It died without a struggle.
McNear was just drawing a bead on
When Pay Dirt Was First
Discovered on Gold Creek.
Hon. Granville Stuart. who is one of
the recognized authorities regarding
the occurrences of early days in Mon
tana. gives the following account of
the first discovery of gold in what is
now Montana:
"In 1852 a Scotch half-breed from the
Red River of the North. named Fin
lay, but known among his associates
by the name of 'Benetsee.' who had
just returned from California to the
Rtocky mountains, began to prospect on
what is now Gold creek, in Deer Lodge
county, and found some light float gold,
but as his prospecting ,:wae necessarily
of a very superficial oharacter, he
found no mines that would pay. The
fact of gold being found here, however,
became noised abroad among the few
mountaineers still in the country, and
in the spring of 1856 a party, among
whom were Robert Hereford, late of
Helena, John Sanders, called 'Long
John' (he could throw a stone with al
most the force and precision of a rifle
ball); Bill Madison and one or two
others. who .were passing 'Benetsee'
:'',,'.. "-it; :' ! .y ýaGm.,. 1 .+ý{iQ1. ":ý:. .ý" '\
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the next one when the irate owner
came running up. He began letting
out a string of oaths.
" 'Hold on.' cried McNear; 'aon't
bother me, and I'll get more of them.'
"When McNear finally realized that
they were camels instead of moose he
was repentant, but that didn't pacify
the furious owner. McNear was coln
pelled to give up his gun, ammunition,
watch, all the money he had about
him and the deed for a claim whi.h
he owned in Ophir gulch. Then he
was compelled to dig a grave and give
the camel a decent burial. You can
depend on it that McNear was very
careful to find out what he was shoot
ing at before he shot after that. He
also quit drinking-in a measure."
"What became of the rest of the
herd?" Mr. Cannon was asked.
"The other six," said Mr. Cannon,
"continued packing in Montana for
about a year. Then they took a load
of gold dust and other stuff to Walla
Walla. They never returned. They
stayed in the vicinity of Walla Walls
for some time, and were then taken
down into Nevada. The last I heard
of them they were still down inl Ne
vada and were increasing in numbers."
Old timers say that the mistake
of McNear was not a strange one. To
a man who had not known that there
were camels in the state, it was a big
surprise to come suddenly upon them in
the hills. It is only natural that he
should assume that they were wild ani
mals, as they resembled no pack ani
mals that had ever been used before In
this region. McNear came upon. the
herd unexpectedly, while the camels
were grazing in a little valley. They
were not loaded and it has been insin
creek on their way to Salt Lake from
the Bitter Root valley, where they had
spent the winter trading with the In
dians and prospecting a little, found
more gold than had been obtained by
Finlay. One piece weighed about 10
cents, and they gave it to old Captain
Grant, who used to show it up to the
time of his death in 1862, as the first
piece of gold found in this country.
"The matter rested here until the
spring of 1818, when Thomas Adams,
now of Washington City, Reece Ander
son and Granville Stuart searched for
gold and found as high ast0centstothe
pan of gravel, but, as they had nei
ther tools nor provisions (they were
living on wild meat straight without
salt), they could not accomplish any
thing, more especially as the fBlck
feet stole four of their horses and so
harassed them that they abandoned
the country for a time, returning, how
ever, in the fall of 1860, firm in the
faith that this was a rich gold coun
"In the meantime, during the sum-,
uated that McNear was. His mistake,
then, was not a remarkable one.
The camels were never popular with
the other packers. In the first place,
the loads that they carried were too
big when compared with what a horse
or mule bore. More than that, there
was many a horse and mule stampeded
by the sight of the strange animals.
More than one packer has used severe
language while rounding up his scat
tered train, which had left the trail for
almost any old place as soon as the
animals discovered the camels. There
are many amusing incidents told of the
experiences of both horses and men
when the camels first came to Mon
:tana. There were many accidents
resulting from these experiences, but
none of 'them were as serious as the
adventure of poor McNear. He lost
all that he had and then did not dare
to meet the camel man afterward, lest
he should be compelled to give up
what he had accumulated after be
ing stripped to pay for the camel.
The Indians regarded the camels
with amazement. They had never
heard of any such creatures and it
required a whole lot of explanation to
induce them to refrain from shooting
the imported stock. When they be
came more accustomed to the camels
they would still regard them with
wvonder and awe.
With the advent of the railway the
camel's occupation was gone in the
sections where it had been most in
demand. The camels were turned
loose in Southern Nevada and thriv
ed there.
Some of the experiences of packers
on the Walla Walls trail with the
camel herd have afforded abundant
material for fireside tales by those who
mer of 1860, a mining enthusiast by the
name of Henry Thomas (but who, as
soon as his peculiarities became known
was dpeignated 'Gold Tom,' by which
name he ever afterward went), came
up by way of the Pend d'Oreille lake
to 'Benetsee' creek and began to pros
pect about one mile west of where the
town of Pioneer now stands. Almost
unaided, he sank a shaft 30 feet deer
in the glacial detritus along the creek,
getting a little gold as he went down,
He also washed some on the surface
at this point during this and the fol
lowing summer, put only made about
$1.50 a day, owing to the great disad
vantage under which he worked. His
windlass and four little sluice boxes,
hewed out with an axe and now fast
falling to decay, may still be seen
(1876) where he worked.
"In the fall of 1860 and the spring
of 1861 Anderson and the Stuarts pros
pected in the dry gulches that come
into 'Benetsee' creek and found what
they considered good paying mines, but
did little toward working them that
season for two reasons-first, they had
few and imperfect tools and no lum
ber till they could get it whipsawed;
second, all the members of the party
except the writer went To Fort Ben
ton for the purpose of purchasing sup
plies from the steamboats that came up
the river that year. The one boat
I -·
participated in the occurrences. One
man tells of having an entire pack
load of breakable stuff completely
wrecked by the stampeding of his train
when the horses spied the camels
coming down the trail toward them.
It was as easy to stop a blizzard as it
was to head off a train that had been
frightened by the. camels. But few
horses or mules would behave when
the humpbacked pack train showed up.
A lot of whiskey destined for Missoula
was scattered along the trail for a long
distance on one occasion and the Mis
soula people, who then lived at Hell
Gate, were compelled to drink we ter
for a long time afterward.
These camels packed a lot of gold
that started, the Chippewam, was
burned near the mouth of Milk river
and the summer was lost waiting for
her. On this boat were Hons. William
Graham of Philipsburg and F. L. Wor
den of Missoula. Early in the spring
of 1862 the Stuarts. Anderson, Burr
and Powell began to mine, having had
lumber sawed by hand at 10 cents a
foot and picks and shovels packed up
from W\alla Walla, 425 miles distant,
by Worden & Higgins' cayuse pack
horses that brought their goods to Hell
Gate, and on the Sth day of May they
set the first string of sluices ever used
in Montana and began to mine by the
old pick and shovel process."
Mr. Stuart then follows with a de
scription of life in the new camp,
whose population was augmented in
the summer of 1862 by a large delega
tion from what is now Colorado. This
party had started for the Salmon
rivrr country, not having heard of the
Pioneer diggings on Gold creek. Many
of them stopped at the new camp.
among these being Samuel T. Hauser,
who has ever since remained in the
state. In this year were discovered the
Bannack diggings and those on
Prickly Pear creek, where Montana
City was built. Lively camps sprang
up at all these discoveries and con
tinued in a more or less prosperous ca
reer till the discovery of the Alder,
dust while they were In service In Mon
tana. The dust and nuggets were
packed in nail kegs and slung upon
the backs of the camels. One of the
animals would pack a good many thou
sand dollars. Among the famous loads
that this camel train carried was the
first shipment from the bonanza claim
in Alder gulch which Edgar is said to
have sold for $14.85 and a plug of to
bacco. This claim turned out to be
fabulously rich and the first shipment
of dust from it was sent out on the
camel train.
It has been said that the use of the
camels in this part of the country was
discontinued becaus they were not
adapted to the requirements of the
gulch diggings in the following sum
mer. Then the famous stampede de
populated these towns and but few men
remained to operate the diggings which
had been thought at the time of their
discovery to be the beginning of rich
There is a story current among old
miners that the first pan of pay dirt
was panned at Pioneer by A. S. Blake.
known to all old-timers as "Sterney"
Blake, who has since become a re
spected citizen of the Bitter Root val
ley. This was 10 years after tile first
discovery of gold on the creek by the
half-breed, Finlay, but there is little
doubt of the truth of this story. Mr.
Blake had had experience in mining
and in prospecting along the creek he
found indications that he thought
were good. tle at once dug and the
first pan that he washed showed pay
ing quantities of gold. This is believ
ed to have been the first pay pan of
gravel ever washed in what is now
It is a fact worthy of mention that
placer mining is still carried on profit
ably on the creek where the yellow
dust was first discovered in this region
and the yellow flood that comes down
the channel of this stream during the
summer months evidences the fact that
considerable work is being done up the
stream. The mud has a distinctive col
mountain trails. This statement is not
borne out by the testimony of old
timers who describe the train. They
say that the only reason that the an
imals were not used here longer was
that their owner found a good packing
contract elsewhere and took his train
to the western trail on that account.
It was common for packers to change
their routes. This change was made for
business reasons, according to the
statements that are made by men who
were familiar with the camels and
their employment here. The climate
here seemed to have no serious cffect
upon these Imported animals and their
well known frugality In diet made
them deairable for long trips.
or and gives a tinge to the waters of
the Hell Gate river that can be traced
all the way down the canyon to Mis
Merely a Question of Spelling.
From the New York Tribune.
He was the engineer on an ocean
liner and prided himself on his knowl
edge of electricity. On one of his brief
stays at home he accompanied his wife
to a party. The subject of elcctricity
coming up. he indignantly combated
the idea that it was possible for two
people to produce an electrical current
through the body of a third by simple
physical contact. His wife and a friend
said they would prove it, and, leading
hintm to a window, told him to pull up
his sleeves and place both hands flat
on the glass. They then, on either side.
took a firm grip on his wrists. At the
end of a few moments his wife said:
"Don't you feel a.pain. Willy?"
"No!" he replied, and returned a like
negative to a second and third inquiry.
At his third response most ,of the
company began to laugh. and it sud
denly flashed Into his mind that the
pronunciation of pain and pane was the
Football Is Seven of Them,
From the Chicago Record.
Supposing General Sherman's definition
of war to be correct, what is football?
Leaves From the Ledger
the Oldest Merchant
Virginia City-Necessiti
Made Big Holes in Pooket
books and Luxuries Were..
Out of Sight,
The oldest merchant in Virginia City, 4
to-day is O. D. French. There were
merchants in the old town before Mr.
French, but all have disappeared, and
Mr. French is the oldest one left. Back
in 1866 there was started the store of
French & Thomas. Mr. French's partnet.
being J. D. Thomas, for many yeard
a leading merchant of Butte. In theL ,
year 1879 Thomas and French divide
up. and Mr. Thomas moved to the ne
town of Butte, while Mr. French cont
tinued in business in Virginia Clt.
where he is still to he found doing bus
ness at. the old stand.
Mr. French still retains the first ay
book kept by the firm. In those day
books of all kinds came high and every;
page of a blank book was carefully
utilized. This first day book of ties
firm had been used previously, the used
portion had been torn out, and the 1at
ter half of the book is the portion in
which is contained the record of the'
first business done by the old firm.
As showing the marked change In the
price for staples in the old Montana'
days and at the present time, the old
book is of curious interest. Here are
sonme of the items which appear in the
book in the month of April, 1866:
J. A. Browne (nuw of Browne's
Two plugs of tobacco..............$ 3 80
Fifty pounds of flour.............. 9 30
Dr. O. B. Whitford:
One sack of flour... .........$16 0
Twenty pounds of bacon ....... 12 00
One drink of whiskey............. 25
Twenty pounds potatoes.......... 2 60
Four pounds apples............. 2 40
Other sales to various customers
were as follows:
Forty-four pounds lard..........$ 22 00
One broom..... 1 1
Onebroom.... .... ......... ...... 1
One-half gallon whiskey ..... 5 000
Five pounds sugar................ 1 00
One pound coffee................... 1 00
One pound butter............. 60,
Two pounds beans ..............
Two dozen eggs................... 2 00
Can of oysters .. . ...... 1 00''
Ten pounds salt............ .. 300,.
One gallon syrup ............... 7 0Q-:
Five pounds nails............. 2 iOo
Alex DMetzel:
One pound pepper ...............:$ 2 2"
One-quarter pound tea............
One pound starch ............. 75
3,570 pounds barley ............... 652 50"
One shovel ..................... ... 5 50.
Shovels just before that sold for $7.
The first conmers to the old town were
glad to pay $50 for a pick and shovel,
but there w: .re few to be had.
The day book shows that $1 was paid
for a pane of window glass. A hamn
brought $27: :97 pounds of grapes were
sold for $277.90. The grapes were dried;
of course. The firm bought a wagon
load of dried grapes in California. By
starting in the spring the grapes would
just about reacrh Virginia City before
everything was frozen up. A thous
and pounds of oats sold for $80. One
pound of soap brought 65 cents. It is
60 cents cheaper now. Rice which now
can be had for 10 cents a pounl, then
sold at 60 cents per pound. The first
potatoes brought 35 cents a pound. Two
pounds of dried currants sold for $1.80.
A sack of sugar brought $42.50.
During the flour famine in Montana,
he got a train loadofflourin SaltLake.
He paid about $9 a hundred weight for
it there. Some of it he sold in Vir
ginia City for as high as $100 a sack.
In 1868 Mr. French went to New York
and Boston and bought $10.000 north of
goods there. He took the goodg by
rail to Omaha, by boat from Omaha to
Fort Benton and by team from Fort
Benton to Virginia City.
People had some delicacies even in
those early days. Oysters frequently
appear in the day book. They were
canned oysters, brought from Omaha.
They had honey,. too. The record shows
that 33?.; pounds of it was sold for
$21.78. Eggs brought a good price, the
buyer taking all the risk as to whether
they were eatable or not. The eggs
came from Salt Lake, packed in oats.
They brought $1.25 a dozen readily.
A pound and a half of cheese sold fol
90 cents. The record shows that R. O.
Hickman bought eight pounds of sugar
for $2.60. Other sales recorded in the
book are:
Teln gallon.s coal oil.............$7.5
Half dozaen shovels ................ 24.0
Seven pounds salmon ............ 3.56
On'e pound nut. ................ 1.15
One oud prunes ................ .945
Eighty-two pounds ham .......... 41.08
On e case oysters .................. 20.00
The French and Thomas store was.
originally at Nevada, a short distance
down the gulch from Virginia. but it
was moved to Virginia in the early

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