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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
(Seattle & Northern 1890)
Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered:
Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated
to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness

Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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James F. Wardner, boomer in Idaho and Washington

by Rick Fullmer, Idaho Miner 1982, p. 12-15
Excerpted from the autobiography, Jim Wardner of Wardner, Idaho, self-published by Anglo-American Publishing Co., copyright 1900
part of our series about James F. Wardner, boomer of Fairhaven, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia

(James F. Wardner)
James F. Wardner

      Jim Wardner was a speculator throughout his life. Born on May 19, 1846, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he wasted no time in entering the business world. When he was eight years old he convinced his mother to forward him 75 cents so he could buy a pregnant rabbit. Jim figured he would have at least 1,000 rabbits at the end of the one year, and at 25 cents a head, turn a nice profit. This business lasted until he was thirteen, when he started to work as an apprentice to the local druggist. With that background he was appointed to the position of hospital steward during the Civil War. On one occasion he spent ten hours in a large bake-oven until he was certain he could reach safety from the Confederate forces.
      After his release from the Army, Jim moved to New York to make his next fortune only to lose it [on] an invention called the "anti-cow-kicking stool." Jim was sold the exclusive rights to the stool in the only state left in the U.S., which happened to be available [for franchise]. But the first cow that the machine was tried on kicked the milker and destroyed the stool.
      Soon thereafter Jim moved West as far as he could go, ending up in Los Angeles; it was here that he got bit by mining fever. His first rush was across the Mojave desert, where he almost lost his life; while crossing the two hundred and sixty miles of desert his horse became lame and forced Jim to walk. He told his party to go on ahead and not to worry about him. Suddenly a sandstorm blew up wiping out all signs of a trail and for three hours Jim fought the storm that ended as fast as it began. Most unexpectedly he hit the trail again and was able to rejoin his friends at the campsite a few hours later.

Mining career starts at Ivanpah, Arizona
      At Ivanpah, Arizona, Jim began his long career as a miner, when he and a partner, John Reed, purchase the Lizzie Bullock Mine for the price of $500. After recovering some two tons of ore they returned to Los Angeles where they sold the ore for $700 a ton (silver was then worth $1.29 an ounce). Not long after this, Jim and his partner sold out to the owners of an adjoining property for $5,000.
      Jim moved to the Salt Lake City area in order to work at the Atlas City mines in the Wasatch mountains. He worked for the Flagstaff Mine, where his job was to dig lumber out from under the 20-foot deep snow. Soon he had enough money to move into Salt Lake City, where he bought the Dolly Varden Mine in Big Cottonwood Canyon. He later sold his share in that mine and spent the next few months speculating on the wheat market where once again he lost his fortunes.
      After several years of domestic life Jim once again was on the move. While working as a traveling salesman, Jim met a fellow in Yankton, South Dakota, who had a bottle of placer gold and the rush for the Black Hills was on, with Jim in the forefront. Arriving in Deadwood he opened up a bar, which he later converted into the "Red Front Store," which was also a saloon and a lunch room where the first oysters in Deadwood were sold. After this business began to turn a profit, Jim sold out and opened a freighting business. He did well but soon grew tired fo the routine, selling it also.
      Not too log after this, Jim became the "Egg Baron" of Southeast Dakota and Northern Iowa, buying thousands of dozens of eggs as low as nine cents a dozen, selling them in Deadwood for $15.00 a dozen. Once more Jim was rich and ready for a new adventure.
      Soon after making his egg fortune, Jim met a man named Rosenbaum who had come into Deadwood by way of Harney's Peak. Rosenbaum told Jim that he had found some gold in a quartz float and that he needed a partner he could trust. Not long after setting up camp in the area the float was originally found, Jim found "a chunk of quartz half as large as my head and nuggets of gold were standing out on every side." This piece was later sold for $600. They named the mine "Golden Summit" and sold it later for $10,000.
      Jim's next adventure finally leads him to the Coeur d'Alene district by way of New Orleans. Jim first went back to Milwaukee and became a salesman for a new product called butterine. A road trip took him to St. Louis, Nashville, Mobile and finally New Orleans, his merchandise, which was in a railcar parked on the sunny side of the freight yard, began to melt. In an effort to rescue his product, it was placed in cold storage but to no avail. Upon opening the packages he could see the layers of cottonseed oil, lard, Vaseline, coloring and "unnamable refuse." Feeling low and out of luck he sold this unattractive mess as grease. While in this mood he picked up a paper that told of the new discoveries made by the Pritchard party in North Idaho, and once again Jim was off on a wild chase for fortune.
      Jim began working in the district as a freighter and he saved up enough to go back to "civilization in Milwaukee" because he was bored. As he was leaving Murray, he stopped for one last drink with the boys and to say his goodbyes. After several "one last drinks," Jim was finally ready to hit the trail. Just then, John Flaherty came into town at a dead run. Because they had known each other for several years John told him of a great new discovery, that was to be one of the biggest deals in Jim's life.

Wardner builds on Kellogg's claim
      After he had investigated the location he promptly claimed all the water rights to Milo Creek and 10,000 inches on the Coeur d'Alene river, effectively stopping all work. It was his plan to develop the mine in such a fashion that it would produce wealth for all involved. He would give them start-up money, build roads, take care of shipping; if Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. O'Rourke, the original discoverers, would promise to give no other person an option on the property until he could decide what was best for all concerned. Jim became the first major investor in the development of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine; his original investment was just over $15,000, which allowed enough work to be done to prove the value of the mine and produce other investors.
      Jim went to Spokane for an assay of the ore, and then on to San Francisco where he contracted with Selby and Co. to buy the ore. On his return to the Bunker Hill, he contracted with the three owners to take out 25,000 tons at five dollars a ton; but after removing some 800 tons it looked as if the ore body had played out. The ore which had been removed yielded about $115 a ton. With this money, Jim proposed to continue to work the mine in hope of finding a more permanent ore body.
      After spending all of his available money and going into debt, things began to get a bit desperate and Jim began to wonder if he was really sane. At one point he began running down the canyon as though he could get away from the failing mine and the debts he owed. Fortunately for the Bunker Hill, someone had just set up a still nearby. As Jim passed by he paused long enough for a drink and while gazing into his glass the foreman came running in to announce that they had struck it big in the main tunnel. Not wanting to show how upset he was, Jim said, "Oh, don't get excited, Brady. Of course you've struck it; what have we been driving that tunnel for?"
      A cross cut was made and the ore body was found to be 36 feet wide. Another 100 feet of drift was driven, then a crosscut, the body was still 36 feet wide. While the ore body was large, the values were so low that they required concentration before they could be profitable. Before any work could be done, a concentrator and money were needed. So Jim traveled to Spokane, San Francisco and Portland to try to raise the necessary capital. Unfortunately, he proved to be unsuccessful. His next stop was Helena, Montana, where Governor Sam Hauser was president of the First National Bank. Jim told him that he had secured a contract to concentrate 50,000 tons a day at five dollars a ton, and if Governor Hauser would put up the money, he would also share in the profits. Mr. Hauser sent his own expert to confirm these reports and decided to put up the needed money and order the concentrator. With this investment, capital was easier to get and the Bunker Hill was finally up and running.
      Jim's return on his investment was a dollar a ton for the ore removed from the mine plus one-third share of the profits and $50,000 for the water rights during the life of the contract.
      After his adventures with the Bunker Hill, Jim stayed in the Northwest, where he was involved in a Black Cat farm, a few coal mines and gold mining in Alaska. Without Jim Wardner, the mining industry in the Northwest and the Bunker Hill in particular would have been developed much more slowly. Without a doubt, its history would have been much less colorful.

      Return to the Wardner profile for a series of stories about this fascinating pioneer.

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