Visitors cannot stay on the site of Fort Steele Heritage Town, and in the year 2006 there are no motels in the immediate vicinity. But for the big old ranch house of nearby Wild Horse Farm which has been converted into a trendy lodge, this is camping country. A mile north on 93/95 from the Forts entrance is the Wardner - Ft. Steele (sometimes called the Bull River) Road intersection where the Fort Steele Resort and RV Park hides behind, and is associated with, a full-service Esso gas station-cum-resto-cum-convenience store. The Resort offers exposed tenting sites at a price that kind of makes one wonder if there isnt someplace more attractive in the neighbourhood. For the free-camper, there is, a mile or so easterly from the Resort where the Wardner - Ft. Steele Road drops down into the Wild Horse Creek valley just as the latter opens out onto the Kootenay Valley.
The other campground in the area is the Original Fort Steele Campground which is cozied into a wooded little ravine cut into the southern escarpment of the Kootenay River. Having been carried over the River on a concrete-decked bridge dating 1967, Cranbrook-bound 93/95 soon passes a sign ushering travellers onto a narrow little road which winds two paved kilometres up into the Campground. Although the over-lapping arrangement of the sites and the campgrounds popularity impose a close communal atmosphere, the modest price includes hot showers and a dip in the pool. An on-site convenience store stocks essentials. Once the pool is closed and the kids settle down, the ravine quietens and slips into slumber serenaded by a far-away scattering of communicative coyotes.
Before the morning sun has arisen high enough to dry the dew on the tent, the echo of a steam whistle wafts into the ravine. In the closing years of the last century, that wail was a familiar sound here abouts. It could have come from Robert Mathers saw mill, signalling the start of the work day, or from a paddle-wheelers on the Kootenay, heading down stream with a load of Kimberley ore bound for the smelters at Butte. Or it could have come from a locomotive.
Anticipation high, the train-nut breaks camp quickly, pedals furiously down to the 93/95 and charges back across the open concrete deck of the Fort Steele bridge. On the left, on the Rivers high northern bank, the wooden enormity of the Perry Creek waterwheel, part of the Forts extensive display of industrial antiques, promises an interesting day. The original North-West Mounted Police fort was more of a post, actually: no real fortifications, just a huddle of huts, heavy walls of yellow pine logs their only protection, crouching on the Rivers bank downstream from the bridge. That was the south-eastern end of the actual townsite, and the Railway station and water tower were there, near the mouth of Wild Horse Creek. The modern tourist attraction is the north-western end of the historical town, and a replica of the police post has been built there, behind the protection of a palisade thrown up to satisfy tourists expectations.
Under the Bridge, the adolescent Kootenay hurries along to Lake Koocanusa about 35 meandering kilometres downstream. Crowding its way along the Rivers northern shore, the trackage of CPs Kootenay Central Railway. Up the grade away from the River, crossing the ghosts of the old towns avenues, one turns left off the 93/95 and into the Forts ample parking lot. Over-seeing the lot is a reconstruction of the lofty façade of the Fort Steele Brewery Company (Sick, Williams and Co), the building serving as a visitors reception centre in which one buys admission tickets, peruses the books on local history, admires some polished copper bits from one of the companys operations, the highlight of which is a pair of hopping tun doors richly engraved The Fernie - Fort Steele Brg. Co. Past the brewery building one can see through the palisades open gate and down the main street of Fort Steele. Resembles a real, old-timey town in a Knotts Berry Farm sort of way. The big white box of the Windsor Hotel dominates the too-neat-and-orderly-to-be-genuine townscape of sixty-odd lesser buildings which have either been salvaged from the region and rebuilt or replicated from memory. Horses and wagons and actors dressed in period costumes try their best to animate the scene with a semblance of authenticity. Looks great; eat in the International Hotel restaurant, snack at the City Bakery, inspect the Government Building and Kershaws General Store, check out the museum in the huge, wood-built Wasa Hotel, pan for gold, take a waggon ride and a play in the Wild Horse Theatre, squint at the red-hot iron being pounded by the blacksmith, wonder at the scraps of machinery scattered about the site, get fotografd in sepia tones, poke through the police post and the school ...; cant wait.
Can wait! To the right of the parking lot, guarding the entrance to a ticket booth vaguely resembling a railroad station, an ugly little H.K Porter 0-4-0 fireless mine locomotive squats. Retired from Elk River Colliery near Fernie, the Porter is a rarity in that it is a compound engine, with air exhausted from the high-pressure cylinder being fed into a larger diameter low-pressure cylinder, doing double duty before being exhausted into the atmosphere. But never mind that. Behind the station lurks the Forts main attraction, hissing live steam and panting and smoking in a stink of hot oil: a nasty black 94-ton Class C Shay built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1929. This is the workhorse of The Park, daily dragging two old coaches and an open observation car usually crammed full of tourists out into the woods and back. Of the Parks other locomotives, the wee 31-ton Sharp-Stewart 0-4-4 (Yes, Elizabeth: 0-4-4!) Dunrobin of 1895 Glaswegian manufacture is, though in perfect working order and sometimes run for fun, much too dainty to haul the tourist train. Montreal Locomotive Works 1077, a 2-6-2 Prairie freight locie of 1923 which will certainly be able to regularly relieve the Shay, is painstakingly being rebuilt by volunteers in a big-doord engine shed in the back lot near the small water tower. The battered daffodil-yellow AL-2 Plymouth four-wheeled diesel apparently acts mainly as a sitter for CFI 15, the inoperable ex-Crestbrook Forest Industries1 little 44 ton Canadian Locomotive Company diesel-hydraulic of 1958, and its sibling, CFI 14 from Canal Flats. That leaves the old, slow Shay, three vertical cylinders chuffing, drive shafts whirling and straight-cut bevelled gears chewing each others teeth, to haul ticket-holders out on a sylvan circuit north-westerly, stopping at a view point on the bluffs overlooking the Kootenay a mile or so above the Fort.
Elbows steadied on the guard-rail of the view point, camera clickers snap pictures to show friends back in Sacramento or Stuttgart or Sapporo. A meadowlark celebrates the morning from its bower hidden in the amber forest grass. Across the River far, the front line of the Purcells define the western skyline. Drifting out of the humble foothills and breaking by a distant white bluff, the St. Mary River seeks the easy path down its wide, flat-bottomed, forested valley. From right to left the Kootenay rolls southward, and collecting the St. Marys tribute right in front of the view point, slips under the black iron bridge carrying the B.C. Southerns rails off to Cranbrook, and sweeps away around the low, clay bluffs upon which the Fort is built. Growling into sight from behind the bluffs, under a parasol of oily blue diesel smoke comes the lead locomotive of a CPR unit coal train, one of three or four that will pass here each way on an average day. Typically moved by three General Electric AC4400CWs and consisting of 100-odd bathtub hoppers filled with Elk Valley coal bound for Japan via Vancouver, the train will ignore the black bridge and hammer across the switches and through the small Fort Steele yards to continue on the Kootenay Central to Golden.
At a site nearer the 93/95 highway bridge than the Railway bridge was the location of the ferry built and operated by John Thompson Galbraith, an Ontarian of Irish descent who was among the first gold-rushers to arrive on the Upper Kootenay in 1864, drawn by the discoveries in Wild Horse Creek.
Historians disagree as to who, exactly, was the first person to find gold in the gravel of Wild Horse. The generally accepted story is that in the fall of 1863, George, a mixed-blood son of David Thompsons good man, Jacques Raphael (Jaco) Findlay, in company with some friends made his way to the new HBC post on the Tobacco Plains. Snugging down for the winter, Findlay bought supplies for his party with nuggets of gold which, when quizzed by John Linklater, the posts factor, he claimed to have found in some creek farther up the Trench. The news travelled fast, and that November, writing from his office at Osoyoos, the regional gold commissioner, J.C. Haynes, apprised his superiors of the rumour. Retiring from Company service in the spring of the next year, Linklater was taking his receipts to Fort Hope when he dropped in to visit Haynes at Osoyoos on June 23. When shown Findlays gold and told of the gangs of American miners arriving in the Trench, Haynes out-lined the matter in a letter which he gave to Linklater for delivery to Governor Seymour at New Westminster. Because the Trench was so remote from the capital, the colonial administration decided to down-play the information in an attempt to prevent another stampede. It was, however, too late.
It is not clear who carried the news below the Boundary. It may have been the itinerant British surveyor, James Manning, who was at Tobacco Plains when Findlay arrived. In any case, according to S.L. Thrup in her previously mentioned masters thesis, in March of 1864 the Boise News, the Walla Walla Statesman and the Lewiston Golden Age all printed stories celebrating the new find. The news electrified gold seekers who had been gouging diminishing rewards from the paydirts of Washington, Montana, and Idaho Territories. The rush was on. At the nearest supply depot, Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory, two rival parties formed and vied to see who could leave for B.C. first.
Robert Lake Dore and his band left Walla Walla on March 17th of 1864, following the well-worn trail branching northward from the Mullan Military Road between Walla Walla and Fort Benton in Dakota Territory. The first to arrive on the Upper Kootenay was, however, the party led by John S. Fisher and Joe Ashley, among whose members was John Thompson Galbraith. Following the St. Mary down to the Kootenay, they braved an icy crossing near the present site of Fort Steele and camped on the banks of what David Thompson had named Skirmish Brook. Intending to lay over until Spring freed the waters of Findlay Creek farther up the Trench, the party was to get no further: the gravel of what the miners named Stud Horse Creek was rich in gold. When that news broke, a parade of boots and hooves began marching northwards from every digging in Washington Territory. Up the Idaho panhandle they came, up Thompsons track along the Moyie River and into the Trench. June found 500 miners on claims strung along the length of the Stud Horse. By mid-summer there were hundreds more.
For Frederick Seymour, who had succeeded Jas. Douglas as governor of British Columbia on April 20th of 1864, the Stud Horse strike was a headache. Not that the discovery of mineral wealth in any form was unappreciated, it was just that the location was nearly 200 uncharted miles east beyond the gold camp at Rock Creek, itself an isolated, shrinking tent-town in the middle of no-where. As well, the Stud Horse camp was largely populated by citizens of the United States, not a few of whom were hard cases encouraged to emigrate by vigilance committees in the mining camps south of the Boundary. Not only were the miners unenthusiastic about trekking to far-away Osoyoos to remit taxes and duties and officially register their claims with the aforementioned J.C. Haynes at far away Osoyoos, but might welcome the protection of U.S. authorities if the British werent quick to extend the rule of law. Addressing the situation, Seymour raised Commissioner Haynes to a judgeship on July 9th, 1864, and posted him and Constable W.C. Young to the new digs.
The journey from Osoyoos to the Trench was neither speedy, convenient nor comfortable. Haynes and Young had first to make their way down the Kettle River to Fort Colville in what is now the State of Washington, then follow the crude trail that the Forts merchants had established through to Spokane Falls, and thence up the Walla Walla Trail to the camp upon the Stud Horse. They arrived on August 10th, 1864, four days after Yeast Powder Bill Burmeister punched a pistol ball through Tommy Walker during the settlements only out-and-out gunfight. Though the vigilantes led by Bob Dore had tried Bill and found the shooting justified, Haynes recalled him, conducted what was accepted by all as a proper trial, confirmed the vigilantes verdict and thereby stamped British authority upon the proceedings. During his term at the Camp which, in deference to the delicate sensibilities of the wider Victorian world, had been officially renamed Wild Horse Creek, Haynes left the miners to run their affairs according to traditional regulations, imposing his authority only in matters of Law. To assist Young, Haynes engaged a young Irishman, John George Brown, whose stay in the area would earn him the nickname Kootenai. By most denizens of the Camp, this British law was welcomed, for it meant that a mans claim and earnings were secured by something other than his ability with fists and firearms.
For that security, however, a price had to be paid; import duties on tools, supplies and livestock were demanded, and the Crown expected that every trader, liquor vendor and miner would buy a licence. These were suffered as a matter of course, the price of doing business. Truly reviled, however, was the Colonys Gold Export Tax of 1864. This required that all gold be deposited with a bank for trans-shipment and that a two-shilling fee be paid on every ounce. Complying with this requirement was a pain: there were no banks in which a miner could deposit his cache and pay the tax. On the other hand, it was dead easy to put the gold in pokes, carry it across the Boundary and the British be damned. For the government, collection of the tax was definitely worthwhile: the potential revenue was considerable as some Wild Horse claims were proving fabulously rich. One yielded $13,000 solely for August of 1864, while another paid over a $1,000 per day for a couple of weeks during that same month. On its plot, the Jim Reynolds Company found a single nugget weighing two pounds, five ounces. Between the time of his arrival and the end of that September, Haynes collected some 16,000 dollars worth of gold dust which he stored in a box in his tent. So important was this income to New Westminster that Seymour sent his Colonial Secretary, Arthur N. Birch, to the Wild Horse camp that autumn of 1864 to bring out the nearly 75 pounds of gold that the judge had amassed.
As recorded by Damian Inwood in his Tough Times at Fisherville (Canadian West Magazine, No. 5, Fall, 1986), Birch found that the camp had taken on a permanent air. Log walls were replacing canvas at what the miners called Fisherville, a ...queer place..., according to Birchs assistant, A.T. Bushby, [with] altogether a motley vagabond crew working some 500 staked mining claims in the midst of a lively and exciting scene. It was also doomed.
By the end of the summer of 1864, the easy placer gold in the Creeks bottom had mostly been found and attention turned to the banks upon which the camp stood. Robert Dore, sometime ad hoc sheriff and camp leader, had not been wasting his time working in the Creeks frigid waters swirling muck in a pan to accumulate gold a grain at a time. Having staked large claims on the banks, he engineered delivery of tons of water per minute to his properties via what he patriotically dubbed the Victoria Ditch, a three mile long aqueduct chopped into the hillsides and carried over low spots by flumes. Completing the Ditch in the fall of 1864, Dore served notice to Fishervilles residents that, as the Camp was built on his claim, they had better move or learn to tread water because he was about to commence the hydraulic mining operations which would yield him a half million dollars in three years. The buildings deemed by their owners as worthwhile saving were removed to a new camp, Wild Horse, on higher ground. Those too flimsy to move, including the shack holding all the official records, were torched as Dore got to work.
By the end of 1864, lured by the average recovery of one ounce of goldthen worth twenty dollarsper man per day, Wild Horse was reckoned to have grown to a population of about one thousand souls, some of whom reputedly espoused Fenian views.2 Amenities there were, with an active little brewery to supply its dozen or so saloons and Little Lous finishing school wherein boarded adventurous tutors with names like Gunpowder Sue, Wildcat Jenny and Axe Handle Bertha, who, for pre-arranged monetary considerations, would gladly teach any miner a lesson.
Judge Haynes was called to New Westminster in October to sit on the Legislative Council of B.C. and was replaced by Peter OReilly, late of the Revenue Police in Ireland, who arrived with Constable Arthur Wellesley Vowell on May 22nd of 1865 to relieve Constable Young and take charge of the East Kootenays. Exercising his flair for the dramatic, on his first day in town OReilly pronounced that any gun play would surely be followed by a hanging. By that time, though, Wild Horse was rapidly losing its vitality as many miners were pushing on to McCulloch, Downie, Carnes and French Creeks at the Big Bend of the Columbia and new discoveries in Idaho where gold was rumoured to laying about by the pan-full. Vowell was posted to the Big Bend and OReilly was soon replaced by J.B. Gaggin who died of a heart attack upon hearing that his constable, Larson, had been killed. Gaggin was apparently not replaced, and what adjudicating needed to be done in at Wild Horse was provided by District circuit court judges.
The Galbraiths and the End of Dewdneys Trail
For John Thompson Galbraith, the miners who stampeded to Wild Horse were his bonanza. He was among the crowds of fortune seekers who staggered up the Walla Walla Trail in the spring of 1864 Kootenay River only to realize that their destination lay on the other side. Swollen with melt-water, the River was not easily traversed by the ford below the mouth of the Wild Horse that was commonly used. With a keen nose for money and unafraid of work, Galbraith hammered together a crude barge, strung an actuating guide rope from bank to bank and, for five dollars per person and double that for a loaded pack-horse, began ferrying folks and freight back and forth across the Kootenay. So profitable was this service that Galbraith sought to protect it by applying that summer to the colonial government in New Westminster for a licence granting him the exclusive right to operate the only ferry allowed within twenty miles. As his application was being considered, Galbraith summoned his brother James from his store at Walla Walla. Together they built an office at the crossing and, well before the ferry license was issued, according to notes made by J.C. Haynes in 1871 and recorded by B. Richard Atkins in E.L. Afflecks Columbia River Chronicles (Alexr Nicolls Press, Vancouver, 1976), on December 21st, 1864, joined several other outfits in running a regular packtrain service to Walla Walla, 400 miles away, bringing essentials to the Wild Horse for 75¢ per pound.
Far away west on the Coast, British Columbia merchants fretted at the thought of their American counterparts growing fat forwarding supplies up the Walla Walla Trail to the miners at Fisherville. They agitated for access to the new bonanza, pointing out that the Colony, too, was losing money by not controlling trade in the area. Though the government did send out a couple of survey parties in the fall of 1864 to blaze a path into the Rocky Mountain Trench, no real progress on a trail was made until the following spring when Governor Seymour summoned Edgar Dewdney, the builder of the Fort Hope - Rock Creek pack trail in 1860/61, from his work in the Cariboo district and contracted him to extend his original trail. Writes Brian Titley in The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney (UBC Press, Vancouver, 1999), Dewdney engaged George Turner and a few other former Royal Engineers and, from their staging point at Fort Hope, hiked over Dewdneys original trail to Rock Creek, renewing the path as necessary. Initially their supplies were packed by Stó:lo carriers, but much to Dewdneys chagrin, these folks refused to venture down the Similkameen, so the party was forced to buy horses from the Allison family. They had to release the exhausted horses in the Kettle River valley near Rock Creek, and with the aid of some Salish porters, trekked to Christina Lake. From there Dewdney sent Turner and most of the crew up over whats now the Santa Rosa Pass through the Rossland Range to get to the Fort Shepherd, built by the HBC in 1858 on the right bank of the Columbia River opposite the mouth of the Pend dOreille. He, himself, and a couple of others, walked over the Rosslands farther north and came out on the Lower Arrow Lake where they acquired a canoe and paddled down to rejoin Turner et al at Shepherd on May 27th, 1865. While the crew rested, Dewdney and a couple of volunteers paddled back up the Columbia and up the Lower Kootenay River, portaging 14 times to get to the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. There they met trader Dick Fry of Bonners Ferry who guided them across the Lake to examine the Rose Pass and the fabulous Ledge of lead that eventually founded the tragic Bluebell mine. The Rose Pass, as Angus Macdonald, the HBCs factor at Fort Colvile, had informed Dewdney, did indeed breach the Purcell Mountains to allow an easy trail to wander down into the Trench via the St. Marys River. Dewdney also explored the Wellsnow Earl GreyPass at the head of Hamill Creek toward the upper end of the Lake, before concluding that the Lake itself was too formidable a barrier to the easy operation of a trail.
Repairing to Fort Shepherd, Dewdney designated it as his headquarters and arranged that supplies be delivered thereto. Thomas Ellissoon to be J.C. Haynes ranching neighbour in the Okanaganwas hired as quartermaster. Some of the men were sent working their way westward back up Trail Creek, roughing out the Trail over the Santa Rosa and back to Rock Creek. Meanwhile, Dewdney, ex-Royal Engineer Howell and a small crew crossed the Columbia and blazed their way up the Pend dOreille to the Salmo River and then scrambled up the Lost Creek defile to oer top the Selkirks Nelson Range by the Kootenay Pass, a difficult route likely chosen satisfy the Seymours expectation that the Trail be kept as short and as close to the Boundary as possible.3 Wading and slashing through the swampy bottoms of the Purcell Trench at the head of Kootenay Lake, the crew mounted the ancient Purcells by Duck Creek, followed the Goat Rivers valley for a ways and finally hit the Walla Walla Trail at what is now Yahk in the Moyies valley. Probably ignorant of the fact that David Thompson had charted the Moyie route for the North West Company in 1808, Dewdney and his party walked up the Walla Walla to arrive at Galbraiths Ferry in early June. They met ORielly, Dewdneys friend, and he assured them that the diggings were very quiet. Having yielded somewhere between nine and fifteen million dollars in raw gold, the Wild Horses sands were rapidly playing out. Many miners had already rushed off to new strikes leaving only die-hards such as Dore and his crew to patiently wash away the last vestiges of Fisherville. Nonetheless, the Trail was to be built, for no one at the time knew that the big money had already been taken out of the Trench. Engaging a well travelled Englishman, William Fernie, Dewdney hired a crew of 65 mostly Chinese from among the unemployed miners and set them working back southward under Fernies direction, widening the Walla Walla to the mandatory 4-foot width, well packed and shored up against slippage on the slopes. After arranging with a Walla Walla-based merchant to set up a supply cache at the head of Kootenay Lake near what is now the Town of Creston, Dewdney and a Métis packer named Louis headed back down the Walla Walla and over to Kootenay Lake where they acquired a canoe to paddle back to Fort Shepherd. There Dewdney hired more crew and, segregating them along racial lines, set them workingCaucasians westward, Chinese eastward. As the project was reaching its conclusion late in the summer, Dewdney again travelled to Wild Horse where OReilly paid him 25 thousand dollars worth of gold dust to compensate his crews. Roughly completed that September and finally finished in early 1866, this last section of Dewdneys trail had been an expensive investment for the cash-strapped colony. Totalling $74,000 dollars, costs had over-run the original estimates by some 50%. Even then, no bridges had been constructed. Trees blown down across the Trail and yearly wash-outs, especially in the swamps at the head of Kootenay Lake, were to require further expenditures. Though the establishment of the Kootenay Post Office there in 1866 was to make Wild Horse the government outpost in the Trench, so remote and quiescent was the locale that the maintenance of the Trail could not be justified, and after a major clearing of the deadfall and brush on the difficult section between the Moyie and Fort Shepherd in 1875, it was allowed to revert to nature. By its failure to keep the Trail open, Victoria surrendered twenty years worth of East Kootenays commerce to American merchants sending supplies in on the old Walla Walla Trail. Until the CPR built its Mainline through Golden at the upper end of the Trench in 1885, the only way from Wild Horse to the provincial capital was a month-long journey down to the end of the Walla Walla and then down the Columbia to Portland and a steamer connection to Victoria.
Dewdneys Chinese labourers, Celestials, congregating at the old Wild Horse diggings and patiently reworking the spoils, soon out-numbered Whites there three to one. They were a frugal lot, buying not much in the way of supplies from the Galbraith brothers who, though their livelihood had largely disappeared with the miners departure, chose to stay in the neighbourhood. Pre-empting homesteads on Josephs Prairie, they began to ranch while they expanded their mercantile endeavours by buying the HBC store at Wild Horse in 1868 and moving it down to the Ferry. While John saw to the ranch, James ran the ferry and store. In 1870 their brother, R.L.T. (Robert) joined them, pre-empting a homestead at the ferry office on the left bank of the Kootenay. Sarah La Rue married John and they opened a store beside the customs post on the Prairie in 1874. It became the John Thompson Galbraith and Brother Trading Company when James left the ferry business to Robert and moved onto the Prairie. While running their store the brothers expanded their ranch, buying up sections of the Prairie as they could afford to.
By an act of the British Parliament passed on August 1st, 1866, the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouvers Island were proclaimed united under the formers name on November 19th, choosing Victoria as its capital on May 25th, 1867. On July 1st of that year the Dominion of Canada confederated and bit by bit began ingesting the rest of British North America. Promised a rail link to the East, or at least a waggon road, on July 20, 1871, the Colony of British Columbia had joined the Canadian confederation as the Dominions sixth province.
The new provinces Constitution Act of 1871 created the Kootenay Electoral District and gave it two seats in the parliament in Victoria. Wm. Cosgrove Milby had been representing the Kootenays for only a year when he died suddenly in October of 1877. That December, Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith was elected as his replacement. When elections for the provinces Third Parliament were called for May the next year, R.L.T. Galbraith allowed his name to stand and he was again voted in. That year the Constitution Act was amended to eliminate one of the Kootenays seats, so when the Fourth Parliament was elected in July of 1882, it was only Galbraith who returned to Victoria. Colonel Baker won the Kootenay seat in the Fifth parliamentary elections of June of 1886, and Robert Galbraith retired to run his businesses at The Ferry where a little settlement had grown up on his 237 acre homestead around the store and ferry office.
Sam Steele Founds a Fort
In 1866 hostilities had flared between the Ktunaxa and the Piikani over the formers persistence in hunting bison on the plains a couple of times every year, disturbing the herds, making life more difficult for the Piikani. Three years of minor mayhem in this remote corner of North America concerned the Governments somewhat as Whites were accosted on occasion and required to surrender their guns, their horses, equipment. Finally, in 1874, reacting to these impositions and other incidents, the Member of Parliament for southern B.C., pioneer merchant John Andrew Mara, urged Ottawa to build a military post in the Trench. Nothing was done and in 1875 the Ktunaxa reached an accommodation with their enemies which permitted them to hunt on the Plains in peace. But for the occasional Indian skirmish or horse raid, life in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench was fairly tranquil.
As more Whites settled in the area, Galbraiths Ferry began to rival Wild Horse as the local centre. In 1886 a waggon trail the Colonization Road, was constructed northward up the Trench from the Ferry to Canal Flats whence travel onward to Steamboat Landing on Windermere Lake could be accomplished by horseback. After the Kootenay River was bridged at the Flats the next year, the Road was extended to the Landing which enjoyed both summer steamer and winter road contact with the CPR Mainline at Golden. Though the Road made Galbraiths Ferry a regional transportation hub, Wild Horse retained the post office, and when the province felt in needed a gaol in the district, it was built there. It was from this gaol that Chief Isidore sprung one of his warriors in 1887, thus drawing Superintendent Samuel Benfield Steele and Division D of the North-West Mounted Police into affairs in the Trench.
Trouble had been brewing for a while. By 1880 White hunters had all but exterminated the great bison herds, greatly stressing the Plains Indians who depended utterly upon the beasts. Bison hunters themselves, the Ktunaxa, too, felt the loss sharply. In 1884 supposèdly Nakota and Assiniboine (Sioux) emissaries toured the Trench persuading the Ktunaxa to support Louis Riel in his demands that the Government treat the Native Peoples and Métis of Manitoba and Canadas North-West Territories fairly and compensate them for their losses as the activities of the Whites began to alter forever the Prairie ecosystem.
In an incident perhaps related to the visit, two American prospectors, Matt Hylton and Bill Kemp, were robbed and murdered on a remote Trench that August. No-one was apprehended, but the case remained very much open as Henry (Harry) Anderson, the local constable, continued his investigations.
Adding to the anxieties of the Ktunaxa, further up the Trench in 1884 and 1885 the CPR was running its Mainline through the Kicking Horse and Rogers Passes. Striving to maintain sobriety among its navvies, the Railway had persuaded the Dominion government to enact the Public Works Peace Preservation Act which, among other matters, prohibited the sale of alcohol within twentylater, fortymiles of the CPR right-of-way. Building through the North-West Territories of Assiniboia and Alberta, the Dominion Police and the N-WM Police had enforced the prohibition, but, in B.C., anyone with a provincial liquor vendors licence was entitled to sell boozeexcept to Nativesanywhere in the province, and federal statutes be damned. Though the Dominion Police gamely tried to intercept the traffic, potation was smuggled in quantity to within easy hiking distance of the railhead camps. A prime source of inexpensive supply was from the American territories bordering B.C., and the Trench became a conduit as heavy packtrains operated by the likes of John J. Streit began plodding regularly up the old Walla Walla Trail from Sandpoint bringing in all sorts of supplies for the CPs workers. Some Ktunaxa, eager to sample all the offerings of civilization, indulged their thirsts despite chiefly imprecations. The consequences were alarming, if not disastrous. Isidore resented this dissolution of his Nation.
At the same time, the provincial government was pursuing a policy of segregating Natives on reservations in order to secure land for homesteaders. Peter OReilly, the Indian Reserve Commissioner, had arrived in the Trench in the summer of 1884 and contracted surveyor F.W. Aylmer to help him determine and demarcate suitable sites. Employing a formula which computed the acreage of a reserve according to the number of people in the Band, OReilly and Aylmer had earned the animosity of the Ktunaxa by consistently under-estimating the size of the Clans and then allotting cramped reserves on terrain not always attractive. Compounding the Indians ire, Colonel Baker, having just acquired Josephs Prairie from the Galbraiths, informed Chief Isidore that Native-owned livestock was henceforth barred, and to ensure compliance, threw a stout fence around the heart of the property. Acting as Bakers surveyor was the detested F.W. Aylmer.
To supplement his income from surveying, Aylmer moonlighted as special assistant to Constable Anderson. In March of 1887, the distinctive saddle of one of the murdered Americans was seen in the possession of one Kapula and his confederate, Little Isidore. Acting under warrants issued by local Justices of the Peace William Fernie and Michael Phillipps, Anderson arrested Kapula and lodged him in the Wild Horse gaol under Aylmers watchful eye. Chief Isidore could not bear the affront; by ancient tradition and the more modern Roman Catholic Church custom he had recently embraced, his People were under his jurisdiction, and the fact that Aylmer was the gaoler served as salt in the wound to the chiefs pride. With a score of warriors4, writes Robert Stewart in Sam Steele: Lion of the Frontier (Centax Books, Regina, 1999 ), he rode to Wild Horse, menaced Aylmer into releasing the prisoner, and then stormed into Galbraiths Ferry where they treated the residents to a bloodcurdling display of Ktunaxa war-dancing. In conclusion, Isidore ordered Anderson and Aylmer to vacate the region, and commanded Baker to remove his fence and follow suit. The former pair though it best to comply. Perhaps of sterner stuff, Baker declined to move. Isadore and the Ktunaxa were incensed, but confined their reaction merely to grazing their stock on Josephs Prairie in defiance of Bakers edict, intimidating the Whites that they didnt like with their reputations as enthusiastic fighters, and perhaps celebrating each others little victories with toasts of booze bought, suggests author Stewart, south of the Medicine Line.
In May, news of the imbroglio finally reached Victoria. Memories of Riels rebellions were still vivid, and with the expulsion of a provincial constable from his Riding and a sitting member of the provincial parliament threatened, Whites in the East Kootenays feared for their lives. Should the Ktunaxa join with the restive U.S.-resident Flatheads, they could quite easily cleanse the Trench of settlers. Action, James Baker declared in the parliament, had to be taken, and swiftly. As, by B.C.s articles of confederation, Indian affairs were a federal responsibility, Premier Smithe telegraphed Ottawa to demand the situation be immediately addressed lest the insurrection spread. Prime Minister Macdonald responded by requiring the new and unpopular Commissioner of the NWMP, Lawrence William Herchmer, to attend to the matter. Herchmer sent his brother, William Macauley Hershmer, who, as Inspecting Superintendent,5 was the second in command of the NWMP. William travelled to the Trench in June and surveyed the situation with a military eye. He concluded that should the Ktunaxa field the 350 well-armed warriors that he estimated that the Tribe could raise, Big Trouble could ensue. With Dr. Israel Wood Powell, the federal superintendent of Indian Affairs for B.C. since 1872, and former constable-turned-stipendiary magistrate Arthur Wellesley Vowell, William formed a committee to try and settle things. Though the matter of Josephs Prairie and the extent and location of other reserves remained unresolved, Chief Isidore did agree to deliver Kapula for trial in exchange for the appointment of a local Indian Agent. Michael Phillipps, whose marriage to Rowen(a) in 1866 made him the son-in-law of Chief David of the Tobacco Plains band, was installed in that capacity for a six year term on July 1st, 1887.
Commissioner Herchmer might have been confident that he and his brother could settle matters in the Trench, but the settlers in the area pressed their representativesJohn Andrew Mara in Macdonalds Conservative government in Ottawa, and, surprise; James Baker in Victoriato clamp down on the Indians and install a permanent police presence in the Trench.
Following cabinet instructions, on May 20th Commissioner Herchmer had sent a message to his disliked subordinate, Superintendent Steele at Fort Macleod, ordering him to march his 75-man strong D Division cross-country to the CPR Mainline and catch a train to Golden. Arrived there at 10:30 in the morning of June 28th, Steele set up camp, notes Stewart, on the left bank of the Kicking Horse River. Commissioner Hershmer arrived the next day to inspect the camp and tell Steele to settle in until Inspecting Superintendent Hershmer and his committee arrived to apprise the command of the situation. With the assistance of Inspector Zachary Taylor Wood and Sergeant-Major Tom Lake, Steele kept discipline among his men and sought transport south. On July 5th the committee arrived in Golden aboard what even its own captain, Francis Patrick Armstrong, called a pretty crude steamboat; the Duchess. Inspecting Superintendent Hershmer told Steele to saddle up and head his men south. Writes Art Downs in Paddlewheels on the Frontier, Steele engaged the Duchess to sail the Divisions provisions and equipment up the Columbia for 75¢ per hundredweight. Loaded and then left to absorb water for a few days as the powers that were dithered over the departure of the expedition, when the Duchess finally set sail she promptly capsized. Superintendent Steele was forced to hire Jack Hayes awkward, under-powered little Clive to carry what cargo could be salvaged from the Duchess 100 miles up the Columbia to Sams (Steamboat) Landing on Lake Windermere. With no competition, Hayes felt justified in charging 25% more. It was a slow journey with the troops having to drag the Clive much of the way. They arrived on July 23rd and were met by Robert Galbraith with animals to form a pack-train. Finally, on Sunday, the last day of July, 1887, the Police, all scarlet tunickd and heavily armed, arrived at Galbraiths Ferry and made camp on Galbraiths homestead. Instructed to infix a respect for federal authority in the Trench, Steele bought a ten acre plot over-looking the Ferry from the Galbraiths for one dollar. Yellow pines were felled by the score, decorticated and the solid buildings Kootenay Post, the first Police establishment west of the Great Divide, were soon under construction.
Isidore was impressed, especially with the little field piece that the Superintendent demonstrated along with a display of the Policemens horsemanship and proficiency with small arms. The old Chief had agreed to surrender Kapula and Little Isidore into NWMP custody, but he took his time, taking the measure of Steele and his Police. Finally, on August 20th, the accused gave themselves over.6 Kapula and Little Isidore were arraigned before Magistrate Steele at Wild Horse Creek7 on August 25th, and at the conclusion of their brief trial on September 5th, were released for lack of evidence. In a re-investigation of the circumstances over the next few weeks, Steele condemned Constable Anderson as incompetent, if not crooked, a charge he levelled at the provincial magistrates involved, as well.
To resolve the Indian lands problem the province had sent out a three-man commission including the provincial Indian Commissioner, the erstwhile hanging judge of Wild Horse, Peter OReilly, and, again, Dr. I.W. Powell, the federal Indian Commissioner for B.C. Steele made common cause with the triumvirate. With Father Coccola mediating in discussions with the Ktunaxa, the parties agreed that the reserves as they were could not support the Natives agricultural ambitions. Steele, however, recognized an imperial soul-brother in James Baker and tended to ignore the justice of Isadores demands in favour of the advancement of the sanctified duty of the British Empire to control as much of the Globe as practically possible, for the Good of All. He discounted Dr. Powells observation that the St. Marys reserve appeared particularly ill-suited for farming. Rejecting the Band chiefs estimated requirements as ludicrously large, the governments negotiators repaired to Victoria to draw up new reserve boundaries. Though the new boundaries surrounded more and somewhat better land, they followed closely one line laid out by OReilly in 1884 which alienated Josephs Prairie from Ktunaxa control. That was that. If Isidore wouldnt or couldnt make the Ktunaxa comply, he would be officially dismissed as Chief. Resigning himself to the demise of his Peoples old, free ways, Isidore accepted the adjustments and signed away the Tribes claims to Josephs Prairie, though he was able to squeeze $490 from Baker on behalf of his people for the improvements they had made on The Prairies. Their Reserves. 1887/88 bounds have cramped and confined the Ktunaxa since. James Baker, the title to his lands now secured, subdivided his property and built the rudiments of a town against the day when the Railway would steam into the Trench.
With a large force and not much in the way of actual law enforcement to accomplish, Steele set his men to work making local improvements. They laid out and dug irrigation ditches on the St. Marys reserve and built a little school there.
Within a year of the Divisions arrival, it was clear to the Police that peace had returned to the Trench. Bored with inaction and reduced in strength by the desertion of ten men and the deaths of four others from typho-malarial fever, Company D needed a change of venue. As well, the Mounties wanted to replace the commander of the Fort Macleod district of Alberta, and Superintendent Steele was their choice. Leaving a couple of constables to maintiens le droit, Steele gathered his remaining 60 men and, guided by the legendary John George Kootenai Brown and accompanied by Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith, at 0530 hours on August 9th, 1888, marched away from Kootenay Post. Eastward through the Crowsnest Pass, after nine days the force reached Fort Macleod. Doubtless to honour the Superintendent for his services, but perhaps to commemorate the work of the Department of Public Works which had that year thrown a bridge across the Kootenay at their settlement, the citizens of Galbraiths Ferry voted to rename their community. Thus Fort Steele came into being.
With the loss of the Mounties Fort Steele died back a bit and come 1892, according to a letter penned by Frederick Paget Norbury as cited by Damien Inwood in his Norbury and Nation (Canadian West Magazine, No. 5, Fall, 1986), the settlement consisted of one hotel, one store, a provincial government office and jail, a federal government office for customs and Indian Affairs, a saddlery, and perhaps three private dwellings. Greatness however, awaited. Coinciding roughly with the Mounties departure, a second, mechanized, attack was mounted on the Wild Horse, and for the next fifteen years the hydraulic jets of such outfits as the Nip and Tuck Mining Company of Vancouver (later the Nip and Tuck Gold Hydraulic Mining Company of London), the Wild Horse Gold Mining Syndicate directed by W.A. Drayton of New York, and the England-based Invicta Gold Mining (Placer) Company, Limited, blasted away every cubic foot of the Creeks banks to recover the last of the estimated twenty million dollars worth of golden grains that Nature had scattered in the gravel. Though this effort added little to Fort Steeles material wealth, hard rock mining at Kimberley did.
Riverboating on the Upper Kootenay
From the fall of 1892, when Bourgeois and Langhill discovered their bonanzas up at what is now Kimberley, and with the discovery of the nearby Sullivan deposit and the St. Eugene galena lode on Lake Moyie a year later, a fortune awaited anyone who could get the ore to market.
Enter the Annerly, an ugly, comfortless stern-wheeled steamboat built at Jennings, Montana, during the winter of 1891-92 by Walter Jones and Captain Harry S. DePuy, organizers of the Upper Kootenay Navigation Company. Like a crippled duck she flapped and splattered her way up the sand-barred Kootenay River as far as the Quick ranch, 15 miles downstream from Fort Steele after the spring break-up in May of 1893. Loading fifty tons of Mark Creek Crossing ore, she proved possible the navigation of the River when Captain DePuy was able to deliver her cargo to Hills Great Northern Railway at Jennings, 130 miles back downstream, for shipment to the Puget Sound Reduction Company smelter at Everett, Washington. Charging ten cents per passenger-mile and two dollars a ton for freight, the Annerly made money, and the company was able to hire Captain James Daily Miller to command her for the remainder of the season.
The Annerlys success attracted the notice of Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong, a principal in the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company, erstwhile commander of the turtle-turning Duchess and its 1888 replacement, the new Duchess. Inspired, in 1893 Armstrong got busy building the 90-ton Gwendoline at Hansens Landing, twelve miles upstream from Fort Steele near present day Wasa. According to Art Downs in Paddlewheels on the Frontier, Upper Columbia Nav. and Tram. intended to haul Mark Creek ore to the CPR at Golden, as well as deliver freight thence to the mining country. To make the connection between the Columbia and Kootenay River systems, the company planned to lay a 1.5-mile long horse-drawn railway across Canal Flats, ignoring Baillie-Grohmans degenerating waterway. As the navigation season cooled to a close, Armstrong launched the uncompleted Gwendoline onto the River and had it hauled to the Flats where he had it hauled, according to Constance and Christopher Graf in Reflections on the Kootenay: Wardner, B.C., 1897 - 1997 (Christopher & Constance Graf, Wardner, 1997), on skids and rollers. During the winter Armstrong completed his boat, and on May 22 of 1894 headed southbound for Fort Steele. At Canal Flats the fortuitous concurrence of the Spring melt on both the Columbia and Kootenay systems put enough water into Baillie-Grohmans canal to permit the Gwendoline to pass through the decrepit ditch. It was still a tough go, and when Armstrong sailed his completed craft to Fort Steele on May 28th of 1894, he spoke no more of carrying ore to Golden. The Gwendoline remains the only steam boat to go south through B-Gs canal.
By the time the Gwendoline was ready to help the Annerly float ore to Jennings, the Department of Public Works had replaced the wester-most span of the Fort Steele bridge, over the deepest part of the channel, with a moveable one, permitting the passage of riverboats. As the Annerly and the Gwendoline made ready to profit from the ore-hauling business, Captain Thos. Flowers launched a hull at Hansens and floated it down to Libby, Montana, where its machinery was installed. Christened the Libby, it was a screw-driven steamer which was so unsuited to service on the shallow, snag-filled waters of the Kootenay that it soon earned the sobriquet Fool Hen. Despite its handicap, the Libby was reportedly able to manage a couple of trips between Jennings and North Star Landing during the 1895 season before Flowers admitted failure and scrapped his little beast.
Come 1895 the worst bumps had been ground out of the McGinty Trail by a steady stream of one-ton waggons creaking Mark Creek ore 20-odd miles down Cherry Creek to The Landing. Drawn by honking mules cursed by whip cracking drivers, the waggons or, in winter, sleds, dumped around 30 tons of galena a day into storage sheds built on the Kootenays bank. The Gwendoline and the Annerly could not keep pace with the waggons, and in March of 1896 Captain Armstrong announced that Captain Miller had joined Upper Columbia Nav. and Tram. and would be charged with overseeing the construction of a new boat at Libby. Built by Louis Paquet and named for Captain Armstrongs daughter, the American-registered Ruth was launched on April 23, 1896. At 275 tons, she was the largest boat ever to serve on the Upper Kootenay. Designed to carry 100 tons of cargo and several passengers in comfort, the Ruth exceeded Captain Millers expectations when she was able to complete her first voyage to Fort Steele on May 27th, only two days after she left Jennings. Write the Grafs, during the 1896 season the Ruth was employed on the River between Jennings and the Landing while the newly lengthened Gwendoline worked upstream from the Landing to the Flats where cargoes were exchanged with the companys tramway cars.
Apprised that the North Star mine reckoned that it would want to ship some 5,000 tons or ore each year for the foreseeable future, the two rival riverboat companies struck a bargain to share the trade two tons to three in Upper Kootenay Navigations favour. To accomplish this, DePuy and company got busy building the 125-ton Rustler probably at Jennings. It made its first run up to the Landing in June of 96, and the efforts of the two companies quickly diminished the stockpiles of ore at North Star Landing.
A twisted, constricted stretch of the River below the Boundary, the Jennings Canyon never failed to challenge each steamboat which ran its waters. After only six weeks of operation, the Rustler was destroyed when the Canyon caught her in an eddy and hurled her upon the rocks. Unable to recover financially from this blow, Upper Kootenay Nav. sold out. Its assets, including the wharf at Jennings and the nasty little Annerly, soon found their way into the portfolio of Upper Columbia Nav. and Tram.
With the entire Upper Kootenay and upper Columbia waters to themselves, Armstrong and Miller thought it best to restructure their business and incorporate a company with a name that better reflected the scope of their activities. Taking in the ubiquitous James F. Wardner as a third partner, they formed the International Transportation Company (ITC) on April 5, 1897, with $60,000 in capital and headquarters in Spokane, Washington. Having salvaged what machinery it could from the Rustler, ITC commissioned the construction of a new steamer, the North Star. Before she was launched on May 28th and finally ready for her maiden voyage on June 26th of 1897, however, disaster overtook the ITC.
The terror of the Jennings Canyon were two huge rocks set right in the elbow of the gorge. Refused assistance by the U.S. federal government, over the winter of 1896-97 Armstrong and Miller hired crews themselves to remove these menaces. Efforts were rewarded with only partial success, and when Captain I.B. Sanborn tried to scoot the Ruth through the Canyon on May 7th of 1897, he got her jammed cross-wise on the remnants of the Rocks. A bad situation turned worse an hour later when Captain Armstrong, unaware of Sanborns predicament, drove his Gwendoline into the gorge and smashed into the Ruth. Though no-one was killed, the Ruth was a write-off and Captain Sanborn was released from service, moving to Moyie Lake to build and sail the tiny Echo. With the ink barely dry on its papers of incorporation, the ITC, having already scrapped the Annerly, was boatless and itself nearly sunk until the Gwendoline was refloated and drifted down to Jennings for repairs. It was back in service by May 28th, but, had not the new boat been nearly completed, the company would likely have gone out of business. As it turned out, the beautiful 265-ton North Star floated ITC back into profitability that summer as Captain Miller was able to complete 21 round trips before autumn low water forced him to tie up in Jennings on September 3rd.
Commercial success attracts competition, and on August 16, 1897, the State of Washington granted the incorporation of the Kootenai River Transportation Company, Limited, with $50,000 in capital, headquarters in Spokane, and John D. Farrell, Captain M.L. McCormack and W.J.C. Wakefield as its trustees. The associates immediately contracted the laying of a keel at Jennings, and on November 8th proximate, launched the 226-ton J.D. Farrell onto the River.
Come January of 1898 both Wardner and Armstrong had had enough of boating on the Upper Kootenay. Enraptured by the Klondike sirens golden song, they quit respectively the presidency and the general management of the ITC and, the latter preceding the former, headed north. Assuming Wardners share in the ITC was the Fort Steele Mercantile Company.
Leading off the 1898 navigation season on the Upper Kootenay, on April 28th the elegant J.D. Farrell, complete with bath rooms, steam heat and electric lighting for the comfort of 123 passengers she could accommodate, celebrated her arrival at Fort Steele. A bit larger than her rivals in the ITC, she was able to easily carry a hundred tons of ore and draw only 4.5 feet of water doing it. Built to give at least ten years of service, she would see but one season on the River. Despite two winters effort by the ITC, the rocks in the Jennings canyon were still a hazard. On June the 4th McCormack, attempting to sail the J.D. Farrell through against a ferocious head wind, smashed a hole in his boats stern and was barely able to reach shallow water before she settled, eventually leaving only her wheelhouse above the surface. Salvaged, she made a few more trips that season, but her profits, like those of the Gwendoline and the North Star, which was damaged and seldom ventured above the Canyon, had been stolen by the CPRs completed Crows Nest Line. With no future on the Kootenay, in June of 1899 the Gwendoline was loaded onto a Great Northern flatcar by new owners who had plans to use her on Duncan Lake in the upper Purcell Trench. Too wide to clear a rock cut along the tracks, she ended up a splintered ruin in the Rivers gorge at Kootenai Falls, Montana. The J.D. Farrell and the North Star remained tied up at Jennings until the former was purchased and the latter leased by the A. Guthrie Company in 1901 to run supplies to crews building J.J. Hills Crowsnest Southern Railway up the Kootenay valley, headed for the Crowsnest coal fields. When the job was finished, the J.D. Farrell was removed to Pend Oreille Lake. Captain Miller sold the North Star to the resuscitated Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company through the agency of the returned Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong. Come the navigation season in 1902, Armstrong churned his charge up to Fort Steele and on June 4 of 1902 set out for Golden. After a month of effort he succeeded in sailing through Baillie-Grohmans canal on July 1st to arrive at his destination on the 2nd. Steamboats never again challenged the waters of the Upper Kootenay.
Append the Grafs, the ITC was liquidated on June 20, 1902, followed into oblivion by Kootenai River Transportation on July 9th of the same year.
The Demise of Fort Steele
Downstream seven miles from North Star Landing, Fort Steele boomed from backwater hamlet to roaring town within months of the commencement of riverboat service in 1893. Prospectors, hoping that their predecessors had missed some of the regions riches nearly 30 years before, streamed into the neighbourhood. Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith, that year of 93 appointed the Indian Agent for the Ktunaxa, laid out a townsite and named the streets. Hotels and stores sprung up, Miss Adelaide Bailey began teaching school and A.B. Grace began publishing his Fort Steele Prospector. Excitement ran high during the mid-90s when it became evident that the CPR had finally decided to lay rail through the Crows Nest Pass and on into the West Kootenays. The stream of fortune seekers flowing into the East Kootenays became a flood peaking at an estimated 10,000 in the year before the news of the Klondike broke, 1897. As the grandest settlement in the Rocky Mountain Trench by far, Fort Steele looked poised to prosper. Their settlement already a hub of transportation with a steamer landing and a waggon road to the only bridge on the lower Canadian reach of the Upper Kootenay, citizens naturally assumed that the Railway would lay tracks to their doorsteps. R.L.T. Galbraith, the owner of the townsite, certainly promoted this belief.
With the CPR commencing construction in 1897, Fort Steeles first bank, a privately owned company, opened. That June Dr. Hugh Watts laid the cornerstone for the Diamond Jubilee Hospital and on August 27th D.W. Woodbury began running coaches weekly between the two points specified in his companys name, the Fort Steele and Kalispell Stage Line. On September 1st the Morse code key at the Spokane and Fort Steele Telegraph Company rattled into action. Canada Western Telephone and Telegraph opened its telephone exchange on March 30th of 1898, and that year, too, saw the Bank of Commerce buy out the private bank. As track was being laid through the Pass that spring, Robert Galbraith involved himself with Sick, Williams and Company who were building a fancy, false-fronted two-storey brewery. James Galbraith, in charge of the towns water works, ensured that the brewery would be adequately served. By that time the waggon road which, piecemeal between 1886 and 1892, was built between Galbraiths and Golden, had been improved into the Colonization Road, making a journey along it in one of Geary and Doyles Columbia Valley Stage coaches somewhat less uncomfortable. All sorts of interesting people began arriving in town, the Fort Steele Elite Minstrels were organized, a house of disportation was erected, good times rolled. Fort Steele was well on its way to becoming the urban centre of the Trench.
Then disaster struck.
Everyone in the Trench had long awaited the coming of a railway, but the owner of Josephs Prairie, Colonel Jas. Baker, had done more than wait. Elected to the Provincial Parliament in 1886 and instrumental in the formation of the Crows Nest and Kootenay Lake Railway Company two years later, the Colonel kept himself well placed to receive delegations from the CPR. When it became clear that the lodes of base metal ores struck in the Kootenays were of industrial quality and quantity, and that the coal of the Crows Nest pass area would make ideal smelter fuel, the CPR bought the control of the very railroad in which Baker was director. Three surveys to determine the most suitable right-of-way from the coal to the ore bodies were carried out. The first two routed the rails along the Kootenay River roughly where they run today, right by Fort Steeles doorstep. However, quiet negotiations in air doubtless rarefied by expensive cigar smoke forged a confidential agreement which ensured that the alignment recommended by the last survey would be adopted. Fort Steele would not see the tracks; they would instead overleap the Kootenay at Jim Wardners property some 25 kilometres downstream and drive from there directly onto Josephs Prairie. Later it was said that it was matter of economics; Colonel Baker was willing to make more concessions to the Railway than was Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith. Speculations persist, however, that the chosen alignment was part of the deal that the good Colonel, an influential member of the provincial Cabinet, he, somehow extracted from the CPR. Coerced is a verb sometimes applied.
While Baker christened Cranbrook and raked in cash from real estate sales, Fort Steele, despite its description as a thriving town in the Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for that year, began to rapidly wither. The more mobile of its citizens migrated to Bakers town even before the Railway began regular service thither on August 26th, 1898. Kimberley ore waggons beat a road to Cranbrook and North Star Landing began to disappear. In 1899 the road was replaced by a rail spur built for the CPR by contractors Lund and Breckenridge. Without work and trapped on the Upper Kootenay because the River below Libby, Montana, was never navigable, the remaining riverboats were tied up at Jennings. Fort Steele was isolated economically, and though many people left, others hung on in hopes that the CPR would connect their community to the B.C. Southern mainline as promised. But with the opening of the North Star branch between Cranbrook and Kimberley in 1899, even the die-hards began to drift away. The designation of the settlement as headquarters for the Kootenay Central Railway in May of 1901 failed to slow emigration. In May of 1904, the provincial government offices were removed to Cranbrook, as were many of the Forts better buildings. On September 23rd, 1905 the federal government closed its Customs bureau. A fire in 1906 destroyed much of Fort Steeles remaining central business district and years of subsequent neglect ruined many others. Happily for local bachelors, the Tin House brothel survived, but not even its attractions and the delayed arrival of a rail spur from Colvalli in 1912 could revive the settlement.
Abandoned by all but ghosts and a few stubborn old-timers gathered around the hulk of the Windsor Hotel, Fort Steele was well on its way to becoming a mere memory when the East Kootenay Historical Society, mindful of the old towns significance, succeeded in having it declared a Class A provincial park in March of 1961. The six salvageable buildings remaining on site were stabilized and dozens more in the region, including the original officerss quarters from Sam Steeles era,8 were rescued and given safe-haven in the Park. On June 22nd, 1967, in celebration of Canadas centennial, premier W.A.C. Bennett appeared to dedicate Fort Steele as a provincial Heritage Park under the auspices of the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing. On April 1st, 2004, a new organization, the Friends of Fort Steele Society, took over management of The Fort under the direction of their able and energetic president, Doug Marten. Over the years thousands of hours of restoration and new construction have gone into making Fort Steele the site one of south-eastern B.C.s première tourist attractions.
For the train buff, The Forts back lot is an adventure where one might meet curator Georgia Roller taking an inventory of the extensive collection of railroading tools. Besides the locomotives and oodles of railway junk to ponder and sketch, there is rare wood-built CPR caboose, a rarer Morrissey, Fernie and Michel Railway wooden coach (sitting exposed to the weather and wildlife in the autumn of 2006, its protective tarp having been removed, possibly because it was trapping more moisture than it was shedding), an ancient snow plow home-made by MR&M, and a couple of elderly freight cars.
Wanting to rejoin the Crowsnest Highway, travellers departing Fort Steele can, of course, go southward eight kilometres down the 93/95 to the big interchange and go where ever. There is, however, an interesting alternative.
Next: WARDNER or, on 95A, KIMBERLEY or, on 93/95, CRANBROOK