Ed Pulaski and Murray, Idaho – Part 1, Getting There

Northern Pacific Route segment - c 1900.jpg

Segment of a c. 1900 map showing the Northern Pacific Railroad’s routes crossing western Montana and North Idaho

The first phase of Edward C. Pulaski’s adventure in the American West took him to the new but then-burgeoning town of Murray, Idaho, arriving in May, 1884.  He would remain in the Murray area only until the end of 1884.  Still, the experience of coming to a new North Idaho mining town in the midst of its first flush of new wealth, new construction, and a flood of new gold-fevered and gold-seeking hopefuls must have left no little impression on him.

Only months before had word leaked out of A.J. Prichard’s gold finds on a creek that would come to bear his name.  Miners, would-be miners, and other mining-related enterprisers from all over rushed to make their fortunes.  The news of Prichard’s discoveries, wrote Jim Wardner (1900, p. 52) “set the whole country wild.”  On hearing, Wardner himself set out to join the throng for North Idaho from faraway New Orleans.  The Coeur d’Alene Mining District may have seen an influx of as many as ten thousand newcomers from early 1883 to the end of 1885, according to Livingston-Little’s estimate (1965, pp. 84-85).  The town of Murray, on its own – it was originally named “Murrayville” or “Murraysville,” founded on January 22, 1884 – swelled to a population of “not less than less than 2500 by the end of the summer of 1884” according to Smith (1932, p. 54, citing an estimate by Adam Aulbach).

The timing of Prichard’s find was propitious.  The final spike in the Northern Pacific Railroad’s route had been driven on September 8, 1883, at a site about 59 miles southeast of Missoula.  Moreover, the NP did little to muffle public excitement surrounding Prichard’s good fortune.  Indeed, the Railroad issued a glowing pamphlet titled The Gold Fields of the Coeur d’Alenes, the publication of which was said to have been largely responsible for a secondary rush of gold seekers in 1885.   

Young Ed Pulaski was part of this wave of in-migration.  According to C.K. McHarg’s (1941) tribute to Ed, the young man took the Northern Pacific Railway to Thompson Falls, Montana Territory, where he detrained.  Railroad historian John V. Wood tells us that the NP had initially bypassed Thompson Falls and instead made its disembarkation stop for Mining District prospectors at Belknap, Montana — six miles farther north on the line.  Thompson Falls’ citizens protested, however, and “…forced trains to stop at their town and convinced the miners and the railroad that they had the deserving community” (Wood, 1984, p. 11).  “Thompson Falls was not laid out until the beginning of 1884, noted Robert Wayne Smith (1932, p. 29), “but immediately thereafter it was recognized as the most practicable point of entry from the railroad on the east [i.e., east of Eagle or Murray].

Murray gold seekers - EaglePlacer

Murray-Eagle area placer gold seekers (lower front)

From Thompson Falls, McHarg’s tribute says, Pulaski “…took the trail over the snow-covered divide to the then booming placer camp of Murray, Idaho Territory.”  Having  disembarked at Thompson Falls, Ed almost certainly made for Murray via the Thompson Falls Trail.  James Wardner’s autobiographical account described the experience of traversing the same trail in no uncertain terms.  “It is thirty-five miles from Thompson’s Falls to Murray,” wrote Wardner, “and one of the worst trails ever traveled. The distance was a steady up-grade for twenty miles and then down-hill constantly for fifteen miles.”

John V. Wood (1984, p. 11) traced the Trail’s route as commencing at Thompson Falls, following Prospect Creek “for miles,” then turning right across Thompson Pass (elevation 4,859 feet), and then descending into the neighboring towns of Murray and Eagle.  Ed Pulaski  had probably not had much previous experience of trekking across mountain paths in the relatively flatter landscapes of Ohio and Missouri.  Moreover, we do not know how “light” or “heavy” he may have been traveling.  What we do know, however, is that there was a good deal more mountain trekking experience in store for him during his sojourn in the Murray and North Fork* area — a zone referred to locally as the “North Side.”

Soon after Pulaski’s arrival in Murray — in May, 1884 at the beginning of the summer work season – Ed was hired “as a packer to transport supplies for the general store of Saul Nathan, the first merchant of Murray.”  McHarg described the contemporary pack transport situation as follows:

At that time, before the stage road was built from Thompson Falls, heavy transportation followed the water route and water grade to avoid the deep snows of the divide. Supplies were loaded at the head of navigation on the Coeur d’Alene River, the trail following the South Fork to “Jackass Trail” over two low passes to Murray.

In fact, there was vigorous competition across transportation methods and vying routes in this early period.  A number of discussions of the pros and cons of these alternatives are offered in the historical literature.  Decades later, in June of 1923, the U.S. Forest Service announced the clearing and re-opening of Jackass Trail.  The occasion prompted by-then Ranger Ed Pulaski to reflect on his experiences on it many years before.  “Mr. Pulaski said that during the gold excitement on the north side,” the Wallace Press-Times reported, “he did considerable packing over this trail…” (June 30, 1923).

NOTE:

*That is, the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries.

SOURCES:

“Forest Service Ready For Work,” Wallace Press-Times, June 30, 1923.  (We thank Tom Harman for sharing this source with us.)

D.E. Livingston-Little, An Economic History of North Idaho, 1800-1900, Los Angeles, California: Journal of the West, Lorrin L. Morrison and Carroll Spear Morrison Publishers, 1965.

C.K. McHarg, “Edward C. Pulaski 1868-1931,” typescript dated November 7, 1941, U.S. Forest Service archives, Missoula, Montana.

Robert Wayne Smith, History of Placer and Quartz Gold Mining in the Coeur d’Alene District (M.A. Thesis, American History, University of Idaho), Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1932.

Jim Wardner, Jim Wardner, of Wardner, Idaho, by Himself, New York: The Anglo-American Publishing Company, 1900.

John V. Wood, Railroads Through the Coeur d’Alenes, Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1984.

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