Ed Pulaski and Murray, Idaho – Part 2, Packing

Pack Train

Pack train  (Source unknown)

Without trains or even wagon roads in 1884, everything that could not be obtained locally at Murray and the other nearby mining encampments had to be packed in.  The area’s exploding population needed food, mining supplies, clothing, cooking implements, construction materials, whiskey and beer — and on and on the list went.  Shops and businesses readily arose to meet local demands for goods and services.  They too – including Saul Nathan’s store, which employed young Ed Pulaski – had to be supplied.  The Coeur d’Alene Nugget, the North Side’s first newspaper, reported in its March 22, 1884 issue that twenty new businesses had been launched in the preceding week alone (in IHNI, 1903, p. 989).  The newspaper itself, launched only the week before, on March 15, 1884, needed to ship its first four issues from Spokane, a necessary measure until the Nugget’s printing press arrived in the District (see Smith, 1932, p. 31).  In July of 1884, celebrated North Idaho newspaper man Adam Aulbach transported his own publishing equipment and wares from Belknap, Montana Territory to Murray on a pack train comprising forty-five mules (IHNI, 1903, p. 1134).   


Jim Wardner, borrowed from Wardner’s book

Jim Wardner must have known a little about the commodity-starved state of new mining encampments when he left New Orleans for the Coeur d’Alene Mining District.  His autobiographical account tells that he obtained 200 packages of butterine, an imitation butter, in Chicago for future sale in Murray.  He had a toboggan made and for two months dragged this product in successive trips from Thompson Falls to Murray.  He received, wrote Wardner, “almost fabulous prices” for his product.  Before long, having become exceedingly fit and strong from the experience, Wardner was running a freighting service along this trail, at twenty-five cents per pound, employing either his “cracking good dog team” or his complement of 40 mules (Wardner, 1900, pp. 52-53).  Supplies had to be shipped in and mining output, of course, had to be shipped out.  By 1884 a rapid scramble had been set in motion to expedite and improve all this necessary transportation.

Ed Pulaski’s packing job does not appear to have offered him a path to fortune.  He recalled in 1923 that his wage was “$40 a month and his board” (Wallace Press Times, Jul 10, 1923).  Food was relatively expensive, which would of course have relatively magnified Pulaski’s monthly wage.  Smith, by way of making a wage comparison, tells us that construction workers in the midst of the building boom at neighboring Eagle City, in 1883, earned from $5.00 to $8.00 per day.  If one goes to Google Maps and requests directions from Kellogg to Murray, Google responds with a 30-mile route taking the traveler first from Kellogg to Wallace, then north (left) up Nine Mile Creek Road, Dobson Pass Road, and Beaver Creek Road to Delta, then east and northeast (right) on the Delta-Murray Road to Murray.  Estimated travel time (by car) is one hour and three minutes.  Young Ed — according to McHarg’s account and Pulaski’s own confirmations in 1923 – used the Jackass Trail to make the Murray-Kellogg run.  It took a more direct route, traveling northeast along Jackass Creek from Kellogg up to Moon Saddle, around White Peak, and then down alongside White Creek to Delta (covering a distance of roughly 10 miles), and then turning east and northeast from Delta up to Kings Pass and then on into  Murray (covering roughly another five miles).  Total distance would have been about 15 miles, or half of that recommended by Google Maps today.  Delta would have been an active new North Side settlement in 1884 of perhaps 1,000 inhabitants.  Ed may have stopped there for a break, getting refreshments or food, for news, or just some conversation.

Goods ultimately headed for Saul Nathan’s store from Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, or the Northern Pacific Railroad stop at Rathdrum would have likely been transported via Lake Coeur d’Alene to either the Old Mission Landing, at Cataldo (in low water) or farther on to Kingston (in high water).  Travelers disembarking from the lake’s steamer might then “pay to be poled up the North Fork in a dugout…” (Wood, 1984, p. 10).  Freight shipments would typically be loaded on a pack train for travel along the South Fork to Jackass Creek, and thence up Jackass Trail to Murray.  The trip segment from Cataldo to the Jackass Trail’s trailhead covered 14 miles; the trip segment from Kingston to there, seven miles.  The trailhead was located at the mouth of Holmes Gulch near what is today the City of Kellogg.  We do not know whether young Ed Pulaski’s packtrain roundtrips to and from Murray covered the entire distances to the two steamboat landings at Cataldo or Kingston, or, on the other hand only covered the trip segment from the Jackass Trail’s trailhead to Murray and back.  The alternatives would obviously have made for substantial differences in the durations of each of his packtrain trips.

Map Magnuson inside cover - Jackass Trail segment.jpg

This map segment is borrowed from the inside cover of Richard Magnuson’s book, Coeur d’Alene Diary — it shows the northerly and northeasterly route of Jackass Trail from the South Fork to Delta.

At an average speed of two miles per hour – not counting packing and unpacking time, rest stops, pasturing, watering, mishaps along the way, and so on – a pack train with heavily loaded mules could make the trip in perhaps eight hours, or a single trekking day from Kellogg to Murray.  H.L. Talkington’s history textbook “for advanced grades,” published in 1929, offered a useful picture of the packer’s craft.  On the morning of a pack train’s departure, a herder would bring mules from their feeding grounds by shaking the bell mare’s bell and leading it to a location for loading up.  Mules had greater stamina than horses and were thus better suited to packing.  The merchandise to be shipped first had to be wrapped in bundles of as nearly equal weight as possible.  Mules wore packing saddles of two types.  The “ordinary” pack saddle, says Tarkington, “…was much like a saw-buck with a board at the lower end and on the under side which rested on the animal’s back” (p. 129).  The Aparejo saddle, on the other hand, was constructed from thick leather elements sewn together and filled with grass, “making a soft flexible saddle…” (p. 130).  Every mule, moreover, was outfitted with a saddle blanket and a halter, called a “hackamore,” to which was attached about five feet of rope.

Longer pack train trips and larger pack trains might require a crew that included a cook as well as a number of packers with somewhat different responsibilities.  Each mule could carry up to 200-300 pounds of cargo, the weight equally divided on each side of the animal.  Adequately dried and aired blankets would be placed on a mules back, then the saddle would be mounted and securely cinched, whereupon a load of merchandise would be attached.  Packers, mounted on their horses, traveled along side, within, or behind the train of mules, ever alert for mules balking, loads becoming loose or shifting, and any other problems.  The bell mare led the train.

Packers became close students of their individual mules, each of which may have possessed distinctive features of disposition and character.  Mules varied considerably in their willingnesses and tastes for the packing life.  A packer named Muggs Bentley (in Russell, 1978, p. 21) once described the virtues of a mule named Claire, clearly one of his favorites, as follows:

She knew more about packin’ and leadin’ a packstring than a packer.  A real veteran.  You’d go to the saddle pile and she’d come over to you and you’d throw a rope over her neck.  She was always in the right place at the right time.

Ornery, lazy, stubborn, and even dangerous mules were a source of endless annoyance, amusement, and storytelling among packers.  Bentley described a fellow packer’s frustration with a particularly obstructionist mule.  “One time in Avery,” wrote Bentley (p. 10, in Russell),

He was whipping a mule called Dudley with a halter rope.  He’s the only man I ever saw whip a mule with a halter rope and get by with it.  He was hittin’ at the mule and the mule was a ‘dodgin’ and he was hittin’ himself more than he was the mule.  Jus a ‘cryin’!  The big tears runnin’ down his cheeks and [he said] “You God damn son of a bitch!  You don’t know anything and I don’t know anything to tell you.”

Packer John DeMerit summed up the packing experience perhaps as well as anyone when he wrote, “When you a packer you have lots of hard days and can’t remember one from the other…” (p. 36, in Russell).  We have so far not found firsthand accounts of young Ed Pulaski’s packing experience over the course of 1884’s packing season.  He must have learned the art of it by doing – although, and of course, he may have had an experienced mentor.  All the vicissitudes of outdoor life surely made his packing experience one he would not ever forget – and perhaps never repeat.  Even so, C.K. McHarg reflected on Ed’s packing job in a decidedly positive key.  ’The young packer,’ he wrote,

never forgot the impressive beauty along the trail route; – the clear mountain stream traversing the canyon floor covered with a heavy growth of western red cedar and the hills covered with fine white pine stands, to be burned ruthlessly in 1889 to uncover the “mother lode” after the easy placer had been exhausted.


[William S. Shiach,] An Illustrated History of North Idaho, (IHNI), n.p.: Western Publishing Company, 1903.

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

Richard Magnuson, Coeur d’Alene Diary: The First Ten Years of Hardrock Mining in North Idaho, Portland, Oregon: Binford & Mort Publishing, 1968.

Bert Russell (ed.), Hardships And Happy Times, Harrison, Idaho: Lacon Publishers, Bert Russell, 1978.

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.

H.L. Talkington, Heroes and Heroic Deeds of the Pacific Northwest, Vol. II, Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1929.

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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