Ed Pulaski and Murray, Idaho – Part 3(a), Burying “Stumpy” Wicks

Eagle Creek cabin Archie Smith

Archie Smith in front of his Cabin at Eagle Creek (PHOTO SOURCE: PG 8, Barnard-Stockbridge Collection, University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives)

How to capture something of the flavor of the North Side mining encampments at which 18-year-old Ed Pulaski arrived in May, 1884?

We have perhaps been remiss in not mentioning that the original rush of ambitious arrivers to the new mining district, in 1883-1884, located themselves at Eagle City, some four or five miles west of “Murrayville.”  It was over the course of 1884 that the North Side’s population’s center of gravity shifted to Murray, which site was closer to the main diggings on Prichard Creek.  Eagle City and Murray formed the main axis of mining activity and settlement at the beginning of the North Side’s gold rush. Other smaller encampments nearby – Delta, Littlefield (originally Butte City), Thiard (Mrytle), and Beaver Station — also played parts in this early history.

In any case, at Eagle City in early May – the month of Pulaski’s arrival – there occurred a community event that spoke volumes about the character of the mining camp.  A miner known as “Stumpy” Wicks died.  His burial became a collective event and a symbolic tribute to the perseverance, solitude, and tragedy of the lone gold-seeker’s lot.  William S. Shiach’s majestic Illustrated History of North Idaho, published in 1903 (p. 1227), reproduced a newspaper account of “…the touching story of  the death and burial of ‘Stumpy’ Wicks” published in the Coeur d’Alene Eagle’s edition of May 3rd, 1884.  It may be noted that both (a) the events being reported and (b) the manner in which the Eagle reported them painted a vivid picture of the mining encampment’s culture, the same one young Ed became a part of when he arrived at Murray.  Below, we’ve reproduce the Eagle’s report, as offered in IHNI, in full.   

Over the Range

‘Stumpy’ Wicks was dead. The mountain fever had killed him. A few days before he started off into the hills, telling the boys that he would find something rich, or never go out again. He did not find anything rich, and he never went out again.  The fever laid its grip upon him, and in three days he was dead.  He had “gone over the range,” the boys said.

It became necessary to bury ‘Stumpy’ Wicks.  And how was he to be buried? By his relatives?  He had no relatives.  By his pard ?  He had no pard.  By the town?  There was no town.  Forty years ago ‘Stumpy’ Wicks had left his home no one knows where and his people no one knows whom to wander in the west.  He died alone.  His wife, his mother, his sister, if he had one, will never know where he died, or what hands laid him in the grave.

It was the boys. They got together and made a coffin out of a box or two, and covered it with black cloth.  They put ‘Stumpy’ into it, with a clean flour sack over his poor, dead face.  They chipped in and hired an ex-parson, who for some years had abandoned his profession to give ‘Stumpy’ a send-off.” They dug a grave to a good and honest depth in the tough, red earth.  They went out and found a flat rock for a headstone, and on it, with an engineer’s graver, they scratched the brief epitaph, “‘Stumpy’ Wicks.”  Then they followed the coffin wagon to the grave, walking through the mud and rain.

There were forty men in that funeral procession, and not one woman.  Very few were drunk, and nearly all had taken off their six-shooters.  There were forty men who stood around that open grave, and not one woman to drop a tear, as the ex-parson read a brief portion of the Episcopal burial service and offered a short prayer for the safe journey of ‘Stumpy’s’ soul over the range.  There was no history of ‘Stumpy’s’ life.  No one knew his history.  It was doubtless a sad enough one, full of slips and stumbles, full of hope, perhaps before he had finally ‘lost his grip.’  They found a woman’s picture, very old, and quite worn out, indeed, in ‘Stumpy’s’ pocket and this was buried with him.  This was probably his history.

There was not a tear shed at ‘Stumpy’s’ funeral.  Not a sob was heard but neither were there any oaths or any laughter.

When the time came to fill up the grave, ready hearts assisted ready hands, and the experienced miners quickly did the work. They rounded up the mound and fitted up the head-stone.  When the exparson stepped back from the grave he stumbled over the head-stone of Billy Robbins, the gambler, whom Antoine Sanchez knifed.  There were a good many of the boys resting there.  The bullet, the knife and the mountain fever had finished them, except those whom the [vigilance] committee assisted.  It was the committee who put Antoine Sanchez at the foot of Billy Robbins’ grave.

There was no green thing in this graveyard, no living plants, no little flowers.  It lay red and bare upon a red and bare hillside.  There were no white stones to mark the homes of the sleepers; those used were of the rough, red granite.

The boys were quiet. They were thinking, perhaps.  They looked up at the sky, which strangely enough, had in it no tint of blue, and the sky, in pity that no tear was shed, wept some upon them.

As the procession broke up and moved back to the saloons, one was heard to say that it was the ‘d—dest, mournfulest plantin’ he ever had a hand in.’  In fact the camp did not get back to its normal condition until the next day. There was something sad even for these rough souls in the lonely, unwept death of ‘Stumpy’ Wicks.  It made them think and I wonder if some of them did not reach out their arms from their blankets that night and hold them up and call out softly, ‘Oh, Stumpy, Stumpy! What is it you see over the range?  After a wretched, broken life, what is there for a man over the range?’

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