The new and newly populated mining towns of the North Side evidenced an eager passion for news, whether from families and friends, via the mail, or regarding public events, both local and distant. The thirst for personal mail was evidenced in the grumbling and impatience that the matter early on engendered. Mail, before a proper post office and regular service were established, was a frustrating problem. “The most aggravating evil which vexes this camp at present,” wrote the Nugget (quoted in IHNI, p. 989),
is not poorly cooked beans, bad whiskey, dead beats nor the dreadful condition of our trails. All these are bad in their way, but are glorious when compared to the difficulty and uncertainty of getting our mail.
A letter required two weeks’ time to or from Spokane Falls – Spokane’s name at the time – to the North Side. One letter cost a miner fifty cents to post – recall, here, that young Ed Pulaski’s wage was about $1.30 per day. Without a post office, a local merchant would serve as a pick-up and drop-off spot. But “the constant vexations and interruptions” associated with offering this service to the public caused one establishment to quit the task and pass it on to another (see IHNI, Ibid.). Privately conducted mail service could be woefully irregular and uncertain.
Newspaper-type news was another matter. Newspapers readily sprang up on the North Side in 1883-1884 to quench the public’s thirst — including Glashan and Edwards’ Coeur d’Alene Nugget, Aulbach’s Morning Sun, Culver’s Evening Record, The Eagle at Eagle City, and others. These supplied their readerships with reports about local mining, current events, and outstanding controversies – thus also supplying fodder for local conversation, discussion, and, on occasion, heated disputes. Something of the flavor of this sort of local newspaper content may be gleaned from a particularly well known dispute and court suit that arose around a mine site known as the “Widow’s Claim.”
“One claim which became the subject of litigation,” recounted the IHNI (p. 990), “was especially famous in the early days, not alone for its richness, but because of the wit and humor which grew out’ of the trouble concerning it.” The claim in question was one of the four included claims comprising A.J. Prichard’s original Discovery group claim in the area of Murray, filed on March 23, 1883. Employing power-of-attorney authority,
Prichard’s Discovery claim included claims on behalf of (1) his son Jesse, (2) a Mrs. C.A. Shultz of Michigan, (3) a Willard O. Endicott, and (4) a Mrs. Mary H. Lane. It was Mrs. Lane’s claim that would become the hotly disputed “Widow’s Claim.” It bears noting that in addition to these four claims Prichard “…took a great many other claims on the creek bank for different friends by power of attorney” (IHNI, 1903, p. 26). The “Widow’s Claim” became, for a time, one of the most productive and most valuable of the North Side’s mining enterprises.
Mrs. Mary H. Lane, according to Smith (1932, p. 80), was the widow of one of A.J. Prichard’s comrades during the Civil War. Prichard served for three years in the 21st Arkansas Cavalry, a unit of the Confederate States of America (Geo. J. Prichard, “A brief outline…,” n.d., p. 1). James Lawrence Onderdonk (1895, p. 123) averred Prichard and Lane may have been romantically involved at some point. The common practice of employing power of attorney authority to stake multiple claims frustrated and angered later-arriving prospectors, men who more often than not had endured long journeys and many hardships to make their ways to the new gold fields. “To find the grounds so occupied in large lots as to prevent the opportunity of getting even a fraction of these gold-fields,” elaborated Onderdonk (Ibid.),
was so exasperating as to create an intense feeling in some towards the original locators; and as many of the claims were located in the names of parties who were never in the district, the jumping of claims became quite extensive, and many of the richest grounds were relocated, among which was the noted Widow Claim, and some others located originally by Mr. Pritchard in the name of some engaging and engageable widows, between whom and himself there was doubtless a mutual admiration, he being a widower at the time of the location of these mines.
Smith (1932, p. 80) writes that Prichard hired a number of men to work Mrs. Lane’s claim and “scrupulously weighed out and set apart” one-fifth as the “Widow’s Mite.” Yet, and at some point, another woman, a Mrs. Abe Eddington, claimed to be the widow to whom this claim properly belonged. Prichard rejected her claim, saying she was “an entirely different personage” (Smith, 1932, pp. 80-81). In a statement that must have been made years later, after Prichard had married for a second time, the new Mrs. Prichard further disparaged Mrs. Eddington as (in IHNI, 1903, p. 991) “…an impostor out and out,” adding,
…that she had no right whatever to the mining claim and no color of right, and that she sought to secure an interest in it by inducing Mr. Prichard to marry her. This he refused to do.
Meantime, however, a loosely organized group of interlopers known as the “Orphans” or the “Widows’ Boys” worked the Widow’s claim with considerable success. Their putative right to do so was based on their assertion that irregularities surrounded Prichard’s original claim on Mrs. Lane’s behalf. In June or August of 1884, according to Smith (1932, p. 81), the district court at Eagle City finally laid the issue to rest, deciding in favor of the claim jumpers.
This sort of drama – with its denouement of justifiable claim jumping, its hint of a romantic backstory, and the ultimate rejection the North Side’s celebrated and best known pioneer’s ownership claim – was sure to garner no little newspaper ink and readership interest in the North Side’s lonely and isolated mining towns. The same levels of ink and interest would in due course make the “Widow’s Claim” controversy one of the best remembered of the time.
James Lawrence Onderdonk, Idaho. Facts and Statistics Concerning Its Mining, Farming, Stock-Raising, Lumbering, and Other Resources and Industries, San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Co., 1885.
Geo. J. Prichard (“A brief outline of the life of Andrew J. Prichard, the discoverer of gold and silver in the Coeur d’Alenes, given by his son, Geo. J. Prichard”), Some of My Father, Andrew J. Prichards History as He Told Me and From My Own Memory, typescript, 3 pages, no date.
[William S. Shiach,] An Illustrated History of North Idaho, (IHNI), n.p.: Western Publishing Company, 1903.
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.