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Cedar Creek Gold Rush

John Wilkinson Leland Baseline

The discovery of gold and the ensuing stampede into Mineral County's Cedar Creek gulch took place more than 100 years ago.

[Time has dimmed much of the story, but it is known that Cedar had all the elements of greed, violence and rowdiness found in gold mining camps.]

[To give this synopsis at the gold rush a more personal character, the story of one Cedar couple, J.W. and Mary Leiand, has been added.  Some information and stories about them have been provided by their grandson.  Jay Leiand of Billing..]

Louis Barrette and Adolph Lozeau

The fall of 1868 found French-Canadian Louis Barrette disgusted with his luck in the Northern Idaho gold fields and looking around for better prospect enroute to the largely French-Canadian settlement of Frenchtown, located along the Mullan Road, Barrette rode parallel of the St. Joe River to its headwaters in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains.

As he followed along the summit trail, he spotted a basin on the Montana side that looked promising, to his gold prospector's eye.  Barrette resolved that he would return to the area after wintering in Frenchtown.  It was possibly on this trip that he met Adolph Lozeau, another French-Canadian. Lozeau operated a ranch about five miles east of the mouth of Cedar. His Forty Mile House had been a wayfarer’s stop along the Mullan Road for two years.

It was not until the next fall that Barrette finally returned to the basin that had caught his eye. He and his partner, Basil Lanthier, climbed into the steep, cedar-crowded gulch with several pack and saddle horses loaded with enough supplies to last them several weeks. Their departure from Frenchtown was not a secret, thus many eyes would be watchful for any indications that their trip was a success.

And indeed, they did find gold, on October 9,1869, at the mouth of Cayuse Creek.

Not content with their first prospects, Barrette and Lanthier kept searching the gulch for richer ground. They knew there would be an inevitable stampede once word of their discovery got back to civilization. They tried to find the richest site in the area and stake it out before the swarming masses had the gulch parceled out.

Finally, happy with the nearly $350 in gold dust he gleaned out of two prospect holes, Barrette laid out his discovery claim on the “Louiseville Bar,” now on the grounds of Cinker’s Mine.

News slipped from lips and the rush was on

In late November, the two prospectors returned to Lozeau's ranch with their news. Lozeau was sent to Frenchtown for more supplies since their appearance would bring a flood into the place. Somehow (there are various versions) the news slipped from Lozeau's lips and the rush was on.

The first week in December, a miners' meeting was held. J.E. Marion was selected recorder for the Barrette mining district, the headquarters being the town of Louiseville that had been laid out on Barrette's discovery claim. The town, according to the Deer Lodge "New North-West." was named after Lozeau's wife, Louise, not after Louis Barrette. The lower part of the gulch was called the O'Keefe district after David O'Keefe. He was a member of John Mullan's road-building crew and brother to Missoula's Cornelius "Baron" O'Keefe. 

Men poured in from all over the territory

The dimensions of the creek claims were limited to 200 feet long. The width of each could reach up the hillside to nine feet above the creek's water level.  Each person was entitled to one claim, except for the discoverer who was allowed one additional claim besides his No. 1 discovery claim.

Once word got past Frenchtown, men (there were no women in Cedar this early) poured in from all over the territory, Northern Idaho, the surrounding states and even the West Coast. From Missoula one correspondent to the "New North-West" wrote, "Missoula has been wild for a week." The result, he said, was that "Hotel keepers, merchants, clerks, idle men and loafers, all are gone..."

This frantic mob rushing into such an isolated spot presented some very real problems in the way of lack of shelter and food shortages. Packers soon poured into the snow-packed drainage with beans (50 cents a pound), bacon (75 cents a pound) and gumboots ($18 a pair). Housing was of the roughest sort-canvas shelters and brush hovels. The territory's papers warned the determined stampedists to go "well clad, blanketed and pursed."

Gold to stay alive

But food shortages and inclement weather could not shake loose those who suffered from "Cedar fever," and in a few weeks the gulch was staked out with anywhere from 1,700 to 2,500 claims.

Merchants were as avid as the miners about Cedar's future and ambitiously founded their business amidst the freshly laid out towns of Louiseville, Cedar Junction, Mugginsville, Lincoln City and others.

By summer, the high water receded in the creeks and the nearby Missoula (now Clark Fork) River, and sluicing of the winter's diggings began. Although the merchants and saloonkeepers were raking in the most money, Cedar's miners scratched out enough gold to stay alive, and some even more.

The census taken in the summer of 1870, coincidentally the gold rush's most prosperous period, reveals the Cedar miners' real and personal property amounted to about $340,000. At least this was the claimed value. Since miners are known to be tight-lipped about their yields, the actual amount was probably much higher.

Into this hectic milieu walked Leland

Into this hectic milieu walked John Wilkinson Leland. Although the exact date of his arrival is unknown, it is known that he was present in the area during the July-August census.

Leiand, born in Manchester, Indiana, on Feb. 8,1835, was one of nine children. At age 19 he rented a 120-acre farm, but this apparently was an unhappy arrangement, for five years later he moved on to Loda, Illinois. He stayed at Loda for a year, working for wages.

Upon hearing of the 1859 Pike's Peak gold discovery, Leiand headed to Denver. Penniless, with only the clothes he wore and a bedroll, Leiand joined the crowds mulling in the streets, stores and saloons of the Colorado boomtown. A summer spent scrabbling for gold in the countryside, already covered by claims, left Leiand looking for prospects other than gold. He found his opportunity through hunting and supplying meat to hungry miners.

From Denver Leiand moved on to Idaho in 1862 where gold was found in the Boise Basin. He spent two years there mining and, his grandson speculates, possibly gambling. By the end of his tenure there he had enough funds to go to Umatilla, Oregon, where he established a pack-team freighting business.

In the winter of 1865-1866 the Blackfoot mines near Helena drew Leiand again to the north country where he became involved with a lime business, perhaps as a result of a gambling debt. After selling his interest in the business in 1809, Leiand again returned to Umatilla for the winter.

News of the gold discovery reached Leiand

The news of the Cedar Creek gold discovery reached Leiand during his stay in Oregon and, with good traveling weather, he made a third trip to the north country.

Once in Montana, Leiand put down quick roots and became partners with five other men - L.D. Drummond, J. Fuser, E. Dowd, Thomas W. Fisher and S.S. Boinson. Leiand's personal worth, the census noted, was $600.

Just where Leiand first planted himself is still a question. Research indicates that he was in the Quartz area right after the July 1,1870, report of gold being discovered there.

In the gold rush's early weeks, it appeared that Cedar Junction, built at the convergence of Cedar and Oregon Creeks, would be the gulch's premier city.

The colorful scene

But by summer the steep, ravine-sided Louiseville became Cedar's hub, leaving the lower town to the brushfires that burned away most of its traces. Hurdy-gurdy houses, gambling dens, four bankers anxious to profit on an exchange of gold dust into greenbacks, shootouts -all were part of Louiseville's panorama. Men like Hugh O’Neal, John Ritchie, Alex Mayhew and W.J. McCormick all who hailed from Virginia City, added to the colorful scene.

Yet, even Louiseville, with its fancy two-story Louiseville House, hotel, assorted restaurants, 14 saloons and "two houses of ill-fame" succumbed to the same fate as Cedar Junction. As the year passed, the 600 to 1,000 in population pushed upstream or across the ridges. Miners became increasingly convinced that the paying gold deposits lay in the upper gulch. Many of Louiseville's 200 buildings lost their timbers to the flumes that later lined the creek. Forest City, which had "sprung into existence" the previous May, soon became Cedar's prime real estate.

Miners were imperiled

At Forest City the deep ground, 40 to 50 feet down to bedrock, allowed miners to tunnel and drift their claims. This meant mining was not unpaired by winter weather, but miners were imperiled by the frequent hazard of cave-ins.

Father Anthony Ravalli came to Cedar often on his rounds in the area. Several men and women, injured during work and recreation, were nursed by this beloved priest.

Swinging revolvers and talking big

The Christmas of 1870 at Forest City passed "very merrily" at Maggie Smith's Home where a social dance was held, and out on the street where "everybody (was) drunk and 'chief,' swinging revolvers and talking big; nobody hurt," However.

A letter from 'Norman' of Forest City to the Missoula and Cedar Creek "Pioneer," published in Missoula by Joseph Magee and I.H. Morison, described his town, saying:

"In every direction windlasses, shaft-houses, piles of mining timbers meet the eye; while walking through the town, one must pursue a serpentine course to avoid the huge piles of headings, or dumps of pay-dirt that obstruct the main, and only, street of the place."

Busy as Forest was at this moment, in a couple of decades the entire town site would be gone. It would be washed downstream by giant hydraulic hoses at the, site of the gold rush's richest claim, No. 67, owned in part by the Buck brothers who in 1875 settled at Stevensville.

As the relentless push upstream continued, another town, this one about 1¼ miles above Forest City, was settled. Many thought the town, Mayville, was named after the month in which it was laid out, but the newspapers said it was called such because "it may grow into a ville.”

Upriver, the area around Quartz Creek was expanding.

Towns were blossoming

Several towns were blossoming in the vicinity, including Yreka, High Bluff City and Oroville. These were comprised, undoubtedly, of the usual canvas and bush shelters that were the trademark of the West's temporary gold rush towns.

Settlements also mushroomed in Sunrise and Bear Gulches as gold was found in nearby streambeds. Sunrise, or Crescent, City was that area's flash in the pan. It was here, folks say, two brothers hired laborers to dig the gold during the day and at night the brothers won back the laborers wages in the gambling saloon.

Quartz City and the near-by Milk Ranch, located across the river, were the longest-lasting settlements upriver from Cedar. Although Quartz City died down considerably in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, it came back to life when David Dickson acquired the property and ferry in 1890.

The Milk Ranch is probably the county's longest continuously occupied homestead. It was homesteaded by three men in March 1871, when it provided milk and fresh vegetables for Cedar and Quartz miners. Later, in addition to providing produce to the locals, the owners, including Increase A. Robinson and James Van Ess, ran it as a stagecoach stop. It is now known as Frey's Happy Hollow Ranch.

Search for colors elsewhere

By 1873 things in Cedar were looking as if all the gold had been found. Prospectors began in earnest to search for colors elsewhere, and they found them in the neighboring gulch of Trout Creek. The "Missoulian" claimed that prospects of 25 cents to a pan were found.

With the new discovery just over the hill, it was easy for the miners to pack up and drop into the near-by gulch. But for some, the Trout find was only a confirmation that more gold could be found in Cedar, and they stayed behind.

Future bride, Mary Abraham

Among those who remained was Leiand, who had at some time since the summer of 1870, met his future bride, Mary Abraham.

The details of Mary's early life are sketchy. Grandson Jay Leiand reports that she was one daughter among several, born to a poor East Coast family. She came west with a couple who planned to employ her in a millinery business in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. She arrived at Fort Benton via steamboat after a harrowing trip of avoiding buffalo and Indian scalpings.

From Fort Benton, Mary rode the stagecoach to Cedar where, Jay Leiand speculates, she stopped to earn money for the rest of her passage to Idaho.

Exactly what kind of work she found, he does not ever remember hearing. She could have worked as a seamstress, kitchen helper, or even as a hurdy-gurdy girl. These women danced with the house's customers for a price, then steered them to the bar after the dance to induce them into buying a drink. Since Mary was not included in the census that source does not shed any light on the question.

Regardless of what work they did, or how they met, Leiand and Mary knew each other well enough by October 2, 1873, to be wed. They were married at the bride's residence at Mayville by popular businessman and justice of the peace "Col." D.B. Jenkins. By the next July 17 they had their first child, a daughter named Elsie Coeur d'Alene, perhaps in honor of Mary's original destination.

End of Cedar Creek's gold rush heyday

The year 1874 also saw the end of Cedar Creek's gold rush heyday. By September that year Leiand was numbered among Mayville's "saloonists." He watched as the new gold find by Louis Barrette in the Ninemile drainage near Frenchtown drew away all but the most stubborn Cedarites.

Because he recognized that this was the end, Leiand began looking around for better opportunities. After all, he had a family to support now.

He made several trips out of the gulch, first to the Bitterroot Valley, then to the Camas Prairie area where he bought out the interests of stockman Martin Weller. With his family and 500 ewes in tow, Leiand headed for Helena.

Once in Helena, Leiand, no doubt, thought he had left his Cedar friends behind. But within a month, on a return trip to the gulch, he ran into D.B. Jenkins, who promptly "put the bite on him. Whether this was to cover a gambling debt, or because Jenkins needed some money to get out of the gulch himself (which he did immediately after procuring the loan), is unknown. All that remains of the transaction is an I.O.U. that was left among J.W. Leiand's possessions when he died. This note read: "On demand I promise to pay John W. Leiand the sum of two hundred and forty nine 25-100 dollars...." It was signed by D.B. Jenkins at Forest City, Montana, on Nov. 12, 1874.

In 1877 Leiand received a $50 payment on the note, and two years later another $30 was paid. The balance of the I.O.U. was never repaid.

Leiand and his family lived at Helena until 1886 when they moved to the Cottonwood and Utica area where Leiand ran a mercantile business.

Ranching became Leiand's primary interest, however, when he moved his family to a spread near Belt. It was here that he died on July 1, 1909, at age 74, after a successful life of gambling against all odds. His wife died in 1929 at age 82. Beside the assorted I.O.U.s he left behind, Leiand's $5 gold piece, dated the year of his birth, was also found among his things. He had worn it constantly, calling it his lucky charm.

They sure are not telling now

Although Leiand might have had a charmed life, many other Cedar men and women did not. They faded away from life as they did from Cedar when the end came. Most were lost and forgotten in the shuffle of building the West.

Even the results of their labor are unknown. How much gold was taken out of Cedar from 1869 to 1874? Will Cave, who lived at Forest City during its heyday, said $4 million worth. Other estimates range from $2 million to $10 million.

But the exact monetary value of the gold Cedar Creek gave up during those years will remain secret. The miners seldom revealed the contents of their poke then, and they sure are not telling now.

Contributed by the Mineral County Historical Society - excerpts from Mineral County Pioneer

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