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A diminutive man, R.T. Lowery stood only about five feet tall. Other than his height, however, there was nothing ‘small’ about the man. What Lowery lacked in height, he more than compensated for with his attitude. Brash, opinionated and combative, Lowery was a crusading pioneer journalist who argued with wit and skill on behalf of those who could not defend themselves, such as illiterate hard-rock miners and women forced to become prostitutes by lack of skills or education. Born in 1859 at Halton County, Ontario, he gained his first newspaper experience in Petrolia before being lured to the wild frontiers and silver fields of British Columbia. His first newspaper in the Kootenays was the Kaslo Claim, which lasted a mere 16 weeks before the ‘silver panic’ of 1893 caused the bottom to drop out of the silver market, and business in the young town dried up to a mere trickle. “The financial panic frosted the roses in the Slocan and made Kaslo look like a torn poster in a wet ditch. I barely escaped with my life,” Lowery commented wryly. Undaunted, however, Lowery soon packed up his small printing press and assorted equipment and moved on to Nakusp, where he began printing The Nakusp Ledge. In all, Lowery owned and operated some 10 or 12 Kootenay newspapers in different towns over the years. Commenting on the tendency of Lowery’s and other small area newspapers to ‘wander,’ the editor of the Bonner’s Ferry Herald wrote, “It is hard to keep track of the Slocan newspapers — they appear to be on wheels.” Indeed, this characterization more often than not appeared to be true. By 1894, Lowery had moved The Ledge to New Denver, but soon the booming growth in Sandon had convinced him to sell that paper and relocate to the heart of the silver fields. On September 26, 1896, Lowery, along with J.J. Langstaff, former editor of the Trout Lake Topic, printed the first edition of what was to become Lowery’s most famous newspaper of all, the Sandon Paystreak. Its first issue was filled with news of Sandon’s rapid growth: “The sound of the carpenter’s hammer is everywhere heard in Sandon, and building operations are being vigorously prosecuted on every side. Some very tasty dwelling houses are being erected, and the liveliest and busiest town in the Slocan country is every day assuming a more urban-like appearance than is usually met with a mining centre. Some 20 buildings, dwellings and otherwise, are now under construction, and more are contemplated.” In appearance, Lowery was said by some to resemble ‘a country parson,’ while others described him as rather more dapper than that. He was reputed to always dress with the greatest of taste, wore a small neatly-trimmed goatee, smoked two-bit cigars, and peered determinedly through steel-rimmed glasses. And although he was known far and wide as ‘Colonel’ Lowery, he admitted himself that it was a title he assumed, rather than one he had earned for military service. Despite this minor affectation, Lowery never lost sight of his dedication to the ‘common’ men and women who were his most ardent readers “Colonel” Robert Thornton Lowery, 1859–1921 and supporters. Arguing on behalf of safer working conditions for the miners, Lowery wrote: “The miner is the backbone of every mining camp. It is upon the money that he earns that we, who live in the towns hard by, get our daily bread and other luxuries. It is for him principally that the saloons are fitted up in gorgeous style. It is for him that the storekeeper is waiting so that he may pay his bills. It is through his hard work that many men of capital are enabled to ride in carriages and dine with dukes in Europe. “He gets $3.50 a day in the Slocan, and for this amount he pounds a drill and lacerates rocks in the darkness of the tunnel or shaft. He occasionally is assisted up the Golden Stairs by a premature blast, and sometimes gets introduced to St. Peter by the aid of a snowslide. Being of so much value to the community, his life should be freed from danger as much as possible. One way to do this is to have all buildings at the mines built in such a manner as to obviate the danger from slides, and render it unnecessary for men to flee for their lives, as has been done during the past week. “Miners may be plentiful, and some capitalists may think that their lives cut but a small figure, but we think different. We want every one of them to have a chance to die in bed, and we urge upon all owners the necessity of seeing that their employees are protected from the danger of slides in every way possible. Take our advice, boys, or when the slides come again, some of you may have to push clouds instead of holding the end of a drill.” Lowery definitely had a talent for writing with flair and style, and delighted in using this talent to skewer hypocrites and high-handed organizations such as the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Indeed, his condemnations of the CPR were so frequent and caustic that the rail line refused to carry his newspapers, and in place of a ticket issued him a lifetime ‘tie pass’ (the right to tromp down the tracks, counting the ties). Lowery’s style earned him many enemies among the rich and powerful, but he remained unrepentant and pugnacious as ever, and could give as good as he got with even a short paragraph: “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It is also a fact that you cannot make a good, honest and pleasant citizen out of a petty, spiteful, nosey, vindictive, gluttonous individual. Such fellows by accident are sometimes elevated to high positions, when they should be sawing wood in a penitentiary or looking out from the windows of a lunatic asylum.” Here is another example: “We would rather be a frog and live upon the green scum of a swamp than supinely sit and not use our pen in the defence of liberty and justice. The good have nothing to conceal and have only admiration from a trenchant editor. It is only the sneaking, cowardly, dishonorable, back-biting and blackmailing curs that writhe in mental agony when the editorial harpoon tears away their masks, exposing their detestable acts to the gaze of an outraged and indignant world.” However, despite Lowery’s many admirable qualities, he had several serious character flaws as well. Like so many newspapermen of his time, he was a two-fisted drinker who tended to indulge in semi-regular bouts with the bottle. His alcoholism would remain with him for most of his life, and resulted in periodic sessions in hospital for the feisty little editor. Indeed, on more than one occasion, The New Denver Ledge reported that: “Col. Lowery was discharged from hospital this week, the ‘same old thing.’” Undoubtedly, however, the most distressing aspect of Lowery’s character was his naked racism toward Chinese workers. True, this attitude was not uncommon in British Columbia during this time period, and Lowery was merely reflecting a commonly held view that because Chinese labourers were often willing to work for lower wages than other workers, they brought down everyone else’s standard of living. Nevertheless, his unrelenting bigotry toward the Chinese, while understandable in the context of his times, leaves today’s reader with a feeling of distaste. As the years passed, Lowery was once again on the move with his printing press. In 1906 he packed up his equipment and his pet bulldog, Keno, and moved on to Greenwood, where he ran another paper for 14 years. His health was deteriorating, however, and he suffered from dropsy, likely as a result of his years of alcohol abuse. By 1920, with his best years behind him, he sold his last newspaper and retired to Grand Forks where he died on May 20, 1921 at age 62. His funeral in Nelson, BC was a crowded affair, and many of his old friends and subscribers turned out to pay their respects to the irascible old editor. A lifelong bachelor, Lowery left no children or family behind, just some of the most well written and entertaining sketches of early mining camp life ever put to paper. Today, some historians have compared his writing favourably with that of Bret Harte, Mark Twain and renegade newspaper publisher Bob ‘Give-em-hell’ Edwards of the Calgary Eye-Opener. Without a doubt, he was one of the most fearless and uncompromising newspapermen of his time, and he has left us an invaluable glimpse into the lives of the miners, gamblers, prostitutes, business people, and ordinary citizens who populated the Silvery Slocan.

Probably more than any other photographer of his generation, Richard Henry Trueman worked tirelessly to record the vast expanses of southern British Columbia. With his heavy glassplate camera in tow, Trueman climbed mountains, forded creeks and endured all manner of hardships to capture the images he wanted, particularly when it came to his two greatest subjects: railroads and steamships. Some of his most stunning photographs focus on the rail and steamship lines that operated in the Slocan at the turn of the century, such as his famous shot of a K&S locomotive stopped at Payne Bluff. Born in Ontario, Trueman travelled extensively through Alberta and British Columbia R.H. Trueman 1856–1911 before settling down, somewhat, to three studios in Vancouver, Sandon and Revelstoke. The booming city of Sandon and the surrounding area with its great concentrator mills, tram lines and spectacular scenery captivated Trueman. His artistry and attention to detail still stand out, nearly a century later. Trueman’s photographs, usually printed as platinotypes, sparkle with clarity and sharpness, and many of the most beautiful photographs in the Sandon Museum collection are his work. By chance, Trueman happened to be in Sandon at the time of the catastrophic May 1900 fire, and his “before and after” shots are striking. He returned repeatedly to Sandon to capture the rebuilding efforts, and it is largely through his dedication and skill that such an excellent photographic record of this period survives to this day. Reco Avenue in Sandon was one of Trueman’s favourite scenes, and the photograph on page one is a fine example of his work. It is worth noting that everyone in the photograph is dressed in their “Sunday best,” right down to the little girl with her pet dog on the steps in the right corner of the photo. As well, all the subjects are obligingly turned to look at the camera. It is apparent that, with his fine eye for composition, Trueman has carefully posed the entire street! This is not the only case of Trueman posing a vast scene for his camera, and most subjects were more than willing, as he was a noted photographer throughout the Canadian west in his day. Trueman’s work in British Columbia spans a little more than 20 years from about 1890 until just before his death in Revelstoke in 1911. He left the province and the country an enduring legacy with his photographs, and our historical record has been vastly enriched by his talent and dedication.

Like so many aspects of Sandon’s history, conflicting tales and mysteries have grown up around the first discovery of the vast wealth hidden high in the Slocan mountains. Stories have been told of double-crossing and deceit, but as with most legends, this one has a simple beginning, and certain facts are a matter of record. I n t h e s u m m e r o f 1891 two prospectors, a French-Canadian former tightrope-walker named Eli Carpenter, and an Irishman from Tennessee named J.L. “Jack” Seaton, arrived on foot in the remote wilderness of the Slocan. They were pursuing tales of rich deposits of galena (silver-lead) ore, which Carpenter had heard was used by native guides and hunters. A f t e r m o n t h s o f unsuccessful searching the two men struggled to the top of Payne Mountain, to the north of present-day Sandon. It was there, on September 9, 1891, that Carpenter and Seaton finally discovered what they had sought all summer: the unmistakable sparkle of galena ore. Taking a sample to be tested at the assay office, the two men staked their claim, 1,500 by 600 feet, and headed back to Hot Springs Camp (presentday Ainsworth). At this point, legend begins to overshadow known fact. The story is often told that Carpenter, in an attempt to double-cross his partner, had two samples tested: one from the Payne claim, which assayed 170 ounces of silver Payne Mountain: the original strike of 1891 per ton, and another from a lower-grade claim which assayed at only 20 ounces. When Carpenter told him that their Payne claim had assayed at only 20 ounces of silver, Seaton lost interest in the claim. Carpenter then entered into a secret agreement with a new partner, E.A. Bielenberg of Nelson, to return to Payne Mountain and stake additional claims. However, in discussing these plans, the two were overheard by innkeeper Charles Olson, who promptly informed Seaton of Carpenter’s deceit. At this point, Seaton entered into a new partnership with Jack McQuigan, Frank Flint, and William and J.G. Hennessey. Then, in an effort to escape detection, Carpenter and Bielenberg stole back to Payne Mountain by the more indirect route of Nelson and Slocan Lake, while an outraged Seaton and his four new partners took the more direct route via the Kaslo River. Arriving first, Seaton’s group staked the “Noble Five” group of 21 claims on Payne and Reco Mountains, effectively outflanking the treacherous Carpenter — or so the legend is told. However, it is known that shortly after Carpenter and Seaton arrived in Ainsworth, they had the sample assayed. It was a number of days later, on September 22, 1891, that they jointly recorded their Payne Claim “near the headwaters of Slocan Creek, about 25 miles west of Kootenay Lake.” If Carpenter had truly deceived his partner, why would Seaton co-register a claim that he believed to be relatively worthless? It is also hard to believe that such incredible assay results would remain secret, particularly in a small mining camp such as Ainsworth. Indeed, there is evidence they did not. It is a fact that Carpenter and Seaton returned to Payne Mountain by different routes, and that their departures from town caused such a rush of prospectors into the remote wilderness that Ainsworth was left virtually deserted for days. It is also true that within three days of Carpenter and Seaton registering their Payne Claim in Ainsworth, the other members of the “Noble Five” group — McQuigan, Flint and the Hennesseys — and even the innkeeper, Charles Olson, had all staked claims on Payne Mountain. However, Seaton did not. It was not until a series of three claims were staked the next day that Seaton’s name first appears in connection with McQuigan, Flint and the Hennesseys. It seems very strange that this “Noble Five” group somehow located Payne Mountain and staked numerous claims on it one full day before Seaton. Indeed, Seaton’s first claim after the original Payne Claim was in partnership with two other prospectors, neither of whom was part of the “Noble Five” group. We will likely never know the whole truth behind the story, but the impact of Carpenter and Seaton’s discovery is well known. Hundreds of prospectors flooded into the district, and before year’s end over 191 claims had been staked. One of these was the famous Slocan Star (later Silversmith) mine, discovered by Bruce White, Charles Chambers and John Sandon. Over the next century, billions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc were removed from the mountains around Sandon, including over a million ounces a year of silver-lead from the Payne Mine alone. Ironically, however, none of the original prospectors were greatly enriched by their fantastic discoveries, having sold their shares to mining companies from Spokane for a fraction of their real worth. In later years, Eli Carpenter ran a pack train between the mines and New Denver, and built a hotel at Three Forks. On May 24, 1897, he astonished the entire Slocan district when, in order to win a bar bet, he walked blindfolded across a tightrope strung across Slocan City’s main street— then doubled his winnings by stopping to cook bacon and eggs on a stove halfway across! By September of that year, Carpenter had departed for the goldfields of the Klondike, where he reportedly died a year later. Like Carpenter and the others, easy money proved too tempting for Jack Seaton, who also sold his share in the Payne and Reco Mountain properties for a pittance. In 1893, Seaton returned to Tennessee with the body of his younger brother, who had died within two months of reaching BC. A sick man himself by then, Seaton remained in the United States, where he became bedridden and died within the year.

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