Sandon’s many packers and freighters and their horses
Before the arrival of the railroads in 1895, all freighting and packing work was done with horses and mules. Not only was there ore to be freighted out, but also millions of pounds of food, camp supplies, building materials and mining equipment had to be hauled in to meet the needs of the fast-growing community in Carpenter Creek valley. Kaslo was only 20 miles (32.18 km) away as the raven flies; in actual fact, it was 60 miles (96.54 km) of trail that zigzagged around obstacles, took wide detours and forded swiftly-running, boulder-strewn streams. Packing quickly became a vital business. Wagon roads were built, and by 1892 freighting business between Kaslo and Sandon had begun. One year after the initial “Payne” discovery, 16 mines were in production, with six shipping out high-grade ore by horse. With the announced intention of both the K&S syndicate and the CPR to push the rails through, the future of the community was assured. In 1894, 8.8 million pounds (4,082,400 kg) of ore were carried out by horses to K&S railheads at McGuigan, Zincton, and Whitewater, or to CPR shipping points on Slocan Lake. On the return trip, the animals were loaded with freight of every description — food for people, feed for animals, mine rails, steel cables, drill steel, coal oil, dynamite, whiskey, wine, rum, beer, tobacco, doors, windows, pipe, picks, shovels, axes, saws, stoves, mine cars, horseshoes, nails, spikes, blacksmith coal, hammers, clothing, blankets— in short, everything the growing city needed. Much of this equipment had to be specially packed, loaded and balanced, and it was a skill the packers and freighters were proud of. Indeed, packers lived by their reputations for getting goods through safely and without damage. With the arrival of the rail lines in 1895, packing and freighting work increased. Men and as many as 800 horses moved an astonishing 19.2 million pounds (8.7 million kg) of ore from the Sandon area mines to the railways, in sacks weighing 150 to 170 pounds (68 to 77 kg) each. The load for the horse or mule varied, according to the animal, but the average was about 200 pounds (90.72 kg). Because most producing mines were near or above the 6,000-foot (1,828.8 metre) level, along thin Wanted: a sure foot and a keen eye Sandon’s many packers and freighters and their horses and treacherous trails, good horses and mules were treasured for their strength and sure-footedness, and more than one horse in the Sandon camp became famous for its abilities. Of course, sometimes these animals were loaded beyond reasonable limits. One story was told of a 400-pound (181.44 kg) compressor cross-head being loaded on “the best and strongest pack mule in the camp” for a four-mile trip up steep trails from Sandon to the Ivanhoe mine. Four big men were sent along, to take some of the weight off the animal every time it stopped to rest. Finally, after hours of brutal struggle, the men and animal staggered into the compressor house yard, “but before the cross-head could be unloaded, the poor beast collapsed and died.”1 In addition, many horses were used to haul the ore-trains underground. Using a primitive system of a candle in a tin can— known as a “bug”— hanging around the horse’s neck to light the way, the horses pulled trains of loaded ore cars to the mine portals, then hauled the empties back underground. Once again, many stories are told of specific horses in the Slocan camps who demonstrated remarkable skill in their work. Of all the “horse stories” in Sandon, however, one stands out, as it demonstrates the value the men placed on their horses, as well as the love they felt for them. On the morning of May 3, 1900, when fire swept through Sandon, only one building was left standing in the downtown core the next morning — a large livery barn, filled with horses. Unable to guide the horses out through the raging flames, firemen and miners had fought desperately, side-by-side, in a determined effort to save the animals. Somehow, in the midst of all the devastation, a minor miracle was performed, and not one horse was lost. Many of the horses’ rescuers were themselves homeless by morning, but no doubt none of them felt it was a wasted effort. Gradually, with increased automation and the advent of vehicles, horses were used less in the mines or on the pack trails, and the specific skills required of the animals and men became forgotten. From the 1890s, when four or five pack trains would pass through Sandon daily, the number dwindled until, by the late 1920s, the pack trains were virtually gone. Today, the only reminder of the packers and freighters and the long trains of hardy animals are a few rusty horseshoes still scattered on the By a quirk of geological nature, most of the major producing mines in the Slocan are high in the mountains, at or above the 6,000-foot (1,828.8 metre) level. Because of this, transporting ore down from the mines was a serious challenge for early mine operators. Some of the larger operations, such as the “Payne” or the “Noble Five,” built large tramlines to accomplish this. For many of the smaller operators, however, such an investment wasn’t economical, considering the returns. At the same time, transporting the sacked ore down narrow, treacherous trails by horseback in summer was dangerous and slow. A unique solution was devised, known as “rawhiding.” Miners would work at their claims all summer, sorting, grading and sacking the highergrade ores that were worth shipping. These sacks were stored at the mine site all summer, awaiting the deep blanket of snow that would descend on the Slocan mountains in the winter. Once the snows were judged deep enough, the shipping would begin for the season. The “rawhiding” process Hauling a one-ton sausage: Rawhiding ore in the high Slocan mountains consisted of taking the hide of an animal that had been slaughtered — usually a bull or a steer — and placing it, hair side down, onto the snow. The sacked ore would then be loaded onto the hide, usually up to a ton (1.016 tonnes) at a time. The sides of the hide were then drawn up around the stacked ore and laced up through eyelets that had been made along the edges of the hide earlier. In this way, a large “pouch” of sacked ore was created, similar to a sausage. This load was then pulled by a horse along the “rawhide trails” that led down the mountainside to the rail lines at Sandon. At the beginning of winter, while the trails were still covered with deep snow, the horses had to work harder to pull their loads. By mid-winter, there had been so many tons of ore pulled over these trails that they resembled bobsled runs. By then, the hardest task was not to get the load moving, but rather to keep it from running out of control. A rough-lock chain, specially built for use with the rawhides, was designed to act as a brake on the steep grades, and usually worked. It was not all that unusual, however, to see a horse coming into town on the dead run, trying to stay ahead of a runaway rawhide load. There are even stories of some of the smarter horses who supposedly learned to lean back on the rawhide when it began sliding, thereby “tobogganing” down the slope, sitting on the load of ore. While this is not impossible, it is more likely that the accelerating rawhide would catch the horse by surprise, hitting him on the back of the legs and putting him back on his haunches in a manner resembling a “toboggan-slide” ride. Rawhiding became so popular that the local slaughterhouse was soon unable to meet the demand, and whole rail car shipments of hides were brought in. As with packing and freighting, however, the modern world caught up with the Slocan, and technology gradually took over from the horses. Today, only a handful of early residents remember the practice, and the only trace of the old rawhide trails are in a few surviving photographs.