Some histories of Big Flats, NY show a picture of a pioneer wearing an eye patch, and his stern looking wife beside him. They are Comfort Bennett (1781-1864) and Abigail MILLER Bennett (1787-1882). (Bennett AKA Bennitt.) Their daughter Nancy married Benjamin Duzenberry Smith Jr. and they, in turn, began a line of Smiths that ultimately produced my wife, Joanne SMITH Samson. The line included her Great Uncle Robert Bush Smith (1882-1972) who was one of the few boys in the Horseheads High School graduating class of 1902, and a classmate of my Grandmother Berneice REED Mac Dougall.
Robert grew up on the homestead in Big Flats, but left NYS, never to return, working his way west building a telegraph line. In the summer of 1908 we find this 26 year old “at the end of the line” prospecting in Idaho and Montana in a very remote area around the St. Joe River.. He had an address of DeBorgia, Montana and spent time in Wallace, Idaho. (Checking the telegraph office regarding employment offers.) We know this because he carried a pocket size notebook and highlighted each day's events and the location of his campsite
How do I know this? Mr. Smith later found a successful career in the hardware business. In 1971 he is 90 years old, widowed and living in a retirement home in Santa Cruz, California. A quirk of fate assigned me to Palo Alto, not far away. We enjoyed his company during his twilight days and, upon his passing, Joanne became his executrix. Among his personal effects was the journal describing how he passed the summer of 1908. I have transcribed it as best I can and enjoy rereading it for his description of the simple pleasures of a century ago, ...a piece of pie, catching a trout, transient friendships around a campfire even tramping the forests searching for errant pack horses.
The Idaho Historical Society has sent me maps of the area and they say the area has changed little from that time.
PS. If you elect to post this, perhaps some reader can tell us what
is “punk”, something young Mr. Smith ate often and usually rated as to
The spelling and punctuation are generally as he entered them as notes. He coded some things, for example “Went fishing - 0 -” Indicates no fish caught.
Wednesday July 8
Got started 11 AM made 8 miles Camped at Fritz’s
Thurs - 7-9
Had some trouble getting horses. got started 10:45 a Made St. Joe river. 16 Miles 2 trout
Went to Pinchot & back - 12 miles took bath in St. Joe river - also washed clothes. Dick cut my hair Went fishing - 0 -
Walked down to mouth of Burton creek. Tried to ford St. Joe -impossible on foot or horse climbed to top of mtn this side - 10 Miles 3 small cupfuls of rice make a lot.
Walked to Pinchot - got good dope on Clearwater from Forest ranger Dubrtt? - Found ford & other trail - took swim.
Got up 230 got packed & started 530 Made Camp Moraine - Forest rangers Station 44-4? fine Camp - alt. 7000 ft - snow mosquitoes - saw
Prospected the ridges for several miles - all mica schish - panned creek -0- f . feet sore.
Walked to Lost Lake & back 10 miles - rained as I got back
Rained most of all nite and all A.M. - didn’t get out till 10.30am. stayed around camp all day. - horses went up trail - Dick got them, saw 2
beavers - cooked rice
Packed to Lost Lake 5 Miles Bay pony very Lame. Camped by Lake fished -0- mosquitoes - old Indian Camp ground - lots of teepee poles - Also well arrangement to take hot baths.
Prospected ridges about 5 miles to last one of chain of 5 Lost Lakes - 4th one star. All Mica Schist formation. got several imperfect garnets, Crater Lake
Packed to Clearwater & Clarks trail. Met a lot of people from Moscow that Dick knew. had supper with them big feed. butter-cheese-pickles & cream - 6 Miles - Camp Hall
Packed to Clearwater river- 25 miles - Very tired - fished -0- no seems.
Walked out trail other side of river about 6 miles Very tired - Thunder storm toward nite. - feeling rotten
Left Clearwater Camp - packed about 10 miles East - camped at Montana Spg. - ideal camp Thunderstorms - big feed of punk - Ham -beans & gravy.
Prospected East about 3 miles - back to camp about 130 - I went north on Mtn ridge looking for trail to 3 Sisters Mts - 0 - Thunder storm.
Went East on trail to Dead Horse Camp about 10 Miles - 3 prospectors camped with us - Dick makes Elegant punk
Packed East about 20 miles to Twin Lakes Billy very lame - punk best ever.
Dick & I walked n East about 10 miles to Copper Creek Muy? Co property- Ate dinner with them - heap big feed - found out about trail to DeBorgia 35 miles -
Packed North again about 18 miles-to Camp Conrad on St. Joe river fine camping place - this is property of St. Joe M&M Co. who also own Copper Creek M Co.
3 other miners also have Cabin here / Senator Duke & Shorty Met up with party on fishing trip Dick knew one of the fellows - Reeves. -Cooked in Senators Cabin - heap big feed - new potatoes & venison.
In AM fished up river. Caught one - in pm fished down Caught 7- My flies are on the hummer??__ Shorty caught about 40- Dinner - Supper with Senator.
Dick got away for Wallace about 6AM. - Did some Cooking - fair punk, only too thin - in A.M. walked to top of ridge East- Cayuses in good feed-
Got up at 11 am. After breakfast with Senator he & I went fishing up river - I went up Woozy Goozey Creek about a mile - Caught 7 One 3 pounder - got in Camp about 8 o’Clock supper with Senator -packed for an Early start.
Got started about 730 AM for DeBorgia 19 miles - got there 5pm - made camp for Senator & Myself supper - punk - ham - coffee fair. Went to town after supper. Found Burt and his gang - had very pleasant evening - piece of Watermelon - Senator had bottle of beer when I got to camp - had made bed & washed dishes-
Burt & Bound woke me up about 730 pulling my Cap off - I got breakfast for Senator, Myself - Corn Meal mush - bacon and coffee - no mail yet from Pinchot - met up with Butler & Maxwell. Waited for 1 Oclock train Senator left on it - do. Burt. Got back to camp and found hobo had taken possession. he gave me some bread - slept in Burt’s camp.-
Sunday, Aug 2-08
got letter from Dick telling of fires so mail couldn’t get out of Pinchot -Cashed stuff in Burt’s tent. borrowed $2.00 from Bound - got the 105 train for Taft - Got in Taft 2 O’clock and started for Pinchot- Got loaf bread and can dried beef at Grand Forco? Got to Pinchot 730 held up twice by Montenegroes but explained my actions satisfactorily - slept along side of a fat log in Debett’s yard - 25 miles.
Mon. Aug 3-08
Got mail and started for Wallace 830 met Debett & took message for Skeels - made Sailor? 3 O’clock - Cooked lunch Made summit 7-’ got lunch with fire fighters and took other messages for keels Got in Wallace 10 O’clock-took hot bath - slept with Dick at Irving Anderson’s. feet swelled bad. awful sore 30 miles.
Tues Aug 4-08
Left Wallace 730 ?? after telephoning W. S. J. had dinner - laid down on river bank - awful sick - sore - slept in a bed - 50c - bugs.
Wed 8/5 08
Got up 9 A.M. After breakfast wrote letters & read book - heard from W. S. J. going to sleep out - Sent PO order to Burt for $2.00 to pay back Bound.
Felling awful sick. ‘bo got me some whiskey & ginger - had cramps in my stomach.
Dick didn’t come back - Senator & partner came & I cooked supper for them.
Dick got back - Bill Coffey went Wash - 1 pm - Went up to old prospector’s cabin to look at ore -
Staid around camp all day Dick waiting for telegram from Salt Lake - got telegram at night.
Moved camp to old cabin near property of Ora-Monarch a gold tungsten property-2 1/2 miles So. DeBorgia
Went thru Ora-Monarch and prospected West.
Prospected East - Went to DeBorgia - Huge supper - of Beans - Mush - biscuits - ham Fried Onions - red raspberries ginger cookies & coffee.
Dick got letter from Taylor in re: Salt Lake job - rain all day.
Rainy - Went to DeBorgia after Whitey - in PM picked raspberries - Dick Made raspberry pie - pretty good too.
Prospected East up Creek Near Saw Mill - got lots of colors - got to Camp 330 I went to DeBorgia got mail overalls & $2.20 worth of
sugar bacon - soap & tobacco on credit - Huckleberry pie for supper.
Staid around camp all day - made rolling pin & picked huckleberries
Dick went to DeBorgia and looked for Whitey. I went up Creek and dug deep hole for placer.
Dick & I went to DeBorgia looking for Whitey - found him - waited for mail fuss
Prospected North ridge I went to DeBorgia got Whitey & mail.
Prospected near Deer Creek Mines way up on West Ridge
Dick ran some assays for Mr. Wing - I picked berries and went to town after mail-
Prospected East ridge and picked huckleberries & went to D&B.
Prospected East ridges I went to D&B. - got mail & some groceries.
Prospected East ridge dug deep hole.
Went to DeBorgia - got mail rain all day.
Dick & I went to DeBorgia got mail Made preparations to start for the Joe tomorrow. 10 days - Shorty - West
Packed to the St. Joe. staid with Senator.
Rain all day - fished toward night - looked for horses in morning.
Rain all day - looked for horses & fished.
Rain - Fished
Prospected by jam?? put in 2 shots- narrow copper stringer - horses ok.
Put in 2 holes - single jack Dick down river
Dick put in shots Whitey gone
Fished all day
Packed to DeBorgia Camped at Oro Fino, cabin
Dick left for Wallace - Waited for mail - late to camp.
Sunday Sept 6-08
Went out after Whitey found tracks at Bear Spgs. tracked him to 1st ridge other side - Camped with Mulberry & Bob on St. Joe.
Bob & I went to Shoshone Cabin - rain very hard all day.-
Hunted for Whitey - Found him & took him to Shoshone Cabin.
Packed out Mulberrys & Bob’s beds to D& B Ate at Rest - Watermelon
Packed to Tammery? Spgs. - rolled Whitey- Packed to Sohon - Met Joe Reynolds left ponies with him walked to Larson - came in on train. Stayed with Frank Figgers in his cabin 1 mile West of Wallace.
Had a bad nite - (bug) -went to town 3 times got some clean clothes out of trunk ate 6 meals all day - put ad in paper - applied at Federal
-0- saw Lewis Hart -L- on big spree claims I was $3.00 short.
The notes end here and pick up again in November when he is working for $3.00/day stringing wire..
This is the inside of the back cover of his memo book: Got 10.00 from your Spokane woman - We can’t go back in on that - We have to have had to get blankets and pads for the horses. acid and extras - - No use starting in with 2 weeks supplies.. We might have gotten along with 15.00. but on 10 it is impossible - We want to know if this woman is in on the deal - and are you going to grub stake us or not - We are living a good deal poorer than any prospectors we have run on to. they all pack in potatoes & onions & butter & cheese & condensed Milk. Will you mail me 10.00 right away - for it is holding us up in DeBorgia - at 35c a meal