Big crowds turn out for Cedar Creek history trip

Last weekend, the Cedar Creek Road outside of Superior might have had its first traffic jam since Adolph Lozeau spilled the beans about the gold strike that Louis Barrette, Basil Lanthier and he had up there in 1867.

Some say he drank too much on a supply trip to Missoula and blabbed and others believe the cagey businessman intentionally let the news slip because his lodging house was the only reasonable place to get necessities on the way to Cedar Creek. Whatever happened, the stampede began immediately as hundreds of men poured into the area from nearby territories despite the fact that it was mid-December.

Minus the Covid years, the Mineral County Historical Society and Museum has sponsored a day trip up Cedar Creek with short breaks at places of interest having someone with knowledge share the history of each stop. Interesting and fun with a potluck and an opportunity to pan for gold at the Gildersleeve Mine.

It’s been a fun day with camaraderie for a couple dozen people who have made it a tradition at the end of summer. But this year the event was a bit different and a wonderful surprise developed.

“There were tons of people there! And we were all trying to figure out how they knew, how the word got around. Were some of us usual locals but so many new faces that made it extra special,” Deb Regan, retired USFS employee and a board member of the MCHSM.

Sue McLeese and Kay Strombo of the organization work their tails off each year with a group of dedicated volunteers to make this day special, and it outdid itself in 2022. The borrowed school bus had 28 passengers and it was followed by 20 vehicles so the headcount came to around 75 voyagers for the day. JoEllen Godin is one of the helpers and she and her husband had a ball.

“This was our first time and when Ginny (Tubbs) played in character as a miner at the Cayuse Creek stop, I was amazed! She showed us her grubstake and even was wearing gumboots. And then Shirley (Iwata) was the moderator at China Gulch in character, too. People talk about racism today; it was horrible then! Honestly, it was as authentic as it gets with those 2 and it made history come alive,” she beams. “Oh, and Deb Regan speaking on the history of the entire (gold rush) boom of Cedar Creek was great. She knows her history so well that it just flowed.”

Up at the Gildersleeve Mine, Mike Lapinski spoke on mining in general from his experiences. Mary Murphy-Kellis recapped all the Cedar Creek mining history. She has an outstanding summary that she researched and developed years ago. But when McLeese shared the history of the Gildersleeve Mine, jaws dropped.

Her grandparents claimed and built it. Then her parents took it over. Sue grew up there and came down Sundays to Superior to go to school staying until Friday afternoon. It’s an hour and a half from the mine to Superior today on a narrow, dusty bumpy road so you could see people processing what it had to be like when Sue was growing up. It remains in the family with no changes expected.

“And the of it were an excellent audience for all. I think a lot of the people are relatively new to the area and just want to learn what makes it tick. I know some were from the Shyrock RV development,” shared Regan.

One young man braved “temperatures between 10 and 40 below zero” and snow drifts “from three to 20 feet deep.” He arrived in camp and estimated 3,000 other fortune seekers arrived before him. Prices for food and supplies skyrocketed. Many of the first miners were Irish and French, who squabbled bitterly. By mid-January 1868, “2,700 claims of all kinds” had been filed in Cedar Creek.

Davis-Quitt, Deb. Gumboot Gamblers: Tales of the Cedar Creek Gold Rush. Seeley Lake, MT: Deb Davis-Quitt, 1987.

The Superior Ranger District’s recreation crew, under the direction of Heather Berman, installed the first four of the eight Cedar Creek interpretive signs just a week before this field trip. It was no small task going through all the rock which at times seemed like solid bedrock. Regan said Saturday produced encore performances.

“The Forest Service asked us to give the tour again for their volunteers, and they want us to talk on Mullan Road during Savenac days. We’re having fun! Oh, forgot the food. Lunch at the Gildersleeve mine was outstanding. Wow!”

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