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Chapter Two of James Wardner's Black Cats Tale
in his own words, from his autobiography, including a
selection of the world-wide press reports the story generated

Including these features:
Journal introduction to James Wardner.
Chapter XIX, "Fairhaven" Transcription two — James F. Wardner autobiography

Skagit River Journal introduction
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©July 2011
(Black Cat)
      James F. Wardner is the creator of one of the most famous whimsical hoaxes of the 1890s Northwest, the Black Cats Co. We post this new excerpt about Wardner as a transcription from an excellent source. Jim Wardner of Wardner, Idaho, By Himself, James F. Wardner autobiography (New York: The Anglo-American Publishing Co., 1900), is his memoir with some fascinating facts of his rise to wealth and some chapters written with tongue far into cheek, most riotously the chapter headed, "My Cat Ranch." This excerpt below is from the chapter where he shares facts from his Fairhaven period, material we have not found anywhere else in this detail.
      Wardner kept at the cat gag from its birth in Fairhaven in 1891 through nine years until he published this book. He laid out many clues over the years, but none were finer than the supposed general manager of the company, Mr. Sam Weller, of Cincinatti, he was. Just the name hearkens back immediately for we who cruised into Dickens via The Pickwick Papers (1836/1867). Sam Weller's introduction as the increasingly delightful Mr. Pickwick's man is a key to enjoying all the layers of that wonderful serial. Wardner's genius was to label such an executive as the setup for the gag. His cultured readership understood and most played along. But the satire and wit was so sparkling at times that the story ballooned, from a tale Wardner told to a Fairhaven journalist as a joke while bored, and the resulting straight-forward story that was picked up and transmitted all over the world, as you will read. This story marks the time when I first wriggled my toe in the water of historical-narrative writing, with the help of the late Galen Biery. If I had only used a tape . . .
      We suggest that, before you read the story at this link, that you consider reading our summary profile of Wardner first, which gives more broad scope of his life and then the second story introduces you to the Black Cats and the results of our original research, conducted over countless 25-cent beers at the Kulshan Tavern four decades ago. With owners Rex and Marion Odell chiming in and occasionally in the company of Fairhaven Mayor Bobby Burns. And then read "My Cat Ranch." That is quite a trio of tales. In fact, you can follow the path that we suggest below in the Background files to fully enjoy Wardner, this capitalist who shared so much with us before his death in 1905
      And the new transcription of "My Cat Ranch" is icing on the cake of this silver king who was truly self-made and unique, among many competing characters in Fairhaven, including William "Lightfoot" Visscher and the occasionally dirty Dan Harris. We are confident that the cat tale will become at least the third funniest story on our site, of 700, along with the Otto Klement diary tale of 1881 and the good ole boys and the pig in Lyman, and Frank Wilkeson's recap of how flim-flammers took the Swede loggers for a ride in old Sedro by the river in 1889. That's mighty fine company.

Transcription one: Chapter XX
My Cat Ranch
James F. Wardner autobiography, 1900 (& 2000 in Google Books on the Internet.)
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      But to return to the subject of these memoirs; Eighteen eighty-nine was a bad year for me; I tried wheat, oil, stocks, and spent much money prospecting; my expenses were very high. I still had a champagne appetite, but only a lager beer income. I decided go to Gov. Hauser and get a job buying ore for the Helena smelters.
      I got aboard a Northern Pacific train at Spokane, and there met Mr. Nelson Bennett, the great contractor and big-hearted millionaire. I was side-tracked to fortune. He said:
      "Jim, I want you. I am building up a great city — Fairhaven, Washington, will be the terminal point of three great overland railroads. I am building a railroad that will top them all. Fairhaven is the coming metropolis of Puget Sound. I am going to New York now, and if I wire to you at Helena to come to New York, you come."
      At Garrison Junction we parted, he going via Butte and I going via Helena. But, after wabbling the matter over in my mind for an hour, I concluded to go right through to New York, and take Helena in as a by-product, as it were, afterward.
      Well, I saw Mr. Bennett [Nelson Bennett] when he registered at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, but he didn't see me. However, in a couple of days I made myself known to him, and he said:
      "It's all right; go ahead, boom her! Here's a letter to Wilson [Edward M. Wilson]. When will you start?"
      "To-night — this minute," I said; "quick as you write that letter."
      Back I went. I felt that everything was all right. A wave of prosperity was rolling westward, and I was on the crest. Everything came my way. I stopped on the way one day with my family in Spokane, and during the time bonded the Boston mine in the Cascades, which I afterward sold for $25,000. I hurried on to the cost, and found Tacoma, Seattle, and Anacortes red-hot — investors flocking in from everywhere — but not a word about Fairhaven.
      I took the old tub Eliza Anderson and landed at Fairhaven, where I met [Charles] D. Francis at the wharf. The one locomotive that belonged to the railroad, ten miles long, was switching a carload of lumber. That same carload was switched on the arrival of every boat. Francis asked me my business, and I told him I was going to look around, and might start a bank. He said he already had a permit from the United States Treasurer to start a National Bank, but he could not see anything but stumps and trees for depositors and customers. He was afterward my cashier in the first National Bank of Fairhaven.
      I went to the headquarters of the Fairhaven Land Company, and there met my old friends, E.M. Wilson, Cogill [actually Edgar L. Cowgill], and Gov. George Black. I exhibited my letter and bought 135 lots, 25 percent, down; balance, three, six, nine and twelve months. I had $10,000 in cash, and this I at once invested in options on business property right in the heart of Fairhaven, for which I paid from $100 to $250 per front foot.
      In one month I had organized the Fairhaven Water Works Company, the Fairhaven Electric Light Company, the Samish Lake Logging and Milling Company, the Cascade Club, First National Bank, and the Fairhaven National Bank, of which I was president. I was also president of the three named corporations, and vice-president of the first three named corporations, and vice-president of the Cascade Club and the First National Bank. Modesty, you will notice, never kept me in the background. The town was incorporated; E.M. Wilson was elected Mayor and I was elected Alderman. Here I made a record. During the year, I think I seconded four motions and moved to adjourn each time I was present.

My wife
      But I am getting ahead of my story. So close did I invest my money and so busy was I that I arrived in Tacoma "broke," forgetting that I had told my wife to meet me there, and that we would go to San Francisco together. She had been waiting for me two days. She is a great waiter. Just keep her anticipating and she is perfectly happy. She grows fat on promises and is happy in financial adversity. I got hold of her accidentally and I have educated her splendidly. The click of the night lock bothers her no longer. She does not implicitly believe what I say; consequently she has few disappointments. I do not confide my business to her, and she is not worried and never blamed. I taught her early to to go out alone; hence she is courageous. I guess we are both of us of the same opinion on every subject, for we never gossip or debate. She was bright and intelligent when I got hold of her and was easy to educate. The time to educate them is in their youth. Well, there she was, waiting for me.
      "Got any money?" says I. She says, "nit."
      Both "broke," and bound for San Francisco.
      "Well, this is a predicament. Let me see what I can do," I said.
      This was at the Tacoma Hotel. You remember I told you I was side-tracked to success. Well, I was down in the office, deliberating whom to draw on, when Gen. Curry who was sitting on the other side of the office, called to me and said: "They say you are making things howl up in Fairhaven; a whole boat-load of buyers from Spokane went up to-night. Say, can't you put me on? Here;" and handing me a crisp yellow bank-bill, value $500, he said, "Put this where it will do the best."
      As I owned the best lots in town I soothed my conscience by right then and there picking out in my mind a couple of him. I returned to the waiting wife, showed her that "sweet $500-William," and, in answer to her wondering question, said, "A bird flew in at the window with it." Most peculiar and best of women: if you did not believe it, you certainly showed no evidence of doubt.
      Gen. Curry had no cause to regret his investment. In San Francisco I learned that realty in Fairhaven was jumping to "beat the band," and back I went and took a new hold. I made $60,000 clean in cash in sixty days, and bought a coal prospect and named it the Blue [Canyon] Coal Mine; then I formed a company, of which I was president, and issue 500,000 shares of stock, and incorporated the Marble Creek Marble Company, capital stock, $100,000, of which company I was vice-president. In connection with my Fairhaven experience, the following letter is self-explanatory:

      Fairhaven, Dec. 1, 1891 Captain J.R. Matthews and Members of the Wardner Hose Co. No. 2. My dear Friends: Permit me to thank you for an elegantly framed photograph showing all the members of your splendid company. I feel that I do not deserve the compliment that you bestowed upon me when you christened the company, and this further testimonial of your regard; and I more fully appreciate these honors when I consult the record of your meritorious conduct since your organization. You need no other testimonials of your gallantry and vigilance than the silent, black and charred wrecks that might have been the starters of a great conflagration. I trust that you will keep up your strength in numbers and continue to protect our imperial city. Pay no attention to adverse criticism. A volunteer fire company is and always has been the embodiment of all that is brave and unselfish.
      Hoping in the near future to be able to show my appreciation in a more substantial manner, I remain, boys, your friend. J.F. Wardner.


Governor Hauser
      Samuel Thomas Hauser (1833-1914) was appointed as Territorial Governor of Montana as a Democrat, appointed by President Grover Cleveland, and served from 1885-87. He soon accumulated a fortune through mining and banking interests. We suspect that he and Wardner swapped some worthwhile yarns. As the Wichita Daily Eagle described him in the issue of Nov. 25, 1891, "Ex-governor Houser, of Montana, began life as a surveyor on the Missouri Pacific railroad. He emigrated to Last Chance gulch, where Helena now stands, and got a job to turn the windlass of a mine hole. Now he's a millionaire." [Return]

Edward M. Wilson
      Nelson Bennett singled out Edward Merton Wilson as a "prince among men." We have written this profile with the help of Jeff Jewell, of the Whatcom Museum of History & Art, and Bob Wilson, not directly related. Edward's father, E.A. Wilson, a New York native, was an early Oregon Territory pioneer and surveyor and platted the town of Pendleton, in Umatilla County. Jewell discovered that E.A. Wilson was a British prisoner exiled to Tasmania for his role in the abortive "Patriots Rebellion" of 1838.
      On the way to the United States in 1847, he and his wife, Mary, born in Ireland, stopped off at the Sandwich Islands where Edward M. was born on Nov. 5, 1847. His profile in the Dec. 29, 1890, Fairhaven Herald notes that his parents sailed from Sandwich (Hawaii) to Oregon City, Oregon, then a very small village, that year, which must have been challenging to his mother. Edward M. had six siblings.
      In his younger years, Edward M. Wilson ranged back and forth from Idaho to Montana to Utah and was engaged in railroads, newspapers and mining. After a good education in Oregon, he worked on the Union Pacific construction until the line met the Central Pacific in 1869. He then became editor of the Corinne, Utah, Reporternewspaper. At that time Corinne was the only "gentile" town in that Mormon territory and the newspaper challenged the Mormon religion. After two years of fighting, with both ink and fists, he moved on to Salt Lake City to edit the Salt Lake Review, also anti-Mormon in outlook. He soon moved into mining and was elected to the territorial legislature, but all the other representatives were Mormon and refused to seat him.
      While in Utah he met Nelson Bennett who was building his rail line westwards as part of the Cascade Division of the Northern Pacific [hereafter NP]. Wilson remained in the state with both mining and retail interests through 1879 and then moved on to Alturas County, Idaho, where he engaged in the same businesses through 1884. Northern Pacific Railway, the line that Bennett and his brother were building westward towards the Cascades range in Washington, needed side rail routes that branched off from the main line and Wilson's eponymous company in Montana contracted to build them.
      By 1887-8, Wilson was in Tacoma, supervising final construction of NP towards and invested in really cheap real estate there and in Olympia and then came to Fairhaven with Edgar A. Cowgill in February 1888. The two men did the heavy lifting in the field for Bennett as they surveyed the potential Fairhaven & Southern Railway (hereafter F&S, see: http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/RR/Sk-What/F-S01-Birth.html). They submitted exhaustive reports, which convinced Bennett to build what would be the first standard-gauge, common carrier railroad north of Seattle.
      After going back to Montana on business he returned to Washington in 1889, moving to Fairhaven, where he became general manager of the F&S shortly before it connected with old Sedro on Dec. 24, 1889. He also invested with Charles X. Larrabee in the Skagit Coal and Transportation Co., which founded the town of Cokedale near Sedro. In other businesses he was president of the First National Bank of Fairhaven, treasurer of the Bellingham Bay Gas company, president of the Cascade Club, president of Fairhaven Steel & Iron, treasurer of Bellingham Bay Land Co. [Edward Eldridge's land company], owner of Blue Canyon Coal Mine and helped establishment of the Water and Electric Light company. He also served as Mayor of Fairhaven for a year from January 1891 to January 1892.
      His 1915 obituary listed him as "Colonel" because he was the commander of Company "M" of the Washington State Militia around 1904, and it also noted that he was a member of the Idaho Territorial Legislature and was an aide on the staff of Washington Governor Henry McBride (1901-05, from Mount Vernon). He was a longtime member and officer of both the Odd Fellows and the Freemasons, from back in his days in Utah. He married late in life, after the 1890 profile, to Kathryn (North), a native of Wisconsin. He was long associated with his friend from the Utah days, George A. Black, who was briefly governor of Utah and after the turn of the century became president of the Fairhaven Land Co. and the last mayor of Fairhaven, in 1902, a year before all the bay towns consolidated as Bellingham. [Return]

Boston Mine
      On Jan. 6, 1890, the Puget Sound Mail in LaConner reported, "Company just formed for Cascade Mining Co. capital $500,000 & purchase Boston Mine. George and Jack Rowse contracted with the company to take 50,000 tons of galena ore this coming season. Will put in a concentrator. Estimated ore assay at $150/ton." (see http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/SkagitCtyRiv/Library/County/PSMail1890-01-06.html).
      We are researching the Rowse family for another profile. In his 1897 book, Mining in the Pacific Northwest (see http://www.stumpranchonline.com/skagitjournal/Upriver/Cascades/Mines/Mining03-Hodges1.html) Lawrence K. Hodges noted that George W. Rowse, John C. "Jack" Rowse and Gilbert Landre discovered a substantial deposit of galena ore on a ledge on the west side o the Boston Glacier in the North Cascades mountain range.

      The ledge, which is divided in the middle by a three-foot horse of black porphyry, crops at his point to a width of fifty feet. A cross-cut of eighteen feet from the side of the glacier showed ore for ten feet, and a tunnel sixty feet along the wall showed galena and sulphides almost solid for the whole width. A 35-foot tunnel at a point 150 feet higher made a similar showing. The thickness of the ore body where it has been exposed some distance higher is four feet. Assays run as high as 110 ounces silver, 60 per cent lead and a little gold, and two tons shipped to the smelter returned $92 silver and lead per ton.
      Below the Boston the ledge forks, with galena predominating in one and sulphides in the other fork, and it is covered by the Chicago group of six claims held by Gilbert Landré and C.H. Landers. Several short tunnels have been run to strike the ore bodies in ledges which run about six feet wide, showing streaks of galena and sulphides.
      Southeast of the Boston and on the eastern rim of the glacier is the Ventura, or San Francisco, group of four claims, owned by the Cascade Consolidated Mining Company. They have, parallel with the Boston, a well-defined, three-foot ledge with six inches of galena showing in a small tunnel, samples from which assayed as high as 104.26 ounces of silver, 40.1 lead and $4.40 gold.

      We have not discovered any details about the Wardner investment in the Boston Mine, but we infer that he bought and sold shares in the Cascade Consolidated Mining Company, of which George W. Rowse became president. Because the mines were so inaccessible, a silver rush did not occur and then the national silver boom broke in the 1890s and Rowse and others moved on to more exciting possibilities in the Klondike in 1897 and afterwards. [Return]

Edgar A. Cowgill
      Edgar A. Cowgill (?-1931) and Edward M. Wilson arrived at Fairhaven in February 1888 as associates of Nelson Bennett when Bennett purchased the townsite from Dan Harris and setting up the construction of the F&S Railway. He was secretary of both the Fairhaven Land Co. and F&S Railway. In fact he seems to have been secretary of all the important land and mining companies of the time: Skagit Coal and Transportation Co., Bellingham Bay Land Co. and Fairhaven Steel & Iron.
      When Bennett bought the old Kansas Colony Mill in Whatcom, Cowgill managed it and later he was a principal of Samish Bay Logging Company. Cowgill was a native of Delaware and his wife, Lillian "Lillie" (Wasmer) was the youngest of the Wasmer sisters of Wisconsin, one of whom was Dan Harris's wife, Bertha. Edgar and Lillie married on an unknown date in 1889 when he was 35 and she was 17. Edgar L. Cowgill died in Bellingham on March 18, 1931. [Return]

Links, background reading and sources
Extensive pages about Wardner and the boom in Fairhaven

Story posted July 7, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 56 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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