The Life and Times of James Frederick Wardner

He was a wandering soul; the only reason he stayed anywhere for long was to make money — or lose it.

James Frederick Wardner: 1846 - 1905

James Frederick Wardner: 1846 - 1905

Jim Cameron

Things are a little slow in the town of Wardner, B.C., these days. Not like it once was. It’s the same in Wardner, Idaho, population somewhere around 100.

Both towns were named for Jim Wardner, who really didn’t stick around either place for long, although he spent a fair amount of time in the Kootenays and was well-known in Cranbrook in his day.

He was a wandering soul; the only reason he stayed anywhere for long was to make money — or lose it — or to visit an old friend or make a new one, have a laugh and a drink or two, make some plans and tell some stories. Jim Wardner enjoyed a good story and, as it turns out, one of the best was his life.

He was born on May 19, 1846, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a youth he was restless and relatively unschooled, with a love for animals and a passion for doing business, any business, and if it made him some money in the bargain then so much the better.

Jim began raising and selling rabbits at age eight and stuck with it for five years, about the longest stretch he stuck with any single occupation. At age 13 he became a clerk in the I.N. Morton Drug Store where he gradually learned the pharmaceutical trade to the point that he was taken on as a hospital steward with the 39th Regular Wisconsin Volunteers in 1863, fighting for the Union in the American Civil War.

Generally relegated to the rear lines, his only contact with the enemy came near Memphis, Tennessee, when Nathan Bedford Forrest and his raiders attacked the regiment.  According to his autobiography “Jim Wardner of Wardner, Idaho” — an entertaining read if ever there was one — the Wisconsin Volunteers “started like broncos before a cloudburst and fled five miles to safety.” Jim, remaining behind to help with the wounded, avoided capture by hiding in a big bake oven for “ten of the longest hours ever passed” before he safely rejoined his comrades.

Following his discharge at the end of the war, Jim paid a quick visit home and then moved on to New York City. The only job available was night clerk in a drugstore in the notoriously crime-ridden “Five Points” neighbourhood where most of his sales involved morphine, opium and other such legal “medicines.” He supplemented his income by selling photographs of his new-found friend, local saloon-keeper John Allen, dubbed by the NY Times “the Wickedest Man in New York.” Jim quit his regular job to implement a series of lectures throughout the area featuring John Allen but was foiled when Mr. Allen died rather suddenly.

Jim then undertook a stint as an assistant to an unnamed “Tapeworm Specialist” who supplied prescriptions to “no less than ten women a day … who paid — according to the doctor’s ability to size her up — twenty-five to fifty dollars,” a goodly sum in the 1860s.

Always eager for a chance to further himself, Jim purchased the exclusive rights to sell a newly invented “Anti-Cow-Kicking Milking Machine” in the State of Wisconsin. The enterprise suited his purposes nicely as he had been corresponding with Mary Hadley, a young Milwaukee lady with whom he made plans to wed on his trip through. As luck would have it, it also allowed him the opportunity to demonstrate the wondrous milking machine for the first time. It was, in fact, a specially constructed bright red, nickel-plated tripod stool upon which his future mother-in-law’s maid was knocked senseless by his future mother-in-law’s cow, shattering both the invention and his patent hopes in the process.

Luckily both the maid and the wedding plans survived and he took himself a wife of inestimable patience and perseverance.

Jim once again entered the pharmacy business as a partner in the Palace Drug Store in Boston, until the prospect of visiting an uncle out west proved greatly preferable to facing the wrath of a customer cast into spasms by Jim’s assistant who prescribed the wrong drug. He duly found himself in Los Angeles, “a quaint, old Spanish-Mexican town of few pretensions and less attractions,” dabbling in real estate and fruit farming, both of which proved very profitable shortly after he gave them up.

A friend from his Milwaukee rabbit-raising days convinced him to invest in a wild hog farm on open parkland near San Diego, only to discover that the 500 porkers promptly scattered throughout the San Julian Mountains and, when occasionally spotted, proved too wild and dangerous to capture.

A return to Los Angeles soon sent him in another direction, one that he would follow for the rest of his life and one in which he would make his fame and fortune. His fame would invariably increase; his fortune would remain somewhat more erratic.

Introduced to a promising proposition in Ivanpah, Arizona, he invested heavily in his first mine, from which employees would pack ore 260 miles west to Los Angeles, much of it across the harsh Mojave Desert. It proved a decent money-maker until an entire pack train of 25 animals and five packers was massacred by rampaging Apache Indians. That was enough for Jim to pull up stakes and move to safer ground.

Now, if all this seems a little on either side of believable, and no doubt Jim Wardner would be the first to admit to the possibility, consider that it was small potatoes compared to the latter half of his life in which Jim found himself in numerous remarkable (and reasonably well documented) circumstances in which he invariably landed on his feet, sometimes very rich, sometimes flat broke, but always with an eye to the next card in the deck.

Next Week: Jim Wardner, the National Candy Bank, Black Cats and a Jackass.

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read