The National Candy Bank, the Black-Cat Ranch and One Stubborn Jackass

The unusual life and times of Jim Wardner, Part II.

Jim Cameron

Jim Wardner’s handbills circulating on the streets of St. Louis went straight to the point: “MONEY FOR ALL! Come to the

National Candy Bank this evening in the Laclede Hotel. 5000 lbs. Granulated Sugar to be sold at 5 cents per pound.”

The thing was, sugar was selling for 10 cents per pound at the time. A temporary “bank” in a hotel storefront, a counter, a few banners and a whole lot of sugar brought people in droves. Jim made money by selling highly overpriced sticks of candy wrapped in a coupon allowing the purchase of up to fifty pounds of sugar at half price. His calculations proved correct and the money started to pour in, until those in power began demanding serious monetary kickbacks; time to pull up and move out, $1,700 dollars to the good. It was all in a day’s work for Jim Wardner; mining and real estate magnate, entrepreneur, raconteur and occasional showman. From St. Louis to Deadwood to New Orleans, Jim spent the next few years making and losing money through numerous means. In 1883, he joined the gold rush to the Couer d’Alene area, specifically the booming mining camps of Murray and Eagle City, where he undertook a very successful stint of building miles of ditches to carry water to the miners. Jim was doing very well but a chance meeting with a colleague in 1885 led Jim to a spanking new “find.” Following his friend’s directions, Jim travelled miles through the bush to the camp of Noah Kellogg, Con Sullivan and Phil O’Rourke, all hardened prospectors. It seems that a short time previously they made their evening camp near the mouth of a creek some distance away. When they awoke the next morning their jackass, a “diminutive but very cunning and tricky animal,” had wandered off. The trail led a merry chase to a canyon whereupon they found the donkey staring intently at a point in the distance where the sun’s rays reflected a most impressive chute of galena ore. The donkey had discovered what was to become the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mines, two of the highest paying propositions in the history of the Northwest. Having informed Jim of the situation while happily imbibing of his whiskey, the miners soon went about their work whilst Jim slipped out of camp and staked the water rights for the entire area, a task the boys had overlooked. The miners took his claim with good grace and formed an agreement that made them all – including grubstakers Peck and Cooper, the actual absentee owners of the jackass – wealthy men. Mining communities immediately sprang up throughout the area including Wardner, Idaho, where Jim and his partner Horace Davenport literally cornered the market by buying all the corner lots in the new community and re-selling them at a hefty profit. The town gradually died as the mining wore down but, by then, Jim had moved on to the west coast. There, on behalf of millionaire Nelson Bennett, he did much to create the town of Fairhaven. He organized the Water Works, the Electric Light Co., the Samish Lake Logging & Milling Co. (of which he was president) and the first National Bank (vice-president). He built an expensively expansive residence referred to as “Wardner’s Castle.” which still stands today in Fairhaven, now an historic section of Bellingham, Washington.

In 1888, Jim, with time on his hands, announced the formation of the Consolidated Black Cat Co. Ltd and the purchase of a small island in Puget Sound stating he planned to raise black cats for the purpose of skinning them in order to supply a demand in certain parts of Missouri and Arkansas. According to Jim, the hide of a black cat killed in the dark of the moon was much valued for medical reasons. As far-fetched as it sounded, the news travelled far and wide, published in varying accounts in major papers throughout the land. It created quite a stir at the time and gave Jim much amusement and one more story to add to his repertoire, a tale that remains an urban legend to the present day.

With his family ensconced in Fairhaven, he continued his rambling ways, buying and selling real estate in Kaslo, B.C., in 1892, and then travelling to Cape Town, South Africa where he remained for three years. Returning to Canada in 1895, he brokered the purchase of 842 lots for $176,000 in the new settlement of Rossland, B.C. and then anticipated the coming of the CPR to the East Kootenay by buying a great deal of land near the Kootenay River which he promptly named Wardner, B.C. The town went through a rapid boom period in 1897, when it was thought that the CPR would make its main depot there, but gradually died out when Cranbrook became the destination of choice. By then, having lost two large, heavily laden riverboats which sank in the Kootenay River on the same day at a significant financial loss, Jim Wardner was in Dawson City attending to the Yukon gold rush as a merchant and mining speculator.

It was in Mexico that Jim’s luck finally went bust. While in Sonora, working on behalf of a group of British Columbia businessmen, he contracted an illness. Trapped due to an uprising by the local Yaqui Indians he was unable to seek medical help. When he finally attempted the journey back to British Columbia he only made it as far as El Paso, Texas where, having lived more lives than a clowder of black cats, he died on Mar. 3, 1905, age 59. The Cranbrook Herald stated: “Jim Wardner is dead but if there is any reward in the future for a good heart, good intentions, good acts and a charitable soul, Jim Wardner will reap that reward.”

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

Cranbrook Arts has opened the doors of their  new gallery space to the public with their inaugural exhibit, Kootenay’s Best.
‘Kootenay’s Best’ opens Cranbrook Arts’ new gallery

This exhibit has been in the works for the past several months and features the work of more than 50 emerging and established artists from across the Kootenays

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

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

Most Read