The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 4, Number 3, Pages 2-20
Summer, 1979

Blacktail Beach - Part I

By W. S. Gilbert

Many years ago, before the advent of superhighways and mobile homes, urban Americans had already developed the urge to escape to the wilderness. Within a few decades of the "taming" of the Northwest, the residents of Portland, Seattle, Spokane, and other cities recreated the frontier life in vacation retreats in the forests, seashores, and lakesides of the region.

In this account (written in 1959) W. S. Gilbert, who moved with his family to the Northwest in 1882 and established a law practice in Spokane in 1899, describes nearly a half century of summer life at Blacktail Beach on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho. His memories are supplemented by letters from relatives and friends with their own recollections.

The history of Blacktail Beach provides an illustration of early recreational life in the wilderness Northwest and also serves as an example of the historical value of personal recollections of the past.

This account was presented to the Pacific Northwest Forum by Fred W. Gilbert, who like his father, is an attorney in Spokane. It will be published with accompanying photos in two segments in the Forum.

Blacktail Beach

This brief history of Blacktail Beach and some of its inhabitants is written at the urging of several of my children. There is no pretence that it is entirely accurate and any humor is purely accidental. To understand how our families came to locate there, a little background is necessary.


Before the turn of the century, both the Hamblen and Gilbert families had quite a taste of summering on a lake. The Hamblens had built a modest cottage at Silver Beach on Lake Coeur d'Alene about two miles from the city. It was the headquarters on weekends for a crowd of young people of college age and its capacity was often taxed to accommodate the many who wished to stay all night. It was the scene of the budding romance between Larry Hamblen and Frankie Gilbert. My chief recollection of the place stems from the time when Euphemia Luhn (something of a tomboy) got me down on the floor of the front porch and then sat on my head. That was one reason why I decided not to become a wrestler.

The Gilberts during our high school days had twice journeyed by train to acosta by the Sea and over to Westport where we camped, swam in the breakers, ate quantities of clams, crabs and corn bread, and thrived mightily. We had camped also on upper Fish Lake, Idaho, and some of us had joined the F. W. Smith family for visits at Camp "Sixteen to One" on Lake Coeur d'Alene five miles from Harrison. This camp was supposed to have gotten its name during the silver campaign from the fact (or supposition) that there were sixteen girls and only one man usually there. In any event it was there due to the large number of girls that I became engaged to one of them.

A couple of years after Edna and I were married, we camped for some days at Granite Creek, on Lake Pend d'Oreille during two summers. This was due to the urging of Walter Blossom who had a small cabin there and who owned a prospect on Blacktail Mountain, known as the "True Blue."

At Granite Creek lived the Schroeder family. A number of Palouse people used to camp there as there was good fishing and Mrs. Schroeder was a fine cook. The Schroeders had a little steamboat that was available for excursions around the lake. These were more in the nature of picnics and were notable because of the fine lunches Mrs. Schroeder always provided, usually with plenty of fried Pheasant (Ruffed Grouse). The second year (around 1904) Edna and I planned to go to Granite. We had written to Mr. Schroeder to meet us at Hope where we journeyed by Northern Pacific train. Arriving there about 1:00 p.m. we were shocked to find that Mr. Schroeder and steamboat were not there. We waited with no results. Hope in those days was a tough lumberjack town with no hotel worthy of the name, and Edna and I would have preferred to sleep in the woods than to attempt any of its sleeping accommodations. Then came a lucky turn. The station agent of the Northern Pacific offered his row boat for us to go the 16 miles to Granite. It was a dandy boat and I felt sure I could row to Granite, so we started out on a beautiful August day. It was no hardship; the lake was a dream. Just as we rounded Granite Point, about four hours after departure, we heard Carl Schroeder, son of the Schroeders, sounding his call to dinner on his bugle. I will never hear a sweeter sound! We had another good outing that year.

Seeking Cottage Sites

These experiences whetted our desire for summer places of our own. Both Laurence and I had heard often of the wildness and beauties of Priest Lake. Soon we had the opportunity to visit it and on our first trip there rowed all around the lake, enjoying for the first time the comforts of air mattresses. We were so pleased with the lake that in the next year or so we returned to find sites. The State or Forest Service were then leasing sites for a low annual rental. Many people had taken sites. On our second trip we found two lovely sites near Lion Head Creek that suited us, and the local Government agent approved our applications. We were tickled and anticipated no trouble. But alas, the higher ups turned us down, claiming that there was too much timber on our sites. Here was the rub. In those days the only way of reaching Priest Lake was to take the evening Great Northern train to Priest River and spend the night there in a miserable little hotel. The next morning we would take the heavily loaded horse drawn stage to the lake, a trip of some six or seven hours. The result was that we could not go back soon if indeed we didn't give up the project entirely.

The Promised Land

It was about this time that Fred Elmendorf, through his friend Dr. James E. Drake of Spokane, heard about his place at Blacktail which he was willing to sell to three people, so it came about that Fred, Laurence, and I, in 1911, made the trip to Bayview on the train and then in Drake's little motor boat (inboard) to Blacktail. We were captivated with the place and shortly thereafter took our wives up to inspect the beach. All were keen to buy. Drake wanted to retain a site upon which he was living in a small cabin and sell each of us adjoining sites of 110 ft. frontage. The price was $500.00 each, which included an undivided interest in the rest of his claim. A word of explanation is necessary here about the title. Drake owned the southerly 1200 feet of a patented mining claim. The north 300 feet was owned by a man named Lowe, in Chicago. The claim was described as the "Crescent Mineral Lode No. 1-2039", which was originally located by Gertrude D. Lindsley and Allen F. Lindsley, wife and husband, by staking and filing claim with the county recorder in what was then Kootenai County, now Bonner, on July 23, 1901. An amended claim was filed by the same claimants on July 26, 1902. The Lindsleys deeded to C.H. Jones by mining deed on April 17, 1905. He in turn, deeded to Marian C. Guilbert on December 31,1906. On making necessary proof of sufficient development work, Jones proved up and on April 23, 1907, received from the Government, a Mining Certificate which was the equivalent of a patent.

Selecting Sites and Building Cottages

After the purchase from Dr. Drake, it became necessary to decide on a division. This proved easier than anticipated - not that we expected a knock-down and drag-out fight. The Elmendorfs wanted a location where there would be lots of sun. The Hamblens preferred one up the hill away from the lake. They got it. We thought that the remaining site was best of all as it was fairly level, had some trees, and was the right distance from the lake, etc. I should remark here that the Elmendorf cottage, when built, stood out like a lighthouse and could be seen for miles down the lake. In coming from Bayview, we used it as a marker to steer by.

Having selected sites, the Hamblens and ourselves were keen to get started building. The plans we used were largely prepared by each of us. A contractor was hired and he took several men to the Beach to do the work. I had a good friend and client, Ben Hornby, who was manager of a lumber mill at Dover at the lower end of the lake. Lumber for both cottages was purchased from him and loaded on a big barge, and towed to our beach. Some of the men unused to carrying lumber, up from the lake almost gave out. Moreover, they lived in what was little more than a chicken coop of Drakes and batched. But the jobs were done fairly quickly and we were delighted. This took place in the summer of 1912. We were happy and looked forward eagerly to the time when we could occupy them.

Condition of the Land

One of the first owners of the claim had cleared about five acres and planted them with apple trees. This was immediately back of the Drake and Elmendorf places. Trees seemed to be about six or seven years old. The owner had secured water from the tunnel of a mining prospect several hundred feet up the hill. I think the name of the claim was "The Chicago." He had made wooden troughs to convey the water, and for several years we kept running across these as we tramped over the clearing. This clearing where the orchard was planted showed up for miles from across the lake and was a very useful land mark in steering for home when we were on the further side of the lake. New growth has obliterated it. I should have mentioned earlier that the Elmendorfs built their cottage the year after we constructed ours.


This was an important factor, especially up to the time that a passable road was built to Talache. For some years, our way of getting to the lake was to take the Spokane International Railway at Spokane, leaving about 7:30 A.M. At Corbin Junction, we had to change to the "dinky", a two or three mixed car train that started at Coeur d'Alene. It ran to Bayview, backed down onto the wharf where passengers and freight were transferred to a steam boat.

There were two of these boats owned by the Northern Navigation Company - the Western smaller of the two, and the Northern. Both had upper decks and the Northern had several small cabins. The route of these boats crossed to Lake View, then followed the shore North to Cedar Creek where they stopped if flagged, then to Whiskey Rock where they stopped again. The next stop was Granite Creek - more important - then across the lake to our places. For several years we were landed right on our beach. This continued until one of the steamers got its propeller fouled in our anchor cable, whereupon the boats put in a landing dock near where our present road reaches the lake. Later this was abandoned for a well constructed landing at what is now Talache. Each boat made a round trip from Sandpoint to Bayview every day so that gave us fine service, but the task of meeting them when their landing places were moved was not too easy. However, the children greatly enjoyed these boat trips, and the captains became good friends, as did the Railway conductor on the "Dinky." I do not recall the year when we first were able to drive to the lake or rather to the beach above Peterson's, from which point we lugged our supplies down a very steep trail to the lake. I do recall my first auto trip part way in to Sagle where I was to catch a train to Spokane. I had heard that Chapman was driving in to Sagle so hoofed it up to his place. There was only a logging road most of the way. Chapman discovered that his gas supply was low and he doubted if he could make it, but he proceeded on the principle that the faster he drove, the farther he would get on his meager gas supply. He made it! But I never again hit the top of an auto as frequently as I did on that trip.

When a passable road to the lake was finally completed, we used our autos. It was a hard trip during the early years as there was no pavement East of Spokane Bridge. There were miles of dusty, bumpy road, and our driving time was about four hours as against one and a half hours now. Getting home on a hot Sunday afternoon after such a drive often raised the question, "Is it worth it?" However, the lake and the attraction of our families answered that question loudly in the affirmative.

This would be a greatly inadequate account of the transportation problem if a sincere and hearty tribute was not paid to the almost heroic efforts of the mothers in assembling quantities of baggage, etc. for the first trip of the summer to the lake. We took a street car about 7:00 A.M. to the depot, the train left at 7: 35 A.M., and in my case, there were four children, and later five to watch over. A lunch was needed, and mother had to answer many times the oft repeated question, "Mama, when do we get there?" We would arrive about 1:30 P.M. And when we got there, Mother's work was just begun. Carrying up bedding, sometimes mattresses and all kinds of supplies was a real job, both of management and physical effort. How did these fine mothers ever do it, and always cheerfully and without complaint! You will understand and pardon me, if right here I say that my eyes are moist as I write this.

An important development in the transportation problem was the purchase of a launch the first year. Laurence heard of a second-hand boat for sale at Clarks Fork. He went up there and examined the boat, thought well of it, and made a remarkable deal judged by present day prices. The boat was a bit old style with a sharp bow and overhanging stern, powered with a four H.P. inboard Doman engine with two cylinders. It was a very seaworthy boat, although slow, it accommodated eleven or twelve grownups and children. Laurence and I made many weekly trips in it from Bayview where we kept it. The price was under $200.00 including a pretty good boathouse, and the owner delivered both to Bayview free. We would come out on Saturday afternoon and return early Monday morning. This made it necessary for us to leave the beach at a quarter to five in the morning in order to catch our train at Bayview. It was a slow boat but no one complained. We had many delightful picnics across the lake and elsewhere. Having no dock, it was necessary to anchor it out from shore and twice it broke away. In storms at night, I would wake up and wonder about it. We replaced it with a second boat with a Chevy engine which was fairly satisfactory. The kids named it the "gravy boat" - why I never knew. These small boats made many gay trips possible.

Pearl Creek Water Works

For several years after we built our cottages, our water supply was the lake and hundreds of pails of water were carried up by various members of the family before there came a change. Weekends while I was in camp I carried up water to fill two tubs. That was good exercise.

In 1914, we had the present pipe line installed. It was necessary to secure a water permit from the state of Idaho. After a required hasty survey, the permit was granted August, 1914, for one fifth of a cubic foot of water. We also secured from the U.S. Forest Dept. a right of way permit to run the line, in November, 1915. The most interesting thing in connection with building the works was the extremely low cost. I still have the bill of Crane and Co. for the pipe and fittings - $386.00. It was a fact that at that time, galvanized pipe was at the lowest price in many years. The labor, too, would strike terror to the hearts of present day union men. Two local men did the work, Chapman, $87.00, and J .R. Coleman, $64.25. They built at the head gate a wooden tank which lasted some years but made more or less trouble. They cut a trail up to the inlet in order to do the work. It was a fine example of skill and hard work of the natives.

Local Characters

I doubt if we could have maintained ourselves at Blacktail without the help of a number of natives, all now of blessed memory. First, there was Bill Couper who with Art Smith, a former locomotive engineer, lived in the little bay at Maiden Rock about a mile and a half south. Couper was a genius at any odd job. He built our first cellar with earth filled walls, which was our cooler until years later when we got ice. His cabin with an artificial pond for trout right out in front was very interesting. Later he moved up to Coupers Point where he built a little cabin up the hill about two hundred feet where he seemed to enjoy the solitude. He canned hucks [huckleberries] and venison, pheasant and squirrels, etc.

He also acquired quite a reputation as cook for the Knut Club [Spokane Outdoor Club] at its annual spring outings at the beach. His mulligan stews were tops.

We didn't see so much of Art Smith but he was a kindly helpful man and we all liked him. Later he married a widow and moved to Hope. Coleman lived on the bench several miles to the North. I am not sure, but I think that he and Chapman built the present Hart cabin. Another local character was Kid Price, a mining prospector, who wandered over much of the Northwest, principally British Columbia, where he had a mining claim. He had a claim near the head of Pearl Creek and a cabin there. His tales of his travels were interesting, especially to the children. He had a pack horse and I believe helped several of us to the top of the mountain for hucks. He has disappeared into that far country of no return.

Added to the list should be Jack and Mrs. Peterson who lived in an old house, slightly remodeled, at Talache Landing. In the early days there were four or five small houses forming a little community mostly of prospectors and including a saloon which was known as Blacktail. It may be recalled that the name of the mountain was due to the presence of some blacktail deer, a species which has long disappeared. On my first trip to the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, about twenty-five years ago, I met in a small curio shop a man who had been a bartender in the saloon at Blacktail. Jack performed many little jobs for us and wife was of considerable assistance to several of our families as a day woman.

Chapman owned a hay ranch about a mile up the road from the old mill. He was very strong and did some heavy work for us. An an example which would startle most of our present day workmen, he dug a six foot cesspool and lined the same with rock all in one day. It is located between the Harts and our place.

H.C. Hunter who for all the years until recently ran a general store at Sagle is worthy of special mention although hardly to be claimed as a local character. He with his wife ran the store and he made deliveries of our supplies once a week (or was it twice?). Items not on his own shelves, he would get in Sandpoint, including mile and ice and even dry goods for the girls. It was quite chore to meet him at the landing at the appointed time and load all the supplies into our boats. Also it was more work to carry up these things to our cottages from the beach. While our trade was considerable, we remember Hunter's many kindnesses with gratitude.

Changes in Ownership

All of our original group at Blacktail have passed away except the writer. Herb Hamblen, Charlotte Upton and Mary Anderson, children of the L.R. Hamblens, have succeeded to Hamblen holdings. The north 300 feet of the claim owned by Lowe was bought by the Yeomans and later given to the Andersons and Herb Hamblens. The Elmendorf place descended to Duryea (Red) Elmendorf and Naomi Elmendorf Johnsone, who later sold her half interest to Duryea. The Hart place passed to Helen DeForest and Henry Hart, who despite their distance from the lake are enthusiastic visitors to their cabin.

The Harts rented the Drake cabin in 1916 and it was purchased from him in 1917, title being taken in Helen's name. It was intended that the Henry Harts would share in its use. This cabin was built, I believe in 1915 by Chapman, and I think a man by the name of Coleman who lived several miles down the lake. These men supplied the logs and Chapman's horses were used to drag them up from the lake, quite a job!

The Gilbert cottage was torn down in 1958 and the site given to the Hal T. Abbots, one-half, and one-half to the Phillips Finlays, and each family has built a lovely cottage on their site. A portion of the tract held in common was acquired by purchase by the R.C. Hunners who built a cottage in 1954. Immediately south, the Fred W. Gilberts acquired a site and built a cottage in 1957.

Other Matters

Fishing throughout the years in the main has been excellent. In the early days the Cut Throat were the usual catch with an occasional Dolly Varden. At one time there were great numbers of White fish which were caught by commercial fishermen, usually in the spring and shipped in quantities to Spokane or smoked. Later came the Silvers or Blue Backs or Kokane, which were also caught in great numbers by commercial fishermen for the most part, although many weekend fishermen enjoyed the sport which was usually carried on by a boat load of family. Still later came the Kamloops, a rainbow trout imported from B.C. and which grew to large size. Many have been caught weighing up in the thirty pounds. They are gamey and often leap from the water when hooked. The largest caught by any of our folks at Blacktail was landed this summer (1959) by Phil Finlay who proudly came in with a Kamloops weighing a little over 22 lbs. and measuring 33 inches in length. A silhouette of this fine fish hangs on the living room wall of the Finlay cottage. These large fish seem to be best when roasted with tasty dressing. Also many have been cut up and smoked.

Blacktail mountain produces fine hucks, and many of the parties from our beach have made what was a hard climb in the early days and returned with five or six gallons. A logging road part way up the mountain has, in the last two years, made the climb easier.

Wild Animals We Have Met

Wood rats and porcupines have become the main pests. The Gilberts have been the chief sufferers from the latter. Several years they have gnawed up from beneath the kitchen floor making sizeable holes which provided access for the mice and wood rats. Many of these pests have been shot or poisoned. When Dr. Drake lived on the beach the wood rats seemed to be very numerous. He told about lying in his bed in his little cabin and using a flashlight, would shoot one or two a night. I think he claimed that he shot as many as twenty or more in a year. These rats while annoying because of their noisy habits have not been numerous in recent years, but even so, no one loves them. They are not good to eat.

In earlier days there were many deer which would come near at night and make quite a noise "blowing." We were visited by a beaver two or three years ago which started gnawing at several of our cottonwood trees. A belt of composition roofing nailed around the bottom of the trees discouraged this performance and we see Mr. Beaver no more.

I had not intended to record in this story recent events, but I must make one exception in order to mention the skunk. The night before the Abbots broke camp a few days ago, Smokey, their night hunting cat tackled a skunk, with the result that he was thoroughly sprayed. Every known method of deodorizing him was tried with only partial success, so Mr. Smokey has been returned to the cultural atmosphere of Pullman, there to make peace with that community and himself.

Mountain Climbing

This is worthy of special mention. Nearly all of us at one time or the other climbed the several mountains surrounding the lake, - Blacktail, Pack Saddle, Green Monarch and the highest of all, Scotchman. These were interesting events. I mention only one. Edna, Addie, Harriette and I climbed Pack Saddle and spent the night on top aiming to go down the other side and strike the head waters of Granite Creek. We made the descent and found the creek but no trail as we had been told existed. We started down the creek through wind falls and brush, really heavy going, but soon found that we could not make it before dark. So we pitched camp and spent a rainy night with hardly any grub. In the morning on renewing our tramp, we encountered the trail within three hundred feet from where we had camped. However, it was ten miles down to the lake and it took us several hours to make it. But we had some good luck. We stopped at the Days at Granite and were given the most wonderful breakfast.

Firewood and Camp Fires

Until recent years, all firewood for the stoves and ranges had to be cut up from beach logs, split and carried up. We were very selective in seeking good timber and as time went on traveled further and further away from our beach to get the logs we wanted. Then came a pleasing application of the truth embodied in the famous lecture "Acres of Diamonds." Immediately above the clearing was a fine growth of tamarack and fir timber about 12 inches in diameter. How to get it down? Phil Finlay with some help supplied the answer. They built a log chute up to the trees to be cut. These were sawed into eight foot lengths and with the aid of a little grease were put on the chute, given a shove and away they went, hitting the barricade at the bottom with a loud crash. Other methods of getting stove wood will be referred to later.

Camp firewood was plentiful and near at hand. Early, Laurence Hamblen built some benches around his campfire site, and often the whole colony would gather there for the evening and under the leadership of Aunt Frances with her violin and Uncle Laurence with his mandolin, we had some dandy songs. This was also headquarters for our Fourth of July activities.

The Advance of Civilization at Blacktail

It is worth a few more lines to summarize the many material and cultural changes which have taken place at Blacktail in the forty-seven years of our summer outings there. In the beginning, water was brought up from the lake. When it was piped to our cottages there was quite a change, running water in the sinks, later toilets, and believe it or not, hot and cold water showers in several of the cottages. Some of our folks are starting flower beds.

The coming of electricity in 1949 made a big change. Up until then candles and gasoline lamps furnished our lights. Now electric lamps are everywhere and at night the sight of the cottages all ablaze with light is a fine one. One of the most important benefits was having electric refrigerators. Getting ice in from Sandpoint and carrying it up (even though it had partly melted) was some job. The beer drinkers consumed more beer, but the change was very welcome.

Another improvement (?) was the purchase of a community owned electric chain saw. I mention with considerable personal embarrassment that we have several electric blankets, one in my cabin. However, I swallow my pride and hasten to say that there is no more enjoyable feeling than to climb into bed on a cold night with the electric blanket turned on. Of course we have radios and one of our group brings an electric typewriter when she comes to camp.

Another change I deplore in our advance in civilized ways is that everyboat uses a motor boat. No one rows a boat any more. However, motor boats powered with a good outboard motor have made possible the much enjoyed sport of water skiing. There is a quantity of gasoline used on the beach, and I am glad that I own some Gas Company stock.

Of minor importance, I should mention a private phone line that connects two of the cottages. To sum up, we are getting civilized. We are thinking of starting some reading clubs and other cultural activities.

W. S. Gilbert

Mayor of Blacktail Beach


To be continued Fall 1979