A series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Cottonwood Lake, just south of Nelson, has been in the news lately as citizens rally to buy property slated for clearcut logging. But oddly enough, the lake, plus the creek and falls that flow from it, aren’t named after the tree species.
In fact, they honour prospector Cottonwood Smith, who was in the Cariboo and the Big Bend area north of Revelstoke in the 1860s. It’s not known what his actual given name was, nor where his nickname came from.
Bob Yuill, who came to the future site of Nelson in the late 1880s, told the Nelson Daily News of May 5, 1933 that Cottonwood Smith had a trap line on what became Hall Creek as of 1879.
Smith’s namesake creek was first mentioned in the Minister of Mines report for 1888: “The west fork of Cottonwood, Smith’s Creek, heads at the mines and flows east, with Salmon River and 49-Mile Creek flowing to the west.”
Subsequent references called it Cottonwood, Smith Creek; Cottonwood-Smith Creek; Cottonwood Smith Creek; and just Cottonwood Creek.
The lake was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of Aug. 22, 1891: “Lines will first be run from Cottonwood Smith lake to the outlet at or near Nelson …”
Cottonwood creek and lake were both labelled on Perry’s Mining Map of 1893, minus the Smith. A 1912 map labelled the creek “Cottonwood or Smith Creek” while the 1930 BC Gazetteer had it as “Cottonwood Creek (not Smith Creek).”
The Smith in Cottonwood Smith creek and lake was eventually dropped. Its last known use was in the Nelson Tribune of Aug. 29, 1903.
Cottonwood Smith himself seems to have moved on to other parts by the late 1880s, his fate unknown.
A recent installment in this series revealed Anarchist Mountain, between Rock Creek and Osoyoos, was not named for pioneer settler Robert G. Sidley as most sources have it, but for cattle rustler John Haywood.
Another account confirming as much has been located in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of June 14, 1896. The newspaper explained the mountain “takes its name from a half crazy prospector named John Hayward [sic]. For convenience in putting a shot into a promising outcrop [of rock] he carried a stick of dynamite in his boot-leg and on meeting a person would pull it out and say in jocular style: ‘I’m an anarchist.’ In his honor Mr. Sidley named the mountain.”
However, a contradictory account appeared in the Vancouver Province of Dec. 31, 1921: “In 1896, the date of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago, this place received the name of Anarchist Mountain.”
The riots actually took place on May 4, 1886 and followed the deaths of eight striking workers at the hands of police. What started as a peaceful labour rally turned ugly after police tried to break up the meeting and someone threw a bomb. Seven officers and at least four civilians died. Eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy and four were hanged.
The Province account claimed the riot “was apparently the most exciting bit of news that Mr. Sidley had heard for some time, and he jumped upon a barrel and shouted ‘Hurrah for Ould Ireland.’ This outburst of enthusiasm echoed through the valley and mountain and anarchy rolled upon the tongues of some, while the excited Irishman who gave utterance had only the thought of an ‘old-time fight’ when times were so dull on the mountain.”
Sidley, who spent several years as a justice of the peace and was hardly fighting Irish, was still alive when this bit of fancy was published, but no one seems to have checked with him.
One other follow-up: our earlier installment said the exact dates of Sidley’s service as a customs agent were unknown. Turns out he served from June 1, 1899 when the port of Sidley was established until it closed on July 1, 1907.
LEAD TO MIDWAY
We’ve previously looked at the eternal question of what Midway is actually the midpoint between. Penticton and Marcus? Grand Forks and Osoyoos? The Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean? Heaven and hell?
Even Capt. Robert C. Adams, who picked the name, seemed a bit confused. He told the Boundary Creek Times in 1896 that it was the midway point between the Rockies and Selkirks — despite the fact Midway is well to the west of both ranges.
Possibly the best answer appeared in the Vancouver Daily World of May 3, 1899, which explained that Adams named the town “to convey the idea that it was midway to all places — a modern Rome, inasmuch as all the roads were sure to lead to it.”