Cariboo Jack



Jesse Fairchilds, "Carriboo Jack", came to Rocky Bar in the fall of 1869. He told tall tales from the Carriboo Mining District of British Columbia where: "the caribou ran so thick that a fellow could run all the way to hell and back atop them and never touch bare ground. Their breath, which turned immediately into snow and ice, kept the north country covered in white. They would build a mountain in a minute with their breath."

Of himself, he said, "I was born in a blizzard snowdrift in the worst damn storm to ever hit Canada. I was bathed in a gold pan, suckled by a caribou, wrapped in a buffalo rug, and could whip any grizzly going before I was thirteen. That's when I left home." When challenged on his tales he'd respond: "It is so. I will let you know Iam from Carriboo!"

The "Jack" in the nickname came from his mule: "so danged smart he had to change socks once a week or she wouldn't let him ride her." She could open any gate built: "she stold a full year of grain, a sack at a time from a Quaker farmer-- each night he built the latch higher on the door until finally the mule couldn't reach it. That only stopped her one night -- the next night the mule was seen standing on hind legs telling the family dog standing on her forehead how to open the latch."

In 1870 Fairchilds was one of several credited as the first to discover gold on the mountain that bears his nickname. Claims were filed (for "Carriboo's Diggings") in Lander, because it was thought the area was in Wyoming. Jesse "Carriboo Jack" spent 14 years at the Carriboo mines near Keenan City, till the color played out.

Sitting at a saloon in Soda Springs he heard of a wounded grizzly bear down by Bear River. Reinforced with reputation and plenty of drinks, Carriboo Jack took the lead and walked right into the brush after the bear. The bear attacked, Jack's shot missed and Jim Call finally killed the bear but not until the bear inflicted serious wounds. Medical help from Malad took several hours but apparently Jack died from blood poisoning within a week when the doctor sewed up his wounds but failed to allow openings so they could properly drain. Carriboo Jack was buried in Soda Springs where a commemorative grave marker has been established.

Near the cemetery at Geyser Park, a visitor center/public restroom commemorates the history of the area and explains the legacy that endures. The Carriboo Jack Memorial was dedicated May 18, 1996, as a central feature of Soda Springs' centennial celebration. Next time you're in Soda Springs, take a moment and stop to appreciate the source of the name for the Caribou Mountain, Caribou City, Caribou County and the Caribou National Forest.

Paul R. Nordwall, Retired, Caribou National Forest Supervisor 1983-1997

Quotes used here come from various sources captured in The Mountain Carriboo and Other Gold Camps in Idaho, by Ellen Carney and Elaine S. Johnson of Soda Springs, Traildust Publishing Co., 1994.