Caribou County:
Carriboo Jack

Excerpts from “Historic Soda Springs Oasis on the Oregon Trail”
By Ellen Carney

Jesse Fairchild was quite a talker, and prone to try and impress people with his tall tales, one of which was about himself, “I was born in a blizzard snowdrift in the worst storm ever to 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”.

Fairchild earned his nickname as “Carriboo Jack in Rocky Bar, Idaho, in the summer of 1869. Prone to exaggeration, when other miners laughed at or questioned the tall tales he told about Cariboo mining district of British Columbia, he would say, “It is so, I will let you know I am from Cariboo.”

In 1869, Carriboo Jack and his buddies, John Keenan, and Frank McCoy, all from British Columbia, are credited as the first to discover gold, on what was then known as Mt. Pisgah, but now is called Caribou Mountain north of Grays Lake. The find became known as “Carriboo’s Diggings.” Gold mining on Caribou Mountain lasted until the early 1900’s.

This account of Fairchild’s death is taken from “Historic Soda Springs Oasis on the Oregon Trail” by Ellen Carney with permission.

J. J. Call went up the river looking for beaver tracks, he heard there was a big one there, but he didn’t see any outstandingly large tracks until he got to where the big cold water spring comes in the river. He bent over looking at the tracks when he heard a noise and reared up. There was a huge grizzly coming right at him. He didn’t even have time to draw his pistol and turn around, but fired from under his arm.

He hit the grizzly across the face. The animal reared up on its hind legs and hit Call, who was wearing a big canvas hunting coat with an ample lunch in his pocket.The bear’s claws went through the coat and lunch and Call’s heavy underwear, leaving claw marks in his hip. The blow knocked him about twelve feet and into the river. The grizzly was about to come after him, when distracted by Call’s little cattle dog. Call, deciding not to stay and argue with a grizzly when armed with only a pistol went back to town to get his rifle and some dry clothing.

Call’s wife hid his rifle until he could get someone to go with him. In Gorton’s Saloon a man by the name of Lee Wright said he would go if he had a gun. The bartender handed him one. Then Fairchild, being the man who boasted he could whip any grizzly, and probably having a few too many drinks under his belt, quickly volunteered.

While the others set a row of fires to bring out the grizzly, Fairchild took off right down through the willows, and all at once they heard him screaming. Running towards the screams, they found a large grizzly had picked Fairchild up and was shaking him like a dog shaking a rat. When they finally got a shot at the bear, he fell with his head right on top of Fairchild.

Wright ran to town for a buggy and sent a rider to Malad for a doctor. When the doctor arrived, he sewed up all of the cuts instead of leaving an opening so they could drain. Carriboo Jack contracted blood poisoning and week later was dead.

Carriboo Jack had spent fourteen years at the Carriboo mines. His luck ran out towards the end. He finally met a grizzly he couldn’t whip.

Jesse “Carriboo Jack” Fairchild is buried in the Soda Springs Fairview Cemetery. His crumbling gravestone has recently been augmented by a new marker telling the world this man is the namesake of Caribou City, Caribou Mountain, Caribou County, and Caribou National Forest.

Carriboo, or Cariboo which one? I guess it depends on what historical document is read would be the way it was spelled, and it wasn’t until a new map was made in 1921 that the spelling was changed to Caribou. It is thought that the modern editor figured the older editor just didn’t know how to spell.

While Cariboo Jack gave his name to a mountain, a city, County and a national forest, he died long before it was determined he and his associates were atop a rich country now noted for grazing of large herds and flocks, for phosphate mining, fine timberland, fishing waters and recreation areas, a wealth to be enjoyed for many years.

Caribou County Idaho

Caribou County Courthouse | 159 South Main | Soda Springs, Idaho 83276 | (208) 547-4324

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Caribou County Idaho