Written by Cecile Hales
In August of 1805 Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass in what is now Montana, leaving behind them the area acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Ahead of them lay the “Oregon Country”—territory both uncharted and disputed, as it was claimed by Great Britain, France, Russia and Spain.
Fast forward to 1903. The area west and south of Lemhi Pass is now part of Idaho, which had become the 43rd state in 1890. In Lewis and Clark’s footsteps had come trappers and traders, then miners and other settlers after gold was discovered in various locations from the 1860s onward. The U.S. government had set up a 1.8 million-acre reservation for the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and a railroad snaked across the southern part of the state. Little by little, the “Wild West” was being tamed.
In the summer of 1903, three Winnetka businessmen—Lloyd W. Bowers, Heyliger M. DeWindt and Arthur B. Jones—traveled to a remote part of Idaho to inspect a gold-dredging operation in which they had invested. They were accompanied by colleague Edward Hyzer of Milwaukee and Bowers’s son, Tom. This remarkable journey would have been impossible for many Americans of that era, but two of the men had already been as far west as U.S. National Park in 1872) and, more importantly, Bowers, Jones, and Hyzer were senior executives in the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company—which made the logistics of the trip considerably easier.
Bowers engaged a private railway car with two attendants and invited the others as his guests. The car, #403, could be attached to any train operating on the growing rail network in the West. Where the railway would not take them— across the Continental Divide and down the Salmon River Valley— they had to rely on horses and wagons, and once away from their private railway car they had to arrange to have meals and to lay their heads down at night.
A steam engine left the Chicago & Northwestern Station in Chicago on July 6, pulling ten coaches plus Car 403, and headed westward to Omaha. There the private car was switched to a Union Pacific train and by late the following afternoon the men were in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1,000 miles from home. DeWindt was kept busy documenting the scene passing outside their windows.
“We passed herds of cattle, generally fifty to a hundred in a herd. The towns are few and far between and wretched affairs of only a dozen houses. Prairie dogs have appeared and some doves, meadowlarks, blackbirds and one hawk, but the rolling prairie stretches on either side covered with short grass and here and there in the distance some hills or bluffs with horizontal strata of limestone outcropping along their summits.”
The men passed through Idaho: Pocatello, Shoshone and then Ketchum, the end of the railway line. Here Car 403 was put on a siding while the travelers were met by two local men, each with a two-horse wagon, plus two extra saddle horses. After their baggage was transferred, the party began the 75-mile trip to Stanley Basin.
They had arrived in Ketchum rather late and it became obvious that they could not get to their prearranged overnight stay; it was after 9 p.m. when they decided to see what lodging could be obtained in a small settlement, deserted except for a log house which bore one sign saying SALOON and another announcing MEALS 50¢. It would have to do. Fortunately, the bar room had a cast iron stove, much appreciated as the night was cold even though the men had donned heavy sweaters and coats. They were served dinner in another room, at a table lighted by one candle in an empty whiskey bottle, “good in quantity and did the business for us, though not served with Waldorf perfection.” Then they went back to the bar room, where they arranged themselves on the floor atop a scattering of wood shavings and hay and attempted to sleep.
The next day DeWindt and Hyzer (who, DeWindt noted with some awe, weighed 234 pounds) continued on horseback while the others rode in the wagons, crossing the Continental Divide at 8,000 feet. At the end of their second day on the road the party got their first view of “the great dredge puffing away at its work in the night and the north illuminated by electric lights.” They had arrived at Stanley Basin, where they spent the next three nights in the home of the manager of the Stanley Dredging Company.
The men devoted one complete day to checking out the dredging operation; on the next day they enjoyed a fishing expedition to what is now known as Redfish Lake. Then it was off again on horses and wagons, back down the valley and over the mountains (no sleeping on a bar room floor this time, but in a proper lodging for travelers) to Ketchum, where Car 403 stood waiting for them on the railway siding.
Their journey continued on southbound rails, with leisurely sightseeing at Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak and Denver. Including their five days on horseback in the rugged interior of Idaho, they managed to cover 4000 miles and arrive back in Chicago on July 21—for a total travel time of two weeks, or not much longer than it would take to make the same trip in 2013.
DeWindt captured the individual personalities and cheerful camaraderie in the group as they engaged in long discussions on topics both secular and religious, and organized friendly competitions in card games and hunting.
“Our journey back was uneventful except for the Duke’s as DeWindt called Bowers] encounter with a sage hen—he bravely stood his ground and even McFeetters [their wagon driver] says his hand was steady as he leveled his trusty Luger pistol at the innocent bird, but alas! the aim was untrue and the bird still proudly watches over her happy family and teaches them how to learn to love the succulent leaf of the sage brush.”
All in all, DeWindt penned a fascinating account, easily worthy of publication in one of the adventure magazines popular at the time. But the story remained private until fifty years later. In 1954 Jones’s son, who had in his possession a copy of the trip diary, shared it with the son-in-law of Heyliger DeWindt—as it happens, both descendants were businessmen and Winnetka residents like their elders. Jones had this to say:
“Like many other people, I have labored under the delusion that parents, and people of their age, never learned how to have a good time. Reading this diary proves how wrong I have been. They had a good time on this trip!”
The diary eventually passed to Jones’s daughter, Nancy, and it was after her death in 2008 that the manuscript and a set of accompanying photos were donated to the Historical Society. Over 100 years later, the trip can be appreciated by everyone.
The Wild West escapades of the Men of Car 403 will be just one travel story featured in the Society’s exhibit, The Adventurers: Winnetka’s Untold Tales of Travel, 1899-1930, which ran from March 2014 – August 2015.