by JEREMY WATTERSON
[caption: Big wheels met little wheels at the Wallace Founder’s Day parade. Photo by Danylle McLain]
Town names throughout North Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Mining District more often than not pay homage to the men (or in one case, donkey) who first discovered the rich mineral lodes that made the communities destinations for generations of hard rock miners who followed in their boot tracks.
A couple of these men never left the Silver Valley. Noah Kellogg, whose pack animal discovered what became the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mines, or so the story goes, is buried in Kellogg’s Greenwood Cemetery. Bill Osburn is buried in the Elk’s section of Greenwood Cemetery in Spokane. Andrew Prichard is buried at nearby Murray, while George Murray and Jim Wardner’s final resting places remain a mystery. Captain John Mullan is buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Annapolis, Md., but monuments to his historic expedition through Idaho Territory in 1861 stand in remembrance along the military road that bears his name, including one at the town of Mullan. Now, after a remarkable local effort, William Wallace has a proper monument in the town he founded in the form of his headstone. But Wallace isn’t buried in Wallace …
Rewind 131 years to 1886, when Wallace bought the 80 acres of cedar-filled swamplands that would eventually comprise the hub of silver operations in North Idaho. Three years later, his land deeds were deemed unlawful. Walter Bourke, the man to whom Wallace’s tract scrip was initially issued, claimed he had lost the originals after selling them to Wallace. Bourke (no relation to Burke Canyon) requested replacement, which the Government Land Office in Washington D.C. granted, thus voiding Wallace’s scrip and, subsequently, all of Wallace’s land deals. Despite this query of ownership, Wallace continued to sell off parcels. After a tumultuous legal battle and a scramble of land grabs, William Wallace left Idaho in 1889. He eventually settled in Whittier, Calif., where he died in 1901 and lays buried to this day.
Fast-forward 115 years and enter husband–and–wife historians Tony and Suzanne Bamonte. While researching a book on the 1883 Silver Valley gold rush, the pair discovered that the cemetery Wallace was buried in had been turned into a city park in 1967, with well over 2,000 headstones removed in the process. With the help of Chuck King, a prominent Spokane historian, the headstone of William Wallace was located in a collection at nearby Acton, Calif.—like a one-ton needle in a haystack.
A final player in the grand plan of welcoming Wallace back home, Jamie Baker was tasked with driving the carved gray granite marker the 1,300 miles from southern California to north Idaho. With the eternal monument of his adopted hometown’s namesake in the bed of a borrowed truck, Baker set out to return a bit of Wallace back to the town he had left under suspicion and turmoil. Along those many miles, Baker, along with King, hatched a scheme to honor Wallace, a decorated Civil War veteran, with the largest parade the town had seen since Teddy Roosevelt’s visit in 1903.
On June 24, 2017, the inaugural Wallace Founder’s Day honored the homecoming with a parade replete with marching bands, Civil War re-enactors, motorcycle escorts, military and police personnel, and other local dignitaries. An antique cannon shot kicked off the festive affair. A picnic and party on the grounds of the old Northern Pacific Depot culminated a re-dedication ceremony of Wallace’s headstone, which reads, “William R. Wallace / Died Nov. 16, 1901 / Aged 67 Years / A Native of Kentucky”
After an impassioned effort many years in the making, this stone rests permanently along the banks of the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in front of the splendid, Chateau style architecture of the NP Depot in the heart of a little silver boom town that time forgot.