Chasing Stolen Gold contains a few rare gems of information and this map certainly falls into the category. The creator is unknown but Jackie Franks discovered it and donated it to the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society in Clayton, Washington. The map is a virtual treasure trove of historic routes, trails, and forts. The accuracy appears good and it’s interesting to note that the return route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was still known. Also marked is the Rawhide Railroad, a thirty mile line connecting two communities. According to the author of a book by the same name published in 1916, George Estes, two steam locomotives were shipped around the horn and used on railway tracks made of wood and covered with rawhide to minimise wear from the heavy trains. The story goes on to say that the system worked well until a severe winter when starving wolves ate the rawhide strips. (That’s a great way to end a story).
The book, reproduced by Leopold Classic Library, informs us that the story came to George Estes through a series of interviews conducted with “an old Irish section foreman” who worked on the railroad. Estes believed the story due to “the wealth of detail and circumstantial accuracy” revealed. After reading the book, I had a difficult time finding those same details. The idea that hardwood rails covered in rawhide could withstand the train’s tonnage for any length of time seems to be a stretch. Those were not fully rounded logs like some forest companies used in the early years, with special rims that cupped over the log. And those were trucks hauling logs, not trains.
In 1916, the book may have been more believable. After reading the tale, I was more inclined to believe this could be the classic yarn told by a master storyteller over drinks, many drinks. In the days when education was a privilege, story-tellers honed their craft to a fine art. More research is required. Were two small locomotives built in the east and shipped round the horn destined to be hauled by oxen to the Walla Walla Valley? If a ships log could indicate that and the timing is close, then the Rawhide Railroad has a glimmer of hope to be real. Until then, I’d put my money on the clever Irishman who should’ve been a writer. I regret missing the Mythbusters on this one.