The night sky lit up with a spectacular display of sheet lightning followed by big claps of thunder last Thursday (May 4). Then came the rain, constant and drenching all night long — all this following the 80-degree weather snowmelt. Now there’s water, water everywhere — rivers, streams, creeks filled to the brim and overflowing.
Looney Creek joined the mischief and gushed through the Cedar Creek burn, seeking its path of least resistance. It traversed lanes, driveways, and open areas until arriving at Highway 20, coursing down the barrow pit — trashing homeowners’ entrances, leaving some impassable with huge crevices. As the water slowly recedes, the damage becomes apparent and property owners’ struggle with restoration options.
The Greek philosophers believed that the four Elements of Nature needed for the very fabric of existence — ensuring perfect and orderly function of life — are water, fire, air and earth. However, when fire and water are unleashed, they can wreak havoc on life. We have seen this in the Methow on many occasions.
We have also seen the power of water nationwide in flooding events, but watching Looney’s gorges develop reminded me of Southern Idaho history. The Snake River Canyon was formed by the Bonneville Flood — a catastrophic event some 15,000 years ago. Lake Bonneville in northern Utah released nearly 1,000 cubic miles of water that dug its canyons across Southern Idaho. Next time you find yourself on I-84, take a detour towards Twin Falls across the Perrine Bridge for a view of the canyon. It is an impressive product of the fury of water — also, Malad Gorge and Hell’s Canyon.
Thanks to Leyland Whittaker, who lives in the shadow of Lucky Jim Bluff, I know more about the origin of the name. In the late 1800s, prospectors made around 20 mining claims on the bluff that rises above the modern day Kumm Road. The first mining claim at the base of the bluff was officially named “Lucky Jim Quartz Mining Claim.” Other claims went up to the top of the bluff.
But why “Lucky Jim”? Superstitious by nature, prospectors often named their claims to foster their hopes. Lucky Jim was a common name at that time — used to name fictitious heroes in detective stories, songs, poems and plays. Prospectors were typically single men and frequently read pulp fiction.
One popular detective story that may have inspired the miners at Methow’s Lucky Jim Mine was “The Diamond Coterie” by Lawrence Lynch. Of note, this popular author was a woman —– Emma Murdoch Van Deventer. (Maybe rough and tumble miners would not have read her books if they had known Lawrence was really Emma!)
Lucky Jim in the novel was described as “a handsome, well educated, sharp-witted, confident man.” His good fortune was further detailed: “He seldom gambled and made his swindling operation of various sorts reap him a rich harvest; and, by his unvarying good luck, in escaping the dragons of the law, as well as because of his lucky ventures, he became known to his intimates as Lucky Jim.” With the promise of his good fortune, it is no wonder that numerous mines in the West were dubbed Lucky Jim.
Circa 1925, the U.S. Forest Service moved the McKinney Mountain name on their maps to a higher peak on Virginian Ridge. Maps after that time showed the bluff as Lucky Jim. The region’s pioneers never really accepted McKinney Mountain as being anywhere other than right above their homesteads, according to Leyland’s historical research based on original source material. Thank you for sharing the history of Lucky Jim Bluff with us.