Disappointment: The Story of James F. Callahan, Wallace, Idaho’s Unluckiest Mining Millionaire

by Ron Roizen

Calahan still lives in cabin - Spokane Chron - 09111915

Callahan’s home up Nine Mile Canyon (Source: Spokane Chronicle, 11 Sep 1915, p. 5)

The life of miner James Francis Callahan (12 August 1858 – 12 June 1921) — more usually known as “Jim” – affords, at the same time, one of the most heartening and most disheartening tales in the annals of the Coeur d’Alene Mining District.

Callahan labored tirelessly year after year at a prospect located in Nine Mile Canyon north of Wallace.  Local mining wisdom regarded his enterprise as hopeless and misspent effort.  He was variously known for this venture as a fool,[1] a “queer character,”[2] and the “Crazy Man of Nine Mile Canyon.”[3]

Callahan discovered the site into which he invested his hope in 1885, he placed his claim in 1887, and he completed the construction of his nearby cabin by the end of the following year.  Yet, the first ore from his mine wouldn’t ship out until 1906, two decades after beginning work at his site.

His initial mining company, bearing his name, was formed in 1910.  In December, 1912 the Consolidated Interstate-Callahan Mining Co. merged with the Amazon-Manhattan group in one of the biggest mining deals of its time.

In the first half of the 20th century’s second decade, from 1910-1915, Jim Callahan became master of one of the most productive and richest mining properties in the District.  And a very wealthy man as well.  He even started enjoying his prosperity.

In 1915, Jim was in his mid-50s

In 1915, however, the wheel of tragedy began turning.

In fact, on January 1st, 1915 he’d have only six-and-a-half years of his life left to live.

They wouldn’t be good years.

Three theaters of activity – his ongoing mining enterprises, his marriage, and his investments – would bring him low.

In September, 1915 the Spokane Chronicle chided him for still living in his miner’s cabin up Nine Mile Canyon, even though his estimated personal income for the year, the article suggested, would be about $75,000.[4]

But his life was about to change.

In December, 1915 he vacationed with his bride-to-be in Hawaii for a couple of months, stopping off in Los Angeles on his return, where he married Helen Elizabeth Mitchell.  The marriage would prove to be short-lived and the divorce settlement that ensued would prove to be unbelievably costly for Callahan.

The same month, December-1915, John A. Percival, president of the mining corporation Jim Callahan had launched and once owned and run, circulated a letter to shareholders explaining that a legal battle for control of the corporation was in progress between two factions.  A group of six, five of whom had not been elected to the corporation’s board at its annual meeting on August 16, 1915, was contesting corporate governance.  Jim Callahan, who had been elected to the board, had nevertheless joined forces with the other disgruntled five.  He would become embroiled in a bitter internal struggle for control of the company.

Meantime, Callahan had poured a great deal of his towering income into a program of investments managed by the trusted investment firm of Milholland & Hough in Spokane.  Unbeknownst to Callahan, however, the firm’s two principals engaged in unwise speculation with Callahan’s funds.  They ultimately had to resort to issuing him forged bonds to conceal their folly.  But the firm’s investment situation only worsened, and when the wheels finally fell off their duplicity, in January of 1921, Mr. Milholland committed suicide and Mr. Hough was sent off to prison.  Mr. Callahan recaptured only a pittance, suffering a loss of about $400,000.[5]

The loss, combined with Callahan’s declining mining income, enormous legal costs, and the staggering payout his ex-wife had won, left him virtually penniless.

In January, 1921 the ordinarily equanimous Jim Callahan expressed his despair in the Spokane Chronicle.[6]  “This is almost more than I can bear,” he said.  “I do not know how I will be able to go through the strain.”

He’d be dead six months later.  Callahan suffered a massive and paralyzing stroke on Friday, June 10, 1921 and died two days later at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of June 12th.

There is something compelling to me about the place of disappointment in life.

This story – and its ill-fated central character, the friendly, accessible, and generous James F. Callahan – is going to become my central research focus now.

Wish me luck!

[1] “They Called Jim Callahan Fool When He Toiled Alone at Mine,” Spokane Chronicle, 11 Sep 1915, p. 5.

[2] “J.F. Callahan, Pioneer Idaho Mine Owner, Dies of Stroke,” Great Falls Tribune, 13 Jun 1921, p. 1.

[3] “Long Struggle Brings Success,” The Colville Examiner, 25 Jun 1921, p. 6.

[4] Equivalent to almost $2M in 2020.

[5] $5.75M in 2020 dollars.

[6] “Embezzlement Hits Callahan,” Spokane Chronicle, 10 Jan 1921, p. 6.

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3 Responses to Disappointment: The Story of James F. Callahan, Wallace, Idaho’s Unluckiest Mining Millionaire

  1. F says:

    I wish you a great deal of luck with your James F. Callahan research. From what little I know of his history, he’ll be a fascinating subject for you!!

  2. ronroizen9 says:

    Thanks Francie!

  3. Gary Logan says:

    Ron, My great uncle Chauncey Miller homesteaded property about ten miles north of Pritchard on the North Fork. I researched his property holdings and found that he owned several properties in Wallace and part ownership of a Silver mine. As far as I can tell he was in the area in the early 1900’s and died in 1930 at the age of 65. He is buried at the Nine-Mile Cemetery. If you were able to supply more information on Chauncey I would appreciate it. I wrote a fictional account of Chauncy’s life based on some historical facts. Gary D Logan gmlogan76@frontier.com

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