ALEXANDER
DUNSMUIR

A Man, A Town
A Promise, A Fountain

Presented At The Winter Wall Opening, 12/3 2005

 
The following has been culled from, and provided by, a number of sources. It in no way claims to be 100% accurate or complete (but we are working on it). So, if you can add to the story, or care to provide corrections, you are encouraged to do so.

Send comments to Laurence Cook, studio@laurencecook.com.
Please provide sources whenever possible. Thank you. Enjoy.


On Monday, August 23, 1886 the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Cedar Flat (later Nutglade - the current Dunsmuir south yard), and opened the station of "Dunsmuir" in a box car (see, Signor, Rails In The Shadow of Mt. Shasta, 1982; an SP Shasta Division progress map, dated 6/30 1916; and the Yreka Journal of 8/28 1886).

Sometime shortly before January 5, 1887, the Dunsmuir station, still consisting of a box car, was moved up to the site where the engine house and turntable were being built - the settlement known as Pusher (current town site, south of Upper Soda Springs; see, Signor, Rails In The Shadow of Mt. Shasta, 1982; the Yreka Journal of 1/5 1887, and other sources). The Pusher name was set aside in favor of Dunsmuir.

Legend has it, that Alexander Dunsmuir was so charmed by the beauty of the area, that he promised the settlers of Cedar Flat and/or Pusher that he would provide a fountain, if they would name the town after him. The Yreka Journal and SP progress map (the most contemporary sources to the event, known to this writer), while mentioning the new station name as being Dunsmuir, do not indicate how the station got its name.

From the historical record, it is apparent a town/station was named Dunsmuir almost two years before someone from the Dunsmuir family (not necessarily Alexander) actually declared he would provide a fountain to the town, and delivered it.

Here is the evidence.

Shortly before October 6, 1888, a beautiful multi-tiered iron fountain, plus $360 for installation, was provided by "Mr. Dunsmuir" (North Star of Mott 10/6 1888, per Stephen Cutting's, A Slice of History 1887 -1890, page 176). This follows an earlier story from the North Star (page 127), dated June 23, 1888, which states that "R. Dunsmuir" (not Alexander) promised the fountain "while in Dunsmuir lately".

The actual phrase used in the 6/23 1888 North Star is "intimated", which (if accurately reported) suggests more of a quiet declaration, or perhaps an indirect suggestion, as opposed to a negotiated quid pro quo public promise. And given that the town was already named Dunsmuir, the exchange of a fountain for the name seems out of place. Given the references to both "R" and "Mr." (and not specifically, Alexander) the identity of the man who promised the fountain cannot be positively made at this time. However, it is important to note that the plaque on the fountain stated that it was "Presented by Alexander Dunsmuir of the Wellington Collieries, British Columbia".

Short of new evidence, it is impossible to say for sure who promised the fountain and who actually delivered it. We do know, the place "Dunsmuir" was established in late August 1886. And almost two years later (June 1888), 'a' Dunsmuir male passed through town on the newly connected California & Oregon line, and promised someone a fountain. And true to his word, the fountain shows up a few months later, in early October 1888.

The basic legend holds, but the promise of the fountain was either made twice (by Alexander with respect to the naming of the station in August 1886, and restated or affirmed, in June 1888, by a misidentified Alexander, or by his father, Robert), or the promise of a fountain was only made to the existing town of Dunsmuir, in June 1888 by either Robert or the mis-identified Alexander.

It is also quite possible that, in June 1888, Alexander and his father were traveling together. Given the historical record, it appears that Robert probably traveled to Ashland for the last spike of the C&O on or about December 17, 1887. Given his homes in both Victoria and San Francisco, Alexander would seem to have had every reason and opportunity to travel by rail, through the Siskiyous, many times between 1886 and his death in 1900, with or without his father and other members of the family.

The town may have been, from the start, named Dunsmuir for the Dunsmuirs and not specifically for any particular member of the family. It may have been a matter of the son establishing a personal and family presence in the area, and then gifting that glory to his father, who was a very powerful man on many levels.

It all remains an open question. But below are some things to consider.


Alexander Dunsmuir (b. 7/8 1853 Nanaimo, BC, d. NYC 1/31 1900) was the son of British Colombian coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir (1825-1889). He commuted between homes in British Columbia and San Francisco, mostly by ship. Ships were fundamental to his business (i.e., shipping coal from BC to San Francisco).

However, the Dunsmuirs had a keen interest in railroads. In the 1880s, Robert Dunsmuir sought investment from the Central Pacific in his railroad ambitions in British Columbia. As the C&O was developed in the mid-1880s, Robert wanted to tie his railroad in British Columbia to the Southern Pacific line. Robert Dunsmuir is said to have attended the last spike ceremony for the C&O (which would mean that he was in Ashland, Oregon in December 1887).

The Dunsmuirs were very wealthy through Robert's 1869 founding of the Wellington Collieries in British Columbia. Alexander came to San Francisco in 1878, a young and "clear headed businessman", to tend to his father's business interests. In San Francisco, Alexander built the southern offices of the Dunsmuir empire with wharfs, warehouses, ships and many investments.

Alexander was talented and a bit of a rake. He was also a friend of Frederick Crocker (1854-1897), eldest son of Charles Crocker of the Big Four. Fred was a Vice President of the Southern Pacific in 1886. He and Alexander were of the same age, and certainly traveled in the same social network. Coal & Trains, naturally. Given his ties to California and Crocker, Alexander would have been personally and professionally interested in rail transport between British Columbia and California.

According to an apparently well documented biography of the Dunsmuir family, The Dunsmuir Saga (1991) by respected British Columbian historian, Terry Reksten, in the Spring of 1886, Alexander Dunsmuir disappeared in San Francisco on a drinking binge (page 110). Up to that point, as a young man of extraordinary robust constitution, he was able to drink until four in the morning, then sleep for five hours, and show up at his office by ten, "clear-headed and able to conduct business with efficiency and dispatch." After ten days missing, he appeared in a "deplorable condition", and over the next few days, suffered from his first attack of delerium tremens (i.e., alcohol withdrawal).

Per Reksten, with some effort, Alexander pulled himself together. Several months later, in August 1886 (the same month the railroad reached Cedar Flat and the Dunsmuir station was established), Alexander was sober and on his best behavior, when he traveled north through the Siskiyous on his way to BC for the opening of his father's railroad on Vancouver Island, the E&N. Alexander made the journey at the suggestion of his friend, Fred Crocker. It is not known how long he stayed in the area, and what he did or where he went, while he was here. Struck by the surrounding beauty, per Reksten, Alexander offered a fountain to Crocker, not the town (page 111).

It appears a town/station was named Dunsmuir before or when the Cedar Flat station was established on August 23, 1886, probably by a decision (or certainly with the approval) of the Southern Pacific. However, given the North Star excerpts of 1888, and the Yreka Journal excepts of 1886/87, there are some questions raised with respect to Reksten's account (e.g., she does not mention the fountain events of 1888, and refers to Pusher getting the name directly). Perhaps, a review of correspondence, calendars and diaries of Alexander Dunsmuir, Robert Dunsmuir, and/or Charles Fredrick Crocker would clarify matters.

Again, we do know that in early January 1887, the Dunsmuir station of August 1886, was moved, along with its name, north to the established settlement of Pusher. And later, in June 1888, 'a' Dunsmuir passed through the established town bearing the Dunsmuir name (on the recently completed C&O; as of 12/17 1887) and, some way some how, promised and then delivered, a beautiful multi-tiered iron fountain with a nymph on top.

Alexander had many reasons and opportunities to travel by rail, through the Siskiyous, between 1886 and his death in 1900. He may have "presented" the fountain personally in October 1888. And over the years, if or when, he passed through town, he would be able to see the fountain and the growing community.

Regardless, the fountain became a big hit with other travelers & tourists, as trains stopped in Dunsmuir (the SP Division Line, and southern urban gateway to the Siskiyous), letting passengers off to enjoy a stay. The fountain basin was stocked with trout; a steady flow of pure water being provided free by a neighbor, Mr. Bilicke, owner of the Mount Shasta Hotel across the street. Swimming in the Best Water On Earth, the fish thrived.

Sometime in the early 1900s the fountain water was left running during a freeze, and the nymph cracked. She was taken away, and eventually lost. Kinda sad.

In the early 1970s, the remaining Dunsmuir fountain was placed at the entry to the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens, in north Dunsmuir, where it can be seen today.

Copyright 2005, Laurence Cook / Studio LarZ


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