It's not much to look at. Much of what remains near the mine where forest ranger Edward Pulaski and 45 men holed up during the Great Fire of 1910 could be described as junk – not even worthy of display in a museum.
But for historians trying to piece together evidence of one of the Silver Valley's most famed tales of survival, bits of broken glass and rusted metal are worth their weight in gold. "They are the things archaeologists can pull together to tell the story," Forest Service archaeologist Steve Matz said. "Even the smallest scraps can be important."
Archaeologists have spent the past week collecting artifacts and surveying the historical site in preparation for restoration of the tunnel and construction ofan observation deck at the end of the two-mile Pulaski Tunnel Trail.
There's little doubt that the tunnel is where Pulaski and his men took refuge as they fled one wildfire and another advanced toward them, but Matz hopes to find more evidence to back up the historical accounts. Pictures taken after the 1910 fire showed horse tack and boots and tools outside the entrance to the mine.
Archaeologists last week unearthed pieces appearing to be parts of a cart or wheelbarrow, including a wheel and a handle, just outside the mineportal. Nearby, crews worked to pin down the site of the Nicholson Cabin. They found logs, part of a cast iron stove, pieces of metal and glass, bullet casings, nailsand the top from a milk can.
Assisted by four Mullan High students, archaeologists from Seattle's Northwest Archaeology Associates Inc. painstakingly excavated portions of the site in layers 10 centimeters deep, and screened the dirt for artifacts.
For decades everything had been sitting on, or justbelow, the surface. Matz was hoping to leave the artifacts at the site, but because ofrecent looting, the decision was made to remove everything. The door to the Garland cast iron stove – noted during an earlier archaeological study – went missing. It was embossed with the date 1885.
Looters also visited the nearby War Eagle Mine, Matz said, turning up dirt and rock in search of relics from the mining era.
Though the War Eagle is on private property, the Pulaski Tunnel and surrounding area are all federal lands. Removing artifacts is considered theft of governmentproperty, Matz said, and also can be punishable by civil and criminal penalties under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
The dig – funded by grants fromthe Inland Northwest Community Foundation and others – was required before the Pulaski Project could begin restoring the mine portal to the way it looked following the fire of 1910.
Pulaski Project President Jim See said the nonprofit organization is also hoping to build a platform where people can sit for interpretive talks. Each year hundreds of fourth-grade Idaho history students visit the site to learn aboutPulaski's heroism during the Great Fire of 1910.
Each day of the dig, the archaeologists and students hiked in, pulling supplies on a cart made for carrying elk carcasses. Project directorAlicia Valentino saidPulaski's story made the hike and 10-hour workdays into one of the more fun and interesting projects she's been involved in as an archaeologist. "I can't even imagine being in that situation," she said. "The trail is hard enough for me. I can't imagine running for my life without the trail."