By Sabrina Brewer, Regional History Intern
The young spectators in this photo from the Chamber of Commerce Collection are just a few of the thousands of people that line Ketchum’s Main Street over Labor Day weekend. They are here for Wagon Days, an annual festival that recognizes the region’s mining history and the infrastructure that made it possible. The finale of the event includes the Big Hitch, a team of twenty mules on a jerkline who pull six Lewis Ore Wagons, the only of their kind in existence. During the mining boom of the 1880s, Lewis Ore Wagons passed between Ketchum and Challis along Trail Creek Summit Road transporting ore and materials.
While the Lewis Ore Wagons are the highlight of the show, Wagon Days also includes lesser-known elements from the valley’s mining past. Pictured in this photo is a water wagon and accompanying commissary. Water wagons were an essential unit during this time as they were responsible for transporting water for the mules and men. The water wagons are also responsible for a few commonly used terms today. During the Temperance Movement of the early 20th century, phrases like ‘getting on the water wagon’ or ‘I’m on the water wagon now’ were used to indicate that someone was no longer drinking alcohol. To ‘fall off the wagon’ was to begin drinking again. You can learn more unusual historical tidbits at this year’s 65th Wagon Days celebration over Labor Day weekend.