Mining slows down a tad in the mountains in the winter when your claim is buried under 15 feet of snow, so it’s no wonder that the bored citizens of Placerville put out a challenge that January to all comers who would race against their “famous” sled, the Flying Cloud. The winner would receive $1,000.
The residents of Bannock (later to become Idaho City) were equally bored, so they began practicing with various colorfully named sleds, shooting down the icy hill on Wall Street. A sled named Slim Jim was the first to attract some attention. It crashed into a woodpile breaking Harry Phillips’ right leg and causing some injury to the head of one “Oyster Jack” Hall.
Undeterred by the carnage, G. Gans came sledding down at breakneck speeds, breaking no necks, but snapping the collar bone of a bystander.
Sled-generated injuries got so common that the local paper put out a notice that they would no longer print a recitation of damages unless there were broken bones or serious dislocations.
When the sledders judged their skills adequate for the challenge, they jumped into a big horse-drawn sleigh and, towing their railed racers behind them, set out for Placerville to take up the challenge.
After the requisite number of speeches and other entertainments, including a parade, the race was set to begin. The Bannock men determined their best shot against Placerville’s Flying Cloud was a sled called the Wide West, piloted by Bill Mullaly.
As history writer Dick d’Easum said in a 1955 column about the race, “the $1,000 bet had been lying around in the weather too long, or something, and shrunk to $50.”
That did not dampen the enthusiasm of the racers. In the first heat the Wide West was the winner. It was the same story for the second race. Then, Flying Cloud won the third. In the fourth Wide West went jetting by the judge far in the lead, except that the judge wasn’t actually there, having stepped away for a moment to conduct some personal business.
The Bannock racers claimed victory. The Placerville men took umbrage. There was a little dustup about who had actually won. Eventually everyone decided to call it a draw and no money exchanged hands. But that satisfied no one.
That evening they changed race venues, picking a murderous, ice-covered hill on which to run the sleds. The Wide West shot down the hill so fast and far ahead that d’Easum noted the “Flying Cloud was lucky to get second.”
The crowd from Bannock took a victory lap through town with drums beating and banners flying. The pilot of the Wide West glided down the street towing an empty Flying Cloud behind him. The Placerville citizens were so disgusted with the performance of their famous sled, they let him keep it like a war trophy.