Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mining Prospects in the Boise Basin are Depopulating Oregon Gold Camps

On May 25, 1863, an “Occasional Correspondent” in Auburn, Oregon wrote a letter to the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco, California. Auburn was a short-lived gold town located about eight miles southwest of today’s Baker City. (Founded in the spring of 1862, the town boomed to over five thousand people, but had dwindled to a couple hundred by the end of 1864).

The writer noted that men along the Pacific Coast were “rushing to Boise, and fast developing the mineral resources of the new Territory of Idaho, that promises, though so newly born, to become a rich, interesting and important portion of Uncle Sam’s domain.”

He lamented the rather poor season Auburn miners had had, but expressed confidence in their prospects. “Boise, however, offers more immediate returns, and, literally, thousands have left here the last few weeks; and there is no doubt that the mines there are paying handsomely, and in extent and importance are far ahead of the discoveries at Salmon river, that last year deceived so many thousands more than they enriched.”

The correspondent said that many new discoveries were being made regularly. and that he himself had “seen quartz specimens from there that were very rich.”

He went on, “Placerville and Bannock City are thriving places, situated in the great basin where the principal mines are; they are about 12 miles apart.  Bannock City by last accounts appeared to be a trifle ahead in populations and business importance.”

Bannock City, soon to be renamed Idaho City, did indeed forge ahead of Placerville and the other gold camps in the Boise Basin.

The letter-writer said, “Pack trains have until of late had the monopoly of the freight business, but now the roads in the mountains are becoming passable.  The streams on the route have been mostly bridged or ferried, and the heavy loaded trains are beginning to roll Boisewards.”

He predicted that the mining prospects would likely attract additional prospectors from the emigrant trains which had, in the past, hurried across the region. Optimistically, he included Auburn in that future: “Hundreds of families will find homes in our mining towns, and in all the little valleys, that offer ground to cultivate … As a consequence, there will soon be talk of a new State.”

The correspondent did worry about the Snake Indian, who, he said, “have committed a few murders, and stolen a large number of animals on the Boise road this season.”

But he was hopeful: “The Boise miners have fitted out several expeditions that have taught those Indians a lesson, and taken in connection with the work done by the California Volunteers, it may answer the purpose, and incline their tribes to be peaceable.”

References: “Mining Prospects in Oregon and Idaho,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (June 11, 1863).
Susan Badger Doyle, “Auburn,” The Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Historical Society (2008).

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