Friday, June 21, 2013

Accounts of Owyhee Discoveries Reach Boise Basin, Set Off Crazed Rush

Correspondent “Hal” wrote another letter from Placerville to The Oregonian on June 21, 1863. (He had written earlier, on June 7th.)  He said, “Several individuals came in, a week or two ago, from the Owyhee; reporting that they belonged to a party of men who had been prospecting on the tributaries of that stream for several weeks.”

Hal, of course, was referring to the prospectors who had found gold on Jordan Creek, in the Owyhee Mountains, on May 18. The reaction was, he swore, “a kind of special insanity.” As a result, “Twenty-five hundred men have distractedly rushed off … with packs on their backs, afoot; with packs on horses, a-horseback; with their picks, shovels and pans, and a very limited supply of grub."

The problem, as he saw it, was that the news of good, but not spectacular, returns “rapidly grew to the dimensions of six bits to two dollars to [the] pan.” Consequently, “Boise stock came down like the mercury of a thermometer when placed in refrigerator, and owners of five thousand dollar claims looked as if they would like to take about half that money – voting themselves as the unluckiest of men because they could not go to Owyhee.”
Jordan Creek, Owyhee Mountains

Fortunately, the madness soon passed: “lasting about forty-eight hours, and then subsiding.” Now, he went on, “Many think that a beggarly six dollars a day is better than rushing off to the new diggings.”

Hal then turned back to matter in the Boise mines. He said, “There are many gold and silver-bearing lodes of quartz in this vicinity, of unsurpassed richness.”

His words reinforced the news that the Basin did indeed contain important lode mines along with its rich placer diggings. He continued, “Over in the forks of Boise veins have been discovered, fully equalling the lodes at Washoe.”

Here, Hal refers to finds along tributaries of the South Boise, mentioned earlier on May 5 and May 9. “Washoe” was how accounts of the day referred to Nevada’s fabulous “Comstock Lode,” perhaps the most famous silver mining site in the West, if not the world. While the South Boise mines never approached the Comstock in richness, they would prove to be very good indeed.

In Placerville, Hal said, “Provisions are none too plenty, and many articles are not to be had. Prices range high for everything but flour and bacon, which are at living rates.”

He expressed mixed feelings about the mining season itself: “The immigrants for the present year will find extensive and unoccupied gold discoveries awaiting their arrival. … Yet I do not anticipate any great increase of the gold product until the coming year; as the water to work the mines will become scarce as the season advances.”

References: [Brit]
“Letter from Boise Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (July 8, 1863).

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