Friday, June 7, 2013

Boise Basin Mines Hard to Reach, Rough When You Get there.

On June 7, 1863, a miner who identified himself as “Hal” wrote a letter to The Oregonian from Placerville, Idaho Territory. He had started from Walla Walla “in company with three others.” A good part of his letter described the route they took to reach the Boise Basin, heading first south to the Umatilla River in Oregon. He gave estimated distances as they then turned east over the Blue Mountains. (His guesses do not appear to be particularly accurate, however.)

As they neared Idaho, the group passed through some extremely rough country. One of Hal’s companions said, “My God! what a desert place. I could not wish my worst enemy buried in such a place as this.”

Hal agreed: “No nor would I, and I will say that I am a pretty good hater as times go.”

He described one stretch, located 25-35 miles northwest of today’s Weiser, as a “rattlesnake district.” He wrote, ”The rattles of these hideous reptiles are heard every few minutes; the air appears to be scented with rattlesnake venom, and the water tastes like a weak decoction of rattlesnake broth.”
Rattlesnake Lunge. National Park Service

They hurried on, and crossed the Snake River at the Washoe Ferry, near the mouth of the Payette River. The party then took the well-traveled route up the Payette and over a final ridge into Placerville. Hal promised to give a full account of the mine later, “but at present content myself with remarking that there were no disappointed, returning miners on the road; no growling miners in the mines; no doubt expressed right on the ground that the Boise mines are the best now being worked.”

But clearly the Basin was no place for the weak. In the few days Hal had been there, two men had been killed. He described one killing in considerable detail. An irascible “old gentleman” known as “Uncle Andy” McKay was well known for “speaking his mind pretty freely.” He had apparently remarked that one Jerry Hickey had been known around Lewiston as a “road agent,” that is, a thief.

So Hickey began following Uncle Andy around, hurling “approbious [sic] epithets” at the old fellow. Finally, McKay “picked up a pick-handle and struck his pursuer once on the cranium, killing him as dead as the most remote of his Celtic progenitors is at this moment.”

The dead man’s reputation was fairly well known, it seems. Hal said, “Uncle Andy is generally, I may say unanimously, acquitted by the community.”

References: [Hawley]
“Letter from Boise Mines,”The Oregonian, Portland (June 24, 1863).

No comments:

Post a Comment