Thursday, August 29, 2013

Miners Lack Water But Prospectors Still Hopeful, Politicians Meet

August 29, 1863 was a busy news day in the Upper County. The Oregonian of that date reported on the Beaverhead region: “Miners in that district are doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances, water being scarce. A number of prospecting parties are out in every direction, and our informant thinks other diggings will be discovered this fall fully as rich or richer than any yet found.”

In late May, prospectors had discovered placer gold in Alder Gulch, fifty miles to the east of Bannack City. Thousands joined the rush into those fields and founded Nevada City, Virginia city, and several other towns. Plus, those searchers “out in every direction” had also uncovered lode prospects up the canyon from Virginia City. By the fall, observers claimed that the Gulch contained as many as ten thousand men.

Beyond that, the paper said, “A large party was organizing for the purpose of going to Yellowstone river, some 230 miles in a north-easterly direction from Beaver Head, to prospect. … Another party had gone to the head waters of Snake river to prospect.”

The Oregonian also had news from Elk City: “Mr. L. Bacon, Elk City expressman, informs us that the American Ditch Co. are progressing rapidly with their ditch, and will probably have it completed by the close of next month. The mines who have water on their claims continue to take out remuneration pay.”

Meanwhile, also on August 29, a group of Unionist (Republicans) met in Pioneer City “to form a Central Committee to call a Territorial Convention.” The avowed goal of the three men selected was “to nominate a suitable person and an unqualified Union man as a Delegate to Congress.”
Early Pioneer City. Idaho State Historical Society.

The brief report from the meeting closed with, “There being no other special business before the meeting, patriotic speeches were made … [and] enthusiastically applauded.” After that, there were “three cheers given for the success of the national arms; after which the meeting adjourned.”

References: “From The Upper Country,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 29, 1863).
Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).
“Union Meeting in Idaho Territory,” The Oregonian, Portland (September 12, 1863).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Buyer Beware" the Best Advice About Investing in Pioneer Mining Stocks

On August 24, 1863, the Editor of the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco published a column entitled “More Disgust from a Youthful Dabbler in Mining Stocks.”

He began, “A short time ago I wrote you an account of my personal experience in mining stock. I now propose to relate the experience of some of my friends.”

The Bulletin Editor went on, “I met a friend who for more than a year has been dabbling in mining stocks. … At first, as is usual among brokers, he attempted to sell me different kinds of stocks, averring that there was a fortune in each of them; but I had already been burned and could not be induced to touch the stuff.”

No less a personage than Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, would offer similar hard-won, and valuable advice about the perils of investing in mining stock. He spent 1861 through 1863 among miners and speculators in Nevada, including hard labor at the Comstock Lode. That gave young Sam a first-hand look at the scams and dodges pulled by conniving wildcatters.
Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain.
Library of Congress

He slammed the perpetrators of one swindle, calling them “leather-headed thieves.” Their venture was not actually a going concern. With his characteristic humor, Clemens noted that they had promised to organize the company “at some indefinite period in the future – probably in time for the resurrection.”

The Bulletin Editor’s comparable skepticism changed the tune of his broker friend: “Seeing that it was hopeless to saddle me with any of his prettily printed certificates, he became quite gracious and confidential. It appeared that in his whole year’s work he had come out just even. He had run a good many risks and occasionally missed making a ‘handsome thing’.”

After reciting two more examples, the Editor said, “There is only one class of people, in my opinion, who can make money at this hocus-pocus business, and they are the brokers.”

Clemens, in a small way, learned to make money in carefully selected investments. Some were based on tips revealed in hard drinking bouts with the wildcatters. Thus, he usually had a “foot or two” of various claims. Somewhat tongue in cheek, in 1863 he told the folks back home, “I shall sell out one of these days, when I catch a susceptible emigrant.”

References: Peter Krass, ‪Ignorance, Confidence, and Filthy Rich Friends‬: ‪The Business Adventures of Mark Twain‬, John Wiley & Sons, New York (2007).
“More Disgust from a Youthful Dabbler in Mining Stocks,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (August 24, 1864).

Monday, August 19, 2013

War News: Bombardment at Charleston Essentially Closes Port to Blockade Runners

Pacific Coast newspapers had much to say about the course of the Civil War, based on dispatches sent on October 19, 1863. In The Oregonian, a report said, “The Weehawken and the Patapsco are in position to keep Wagner and Gregg quiet. … Gen. Gilmore [sic] announces that the work thus far has been entirely satisfactory, and that Sumter has been damaged greatly.”

“Wagner” and “Gregg” refer to Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg, built at the entrance to the harbor for Charleston, South Carolina. Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore commanded the Army forces besieging Wagner, with support from a considerable fleet under Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren. These two smaller fortifications were meant to relieve pressure on Fort Sumter, located inside the harbor.

Over a month of ferocious bombardment had badly crippled all three bastions. On the 19th, “Gregg was entirely silenced.” But Union artillery, naval and shore-based, sent their heaviest volleys against Fort Sumter itself. A dispatch the day before said, “The parapets are crushed and ragged and the north-west wall is gapped and cracked down almost to the waters’ edge.”
General Quincy Gillmore. Library of Congress.

Just four days later, the barrage would reduce Sumter to rubble and force the Confederate commander to remove most of its guns. Wagner would hold out for another couple weeks before it too had to be abandoned. The loss would end Charleston’s role as a port for blockade runners.

That served to further increase the importance of Wilmington, North Carolina, already a vital link to the outside. The San Francisco Evening Bulletin for August 19 printed a report showing just how important.

An observer claimed that “within the past four days 17 large steamers have arrived at that port, having run the blockade, loaded with stores for the rebel army, among which are 96,000 English rifles, 16,000 army blankets, 130,000 ready-made uniforms, 23,000 cases of shoes, 11 locomotives, 6 rifled cannon of heavy calibre, 5 cargoes of railroad iron, and skillful men accompanying them.”

Very impressive … but analysis shows that the blockade reduced the South’s seaborne trade to less than a third of normal. As a result, the Confederacy suffered ruinous inflation, crucial shortages in the army, and a general lack of everything on the “home front.”

References: James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press, USA, New York (1988).
“By Overland Telegraph: News from Charleston,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 29, 1863).
“The Eastern News: Supplies of Munitions,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (August 19, 1863).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Road to Idaho Planned, Gold in the Palouse?

On August 15, 1863, The Oregonian published a brief item about the Boise Road Company. It said, “The following gentlemen were elected directors at the meeting held at the Dalles on Wednesday, for the purpose of organizing the company: Wm. C. Laughlin, J. R. Robbins, D. M. French, O. S. Savage, Chas. Miller, N. H. Gates and W. Nix.”

A bit over a week earlier, backers of the Boise Road Company had canvassed people in The Dalles and had collected $4,500 in just “a few minutes.” At that point, they had about $7,500 in subscriptions for the new route. The Oregonian item went on, “The capital stock is $20,000, and the work will be commenced immediately.”

Notwithstanding that intended quick start, construction of the new road took almost a full year. By then, the business was called the Canyon City and Boise Road Company. Advertisements in the Oregon papers, as well as the new Idaho Statesman, in Boise, trumpeted that the road had good access to grass, firewood, and water: “Eight miles being the greatest distance without water.”
Road Construction With Horses & Hand Tools. National Archives

The ad said the road “follows John Day river to the summit; thence across to the head of Willow creek; thence down Willow creek to Snake river.” At a stated distance of 176 miles from The Dalles, the route passed through Canyon City, a gold town of some note. In fact, for about two hundred miles running west from the Idaho border, the route roughly follows modern U.S. Highway 26.

Also on August 15, the Lewiston Golden Age headlined a “New Mining Region … where it is said some rich gold discoveries have been made lately.”

They described the location as on “the South Fork of the Palouse, … about 75 miles in a northeasterly direction from Lewiston.” In fact, the item said, “Parties who have been over the country represent it as the most favorable looking gold country in the Territory.”

As often happened, these “parties” grossly over-stated the potential. A little gold was indeed found in the Hoodoo Gulch area along the South Fork, but the placers quickly played out.

References: [Brit]
“New Mining Region,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (August 28, 1863).
“The Boise Road Company,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 15, 1863).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pony Express Service Connects Salt Lake City with Bannock City

The Oregonian for August 11, 1863 reported that “Messrs. Davis, Patterson & Co. … are now engaged in carrying a weekly pony express between Salt Lake and Bannock City.”

This venture was probably a follow-on to the one described in the Deseret News for July 8. That earlier express, which took about two weeks to cover the distance, had been operated by “D. C. Patterson & Co.”

People tend to think of The Pony Express as only the romantic fast mail that ran between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, in 1860-1861. But that venture lasted just eighteen months before the telegraph made it obsolete … and the operators lost money.

In reality, express mail businesses sprang up in many parts of the West not served by telegraphs lines. One of the early ones into Idaho started in Brigham City, Utah, crossed the border south of today’s Burley, and followed a route to Rock Creek. From there, riders galloped to the Three Islands Crossing of the Snake, and then headed for Boise City or directly to various mining camps.
Pony Express Passing Telegraph Builders. Library of Congress.

Yet, despite the romance, the riders were not superhuman, and good horses were costly. Thus, although operators charged all the traffic would bear, they seldom came out ahead in the long run. But newcomers kept trying.

The Oregonian
article explained the continued attraction: “They brought to the Boise mines the news of the capture of Vicksburg and the battle at Gettysburg seven days earlier than it reached there from Portland.”

Of course, even with a war on, the news seldom included such dramatic and important events. Thus, one may infer that, once the novelty wore off, express services failed to generate enough traffic to turn a profit.

Still, Davis, Patterson & Co. were hopeful. The article concluded, “They propose to continue to bring in the Atlantic news (which is telegraphed to Salt Lake) in five to seven days less time than it can be obtained from below.” (In this context, “below” meant telegraph stations in Sacramento and San Francisco.)

References: [B&W], [Brit]
“Pony Express,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 11, 1863).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Boise Basin Has Thousands of Claims, but Water Short for Mining

On August 6, 1863, The Oregonian published a letter from a correspondent in Bannock City, in the Boise Basin. By his observation, Bannock City (the future Idaho City) had grown to be by far the largest of the gold towns in the Basin.

He also had another measure of business in the Basin. He wrote, “There are over 2,500 claims recorded in the Bannock City District, most of which cannot now be worked on account of the scarcity of water. Both Moore’s [sic] and Elk creeks, which unite in this city, are falling, not furnishing as much water by one-third as three weeks ago.”

Since lode mining was not yet an important factor in the area, this severe drop in flow continued to throw men out of work. The writer went on, “In the Centreville District over 2,000 claims have been recorded; and nearly or quite the same number in the Fort Hog’em or Pioneer District.”

Finally, the reporter wrote, “In the Placerville District over 4,500 claims are recorded; making a total of over 11,000 mining claims taken up and recorded – for the most part months ago.”

The writer also observed that the Basin had additional paying ground that had not been claimed and formally recorded. He concluded, “Perhaps 15,000 claims would not be too high a figure at which to estimate the mining region of Boise already located.”

Another handle on Basin activity was, he said, “the number of pack animals and freight wagons constantly employed bringing in freight.”
Freight Team in Rough Country. Library of Congress.

The trip from Umatilla to Bannock city had taken thirteen days. The correspondent wrote, “We met or passed on an average not less than ten pack trains per day, many of which consisted of from 50 to 100 animals; none of less than 15 to 20.”

He had also counted sixty to seventy heavily-loaded freight wagons on the road headed toward the Basin. His counts lead to the conclusion that during that one snapshot in time, perhaps 250 tons of supplies were headed toward the mines.

References: “Election at Boise,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 6, 1863).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities: Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, 2nd Edition,  Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Large Amounts of Gold Dust Waiting for Shipment

On August 3, 1863, The Oregonian reported, “Our merchants are constantly receiving letters from their correspondents at Boise and at other trading points in the mines, full of complaints because of the impossibility of safely sending out the immense amounts of dust now accumulated.”

Unfortunately, dangers lurked along every trail. The newspaper said, “On account of the enormous expense of maintaining Expresses of sufficient strength to be prepared to resist the possible attacks of highwaymen and Indians, none now transport treasure, except in very small sums, and parties coming out are always unwilling to bring or have in charge any more than belongs to them.”

One miner braved the trails by himself and managed to slip through. From him, The Oregonian heard that, “If he had taken all that he was begged to bring, he should have had over a million dollars worth, and from others we get similar statements.”

The inability to get the gold out placed miners and merchants in an awkward position. To maintain their good credit, they were “very anxious to place in the hands of their creditors, who of course are equally – perhaps a little more – anxious to receive it.”
Box with Gold Nuggets and Dust

And, as the article went on, “Such a condition of things of course greatly obstructs business, and is a serious detriment to the mining districts, as well as to the merchants in this city, at the Dalles and in San Francisco, to all of whom it is a matter of serious consequence that transportation of treasure should be possible, safe and regular.”

Reference: “Millions of Gold Waiting Transportation,” The Oregonian, Portland (August 3, 1863).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lesson (Re)Learned: Always Cross-Check Your References

Today you get two “On This Day” (OTD) items for the price of one. As those of you who follow the blog regularly know, I have been making small revisions to articles posted during a previous year for a given day. (I have also added some totally new events, but – as you can imagine – it's not like I have a lot of choices for some dates.)

So, in addition to my Sesquicentennial blog/book writing, I have been looking over previous OTD items to get material ready for re-posting. And today, I checked the item for August 11 – “First Scheduled Stagecoach Arrives in Boise City.”

To expand on that item, I went to the newspaper archives stored by (I believe I’ve mentioned them before. They require a paid subscription, but it really is a bargain for what you get.) I did a search for articles in the Idaho newspapers that mention “stage” in the date range between June 1, 1864 and October 1, 1864. I set the date early because I thought I might find an item that announced that Boise City would have stage service “soon.”

Imagine my surprise when an item in the Idaho Statesman for August 2 said that the Overland Stage had arrived the day before. Now, the August 11 date came from James H. Hawley’s History of Idaho (1920), which has generally been pretty reliable. I found the same date in this reference: J. V. Frederick, Ben Holladay, the Stagecoach King, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).

But I found more newspaper references to the arrival of Overland Stage coaches in Boise on August 6 and August 9 … clearly something was out of whack. So I went to another of my old histories – the Illustrated History of the State of Idaho (1899). And, what-da-ya-know, it gives the date as August 1. Mystery solved. Whoever compiled material for that part of Hawley’s History, mis-read the date (easy to do), and J. V. Frederick probably went along with it.

Lesson: Even when you think you have a reliable source, always double-check the material when you can.

First Scheduled Stagecoach Arrives in Boise City [otd 08/01]

On August 1, 1864, the first scheduled stagecoach arrived in Boise City. The coach was, in a manner of speaking, about a month late: Indian unrest and other problems had delayed construction of the necessary way stations. The Idaho Statesman (August 2, 1864) reported that, “The Overland Stage will leave this city to-morrow morning at eight o’clock, carrying passengers and mails.”

The item said that the line had “good comfortable coaches, and good stock” and assured readers that “their time through from Salt Lake is proof enough of that.”

Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage Company operated the coach, which was contracted to connect Salt Lake City with The Dalles, Oregon.
Boise City stage, 1864-1870. Idaho State Historical Society.

Kentuckian Benjamin “Ben” Holladay’s family moved to Missouri when he was very young. As a teenager, he began learning the freight business in Weston, about twenty miles northwest of Kansas City. Ben’s big break came when he served as an Army supply contractor during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Then his company benefited greatly from the surge in Western traffic after the 1849 gold discovery in California.

By the start of the Civil War, Holladay had built a substantial freight business, including a subsidiary that ran steamboats in California. In 1862, he bought out the Overland Mail Express, which owed him money. This provided the core for the Overland Stage Company, as Ben upgraded and expanded the operation.

Holladay also knew his way around the halls of Congress, which garnered him favorable treatment on mail contracts all over the West. These contracts provided a guaranteed source of revenue, even if the passenger and freight business lagged. Within a few years, Holladay’s company had annual government contracts worth well over $1 million.

Other firms established the first stage service between Salt Lake City and the Montana gold fields in about 1862. Holladay began competing on that route the following year. With his mail contract as a base, Ben soon captured the bulk of that traffic. In 1864, Holladay went after a mail contract to add Oregon to his West Coast destinations. With the aid of an Oregon Congressman, he succeeded.

Boise City became a vital hub for traffic serving all the major gold fields in central and southwest Idaho. Major routes provided service into the Boise Basin (Idaho City), and into the Owyhee goldfields (Silver City).
Holladay stagecoach station. Library of Congress.

Travelers could connect from Boise City to Portland via a steamboat at The Dalles. From Portland they could continue by ship to San Francisco or any port in the world. Thus, Boise’s Overland Hotel, where the stage stopped, was one of the best-known accommodations in the Pacific Northwest.

With his political and business connections, Holladay saw the “handwriting on the wall” – Congressional support made it virtually certain that the transcontinental railroad would be completed. Not interested in small-time “feeder line” traffic, he sold his stage line interests to Wells, Fargo & Company in 1866.

If anything, the arrival of the railroad strengthened Boise’s position as a business and transportation hub. By 1886, rail connections linked the city to any desired destination in North America. But for at least a quarter century after that, most travelers from outside Boise reached or departed the train station via stagecoach.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage Line in Idaho,” Reference Series No. 1002, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1993).
J. V. Frederick, Ben Holladay, the Stagecoach King, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).