Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Miners Extract Much Gold from Boise Basin, Elk City Ditches

On May 29, 1863, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco, California published a report from the Boise Basin, specifically Placerville and Bannock City (soon to be Idaho City). They said, “Gold is now being taken out of the mines in large quantities.”

One man from Oregon had, after working through the winter and spring, “brought out 53 pounds of dust.” Another miner “came out at the same time with 39 pounds of dust.” At that time, the Oregon man’s gold would have been worth $12-14 thousand … over $1.1 million at current prices. The other’s dust would be worth over $850 thousand at today’s prices. Not bad for a few months work!

The report also said, “The miners on the bars of Snake river are doing well, and the reports from them are encouraging.  They are confident many miners will find profitable employment there next winter.”

Over the years, prospectors found gold at many places along the Snake River itself, generally where tributaries entered the main steam. However, hardly anyone made much money in those endeavors because Snake River dust was exceedingly fine – almost like flour – and extraordinarily difficult to recover.

Almost in passing, the report observed, “At Placerville and Bannock City there is quite a spirit of rivalry on the subject of the location of the capital of Idaho Territory.  The idea that Lewiston has any claims is generally ignored altogether.”

Of course, that attitude made perfect sense. By this time, the population of Lewiston had dropped to a few hundred, while the two Basin towns had ballooned to several thousand each.
Elk City, Later. Idaho State Historical Society

The Bulletin also had news from further north. A correspondent reported, “Six ditches have been dug during the last winter in the vicinity of Elk City, and are now furnishing water to the miners.  The shortest of them is three miles, and the longest nine.” As could be expected, “The miners are doing much better than before the ditches were completed.”

References: [Illust-State]
“Items from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (May 29, 1863).

Monday, May 27, 2013

Reported Indian War in Idaho is a “Humbug” ... but be Careful Anyway

On May 27, 1863, the Deseret News, in Salt Lake City, published an item based on an interview with expressman Aaron H. Conover. He had brought in mail from Bannack City, on Grasshopper Creek. Conover asserted that “the Idaho Indian war, reported by the messenger who was sent to Gen. Connor for assistance was a humbug, invented by gamblers for their special benefit.”

He did not explain how phony news of an Indian war would benefit the gamblers. But, in fact, the News reported, “All was peace there between the Indians and whites when Mr. Conover left, but there was some ill feelings existing between the Bannocks and some other tribe.”

With not-so-subtle humor, the item went on to say that the bad feelings “caused the transfer of horses from one to the other occasionally. Neither party, however, stole from the miners, excepting it was through a mistake.”

Beyond that, Conover reported that the mines were “ in a prosperous condition” and “provisions were plenty.” Still, prices were such that many hopeful entrepreneurs had turned to farming and Conover felt that “there would be large quantities of grain and vegetables grown there this season.”

This last hope was probably in vain, however. The high altitude and short growing season in that region required some adjustments by farmers used to conditions in the East or Midwest.
Indian Warriors ready to Raid. Library of Congress

A couple weeks later the New York Times printed the Deseret item, with slight adaptations. They concluded their article with some wise advise: “Notwithstanding these pacific assurances, emigrants will do well to be always ready for sudden attack, for there are undoubtedly northward some ugly Indians – though they may not be just now on the emigrant track – who would not willingly forego a tempting opportunity for making a raid on some unwary emigrant camp or herd.

References: “Affairs in Utah,” New York Times, New York City (June 14, 1863).
“Late from Bannock City,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah (May 27, 1863).

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).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Correspondent Rover: Business Lull in Lewiston, but Future Prospects Great

On May 24, 1863, correspondent “Rover” sat down in Lewiston, Idaho Territory, and penned another long letter to the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco, California. He wrote, “Business continues dull in this city. A stranger would suppose, from the large amount of freight landed here by the steamers each week, that an immense business was done; but such is not the case.”

“Freights are now very cheap,” he said, because of the steamboat competition he had noted in his letter of April 12. Thus, merchants were stocking up while they had the chance. But, Rover said, “I am of opinion that our people will be disappointed in their expectations in regard to a revival of trade in Lewiston this season.”

That was because newcomers were “nearly all heading for Boise and John Day’s river.” And, as a general rule, most found it easier to get off the steamer at Umatilla Landing, hire a saddle train, and cross the Blue Mountains into Idaho. The river travel to Lewiston took them several days out of the way, and the road south from there to Boise Basin was rudimentary, at best.

“It will be recollected that last year several thousand people were sadly disappointed in their expectations of acquiring wealth suddenly at Florence city and other mining camps in this region,” Rover went on. The current lull was simply a reaction to that disappointment: “As certain as a calm proceeds the storm.”

Still, he wrote, “ The business man here who is able to survive this dull season will reap a rich reward next year. … I have great faith in the future prosperity, growth and permanency of Lewiston.”

References: [Illust-North]
“Letter from Idaho Territory,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (June 6, 1863).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eastern Newspapers Spread Information, and Misinformation, About Idaho

The May 23, 1863 issue of a newspaper in Gloucester, Massachusetts said, “The new Territory of Idaho, created by the late Congress, is formed out of Eastern Oregon and Western Dakota, and extends from the eastern boundary of Oregon to the 27th meridian of longitude, and from the 42d to the 46th parallel of latitude, covering a hundred and twenty-five thousand square miles. ”

Over a month after word filtered West about the true borders, this writer still clung to the old misconception about the northern boundary of the new Territory. The article had the next part right: “The whole breadth of the Rocky Mountains, and all the head waters of the great rivers, are included in it.”

But then we read the first of several blunders: “In the plains west of the Mountains are the gold mines of Salmon River, and others more or less important, but said to be generally productive throughout the whole Territory.”

While the basic idea was true enough, describing the Salmon River area as “the plains” is actually hilarious. That river’s drainage – now the River of No Return Wilderness – contains some of the most rugged mountains in the world. Moreover, all of Idaho’s important gold regions are in mountainous regions.

The article went on, “The great rivers which drain the Territory in every part and are navigable by steamers, give direct communication with St. Louis.”

In reality, of course, the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, Fort Benton, lies almost three hundred miles from the nearest gold fields known at that time.

Yet the writer then showed himself knowledgeable about events in Washington, D. C.: “A railroad is expected to be built along the valley of the Platte River, through Nebraska and Idaho to the South Pass.”
Cut for Transcontinental Railroad, ca 1868. Library of Congress.
The first transcontinental railroad, completed just six years later, did indeed run roughly up the Platte River Valley through Nebraska and into Idaho. Builders found a better mountain crossing than South Pass, however.

The article closed with: “So the inhabited area of the Great West steadily broadens, and with the organization of the Territories the stream of immigration flows even further on.”

References: [Brit]
“Idaho,” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph, Gloucester, Massachusetts (May 23, 1863).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Glowing Report Meant to Rebut Negative Opinion of the Boise Mines

On May 21, 1863, The Oregonian published extracts from a private letter from the Placerville area in the Boise Basin. The miner wrote, “What I have to say, in regard to these mines, I hope you will take with due allowance for the fallibility of human judgment.  Daly and McReynolds did not remain here long enough to gain a proper understanding of these mines.“

The mention of “Daly” refers to a letter written to The Oregonian by William A. Daly in November 1862. He had tried his hand at the gold fields during the fall. But, through ineptitude or bad luck, he had failed miserably and returned to Portland. His letter had little good to say about the Boise mining prospects.

The present writer, however, went on, “I therefore ask you to judge their statements and mine with a recollection of the fact, that I have staid [sic] here long enough to satisfy myself thoroughly about them. … If Daly had remained here until the present time, I am sure that he would have changed his mind in relation to the mines.”

The writer had also talked at length with J. Marion More, a man well known in mining circles and “Councilman for the Shoshone district in Washington Territory.” (In fact, the mining vote had overwhelmingly supported More for the Council seat.)
Councilman J. Marion More.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.

J. Marion described the character of the Boise Basin and surrounding country, which might well contain additional fields, but had “never been explored.” The writer closed with, “The gist of Mr. Moore’s [sic] expressed opinion is, that there is a large mining district at Boise, as good or better than any yet discovered, except Florence, and superior as to climate and facilities for working.”

References: “Boise Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (May 21, 1863).
“The Boise River Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 26, 1862).
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, May 18, 2013

Jordan Creek Discoveries: 150 Years Ago Today

It so happens that today’s sesquicentennial blog is identical to my regular “On This Day” item: For May 18, 1863.

This Sesquicentennial “On This Day” feature has turned out to be very interesting … and I’ve found quite a bit more material than I initially expected. So, in parallel with doing the blog, I am also in the process of compiling them – with some expansion – into book form. My working title is Idaho: Year One – A Chronology of Idaho’s First Year as a Territory. If all goes well, I should have the book ready for publication by the end of summer (but we’ll see).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Divisions Among the Nez Percés Will Complicate Treaty Negotiations

The correspondent for The Oregonian penned another letter from Lapai on May 16, 1863. This was a follow-up to his report of four days earlier. He wrote, “Since my last there has been two or three talks with the Chiefs.  It was arranged that ‘Lawyer’ should have all his tribe in here by Monday next, and that the Council should commence then.”

He then named several other prominent chiefs and went on, “There seems to be great animosity existing between the bands of ‘Lawyer’ and ‘Big Thunder,’ so much so that they hate each other as much as they do the Blackfeet, and until this difference is reconciled, the chances of making a successful treaty seems very slim.”

While the correspondent perhaps over-stated the level of animosity, he had correctly noted the division among tribal leaders. By and large, the split was between the Christianized, more-settled bands along the Clearwater River, and those that still followed traditional ways.

The writer next said that the negotiators were waiting for a preferred interpreter to arrive. Thus, “the Council will be necessarily deferred until near the latter end of next week; in the meantime the Indians are collecting on the council grounds in great numbers.”
Chief Lawyer ca 1861.
University of Washington Special Collections.

Government representatives had agreed to provide rations to sustain the bands while they waited. The reporter said that, with so much valuable land involved, a treaty might be expensive for the government. But, he observed, “this is a mere trifle, compared to the magnitude of the interests involved, to say nothing of the cost of an Indian war, which is a certain consequence in the case of a failure to make a treaty.”

References: Jerome A. Greene, Nez Perce Summer, 1877: The U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poos Crisis, Montana Historical Society Press: Helena (2000).
“Items from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (May 29, 1863).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Improved Weather Allows Mining to Begin Around Florence

On May 15, 1863, the owner of a claim near Florence wrote to a friend in Lewiston and said, “We are having excellent weather now, and, the snow is rapidly disappearing. We expect to commence sluicing tomorrow.”

This was a turnaround from the previous month [sesquicentennial blog, April 16], when the snow was three feet deep. Then, continued cold weather had produced little run-off, so there was no water for placer mining. That had not, however, kept prospectors from searching for new, rich ground. Some of those men had been successful, and had just been waiting for a chance to start.

According to the letter writer, that time had finally come: “Miners around Florence are beginning active operations, and in a short time few can complain of hindrance from snow. Present indications are that our claims will pay much better than they did last season.”

Reference: “Letter from Idaho Territory,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (June 6, 1863).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

High Gold Yields at Placerville. War News: Grant Takes Jackson, Mississippi.

The May 14, 1863 issue of  The Oregonian in Portland said, “At the lowest possible estimate the diggings of Placer District are now yielding $50,000 per day, and the balance of the districts in the county are yielding twice as much more. California Gulch, in Placer District, of itself yields $10,000 of this amount.”

Coincidentally, on that same day, the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant drove the Confederate garrison out of Jackson, Mississippi, and captured the city … the state capital. (Of course, this news took a couple weeks to reach the gold fields.)

Supported by river gunboats, Grant’s army had crossed the Mississippi at the end of April, with relatively light losses. Then Union forces, by a combination of maneuver and superior strength, drove through Confederate defenses to reach Jackson.

Grant stayed in Jackson only long enough to burn or wreck critical factories, warehouses, bridges, and railways around the area. The destruction of vital trackage, in all four directions out of the city, was particularly damaging. Given the Confederate’s limited repair resources, Jackson was severely crippled as a transportation hub, and never truly recovered until after the war.
Union Flag Raised Over Jackson, MS. Harper's Weekly Engraving.
Grant then abandoned the town and marched west, tearing up more railway as he went. By the time news about the capture of Jackson reached Portland, the Union army had settled into siege fortifications around Vicksburg.

References: “The Boise Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (May 14, 1863).
“The Eastern News,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (May 21, 1863).
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press, USA, New York (1988).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Boise Basin Mining Has Heated Up, Prospects Look Great

On May 13, 1863, the Golden Age in Lewiston reported the experiences of one “W. Miller,” who had “ just returned from the Boise mines, having been only seven days from Placerville.”

The item does not indicate what business Miller, who was said to be from Orofino, conducted in the Boise Basin. However, the traveler did find that the supply situation had eased considerably: “He reports provisions of all descriptions in abundant, and at low prices for that country. He met several trains also on their way to the mines.”

The Age went on, “He says that the distance from Lewiston to Placerville is a great deal less than from Walla Walla, by the old traveled road. … He met seven Frenchmen who had gone in from Lewiston in the short space of 8 days. They reported an immense number of men and pack trains right behind them.”

The mining itself was going well: “Mr. Miller is under the impression that there are from 8,000 to 10,000 people in that country, and he says it is the finest country he ever saw, taking all its advantages into consideration.” In fact, he claimed, “that country, in its mining capacities, will astonish the world in a few years.”

Miller noted that “They are mining over a space of 35 miles, and the miners seem perfectly satisfied. They have under consideration the project of constructing a ditch or turning the Payette river, so as to furnish water in all the ravines in the vicinity of Placerville.”

That latter point recalls the issue raised back on March 9th: The lack of a reliable water supply for the summer season along Grimes Creek. Over time, miners would develop elaborate systems of ditches and flumes. But that did not hold prospectors back in the meantime: “Miners are at work right in the timber among the largest pines; some of them obtain remarkable prospects.”
Placer Mining Flume System. Library of Congress.

The article concluded: “In his opinion, the country is full of quartz, of various kinds. He noticed one vein or lode of quartz that was pure white, which was very rich; also others of lead, red and black, that were filled with gold. New discoveries are daily made, and people are flocking in[to] the country in large numbers.”

References: “From the Boise River Mining Country,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (May 25, 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).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Negotiations Planned with the Nez Perce But Have Not Yet Begun

On May 12, 1863, a reporter for The Oregonian sent off a letter to the newspaper from Lapwai, Idaho Territory. (Lapwai is located about ten miles east of Lewiston, on Lapwai Creek.) His main goal was to observe negotiations for a new treaty with the Nez Percés Indians.

Still, he also observed, “On my way up from the Dalles, I was surprised to see so many miners disembark at the Umatilla Landing, but I was informed that that was the best and most practicable route to the Boise mines at this season of the year, hence the rush that way.”

Treaty business had to wait: “As there is not a full commission here, nothing has as yet been done.”

At this point, whites needed to negotiate a new treaty with the Indians because most the best northern gold camps were located on their old 1855 reservation. Lewiston itself stood on Indian land and, technically, was not part of the new Idaho Territory.

The reporter went on, “Another Commissioner is needed to fill up the treaty Board on the part of the whites … It is hoped, however, that Governor Wallace will soon arrive here and supply the ‘vacuum,’ as he is ex officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for this Territory.”

Of course, the lack of white commissioners was matched by the fact that “There are at present but few Indians in attendance.” Still, more were showing up all the time so “no doubt the grand council will soon convene.”

Turning to other matters, the correspondent said, “The lands in and about the Agency are in a high state of cultivation and abundant crops are confidently expected. The saw-mill on the Lapwai creek is in full blast, ripping lumber from the cottonwood timber for the use of the Government Fort and the Agency. The Fort is situated about three miles up the Lapwai, and is now garrisoned by six companies of Uncle Sam’s troops, who are to remain here until close of the treaty, when a portion of them will be sent to Boise.”
Fort Lapwai as it Became. National Park Service.
The writer outlined a bit of Lapwai Mission history, and went on, “The scenery around here is very picturesque and beautiful; the wild flowers are all in full bloom, and emit an agreeable fragrance which is very exhilarating and refreshing … The houses of the Agency are located in a pretty little valley, at the foot of which the beautiful Clearwater glides swiftly along.”

Getting back to the main issue, he went on, “I am inclined to the opinion that everything is favorable for a successful treaty.” But “if the treaty should fail, look out for an Indian war which will put a stop to all mining operations for this season.”

References: [B&W]
“Indian Treaty at the Lapwai Agency,”  The Oregonian, Portland (May 16, 1863).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gold Discovered and Claimed in the South Boise Region

On May 9, 1863, Captain George F. Settle discovered a gold-streaked quartz lode in what came to be called the South Boise mining region. He and a swarm of other prospectors had been tracing placer gold up the tributaries of the South Fork of the Boise River.

Born in Kentucky around 1830, Settle had over a decade of mining experience when he arrived in Idaho. He had emigrated to California in 1850-1852, where he supplemented his mining efforts by teaching school. He later moved to Oregon. There, he became a captain during the Indian wars, serving at least part of the time in the Oregon Volunteer regiment led by Colonel Thomas R. Cornelius.

It not clear just when Settle followed the rush into Idaho. Still, by the spring of 1863, he had joined the bands looking for gold south of the Boise Basin. They found a fair amount of placer gold in the area. However, George recognized the potential value of the lode gold he uncovered on the slope above a creek bed. The location was about twenty-eight miles southeast of Idaho City, and about six miles north of the South Fork.

As soon as word got out, bands of hopeful prospectors – perhaps as many as fifteen hundred – swarmed into the area from Boise Basin. But that simply overwhelmed the supply of potential claims, so many of them trudged back to the Basin. Still, the census in September enumerated 560 men in the area. The town of South Boise (later renamed Rocky Bar) sprang up less than a mile southeast of Settle's quartz find.
Early Rock Bar. Idaho State Historical Society.

Settle himself stayed. Although he lost litigation about his first claim, he continued to develop and invest in mining properties in the area until his death in 1888.

References: “Death of Capt. Settle,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 20, 1888).
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).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Idaho City & Placerville Mines Thriving, Building Boom On

On May 7, 1863, The Oregonian reported (May 7, 1863), “The miners are doing well at Bannock City and Placerville. Gold and silver quartz have been discovered in the Boise mines.”

Of course, (West) Bannack City would later be renamed Idaho City, as it is called today. In this case, the reference to “miners” meant those who were taking placer gold from gravel beds in the streams and the closer bluffs. Ninety years later, giant dredges would still be making profits from placer gold. But the final sentence about “quartz” presaged a second boom for the area when lode mining took hold. (But the reference to silver was off base; the Basin never produced a lot of that metal.) However, returns from quartz had to wait until greater capital was available to pay for hard rock mining.

The Oregonian
went on, “There have been rich diggings discovered on Wood river, or the east fork of the Boise; these mines are said to be about fifty miles from Placerville. Grass and water in abundance.”

Here, the newspaper – or its reporters, anyway – garbled matters a bit. The Wood River is a completely different watershed, and (so far as is known) had not yet been explored. And there is no “East Fork” of the Boise … informants must have been referring to the South Fork, where gold had indeed been found.

The article continued, “Placerville and Bannock City are improving rapidly; the buildings now being put up are mostly frame, and of a substantial character. There are two saw-mills in operation … and lumber is selling at $200 per M. A great many whip-saws are also running, and the sawyers making as high as $40 per day to the saw.”
Early Idaho City. Idaho State Historical Society.

Clearly, builders were rapidly replacing the “old” log huts. Pennsylvanian Peter Pence [blog, Oct 12] was one of several pioneers who discovered he could make as much money, and more reliably, by whipsawing lumber to feed the building boom. Within a year or two, he became one of Idaho’s pioneer cattle ranchers, on his way to a considerable fortune.

Broadening their coverage, The Oregonian said, “The news from the bars on the Salmon is still very encouraging. Miners report that they are making $7 to an ounce per day.”

Gold differed somewhat in value from field to field, but typical prices were $15-16 per ounce, so “an ounce per day” would have been quite profitable. The papers also indicated that the northern camps still had some life in them: “A large number of mining laborers are in request at Oro Fino, at $5 a day and board.”

References: “Mining News,” The Oregonian, Portland (May 7, 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).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Placerville and Idaho City Mines Thriving. New Finds on the South Boise

On May 5, 1863, The Dalles Journal interviewed a miner named Reuben Reed who had left Placerville about a week earlier. The resulting article, later reprinted in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, said, “Several hundred miners are there, formerly from Northern California and Southern Oregon, all of whom, without a single exception are doing well, and say they have never been in any mining country in their lives that pays as well and promises so well as the Boise country.”

In fact, miners poured into Placerville and the other mining towns, probing deeper into every gulch that looked halfway promising. The Journal said that Reed “thinks the prospects of Bannock City quite as good as Placerville.”
Historic Placerville. Idaho State Historical Society.

The gold fields around Bannock City, to be renamed Idaho City within a year, did indeed prove to be as good or better than around Placerville.

The article went on, “New mines, about 40 miles further up the Boise river had been found, to which several hundred men had gone, and a few who had returned for supplies, reported the prospects extremely good.”

That news referred to discoveries along the South Fork of the Boise River. They would soon lead to the founding of South Boise, soon to be renamed Rocky Bar, about thirty miles east and a bit south of Bannock City.

The account closed with, “The snow has nearly all disappeared, water was plenty and the miners hard at work. Business of all kinds was very brisk, and gold dust plenty.”

References: [B&W]
“Items from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (May 19, 1863).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Government Appoints Postmasters and Creates Post Offices in Idaho Territory

On May 4, 1863, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco published the following brief item: “Post Office Matters. … The following appointments have been received: Charles Welsh, Florence City, Idaho Territory; John Flanagan, Elk City, I. T.; Joseph Patty, Orofino, I. T. … New offices have been established at the following places: Durkeeville, Idaho Territory – Clark H. Durkee, Postmaster; Mount Idaho, I. T. – Loyal P. Brown, Postmaster.”

In the spring of 1863, Florence City (or just Florence), Elk City, and Oro Fino (now Orofino) were still flourishing gold towns. But soon, the fields played out and the towns withered. Ironically, Florence was county seat of Idaho County for a time, but it’s now a ghost town.

Durkeeville and Mount Idaho began as way stations on the road between Lewiston and the gold camps of the Clearwater River and lower Salmon River. Clark Durkee emigrated to the Pacific Coast from his native Vermont in 1850, when he was not quite thirty years old. After successes in California and Oregon, he followed the gold rush into Idaho. However, Durkeeville, located about twenty-five miles east and a bit south of Lewiston, only lasted a couple years, after which Durkee returned to Oregon.

Loyal P. Brown was born in 1929, in Stratford, New Hampshire. He moved to California in 1849, did well there, and then in Oregon. He too followed the gold rush into Idaho, bringing his family along. In July 1862, he and a partner purchased the waystation what would become Mount Idaho.
L. P. Brown.
Historical Museum at St. Gertrude, Cottonwood, Idaho.

Brown soon bought out his partner. Then, over the next thirty years, he led development in Northern Idaho, becoming quite a wealthy man in the process. He served twice in the Territorial Council and secured selection of Mount Idaho as the county seat of Idaho County, from 1875 to 1902.

In 1887, Brown helped organize the Idaho County Pioneer Association, and became its first president. He passed away in April 1896.

References: “Post Office Matters,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (May 4, 1863).
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Civil War News: General Sedgwick Captures Fredericksburg, Virginia

One of several telegraphic dispatches sent from the front on May 3, 1863, said, “Two miles below Fredericksburg, Sunday morning… Fredericksburg is occupied by the troops of Cocoran’s and Olds’ brigade and the troops of Newton’s division. … A pontoon bridge has been thrown across the river at Fredericksburg, and men are passing to and fro.”

That morning, Union forces under General John Sedgwick had moved into the town on the south bank of the Rappahannock River. They had then driven Confederate troops led by General Jubal Early off Marye's Heights, southwest of the town. Sedgwick next headed west towards Chancellorsville. There, the main Union army, under General Joseph Hooker, was engaged in a desperate battle with forces led by General Robert E. Lee.
Union Troops Near Fredericksburg, 1863. Library of Congress.

These dispatches appeared in the San Francisco newspapers a couple days after the event, and in Portland less than a week after that. Men in the gold fields followed such news with interest, and much partisan fervor. The “Blue-Gray” divide would be a significant factor in Idaho politics for at least a quarter century.

As a matter of further interest, Sedgwick’s triumph was short-lived. His flanking pressure could not redeem the incompetence of his commander. By the time the news about capturing Fredericksburg reached Portland, the town was back in Confederate hands and the defeated Union forces had retreated across the Rappahannock.

References: [Brit]
“Fredericksburg Taken and Occupied,” The Oregonian, Portland (May 11, 1863).
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press, USA, New York (1988).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New York Newspaper Trumpets the Vast Lands Available in Idaho, and the West Generally

On May 1, 1863, the Evening Post in New York City published an article titled “The Great West.” It said: “Our territorial domains in the far West may truly be characterized as great. This a few facts clearly exhibit. In the ten territories of Dakotah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Nebraska, there are 1,256,305 square miles and 804,035,200 acres, of which 757,481,503 yet remain to be disposed of. Idaho alone will make six states as large as New York, and is rich in gold, silver and precious stones, while some of the other territories are almost if not quite as prolific as California.”

Of course, the folks in Oregon, which had become a state in 1859, would have been annoyed to be lumped in with all those territories. But otherwise, the paper made a good point. That included the fact that Idaho Territory, as it was then constituted, was almost exactly six times the size of New York state. (Of course, even the smallest borough in New York City had probably eight to ten times the population of Idaho at the time.)
Early Homesteaders. National Archives.

The Post’s statement about land that “remain to be disposed of” referred to acreage that was still in the public domain. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Homestead Act slightly under a year earlier (May 20, 1862), and it had gone into effect on January 1, 1863. That Act allowed individual settlers to claim 160 acres of public land at a very nominal price, if they made some minimal improvement within five years. Already, the measure had prompted considerable movement onto the public lands.

The newspaper article included a table with acreages for the Western states and Territories, and for several Midwestern states. Idaho, of course, was essentially all public land, all 326 thousand square miles. In fact, most of the Western divisions, even California and Oregon, had 85-90% of their land unclaimed. In contrast, states like Illinois and Iowa had almost no unclaimed public land left. In the years to come, the prospect of “free” (essentially) land would draw thousands of land-hungry settlers to the West, including Idaho.

References: [Brit]
“The Great West,” Evening Post, New York City (May 1, 1863).