Saturday, June 29, 2013

Eastern Newspaper Reports “Unprecedented” Gold Shipments Out of Idaho (and Oregon)

A Philadelphia newspaper, the Public Ledger, reported news of June 29, 1863, from San Francisco. The brief item said, “The steamer Sierra Nevada has arrived here with $50,000 in treasure from Victoria, and the unprecedented amount of $327,000 from Oregon and Idaho.”

In this context, “treasure” referred almost exclusively to gold dust and bullion. At this point, neither Oregon nor Idaho were producing significant amounts of silver. Based on other accounts, at least two thirds of the amount reported “from Oregon and Idaho” probably came from the Idaho gold fields.

The item went on, “The money news from Idaho is extremely favorable. Twelve thousand miners have been engaged to work the mines.”

News like this, appearing in the Eastern newspaper, served to keep a steady flow of hopeful would-be miners on their way to the West.

“From California,” Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (July 2, 1863).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

William H. Wallace, Governor of Idaho Territory, Travels to Lewiston

The Oregonian reported that “Hon. W. H. Wallace, Governor of Idaho Territory arrived in this city on Saturday, June 27, on his way to the field of his gubernatorial labours. We hope he will have a good time, and that his presence and influence, bless the good people there.”

President Lincoln had appointed William Henson Wallace to be governor of the new Idaho Territory on March 10, and the Senate confirmed the appointment the following day. Wallace was then the out-going Delegate from Washington Territory.

Born about fifteen miles north of Dayton, Ohio, Wallace took up a law career in Indiana and moved to Iowa in 1837, at the age of twenty-six. He emigrated to Washington Territory in 1853, settling about twenty miles northeast of Olympia. In 1861, Wallace was elected as Washington’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. By then, of course, Pierce had discovered gold in what would become Idaho.
Sidewheel Steamer Similar to Sierra Nevada in Design.
Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier.

Wallace did not arrive back on the Pacific Coast from Washington, D. C. until about seven week after his appointment. He and his family checked into the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco on April 28th. After about a week there, they sailed home on the Sierra Nevada, a coastal packet with stops in Portland and Victoria. In no particular hurry, he spent the rest of May and most of June shuttling between his home and Olympia.

According to reports, he was assessing his chances of being re-elected Delegate to Congress from Washington Territory. From his subsequent activities it seems the results were not encouraging. Finally, he returned to Portland to catch a river steamer to Lewiston. He left Portland on June 30.

References: [Hawley]
“Arrivals,” The Oregonian, Portland (June 29, 1863).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Heavy Shipments of Gold Dust from Boise Basin, Another Big Rush

The Evening Bulletin in San Francisco reported a mixed bag of items from The Oregonian published on June 25, 1863. It began, “Since  the sailing of the last steamer, over $200,000 in gold dust have been brought to this city.  And this is undoubtedly a low estimate. In the Boise mines, according to the statements of reliable and candid men, there is at least the sum of $500,000 in dust, ready for shipment.”

Between the Indian unrest and threat of road agents along the routes, many miners would only ship if a strong party was headed out of the Basin. They also waited anxiously for the Army to select a site and build a fort to (hopefully) over-awe the tribes.

The report went on, “In consequence of the good news from the Boise, a stampede took place at Lewiston, on the 16th of June, when numerous trains laden with provisions, clothing and mining tools for the use of the miners, left for the Boise country. It was estimated that … there were nearly 1,000 horses and mules on the road heavily laden with supplies.”
Pack Train in the Mountains. Library of Congress.

With the mines on Orofino and other northern camps declining, merchants in Lewiston founds themselves with an excess of goods. Much of that, of course, arose from their previous push to stock up while freight rates were low.

The good news had another effect: “The mines were draining the country of the natural supply of labor, and it was estimated, by the [Walla Walla] Statesman, that 400 men could find employment about Walla Walla in assisting to harvest the crops.”

Of course, farm hands would clearly rather make $5 a day laboring on someone else’s claim than earning a tenth of that on a farm. They’d come out ahead even if supplies cost two or three times as much. And there was always the chance they could hit a rich claim themselves.

Reference: “Later from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (June 29, 1863).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Boise Basin: Rivals Claims and Future Litigation, No Place for Families

On June 23, 1863, correspondent Hal wrote yet another letter to The Oregonian, as he had done on the 7th and the 21st. He said, “The singular energy displayed by the miners in this part of the country, in the matter of taking up and recording claims, is one of the wonders of the age. The same amount of enterprise applied to the working of the claims would assuredly make a fortune for all concerned.”

In fact, he said, some ground had been claimed several times. To explain, he went on, “In all the districts of these mines, a man may hold a hill claim, a gulch claim, a bar claim, and a creek claim. The size of claims varies in different districts; but in any one of them a miner may take up enough ground to make a small farm.”

However, the miner had to work the claim at least once a week, or someone else could “jump” it. In theory, he could forestall this by recording the claim and posting a certificate at the claim itself. But a newcomer comes along and “thinks there is a flaw in the manner of taking up a claim; and he at once jumps the claim, and goes through the same routine of claiming, recording and posting.”

Then both of them might rush off to investigate the latest so-called bonanza, leaving the ground deserted and the certificate exposed to wind and weather. Obviously this could happen multiple times. Eventually, who owned what would have to be settled in court.

Hal then briefly listed travel distances to the new Owyhee mines, and said, “There is nothing definite in regard to the extent of the discoveries, and there are many conflicting stories about their richness.”

Hal closed with some observations on the “Prospect for Families Coming to Boise.” In his opinion, “This is no place at present for respectable women.”

He then offered contrasting images in graphic detail. On one side of the street he had seen a hard-working, “honest woman,” who was “clothed in garments of mean quality, faded and tattered.” At the same time, a woman of another sort passed. She was “bespangled with jewelry, and flounced to the waist in garments of great cost.”

Yet respectable women still came. He went on, “Coming in from a prospecting tour by an unfrequented trail, I met a man and his wife who were bound for Bannock. Both were afoot, and their baggage was packed on a single pony.”
Miner and Wife. Colorado State Historical Society.

Apparently everything they owned – little as it was – was on the pony. After a brief conversation, the two struggled on. Hal said he had been “penetrated to the heart with a sentiment of respect for womankind, of which I had no consciousness before. For there can be nothing more affecting than a wife’s devotion to a man in poverty and hardship.”

References: “Letter from Boise Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (July 9, 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).

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).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Eagle Rock Ferry Across the Snake Opens for Business

On June 20, 1863, a new ferry north of today’s Idaho Falls carried its first load of wagons and stock across the Snake River. The ferry had been built by William Hickman and Harry Rickard. Hickman took the lead on construction while Rickard scouted the best route to reach their crossing from the south. (Records also give the name as “Rickards,” “Rickets,” “Rickett,” and other variations.)

In the summer of 1862, prospectors discovered gold along Grasshopper Creek, about twenty miles west of today’s Dillon, Montana (then part of Idaho Territory, of course). That set off a rush into the area, and Bannack City was founded on the creek. Because the camp was east of the Continental Divide, newcomers generally came from that side, rather than from the Pacific Coast. One of the best routes for supplies, and newcomers, departed the Oregon Trail near Soda Springs and headed north.

The following spring, even richer discoveries in Alder Gulch strengthened the rush. At some point, the wagons – many with freight, plus some emigrants – had to cross the Snake River. By May 1863, Jacob Meeks and John P. Gibson had established a ferry near the mouth of the Blackfoot River.

Trains could also use Flathead Crossing, a ford about forty miles further up the river. But high water virtually closed the ford, and even moderate flow made it unsafe.

We know very little about Rickard or Hickman beyond their involvement with the ferry. They appear to have been freighters themselves, and saw opportunity at the spot. They began building their vessel and rig near the ford in late May. Eagles nesting on a lava rock island downstream from the crossing provided a name: Eagle Rock Ferry.
Rope Ferry Illustration. National Archives.

By the time the ferry was ready, some 230 emigrants and freighters had backed up at the crossing. About two hundred of them made it across when the ferry opened on the 20th.

Rickard and Hickman operated the ferry for about a year. They then sold out to freighter James Madison “Matt” Taylor and two partners who had formed the Oneida Road, Bridge, and Ferry Company. That company received a legal franchise for both the ferry and a bridge when the Territorial Legislature met in December 1864.

The following summer, the company built a toll bridge where the river narrowed, about nine miles below the ferry crossing. Later, pioneer writers called the settlement that grew up there Taylor’s Bridge or Eagle Rock. After Taylor sold his share to a partner in 1872, the Eagle Rock name prevailed. That was formally changed to Idaho Falls in 1891.

References: [Illust-State]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
“Eagle Rock Ferry,” Reference Series No. 71, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

War News: Union Army About to Attack in Tennessee, Lee Invades the North

The New York Herald published many dispatches for June 18, 1863 collected from various war zones. One from Murfreesboro, Tennessee said, “General Bragg has undoubtedly received reinforcements of three brigades, viz: Bates’, Clayton’s and Churchill’s. … Bragg now has eighteen brigades of infantry and cavalry. There are indications that, in cooperation with Buckner at Knoxville, he is about to assume the offensive, and invade Kentucky, striking at about Monticello or Carthage, in East Tennessee."

Confederate General Braxton Bragg did receive reinforcements at this time, but it is by no means clear he seriously intended to invade Kentucky. Meanwhile, he and Union General William Rosecrans had been basically “shadow-boxing” since the Battle of Stones River, near Murfreesboro, which had ended on January 2nd.

The U. S. Army high command, and President Lincoln, had been urging Rosecrans to go on the offensive to keep Bragg from releasing units that might help relieve General Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. Rosecrans had chosen to firm up his supply base, and to train and strengthen his army. That was especially true for his cavalry arm, which was badly outnumbered by the Confederates.

The dispatch published in the Herald went on, “Buckner has a large force, and is speedily organizing for offensive operations.”
General William Rosecrans.
Library of Congress.

Ironically, while these dispatches suggested that Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland would soon find itself on the defensive, the general had decided his army was ready to move. Less than a week later, Rosecrans began an advance that would, at small cost, virtually eliminate Confederate forces from central Tennessee. This despite continued heavy rain that severely hampered offensive movement.

Another dispatch on June 18th, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, offered much more ominous news: “There is now no doubt that Lee has a large army, with about one-third of it occupying the country in the vicinity of Winchester and Martinsburg. The loss of Winchester laid open the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania to invasion, and justifies the promptest measures to increase our army.”

The presence of these Confederate troops did indeed open Pennsylvania to invasion and, little over three weeks later, resulted in the bloody Battle of Gettysburg.

References: “Important from Tennessee,” New York Herald, New York city (June 19, 1863).
William Mathias Lamers, The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge (1999)
“Telegraphic News: Rebels Evacuated Chambersburg,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio (June 18, 1863).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Florence Miners Doing Well and Feeling Optimistic

On June 13, 1863, The Oregonian reported that, “We were permitted yesterday to read a letter from Florence, written by an entirely reliable gentleman there, who says that the prospects of the miners in that vicinity are highly encouraging and even brilliant.”

With so many prospectors drawn out of the area by other rushes, those who remained around Florence could take their time searching. They continued to find good to excellent gold placers for the rest of the season. The item went on, “Wages were high; men would not work for less than $150 per month, and there was a spirit of confidence in the mining resources of the region far beyond what has heretofore been entertained.”

However, although the writer might have been “reliable,” his judgement of the region’s potential fell short. While output continued for a number of years, the mines were mostly small. Many passed into the hands of Chinese miners, who patiently worked claims that whites had no interest in.

But the end of summer, only a few hundred people remained in and around Florence. Most of the rest had moved on to Boise Basin. One of those who did was a young man (boy, really) named James Henry Hawley. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1847, Hawley lost his mother as an infant and grew up with his maternal uncle. The family moved to California in 1861.

Although he was supposed to stay in school, gold excitement drew him to Florence in the spring of 1862. He worked there through the season, wintered at The Dalles, and went to the Boise Basin in May 1863. Jobs in and around Placerville provided enough of a stake so he and two partners could purchase placer claims of their own.
J. H. Hawley. [Illust-State]

In 1864, Hawley returned to California. With a diversion to “knock around” the Orient, James finally returned to Idaho, where he completed his education in law. Over the next few years, he served in both branches of the Territorial legislature, on the Boise County Commission, and as a Territorial District Attorney.

He moved permanently to Boise City in 1891-1892.  By then, he was one of the best known lawyers in the new state of Idaho. A biographer later asserted that Hawley had acted on one side or the other of “more murder cases than any other member of the bar in the United States.”

Hawley was elected Boise mayor in 1902, and Idaho Governor in 1910. His four-volume History of Idaho was published in 1920. He passed away in August 1929.

References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Items from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (June 20, 1863)

Twin Falls County Sheriff Howard Van Ausdeln [otd 6/13]

Twin Falls County Sheriff Howard C. Van Ausdeln was born June 13, 1868 in Crawford County, Kansas, in the southeast corner of the state. He farmed and ran stock in Kansas until he was about thirty years old, when he moved to Utah.
H. C. Van Ausdeln. H. T. French photo.
Howard acquired a ranch in the Bear River Valley near the town of Garland. He also engaged in real estate and ran a meat market in town. For a time, Van Ausdeln served as a Justice of the Peace.

In 1903, about the time construction started on Milner Dam, Van Ausdeln began to consider prospects in Idaho. Three years later, and a year after Twin Falls got train service, he decided to make the move. He sold off his holdings in Utah and moved his family to the new town of Filer, about seven miles west of Twin Falls. Howard invested heavily in land around the area as well as in Twin Falls.

In addition to irrigated farm land, Van Ausdeln bought a ranch nearby and soon began shipping large consignments of cattle and other stock from the railroad station at Filer. He also raised grain, which he fed to his stock. It's possible that he also shipped a surplus to outside markets.

In 1907, the state legislature created Twin Falls County, with “Twin” as the county seat. Three years later, Van Ausdeln became the third sheriff of Twin Falls County. He was the second elected sheriff, the first having been appointed. Howard ran for the office when the previous sheriff chose to run for County Assessor.

Although Howard had no law enforcement experience, his business skills helped the department expand along with the explosive growth of the town and county. Under his direction, "the department became one of the most efficient in the state of Idaho," and he was elected for a second term.

Howard had been a member of the Filer School Board, but resigned when he was elected sheriff. He then moved his family into Twin Falls, where he had growing commercial investments. He continued to operate the Filer ranch and was also partner in some property in the foothills southeast of Hollister.

In January 1921, Van Ausdeln returned to law enforcement as a Deputy to the elected Twin Falls County Sheriff. He spent most of his time cracking down on moonshiners and bootleggers trying to evade Prohibition. Month after month, the newspapers displayed headlines about raids all around the county.

During his time as Deputy, Howard observed the 1921 extradition, trial, and murder conviction of serial poisoner “Lady Bluebeard,” Lyda (Trueblood) Southard [blog, Sept 25].
Train serving Twin Falls area. Twin Falls Public Library.

In September 1922, Nevada officials requested Van Ausdeln’s help in tracking murder suspect Sylva Van Eaton. Van Eaton had shot his ex-girlfriend to death after she spurned him. He also severely wounded her mother, who was trying to protect the girl. The shooter first escaped into the rugged country along the border near today’s Jackpot, Nevada. A week later, he appeared near Rock Creek, Idaho.

Finally, authorities found a suicide note and evidence that suggested he had drowned himself in the Salmon Falls Reservoir. His body was never recovered, however, and some locals believed he had perpetrated a scam and successfully fled the country. Soon after, Howard returned to private life.

Early in 1933, Howard suffered a bad bout of the flu. He never fully recovered and passed away in a Los Angeles hospital in June 1933.
References: [French]
“Former Sheriff Dies,” The Buhl Herald, June 6, 1933.
Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
“History of the Twin Falls County Sheriff,” Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boise Basin Mines Thriving, but Water Becoming a Problem

On Jun 10, 1863, a miner wrote a letter from Placerville, from which portions were later extracted for publication in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. The writer began, “Plenty of gold; it beats California in 1849. Gold is taken out by the pound, and new discoveries are made every day.”

One claim went on the market on a Saturday for $4 thousand, with no takers. Then, the following Tuesday, “The owners took therefrom 11 pounds in one day’s work.” They were apparently then offered $15 thousand for their property and (naturally) turned it down.

But the mining riches came with a downside: “Building lots are very high, as is also building material; single boards cost from $3.25 to $4. I have bought a building for $1,200, and it will cost $600 or $700 more to finish it.”

The writer also said, “Living here is expensive: meals $1.25 or $16 per week, and one don’t get anything extra at that, the reason being there is nothing in the market.”

Tools and equipment were also costly. Yet, even so, “Everyone is making money, and if it were not for the scarcity of water, gold would be as plentiful as dirt, so rich are the diggings. The water failed about two weeks since and many that had the best claims were obliged to suspend.”

As noted earlier, this was a continuing problem for claims in the Grimes Creek watershed. Weather most often approaches this area from the southwest. The high Boise Ridge, including 66-hundred-foot Gardiner Peak, creates something of a “rain (snow) shadow” in that part of the Basin.

The writer continued, “On account of the scarcity of water, many have gone to Bannock City, which is 14 miles from here, with a good wagon road … In consequence of the failure of water in one or two ditches, the place has lost considerable trade, and Bannock City has the benefit of it, as they have plenty of water there and good rich diggings. It is reported to be very lively at Bannock City, and to-morrow I leave for there.”

He then made a statement that is somewhat puzzling: “There has sprung up, also, a new place about eight miles from here, said to be ‘A No. 1.’ Rich diggings have been struck, and it promises to be a rival of Bannock City.”
Hydraulic Giant Threatens to Undercut a Town. Idaho City Historical Foundation.
Perhaps he referred to a camp that was washed away by subsequent large-scale hydraulic mining, which used giant water jets. Or, even later, powered gold dredges wiped out many smaller towns with their huge buckets.

Reference: “Later from the North,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (June 29, 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, June 9, 2013

Treaty Reduces Nez Perce Indian Reservation

For this particular date, my regular "On This Day" article does double duty, being also relevant for the Sesquicentennial.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Lewiston Still Optimistic about Its Role, Plans a Road South

On June 8, 1863, The Oregonian published a report that began, “The Lewiston people were greatly rejoiced last Tuesday, at the arrival of a party from Boise, bringing $50,000 worth of gold dust, who came through from the mines in forty-six hours travelling time.”

Lewistonians considered the amount of gold fairly impressive, but they “greatly rejoiced” because the shipment suggested the town was still “relevant” in terms of the mines. The article went on, “They reported good roads, free from Indians, and that there was no necessity for keeping guard at night over packs or animals. Miners are doing very well and every prospect is favorable.”

While this provided accurate news about the mines, probably only “dumb luck” allowed them to leave their goods and stock unguarded at night. Other travelers found the Indians as troublesome as ever.

Showing their optimism, “The citizens at Lewiston held a meeting, raising $2,000 immediately, and appointed a committee to employ a company of men and carry out the intent and wishes of the people of Lewiston in constructing a good road to Boise at the earliest practicable moment. The committee have selected H. D. Sanborn, Esq., to superintend the expedition.”

Homer D. Sanborn, a native of New Hampshire, had emigrated to Oregon in 1857, when he was in his early twenties. He then followed the rush into Idaho and, by 1862, had established himself as a Lewiston merchant. The article noted that his team “will remove all rocks and obstructions found, will build such bridges as may [be] necessary on small streams or over deep gulches, and place ferries or rafts on such places as are necessary. … It is now a settled point that there will be a good road in and out from Lewiston to the Boise country.”

Yet the project provided only a temporary illusion. Once the roads in southern Idaho improved, Lewiston lost any role for the mines there. Sanborn himself eventually gave up on Lewiston and returned to Portland.

Reference: [Illust-State]
Joseph Gaston, Portland, Oregon: It’s History and Builders, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago (1911).
“Gold Harvest,” The Oregonian, Portland (June 8, 1863).

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).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Steamboat Competition Squelched on the Columbia and Snake Rivers

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin received a story, dated June 6, 1863, from “Our Own Correspondent” in Portland for publication in the newspaper. He began, “All the world knows that during this summer there has been a very lively steamboat opposition between here and Lewiston, and the points intermediate.”

The correspondent did not sign himself as “Rover,” the one who had submitted items from Lewiston to the Bulletin on April 12 and May 24. But Rover had, indeed, made a point of mentioning the steamboat competition, which significantly lowered shipping costs on the river. The current writer went on, “I have to make known that it has come to a close. … The People’s line have sold their boats above the Cascades, the Cayuse and Iris, to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company for three boats that now ply between here and Oregon City, and $10,000 in money.”

While the writer had most of the deal correct, he failed to give the People’s investors full credit: The OSNC had agreed to continue the $10 thousand cash payout for ten years. Still, as the correspondent said, “Like Lot and Abraham of old, these rival companies have concluded that it was not profitable to dwell together, and so they have separated, dividing the water of the country between them.”
Steamboat on the Columbia. National Archives

The writer provided further details, saying, “The Oregon Navigation (the old company) keep all the running water between here and Lewiston, and as much further east as they can get, while the People’s (the new company) occupy the Wallamett [sic] river from here southwards.”

The OSNC would remained unchallenged on the Columbia and Snake rivers until the late 1870s, when railways arrived to offer an alternate means of transportation. But as the correspondent said, “Of course, this is the end of carrying freight and passengers at nominal rates, though the high prices of last summer are not likely to rule again.”

The writer was apparently correct in his last observation. Although shipping rates did return to high, monopolistic levels, they did not revert to the scandalous rates of the previous season. In the short term, it certainly helped that, “The up-country is full of goods, gone up this summer on cheap freight, and the holders will consider themselves in luck.”

References: [Illust-North]
“Letter from Oregon,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (July 10, 1863).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

U. S. Army Shifts More Troops into Idaho Territory

On June 5, 1863, The Oregonian reported on activities in Walla Walla, Washington: “Major Truax has been ordered to Lapwai – probably to take command of the post there. It is thought that Col. Steinberger will be returned to the command of Fort Walla Walla.”

Sewall Truax was born in 1830, in southern Quebec, Canada to parents who were U. S. citizens. He grew up near Saint Albans, Vermont, perhaps 20-30 miles south of where he was born. Educated as an engineer at Norwich University in Vermont, he emigrated to Oregon in 1853. He saw action in the Rogue River War, and became a Captain of Oregon Volunteer Cavalry in 1861. He was promoted to major within a year.
Councilman Sewall Truax. Washington Archives

Before the transfer noted in the news report, Major Truax had been in command at Fort Walla Walla. He remained in charge at Fort Lapwai through 1864. He apparently served at Fort Boise for a time before returning north. There, in 1866-1867, he directed work parties sent to improve the Lolo Trail cutting across the Bitterroot Mountains into Montana.

Around 1870, Sewall returned to Walla Walla as a civilian engineer. He later served a term in the legislative Council of Washington Territory. Sewall died in 1894.

The Oregonian article went on, “Capt. Mason’s company of W. T. Infantry has been ordered out on the old emigrant road across the Blue mountains to repair the road for the Government teams bound for the new post at Boise.”

At this point, of course, the Army did not know exactly where they might establish a fort. Still, the assumption was that it would be along the Boise River, to offer protection to emigrants on the Oregon Trail as well as the mining camps higher in the mountains.

The newspaper said, “Two companies, under command of Major Lugenbeel, have left the Dalles to accompany the expedition to Boise. The first of the teams left the Dalles on Monday last.”

Major Pinckney Lugenbeel, a Regular Army officer, had been assigned the responsibility to survey the country and select a location for the new Fort.

References: “From Walla Walla,” The Oregonian, Portland (June 5, 1863).
Frank T. Gilbert, Historic Sketches of Walla Walla, Whitman, Columbia and Garfield counties, Washington Territory, and Umatilla County, Oregon, A. G. Walling Printing, Portland, Oregon (1882).
“Indian Post Office,” Reference Series No. 926, Idaho State Historical Society (Revised July 1992)

Monday, June 3, 2013

General Connor, Soda Springs, and Franklin, Idaho

On June 3, 1863, a correspondent for the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco wrote an article after arriving in Salt Lake City. He had traveled with General Patrick Connor’s Army column into Idaho Territory and back. As noted for April 29, Connor had established a military post near Soda Springs, as well as a Morrisite settlement there.

Leaving a company of California Volunteer infantry as garrison, Connor had then marched south along the Bear River. The correspondent said, “Proceeding southward through the valley and over the intervening range of mountains, in two days [we] came to Franklin, the most northerly Mormon settlement of Cache Valley.”

Mormon colonists had established Franklin in April of 1860 led, among others, by Thomas S. Smart. For over a decade, leaders there and Idaho officials thought that Franklin was in Utah Territory. Only after 1872, when locals accepted a formal survey of the line, did everyone agree that the town was in Idaho.

The correspondent said, “The town of Franklin is pleasantly located near the easterly range of mountains – Cub River, a fine large stream, tributary of Bear River, coursing its northern and western boundaries. … In consequence of Indians who have heretofore been very troublesome in this section, this, as indeed all other towns in the valley, is laid out with a view to protection against attack.”
Thomas S. Smart. Pioneers ... Utah.

By that, he meant that 80 or 90 cabins had been arranged to form a large square. These structures were located “within a few steps of each other” so they could serve as a defensive perimeter. He estimated the population to be over five hundred people.

He went on, “It is a peculiarity of this, as of all Utah valleys, that notwithstanding the richness of the soil, irrigation is absolutely essential to the raising of crops.”

In this, the reporter did not overstate the case. Southern Idaho typically receives only 10-12 inches of precipitation, generally less than a third of what a farmer from the Midwest might expect. Thus, except for so-called “dry farming” of specific grains, crop agriculture in southern Idaho is totally dependent upon irrigation. Cattle and sheep raising required substantial grazing land because of the sparse vegetation.

In fact, crop agriculture would not be major factor in the economy until the advent of large-scale water projects.

References: [Illust-State]
Frank Esshom, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, Utah Pioneers Book Publishing Company, Salt Lake City, Utah (1913).
“Military Movements on the Plains,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco (June 27, 1863.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

High Wages in the Mines of Idaho

The June 1, 1863 issue of the New York Post published a brief item: “Laborers’ wages in Idaho territory are eight dollars per day.”

At that time, non-farm laborers in the East earned less than $1.50 a day. Farm laborers did well to make 50¢ a day, although they usually got meals as part of the deal. One can easily see why men might be tempted to head for the gold fields. Of course, those wages seemed much less generous when common food items, like bacon and bread, might cost four to ten times what they did in the East.

The Post went on, “Eight thousand men are working in the Boise River Mines, which extend over a district of thirty miles long. Supplies reach them from Salt Lake City.”

References: Stanley Lebergott, “Wage Trends, 1800-1900,” Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century, Princeton University Press, New Jersey (1960).
“Miscellanea,” New York Post, New York City (June 1, 1863).