Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Northern Gold Activities Mixed, Many Headed for Boise Basin [otd 06/16]

A correspondent who signed himself as “Mudsill” wrote a letter from Lewiston on June 16, 1863, that was published in The Oregonian a week later. He said, “I arrived at this place yesterday evening. The town is dull, awful dull. Everybody has gone to Boise, and everybody else getting ready to go.”
Luna House Hotel, Lewiston. [Illust-North]

This refrain had, of course, been operable for a good many weeks. All the northern gold towns had lost people, sometimes nine out of ten from their peaks. Mudsill went on, “This is not the route for miners to travel now. I am informed that Mr. Sanborn is out at work on the trail with a force of ten or fifteen men; but saddle horses are scarce and high, and the opportunities for getting goods taken out are not good.”

That remark referred to Homer D. Sanborn, a native of New Hampshire, who had emigrated west in 1857, when he was in his early twenties. He settled first in Oregon, and then followed the rush into Idaho. By 1862, Sanborn had established himself as a Lewiston merchant.

A week or so earlier, folks in Lewiston had raised $2,000 to finance construction of a good road south to the mining camps of the Boise Basin (Placerville, and so on). Sanborn had agreed to supervise the work.  An earlier report said 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.”

Yet the project provided only a temporary ray of hope. 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.

Mudsill’s letter to the Oregonian continued, “I have been diligent in obtaining information concerning the mines near this place. … Elk City is dull, little doing. Cause, want of water. Florence is dull – causes too numerous to mention. Oro Fino is more prosperous – laborers in demand at five dollars per day, without board, and supplies cheap.”

Changing topics, he said, “Umatilla Landing is a lively place, but persons intending to sojourn or locate there, must not be too expectant.” As evidence, he mentioned “Taylor’s Restaurant,” one of the most heavily publicized establishments in town. But the eatery was actually located “in a loose board shed, some ten or twelve feet in width, and cobbled up against the side of one of the few more permanent structures of the town.”
Umatilla Landing, ca 1864.
Umatilla Museum and Historical Foundation.

Some businesses still felt the effects from everyone stocking up when freight costs on the river steamboats were low. The writer said, “I saw packers and teamsters soliciting freight for Boise at sixteen cents per pound. Some of them stated that they had been waiting for three weeks without procuring a load.”

Mudsill noted in passing that he had encountered “a real live vigilance committee” – which sounded more like a civilian posse – on his journey. He averred that it was “the first that has ever come under my immediate personal observation in this country.”

He was not “favorably impressed.” They had recovered some stolen horses from two “somewhat notorious” thieves, but had let the crooks get away. Moreover, as Mudsill's party left, the posse had decided to indulge in “Capt. Alcohol, embodied in a keg of whiskey.” And, from “the hearty welcome he received from the company,” the usual outcome could be expected.
References: [Illust-State]
Joseph Gaston, Portland, Oregon: It’s History and Builders, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago (1911).
“Letter from Lewiston,” The Oregonian, Portland (June 23, 1863).