Monday, September 19, 2016

Gold Prospector Julius Merrill Reaches Boise City by Wagon Train [otd 9/19]

Julius Merrill. Merrill family archives.
On September 19, 1864, gold-seeker Julius Merrill wrote in his journal, “We hitched up and turned our faces toward Boise City.” They camped about four miles downriver from the city.

Born in Maine, Julius Caesar Merrill turned 24 early on the trip west. He traveled with a rather ad hoc band of gold-seekers: “At Oak Creek I was joined by Charles Carey, Henry and Stephen J. Durbin. We were to furnish and fit out a team in company. Two of them I had seen but once and was little acquainted with the other. They were bound for Idaho and that was deemed sufficient."

Oak Creek is a town about 10 miles south of Milwaukee. From there they boarded a railroad train to St. Joseph, Missouri. That evening their cars tumbled off the poorly-built track. Fortunately, “No one was hurt. We lay there until daylight, which gave us a good opportunity to sleep, which we needed.”

They purchased an outfit in “St. Jo” and left on May 23rd. The wagon train crossed the (future) Idaho border on August 17, just eleven days after the Elizabeth (Lee) Porter party [blog, Sept 3].

Throughout the trip, Merrill’s comments included more specific details than Porter’s. Toward the west end of Camas Prairie (near today’s Fairfield), Porter wrote, “Came about ten miles, another spring run. Looks like rain. Hope it will. Came about eight miles. Lots of people stopping here putting up hay. Gold and silver mines handy. Rolling.”

Merrill said, “The road is splendid but dusty and quite windy. We pass several dry creeks with the willows yet green but could find no water. Splendid feed at noon but no water. At night we camped beside a creek, and I succeeded in shooting two sage hens.
“Here we found some men from California, with sheep which they were fattening and selling occasionally to some emigrants who were so fortunate as to have money enough to purchase. The real market was South Boise, thirty miles distant. There were said to be some hot springs nearby, but I did not have time to visit them.”

“South Boise,” soon to be renamed Rocky Bar, was the latest Boise Basin boom town.
Blacksmith Working on a Horseshoe.
Library of Congress.

The Merrill party broke up within a few days after the 19th. Charles Carey, a master blacksmith, stayed in the city, having learned that his trade was in great demand. In less than three years, he had returned to the Midwest to buy land.

The two Durbin brothers found employment in Idaho City, at first working for wages on a ditch project. The younger man, Stephen, made enough to buy land and settle in Idaho.

Merrill stayed in Boise City long enough to advantageously sell their wagon and stock, then followed the Durbins to Idaho City. His journal gives no details about their work in the mines, but Julius was in Iowa with a stake in gold by mid-1867.

There, he bought some excellent farm land, and settled down to marry and raise a family. Julius lived there until his death in February 1912.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Julius Merrill, Irving R. Merrill (ed.), Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill, University of Idaho Press, Moscow (1989).
Elizabeth Lee Porter, “Iowa to Oregon, 1864,” Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.), University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).

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