Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prichard Tries to Hide Coeur d'Alene Gold, Sparks Rush Anyway [otd 04/25]

On April 25, 1882, Andrew J. Prichard* discovered an outcropping of rich gold-bearing quartz in the Coeur d'Alene River watershed. Prichard, and others, had unearthed signs of gold in the area before, but this find is credited with setting off the decisive rush into these Idaho mountains.
Coeur d’Alene mining area. University of Idaho Archives.

Rumors of gold in the Coeur d'Alenes had surfaced as early as about 1852. But such stories were common and no one paid much attention.

In 1859, Lieutenant John Mullan saw possible gold bearing strata when he built his military road through the area [blog, Feb 5]. After the discoveries became common knowledge, Mullen wrote a letter to an area newspaper editor in which said that he had observed “wide veins of quartz projecting at numerous points along the line of my road along the Coeur d'Alene, all of which indicated the presence of gold.”

In fact, one of their hunters returned to camp with some coarse gold dust he claimed to have found on the headwaters of the Coeur d’Alene River. The road-builders discounted the claim, figuring he had traded with some travelers from the gold fields in Canada. Mullan also said he “did nothing to encourage” any exploration because he “feared any rich discovery would lead to a general stampede of my men from my expedition.”

That seemed to work. Still, what appeared to be more substantial stories set off a failed rush in 1865. Also, Lewiston developer John Vollmer [blog, Jan 25] reportedly staked some prospectors in 1873 and 1874. They claimed to have discovered a good lode, but could not relocate it the second year.

Prichard entered Idaho from Montana in 1878 and trekked along the Coeur d'Alene River. He found some gold-bearing quartz upstream from today's Kellogg, but lacked the resources to exploit that discovery. Over the next few years, he kept searching the river and its tributaries for other outcroppings and for easier placer gold.

Prichard's April 1882 discovery finally convinced him that the gold fields could support "at least 15,000 to 20,000 men." A confirmed adherent of the Liberal League – a loose affiliation of "free thinkers" – Prichard tried to restrict the news to like-minded believers. In a message to a friend, he described the find and asked him pass it along “to as many Leagues as you can on this coast, and request them to get together and keep this information to themselves.”
Hydraulic placer mining, Eagle Creek, 1884.
University of Idaho Archives.
As usual in such cases, it soon became general knowledge. A relatively small rush in 1883 was swamped by the hordes that arrived the following year. Towns sprang up all over the place, including Eagle City, Murray [blog, Mar 5], Beaver City, Carbon City, Littlefield, Raven City, and Myrtle. Placer miners scrambled onto every promising stretch of river and creek.

Eagle City boomed to over two thousand inhabitants, and the District Court held its first term there in 1884. Yet Murray supplanted the town within five years, and Eagle City barely lasted into the next century. In fact, Murray remains as the only survivor from all those gold towns.

Actually, while many struck it rich in gold, the true wealth of the Coeur d’Alenes turned out to the huge deposits of lead-silver ore that were soon discovered in the region.

* Various references, including newspaper articles of the time, alternate between spelling the name as "Pritchard," versus sometimes without the "t". The "Pritchard" version also appears in some fairly recent history books. However, it seems that the family preference is for the spelling without the "t," and the creek itself is shown as Prichard on U.S. Geological Survey maps.
References: [B&W], [lllust-North]
"First recorded Coeur d’Alene gold found in this creek," Spokane Chronicle (May 23, 1936).
"Placer Mining Sites," Reference Series No. 892, Idaho State Historical Society (1987).

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