Monday, March 5, 2018

Gold Rush Fuels Murray Building Boom [otd 3/5]

The Lewiston Teller for March 5, 1885 published a glowing report from a correspondent in the new town of Murray, Idaho. The observer first noted that people in the entire mining district exuded confidence. At a settlement 3-4 miles west of Murrayville (Murray's original name), the reporter "counted eleven buildings under construction."
Placer mining, Murray area, 1884. Note miners in foreground.
University of Idaho Archives.
Miners were running large placer rigs on streams throughout the area. While the strikes were not spectacular, they provided solid returns and fueled hopes for more.

The Teller correspondent wrote, "Murray is fast building up and assuming the air of a mining metropolis, and property here has a value outside of what is justified by present appearances."

Around 1880, Andrew J. Pritchard and two other prospectors had worked their way up the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. They found color on what came to be called Prichard Creek, deep in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, 5-6 miles from the Montana border.  (It’s not clear when the “t” was dropped, but current maps show the stream with that spelling.)

Pritchard tried to restrict the news to a few favored partners while he continued to look for better prospects. He made a major find in 1882 [blog, Apr 25], but – as usual – the news leaked out.  By 1883 thousands of miners had rushed into the region, especially along Prichard Creek. All the early claims had been staked and filed, so late-comers pushed further up every likely looking stream.

Murray got its start in early 1884 and grew rapidly. At the same time, the population of Pierce City, the original county seat for Shoshone County, had dwindled to perhaps a few dozen souls. A notion to split the county was quickly squelched, but just before Christmas the Territorial government decided to locate a new county seat. The Act called for an election the following summer.

According to one pioneer, perhaps 2,500 people spent that winter in Murray and the nearby mining camps. Other reports suggest that 4 to 5 thousand were scattered throughout the Coeur d'Alenes.
Murray, Idaho, ca 1888.
The Sprag Pole Inn and Museum, Murray.

The Teller correspondent of March 5th went on, "Real estate changes hands daily and business prospects are bright. Two shingle mills are the latest improvements and parties are daily in search of business locations. There are twelve stores where goods of all kinds can be procured, three drug stores, several restaurants and a hotel."

The reports seems to have been accurate. At the election on June 1, 1885, Murray easily won the county seat, garnering 1,075 votes to 457 for Delta. The Illustrated History said, “Add to these two votes cast for Beaver (the former name of Delta), two for Eagle and one for Littlefieid, and we have a total vote in the county of 1,537.”

However, even then the seeds of change had been planted: To the south, prospectors had discovered rich lead-silver veins, and these turned out to represent the true wealth of the Coeur d'Alenes.

While Murray bloomed and then began a slow decline, Wallace and the other silver towns prospered. Thus, in 1898, another election moved the county seat from Murray to Wallace, where it still is.
References: [French], [Illust-North]
"Counties and County Seats," Reference Series No. 10, Idaho State Historical Society (July 1991).


  1. The first paragraph mentions a mining district; was that a bonafide, legal district and where would one find documentation of such?

  2. The wording of the newspaper item, as referenced in the "Illustrated History," seems to be using the term generically as an equivalent to "general area," not as a tag for a designated mining district.