Sunday, October 7, 2018

Classes Start at College of Idaho, Boise Basin Gold Towns [otd 10/7]

On October 7, 1891, classes began at the new College of Idaho in Caldwell. The Presbyterian Church's Wood River Presbytery began discussing the idea of an Idaho college in 1884. Leaders canvassed the membership and found a considerable groundswell of interest. That interest grew, so in 1889 the Presbytery asked the Reverend William Judson Boone [blog, Nov 5] to explore the idea further.
College of Idaho, ca. 1900. College of Idaho photo.
The 1891 meeting of the Presbytery’s Education Committee accepted an offer of land for the school from the city of Caldwell. (An attempt to attract the school to nearby Nampa was short-lived.) Plans proceeded rapidly to open the new college that fall.

Classes for the first students – 19 of them to start with – were taught in the basement of the Caldwell Presbyterian Church. The institution lays claimed to being the oldest college in Idaho: Although the land-grant University of Idaho was formally authorized earlier, it did not begin classes until 1892. In common with the University, none of the College’s first students were prepared for college-level classes.

That year, College of Idaho moved to its own building in downtown Caldwell. In 1893, Reverend Boone resigned his pastorate to become full-time President of the College, a job he would hold for the rest of his life. Early on, he picked all of the “classically trained faculty,” who became known for their “intelligence and probity.”

The college graduated its first high school equivalent class in 1894, but did not enroll its first full group of college students until 1906. Still, the college grew steadily and, in 1910, moved to a larger campus at what is basically its current location. This privately-supported liberal arts college now has over a thousand students.

On October 7, 1862, miners who had returned to the Boise Basin founded Pioneer City, today’s Pioneerville, on Grimes Creek. George Grimes had led a small band of prospectors into the mountains about two months earlier, chasing a story told by one man’s Indian friend. They did find gold, in considerable quantities, but then Grimes was killed in a skirmish with Indians.

The band of less than a dozen men had seen signs of many Indians in the area.  Thus, they buried Grimes’ body in a deep prospect hole and fled the mountains. Later, a monument was erected in his honor at Grimes Pass. The miners returned in force – fifty to sixty strong – in October and began laying out Pioneer City and recording claims.

By then, word of the discovery had spread, and before winter blocked travel, hundreds of hopeful miners had rushed into the area. In no time at all, other camps sprang into being: Placerville, Centerville, and West Bannock (today’s Idaho City).
Placerville, Lithograph. History of Idaho Territory.
The following spring, thousands of miners poured into the Basin and several mining camps turned into towns. Moreover, the presence of all those prospectors drove the creation of Idaho Territory in March 1863 [blog, March 4]. The first Territorial census enumerated over 15 thousand residents in the Basin, and “conservative” estimates placed that number at 20 thousand by the end of the year.

Miners continued to extract major amounts of gold from the Basin for another eighty years. Over that time, the region yielded over $2 billion worth of gold (using today’s prices). Nor is the area totally played out: Prospectors still find isolated pockets of the precious metal. 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
Louie W. Attebery, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History. © The College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
“Census of 1863,” Reference Series No. 129, Idaho State Historical Society.
“J. Marion More: Idaho Mining Pioneer (1830-1868),” Reference Series No. 455, Idaho State Historical Society (July 1994). 
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities, 2nd Edition, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

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