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Overland Travel to Idaho
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Idaho | No Comments
On the 16th of March the first saddle train for a month arrived at Placerville, bringing a party of twelve, one of whom was a woman. They were eleven days on the road. On the 1st of April the pioneer coach, belonging to the Oregon and Idaho Stage Company, which was to run its stages from Umatilla landing to Boise, arrived at Placerville with a full load of passengers at $100 each. But this coach had come from Shasta, California, and had taken the California and Oregon stage-road to Portland, going thence to The Dalles by steamer, and there taking the road again. It had been fifty-nine days on the trip. Four other coaches of this line, starting from Shasta March 2d, accomplished the journey in twenty-three days. Ish and Hailey of Oregon owned this line.
On the Last of May coaches began to run from Idaho City and Placerville to Boise City and Owyhee. Road and ferry franchises were much sought after. A new road up the John Day River and through Canon City to Boise was opened the 20th of June. A. B. Meacham, of Modoc war fame, and his brother Harvey, settled at Lee’s Encampment, on the Blue Mountains, so named from Jason Lee having parted from his friends at this place on his journey east in 1838, and erected what was known as the Mountain House, doing much to open roads and facilitate trade. A franchise was granted to a company to build a road from the head of Camas prairie to Boise, but it was found impracticable to build it as projected, and it was abandoned. The Owyhee Ferry Company also obtained a franchise at the first session of the Idaho legislature.
The question of cheap freights was much discussed. The large number of men from northern California who were interested in Boise held that a road could be made from the Boise basin to the Sacramento River, by which freights could be brought more cheaply in wagons alone than by the O. S. N. Co.’s boats, and wagons from their landings. A company was incorporated, called the Idaho and California Wagon-Road Company, February 6, 1864, to build a wagon-road from Snake River Ferry, near old Fort Boise, to Red Bluff, California, via Ruby City.
On the 19th of April there arrived from Healdsburg, California, a party of six men with pack animals, who came by the way of the Washoe and Humboldt mines and Owyhee. They reported the road lined with people on their way to Idaho, and that wagons had already arrived within fifteen miles of Jordan Creek, where the hills became too rough for them to proceed farther. On the 1st of May a train of eighteen wagons left Scott Valley and Yreka for Boise, and on the 11th of June six others belonging to William Davidson, taking the Yreka and Klamath Lake route. These two routes continued to be traveled during the period of the California emigration to Idaho, and but for the hostility of the Indians, were good roads needing little improvement. One party of twenty-three, that left Red Bluff April 24th, took the route first contemplated by the projectors of the Idaho and California Road Company down the Malheur to the mouth of the Boise, and became lost between the Warner Lakes and the head waters of the Malheur. They wandered about for three weeks, but finally reached their destination about the 20th of June.
Not only was there a large immigration both overland and by sea, via Portland, but the freight offerings by steamer to the latter place were more than could be carried, and a number of sailing vessels were employed. This freight consisted of dry goods, hardware, and groceries. Provisions were furnished by Oregon and Utah.
About the 1st of May two express lines were established between Boonville and Sacramento. They left Boonville on the 2d and 4th respectively, and returned, the first on the 22d, bringing the Sacramento Union of the 16th, to the delight of Californians. They continued to make successful trips until interrupted by Indian hostilities.
In the spring of 1864 a contract to carry the tri-weekly mail from Salt Lake to Walla Walla, via Fort Hall and Boise City, was awarded to Ben Holladay & Co., carriers of the California mail, the service to begin July 1st, and an agent was sent over the route with men, teams, hay-cutting machines, and other means and appliances. He arrived in Boise in June. The main line from that place passed directly to Payetteville, a station on the north side of the Payette River, crossing the Snake River a short distance above the mouth of the Payette, and running through Burnt, Powder, and Grand Rond valleys to Walla Walla. The first overland mail reached Boise on the 1st of August. The immigration of this year was large, and the future of the territory looked promising.
The miners of Idaho were like quicksilver. A mass of them dropped in any locality, broke up into individual globules, and ran off after any atom of gold in their vicinity. They stayed nowhere longer than the gold attracted them. Notwithstanding their early regulations against Chinamen working in the mines, when the Nez Percé gold-fields had yielded up their richest deposits, these more patient toilers were permitted to take what remained by paying six dollars a month tax, one half to go to the territory, and the remainder to the county in which they resided, the sheriff being empowered to pursue into another country any one attempting to evade the act.
In June there were not enough white men in the Oro Fino district to work the claims well supplied with water and wood, which was another motive for the admission of Chinese. At Elk City, on the north branch of the Clearwater, miners were taking out incredible amounts daily; still they were not crowded. At Warren’s 600 men were doing well, and continued to do well for years. But Florence, for a few months the central attraction of the country, was almost depopulated in the winter of 1863, without recovering its population at any subsequent period. Its history was as short as it was brilliant. No mining camp with placers of such richness ever was so soon exhausted and deserted. In 1864 this district, too, was pretty well abandoned by white miners, and the Chinese were allowed to come in. The Florence gold was also of less value than that of other districts.
The discovery of silver ledges in the Kootenai region was made as early as 1859, but nothing was done to explore the country, owing to the fact that the mines lay north of 49° in British territory, where mining regulations were somewhat arbitrary. Gold was discovered in the Pend d’Oreille and Coeur d’Alene country by Donelson, of Stevens’ expedition, in 1853, and still earlier by Owens; but the hostility of the Indians and the finding of gold elsewhere diverted attention until the autumn of 1863, when good prospects were found on the Kootenai River. In May 1864, despite the deep snows of that region, a considerable portion of the mining population of eastern Oregon and northern Idaho had located claims and built up a town called Fisherville, fifty miles north of the United States boundary line. But the favorite country for prospectors was still southern Idaho and the newly created territory of Montana, which for a year constituted a part of the former territory. Discoveries were made early in 1804 on the north Boise, where the mining towns of Beaver City and Summit City came into existence about the 1st of February. A more important discovery was made on the Malade River in Volcano district, forty miles south of Little Camas prairie. The distinguishing feature of Volcano district was the width of the ledges found there, which were in some cases forty feet thick. Silver Hill district was discovered July 3d by a road party surveying for a route from Placerville to South Boise along the base of the Payette range. In August two towns, Banner and Eureka, with a hundred miners in each, were established, and twenty or more gold and silver quartz mines located. The Banner ledge, first and richest, gave character to the district. Wagon roads were laid out to Silver Hill. A shaft was sunk thirty feet, and a tunnel run 300 feet, across several other ledges, but this activity failed to foreshadow a great and sudden prosperity for this district.
Quartz-mining, unlike placer-mining, was retarded by the distance from any point where mills for crushing ores could be obtained, and by the outlay required. The first quartz-mill erected in the Boise basin was put up by W. W. Raymond on Granite Creek, about two miles from Placerville. It arrived in July, and was ready to go into operation in September. It was furnished with ten stamps, each weighing nearly 600 pounds, and crushing one and a half tons daily, with a reserved power amounting to half a ton more each. This mill was employed on the Pioneer, Lawyer, and Golden Gate ledges. It cleaned up from its first week’s run fifty pounds of amalgam.
The Landon lode, three miles northeast of Idaho City, on the divide between Moore and Elk creeks, named after its owner, was prospected by rigging ordinary sledge-hammers on spring-poles. In this manner 1,200 pounds were crushed, and a yield obtained of over $23 to 100 pounds; 200 pounds being pulverized in three days with the labor of one man. A mill was placed upon it by the Great Consolidated Boise River Gold and Silver Mining Company, having five stamps, which was ready for crushing rock in December. Other mills were erected during the year in the Boise basin.
At South Boise between forty and fifty arastras were run by water-power, making flattering returns, and the number was soon increased to eighty-four, crushing about a ton a day. The Ophir yielded in the arastra $100 to the ton.
Several mining companies shipped from 1,000 to 10,000 tons of ore to San Francisco and New York in order to attract the attention of capitalists, secure investments, and obtain mining machinery. The first mill in South Boise, however, was one with five stamps, owned by Cartee, Gates, & Company, which was packed in, and put in operation before a wagon road was opened over the mountains. The Ada Elmore rock crushed in this mill yielded an average of $100 per ton; the Confederate Star $150 per ton.
An eight-stamp mill was built in Portland for South Boise, intended for the Idaho lode; but in the mean time Andrews and Tudor, who left South Boise for the east in November 1863, purchased a twelve-stamp mill in Chicago, for the Idaho, which was hauled by ox-teams from the Missouri River in Nebraska at a cost of thirty cents a pound. It reached its destination in October and was ready for work in December. A five-stamp mill built at Portland was placed on the Comstock ledge in the autumn. R. B. Farnham, who took a ton of rock to New York and on its merits succeeded in forming a company called the New York and Idaho Gold and Silver Mining Company, purchased and shipped to South Boise a thirty-stamp mill, which arrived too late to be put into operation that year.
A new district was discovered on the headwaters of the middle Boise River which was named Yuba. The ledges found on the south and middle Boise were solid quartz, larger but not so rich as those of Owyhee. The rock in which they were found was granite. South Boise had at this time four towns, Esmeralda, Clifden, Rocky Bar, and Happy Camp, and about 2,000 persons were scattered over the district. A good wagon-road was completed to Boise City in August, built by Julius Newberg & Co. Of the large immigration of 1864, many settled in South Boise.
In May 1864 the Oro Fino Gold and Silver Tunnel Company was incorporated in Carson district, Owyhee, for the purpose of running a tunnel through Oro Fino mountain and developing the wealth therein, thirty locations having already been made on it, one of which, the War Eagle, subsequently gave its name to the mountain. This wonderful mass of mineral constituted the dividing ridge between Jordan and Sinker creeks; and it was on the ledges belonging to the northeastern side of the ridge that the first quartz-mill of the Owyhee region was placed. I might mention a number of other companies which flourished during this year, but do not deem it necessary. The great discovery of 1865 was the Poorman mine, on War Eagle Mountain. It was so named because its discoverers were without capital to work it. The ore was the richest known, and so easily worked that it could be cut out like lead, which it resembled, but with a tint of red in it, which gave it the name of ruby silver. It was a chloride of silver richly impregnated with gold, and brought four dollars an ounce as it came from the mine. A twenty-stamp mill was placed upon it, which, with another mill, worked the product of this mine.
The Mammoth district, containing veins of enormous size, was discovered in the spring of 1864 south of Carson district. It took its name from the discovery lode. Flint district, only separated from Mammoth by the extension of War Eagle Mountain southward, was also prospected with good results. The Rising Star ledge was the principal mine.
Indian depredations continuing, the people of Idaho petitioned to have General Conner sent to them from Utah. Most of the fighting was done on Oregon soil, by the 1st Oregon cavalry, as will be seen by a reference to my History of Oregon, although it was for the protection of Idaho as well, the cavalry extending their operations to Alvord Valley, and thence into Nevada as far as Mud Lake.
The spring of 1865 opened with renewed hostilities. A detachment of Washington infantry, under Sergeant Storm, and a small company, came upon Indians on Catherine Creek, killing eight. Never had the Shoshones, now a powerful foe through their possession of an abundance of horses, arms, and ammunition, given so much trouble. Petitions were made to the government by Oregon, Idaho, and northern California, for better defensive measures. A new military sub-district, embracing Nevada, and including Owen’s River Valley in California, was established, under the command of Charles McDermitt of the 2d California volunteer cavalry, who established Camp Bidwell, near Goose Lake, on the California road, which had been closed by hostilities. By the mustering-out of the Oregon and Washington troops in 1865-6 the territory was left with even less protection than formerly, while the Indians were more troublesome than over. But in the spring of 1866, the civil war having been brought to a close, the army was distributed on the western frontier, and after a few years more of wars and treaty-making, peace was restored with the Snakes and related tribes.
Unlike the previous two winters, that of 1864-5 set in November by a violent snow and wind storm, which inflicted heavy damages by destroying miles of flumes in eastern Oregon, letting the water into the ditches, and sweeping earth into claims, completely covering up many, filling up cuts and drains, burying miners’ tools, and leveling to the ground the fences of the newly improved farms over a large extent of country. Heavy rains followed the cold weather, making the season one of unusual severity; but the spring opened early with a heavy immigration, which struggled in before freight trains could get through the mountains with supplies, and the newcomers, many of whom were ”from the left wing of Price’s army,” created first a bread famine, and then a riot Not that they were actually starving, for there was food for all, but flour was a dollar a pound, and bread an ‘extra’ dish at the eating-houses.
Street meetings began to be held by the idle consumers to compel the merchants who had a little flour left to reduce the price. A mob of sixty men marched to the store of Crafts & Vantine in Idaho City, where they found about 200 pounds, which they seized. Proceeding to the store of Heffron & Pitts, the command was given by their leader to seize whatever flour they found. At this crisis Jack Gorman, deputy sheriff, with great courage arrested and disarmed the leader, a burly six-foot Missourian, placing him in irons, amidst cries of “Shoot him, shoot him I” from the rioters. This action damped their spirits, and order was restored. The merchants reduced the price of flour to fifty cents a pound, and soon after it became plenty at six cents.
Checked for the time by the prompt action of Gorman, the mob element found an opportunity to retaliate by setting fire to the city, which on the 18th of May was burned in the most valuable and business portion, only three public buildings being left standing – the Catholic Church, the Jenny Lind theatre, and the office of the Idaho World, the newspaper which had succeeded the Boise News at Idaho City. Besides these, nothing remained but the scattered houses on the hillside, and Buena Vista Bar, a suburb of the city, separated from it by a flat. Into these the homeless population was gathered, while the Catholic Church was converted into a hospital to receive the dislodged inmates of the county hospital, which was consumed. Taking advantage of the confusion and alarm created by the devouring element, men seized and carried off the provisions and other goods saved from burning buildings, taking them to hiding-places in the mountains. The merchants fortunately had a large portion of their stocks stored in underground receptacles, built after the manner of root-houses, which fashion prevailed first on account of the lack of warehouses, and afterward as a defense against fire. Their losses, however, aggregated $900,000. The town was immediately rebuilt with many improvements. By the middle of June it had almost its former proportions, and more than its former dignity of appearance. In July an indictment for arson was found against one Thomas Wilson, who never was punished, owing to the condition of the territorial government at this time, the defects of which and their causes will be treated in another place.
The immigration from California and Nevada in 1865 was in such numbers as to make necessary increased means of travel and transportation. Hill Beachy, an enterprising citizen of the Boise basin, formerly of Lewiston, established direct overland communication with Star City, Nevada, and with California, stocking the road a distance of 260 miles, and in April passed over the route with five coaches filled with passengers. Owing to Indian troubles, however, after a few trips the route was abandoned, the stages and stock were withdrawn, and also the stock of the Humboldt express, the Indians having burned one of the company’s stations, within forty miles of Owyhee, and killed the keeper.
John Mullan, engineer of the military road from Walla Walla to Fort Benton on the Missouri, from which so much was expected in the way of immigration and so little realized in any way, undertook to establish a stage line from Umatilla to Boise City, and another from Boise City to Chico, California, but was finally prevented by the Indians. His company was called the Idaho and California Stage Company. Early in September they advertised to sell tickets from Boise City to San Francisco, Virginia City, Nevada, and all other points, promising through connections and rapid transit; the time consumed between Ruby City and Chico to be six days for the opening trip, and four when arrangement were perfected. Ten companies of soldiers were distributed between Chico and Owyhee. But in October nearly every horse belonging to the company was stolen, and the stages had stopped running.
In this struggle – a truly valiant one – to master the obstacles to communication with the outer world and lessen the expense of living, distance, cold, snow, and hostile Indians were not the only obstacles the mining territory had to contend against. A lively warfare was carried on by the Oregon newspapers against the efforts of the Idaho merchants and others to bring about a direct trade with California So long as their operations were controlled by the steamship line between San Francisco and Portland, or the Oregon Steam Navigation Company on the Columbia River, it could hardly be expected that the expenses of transportation or travel would be much reduced. On the other hand, a road, over which teams could be driven with ordinary speed and safety, always allowed a possible escape from exorbitant charges. In cases where time was money, also, they hoped to gain by a direct route. But the Portland papers cast ridicule upon these schemes for avoiding paying tribute to Portland and the O. S. N. Co.; and every exultant paragraph of an Idaho paper on the arrival of trains direct from California was caught up and invidiously commented upon. The Oregonians also seized upon all the mountain passes and river crossings with their toll-roads and ferries, wringing tribute from the residents of as well as the travelers to the mining districts outside the boundaries of the state. At least so said the Idahoans.
I have mentioned that several private surveys of Snake River had been made with a view to navigation between Lewiston and Salmon Falls, or even Lewiston and Olds ferry or Farewell Bend. These surveys were not sufficiently encouraging to induce outlay. The attempt to navigate Snake River above Lewiston having failed, the O. S. N. Co. built a boat called the Shoshone, above the crossing of Snake River, at great cost, to test its navigability. She made her trial trip May 16, 1866. It was expected she would carry a great deal of freight from Olds ferry to the crossing of the Boise City and Owyhee road, and also government freight to Fort Boise; and that in case she could run up to Salmon Falls a road would be opened to South Boise, and another to the mines of Volcano district. But this experiment also failed. There was no wood along the banks for steaming purposes. The boat could not pass the mouth of the Bruneau River, little more than half-way between the Boise landing and Salmon Falls; and the Owyhee Avalanche, published at Ruby City, being in favor of the California overland routes in preference to all others, never ceased to disparage the attempt which the Idaho City World and Boise City Statesman commended.
The overland immigration from the east in 1865 was also large, 1,840 wagons passing Fort Kearny in May; and though the comers distributed themselves over the whole coast, Idaho and Montana retained the greater portion of them. Besides the regular immigration, the stages also brought full loads of passengers. And while the stage-line suffered severely by the depredations of the Indians on the plains, the immigration experienced little trouble, owing to its extent and the thoroughness of its organization. The pioneers of Idaho and Montana were saved the worst half of the journey across the continent, which formerly exhausted the energies and means of the Oregon and Washington emigrants. They arrived early, and their stock was usually in good condition. Every arrival from the east was hailed with a cordial welcome, for it was evidence that the mines could be easily reached from the great outside world, which conveyed a feeling of satisfaction to the hearts of the self-exiled miners. If the emigrants brought stocks of goods with them, so much the better. They often sold them cheaper than they could be obtained from any other direction, and there was no jealousy of competition.
In the spring of 1866, in spite of Indians and other obstacles, the Humboldt and Chico routes were again opened; Owyhee and Boise City raising men, money, and horses to fight the former, and Mullan raising money, coaches, and horses, in New York and California, to stock the latter. Thirty wagons were advertised to start from Chico, with a number of the stage company’s coaches, early in April; and in fact, trains did arrive over the Chico route by the middle of the month, on account of which the Idaho press was jubilant, and the Oregon Steam Navigation Company offered to reduce their freight charges. On the other hand, to insure the successful competition of the California roads with the O. S. N. Co., the Central Pacific Railroad and California Navigation companies offered to carry freight free to Chico landing.
Freight was carried by wagon to Ruby City and Boise for eleven and twelve cents a pound. Ox-teams came through in one month. Mullan’s Stage Company put men and teams upon the road to improve it, build stations, and cut hay. Finally, in August the coaches began running, the time from Chico to Silver City being four days. Treasure and government freight were also carried over that route.
But there was a rival route, which had a friend at court. Conness of California introduced a bill in the senate to provide for the construction of a wagon-road from Boise City to Susanville, in California, with a branch from Surprise Valley to Puebla, with an appropriation of $10,000 for surveys. This was called the Red Bluff route, favored by the Northern Teamsters’ Association, which advertised to take freight for from eleven to thirteen cents, and secured a great deal. Again, the Sacramento merchants subscribed $5,000 to be given as a bonus to the first train which should carry 100 tons of merchandise through to Owyhee by the Truckee pass, to be applied to the extra expenses of the trip. Jesse D. Carr secured the contract for carrying a daily mail between Virginia City, Nevada, and Boise City, Idaho, via this route, which lay to the east of the Humboldt Mountains, and was the same, in part, over which Hill Beachy carried the mail for several months the previous year. The amount of money expended in these several enterprises was large, and the com-petition resulted in furnishing such accommodations for travel as were rarely enjoyed in new countries.
I have given considerable space to the subject of roads, as to me it appears of the highest importance. The inaccessibility of Idaho tended to retard development, but every obstacle was finally overcome.
In 1864 an attempt was made to obtain a mint for the Boise basin, and two years later it was proposed to bring the North Carolina mint to Boise, neither of which movements obtained success. In the first year congress appropriated $100,000 for a branch mint at The Dalles, a measure which Portland strongly discountenanced, wishing to have it for itself. Before the mint was completed at The Dalles it became apparent that on the construction of the Union Pacific railroad bullion could be shipped to Philadelphia as easily as to The Dalles, and the act was revoked, which was a definite defeat of any project for a mint in Oregon or Idaho. An assay office was, however, erected by the U. S. government in 1870, at a cost of $81,000. It was of sandstone, 60 feet square, two stories high above the basement, and well finished. It was built by J. B. McBride, once U. S. district judge of Idaho.
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The Owyhee Avalanche was established at Silver City in Aug. 1865, by Joseph Wasson and brother, and J. L. Hardin. Wasson had been a printer on the Idaho World, and was a writer of considerable ability. Hardin withdrew at the end of a year, and the Wassons continued the publication until Aug. 17, 1867, when they sold to W. J. Hill and H. W. Millard. On Nov. 7, 1368, the paper was again sold to John McGonigle, who managed it till Feb. 10, 1870, when he sold back to Hill and Millard. Another journal, the Tidal Wave, started in 1868, and owned by the Butler brothers, founders of the Boise News was incorporated with the Avalanche, Soon afterward Hill became sole owner. In Oct. 1874 a daily was established which lived for a year and a half, when it was discontinued. In April 1876 Hill sold the Avalanche to J. S. Hay, who conducted it as a weekly in the interest of mining and the country generally. It was subsequently published by Guy Newcomb and Charles M. Hays.↵
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