The Growth Of Quartz Mining Discoveries

Prospecting early indicated that the future mineral wealth of Idaho would depend upon quartz mining, and accordingly efforts were early made to develop that feature of Idaho’s principal industry. In the autumn of 1863 it was found that thirty-three claims of gold and silver quartz-mines had been made on the south Boise alone, ail of which promised well. The Ida Elmore, near the head of Bear creek, the first and most famous of the south Boise quartz mines in that year, was discovered in June. In an arastra it yielded two hundred and seventy dollars to the ton of rock; but at length it fell into the hands of speculators. The next several mines of this class were the Barker, East Barker, Ophir, Idaho, Independence, Southern Confederacy, Esmeralda, General Lane, Western Star, Golden Star, Mendocino, Abe Lincoln, Emmett and Hibernia. The Idaho assayed, thirty feet below the surface, one thou-sand seven hundred and forty-four dollars in gold and ninety-four dollars and eighty-six cents in silver; Golden Eagle, two thousand two hundred and forty dollars in gold and twenty-seven dollars in silver, from the croppings. At the Ida Elmore a town was laid out called Fredericksburg, and other towns were also laid out elsewhere, many of which remained towns only in the imagination. Rocky Bar, however, laid out in 1864, beautifully materialized, while Boise City, founded at the junction of Moore creek with the Boise River, has long been the capital of this commonwealth.

The first discovery on Granite creek, in the line of quartz-mining, was at first named the Pioneer and afterward Gold Hill, when consolidated with the Landon: and it was at length purchased by the “Great Consolidated Boise River Gold and Silver Mining Company,” which had control also of other mines. Even the poorest rock in the Pioneer assayed over sixty-two dollars to the ton, while the better class went from six to twenty thousand dollars! These assays be-came the occasion of an organization in San Francisco of the Boise River Mining and Exploring Company, which contracted for a ten-stamp mill to be used in the Boise country.

One of the rich lodes discovered in 1863 was the Gambrinus, owned by an incorporated company of Portland; but, like many other openings of mines, it lasted but a short time. It was so rich that pieces of rock which had rolled down into the creek and become water-worn could be seen to glisten with gold at a distance of fifty feet. On Granite creek a town was started, called Ouartzburg, two miles west of Placerville; but soon after mills were brought into the vicinity at a little distance, the initial town became extinct and forgotten.

The greatest discovery of this year, however, and the most sensational, was the result of a search made by a party of twenty-nine from Placerville to rediscover the famous “lost diggings” of 1845. Crossing Snake River near the mouth of the Boise, they proceeded, not in the direction supposed to have been taken by the party of 1845, but went along Snake River, on the south side, to a considerable stream, which they named Reynolds creek, after a member of their own party. While encamped here two of the men, Wade and Miner, ascended a divide on the west and observed that the formation of the country indicated a large River in that direction. Continuing their course up the Reynolds creek, in the direction of the supposed River, and crossing some very rough mountains, they fell upon the headwaters of another creek, flowing toward the unknown River, where they commenced prospecting, late in the afternoon of the 18th of May, and found a hundred “colors” to the pan. This place, called Discovery Bar, was six miles below the site of Boonville, on Jordan creek. The “unknown” River proved subsequently to be the Owyhee, whose course had previously been but partially known. After prospecting ten days longer, locating as much mining ground as they could hold, and naming the district Carson, they prospected two other creeks, Bowlder and Sinker, without making any further discoveries, and then returned to Placerville.

The story of Discovery Bar naturally set every-body “crazy” to fly to that point as soon as possible, and within two days as many as two thousand five hundred men are said to have left Boise City for the new “diggings,” with the usual result of disappointment to a large majority. The original discoverers had “hogged” everything. Only about one in ten of the men rushing there remained.

Next was the discovery of silver-bearing ledges of wonderful richness on tributaries to Jordan creek, which caused a second rush of prospectors to the Owyhee region, late in the autumn of 1863. The two first discoveries here were named Oro Fino and Morning Star. As often happens, the first discoveries proved ultimately to be the richest. Men made fifty dollars a day pounding up the Oro Fine rock in common hand mortars. It assayed seven thousand dollars in silver and eight hundred dollars in gold to the ton. A year after-ward, when a larger quantity of ore had been tested by actual working, ten tons of rock yielded one ton of amalgam. In one small place a pound and a quarter of rock gave nine ounces of silver and gold, and one pound yielded thirteen dollars and fifty cents, half in silver and half in gold. It was indeed claimed that this discovery was the second in importance, in regard to silver, within the United States.

The first town laid out on Jordan creek was Boonville, at the mouth of a canyon between high and rugged hills, and its streets were narrow and crooked. In a short time another town, called Ruby City, was started, in a better location in most respects, the principal nuisance there being the fact that the locality was subject to high winds. During the ensuing winter, 1863-4, each of these places contained about two hundred and fifty men, while about five hundred were scattered over the Carson district. In December a third town was laid out, about a mile above Ruby City, and called Silver City. Timber was scarce in this region. Lumber, which had to be manufactured with the whipsaw, brought forty dollars per hundred feet.

Throughout Idaho the general condition of the miners in the autumn of 1863 was that of prosperity. Bannack City, which the next year was changed to Idaho City, had in the spring of that year about six thousand inhabitants, with two hundred and fifty places of business, Protestant and Catholic churches, a theater, a fire department, three newspapers, etc. At the same time Centerville, a very pretty place, grew and thrived, having about three thousand people. From this point a stage road was in process of improvement each way one to Placerville and one to Idaho City. Of this enterprise Henry Greathouse. the pioneer in this species of work, was the proprietor. At this time Placerville had a population of five thousand, and that of Pioneer City was two thousand, chiefly Irish, on account of which fact it was sometimes called New Dublin. In Boise society was chaotic, and included numerous rough characters, especially lawless men from the south. As this was during the progress of the civil war. many of the most intractable characters of the rebellious states slipped off to the wilds of the west. Misdemeanor and crime advanced to such a degree as to become reactionary and suicidal, and therefore the criminal period was short-lived. The citizens, however, had a hospital, where the sick were kindly cared for; but many a sturdy miner died and was buried far away from his kindred, who have never known what became of their “friend that went out west.” From November 1864, to November, 1865, one year, there were received at this hospital one hundred and twenty-five men who had been injured in mining. To avoid the winter, many went east, some into Colorado, Utah, Oregon and elsewhere, and others would have gone did not the law of the camps require each man to work his claim at least one day in seven in order to hold it. One of the laws here declared that “any citizen may hold one creek claim, one gulch, one hill and one bar claim, by location.”

It will be interesting to notice in this connection a characteristic of the Californian which is conspicuous in the Golden state even to this day, and that is a freedom from the Puritanic restraints of the east and a kind of easy and social manner more characteristic of the Kentuckian and Tennessean than of any other people in the world. During this period of which we are writing, 1863-5, there were many Californians in southern Idaho, two hundred and thirty from Siskiyou County alone in the Boise basin. Some of these free and easy-go-lucky but honest and social men were also from Oregon. Generally they were enterprising men, also patronizing charities and pleasures liberally. The sport which offered the most novel attractions, while morally unobjectionable also, was that furnished by the “sliding” clubs, of which there were several in the different towns. The stakes for a grand race, according to the rules of the clubs, should not be less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand five hundred dollars, for which they ran their cutters down certain hills covered with snow and made smooth for the purpose. Some of the larger occasions were accompanied by unusual festivities. One sled was so large as to carry twenty persons, and the position of the pilot was a peculiarly responsible one, and many were in fact injured in this exciting and dangerous sport. Many found entertainment by patronizing a circulating library and a literary club, evidences of a high degree of civilization.

The winter of 1863-4 proved to be somewhat treacherous in one important respect. It was so mild and yielded so little snow that pack-trains and wagons kept under way between Walla Walla and the mines until February, and stage companies made great preparations to start up with their great trips about the 20th of that month; but about that time a heavy snow came, accompanied by a fall of the temperature to a point about twenty-five degrees below zero, which delayed stage traffic till the 1st of March, but caught many travelers en route to their destinations. The snow was so deep that even six horses could not pull an empty sleigh through. For the same reason the express from Salt Lake City, which was due early in February, did not arrive until in March.

Here is an appropriate place to give some of the most important particulars concerning stage enterprises, as it was here and during this period that some of the most exciting experiences in connection with them were undergone.

The line from Walla Walla to Boise, the route most used in those days, was owned by George F. Thomas and J. S. Ruckle, who announced that they would, on commencing business, use only the best horses out of a band of a hundred and fifty, to be driven by a man named Ward, a famous coach-driver from California, where coach-drivers had attained the highest reputation for skill in the world. Thomas himself had been stage-driver in Georgia. Going to California in the early times of gold-mining in that state, he engaged in a lucrative business and became a large stockholder in the California Stage Company, which at one time had coaches on fourteen hundred miles of road. As vice-president of the company he established a line from Sacramento to Portland, where he went to reside.

On the discovery of gold in the Nez Perce country he went to Walla Walla and ran stages as the ever-changing stream of travel demanded. In partnership with Ruckle he constructed a stage road over the Blue Mountains, at a great expense, and opened it in April 1865.

Henry Greathouse was another stage proprietor on the route from the Columbia to Boise, and was an enterprising pioneer who identified himself with the interests of this new region. Al-though a southern man he had the prudence to remain neutral in regard to the great and exciting issues between the north and south during the Great War. While he was making arrangements to put on a line of stages to connect with boats at Wallula, he succeeded, on the 16th of March, in bringing through to Placerville the first saddle train for a month, with 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 & Idaho Stage Company, which was to run its stages from Umatilla landing to Boise, arrived at Placerville, with a full load of passengers, at one hundred dollars 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 this trip. Four other conches of this line, starting from Shasta March 2, accomplished the journey in twenty-three days. Ish & Hailey, of Oregon, owned this line. To Mr. Hailey is due the honor of first taking a company through the Blue Mountains from the Columbia into Idaho in the dead of a snowy winter. On the 1st of May, coaches began to run from Idaho City and Placerville to Boise City and Owyhee. Ward, the diver previously mentioned, and John J. McCommons, owned this line at first.

Road and ferry franchises were much sought after. A new road up the John Day River and through Canyon City to Boise was opened on the 20th of June. A franchise was granted to a company to build a road from the Camas prairie north of Salmon River to Boise, but it was afterward found impracticable to open that route. The Owyhee Ferry Company also obtained a franchise at the first session of the Idaho legislature. Bristol established a ferry across Boise River at Boise City, and another across Snake River on Jordan’s road to Owyhee. Michael Jordan, Silas Skinner and W. H. Dewey built a toll road from Owyhee to Boise in the summer of 1864.

Naturally the matter of cheaper freights engaged the attention of many enterprising men, who made sundry attempts to find better routes, or routes from new points, from Los Angeles to Fort Benton and Portland, and several large companies were incorporated for the purpose of establishing extensive routes, most of which found that they were undertaking enterprises too expensive. In May 1864, two express lines were established between Boonville and Sacramento. They left Boonville on the 2d and 4th respectively, and returned successfully. The first mentioned arrived at Boonville on the 22d, bringing the Sacramento Union of the 16th, to the great delight of the Californians here. These lines were successful until interrupted by Indian hostilities.

Westerfield and Cutter ran an express from Star City, Humboldt valley, to Jordan creek, furnishing news only nine days old. In June, John J. McCommons and C. T. Blake bought out Hillhouse & Company, who owned the express line between Idaho City and the Owyhee mines, which they operated until the death of McCommons, by the hands of the Malheur Snake Indians, in February 1865.

In the spring of 1864 a contract to carry the tri-weekly mail from Salt Lake to Walla Walla by way of Fort Hall and Boise City was awarded to Ben Holladay & Company, carriers of the California mail, the service to begin July 1st; and an Indian agent was sent over the route with men, teams, hay-cutting apparatus and other means and appliances. The agent 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 Grande Ronde valleys to Walla Walla. The first overland mail reached Boise on the 1st of August.

In the early mining period of Idaho the prejudice against Chinese labor was as great as it was in California, and the immigrants, indeed, went so far as to adopt regulations against their employ; but at times and places white labor could not be secured to do the work, and despite the regulations a few Chinese were employed, who were obliged to pay a tax of six dollars a month for the privilege, one-half of this to go into the territorial fund and one-half into that of the county. The places where Mongolian labor was employed were those where the richest pockets of gold and silver had been abstracted and the gatherings were more tedious and not so remunerative; for a white man, naturally, had too little patience to work at any given spot when he heard rumors of greater discoveries elsewhere. The most of these white miners were almost constantly running around from one field to another.

Silver was discovered at various points in the Kootenai region as early as 1859, especially over in British territory, but little was done to open the mines. Gold was discovered in the Pend d’Oreille and Coeur d’Alene country as early as 1853, but the hostility of the Indians and the discoveries of gold elsewhere diverted attention from this region. Good prospects were found on the Kootenai River in the autumn of 1863.

In the spring of 1864, although much snow was remaining upon the ground, many prospectors from eastern Oregon and northern Idaho located claims fifty miles north of the United States line and started a town which they named Fisherville. During the winter early in 1864 a fleet of thirty bateaux was built at Colville, on the Columbia, in what was then northeastern Oregon, now Washington, and the building of a steamer was commenced, to run on that River above Colville, and was completed within the next two years, by the Oregon Steam Navigation Company.

The favorite country, however, for the immigrant miners of this period was still southern Idaho and the newly created territory of Montana, which for a year was a part of Idaho. Among the more important discoveries made in 1864 were those on the North Boise, where the mining towns of Beaver City and Summit City were founded in the latter part of the winter; on the Malade River in Volcano district, forty miles south of the Little Camas prairie, by a company led by J. Z. Miller; in the Silver Hill district, in July, by a party headed by James Carr and Jesse Bradford, and here two towns, Banner and Eureka, were begun, with a hundred miners each; and minor discoveries in many other places.

Naturally many discoveries were made where quartz-mining was indicated, but nearly all these were remote from the few mills in the territory at that time, and capitalists did not feel justified in rushing up a mill immediately upon the discovery of a ledge, on account of the uncertainty attending the durability of the yield. The first quartz mill erected in the Boise basin was built by W. W. Raymond on Granite creek, about two miles from Placerville. The apparatus arrived in July and the mill was started in September. It consisted of ten stamps, each weighing nearly six hundred pounds and crushing one and a half tons daily, with a reserved power amounting to half a ton more each. This mill crushed ore from the Pioneer, Lawyer and Golden Gate ledges, and from its first week’s work fifty pounds of amalgam. A novel device for crushing ore, on a small scale, was profitably practiced at the Landon lode, three miles northeast of Idaho City, on the divide between Moore and Elk creeks. Ordinary sledgehammers were fastened upon the ends of spring poles, and by this process one man in three days would crush two hundred pounds of ore, yielding about forty-six dollars. But soon a mill was placed here, by the Great Consolidated Boise River Gold and Silver Mining Company, which, with five stamps, commenced operation in December; and during the year other mills were erected in the district. A ten-stamp mill was started in December on the Garrison Gambrinus; two others, one on Summit Flat, owned by Bibb & Jackson; another, a mile from Idaho City, owned by F. Britten & Company; another, on Bear Run, at Idaho City, attached to the steam power of Robie & Bush’s sawmill, to do custom work. This sawmill, which was first erected at Lewiston, was removed to Boise in July, and was burned in September; it was rebuilt in October, with the quartz-mill attached. At South Boise between thirty and forty arastras were run by water power, with flattering results, and the number was soon increased to eighty-four, each crushing about a ton a day. In the arastra the Ophir yielded one hundred dollars to the ton.

In order to attract the attention of capitalists in the east and in San Francisco, several mining companies of Idaho shipped to New York and San Francisco from one to ten thousand tons of ore, but this was an expensive task, as the ore had to be hauled to great distances by the employment of horses or mules.

The Confederate Star mine yielded one hundred and fifty dollars per ton, and the Ada Elmore one hundred dollars, by the use of the quartz-mill in South Boise, owned by Carter, Gates & Company. As a specimen of modern wickedness, we may relate here the instance of the operation of the Ada Elmore mine by speculators, a company who employed an agency to run a tunnel in the ledge, at an enormous expense, in such a way as purposely to let the roof fall in, so that by additional expense they could freeze out the small share-holders.

An eight-stamp mill at this time was built in Portland for South Boise, intended for the Idaho lode, and at the same 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. In the autumn a five-stamp mill, built at Port-land, was placed on the Comstock ledge. R. B. Farnham took a ton of rock to New York and on its merits succeeded in forming a company, called the New York & Idaho Gold & Silver Mining Company, who purchased and shipped to South Boise a thirty-stamp mill, which, however, arrived too late for work that year.

South Boise had at this time four towns, Esmeralda, Clifden, Rocky Bar and Happy Camp, and about two thousand persons were scattered over the district. A good wagon-road was completed to Boise City in August, by Julius Newberg & Company.

In 1864 a new mining 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 than those of Owyhee but not so rich. They were in granite.

Among the many companies who organized and flourished more or less this year, 1864, we would mention the Oro Fino Gold & Silver Tunnel Company, which was incorporated in May, in the Carson district, in the Owyhee country, for the purpose of running a tunnel through Oro Fino mountain. Thirty locations had already been made upon this mountain, one of which, named the War Eagle, subsequently gave its name to the mountain itself. This wonderful mass of mineral constituted the dividing ridge between Jordan and Sinker creeks; and it was on the northeastern side of this ridge that the first quartz-mill of the Owyhee region was placed.

The great discovery of 1865 was what has since been generally known as the Poorman mine, so named, it is said, because the discoverers were without capital to work it. The ore was the richest known, and so easily worked that it could be cut like lead, which indeed 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. The discoverers were O’Brien, Holt, Zerr, Ebner, Stevens and Ray, according to one authority, but according to others D. C. O’Byrne or Charles S. Peck.

The initial point of discovery was about a thousand feet from what is now called the discovery shaft, the ore being good but not particularly rich, and the vein small. Before operations had proceeded very far, Mr. Peck found the rich “chimney,” or discovery shaft, concealing the place until he learned from Hays and Ray, the first locators, the boundaries of their claim, and that it included his discovery. Peck then cautiously endeavored to buy the mine: but, finding that it was held too high, absented himself in the hope that the owners would diminish their price. In the meantime another of the prospectors came upon the rich chimney and located it, calling it the Poorman. A contest now arose for the pos-session of the mine, the Hays and Ray owners taking Peck into their company for finding and tracing the vein from their opening into the Poorman. The Poorman company erected a fort at the mouth of their mine, which they called Fort Baker, and mounted some ordnance. They took out some of the richest of the ore and sent it to Portland, where it aroused a great sensation; but the prospect of endless litigation over the proprietorship induced both companies to sell, one to put Bradford and the other to G. C. Robbins, both of Portland, who worked the mine jointly, taking out nearly two million dollars, after which they sold to a New York company.

In the spring of 1864 was discovered the Mammoth district, south of the Carson district, containing veins of enormous size. Flint district, separated from the latter only by an extension of the War Eagle Mountains, was also prospected with good results. Of this the Rising Star ledge was the principal mine.

Indian Hostilities

Indian hostilities seemed to increase with a prospect of permanence. On the 3d of May 1864, a party of whites was attacked about sixty miles from Paradise valley, and J. W. Dodge, J. W. Burton and others were killed. Between Warner and Harney lakes. Porter Langdon and Thomas Renny were killed, and the ranch of Michael Jordan was attacked in July, the owner soon afterward losing his life. A force of one hundred and thirty-four men was raised, which overtook the Indians in a fortified canyon and killed thirty-six, losing two of their own number, besides two being wounded. Colonel Maury then took the field, with one hundred men and four howitzers, encamped on Jordan creek and engaged in scouting during the remainder of the summer. About this time the people of Idaho petitioned to have General Conner sent to them from Utah: but most of the fighting was done in Oregon, by the First Oregon Cavalry, who ex-tended their operations to Alvord valley and thence into Nevada as far as Mud Lake.

The spring of 1865 opened with renewed hostilities, and a detachment of Washington infantry, under Sergeant Storm, and a small company, came upon Indians on Catherine creek and killed eight of them. The Shoshones becoming powerful by their many depredations upon the property of the whites, began to give unusual trouble, and the people throughout the Pacific slope petitioned the general government for better defensive measures, and Charles McDermitt, of the Second California Volunteer Cavalry, established Camp Bidwell, near Goose lake, on the California road, which had been closed by hostilities, and from this point operated with good effect. After the close of the great civil war the general government spared several detachments for the far west, which in a year or two reduced the hostilities of the Snake Indians and kindred tribes.

The winter of 1864-5 set in during the month of November with a violent snow-storm, which inflicted heavy damages by destroying miles of flumes in eastern Oregon, letting the water into the ditches and carrying dirt into the claim openings and breaking down many of the fences of the newly improved farms. Heavy rains followed, which made the season unusually severe. But the spring opened early, and there was a heavy immigration, which arrived before the freight trains could get through. The newcomers, many of whom were the “left wing of Price’s army,” created first a bread famine, and then a riot. There was food enough for all, however, 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 two hundred pounds of flour and seized it. Proceeding to the store of Heffron & Pitts, the command was given by their leader to seize whatever flour they found. At this point Jack Gorman, deputy sheriff, with great courage arrested and disarmed the leader, a blustering Missourian six feet tall, and this action soon resulted in the restoration of order. The merchants reduced the price of their flour to fifty cents a pound, and not long after that the coveted commodity was as low as six cents a pound;

Restrained wickedness, however, soon found opportunity to vent itself, for the mob element set fire to the city, May 18, and burned the most valuable portion of it leaving only three buildings, the Catholic Church, the Jenny Lind theater and the office of the Idaho World. Besides these nothing remained but the scattered houses on the hillside, and Buena Vista bar, a suburb. Into these the homeless were gathered, while the Catholic Church was converted into a hospital, the County hospital being among the structures consumed by fire. Much looting, of course, was done by thieves during the fire; but the merchants fortunately had a large portion of their goods stored in underground excavations, saved from both the fire and the thieves. Their aggregate losses were estimated at nine hundred thousand dollars. The town was immediately rebuilt, with many improvements, and by the middle of June it had almost its former proportions, and more than its former dignity of appearance. Idaho City was burned twice afterwards, in 1867 and 1868, the loss in the former year being estimated at a million dollars!

In 1865 the emigration from the Pacific slope was so great as to lead to increased means of transportation. Hill Beachy an enterprising citizen of the Boise basin, formerly of Lewiston, established direct overland communication with Star City, Nevada, and with California, supplying the road with vehicles and animal power for a distance of two hundred and sixty miles. In April he passed over this route with five coaches, filled with passengers; but the Indians burned one of the stations, within forty miles of Owyhee, killing the keeper, and the route was abandoned.

John Mullan, who published a miners’ and travelers’ guide to the west and was an engineer of the military road from Walla Walla to Fort Benton on the Missouri, undertook to establish a stage line from Umatilla to Boise City, and another from the latter place to Chico, California, organizing the Idaho & California Stage Company. Early in September they advertised to sell tickets from Boise City to San Francisco, Virginia City, Nevada, and several other points, promising through connections and rapid transit; but the predatory Indians interfered and before the close of October their property was mostly stolen and the running of stages entirely ceased.

In addition to all the obstacles mentioned, the citizens of Idaho had even the newspapers of Oregon to fight, which by this time began to defend the trade of their territory at the expense of what rightfully belonged to this territory. In favor of Oregon there were already in operation two great regular lines, the steamship line from San Francisco to Portland and the Oregon Steam Navigation Company on the Columbia River. The traveling time from San Francisco to Idaho by the steamer route was nine days, and the fare, with meals, was one hundred and forty-two dollars. The Idaho Stage Company offered tickets to the Golden Gate city for ninety dollars, and promised to take passengers to Sacramento in six days. Freight from San Francisco by steamer cost from twenty-two to twenty-nine cents a pound; overland, about twelve cents. The Oregonians also seized upon all the mountain passes and River crossings with toll roads and ferries, thus wringing tribute from all the traveling public. The Oregon Road, Bridge & Ferry Company was incorporated in April, 1865, and their object was to connect all the stage roads from Umatilla and Walla Walla at one point. Express Rancho, and thence down Burnt River to Farewell Bend, or Olds ferry, and so on down Snake River to the mouth of the Owyhee, with the control of all the ferries between these two points.

Many attempts, large and small, were made in vain to establish new routes of transportation. Among the larger was that of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, which at this time built a boat called the Shoshone, above toe crossing of Snake River, at great cost, to test the navigability of the stream. She made her trial trip May 16, 1866. It was expected that she would carry a large amount of freight from Olds ferry to the crossing of the Boise City and Owyhee road, and also government freight to Fort Boise: and also that in case she could run up to Salmon falls a road would be opened to South Boise, and an-other to the mines of the Volcano district. But this experiment failed, for the boat could not pass the mouth of the Bruneau River, little more than half way between the Boise landing and Salmon falls, and there was not wood enough along the route for fuel. In connection with this and similar schemes the newspapers of the respective localities carried on a lively contest.

In 1865, the year of which we are now writing, the overland immigration was large. Eighteen hundred and forty wagons passed Fort Kearney in ^lay, the most of which made their way to Idaho and Montana. The emigrants coming with these trains generally possessed considerable means and comfortable outfits: probably nine-tenths of them were fully equipped for making a successful and permanent settlement in the new territory. The nuclei of towns and “cities” were made noisy by the hammer and saw of the carpenter. The stages also brought many full loads of passengers who had money. But the immigrants who brought merchantable goods with them were the most welcome.

During the next year, 1866, notwithstanding the continued depredations of the Indians and other obstacles, the Humboldt and Chico routes were again opened, to establish communication with the coast. For this purpose the money, men and horses were raised by citizens of Owyhee and Boise City, to fight the Indians, and money, coaches and horses were raised also by Mr. Mullan, in New York and California. Thirty wagons were advertised to start from Chico, with a number of the company’s coaches, early in April: and, indeed, trains did arrive over the Chico route by the middle of the month. This was the occasion of renewed rejoicing, for the prospects of success were so bright that the Oregon Steam Navigation Company offered to reduce their freight charges. To aid the Idahoans by way of competition with that great company, the California Navigation Company and the Central Pacific Railroad Company offered to carry freight free to Chico landing. Thus freight was carried by wagon to Ruby City and Boise for eleven and twelve cents a pound. Ox teams came through in one month, and Mullan’s Stage Company put men and teams upon the road to improve it, build stations and cut hay. The coaches began running in August, making the distance from Chico to Silver City in four days, and treasure and government freight were also carried over the route.

About this time also a man named Conness, of California, introduced a bill in the senate to provide for the opening of a wagon road from Boise City to Susanville, in that state, with a branch from Surprise Valley to Puebla, with an appropriation of ten thousand dollars for surveys. This was called the Red Bluff route and was favored by the Northern Teamsters’ Association, which advertised to take freight for eleven to thirteen cents, and obtained many consignments. Also, Sacramento merchants subscribed five thousand dollars as a bonus to the first train which should carry one hundred tons of merchandise through to Owyhee by the Truckee pass, to be applied to the extra expenses of the trip. Jesse D. Carr secured a contract for carrying a daily mail between Virginia City, Nevada, and Boise City, by the last mentioned route, which ran east of the Humboldt Mountains. A large amount of money was expended in these enterprises, but success was attained.

From a valuable work written by Joaquin Miller and issued by the publishers of this History of Idaho we make the following extracts, the same being peculiarly pertinent and interesting in connection with the account of the early mining enterprises in Idaho:

There is a sort of Freemasonry among miners and all sorts of honest men of the gold mines. The men of the placer gold mines are and have been from the modern Argonauts a sort of civilized advance army. They are men who have stepped to the front from out of the millions. It is their courage, enterprise and audacity of faith that has set them to the front; besides, they are generally men of good sense, good physique, good education. Travel for they all had to travel much and have much intercourse with traveled men to reach the gold mines gave to even the rudest of them a sort of polish not found so general in any other large body of men on the globe. You can always find more sincere manhood and real politeness in a mining camp with its sprinkle of cattlemen, grangers and the like than in the average crowds of London and Paris.

Being among the first in the new mines of Oro Fino in the spring of 1861, I found myself at once among friends, and friends of the best; for these miners of Pierce City and Oro Fino were not only gentlemen of the class described, but they were, many of them, also old personal friends from northern California. It was the glorious old Yuba and Shasta days over again, and they were very happy and hopeful.

Pierce City at this date was a brisk town, neatly laid out. built of hewn logs, brooks through the streets, pine trees here and there on the gently sloping hillside to the sun. with white tents all around and up and down the mountain of dark woods to the east, red-shirted men, mules, long lines of laden, braying mules, half-tame Indians with pack panniers, a few soldiers off duty, crowds of eager people coming and going, action, motion everywhere. The old days had come again, we all believed, and miners who had missed fortune in other lands and laid the blame upon themselves resolved not to miss her favors now, if work could win them.

Oro Fino lay a brief half-hour’s walk to the south at the foot of a steep, wooded mountain and in the forks of a creek of the same name and Rhodes creek. This Rhodes creek had been discovered by William Rhodes, of Siskiyou County, California. He was a manly mulatto of great good sense and very honest. Oro Fino was a hastily built place, having tumbled together in great disorder with one narrow street, and made up out of round logs and mud and brush. Compared with Pierce City, it was a wild-looking place; but it was very orderly, very much in earnest, and preaching and Sunday school here, as well as at Pierce City, came as regularly as the Sunday. There were a good many saloons in these towns, as well as up and down the creeks, but I recall no drunkenness nor depravity of any sort. Women were scarce as yet and of children there was the merest sprinkle. But many of these first men here were expecting their families on from California and Oregon, and were not slow in their support of church and school.

As for myself, I had studied law and had been admitted to the bar a few years before, and came here to practice my profession. But the place was so orderly, so far from any sort of disturbance or contention, that there was absolutely no business whatever in this line. I found plenty of lawyers, but no law, or rather no need of any law.

Having two brothers with me and finding several cousins here, and none of us getting any foothold, we pushed out over the mountains to the east.

Do you know the music of the pick and shovel as they clang and ring on the bed-rock, the rattle and the ring of the sluice-fork in the hands of the happy, tall, slim man who stands astride the sluice and slings the gravel behind him in high heaps of polished pebbles? He has a keen eye. There may be a big nugget on the tines of his broad sluice-fork at any moment. He is a supple man, of not too much flesh, and keeps his footing finely on either side of the sluice-box which he bestrides. To fall will be not only to break his own knees, but to endanger the backs of his dripping and bespattered partners in the pit beneath him.

And now he sees something glitter in the swift water that washes the gravel down across the ripples. Down goes a long, dripping arm at the risk of his neck; but somehow the rugged, slim man never falls! Up goes the long right arm in the air. A shout! The men in the pit look up altogether, and then there is a shout that shakes the very pine tops above them. The gold nugget, half quartz, is nearly as big as a hen’s egg. The slim man on the high sluice-box who holds the nugget high in the air laughs and shouts with the rest. We have struck it! The friendly Freemasonry sort of good will and well-wishing among miners spread in a day or two to Pierce City and Ore Fino and the place was soon packed with prospectors.

The stampede that always was created by the news of a new discovery of gold is thus described:

Although there were in this then distant land of Idaho no telegraph wires or other means of rapid communication, the discovery of new gold fields or a rich strike made within the boundaries of the territory traveled with the rapidity of a carrier pigeon. Apparently one caught the news from the breezes. No one could give the source of the whisperings that a new find was reported. It was sufficient to the toilers and prospectors that such were the reports without investigating whence they came. These reports grew as they traveled. They were passed from cabin to cabin along down the gulches and across the flats and bars. Tom would tell Bill that near the bedrock they were getting five cents to the pan. Bill would inform Sam that in the new “digging’s” they were getting ten cents right in the grass roots: and thus it kept on increasing as it traveled until it would reach a dollar or two to the pan!

In the fall of 1861 reports began to be noised about Oro Fino that new places had been discovered on the headwaters of the Salmon River, which were said to be fabulously rich. The matter was discussed by the miners during the day while shoveling gravel and sand in their sluice-boxes. At night they would gather in their cabins and discuss the probabilities by the snap-ping of log fires. Then it was noised about that the Smith boys from Pierce’s bar had left their claims and disappeared in the direction of the new El Dorado, and again parties from Ore Grande and Rhodes creek were making preparations to start. Later, information was circulated about the camp that two men had just arrived for the purpose of laying in a stock of supplies, and who confirmed the previous reports as to the richness and extent of the new find. The old miners who had had many visions and dreams of wealth to be obtained just over the ridge were soon worked up to fever heat. Horses and mules to pack supplies were in great demand. Any kind of an animal would bring four times the price it would have brought a few months before.

Like other contagions, this mining fever is catching, and when it strikes you the only remedy is to go. You do not stop to consider the hardships, but only have the wish to reach the promised land and acquire the glittering metal that would serve to make the folks at home happy. How many of such hopes have been blasted! Yet those hopes and expectations were the incentives which caused the pioneers to push out into the snow-covered mountains and broad valleys and lay the foundations for civilization.

During the early mining period of Idaho the quality and amount of the precious metals were rated as follows: The standard of gold bars was 1,000, and anything below half that amount was denominated silver. A bar 495 fine was 500 fine of silver, worth ten dollars and twenty-three and one-fourth cents per ounce. A bar 050 fine was 45 fine of silver and was stamped nineteen dollars and sixty-three cents per ounce, as the Kootenai gold for example. Santiam (Oregon) gold was 679 fine: Oro Fino gold-dust assayed sixteen dollars to the ounce; Elk City, from fifteen dollars and seventy-five cents to sixteen dollars and forty-five cents; Warren’s diggings, ten dollars and eight cents to fourteen dollars and fifty-four cents; Florence, from eleven dollars and eighty cents to thirteen dollars and seventy-five cents; Beaver Head, eighteen dollars and thirty-seven cents to eighteen dollars and fifty cents; and Boise, fourteen dollars and twenty-eight cents to seventeen dollars and forty cents, little of it assaying less than fifteen dollars, at which price the merchants of Idaho City agreed to take it, while paying only ten dollars for Owyhee and twelve dollars for Florence.

The actual amount of gold produced in any particular district of either of the territories for a given time would be difficult of computation. A Portland paper estimated that during the summer and autumn of 1862 about three million dollars was brought to that city: but some of this was not Idaho gold, A government officer reported that between seven and ten million dollars was probably a fair estimate of the gold taken from the Nez Perce mines in two years. In six months, from June to November 1863, the express company shipped two million and ninety-five thousand dollars, which certainly was not more than one-third of the product of Idaho and Montana for 1865 and 1866 at a million and a half dollars monthly. For 1866, J. Ross Browne, in his pamphlet Mineral Resources, etc. states that Montana yielded twelve million dollars, Idaho six millions, Oregon two millions and Washing-ton one million; but the San Francisco Chronicle makes the product of Idaho for that year eight million dollars, and for 1867 six and a half millions, 1868 seven millions, 1869 the same, 1870 six millions, 1871 five millions, and 1872 only two millions and five hundred and fourteen thousand. Of course only guess work can be made of the quantities mined during that exciting and chaotic period.

United States Assay Office Boise

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 was successful. In the first year congress appropriated one hundred thousand dollars for a branch mint at The Dalles, a measure which Portland vigorously opposed because of more local interest: and be-fore the mint was erected at The Dalles it be-came 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 proposition for a mint in either Oregon or Idaho. An assay office, however, was erected by the United States government in 1870, at Boise, at a cost of eighty-one thousand dollars. It was built of sandstone, sixty feet square, two stories high above the basement and well finished. It was built under the direct supervision of J. R. McBride, once United States district judge of Idaho.

The United States Assay Office.

The assay office was founded here by the United States government in 1871. Minerals are purchased from miners, assayed here and forwarded to the mint in Philadelphia, free of transportation charges. An idea of the importance of this institution to this section may be gained from the fact that in 1897 there were about five thousand depositors, whose bullion amounted to a million and a half dollars in valuation, an increase of about fifty per cent in the past six years. The building occupied is a substantial one of cut stone, is fifty by sixty feet in dimensions and two stories and basement in height. The structure was completed the same year that the office was established here, and was erected and has’ been maintained by the government. The ground on which it stands is bounded by Main, Idaho, Second and Third streets. This block was donated to the United States by the city, which, in turn, has been incalculably benefited by the location of the assay office here. The building is in the center of a beautifully kept lawn, tastefully embellished with flowers and fine shade trees, the spot being considered one of the restful and picturesque places of interest in Boise.

J. W. Cunningham, who for many years has been the government custodian of the assay office, is eminently qualified for the responsible position, as he thoroughly understands every detail of the business and is entirely trustworthy and reliable. It was in 1889 that he was appointed to the office of superintendent, by President Harrison, and at the end of four years of service he was superseded, during President Cleveland’s administration, only to receive a re-appointment at the hands of President McKinley.



MLA Source Citation:

Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/idaho/the-growth-of-quartz-mining-discoveries.htm - Last updated on Jun 30th, 2013


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