The Mining Fields Of Idaho

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The following excellent monograph by W. C. Austin was issued in pamphlet form early in the present year (1899) by authority of C. J. Bassett, state commissioner of immigration, labor and statistics, and as a valuable contribution to the history of the great mining industry of Idaho is held to be worthy of reproduction in this work:

There is no other country on God’s green earth that has encompassed within her borders such vast and varied mineral wealth as Idaho. The position that Idaho occupies in the western mineral world is like a wagon wheel, of which Idaho is the hub, while her great mineral belts, radiating out from her mountain fastnesses, penetrating her sister states and enriching them, represent the spokes. Place yourself before a map and trace out several of these great mineral belts. Beginning in the southern part of California, the belt runs through Eldorado, Mariposa and Calaveras counties, thence to Bodie across into Nevada in a northeasterly course, giving birth to the great Comstock lode and other camps, through by Winnemucca, and in Idaho makes its grand entry at Silver City and De Lamar, in Owyhee county; thence on in through Rocky Bar and Atlanta, Custer and Bonanza; thence on to central Idaho, at Gibbonsville. Here the opposite spoke to the great mineral wheel comes in and penetrates the Rocky mountains on into Montana, where it makes its debut at Butte.

The northern belt or zone was first discovered in northern California; gave life to such camps as Weaverville, Scotts, and Yreka; thence on through into Oregon, via Canyon City, Granite, Old Auburn, Baker City and Sparta. It crosses with a grand flourish into Idaho at the Seven Devils; thence on into Warrens, Florence, Buffalo Hump, Dixie and Elk City, where it loses itself to appear in its opposite spoke in the Missoula country in Montana. The belts penetrating Utah can be easily traced through Cassia County, Idaho, northward to the interior of Idaho.

The great northwestern belt begins in British Columbia, runs down through Washington, from the Trail Creek country, beginning at Rossland, thence on through the Great Republic camp and on into Idaho, and here it gives to the world the great Coeur d’Alene country, with such mines as the Bunker Hill, Sullivan and Gem. As these great mineral zones draw nearer to the hub the intervening country becomes more and more mineralized, until, when Idaho is reached, bands of mineral reach out from one zone to another, playing “hide and seek” in the rock-ribbed mountains that stand like grim sentinels guarding the treasure within. The whole country becomes a network of veins. There is not a hill or mountain from east to west, north or south, in the whole state, but what is mineral-bearing. There is no other country in the United States that is so little prospected, unknown and unexplored as Idaho. No other country in the world can compare with it in richness. Its grand and beautiful scenery, the poverty of language makes it impossible to describe. Words cannot paint it. The poet is unborn who is capable of singing the sweet song of Idaho.

From Boise City northward is one unbroken line of forest, valley, stream and lake, and mountain upon mountain, some craggy, grim and terrible, walled and turreted, raising sheer walls of granite, white and glistening in the sun, thousands of feet in the air; here and there great domes, minarets and towers grand, majestic, awful. You feel, as you gaze for the first time upon God’s grand cathedral, as if you stood in His very presence; and as you catch the smile of the beautiful valley, with its limpid l4ke and peaceful river nestling in security at its feet, you can appreciate the words of Joaquin Miller, the poet of the Sierras, when he says:

“Tis not the place of mirthfulness. But meditation deep, and prayer; And kneeling on the salted sod. Where man must own his littleness. And know the mightiness of God.”

‘Tis the ideal country for the prospector. Wherever he may go, water, timber and grass everywhere. Every stream alive with salmon and trout of every species; while bear, deer, elk, moose and sheep are plentiful. Is he interested in some particular formation, say, in porphyry and granite, slate or lime, or any of the sub-families of these formations? If it is not in this particular mountain he has it in the next. There is not a mineral known to the mineralogist, nor a gem to the lapidary, that is not found within her borders. Does he want new fields to explore? There are belts of country a’ hundred miles square, that have never known the step of a white man. The whole western slope of the Bitter Root range, the headwaters of the Clearwater, is an unexplored field; and yet, it is known to be rich in gold and other precious metals; for every mountain stream is laden with golden sand that has its birth in their rocky fastnesses. Stories of fabulous finds in the early days, on the outskirts of these unexplored fields, of lost diggings, mountains of rich quartz, will be told by old, gray, grizzled miners who were in their prime in the rush and excitement of Pierce City, Florence, Warrens and the Idaho basin. The stories told will be like a chapter from the Arabian Nights; but. wild as you may imagine them to be, upon investigation you will find them to be essentially true. For years some of the Indians of the Nez Perce reservation would steal away and go to the mountains, bringing back gold by the sack-full. One of them had a short time ago in the bank at Moscow, thirty thousand dollars in nuggets of gold. The gold was obtained by picking it up from off the surface of the ground, as they knew nothing about panning. The secret of these diggings will one of these days belong to some hardy prospector.

The Buffalo Hump, six months ago, was known only as a landmark. Today it marks the center of probably the greatest and richest mining camp ever discovered. Yet hundreds of prospectors have walked and camped right on the great mother lode of the district. Big ledges? Yes; but they never examined them, for they said they were so big they could not carry any value. But how about the hundreds of smaller ones that have been found there? Six months ago two prospectors happened to camp there. Near a large reef of rock, one evening, one of them happened to pick up a piece of the rock and found ore. It was rich beyond his wildest dreaming. Think of it! a vein from forty to sixty feet wide, cropping out for three miles, all carrying good value, and some of the ore running into the thousands of dollars per ton! And thus the great mine was found.

Hundreds of other mines were found and located. The camp is not six months old, and the deepest prospect hole not forty feet deep; yet the original discovery sold for $550,000, then for $650,000. Over $2,500,000 have already been negotiated for property in this camp. This belt was followed south to where the Salmon river cut it, and here a new camp, called Mallack, was formed during the winter. The veins here are from ten to fifty feet wide, and run from five dollars to one hundred dollars per ton; $250,000 has been refused for one group of claims. Twenty thousand people will go into the country during the coming year.

Thunder fountain is another new camp, struck last year, lying about seventy miles east from Warrens. The mountain is a soft porphyry and the whole mass, for three hundred feet wide, will pay to mill. The discoverers, the Caswell boys, sluiced and rocked out $3,500 in a month after their find. Last fall copper ledges were found about twenty-five miles from Thunder Mountain, great veins, from ten to twenty feet wide, running up one side of the mountain and down the other and carrying values of copper of from twenty-five to sixty per cent, and from eight to thirty-five dollars gold per ton.

The greatest copper mines not worked in the world lie in Washington County, in what is known as the Seven Devils. The Peacock shows an outcrop of over two hundred feet in width in one place, and gave an average sample of nineteen per cent, copper and eight dollars gold, while contracts have been let to smelters, agreeing to furnish ore by the thousand tons to go not less than twenty-five per cent. Lots of the ore shipped run above fifty per cent, copper. The White Monument, Hecla, Bodie, Standard, South Peacock and other mines in the district show up vast bodies of ore. Two railroads are now being built into the district; one from Weiser City, on the Oregon Short Line, which will not only open up the great copper mines that show up for a distance of forty miles north and south, and fifteen miles east and west, but also a rich agricultural country. The whole length the route will be through a country of ever changing beauty, up the Weiser river, around one jutting spur of the mountain, whirled in an instant from one beautiful valley to another, rich in fruits and grain that no other country can equal, while great forests of pine, fir and hemlock cover the mountains.

The other line of railroad begins at Huntington and follows down the Snake River on the Oregon side-, and crosses into Idaho below Mineral, and thence on into the Seven Devils. Work is being pushed rapidly. The Devils was a name given by the Hudson’s Bay Company to seven high mountain peaks nine thousand feet above Box canyon on Snake River. The west slope of these hills along Snake River is very steep and precipitous and only accessible in two or three places. The district also has running parallel with it, at a distance of about eight miles, a gold belt that is proving of wonderful richness. Colorado capital is investing heavily in the gold district.

Over in old Owyhee County they say but little, but the shipments of ore speak for them. Carloads have been shipped of raw ore running as high as eighty-seven thousand dollars to the carload, from the Trade Dollar mine. This was acknowledged by the smelters in Colorado to be the richest carload of ore ever shipped from any mine. The mines of Florida Mountain and War Eagle, at Silver City, have yielded upwards of fifty million dollars. Eight miles west from Silver City is situated the De Lamar mines which made Captain De Lamar rise from a miner to be the Monte Cristo of the west. Ten years ago he went there poor. In five years he was worth five million dollars, and he is now estimated to be worth ten million dollars. Such is fortune in Idaho.

Boise basin, of which Idaho City is the center, is by careful investigation supposed to have yielded from her placers, a strip of country fifteen miles wide by twenty-five in length, over two hundred and fifty mil-lion dollars, while her quartz veins have yielded ten million dollars. Now great attention is being paid to her quartz veins, which have furnished the placer gold. The yield of some of her quartz veins has been wonderful. The Ebenezer yielded upward of $300,000 in seventy-five feet of ground; the Gambrinus $325,000; Sub Rosa $260,000, etc. This is an old camp, yet new ledges are found every day. The country is not half prospected, nor the hundredth part developed.

The mines of Elmore county, at Rocky Bar and Atlanta, have produced, according to the records of Wells, Fargo & Company’s express, of bullion hauled by them alone, $58,800,000; the Monarch lode. $4,000,000; the Elmore, $5,000,000, and the Vishnue. $1,500,000.

In the Custer country the Charles Dickens has a record of four million dollars before a stick of timber was put in the mine or a candle burned. The Montana, in Estes Mountains, paid one thousand dollars a foot while simply a common prospect shaft, and yielded in going five hundred feet $380,000. The Custer has a record of seven million five hundred thousand dollars. The Lucky Boy has fifteen feet of twenty-five dollar free-gold ore, and has paid hundreds of thousands. The De Lamar mine was sold to an English company for $2,500,000 after Captain De-Lamar had taken out several millions. Since that time she has paid in dividends to the English shareholders the amount of the purchase price, and been running on velvet for two years. So the yield must be from this one mine about ten million dollars.

The Wood river country was always supposed to be a lead and silver country, and has produced mil-lions of dollars’ worth. The Minnie Moore has a record of $6,500,000, but since silver was demonetized attention has been paid to gold mining, and now a gold belt has been found in fact, two of them that may prove to be more valuable than her silver mines in the palmy days. The Camas No. I and 2 show great bodies of ore and the Croesus, at or near Hailey, has ore that is running from one hundred to two thousand dollars per ton in gold, and has just been sold to a big company.

Up the Boise River from Boise city, in the last two years, the bars of gravel have all been located. The old timers have ridden over them day after day, but they were found to be rich in gold by some tenderfoot, and big companies are formed to work them. The Twin Springs Company, of which Mr. Ander-son is superintendent, have expended two hundred thousand dollars in opening their ground, and last fall struck an old river channel upon the side of the mountain that out-rivals Klondike, going as high as twenty-five dollars per yard. Other companies, one of which Major F. R. Reed is managing, will be in successful operation in the spring.

The Sheep Mountain country contains without doubt the largest and richest silver mines in the west. The Bull Dog mine shows an unbroken vein thirty feet wide for six thousand feet in length and runs from twenty to five hundred ounces silver, and gold from two dollars and fifty cents to eighty dollars per ton. Ore shipped from J. Earley’s Birdie ledge all went from three hundred and seventy-five to three thousand ounces silver, and from twenty to eighty dollars gold. This is an unprospected country. Lack of roads and transportation has been the greatest drawback to the mining industry. There is not a mine in Idaho but has had to pay its own way for all roads, machinery and everything for the successful operation of the mine from the start.

The Snake River valley, cold and uninviting as it may look, is lined with a ribbon of gold. Hundreds of miners are working the bars along its banks. They cannot save all the gold, but, then, they save enough to make it a good thing. Some men, by the most primitive methods of working, are making from ten dollars to fifty dollars per day, others good wages, while some of the big companies who have capital to put in reqilisite plants, are making fortunes. I know one company that banked to their credit for September 1898, nine thousand dollars’ worth of gold.

One of these days the great kaolin and kaolinite beds will be worked, which extend for miles along the banks. There are fine beds of gypsum and fire clays, magnesium, lime and lithographic stone every-where, and the opal mines of Opaline produce opals that are equal to those found in any country, and -in quantity. They took the prize at the World’s Fair. Opals weighing three hundred and seventy-five carets, irridescent, such as would make a Hungarian opal blush with envy, have been found, while in Long Valley a sapphire was found that weighed upwards of one thousand carets. It was perfect, without a flaw, and the largest in the world.

Every mining camp will see the greatest activity the coming season. The great mines of the Coeur d’Alene in 1898, produced in galena 112.500 tons averaging sixty per cent, lead and about thirty-five ounces silver per ton, making 67.500 tons of lead and 3,937,500 ounces of silver. The Bunker Hill, Sullivan and Gem mines, all have records to their credit of producing upwards of ten million dollars each. Can it be beat?

Pierce City, or Oro Fino, was one of the early camps of Idaho, and yielded upwards of thirty trillion dollars in placer gold. In the last few years quartz prospectors have gone back to the old deserted camps and opened up some wonderful quartz veins. A number of companies have been organized, and mills and machinery put in; three new mills having been built in the past year. The district is fast making a name for itself and will soon take a front seat as a producer. Elk City is another of the old placer camps that gave to the world in its placer days twenty million dollars of gold. Great veins of quartz have been found in her hills, veins of ore from ten to forty feet in width, and milling upwards of twenty dollars per ton free on an average. Two years ago these mines were prospects, but they have been prospected by shaft and tunnel for hundreds of feet, and the great ore bodies improve with depth, and modern gold mills of twenty stamps were erected last year. There is no question as to the future of this district, and it is scarcely prospected. In sight of the little camp are whole mountain ranges that have never had a prospecting pick stuck in them.

The Dixie district is another new camp opened up in the last year. It lies south from Elk City, and is on the head waters of the south fork of the Clear-water. The ores are of high value, and ledges carrying every character of ore are found, lead, iron, cop-per, zinc, antimony, gold and silver. The great Buffalo Hump district lies in the center of a triangle, with Florence, Elk City and Dixie at the three corners of the angle.

Florence was probably the richest camp ever discovered, according to its size. The first pan of dirt in the discovery yielded eight hundred dollars. Last year prospecting for quartz was prosecuted extensively, and five new mills built. The yield per ton of her quartz is wonderful. In the early days this camp yielded thirty-eight million dollars gold from her placers. Warrens, the sister camp to Florence, is also a scene of great activity. In the last few years three new mills have been built. The ore is very rich, some of it milling (from the Riebolt mine) two thousand dollars per ton. This camp in the early days produced upwards of twenty-five million dollars.

In most of our sister states the big mines are in the hands of big capitalists and close corporations, while the prospects and anything that has a chance to make a mine are in the hands of middlemen who load the property so heavy that capital has to take uneven chances, while here capital has every show. What the country needs more than anything is prospecting and developing capital. There is not a district in the state but where will be found plenty of good prospects, which have promise and merit, be-longing to poor men who have no money to prosecute work on them, or the means or ability to call the attention of capital to “what they have got.

Idaho is the least prospected of any state in the west. It has scarcely been run over, let alone being prospected. Take any of the old-settled camps, for instance, and the minute you get outside of the immediate camp a prospect hole is a curiosity. Only the veins cropping out bold and plain are looked at, and even not one in a hundred then. Just think of the great mother vein in Buffalo Hump, standing out of the ground for twenty-five feet in height in places, and a well beaten trail crossing it half-a-dozen times, over which hundreds of prospectors have ridden seeking fortunes, when if they had only gotten off their horses and broken one piece of the ore they would have had the great bonanza. And there it lay un-claimed, with the trail running over it for thirty-five years.

Within site of Boise. Idaho’s capital, ledges have been discovered in the last year or so that milled free gold from eighty to one hundred and twenty dollars per ton. Let the prospector go where he will, to the right of him, to the left of him, to the front of him. behind him there is but little choice, for it is everywhere. There are hundreds of camps and districts not mentioned like Pine Grove, Bonaparte, Cassia, Neal, Black Hornet, Willow Creek, Banner, Mineral, Flint and hundreds of others.

The future of Idaho reads like an open book. It is plain as the open day and he who runs may read. Already the gigantic discoveries made in the last year are astounding the world with the story of their wealth. The dawning season marks a new era in the history of Idaho. She will march on steadily and will soon forge ahead and take the lead as the greatest gold, silver, lead and copper producing country in the world. It is here in the treasure vaults of her hills. The magic wand of capital and labor shall soon touch it. Cities, towns and hamlets, connected with bands of steel, shall find shelter in the lap of her mountains. The silent canyons shall give echo back of a thousand stamps, and her hills shall be lit in a hundred places by night by the glow of her smelters.



MLA Source Citation:

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


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