An Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman correspondent wrote from Idaho City in May 1866, “Idaho is daily greeted with new faces; strangers arriving on every stage and from all parts of the world in search of that article generally called ‘root of all evil,’ which abounds in large quantities in every gulch and in every hillside.”
The 1870 census revealed for the first time where “in all parts of the world” these gold seekers came from, and to the modern history lover there is much of interest. For example, the census takers recorded 160 Germans in Boise County, but since there would not be a unified Germany until 1871, many of these Germans are listed as from Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hanover or one of the other small German states from which these people had come, by land and sea, more than 8,000 miles. Although most were single men engaged in mining, there were those with other occupations. Here are some of them:
Caesar Hoflein, 45, ran a saloon. He had a 20-year-old wife who was born in Indiana, and a 3-year-old son born to them in Idaho. George Bentz, 34, from Baden, worked in a brewery. Henry Otte, 47, was a shoemaker from Hanover with a 26-year-old wife, also from Hanover, and a 3-year-old daughter born in Idaho. Surprisingly, there were three other shoemakers in Idaho City in 1870, two from Wurttemberg in southwestern Germany and one from Bavaria. John P. Siveren, a merchant, was from Hesse, whence came the Hessian mercenaries who fought for the British in the American Revolution. (You may remember from your grade school history that George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776 and took by surprise those young Hessians, so far from home.)
Most numerous by far in the 1870 census of Boise County were the Chinese, 1,751 of them, nearly all working placer claims. Their story is told in my book “Basin of Gold,” and for their part in Boise history, see my “Chinatown, Boise, Idaho, 1870-1970.”
Next in the number of foreign-born in the county were the 283 Irish who had found their way to this remote part of the world seeking gold and a better life. Most were placer miners, but Bridget Foye, 37, ran a hotel; David Murray, 28, was a butcher; and Thomas Mooney, 45, was a blacksmith. William H, Fitzgerald, 35, was a grocer, and Thomas Barry, 40, was a merchant with an Irish wife named Margaret, 40, and four children. John, 18, was born in Massachusetts; Mary, 12, and Thomas, 9, were born in California; and John, 7, was born in Oregon.
Patterns of migration like this remind us that a great many Idaho pioneers had first tried their luck in California before moving to Idaho, where, according to that Statesman correspondent, gold was being found “in large quantities in every gulch and in every hillside.”
There were 64 English in the county. Most of them were placer miners, but a few had other occupations: John Harley, blacksmith; Thomas Dickinson and John Poole, tailors; Thomas Bassett, cook in a hotel; James Daney, baker; James Croucher, dairyman; William Kirkman, livestock dealer; H. Bullock and Bridget, his Irish wife, ran a boarding house. Three of their four children were born in California.
Perhaps the most unusual place of origin for Boise County’s population in 1870 were the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 900 miles west of Portugal, its mother country. That these islanders even heard of the gold to be found in Boise Basin is surprising, but that 71 of them were able to find their way there and work in the placer mines is remarkable. Many of their descendants still live in Idaho.
Natives of these places also were living in Boise County in 1870: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Switzerland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Wight, Isle of Jersey, Canada, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Finland and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
Early Idaho, like the nation, was truly a melting pot.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.