Idaho History

Just as today, snow brought peril — and play — to Idaho Territory

Though winter caused many hardships, some residents of Boise Basin towns looked forward to the arrival of snow, including these Atlanta skiers.
Though winter caused many hardships, some residents of Boise Basin towns looked forward to the arrival of snow, including these Atlanta skiers. Provided by Arthur Hart

Winter came early to the mountain mining camps of Idaho Territory, and changed the lifestyle of their inhabitants.

Placer miners who had depended on fast-flowing mountain streams to separate particles of gold from gravel were out of business until spring when the streams started to flow again. If you were an underground quartz miner you could go on digging all winter, but life on the surface changed dramatically with the coming of snow and cold.

The Idaho World of Idaho City reported on Dec. 31, 1864: ”The house of Mr. Rich at Placerville was crushed in by snow on Wednesday last, and entirely demolished — loss about $300.”

Another story in the same issue told readers “The heavy fall of snow on Saturday and Sunday, accumulating upon that which had previously fallen, gave the occupiers of nearly every building in town an opportunity of exercising their muscle, and performing all sorts of gymnastic feats on the roofs, shoveling snow. Several buildings failing to stand the pressure until daylight on Monday, ingloriously caved in.”

A portion of the roof of Magnolia Hall came down during the night of Dec. 30, 1864, “but under the energetic efforts of the Ball Committee soon went up again sounder than before.” The New Year’s Eve Ball went on as planned.

In January 1865, “The snow at Placerville is said to be about six feet deep. But little mining is going on.”

When the roof of a large house on Wall Street in Idaho City collapsed from the weight of snow in January 1867, the World stated the obvious: “Roofs ought to be regularly cleaned off these times.”

For the convenience of people without transportation of their own, “Captain Cody, of the Coast Line, is now running two sleigh tracks — one down Wall Street hill and one down Commercial Street. He has a large number of fine sleighs on these hills for personal transportation, manned regularly by licensed pilots, and is doing a rushing business.”

For many in Boise Basin towns, winter was looked forward to as a time for sports. There were several places where you could skate, either man-made or natural, and numerous hills where you could slide.

Winter brought its dangers, as the World reported in March 1865: “The snow slides are becoming somewhat dangerous in localities subject to them. Two miners’ cabins, two or three miles below town, were carried away in one of the drifts this week, the occupants narrowly escaping. The cabins were swept away out of sight.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.
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