Columnist Arthur Hart says people will always enjoy history because it’s about people
One hundred and fifty-four years ago this week, the Sacramento California Daily Union printed a “LETTER FROM IDAHO” from its correspondent in Idaho City:
“Since my last description of the fire, our town has presented a lively appearance in building, and shows to a much better advantage than before the fire. The town is now compact, and the hotels, restaurants and stores are mostly two stories high; before they were mostly one. Business, however, in everything is as dull as some of the broken-down mining towns of interior California. Hundreds and hundreds of prospectors have left this basin, the greatest number for the ‘Prickly Pear,’ situated about five hundred miles in a north-easterly direction from this place, and a tributary of the Missouri river, though from all accounts it is now overdone.”
Gold had been discovered on Prickly Pear Creek, not far from Helena, that same year of 1865, and had already attracted a rush from mining camps all over the West, including California.
“The Yuba District, in the vicinity of South Boise, (the river, not the town) also attracts numbers. By-the-by, my intention has been to visit the South Boise long since, but the lateness of the season has made the traveling too bad, without taking a roundabout way; but you will probably hear from me there in July. The streams on the route are yet very high and dangerous in fording, and last week a young man by the name of McKibbin (a plumber and joiner formerly employed on the water works at The Dalles and Portland) was drowned together with his horse.
“The great influx of miners in this basin leaves large numbers without any employment, and there is considerable want and suffering on that account. From the immense quantities of snow that fell, it was supposed that water would be most plentiful; and yet, from its quantity, it has broken most of the ditches, and more delay has been experienced this than any other season.
“Prospects and Prospecting. There appears to be a general despondency among all classes, although the months of July up to October must prove profitable. The real interests of the country, however, are its gold and silver bearing quartz, of which there is an abundance, both in quantity and quality, and eastern capital is rapidly pouring in, a large number of mills being on their way, crossing the Plains, and agents present now investing. But, as regards the placer diggings, not an extra foot is to be had without purchase, as the entire country has long since been taken up. So those who come here to mine must either work for wages or start off in some town in hopes of finding something new. The principal object of new discoveries is, where gold and silver are found, to secure all the water privileges possible by which the most money is made, and then ‘hog’ or ‘take up’ as many claims as possible in your own and fictitious names, regardless of the size.
“At this season of the year, as the snow disappears, and it has been so far for the past two seasons, prospecting parties start out on their own ‘hook,’ or are assisted by others, and after a few weeks’ explorations return as they went. This is called ‘steam-boating;’ and at present there are innumerable rumors afloat of new diggings found hither and thither, and a general stampede is going on among those out of employment. The general direction taken is north, northeast and east, but as Boise Basin is the largest and richest mining region yet found south of the first gold discoveries, it is the opinion of many that the same energy devoted to prospecting the country joining us with California would prove a much better investment, as there can be no reasonable doubt of a gold and silver connecting link between the ‘parent’ golden goose and this, its gosling.”
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.