Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Silver Excitement and Town Growth in the Owyhee Country

On October 23, 1863, the “Regular Correspondent” in Auburn wrote another letter to The Oregonian about the Idaho mines. In contrast to the severe cutbacks in the Boise Basin, he said, “The latest excitement is the silver leads at the Owyhee. Assays from Portland show these ledges will rival the Comstock ledge itself, and experiments made here have started speculation forth a month ago.”

Gold, of course, had fueled a major rush into the Owyhee mountains in June and early July. No one paid much attention to the possibility of silver lodes until July, when experienced prospectors located several ledges. However, little happened with these finds for a couple months after that.

But now, that was about to change. The correspondent went on, “The Owyhee will make a name for itself before long as a silver region, and these ledges will astonish the world as much as any thing that has ever been discovered. … One return showed $3,400 per ton in silver, and that was only medium quality; another more than doubled it.”

About this time, various gold camps along Jordan Creek began to coalesce into towns, including Booneville and Ruby City. Both would be fairly short-lived, although Ruby City would last long enough be a county seat through 1866. But Silver City, located higher on the creek, would soon surpass the other towns in the area.
Silver City in Its Heyday. H. T. French*

The letter from Auburn continued, “The Owyhee country has attracted many of our citizens thither the past week or so, and will considerably deplete our population should the excitement continue.”

References: A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press, Silver City, Idaho (January 1898).

“Letter from Auburn,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 5, 1863).

*Hiram Taylor French, History of Idaho: A Narrative Account …, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago and New York (1914).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mining Company Speculation and the Gold Hill Mine

On October 15, 1863, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin published its regular “The Mining Roll Continues” item. The notice said, “The following companies filed their certificates of incorporation yesterday:  Great Consolidated Boise River Gold and Silver Mining Company, Placer District, Idaho Territory.  Capital stock $1,373,300, in 13,733 shares of $100. Trustees -- E. Rankin, W. H. Mills, W. L. Boothby, W. D. Robertson and F. A. J. Diss. ... [Other companies.]”

So far as can be determined, none of the company Trustees ever had anything to do with Idaho Territory. It appears that they simply invested (speculated) in mining stocks. Mr. Mills, for example, was listed on the incorporation and/or prospectus documents for at least a half dozen mining companies during this period.

The Great Consolidated Boise River Gold and Silver Mining Company did come to own a number of mining claims in the Boise Basin. Unfortunately, the corporate history is lost, so it is unclear if the incorporating officials still controlled the firm. The company eventually purchased one of the best claims, if not the best quartz claim, in the Basin -- the Gold Hill Mine.

Originally called the Pioneer Mine, the claim was the first lode discovery along Granite Creek, two to three miles northwest of Placerville. The Illustrated History of the State of Idaho stated that, “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!”
Miner Working Lode Face. Library of Congress.

Those potential returns encouraged the owners to bring in one of the first large ore mills – a ten-stamp array – into the Basin. The Pioneer and several smaller lodes were eventually combined into what would be called the Gold Hill. A new mining town, Quartzburg, also grew up essentially in the middle of the ridges that covered the gold lodes. The Gold Hill operated profitably for over seventy years.

References: [Illust-State]
“The Mining Roll Continues,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (October 15, 1863).