Sunday, November 17, 2013

Richness of Owyhee Mines Not Over-blown, Location Given

On November 17, 1863, The Oregonian published news of the so-called Owyhee mines, especially quartz mines that might produce both gold and silver. The item began, “During the past two months, considerable importance has attached to the district of what is generally termed the Owyhee river mines. Reports, many of them exaggerated if not entirely without foundation in reality have been freely circulated and as freely repeated.”

In The Oregonian’s view, such wild stories served only to drive up the prices of mining stocks. The article went on, “Hitherto, we have sought to avoid giving currency to the stories – as far as compatible with the duties of responsible journalism – preferring to await the receipt of authentic information upon a matter of such interest to the venturesome miners who risk so much.”

However: “We yesterday conversed with a gentleman of the utmost reliability – whose judgement is seldom warped by the sanguine hopes that afflict a majority of our fortune hunters.”

This level-headed individual first described the location of the primary Owyhee mining region: It is “twenty-five miles from the river of that same [name], being located on the hills above Jordan Creek, thirty miles from Snake river, sixty-five from Boise City, … and about 150 miles from Humboldt, in a north-westerly direction, and in the same range with Washoe, Humboldt, and South Boise.”

These and his other distance estimates were acceptable. However, the notion that the Owyhee mines were “in the same range” with other rich quartz-mining regions was rather odd, and erroneous. Unfortunately, snowy weather had limited his exploration, but he saw enough and “returned, satisfied with his trip, to prepare for the coming of spring.”

Overall, he had found rich lodes, “some of which have yielded assays of $3,000 silver ore, besides a fair proportion of gold. … There were over 200 miners at Boonville [sic] when our informant left.”
Colonel Dewey. [Illust-State]

One of those miners was probably “Colonel” William H. Dewey. Born in Massachusetts, Dewey followed the rush to California and then to Idaho “in the fall” of 1863, when he was about forty years old. Known as “a born miner,” Dewey came to own numerous mining claims, then later added real estate and railroad development. He eventually became one of Idaho’s first millionaires.

The Oregonian also learned that “There are no placer diggings on the hills, the bed-rock in many places being near the surface of the hill. For about eight miles along Jordan Creek, however, the gold is fairly evenly distributed, and miners are taking out from one to four ounces per day to the man, with sluices."

Returns of $15 to $60 a day for each member of a sluice team were considered very good. The item concluded, “We have been promised more reliable details … which we shall give our readers as soon as received.”

References: [Hawley]
“Gold and Silver Quartz Mines Near The Owyhees,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 17, 1863).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press, Silver City, Idaho (January 1898).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities: Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, 2nd Edition, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

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