Friday, September 20, 2013

Idaho: Year One, An Idaho Sesquicentennial History

The most recent addition to the Sourdough Publishing inventory is my new book Idaho: Year One – The Territory's First Year. It is, as usual, available at a dedicated CreateSpace eStore as well as at and at Barnes & Noble.

On March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation that created the Territory of Idaho, a geographical monstrosity roughly the size of Texas and Illinois combined. Newspapers across the East acknowledged the event with a short paragraph, buried among equally-brief items about other Congressional actions.

A week later, the New York Herald had assembled enough material to publish a map (of sorts) and a longer descriptive article about the new political district. More a celebration of Western expansion, the item contained almost as much mis-information as information. Still, one fact stood out: Idaho had Gold! and perhaps a lot of it.

But the Civil War raged and the Territorial birth had to share headlines: Victory in Tennessee? “Piratical Operations” of Rebel privateers at sea. Vicksburg. And More. At first, no one in the West knew even the exact borders. Was Lewiston in or out? A governor and other officials were quickly appointed, but took months to arrive. Who were these men, and what policies would they impose?

But, more importantly: Where, exactly, could one find gold? How do we get there? What do we take with us? Guidebooks say to be alert and have our guns ready: Are the Indians really that dangerous? Why won’t the Army do something about them?

Using contemporary published articles and letters from the gold camps, Idaho: Year One, captures the day-by-day excitement and uncertainty as hopeful prospectors poured into the area. Was the latest reported gold strike real, or was it a “humbug” meant to lure in suckers? You could never be sure.

Table of Contents
  1. March 1863: We’re a Territory. Now what?
  2. April 1863: Waiting for the Season
  3. May 1863: Mining Booms, and Spreads
  4. June 1863: “Gold … Plentiful as Dirt"
  5. July 1863: Summer Lull Setting In
  6. August 1863: Optimism Despite a Mining Lull
  7. September 1863: Harbingers of Settlement
  8. October 1863: Winter is Coming
  9. November 1863: Weather Slows Mining
10. December 1863: Baby Steps For Law and Order
11. January 1864: Politics at Center Stage
12. February 1864: Busy Politicians and Hopeful Miners
Afterword: Territory Partitioned
Image Sources

Periodically, I will post samples here of the daily "news" that make up the book. These posts will be labeled with the Territorial Sesquicentennial logo created by the Idaho State Historical Society.

Several earlier examples were published as "sesquicentennial" posts on the South  Fork Companion, such as: "Miners Lack Water But Prospectors Still Hopeful, Politicians Meet." In most cases, the comparable item in the book includes more background material, and sometimes additional news.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Idaho Mining History: Boise River Gold Country

Boise River Gold Country is available for purchase online at its dedicated CreateSpace eStore. You can also order the book from Amazon and other online booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble. (If you prefer not to order online, local "bricks and mortar" bookstores will order it for you, but those stores will generally not stock ready-to-buy copies.)

The book tells the story, in words and pictures, of the settlement of the mountainous regions drained by the Forks of the Boise River. It all began in 1862, so 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the first towns in the area. That looming milestone prompted Idaho City merchant Skip Myers to ask me to write a new history of the region. (The few existing books on the topic were all out of print.) Boise River Gold Country is the result.

On every page, from the Introduction (“Setting the Scene”) through all the chapters, the book contains at least one image – generally historic photographs. Overall, I used over two hundred photos to supplement and illustrate the textual material.
Boise Basin Gold. Found ca 2009

Prospectors first discovered Idaho gold in late 1860, on the tributaries of the Clearwater River in North Idaho. Hordes of miners poured into the region. However, two years later, a party led by Moses Splawn and George Grimes found gold in the Boise Basin, a mountainous area northeast of today’s Boise. These fields proved far more extensive than the earlier finds.

Thus, it was Boise River gold that “gave legs” to the creation of Idaho Territory. The first Territorial census, in September 1863, counted nearly five times as many people in the Basin as in the northern camps and towns. A year later, that imbalance had increased to nearly seven to one. Large-scale gold mining continued in Boise River gold country for almost a century. Also, at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, logging began to increase in importance. Large-scale timber harvesting surpassed mining in value after about 1955, peaking around 1980.

Table of Contents
Setting the Scene
Chapter One: Before the Golden Age
Chapter Two: Gold Rush Creates Idaho
Chapter Three: Cooperative Mining Replaces the Sourdough
Chapter Four: Placer Mining Fades, Lode Mining Grows
Chapter Five: Dredging and Hardrock Mining
Chapter Six: Big Timber Takes an Interest
Chapter Seven: Mining Revisited
Chapter Eight: Recreation and Tourism
Chapter Nine: World War, and Afterwards
Chapter Ten: Identity TBD
Image Sources

Before the Spud: Indians, Buckaroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho

Say "Idaho" to most people, even Idahoans, and they think "potato." Fair enough, considering decades of relentless marketing. What many do not think of are "cowboys" and "cattle." Yet Idaho was, and is, as much a cowboy state as its more-recognized cattle-state neighbors in the Intermountain West.

My book – Before the Spud: Indians, Buckaroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho – seeks to correct that mis-perception. Published under the "Sourdough Publishing" imprint, the book is available from a dedicated web site and also online from and Barnes & Noble. Any B&N store can order you a copy, although they will not generally carry independently published books on their shelves. (Sigh.)

Before the Spud tells the story of how the Idaho stock raising industry developed. It begins with the "first stockmen of Idaho" – Shoshone and Nez Percés horse raisers – and carries forward to about 1910, followed by a brief survey of the state of affairs today.

Among the pioneer stories is that of French émigré Alexander Toponce. In the 1870's, he ran "as high as 10,000 head of cattle" on leased land at Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Toponce played many roles: freighter, stage line operator, mining investor, sheep raiser, and mayor of Corinne, Utah.
In 1888, George L. Shoup, in one routine transaction, sold a thousand cattle from his Salmon River ranches. Two years later, he became Idaho's first state governor and then one of its first two senators.
In 1897, a jury convicted hired cowboy-gunman "Diamondfield Jack" Davis of murdering two sheepmen south of Twin Falls. Although two other "respectable" cattlemen soon confessed to the killings, Davis twice came within hours of hanging and was not pardoned until 1902.

Table of Contents
Preface: Ground Rules
Chapter One: The First Stockmen of Idaho
Chapter Two: Fur Trade Era – Canadians Dominant
Chapter Three: Competition Heats Up
Chapter Four: Wagons Across Idaho
Chapter Five: Mining Makes a Territory
Chapter Six: Idaho Meat for Hungry Miners
Chapter Seven: Stock Raising Grows
Chapter Eight: Filling in the Gaps
Chapter Nine: The Last Stands
Chapter Ten: Cattle Drives Across and From Idaho
Chapter Eleven: Rails Across Idaho
Chapter Twelve: Livestock Boom
Chapter Thirteen: Nature Delivers a Lesson
Chapter Fourteen: Range Conflict Heats Up
Chapter Fifteen: A New Century