Idaho History December 11, 2016

Buffalo Hump

Idaho County, Idaho

Part 1 – Mining

(Buffalo) Hump Town 1902


link to full sized image:

“Winter snow averages 15 feet. Old Buffalo Hump 1902. Gold discovered in 1898.”

source: from ©Idaho County IDGenWeb Project 1997
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The Buffalo Hump

Buffalo Hump, the most prominent of the peaks of the Clearwater Mountains, rises in the center of a triangle formed by the three mining towns of Warren, Elk City and Florence, mining camps which in the 1860’s produced something over $100,000,000 in placer gold. This high mountain peak can be seen to the southeast of St. Gertrude’s Convent, snowcapped much of the year. Buffalo Hump takes its name from a prominent intrusive into the Idaho granite batholith rising to an elevation of 8,926 feet in the form of a recumbent buffalo and is a prominent landmark of the central Idaho region

Speaking of the gold discoveries in Idaho during the early 1860’s, James H. Hawley stated:

Of the thousands who came into the new camp of Florence during the summer of 1862, nearly all stopped for a short time at least. The limited area of place ground, however, in that vicinity, soon became apparent and prospecting parties started in all directions. As usual in all mining camps the unfounded reports of rich discvoeries [sic] soon became circulated among those remaining in the camp, and it was early in the summer of 1862 that a rumor became current there that rich mines had been discvoered [sic] at the base of the mountain known as Buffalo Hump, a well known mountain, situated about forty miles northeast of Florence, and to the new El Dorado went practically all of those who had come into the new section; they packed their scant amount of provisions and blankets on their backs and started for the new El Dorado, but only disappointments awaited them there, as they soon ascertained. There was no placer gold and the gold-bearing ledges cropping out in many places were of a low grade and could not be profitably worked at that time.
(“History of Idaho, Vol. I, 1920)

Some years later, Buffalo Hump mines began to prosper in 1898

From “Illustrated History of North Idaho,” quoting a man named Attorney Nash:

No one had any idea of the enthusiasm that the Buffalo Hump strike has aroused. It is all and even more than the locators claimed for it. The assays run to phenomenal values and none of the returns have been low. The strike itself is one of the most phenomenal geological freaks ever discovered. It consists of a huge vein of ore thrown up on the face of the plain and for five miles one can ride along beside it on horseback. In its course the vein runs straight through the Salmon River.

For two weeks past men have been flocking from all directions to the camp. At night the camp fires resemble those of an army; for miles around they leap heavenward. More than two hundred prospectors were living in tents along the vein when I left Grangeville. Florence and the other camps are almost depopulated; men threw up good jobs to get to the strike; you meet them on foot, huge packs on their backs; on horseback, two men on a horse . . . all with but one thought — to stake out a claim before all are gone.

For years trained and veteran prospectors camped beside it, and climbed over and around to get into the renowned diggings in Boise Basin, in the Florence district, in the northern counties, into the Seven Devils country and to dozens of other localities long since forgotten.

source: © pbc 2004-Present – Keeping Genealogy Free, Idaho County GenWeb
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Buffalo Hump Mining District, Elk City, Idaho

by Penny Casey

When Bert Rigley and Charlie Robbins staked out the Big Buffalo Mine, they started one of the world’s last gold rushes. In April 1900, Charles Sweeney, well known in the Coeur d’Alene District, put up a mill on site and work began in earnest. A good wagon road was built from Orogrande, Idaho. A company store, bank and hospital were erected and the town named Callender, after Thomas O. Callender. The Big Buffalo operated for about three years and shut down on March 19, 1903. After that it was purchased by Steve Evans, who operated the mine on a limited basis.

The book, “The Ballyhoo Bonanza” by John Fahey, focuses on Charles Sweeney and the Idaho Mines during the years from 1885 to 1910. This book does not cover the Buffalo Hump mines, but would still be interesting reading, if you want to know more about Sweeney. Charles was a second generation Irish immigrant who ventured westward to seek his fortune after the Civil War and moved to the Coeur d’Alenes during the first wave gold rush in 1883-1884. Sweeney bought up the district’s first town site and plunged immediately into the prospecting, speculation, and manipulation that were to characterize his whole career. He was in many ways typical of the self-made entrepreneurs of his day, impulsive, opportunistic, alternatively acquisitive and generous, shrewd and naive. In the book, John Fahey traces Sweeney’s circuitous path of buying and selling, organization and reorganization, financial dealing and legal dueling, which enabled him, by 1903, to consolidate most of the major mines of the Coeur d’Alenes into the “Federal Mining and Smelting Company”.

There were three different stock certificates issued for the Buffalo Hump. The Buffalo Hump Mining Company was incorporated in the State of New York in 1899 by J.D. Rockefeller. Charles Sweeney became the President of the Company. The Buffalo Hump Development Company and Buffalo Hump Syndicate Company were incorporated in Washington State.

Buffalo Hump Mining Company

Buffalo Hump Development Company

Buffalo Hump Syndicate

The Hump Stock Certificate images were submitted by Ernie Jorgenson of Lewiston

source: © Idaho County IDGenWeb Project 1997-Present
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Buffalo Hump

(click image for source size)
Pete Zimowsky Photo
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Buffalo Hump

by Victor Zhou
Elevation: 8,938 ft

Buffalo Hump is a major summit in the Clearwater Mountains of Central Idaho. Though it falls less than a hundred feet lower than the range’s highpoint, Stripe Mountain, Buffalo occupies a sweet spot in the center of the southern portion of the range, sitting between the Salmon River to the south and the South Fork the Clearwater River to the north. Its expansive views from within the middle of Idaho’s eloquently named Gospel Hump Wilderness bring to a reality the peak’s over 3,400 ft of topographic prominence, which makes it the most prominent peak in the Clearwaters.

Despite its remote status, a road leads to the bravest of drivers to a church camp little more than a mile and around a thousand feet below the summit. Make your way to Grangeville east of town on ID-13 and take a right on the Mt. Idaho Grade road, a shortcut paved road that takes you over a divide and drops you into the narrow canyon of the South Fork Clearwater River. Turn onto ID-14 towards Elk City and follow it east approximately 34 slow and winding miles to the Crooked River Road, a perfectly graded gravel road crossing the river and driving south then southwest 18.6 miles to Orogrande Summit, a rather confusing junction and jumble of intersections.

Here a side road leaves right towards Wildhorse Lake, while the main road veers left to Hump Lake. It is 6 miles to the Hump Lake, your basecamp for the peak, and maybe a mile and a half to the summit from there, so you’re looking at 14-15 miles round trip if you start at the pass/campground. You will drop from almost 7,300 feet down to 6,200 feet at Lake Creek, then gain 2,700 feet to the summit before having to reascend the 1,000 feet plus back to the trailhead.

More info and photos:
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Gospel Hump Wilderness

The United States Congress designated the Gospel-Hump Wilderness (map) in 1978 and it now has a total of 205,395 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Idaho and is managed by the Forest Service. The Gospel-Hump Wilderness is bordered by the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the southeast.

Long before explorers Lewis and Clark first laid eyes on this region in 1805, Nez Perce Indians were hunting the elk, deer, and black bears whose descendants still roam here. Discovery of gold in the 1860s brought a flood of miners into central Idaho that didn’t subside until after the turn of the century. Another brief gold rush occurred during the Great Depression, remnants of gold mining operations are evident. Elevations in the Gospel-Hump Wilderness range from 1,970 feet at the Wind River pack bridge on the Salmon River to 8,940 feet at the summit of Buffalo Hump. The northern portion contains relatively gentle, heavily forested country that sweeps up the glaciated divide between the South Fork of the Clearwater River and the lower Salmon River, which flows out of the nearby Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. From the divide, the terrain becomes the steep and sparsely vegetated along the Salmon River Breaks. Moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, wolves and anadromous fish live here. The area sees extreme variations in weather, with temperatures sometimes soaring to 100 degrees Fahrenheit along the Salmon River while snow whitens the high country. Seasonal roads of fair to poor quality surround the Wilderness, offering access to trails that lead from the Salmon River Breaks into the high country, which many hikers would classify as very challenging, and are often impassable due to late snows.

source w/more info:

Link to: Buffalo Hump Part 2 – News clippings

page updated August 4, 2020