Idaho History July 30, 2017

Esmeralda, Alturas (Elmore) County, Idaho


South Boise had at this time four towns, Esmeralda, Clifden, Rocky Bar and Happy Camp, and about two thousand persons were scattered over the district. A good wagon-road was completed to Boise City in August, by Julius Newberg & Company.

from: Idaho Genealogy The Growth Of Quartz Mining Discoveries
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The Idaho World. February 25, 1865, Page 4

Mail Routes in Idaho Territory.

16003. From Boise City to Esmeralda, in Alturas county, 100 miles, and back, once a week. Leave Boise City Monday at 6 a.m.; arrive at Esmeralda Wednesday by 6 p.m.; leave Esmeralda Thursday at 6 a.m.; arrive at Boise City Saturday by 6 p.m. Bids for more frequesnt service invited.

source: The Idaho World. (Idaho City, Idaho Territory), 25 Feb. 1865. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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Boise News., August 27, 1864, Page 2

Post Office At Esmeralda.

John McLaughlin, Postmaster at Esmeralda, Alturas county, has appointed S. B. Dilly of the firm of Dilly & Dover, Deputy Postmaster. Mr. Dilly writes us that the mail will leave Esmeralda, (Rocky Bar,) for Idaho City every Wednesday morning at 8 o’clock, a.m., and arrive at Idaho city at 2 o’clock p.m. on Thursday. Returning, it will leave Idaho City every Saturday at 8 a.m. and arrive at Esmeralda at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

source: Boise News. (Bannock City, I.T. [Idaho City, Idaho]), 27 Aug. 1864. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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Boise News., September 10, 1864, Page 3

South Boise.

We (the Jr.) have been to South Boise, and what is better, we have got back again. In company with two traveling partners we visited, last week, the Bear creek District of Alturas. The road from this city to Rocky Bar or Esmeralda, lives over a very rugged and mountainous country – yet is a much better route from this Basin than any other, is being only forty-eight miles, while by any other route it not less than one hundred and thirty. Starting from Idaho at noon, we succeed in removing a very large sized mountain to our west and arriving at Middle Boise river, at Glaze & Co.’s, where, for $1.50 per meal and $3 a night to hay for our horse, we were generously permitted to sleep on sweet, freshly cured hay, (without charge,) and arose much refreshed in the morning. Starting out from this place at an early hour we ascended the Middle Boise ridge, where we enjoyed a most extensive and beautiful landscape, and appreciated in the highest degree the application of the name of the county – Alturas, for it is certainly in the high heavens.

At noon we stopped an hour and caught nineteen trout in Roaring River. A few miles farther on we stopped at the Mountain house and inquired as to the character of the road before us, to which we were assured in the most matter-of fact manner possible, that it was a ‘perfect water grade all the way in to the ledges.” This was rather a stunner, but being doomed to learn by sad experience what we failed to get by inquiry, we continued our course over the divide between Middle and South Boise, and learned, or at least come to the conclusion that “water grade” (a new term in philosophy) meant the greatest possible angle at which water could be said to run and not make a clear vault of the ground. Guided and impelled onward more by the attraction of gravity than by any motion of our own, we were fortunate enough through a series of somersaults and sliding, to drop promiscuously from a declivity into the town of Rocky Bar.

Rocky Bar is situated in a deep canon [sic] on Bear creek, a mile above the junction with Red Warrior creek on the right, and about a mile and a half from Elk creek on the left. Below the junction of these three creeks the stream takes the name of Feather river, which runs some six or eight miles and empties into South Boise from the west. The name of the town of Rocky Bar, so called from the huge piles of granite rock which literally cover the flat upon which it is located, is gradually being changed, by common consent, to that of Esmeralda, which we suppose is for the purpose of complying with the statutes making Esmeralda the county seat.

Upon the three creeks just mentioned, and the surrounding mountains, are situated the almost innumerable ledges of South Boise. The want of time prevented us from visiting many of the mines – in fact, a week’s time would not be sufficient to see them all. The Esmeralda, Confederate Star, Comstock, Emmett and Independence,” on the north side of Bear creek; The Ada Elmore on the south bank of the same; the Richmond, Silver Star, Golden Eagle, Cuba and flying Dutchman on red Warren, and Ophir on Elk creek are among the leading ledges from which rock has been worked by the arastra process, and found to yield from $75 to $150 per ton.

The arastras – of which there are sixty to eighty in operation – are run by water power, the waters of the various creeks being taken up for this purpose. They are situated at such intervals along the streams as to [almost?] no waste of fall; as soon as the water is released from one mill it is taken out in a ditch and conveyed to another. Among the business firms, without disparagement to any, we would place Cartee & Gates at the head for enterprise and energy. They have a large steam sawmill in operation, which is turning out all the lumber required in the market, – and to which they have recently added a battery of five stamps for crushing quartz – the first in the country – which was to be ready for operation on Tuesday of this week. This will do more towards developing the country and giving us a standard of its wealth than all the arastras now at work.

They intend making their first run from the Alturas ledge, and we shall look with much interest for the result. Dilly & Dover seem to be doing the principal mercantile business. They have a large stock of groceries and provisions, and [?] all, are gentlemen; we should like to see them prosper. we don’t mean to say they have a hotel connected with their business, but they have a most happy faculty of making one feel at home.

Our old acquaintance, Tom Marrin, is also there in the grocery and provision business. We hope he may make a fortune, and if honest dealing will accomplish it he will have as good a chance as any body. A great deal of work is being done in this camp, but the most of it is in the character of representing which consequently adds but little to the general prosperity of the country. We think when a sufficient number of mills get in operation, so as to allow the work now being done to be turned to some account, it will be among the most prosperous camps in the Territory; at present, however, there is but little money in circulation.

After remaining at Rocky Bar a day and a half, we took our departure via the Newberg wagon road, which is in a travelable condition for wagons to within a mile and a half of Rocky Bar. A great deal of work has been done on this road to its intersection with the old Emigrant road – in fact the worst portion for freight teams is from Boise city to Camas prairie, on the immigrant route.

We passed through the sites of Esmeralda (former site) and Marysville, but there being nothing in the former but two empty houses and the latter not having risen to even that importance, we were forced to ride on to see accommodations for the night. The remainder of the trip to Boise city, although fraught with many interesting incidents to ourselves, would probably be of no interest to the public.

Having laid out two nights and partaken of the hospitality of immigrants on one of two occasions, of whom we passed about 300 teams, and traveling the last thirty miles on foot, and the last mile through a succession of potato patches, we arrived at the future Capital – the City of the plains.

Boise city presented quite a lively business-like appearance, owning in some degree to the presence of a great number of immigrant wagons and a general desire for the possession of town-lots. Every man who can rise a dozen boards, a few fence-posts and a pound of mails, seemed to be hammering. if we count all that is fenced and and marked out, we think it is the largest city in the world. However, to lay all imaginary lines and calculations aside, and take only that which is considered a permanency, it is a place of no small pretensions, and the superior agricultural advantages surrounding it would seem to justify the prediction that it will be at no distant time one of the most populous and most permanent towns in the Territory, and for this reason and advantage of geographical position. Although we believe Idaho city will remain for many years the larger town, the majority of the people of the Territory will doubtless sanction the location of the Capital at that place.

source: Boise News. (Bannock City, I.T. [Idaho City, Idaho]), 10 Sept. 1864. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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The Idaho World. November 26, 1864, Page 3

Errors Corrected.

Ed. World – The Boise City “Statesman” contains a letter from one “Jacques,” from Rocky Bar, containing some errors which, as a public journalist, I hope you will refute. He says, “It was understood that there was a mail route established from Boise city to Esmeralda direct,” and then complains that it is carried around by Idaho city. Now Mr. Editor, please state what is the truthful distance over the two routes:

From Boise city to Idaho thirty-five miles; from Idaho to Esmeralda, over the mountains, forty-eight miles – total from Boise city to Esmeralda, via Idaho, eighty-three miles. From Boise city around by the Camas Prairie road, (Newberg’s route,) it is at least ninety miles, most people call it a hundred and ten – I having traveled it think it is the latter.

The Express from Boise city via Idaho to Esmeralda has frequently been carried in thirty-one hours including stoppages. On the other route never less than three days. I think the shortest route is the direct route, and so think the people. Truth.

Idaho City, Nov. 22, 1864.

source: The Idaho World. (Idaho City, Idaho Territory), 26 Nov. 1864. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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Alturas County

February 4, 1864 to March 5, 1896.

Although Esmeralda was designated the original county seat, Rocky Bar actually served as county seat from April 4, 1864, until July 6, 1882. Hailey continued as county seat from August 2, 1882, to March 5, 1895, when a legislative act made Hailey county seat of Blaine County.

excerpted from: Counties Which No Longer Exist
Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series Number 11 1962

[Note: Esmeralda was long gone before the area became part of Elmore County.]
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Early Idaho Counties

The general laws passed at the first session of the Idaho legislature were nowise remarkable. Among the special laws I find that Owyhee County was organized December 31st out of the territory lying south of Snake River and west of the Rocky Mountains; and that on the 22d of January the county of Oneida was cut off from its eastern end, with the county seat at Soda Springs. Alturas County was defined as bounded by Snake River on the south, Idaho County on the north, Boise County on the west, and the meridian of 112° on the east, with the county seat at Esmeralda.

source: Access Genealogy – Idaho Political Affairs, 1862 – 1866
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When Idaho’s territorial legislature set about organizing counties for an area (inhabited mostly by Indians) larger than Texas, not too much information was available concerning vast tracts of mountains and plains. Following Boise Basin gold discoveries of 1862, a new district of South Boise mines had emerged. A separate county was needed, so a huge central mountain area was set aside, with all its mines on its western edge. Some legislative member had heard that a town of Esmeralda had been started in or near Alturas County’s South Boise mines, so it was designated as county seat, February 4, 1864.

That turned out to be a poor choice. Less than a year after it had started, Esmeralda had become a ghost town. Located just west of lower Feather River, where mining did not begin for many years, Esmeralda (later revived as Featherville) was adjacent to Junction Bar. But little was going on there either. So when Alturas County was organized, April 4, 1864, that process took place in Rocky Bar, a mining center. Esmeralda was long forgotten when Featherville finally emerged on that same site.

Since there was an 1864 Esmeralda mine less than a mile from Rocky Bar, that location may have accounted for legislative confusion concerning where to place Alturas County’s government.

source: Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series Number 1061 July 1995
Publications–450 N. 4th Street, Boise, ID 83702–208-334-3428
(broken link)
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Post Office


Near Feather River. Post office 1864. Replaced by Rocky Bar in 1864.

source: History of the Boise National Forest 1905-1976
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… do not contemplate a mail oftener than once a week between this place and Esmeralda. The county of Alturas is as much entitled to a tri-weekly mail as Owyhee or Boise, and before another year passes may contain a population nearly equal to either of them. A weekly mail for that place would not be better than none at all, but before the end of 1866, there will be in that country more than fifty mills, representing a capital of almost half as many …

by Rick Just

There are lots of ghost towns scattered around Idaho. Today’s story is about a town that came and went so fast, it probably doesn’t even rate a proper ghost.

Alturas County was enormous. When it was created in 1864, it included practically all the land between the Snake and Salmon Rivers in the south-central part of the state.

Now, when you create a new county, you always like to name a county seat. About the only thing you really need for a county seat is a town. But Alturas County, with all those thousands of acres, didn’t have a real town, so the legislature invented one. They called it Esmeralda, and it was located on a beautiful plateau near the South Fork of the Boise River, about a mile below what is now Featherville.

Esmeralda was never more than a handful of slap-dash cabins occupied by some early-day prospectors. Its moment of fame was little more than a moment. Two months after it was named the county seat of Alturas County, the county commissioners moved their operation to the new town of Rocky Bar, where gold had just been discovered. The commissioners and prospectors left Esmeralda, and the town just disappeared.

So did the county, eventually. Alturas County existed for over thirty years, but increased population within its boundaries prompted the legislature to split it up into smaller counties in 1896. Smaller, but not small counties. Blaine, Camas, Gooding, Lincoln, Jerome, Elmore, and Minidoka counties were all carved from Alturas.

The map, courtesy of the Idaho Genealogical Society, shows the original boundaries of Alturas County and the counties that split off from it.

(link to full size large map)

source: Speaking of Idaho history posts are copyright © 2018 by Rick Just. Sharing is encouraged.
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1870 Alturas County

The first mineral surveying in the Territory of Idaho, was let to James H. Slater as Contract No. 1 dated July 18, 1870, for surveying mineral claims in the mineral district of Alturas county.
pg 353

While it is true that many valuable properties continued to produce sufficient gold dust to justify the employment of a large number of men for many years later, yes even up to present writing, yet the great rush had come and gone between the years 1863 and 1870, and those who remained were required to adjust themselves to the changed condition.

During the decade to which reference is made many rich mineral lodes were discovered, carrying lead, silver, gold and copper; especially were the counties of Alturas and Shoshone found to be rich in the precious metals, but owing to lack of transportation, many of the properties which afterwards became famous, had not been sufficiently developed to give employment to many men, hence the attention of new arrivals in the country was directed to its possibilities in agriculture and stock raising.
pg 358

source: “Early History of Idaho” by WJ McConnell 1913 (18 meg)
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Wood River Times. January 26, 1885, Page 3

Alturas’s First Seat.
It was at Esmeralda, a Place Not Even Known To-Day.

Some of the county warrants redeemed last year were so old that they were dated at Esmeralda, which was the first county seat of Alturas. This place was located on Junction Bar, about eight miles from Rocky Bar. But as there remained no inhabitants there, the county officials, one fine day, took it into their heads to move the county seat to Rocky Bar. So, taking up the county records, they rented a place at the Bar, which thus became the seat of the county government. This is how they moved county seats in olden times.

Not a house now marks the spot of the old county seat – Esmeralda – and even the old-timers remember very little about it.

source: Wood River Times. (Hailey, Idaho), 26 Jan. 1885. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
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Elmore Bulletin. June 01, 1889, Page 2

Up to 1864 the territory now known as Elmore, Logan and Alturas counties was under the jurisdiction of Boise county. Alturas county was formed by the Legislature of 1863-4, with the county seat located at a point a short distance below Junction Bar and named Esmeralda, but when the appointed officers arrived at Esmeralda they found no houses of any character and consequently proceeded to the town of Rocky Bar, where by general consent the county seat was established, and where it remained until removed by fraud in 1882 to Hailey. But justice and right again prevailed and the old camp is now the proud shiretown of young and vigorous Elmore county.

source: Elmore Bulletin. (Rocky Bar, Idaho), 01 June 1889. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

link to: more articles at Idaho Geneology about Alturas County

Link to Alturas County, Idaho 1864 to 1895
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 1 general)
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 2 mining)
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 3 Transportation)
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 4 Newspaper clippings)
Link to Atlanta, Alturas (Elmore) County, Idaho
Link to Wood River, Alturas (Blaine) County, Idaho

page updated Aug 24, 2020