Idaho History August 13, 2017

Thunder Mountain Gold Rush

(part 2)


1910 Map

The real stampede begin in July 1901. The Warren and Florence diggings were deserted for the new bonanza. Notes from the Grangeville paper give a glimpse of its realism:

“Dec. 1901 – 500 men on the way to Thunder Mountain. Need wagon road. No grub.

“Jan. 1902 – Dog team tried by way of Elk Creek Summit.

“Feb. 1902 – Petition to Wash. to establish P.O. at new town of Roosevelt.

“March 1902 – 10 feet of snow on main trails. 100 men marooned. Camp population – 800. First newspaper established.

“April 1902 – Scores arrive daily. 1500 men in camp, 60 to 70 a day coming. Town of Roosevelt founded. Telephone line to Elk City.

“May – Rush so great stock exhausted in 3 Lewiston stores. 20,000 population predicted.

“Aug. – 2000 men working in mines, twice as many as many more seeking gold in district. Law enforcement a problem, necktie parties. Stores waxing rich. Claims staked out over a 30-mile area. Dewey mine total production: $35,000.”

Excerpted from: The Ghosts Walk Under the Water by Faith Turner from “Scenic Idaho”, Winter 1954
[h/t SMc Back Country History Project]
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The Best Way to Thunder Mountain

Excerpts from The Deseret News January 24, 1902

Spike and Rail

It is expected that the big Thunder Mountain rush over the Oregon Short Line will be in full swing by next June.

Thunder Mountain Road

The contemplated Boise-Thunder Mountain road will in all probability be built. At a meeting of Boise Business men on Wednesday evening much enthusiasm was displayed and a soliciting committee of five was appointed to secure the necessary funds. During the evening one man, Emil Maxgut, the brewer, offered his check for $1,000 towards the fund and several others expressed a willingness to chip in.

Source: Google Newspaper archive
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From the four main points of the compass (and several in between), prospectors, promoters, gamblers, packers, capitalists, merchants, engineers, and thrill-seekers swarmed over the trails to Thunder Mountain.

The northern route from Grangeville or Florence came through Burgdorf, Warren, Elk Creek, Big Creek, to Monumental Creek. From the west, especially later, Cascade was the starting point (Cascade, in time, absorbed Thunder City, Crawford and Van Wyck), and they passed through Knox, beyond the south fork of the Salmon, and Landmark. Those who took the Garden Valley route followed the south fork of the Payette, with supplies freighted from Placerville. From Boise the road led from Lowman up Clear Creek and into Bear Valley, through Stanley Basin. (Mose Kempner tried to find a shorter route across Cape Horn, but he got lost and had to live on hardtack for a considerable time.) One pass, before reaching Marble Creek and Thunder Mountain, was called “Chilkoot Pass,” and it was a “bear-cat,” evidently a Klondiker had named it.

Salmon City tried to promote an eastern route, claiming it was shorter- although it lay on the other side of both the Salmon River and Yellow Jacket ranges, as well as the Salmon Middle Fork. Herndon says that “a wild and enthusiastic meeting” was held in this little mountain town, with Al Mahoney of Leesburg contracting to build a bridge across the Middle Fork. However, the people hadn’t figured on “the influence and power of the state capital.”

Excerpted from: The Ghosts Walk Under the Water by Faith Turner from “Scenic Idaho”, Winter 1954
[h/t SMc Back Country History Project]
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Terrible Journey Of Miners

Bodies of Snowslide Victims Drawn Over Mountain Passes.

Boise, Idaho, March 5, [1902] – A party of prospectors reached here to-day after a terrible fourteen days’ journey through the snow from the Thunder Mountain district, bringing with them the bodies of Bert Tullis, formerly a resident of Telluride, Col., who was killed in a snow slide at Thunder Mountain about a month ago, and of men named Campbell and Sykes, who were also victims of a snow slide.

The bodies, frozen and wrapped in hides, were drawn over the snow of the mountain passes, the prospectors undergoing almost incredible hardships to bring out the bodies of their dead friends.

source: NYTimes Archives (broken link) March 6, 1902 The New York Times
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Dig Out Fortune In A Day

Thunder Mountain Miners Tell of New El Dorado

Offer Golden Proof of the District’s Richness

Great Stampede to Follow Opening of Trails

Special Dispatch to The Call.

Boise, Idaho, March 30, [1902] – Excitement is at fever heat here over reports brought out from the Thunder Mountain gold fields by returning miners. Frozen dirt has been washed out in snow water and panned in ordinary prospecting pans, $50 a day to the man having been obtained in that manner. Decomposed quartz, pounded in a mortar, has yielded as high as $200 a day to two men, one pounding and the other washing.

Rich finds on Monumental and Mule creeks have been made, the ore assaying from $100 to $2700 a ton. In an Indian grave were found the remains of an Indian skeleton. At the side of the bones was a pile of more than $3500 in gold nuggets, arranged into grotesque ornaments. Nuggets of about the same purity and being similarly imbedded [sic] in quartz have been found in the gold fields at other points, indicating the source of the Indians’ wealth.

The rush to the Thunder Mountain gold fields continues unabated. The stampede for wealth has taken a great many of the crowd into the district proper, but, owing to the great danger of traveling in the mountains at this time of the year and the hardships incident thereto, the majority has located in a fringe of towns adjacent to the gold fields – Boise, Weiser, Ketchum, Lewiston and other places. Here hundreds of men, attracted to the new gold camp, are waiting till the trails shall have been worn down by the more hardy and fearless ones, whom no argument could keep out. Some of the latter have just come out for provisions. They relate stories of the richness of the district that sound like romance, but which are borne out by samples of ore, nuggets and gold dust. These stories are supplemented by letters from men who would not return, remaining on short rations to work their claims.

Big Volcanic Deposit

The entire section, something like forty miles square, is thickly mineralized. It is an immense volcanic deposit, something of the character of which is revealed by developments in the Dewey mines, told by Jonas Lawrence, who has just returned. He said:

“The shaft is now down 180 feet and the ore grows richer with the depth. Crosscut channels have been run nearly 200 feet both ways from the bottom of the shaft, and the same values continue in both directions. There is a pay streak in the mine, which runs from $2000 to $10,000 a ton. At the 180-foot level the pay streak is four feet wide. On either side of this rich vein are immense bodies of ore that assay around $20 a ton. It is all free milling ore and the output can be limited only by the number of stamps that can be worked to advantage.”

Thomas J. Carter, just back from the gold fields, says:

“Most of the surface rock is decomposed and can be readily handled in sluice boxes. In addition to this decomposed quartz, there are rich placers, the two combing to make the camp very attractive to the poor miner. The placer season is short, however, owing to the scarcity of water, ten days to two weeks being the limit at most points. Last spring the man from whom I bought this ground took out, with the help of three others, $22,000 in eight days. They had the dirt, which ran as high as $166 a pound, piled along the sluice boxes, and when the snow water started to run they dumped it in day and night until the water supply gave out. We prospected some dirt a few days ago which was frozen so we had to thaw it. We melted snow water and made a test in a small rocker. If all the ground is as rich as that we tested, it will run more than $500 to the yard.”

Demand For Claims

“Most of those who dared the elements this winter to get into the camp have reaped harvests by selling claims. In many instances snow locations have been sold for $1000 to $5000 each, the buyers merely taking chances on the general richness of the gold fields.”

The greatest drawback just now is a scarcity of provisions. Packtrains that started several weeks ago have not got through. The weather is moderating, however, and it is believed the shortage will be relieved in the course of ten days. One pack outfit became snowbound for two weeks. Most of the mules died, and the provisions were stored in snow caves, the men in charge of them returning on improvised snowshoes, getting back yesterday. The rush has assumed such proportions that Boise and other places are now crowded to the limit by strangers, who came on believing they could get into the fields at once with ease. Hotel accommodations are scarce, and prices have jumped skyward in all lines on account of the boom. Miners now here send word to their friends not to come for at least a month, but every train swells the number. When the trails are opened the stampede will be one of the most sensational in the history of mining in the Northwest.

News was telephoned from Council this evening that a letter just received there stated that a crowd of claim jumpers had arrived at Thunder Mountain and were jumping claims as fast as they could.

source: San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 121, 31 March 1902
[h/t JTR]
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Miners To Start A Race For Thunder Mountain

Will Travel by Different Routes to Determine Which Is the Shortest

Boise, Idaho, April 4 [1902] – A couple of miners from Wood River made the statement in a hotel lobby today that the Ketchum route was the best. They were willing to wager, they said, that if two men left Boise for Thunder Mountain, one going by way of Weiser, Council and Warren and the other by way of Ketchum and Cape Horn, the latter would get into camp first. Within fifteen minutes $2000 was raised by Thunder Mountain miners who had come out by the Weiser route. The Ketchum men have sent home for money to cover the bet. The Boise money is on deposit in the Overland Hotel safe. If the Ketchum pot is raised one of the most unique races in the history of the Northwest will take place.

source: San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 126, 5 April 1902
[h/t JTR]
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Miners Quickly Amass Wealth

Many Rick Strikes Are Reported in Thunder Mountain

Trail Is in Good Condition and Prospectors Are Crowding In

Special Dispatch to The Call

Boise, Idaho, April 4, [1902] – A large party left here today for Thunder Mountain, via. the Weiser route, the only one from the south that it is possible to go through at this time, as the trail breakers sent out from Boise to go in over the Bear Valley route have made it as far as Penn Basin, sixty miles from Thunder Mountain. They are building cabins as they proceed from the south. It is expected that the route will be opened through inside of a week or ten days, when practically all of the travel coming here will go in that way. The subscription for a wagon road from Bear Valley has been completed and the work on it will be commenced soon. Thirty thousand dollars has been received for that purpose, twenty thousand in Pittsburgh and the balance in Boise. The necessity for getting heavy machinery in will hasten the project.

Some of the richest ore yet brought out was received here today. It is thick with gold and runs over $16,000 a ton. This ore is from a chute that has been opened up near the Dewey mine. The general average of the chute is not less than $150 a ton as far as uncovered and it has got richer from the surface.

J. C. Crowley, who arrived from Thunder Mountain today, via Council and Weiser, reports the trail in fine condition. He says reports of strikes keep the camp in a turmoil all the time and miners rush from one section to another as fast as they can locate claims, braving untold dangers and privations.

“No man has gone into Thunder Mountain who has not made money, and many have already become wealthy,” said Crowley.

There are now three townsites in Thunder Mountain. One is named Roosevelt and the other two Thunder Mountain. The promoters of the two latter are about to go in court over a question of property.

The first mining accident in the Thunder Mountain gold fields was reported in a letter received today. The victim was J. Gilman, who narrowly escaped death. He had put in five shorts and started to fire them at midnight. He spit the fuse with a candle. The fifth did not spit readily and Gilman dallied with it too long. The first shot went off, throwing a mass of rock down on him. He was crawling away when the second shot went off, sending down another mass of rock. The bulk of it went one side and Gilman managed to creep to safety, bleeding and half dead, before the other shots went off. He will recover unless it develops he is injured internally.

source: San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 126, 5 April 1902
[h/t JTR]
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Road Will Go by Long Valley

One Contract Has Been Let and Other Bids Will Be Accepted Today

The Emmett Index June 12, 1902

It has now been definitely announced that the wagon road to Thunder Mountain to be built from this place will go by way of Long Valley. The line will be from Emmett to Dry Buck, into High Valley, then down the old wagon road to Smith’s Ferry, thence on up to Big Creek or Clear Creek.

C. F. Fisher, a merchant of Van Wyck, has secured the contract for building the cut-off between Tripod and Van Wyck, and the contract will be let today for the contracts between Dry Buck and High Valley. There are a large number of bidders for this work.

Engineers J. M. Clark and Ed. Hedden were over this week making the survey for the cut-off. Mr. Hedden will have charge of the work until completion.

Mr. Fisher, who has the contract for the first cut-off will return from Nampa today and will begin immediate work.

source: File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Sharon McConnel
Copyright. All rights reserved.
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Fifty-five Car Loads

Mining Machinery for Thunder Mountain Company. Cars Placarded.

The Emmett Index June 19, 1902

The first part of the week E. H. Dewey gave orders to Allis & Chalmers, of Chicago, who have completed the 100 stamp mill for the Dewey mines, to ship it at once and routed it with other machinery as follows: 15 cars over the Chicago & Northwestern, 15 over the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul and 10 over the Chicago, Rock Island. All of these 40 cars, will be turned over to the Union Pacific at Council Bluffs.

The cars will all be placarded on each side as follows: “This 100 stamp mill and mining machinery from Allis Chalmers Co. goes to Dewey’s mines in Thunder Mountain, Idaho, via the U.P. and O.S.L. railways to Nampa, Idaho and via Idaho Northern railway to Emmett, thence by Dewey’s wagon road to Thunder Mountain.”

The Oregon Short Line will send a man to Omaha to keep the banners up on the cars and to answer questions.

The Belle of Thunder Mountain company have shipped 15 car loads of machinery including a 40 stamp mill, from North Carolina to this place. They will also be placarded similar to above.

source: File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Sharon McConnel
Copyright. All rights reserved.
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Surveyors Back from the Mines

The Route Will Now Be Selected and Contracts Let for Work at Once

The Emmett Index July 10, 1902

Engineer J. M. Clark, of the Idaho Northern, Con Dewey, and Ira Hamilton of Nampa, and E. E. Stanley of this place, returned yesterday from Thunder Mountain, for which place they started three weeks ago to survey the wagon road from Emmett to the mines. Mr. Clark had nothing to say for publication until after he made his report to General Manager E. H. Dewey at Nampa, but stated that the trip had been perfectly satisfactory.

Mr. Stanley, who accompanied the party with a view of bidding for a contract on the road, stated that they had found two or three very satisfactory routes. He could not tell which would be selected, but the party encountered less difficulty in locating the road and lower mountain passes than was anticipated.

Mr. Stanley is prepared to bid on any part of the road and will leave for Nampa today for that purpose. He says that if awarded a contract he will put on the biggest outfit on the works. He said they found lots of people in camp but that it would be hard to estimate the number as everyone was on the move.

source: File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Sharon McConnel
Copyright. All rights reserved.
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Wonderful Gold Strike Reported

Thunder Mountain Miners Stampede to Scene on Snow Shoes

Weiser, Idaho, Jan. 24, [1903] – Advices received here tell of a wonderful strike of gold made on the Big Creek in the Thunder Mountain district, about two and a half miles east of Profile Gap. The nearest settlement is a place called Golden, on the Big Creek. A letter from reliable parties at Thunder Mountain says that Edward Stamey, Edward H. Martin and several others have located sixteen claims on a massive porphyrized quartz dyke which measures 3000 feet in length and is impregnated with particles of gold. A ledge 250 feet in width accompanies the porphyry dyke and is also highly auriferous.

Rough pan assays made of the ledge show the poorest specimens to assay $5 in free gold. Other specimens show yellow metal to the naked eye. Old prospectors declare the discovery surpasses anything within their knowledge and that $1,000,000 worth of ore is in plain sight.

The snow in the district is of a depth from six to fourteen feet deep, but despite this fact a stampede on snowshoes to the scene of the new find is on.

source: San Francisco Call, Volume 93, Number 56, 25 January 1903
[h/t JTR]
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Wagon Road to Roosevelt

The Emmett Index May 7, 1903

Frank E. Johnesse, superintendent of construction of the Thunder Mountain Wagon Road, to be built from Long Valley to Roosevelt, expects to leave about May 15 for a trip over the route in company with a party of prospective contractors. The contract will be awarded soon and work will be resumed as soon as weather conditions will permit. Under the provisions of the law passed by the last legislature appropriating $20,000 to aid in constructing this road, a similar amount was to be raised on the outside. Colonel Dewey and his associates have already placed $10,000 at the disposal of the state and arrangements have been made to deposit the remaining $10,000 on May 10.

source: File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Sharon McConnel
Copyright. All rights reserved.
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Thunder Mountain News, April 22, 1905

When Col. Dewey bought the Caswells’ Thunder Mountain claims (east present-day Valley Co.) in late 1900, the rush was on – much of it through present-day Gem County. Ad from “Thunder Mountain News,” April 22, 1905, courtesy of Steven Harshfield.

Boise & Pearl Stage, T. B. Walker, Prop.


source: IDHP
[h/t SMc]
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Thunder Mountain Map used by Zane Grey


Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page

page updated October 27, 2020