Idaho History July 15, 2018


(Part 2)

Florence, Idaho

IdahoMapFlorence-aFlorence is a ghost town in Idaho County, Idaho, United States. About 14 air miles (22 km) east-northeast of present-day Riggins in remote north central Idaho at an elevation of 6,080 feet. It was settled as a mining camp in the winter of 1861. Almost concurrent with its settlement, Washington Territory established Idaho County on December 20, 1861 in anticipation of a gold rush that brought over 9,000 residents within the first year. The town quickly became the seat with the first district court taking place at Florence on 22 September 1862.

While the rich placer gold fields in the Florence Basin brought thousands of prospectors and contributed to the establishment of Idaho Territory in 1863, the rush to Florence was short-lived as intensive mining depleted the richest ground. At the first census of Idaho Territory, only 575 residents remained. By the territorial census of 1864, the population dwindled further to 254 residents. Even in its decline, Florence continued as the county seat until 1 June 1869 when the territorial legislature moved the county seat to the Warren’s Camp settlement of Washington. The town thrived again from 1895–1900, based more on lode mining. Then the town slowly faded away, having only ten inhabitants in 1940, and was totally abandoned sometime after 1951.

Early discoveries and prosperity

The discovery of gold around Pierce and Orofino in 1861 drew thousands of prospectors into the Clearwater River area of present-day north central Idaho, east of Lewiston. With all the best ground claimed, many newcomers began to look elsewhere. In late summer 1861, a party of men headed south toward a local divide between the Clearwater River drainage and the Salmon River watershed. At that time, much of that area was still part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. (A new treaty in June 1863 reset the reservation boundary.) Perhaps because of Indian protests, the party split at some point. A smaller band of five made their way into a high mountain basin about thirty miles (50 km) south of today’s Grangeville. There, they found very rich placer gold along most of the nearby streams in August 1861. Despite mutual promises to keep the find quiet when they returned to Elk City for supplies, word quickly got out.

The camp went briefly under the name of Millersburg, but a miners’ meeting soon settled on Florence in November 1861. That was the name the town had when the Washington territorial legislature made it the seat of Idaho County on December 20, 1861. By the time winter took hold, the camp reportedly held nearly two thousand men. Unfortunately, the winter of 1861–1862 “proved to be one of the coldest in the history of Idaho.” No one knows how many men died from the cold, but one newspaper writer had “no doubt that at least one hundred men have perished from the cold.” Survivors told horrific stories of near-starvation, frostbite, and widespread snow-blindness.

As was common to many of those early placer mining districts, the richest days in Florence lasted only a couple years. About five years of steady, but lesser production followed. By around 1869, Chinese miners were working most of the claims in the region, whites having leased the properties or abandoned them. Probably not coincidentally, Florence lost its designation as county seat on June 1, 1869. The period of largely Chinese production lasted until about 1880, followed by a long stretch of minimal activity.

Population history

1864 census: 254 (222 men, 11 women, 21 children)
1863 census: 575

Resurgence and decline

The first quartz lodes in the Florence area might have been developed as early as 1863. Another followed around 1872–1875. However, the location of the Florence Basin in high, extremely rugged country made transportation especially difficult. Operators had to rely on hand mills, or very small stamp mills that could be broken down into manageable components for transport. In 1895, a new road was built to connect Florence to Mount Idaho. With better transport, investors took another look at the quartz mining possibilities in the region. They found enough rich ore to justify bringing in more milling capacity, which set off another boom. Optimistic owners even assembled a dredge to re-work the old placer fields.

Early returns seemed to justify their hopes, but both the lode and placer booms were fairly short-lived. By around 1900–1905, those hopes had faded and the town had to depend upon small-scale, essentially individual operations after that. Even that had ended by around 1940, when the census recorded just ten people in Florence.

In 1951, when Sister Alfreda Elsensohn published her history of Idaho County, the handful of Florence inhabitants no longer received local mail delivery. It’s not clear when the last resident moved away (or passed on). Today, only a few building foundations and an overgrown cemetery remain.

The Florence Basin is several miles west of the Gospel Hump Wilderness, which was designated a wilderness area in 1978. The basin is over 4,000 vertical feet (1,220 m) above the Salmon River, five air miles (8 km) north of its confluence with French Creek. After flowing westward across the state, the river turns north at Riggins; Florence is also twelve miles east of the river as it nears Lucile (elev. 1,650 ft.)

source: Wikipedia
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After the initial discovery of gold at Pierce Idaho in 1860, miners began to spread out throughout the Clearwater Country looking for more big strikes. Nearby Oro Fino was the first new area found, and then prospectors discovered gold along the South Fork of the Clearwater River near what would become Elk City. But the strikes at Florence, even further south, turned out to be the big bonanza all the miners had been trying to find.

The prospectors who came to Florence in 1861 had done so over the objections of many of the Nez Perce Indians, who had been trying to limit the miner’s incursions into their lands. But a twenty-three-man party was strong enough to force its way through to a high basin not far from the Salmon River. Before long the news of incredibly rich placers had reached Elk City and other camps in the area. There were stories of miners getting $20 to the pan or making upwards of $100 day, huge money for that time.

By late fall a frantic rush to Florence was on. The lust for riches was so strong some miners even attempted to get to Florence during the bitter winter of 1862. Those already there hunkered down despite limited supplies. Frozen waters and snow ten feet deep shut down mining until the spring thaw. But by the end of April another prosperous mining season was well under way.

1862 turned out to be the richest mining season Florence would ever see. It’s estimated as many as ten thousand miners passed through the remote camp that year. While only a few thousand were mining, others came as carpenters, merchants, hotelkeepers, or bar tenders. Historian Merle Wells writes that production in Florence during the height of the 1862 season very likely reached 50,000 dollars a day and that the total for the year probably exceeded six million dollars.

During those first couple of years at Florence the miners went through much of the gold. By the end of 1863 most of the placers had been “worked out”. Placer mining continued in Florence for the next twenty to thirty years although the district was pretty much given to the Chinese after the richest workings were depleted. A quartz revival in 1896 gave the district another dose of excitement but it didn’t come anywhere close to matching the big season of 1862 when this remote gold camp earned it’s nickname “Fabulous Florence”.

source: Idaho PTV
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Camp Barely Escaped A Civil War Battle

1862F1-F2-aA Civil War battle was almost fought in Idaho County, far removed as this region of the unsettled Northwest was from actual battle scenes in 1862.

Civil War feeling was at a high pitch among miners. During the rush to Florence basin, an incident at a Slate Creek camp Is recounted In the experiences of Alonzo F. Brown who left his home at Roseburg Ore., in March, 1662, for the Florence mines.

“There were at least 150 men there that night…. Two of the men got to discussing the war. One was a rebel sympathizer and the other was a Union man.

“They finally got abusive and were about to fight when someone called for men to come out and show their colors.

“In five minutes. we were lined up facing each other, all armed with miners’ weapons, pistol and butcher knife.

“We were nearly equally divided, probably more Union men.

“Some of the older men got between the two lines and asked them not to fight … finally quieted them down.

“But we kept our own side after that.”

At Florence, “Main Street became the dividing line between the north and south factions.”

As a result, it often happened that when morning came there were two or three dead men on the streets. “Early residents,” says Brown, “did not turn their heads when they heard a shot. To do so might mean at bullet in one’s own back.”

source: Lewiston Morning Tribune – Oct 6, 1955
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Florence 1864 Map

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1895 Florence Idaho

1895FlorenceNews-aThe Columbian (Bloomsburg, Pa.) – 28 June 1895

The impulse lately given to gold mining has infused new life into many deserted towns and abandoned camps in the West. In 1861 the camp of Florence, Idaho, had a population of 30,000 people, and everything that goes to the making of a city. It was a placer camp, and gold was plentiful. But the supply soon became exhausted, and the miners would not take the time and exercise the patience to work quartz. The camp was then quickly deserted. Recently, however, good quartz ledges have been discovered in that locality, and the abandoned town again shows signs of life.

source: Treasure Net, Jeff of PA
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1896 New Florence


(click image for original on FB)
Photo 1 – In 1896 the town of New Florence was established 1/2 mile south of the original town of Florence. This photograph shows two women skiing in the town of New Florence around the end of the 19th century. USFS Collection.


(click image for original on FB)
Photo 2 – These New Florence townfolk knew how to have fun in the late 1890s.

source: U.S. Forest Service – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, Ace Barton Collection, USFS.
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1907 Baboon Gulch, Florence Idaho

(click image for original)
Baboon Gulch, Florence Idaho, as it appeared in 1907, look about the same today, but the cabins are gone.

source: Idaho Gold Gettr Treasure Net
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Miller Creek, Florence, Idaho 1907

(click image for original)
Elevator on Miller Creek. Florence Idaho 1907. Rodney Lawrence Glissan Photo.

source: Idaho County Free Press
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Murders, Poisonings and Executions in Idaho County

compiled by Penny Bennett Casey, Idaho County GenWeb

Benson, O

Idaho Coutny Free Press Thursday, July 30, 1908

Benson Is Killed – Florence Hotel Keeper Killed by Chas. Spaulding

Cause Settlement of Debt – Looks Like Self Defense Preliminary Held Friday

A tragedy was enacted early Friday evening in the old mining town of Florence which is ordinarily as quite as the deserted village. The story as briefly told from the information we are able to gather at the present writing is as follows.

It seems Charles Spaulding, a young mining man, was owing O.? Benson, the keeper of the hotel, a sum of money ranging in the neighborhood of fifty dollars and Friday evening, along about mail time, 6:30, Spaulding went to the post office, which is located in the hotel and conducted by Benson, to get what mail there might be for him. Upon his entrance to the building, Benson demanded the payment of the sum of money and Spaulding replied he intended to settle the debt when he could procure the funds with which to do it. Benson then asked Spaulding to give his note for that amount for one year which he agreed to do. Benson then drew up the note and Spaulding looked the same over, he discovered the note was made out for sixty days and refused to sign it. Then with an oath Benson remarked to high voice that he would make him sign the note before he left that house and with these remarks, reached to his hip pocket, presumably for a revolver. Quick as flash Spaulding had him covered and fired, the bullet striking just below the heart.

A courier was dispatched to Adams Camp, the nearest telephone station, and medical aid summoned and the officers notified. Immediately after the deed Spaulding walked to the cabin of Claud Flint and delivered over his gun and gave himself up. Dr. Campbell and Deputy Sheriff Byram left at 10 Friday evening for the scene of the tragedy. On their way in they met Spaulding coming out to surrender himself to the officers of the law so the deputy told him to come on out and he would go in and investigate.

The hearing is set for Friday at which time a number of witnesses will be examined. From the evidence obtained here it seems the act was justifiable for while investigation after the death of Benson showed he did not have a gun but a sling shot, there is no question judging from this action but that he intended to put Spaulding out of business.

Copyright Notice: All materials contained on these pages are furnished for the free use of those engaged in researching their family origins. Any commercial use or distribution, without the consent of the host/author of these pages is prohibited. All images used on these pages were obtained from sources permitting free distribution, or generated by the author, and are subject to the same restrictions/permissions. All persons contributing material for posting on these pages do so in recognition of their free, non-commercial distribution, and further, is responsible to assure that no copyright is violated by their submission.
source: from Area Newspaper Articles compiled by Penny Bennett Casey, Idaho County GenWeb
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At one time there were 5000 people in this town. There is a cemetery there, also a Chinese cemetery. We couldn’t find any women in the cemetery. A saloon/bar had been there but the Bar itself has been moved to White Bird, ID. The gold mine played out in the late 1800s. Their supplies came from White Bird, ID.

source: Submitted by Fay Pitchford, Ghost Towns
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Florence Cemetery

(click for original)
Idaho County, GenWeb

FlorenceCemeteryBaby-aI was always told that everyone in the Florence Cemetery were buried with their boots on, except for the “Baby”. Also, legend has it that the “Good Guys” were buried pointing East and West so they could see the sun come up and go down; and the “Bad Guys” were buried pointing North and South. Don’t know how much truth there was to it, but it made for a good story! There are empty graves in the cemetery from the Chinese exhuming their relatives bodies in later years and sending them back home to China.

The following is a listing of known burials in the cemetery.

Anderson, Nels W. Died March 15, 1911, aged 48 yrs. Native of Sweden
Baby” – this grave is of an infant girl buried in the early 1860’s. Said to be the first person buried in the cemetery “without” their boots on. I was told this may be the daughter of Samuel and Delia Applegate. No proof has been found of this information.
Bannard, George Died October 24, 1879, aged 58 yrs. Native of New York
Billings, Albert Died July 13, 1862, aged 4 yrs.
Dunn, Daniel Died July 1918, Native of Nova Scotia
Hopwood, William Died January 1898
Morris, J. B. Died June 1900. Livery Stable and Post master and Florence
Mosier, James Died September 1910, aged 46 yrs.
Neselroade, G. Died July 29, 1862, aged 48 yrs. Native of Ohio
P.M.G. Only letters on the headstone
Seaburg, Charlie (maybe John) Died November 1918 of exposure. Remains found in 1931
Scott, Newt Died November 11, 1897
Scott, Sylvester or Savester Died January 1862 Native of Kentucky. Killed in gunfight.
Talbot, H.J. (Cherokee Bob) Died January 5, 1863 Aged 29 Native of Georgia

These photos were taken in 1986. Contributed by Penny Bennett Casey

Copyright Notice: All materials contained on these pages are furnished for the free use of those engaged in researching their family origins. Any commercial use or distribution, without the consent of the host/author of these pages is prohibited. All images used on these pages were obtained from sources permitting free distribution, or generated by the author, and are subject to the same restrictions/permissions. All persons contributing material for posting on these pages do so in recognition of their free, non-commercial distribution, and further, is responsible to assure that no copyright is violated by their submission.

source w/more photos: Penny Bennett Casey Idaho County GenWeb
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Florence Tells Her Secrets

A Self-Guided Tour of the Florence Basin

How Did Florence Get Her Name?

The naming of Florence, which occurred by November, 1861, is clouded in controversy, with long-time area residents reporting different versions of its naming.

The most common version, and the one most likely, is that Florence was named for a stepdaughter of Dr. George Furber. Dr. Furber had a claim on Pioneer Gulch and ran a pharmacy in Florence.

Historian Elliott reported this version in 1884 but mentioned that others claimed Florence was a woman of ill repute in the area.

The other popular story of the origin of the name says that Florence was named for the daughter of Jim and Julia Hunt. Jim was an early grocer and hotelkeeper of the new town. Florence Hunt was reportedly the first child born there.

Florence Cemetery

The Florence Cemetery is the one site that really brings you close to the people who once inhabited Florence. Miners, outlaws, merchants and their families came to seek their fortune in Florence. Many found their final resting place here.

Drinking, gambling, fighting, robbery and murder were commonplace in Florence during its peak. A notorious outlaw “Cherokee Bob” Talbotte moved to Florence with a woman called Red Headed Cynthia, taking over a saloon by reportedly threatening to murder the owner. Talbotte was killed in a shootout in the streets of Florence in 1863. You will find his grave in the cemetery.

An Oregon newspaper indicated shootings were so common that “when a man is shot people hardly turn round to see what is the matter.” For awhile, Florence was the roughest place in the west.

Not all was rough and rowdy. Children were present and it was necessary to provide a school house and employ a teacher. The Florence school district was organized in the spring of 1864.

The schoolhouse was about 12 by 14 feet with 8-foot walls and was built of hewn logs. The floor was made of whipsawed boards and the roof was made of shaved handriven shingles.

School in New Florence, 1898. Ace Barton Collection.

There was quite an array of textbooks brought to the school by the six youngsters who made up the enrollment. Parents in the frontier west learned not to leave schoolbooks behind when migrating from place to place. Needless to say the school, held during the summer months, was a success.

New Florence

Founded in 1896 and supported by a second mining boom in the 1890s, New Florence covered 40 acres with businesses, tents and cabins.

… Eva Canfield was one of the last miners to inhabit the Florence area after New Florence was abandoned. She lived here in the 1940s.

In June 1940, Mrs. Canfield, who was then seventy years old, completed the census of the mining region around the whole Salmon River country. To take the census, Eva traveled on horseback, on skis, and on foot in order to register nearly six hundred people. At that time, Florence itself had but ten inhabitants.

… The Waverly Mine first went into production in January 1896. It was active off and on until 1939.

In 1897 a two stamp mill was assembled for processing ore from the mine. This type of mill involves machinery consisting of stamps that have two heavy iron cylinders. These are dropped down on the ore to crush it.

History indicates that the mine was periodically opened and closed again due to poor management and inability to operate at a profit, a history common to many mines.

Dredge Ponds

The pilings you see are the remains of a dragline dredging site that was active in the 1930s.

A dragline dredge is a power-shovel excavator that feeds a floating washing plant or gold processor. Dredges like the one that sat here rearranged waterways as they worked.

If you look down the creek, you can see where the tailings from the dredge were left.

Drag Line or Steam Shovel Dredge in Florence Basin, courtesy Nez Perce National Forest

The Florence Gold Rush

In its early history, Florence experienced a gold rush which caused the population to boom from 50 to 9000 in one year. Gold seekers discovered gold in the Florence Basin in August of 1861. By winter of that year, 3000 people had flocked to the area and over one million dollars in gold had been produced from placer mining alone. By June of 1862, the area reached its peak population of about 9000. Miners produced seven million dollars in gold that year. By early August of 1862, thousands of people left the area due to the lack of paying mining claims.

By 1863, the big rush was over, but mining activity still continued. For the next 20 years a mixed population of Chinese and White miners worked their diggings. Using more patient, labor-intensive mining practices, the Chinese made meager fortunes reworking old placer claims.

After a relatively inactive period at Florence in the 1880s, new technology for quartz mining revived the area in 1895. People once again flocked to the Florence Basin, putting the population back up to 1000 in 1897. Conflict between owners of the Old Florence townsite and new gold-seekers spurred the establishment of New Florence, 1/4 mile south. The old townsite was disassembled for salvage lumber and was mined for remnant gold that fell through the cracks of floorboards in several buildings.

By 1897 only a few buildings were left standing in Old Florence. By 1900, the mining boom had declined again and only a few stamp mills continued their operations. Although some minor booms occurred between 1900 and 1940, none were comparable to those of the 1860s and 1890s.

The Story of Tolo

Photo of Tolo, taken about 1890 (contributed by Agnes Moses, Tolo’s daughter, Kamiah, Idaho), courtesy Nez Perce National Forest

The Nez Perce woman Alablernot or Tolo (Too-lah), as she was called by the white settlers she had befriended, played an integral part in the Nez Perce War of 1877.

News of the hostilities between the Nez Perce people and the white settlers and ranchers reached the residents of Freedom (now the site of Slate Creek). The whites congregated at Freedom and constructed a stockade for protection from the Nez Perce.

This stockade was made by digging a trench about 3 feet deep and placing timbers upright. The approximately 40 women and children felt much safer within the confines of the stockade. However, the 23 men present were poorly armed and the settlers were totally shut off from any information from the outside world. Their only possible avenue of help was from the miners of Florence.

It was then that Tolo, who had come to the stockade with her two sisters and their two children, offered to make the 26-mile trek to Florence to warn the miners of the Nez Perce uprising and to get help.

Tolo rode all night arriving at Florence in the early morning. By that night, 25 miners were gathered and armed with modern guns. They arrived at Freedom the next morning prepared to fight, but no conflict occurred.

Chinese Miners

In the 1870s and 1880s, there were probably as many as 150 Chinese in Florence. Chinese immigrants reworked almost all of the placer ground, including the old tailings.

Not all the Chinese were employed as miners. They also became freighters, merchants, sawyers, cooks and gardeners. There was a Chinese laundry in town.

When a Chinese man lay dying, he was always moved out of his house because his fellow men would not live in a place where someone had died. They burned all of the clothing and bedding.

The bodies of the Chinese buried in the Florence cemetery were exhumed prior to the 1920s.

Once exhumed, the bones were burnt and the ashes sent back to China to be buried in the sacred ground of the native country.

Milner Trail

In its beginnings, Mount Idaho was one of several way stations along the trail to the Florence mines.

Moses Milner, with the help of his partner Francis, cut the trail from Mount Idaho to Florence in the spring of 1862. There was a toll charged. The Milner Trail was later incorporated into the state wagon road, which was built in 1891.

In May, 1862, Mrs. Seth Jones gained the distinction of being the first woman to pass over the Milner Trail. In recognition of the fact, she was permitted to travel the new pioneer route without payment or toll.

The name Tollgate still clings to a place six or seven miles above Mount Idaho as a reminder of Milner’s efforts.

Adams Camp

Adams Camp (date unknown), courtesy Nez Perce National Forest

Adams Camp was a favorite stopping place along the old Milner Trail, and was first settled in 1862.

Adams Camp had a post office and stage station with tri-weekly mail service.

Adams Work Center, formerly Adams Camp, has been used by the Forest Service as an administrative site since 1918. The Adams Camp Ranger Station also served as switchboard center for all telephone lines in the area.

A segment of the Idaho Centennial Trail passes through the Florence Basin (see Trail #88 on the map on pages 7 and 8). This section of trail is currently a multi-purpose trail. The trail passes through the Florence Basin winding along the old wagon roads and miner trails constructed to transport supplies and miners from Grangeville to Warren and service the Florence interior.

Excerpted from: Nez Perce National Forest

Link to Florence Part 1

Link to Florence Part 3

Link to Florence Part 4

page updated July 31, 2020