One of many abandoned cabins in the Florence area – photo taken August 1997 courtesy Nez Perce National Forest
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Plane Serves Winter Camp
Carries Groceries to Snowbound Miners – Brings Out Gold.
The Spokesman-Review – Jan 18, 1933
Clarkston, Wash. Jan. 18  – Roy Dickson, Clarkston aviator, returned today from Florence, Idaho, where he flew with several hundred pounds of groceries for isolated miners.
From here he flew first to Anatone, near here, where there is several inches of snow, and where the plane was equipped with ski landing gear. Florence, at an elevation of 6000 feet, has six feet of snow.
The round trip was made in three hours. In the old days it took three days of hard traveling to go from Florence to Grangeville. Dickson brought out a cargo of gold concentrates to Grangeville.
Five planes are now giving regular service to snowbound camps. The others are at Warrens, Atlanta, Stibinite and Yellow Pine.
source: The Spokesman-Review – Jan 18, 1933
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(caption) Jack Hardin of Florence, Idaho, and Mickey Miller of Rathdrum, Idaho, pan out a shovelful near the place at which a man named Weiser, first name unrecorded by history, panned out $6600 worth of free gold in a day in the summer of 1862. Once panful on that historic day yielded $500. Mickey’s panful of Florence placer sands yielded about four tax tokens’ worth.
Road Restrains Florence Mines
Corkscrew Route to Source of $110,000,000 and Gold Untaken Is Car-Wrecker.
The Spokesman-Review – Sep 7, 1940
By Martin Miller. Florence, Idaho, Sept. 7,  — This gold basin which in the 1870s counted its population in excess of 10,000 white men, a hundred or so white women and a few hundred Chinese could flourish once again as one of the greatest gold producers of the northwest, according to Jack Hardin.
Hardin knows, because he has been here 18 years, placering and lately opening up a quartz vein. He lives and works within rifle shot of the gulches that once brought thousands of thunderheaded Californians roaring north, to weigh their harvest of golden dust not in ounces but in pounds. The Oregon Statesman of July 7, 1862, stated: “It was estimated that $500,000 passed through The Dalles every week (from these mines)” and the Portland Oregonian, July 31, 1862, stated: “The Julia, a river steamer, brought down from The Dalles 1000 pounds of dust on the 30th of July.”
Gold by Pounds.
These old-timers with their hand-hewn sluice boxes and Long Tom cradles are estimated to have taken more than $110,000,000 from the Florence meadow gravels from discovery in 1861 until they thought the ground worked out in the ’80s. Wells-Fargo Express alone took $85,000,000 out for them, the express records show, and annals of the times tell of miners leaving with 20, or 35, or 50 pounds of dust in their packs.
Their tools were crude, and other men followed them with slightly better tools to garner the flour gold they missed. But, says Hardin, even these men took only the cream, and real riches can still be gouged out by the machine-age methods of 1940.
“And why aren’t they? Because there isn’t a decent road into the territory,” says Hardin. And the dozen or so small placer operators, who with him and Mrs. Hardin are the present population of this most ghostly of all ghost towns, agree with him. They’re making wages, every one of them, with sluice-box equipment only a little better than the outfits used in the day of Roaring Cherokee Bob Talbotte and redheaded Cynthie, his equally roaring consort, pecking away at the rubble heaps of older mining days.
Invited Big Dredges.
The gold basin lies in the Nez Perce national forest and the placer area of the gold bottoms is roughly four by six miles, not counting tributary drainages. Dredgible areas are easily platted; as an example, the Great Meadow, Sand Creek, West Sand and Meadow Creek flats, 300 to 400 acres, with gold-bearing gravels ranging in depth from 11 to 35 feet, would be a single undertaking for a machine.
Further, and without a doubt this is the most important fact about Florence – the mother lode that sprayed those millions of dollars worth of free gold through those upland sands has never been revealed to prospector or miner.
“Nope,” says Hardin. “Never been found. And it must be it hootin’ lulu. But,” he paused and spat, “what can you do with no roads any better than the ones we got? With these roads, that just make trouble for even the best cars nobody bothers any about coming in. Or just gets mad at the country. The only people we been able to get worked up were stock boomers and they only made trouble for us.
“Now. if we had a decent mine-to-market road like other districts get, on a natural water-level grade down Slate creek to get our ore trucks out to Grangeville, we could ship to the Kellogg smelter. But development’s first, and development means machinery. And, who’s going to bring in expensive machinery, even exploratory, and have it wrecked or not get it in at all?”
Old Cars Can’t Enter.
“That is right,” said Gus Halmadge, another all-round miner of the 1940 Florence. Halmadge is slow of speech, thorough in thought. “There’s a lot of good men, miners who could work and maybe be opening up new production, but men like that don’t have good cars. They have old cars. And old cars can’t get in here.”
What he meant was this: An auto leaving Freedom, Idaho, which offers the “easiest” route,” starts at an altitude of about 1700 feet. In 38 miles, only 38 miles, it must heave and snort up the ridges of the Nez Perce to make 6100 feet at the Hardin place, and 6400 at the Halmadge mine portal. Easy, perhaps, on a four-lane modern supergraded highway, but try it on wagon road careening up and down gulches and around switchbacks so sharp that many a faithful family car has been known to bite off one of its own rear wheels, and had to be shot on the spot. Roads that look like goat trails, marked in so slovenly a fashion by the forest management that one hurrying tourist, whose name was unavailable, got onto an old county road and ended up on a shoulder a thousand feet or so above the Salmon canyon, had to shiver the night out there, and had to be helped back by truck the next afternoon. Not by the United States forest service, either.
Besides Hardin and Halmadge, who have worked the country for seven years, the residents are few. Otto Egloff, Fred Johnson, Archie Adley, who is doing well in quartz, Orvie Hileman, James Irwin and Happie Hopkins – they all want a road to help themselves and others get out mineral wealth in an era when wealth is needed desperately by the United States and Britain. Incidentally, there is no WPA project at Florence.
source: The Spokesman-Review – Sep 7, 1940
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Florence Now a Musty Ghost of Once-Booming Gold Center
By Bonnie C. Butler Lewiston Morning Tribune – Oct 6, 1955
(caption) Miners’ Graves – Whispering pines stand guard over the graves at the old mining town of Florence where men of the one-time lusty mining camps often died with their boots on. Visitors must now park their cars and walk to these last resting places of men whose names are written into early Idaho History.
No ghost town of north central Idaho holds more distinction or responsibility than Florence for peopling the entire state.
With its feminine name, Florence can at least be considered the “mother” of Idaho County. It was also one of the shortest-lived of Idaho’s mining towns.
Florence Basin, rich with “wheat-like grains of gold in such heaps as never had been found in California,” was discovered early In September, 1861, by a party of five California prospectors.
By November, nearly 2,000 men were at the new camp — about 6,000 feet above sea level in the “Salmon River” mountains. By August, 1862, the town bad been laid out and named for the first child born at the camp, daughter of Jim Hunt who had set up a store and hotel.
This made Florence the first town established in Idaho County, a camp “imbued with vigorous and turbulent life,” but doomed to be forsaken by its eventual 5,000 inhabitants within two years.
Boom Over Quickly
By the fall of 1863. the boom days had passed. One of Florence’s storekeepers, Alonzo Brown, describes in memoirs how he went into a partnership with a packer, D. W. Stearns, staking their fortunes in a log building for which they paid $2,500. By the fall of 1862, the partners were carrying a stock of goods worth $20,000. Another merchant — one of about 20 in the town by this time — was said to have a stock worth $40,000.
When discoveries in southern Idaho began to draw miners away from Florence, stores began to “fold.” Brown sold his log building in 1863 for $25 after getting $50 for the sheeting with which the windowless building was lined.
Idaho County owes its beginning to this ghost town through the California prospectors, homeward bound from Canadian gold fields, who drew attention to this area.
Having found nothing to hold them in the north, the Californians were returning by a circuitous route from the Cariboo, the Stikine and Fraser River fields, prospecting as they went.
They “partook scantily” of the prosperity of gold strikes at Oro Fino (now Pierce), then struck south for the Salmon Raver range.
Crossing the main Clearwater River where Kamiah now stands, they came to the Camas Prairie and rendezvoused for a time near Mount Idaho. After recuperating awhile, they headed for the Salmon River, crossing at Slate Creek. Prospecting up Slate Creek, they unearthed rich gold diggings all the way.
When five of the party reached what was later to become known as the Florence Basin, they knew they had “struck it rich.” Miners who quickly followed were disgusted with the location, “a great black, bleak and wintry hole … fresh from the Creator’s hand.” Although the basin was soon “white with tents,” oldsters chided younger miners, saying: “Nobody but a parcel of fools would ever have found gold here!”
At the start, the camp was known as Millersburg, named for one of the first five to find gold there. It is found under this name on some early-day maps. An estimated $5-million in placer gold was taken out during the 1862-1864 boom.
Florence’s mining history Is divided into six periods due to later flourishes of mining that never quite “made the grade.”
Its first period from 1862-1864 is considered the Placer Age. From 1869 to 1880, when greedier white miners had deserted it, Florence became inhabited by Chinese who were content with more tedious work to get their gold.
From 1880 to 1895, Florence was “dead.”
Quartz Started New Boom
Then In 1896, a second boom started with discovery of what promised to be rich quartz, lodes. New Florence came Into existence. Quartz mills and a large dredging outfit were installed.
Old-timers estimate that more than $100,000 was expended on this venture “with practically no returns.” By 1900, New Florence – like the old – was in a period of “decline.”
It Is still possible to trace the site of New Florence but all signs of the old camp town have disappeared.
In June, 1940, Mrs. Eva Canfield, a resident of Florence then 70 years old, completed a census of the Salmon River mining region. To do this, she traveled on horseback, on skis and on foot in order to register about 600 persons.
Florence, itself, at that time had but 10 inhabitants.
Glory of its past can only be found in musty records – records that show Florence was the location for Idaho County’s first courthouse; an early-day Masonic Hall built at a cost of $10,000; a busy Wells-Fargo express office; a one-room log schoolhouse, believed to be the first school in the state; and saloons like Cherokee Bob’s where poker antes were pokes of gold dust.
source: Lewiston Morning Tribune – Oct 6, 1955
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Old Florence Lures New Pilgrims
By the Idaho State Historical Society
Historically minded Idahoans are gathering today to observe the anniversary of one of the most famous of the early gold strikes of the state. In the Florence Basin, in high and rugged mountain country east of Riggins, a field trip led by the Idaho Historical Society is visiting the site of Old Florence, where gold was found 100 years ago this week.
Little remains today of Old Florence or of the nearby community of New Florence, founded in a revival of the mining excitement in 1896.
Forest Service signs mark their locations in open places in the dense woods. Through the woods run traces of roads and placer ditches, with good-sized trees growing everywhere through them.
A few foundations can be traced, and the remains of diggings and placer grounds can be found everywhere in the trees. In the old graveyard, three wooden grave boards, recently refurbished with fresh paint, still stand to record deaths in the 1860s. One of them marks the little-mourned grave of H J. Talbotte, better known as “Cherokee Bob,” a notorious saloon keeper who was killed in a gunfight with Orlando (Rube) Robbins, who was not only a better man but apparently a better shot.
Today’s trip, a part of the summer field trip program of the historical society is being attended by members of the Idaho County Historical Society as well as members of the State Historical Society, whose headquarters are in Boise.
Due to the condition of the roads, which are difficult at best and which have been cut up by heavy equipment brought in to fight recent forest fires, only individuals with pickups, carryalls, and similar mountain vehicles were encouraged to attend.
Trip leaders are Dr. Merle W. Wells, historian for the historical society; H. J. Swinney, director of the society; and Robert Romig of Boise, a consultant to the society on mining history.
The exact date of the strike which is being celebrated today is not certain. The reminiscences of individuals who were either in the first prospecting party or closely connected with it give various dates ranging from Aug. 12 to Aug. 20 .
John Healy, who was in the original party, said in the 1870s that gold was panned out of dirt brought up by the roots of an overturned tree, that the lucky prospector was a man named Grigsby, and that it happened on Aug. 12, 1861.
But recent research has led Dr. Wells to put more faith in the reminiscences of Nathan Smith, another well-known early Idaho miner who was a member of the first Florence party, and who remembered it as happening on Aug. 20.
The date is easier to reconcile with the time when the party got back to Elk City with their fabulous report and with other known dates. But in any event, it is not surprising that different men had different memories of those hectic and exciting days, and that the exact date is somewhat dubious.
If fact, the surprising thing in the story of Florence, according to historian Wells, is how closely the dates in various accounts agree.
By October of the same year – only about eight weeks after the strike – there were hundreds of miners scrambling for claims in the Florence Basin, and more were arriving constantly.
For one roaring year, 1862, Florence was the most exciting and widely-discussed gold camp in the United States. But thousands of miners came to find no more claims available, and most of the richest claims were worked out quickly.
Disillusioned miners searched for new gold fields in all directions, with new discoveries such as Warrens and the Boise Basin resulting.
Work at Florence slowed to a walking pace, and by the 1870s, many, if not most, of the miners working there were Chinese.
In 1896 the development of quartz claims led to a brief new excitement.
Homer David of Moscow still recalls how, as a boy, he went along with his father to take a five-stamp mill to a mine in which the elder David had interests in the Florence Basin.
Young Bob Ghormley, later Admiral Ghormley of the U. S. Navy, went along, and David remembers the boys’ excitement when a wagon driver shot a deer for camp meat without ever leaving the seat of his wagon.
Today a new company is building a dredge to try again in Florence. Modern industrial methods may bring a third lease on life to the old camp. But the story of its first boom, which produced millions of dollars, which helped populate what became the Territory of Idaho, and which led to so many other mining strikes, is a permanent part of Idaho’s story.
source: Lewiston Morning Tribune – Aug 20, 1961
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1985 Mining Report Florence (Gold)
Fabulous reports of production at Florence startled the entire Pacific Coast in the fall of 1861. Production got underway within six weeks of the original discovery, August 19-20, and during October and November some of the miners there were taking out hundreds of dollars a day. The district was not large, but what there was of it seemed incredibly rich — at least as reported in the newspapers — and except for its isolation and hard winters, Florence was exactly the kind of mining zone that prospectors had dreamed of finding. In spite of an exceptionally difficult first winter, thousands of hopeful miners joined the rush to Florence, and some 10,000 actually reached the mines there the next spring. The trouble was that only about 3,000 could find work there at all, so most had to look for other mines. Production reached about $50,000 per day in 1862, after which most of the best deposits were pretty well worked out. Florence was a good but unspectacular camp in 1863, and then went rapidly downhill.
Chinese worked there for years, and in 1896 there was a considerable quartz promotion, with New Florence established April 5. Quartz mining there, however, did not compare with the old placers, and the greater part of the district’s production came in the one big year of 1862 – with most of the rest in the two adjoining seasons. For a relatively small area, though, Florence turned out an astonishing production – in the neighborhood of $9,600,000.
Between 1980 and 1984, Florence’s gold had increased in value to a range of $150,000,000 depending upon price fluctuations in those years.
excerpted from: Mining in Idaho Number 9 1985, by Ernest Oberbillig and the Idaho State Historical Society
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Florence, Idaho Photos
Idaho ghost town. Cemetery and old cabins
Photos by Evan Jones
Link to gallery:
Link to Florence Part 4
page updated August 1, 2020