Idaho History Jan 27, 2019

Colonel William H. Dewey

(part 2)

The Men, the Mountain, the Gold and the Town That Drowned
by Syd Albright

It all started about 1894 when the Caswell twins, their brother Dan and cousin A.O. Huntley came to Idaho from Colorado… Next, they tried Thunder Mountain (8,579 feet) and found surface gold at the mouth of Monumental Creek that flowed down from it.

… In 1894, they recovered $245 worth of gold in eight days—about $7,000 in today’s money. The following year, they made another $190, while they started building sluices for future production.

Then one day in 1900 at the old Overland Hotel in Boise, a man named Erb Johnson showed a glitzy sample of the Caswell gold to Ed H. Dewey who quickly told his father, the “fabulous Col. Dewey” in Pittsburgh about it. Millionaire Col. William H. Dewey instructed his son to get an 18-month option on the Caswell property and would pay $100,000 for it.

One report said, “The extent of this auriferous (gold-bearing) porphyry is not known, but the whole mountain appears to be porphyry (igneous rock with crystals embedded in finer grained minerals).”

The word was out, and by 1902 a frenzy of some 20,000 rushed to Thunder Mountain buying claims—most worthless. Newspaper headlines screamed the latest news:

“2,000 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” and “Dewey mine total production: $35,000.”

Dewey Mine 1902

deweymine1902-aDewey Gold Mine, Thunder Mountain, ID (c.1902)

… “Thunder Mountain itself is nothing but a mass of ore,” another report touted. “This has been fully demonstrated by the operations of Col. Dewey and his associates. It is ore everywhere… the almost limitless quantities in sight will make it one of the most productive sections of the world.”

… When Colonel Dewey, returned from Pittsburgh with $100,000 to buy out the Caswells, a report trumpeted, “Colonel W. H. Dewey of Idaho believes he is the richest man in the world or that he soon will be…The colonel carries in his pocket a little Vaseline bottle filled with pure gold, all extracted from just three pounds of quartz.”

… Adrenaline was running high in Idaho towns where prospectors were waiting out the winter of 1901-02, hoping for an early spring when they could race to the “mountain of gold.” Some couldn’t wait and headed out into the snow. On Feb. 10, three miners were killed in a snow slide near Elk summit between Thunder Mountain and Warren.

March opened with heavy snowfall, scarcity of fuel to operate Dewey’s mill, and all timber within a mile had been used up; 250 speculators were more interested in gobbling up new claims rather than going to work; the price of flour jumped to $50 a sack, and Boise traffic could only reach the camps on horses fitted with snowshoes.

… One difficulty was getting the ore down the mountain to the mill. That was no job for “little guys” without much money, and better suited for wealthy miners like Col. Dewey who could afford the machinery and labor needed. But he had his problems too:

He had two mills shipped from Chicago — one a 10-stamp mill that could crush from 50 to 70 tons of ore in a day, and the other a 100-stamp mill. The big one only got as far as Emmett and languished there for two years and was never used. A hotel bought the boilers.

The stampede to the “New El Dorado Mountain” began on Sunday, May 25, 1902, with 350 loaded horses and a hundred men crossing Elk Creek Summit into the mountain.

… In the years that followed, it was mostly blood, sweat and tears on Thunder Mountain. Everyone overestimated the amount of gold per ton of ore, and operating expenses were much too high. Few made a profit. Some of the big boys did, but not the Colonel. He recovered only about half of his investment.

… By the end of the year [1909], the Thunder Mountain bonanza was all over. A few continuing efforts sputtered for a while, then everyone pulled out. Col. Dewey died the following year — along with his dream.

The Colonel and Nampa …

Dewey Palace Hotel. Canyon County Historical Society & Museum.

“In 1896, Colonel William Dewey became interested in Nampa and bought 2,000 lots upon which he built a majestic hotel called the Dewey Place at a cost of $243,000. The hotel was four stories high with 81 rooms. A pair of verandahs ran the length of the facade and at each end was a cupola tower sheeted with copper that could be seen in Caldwell five miles away. The interior boasted ceiling frescos, oak paneling and many amenities that are common at today’s luxury hotel properties. The hotel closed in 1956 and was demolished in 1963.”

excerpted from: The Men, the Mountain, the Gold and the Town That Drowned

see also: Roosevelt the Town that Drowned
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Dewey, Idaho (Owyhee County)


Dewey Mill (on left), Store House, Dewey Office, Dewey Hotel (far right). Col. Dewey’s house is to the left of the hotel on the hillside.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Biography Of Colonel William H. Dewey

Colonel Dewey, Illustrated History.

Among the prominent influential citizens of Idaho, Colonel Dewey, of Dewey, enjoys a unique position and reputation. He is a pioneer Idahoan in the true sense of that word, and the marvelous development of the interests and industries of his adopted state is largely attributable to his enterprise and sagacity. He is a man of remarkable resources, and has never failed to measure fully up to all the requirements and emergencies of life. Although over seventy years old, he is well preserved and exhibits unabated vigor of mind and body. Colonel Dewey is a native of the state of New York, and his first American ancestors were early settlers in Massachusetts.

In the autumn of 1863 he came to Idaho and located where the town of Dewey now is, but subsequently removed to where the town of Ruby City was located, and with others, March 21, 1864, laid out the town of Silver City.

The gentleman whose name introduces this review is a born miner, and from his first arrival in Idaho the Colonel became prominently connected with the mining interests of the northwest, in which connection it is perfectly fair to say that he has been one of the leading and principal factors in the development of the mineral resources of this state. He owned nearly half of the South Mountain camp during the period of its greatest activity and was one of three men to discover and locate this magnificent property.

He purchased the Trade Dollar mine in 1889, and after making numerous and expensive improvements upon it, sold to the present owners one hundred and thirty-four thousand of the five hundred thousand shares.

He also owns over one-half of the Florida Mountain group of mines and has just succeeded in forming a combination of these mining properties, in which he holds the strategic position. The accomplishment of this consolidation required rare tact and finesse.

At the village of Dewey, a town named in his honor, the Colonel has erected one of the best twenty-stamp mills in Idaho, or even in the west. He has also erected the fine Dewey Hotel, which is considered one of the best in the state, and he has built a beautiful residence for himself, and in addition constructed numerous valuable residences and business houses in the town of Dewey. He is also the projector and owner of the Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railway, on which line is a splendid steel bridge, crossing the Snake River at Guffey, which is the pride of the whole state. Colonel Dewey built this bridge at his own expense, and also the railroad from Nampa to Guffey, which he is now extending to Murphy. He is also preparing to extend his road north from Nampa, the surveys now having been completed for a distance of fifty miles. When all these extensions are completed, the road will connect with the Central Pacific and furnish a continuous line from San Francisco to Butte, Montana, and thereby shorten the distance between these two points by about three hundred miles.

Colonel Dewey is distinctly a man of great practical turn of mind. He is simple in his habits and unassuming in his manners, being all energy, push and enterprise. He was cast in a large mold and would have been conspicuous and successful in any department of human activity that he might have entered. He has been frequently urged to accept nominations for import-ant official positions, but has invariably declined. His name is now mentioned in connection with the nomination for United States senator from Idaho. This is against the Colonel’s wishes, but his many friends are very urgent in their requests that he shall openly enter the field for that distinguished office.

source: Access Genealogy – Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.
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Silver City Court House

“A nice old postcard of the stage in Silver City.”

from the Hugh Hartman collection courtesy Bob Hartman Idaho History 1800 to 1950
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Silver City Post Office

Stagecoach in front of the Silver City Post Office, Courthouse next door. Directory of Owyhee County.

source: South Fork Companion
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Dewey, William H. 1858


Author: S. J. Clarke (Publisher, 1920)

Colonel William H. Dewey of Nampa, who has departed this life was one of the builders of Idaho’s greatness. His contributions to the work of development were real and creditable and his signal service was in the vigor he lent to the pioneer era in making his region habitable, in bringing its resources to light and in stamping his intensely practical ideas upon the constructive measures which have led to the upbuilding of the state. Such careers are too near us now for their significance to be appraised at its true value, but the future will be able to trace the tremendous effect of their labors upon the society and the institutions of their time. The possibilities of high position afforded in the United States to industry and fidelity were never better illustrated than in Colonel Dewey’s case. He crossed the plains when a man of about forty years and thereafter bent his energies to constructive work in the development of Idaho.

Colonel Dewey was born in Massachusetts in 1822 and in 1863 came to the northwest, making his way first to Ruby City, Owyhee county. From that town he afterward removed to Silver City, where he spent many years in the boom mining days, contributing much to the utilization of the great mineral resources of that district and to the progress made in other directions. He at once saw the necessities and the opportunities of the state and in pioneer times became identified with trail building; and his labors were continued in accordance with the period of development until he was actively associated with railroad building. He regarded no project that would benefit his community too unimportant to receive his attention, nor did he hesitate to become identified with the most extensive interests. In pioneer times he labored in the development of the trails, later assisted in the building of wagon roads and finally of railroads. He was also closely associated with the development of mining interests and whatever he undertook seemed to be attended with prosperity and success.

For twenty years Colonel Dewey was actively engaged in mining and his operations placed him in the front rank among those who were developing Idaho’s mineral resources. The notable properties which he owned included the Trade Dollar and Black Jack mines, which he afterward sold to Pittsburgh (Pa.) corporations. These properties had been brought to a stage of production that added greatly to the fame of Owyhee county as a mineral section. With various other mining interests Colonel Dewey was also closely associated. However, he gradually diverted his business activity to other fields, becoming interested in railroad construction and in community building.

In 1893 he was one of the incorporators of the Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railroad Company, which constructed a standard line from Nampa to Murphy and included the building of the pioneer steel bridge across the Snake river, which still stands as one of the most substantial structures of the kind—a splendid example of the permanency of the Dewey construction. With the completion of that road Colonel Dewey took up the work of building a line north from Nampa and organized the Idaho Northern, which in 1900 undertook the work of constructing a railroad from Nampa to Emmett which was completed in 1902.

Later this road was extended to Payette lakes, one of the greatest natural summer resorts in the northwest, but which was neglected and isolated for many years because of the lack of transportation facilities. As he promoted his mining projects he always secured the best equipment that could be purchased and the same was true in connection with railroad construction. The result of this high standard of work is seen today in the excellent condition of the railroads which he built and the mines which he developed.

A contemporary writer has said: “Colonel Dewey was a typically rugged western specimen. He lived many years in the mountains but at no time did he permit that environment to render him provincial. His ambition as a builder was abridged only by his most supreme effort and his last dollar. His determination in all his work to build big and broad for the future was exemplified in a thousand directions, but perhaps at no time more noticeably to the general public than in the case of the Dewey Palace hotel at Nampa, then a small place. Colonel Dewey projected his vision down the avenues of time and built for that little place a hotel costing two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Time has fully justified his judgment. Colonel Dewey, in all his busy life, was never so much concerned as to his own financial future as he was about the future of his home section and his state, although he had amassed considerable of a fortune before he died. Essentially a builder for future generations, he left to the people of the state a magnificent heritage.”

source: Canyon-Owyhee County ID Archives Biographies File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Joy Fisher
[h/t SMc]
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Col William H. Dewey

deweyheadstone-aAdded by: David M. Habben on 8 Jan 2011

Birth: 1 Aug 1823 New York
Death: 8 May 1903 (aged 79)
Burial: Kohlerlawn Cemetery Nampa, Canyon County, Idaho

“Dewey, Colonel W. H., was born in New York state in 1822, and came to Owyhee in the fall of 1863, to the then town of Ruby City; but owing to a “hog-em” real estate crowd in that town, he, in company with others, located a rival town—Silver City—the following spring, and eventually Ruby City moved up to the new location, bag and baggage.

In April, 1864, Mr. Dewey built the first wagon road to Ruby and Silver, and in May of the same year started work on the Reynolds creek road.

At the time of the South Mountain activity, from 1871 to 1875, he owned nearly one-half of that prosperous camp.

For over twenty years past Mr. Dewey has been engaged in mine operating and promoting.

He sold the Black Jack group to a Pittsburgh company in 1889, and in 1892 disposed of the Trade Dollar group to another Pittsburgh company. Both of these properties have proven fabulously rich, and are large and constant dividend payers.

In 1895 he organized a company upon the Boonville group of mines, on Florida mountain, and in 1896 extensive improvements were made upon the property: but, with the exception of a short run to test the mill machinery, the property has been closed, with the exception of a prospecting force.

Considerable valuable ground has been blocked out in the mine, and orders to resume work on a large scale are expected at any time.

In 1896 Mr. Dewey incorporated the Boise, Nampa & Owyhee railroad, and started work on the same. It connects with the Oregon Short Line and Idaho Central railways at Nampa; at present has its terminus at Guffey, in Owyhee county. The present season will see it well up into the Owyhee mountains. The bridge across Snake river (illustrated in this book) is one of the finest steel structures in the West.

Mr. Dewey has other large mining and property interests in this county, and notwithstanding his advanced age, seventy-five years past, is recognized as one of the leading spirits in public improvement and development. Much of the prosperity of Owyhee is due to hit, untiring energy and labor in this section’s behalf”.

[A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, 1898]

source: Find a Grave
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Guffey Bridge, ca. 1898

Directory of Owyhee County.

See also: Colonel William Dewey part 1

Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page

page updated September 18, 2020