Idaho History June 16, 2019

Owyhee Pioneers

(part 2)

Geology of Silver City and vicinity, Idaho 1898


Relief shown by contour lines. Shows geologic minerals for the area surrounding De Lamar, Dewey, and Silver City. Includes Florida Mountain, Black Jack and War Eagle Mountain. Includes minerals granite, basalt, gold, silver, etc. Includes legend. “Twentieth annual report , part III , pl xvii.” Scale: 1 in. = 1 mi.

link to map you can zoom in: Publisher Idaho State Historical Society
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Owyhee (Silver-Gold)

Although Owyhee placers were noted by the Boise Basin discovery party June 28, 1862, the rush to Owyhee did not come until after Michael Jordan’s party made a big strike, May 18, 1863. The Owyhee rush was an especially exciting one, and although the placers did not amount to much, important lodes including the Orofino, August 15, and the Morning Star, October 14, came to light. Even more fabulous was the Poorman, discovered September 14, 1865; a bitter fight developed for control, which was natural considering that one spectacular 500-pound sample of native ruby silver crystal received a special gold medal at the Paris International Exposition of 1867. Stamp milling in Owyhee, though, as in other Idaho districts at the time, started off poorly, and the failure of the leading mill, August 30, 1866, was a major setback. But the mines were rich, and another armed battle for control of a good property developed into the celebrated Owyhee War, which led to military intervention by soldiers from Fort Boise, April 2, 1868. With ore treatment problems worked out, production continued high until failure of the Bank of California, August 26, 1875, and Silver City was second only to the Comstock Lode as a western silver district during that time. Revival was helped by completion of the Oregon Short Line across southern Idaho in 1883 and 1884, and in 1888, J. R. DeLamar got major production underway again. Bringing British capital into the district, he had a mine that produced dividends of 112% on a bullion production of $1,076,432. (This was the only really good British investment in early Idaho mines.) After W. E. Dewey’s Black Jack mine was consolidated with the Trade Dollar, and a railroad built to Murphy in 1899, major production continued on that property. Work continued at Silver City through the depression, although the major yield–of a total of about $40,000,000–had been realized by 1912. Over one million ounces of gold and twenty million ounces of silver are-credited to early Silver City and Delamar. In 1976, arrangements were completed for a large open-pit operation at DeLamar, with $22,000,000 invested in development and in recovery facilities. With an annual production of about 2,000,000 ounces of silver and 24,000 ounces of gold (totaling ten to twelve million dollars) annually, DeLamar’s revival matched Owyhee County’s historic yield by 1984.

excerpted from: “Mining in Idaho 1860-1969” by Ernest Oberbillig, Idaho State Historical Society Number 9 1985
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Pioneers of Owyhee County

Please credit Evan Filby’s South Fork Companion for the following stories and many of the photos of Owyhee County Pioneers.
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Owyhee Mining Investor and Developer John Scales

by Evan Filby

JohnScales-aOwyhee silver mine developer John Scales was born on the 6th of May, 1840 in County Clare, Ireland. The family moved to the U.S. and settled in Maine when John was a teenager. He first found factory work there before attending business school in New York. In 1868, he traveled to California via the Isthmus.

Scales decided Idaho offered better prospects and immediately moved to Silver City. Like most newcomers, he started out as a laborer and worked his way up to better-paying jobs. John soon had enough of a stake to invest in several mining properties.

In 1875, the Bank of California, which had funded much Silver City development, suffered a financial collapse. Large-scale corporate mining activity in the area nose-dived. Historian Hiram T. French observed that, “During the next fifteen years only the smaller properties, that were individually owned, were active.”

Two years after the collapse, Scales and a partner purchased a company that owned valuable claims and a mill west of Silver City. As French suggested, the partners remained active and extracted steady, respectable returns.

Within a decade, Scales was counted among the top operators in the Owyhee mining districts. As his affluence grew, he took an interest in local government: He served terms on the county commission in 1883 and 1885, and also as school superintendent. (He later sat on the county commission again.)

Large scale mining began to recover in the late 1880s. Millionaire mining investor Captain Joseph De Lamar played a major role in the recovery. In 1887 and 1888, he bought up numerous mining claims and consolidated them into the De Lamar Mining Company. In 1890, he sold the company to a group of London investors.

Around 1891, Scales discovered that the tailing stream from the big De Lamar mill contained significant quantities of gold and silver. Apparently the owners saw no profit in recycling the stream, or investing in a post-processor. Scales purchased land around Wagontown, a stage station not quite two miles downstream from Delamar. At first, he dammed Jordan Creek and caught the tailings there.

ScalesMill-aScales’ tailing reservoirs and mill. Commercial Directory.

Soon, however, John made arrangements with De Lamar – the exact details of which are unknown – to process the tailings directly. He then built a flume to carry the outflow directly to “tailing ponds” excavated on property he purchased further down the hillside. In 1893, he built a mill to process what he had collected.

By the end of the decade, his ponds had impounded tailings worth in excess of a half million dollars in recoverable metals. In 1902, the company processed so much material, they ran out of chemicals. The Idaho Statesman reported (November 8, 1902) that “anticipating there would not be time to send for a fresh supply, they closed down for the winter.”

Around 1905, Scales bought property in Hollywood, California, and acquired a “beautiful home” there. He and his wife moved into the new home, although John continued to look after his business interests in Idaho. John passed away in 1909 and his wife returned to Idaho to keep house for their two sons, who were living in Nampa. She died at a Boise hospital in early 1911. Her death notice said she was to be buried beside her husband in Hollywood. (Idaho Statesman; January 13, 1911).

source: South Fork Companion
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Plan of the underground works of the De Lamar Mines, Owyhee Co., Idaho


Geological Survey (U.S.)

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Hotel Owner/Operator and “Hospitality” Industry Pioneer Frank Blackinger

by Evan Filby

Hotel owner and operator Frank J. Blackinger was born August 26, 1855 in Buffalo, New York. His father Valentine had come to America from Bavaria in 1839. Around ten years later, he traveled to “the old country” and married, then immediately returned to New York. The family emigrated to Oregon in 1862. Two years later, his father opened a butcher shop in the settlement that became Silver City. He also opened a grocery store and, in 1864, brought his family to Idaho.

Five years after that, Valentine purchased the War Eagle Hotel. Frank worked in the hotel and the butcher shop for a number of years, and then found a job as a cowboy. The Owyhee Avalanche newspaper reported (October 18, 1873): “V. Blackinger, of the War Eagle Hotel, has returned from Oregon, having succeeded in purchasing some 400 head of cattle in Powder River and Grande Ronde valleys. He left his son Frank behind to bring up the drove which they will winter at Rabbit Creek.”

WarEagleHotel-aWar Eagle Hotel. Directory of Owyhee County.

Frank focused on raising cattle and horses for more than a decade after that. Although he did not take part in the Battle of South Mountain against the Bannock Indians in 1878, he supplied horses for many of the volunteers who did. Frank’s father sold the hotel that year, worked in Boise City for three years, and then moved to Bellevue and opened a meat market. Frank continued to handle the stock ranch there for several years. The only son who survived to adulthood, he began to advance in the world as his attractive sisters married “coming” pioneers.

Thus, in 1872, sister Mary Ann married Hosea Eastman, a wealthy mine owner. Three years later, Eastman and another well-off mining investor, Timothy Regan, became co-owners of the Idaho Hotel in Silver City. Regan bought full ownership in 1877 and, the following year, married Frank’s sister Rose. When the Regans moved to Boise City in 1889, Frank became hotel manager.

In 1899, Blackinger married a popular Silver City schoolteacher and shortly thereafter the couple moved to Boise City. There, he and his brother-in-law opened the firm of Regan and Blackinger, which ran the Capitol Hotel. Regan engaged in a wide range of investments, while Frank specialized in the hotel, bar, and restaurant business.

BlackingerWed-aBlackinger wedding picture. Blackinger family archives.

In 1907, the firm sold the Capitol to the Idaho Brewing Company and Frank chose not to remain on to manage the operation for the new owners. He did, however, consult with his successor every so often and put in appearances “for old times sake.” (Apparently, the aging Capitol was a favorite of “old-timers” who had known Frank and his father in Silver City.)

A year after he left the Capitol Hotel, Blackinger purchased the buffet restaurant at the Overland Building and ran that for about eight years. When that closed down, Frank leased the restaurant at the Idanha Hotel and renovated it. Then, in 1917, Frank bought “the lease, furnishings and business of the Grand Hotel.” He did not own the property itself.

Blackinger was still identified as the proprietor of the Hotel Grand in 1925. A couple years after that, apparently, his eyesight began to fail and his wife assumed more management duties. Frank went totally blind after seven or eight years and the couple sold the hotel business around 1933. She died in September 1942, Frank less than six month later.

source: South Fork Companion
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Pioneers, Silver City, Idaho 1900


Upper row: 1. Helen Murphy Blackinger (left), 2. Fred Irwin, Mgr. Idaho-Pittsburg later Trade Dollar Mine, 3. Permeal French, later Dean of Women, University of Idaho. Lower row: 1. R. H. Britt, Mgr. Poorman Mine.

source: Copyright Idaho State Historical Society
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Silver City Merchant and Postmaster M. M. Getchell

by Evan Filby

Getchell-aOn January 5, 1868, Postmaster Meserve M. Getchell was born in Baring, Maine, on the Canadian border and perhaps 25 miles inland from the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Getchell had a distinguished ancestry: his great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution and his mother was a Mayflower descendant.

He grew up on a farm, then found work in a sawmill as a teenager. Wanting something better, he clerked for a short while, then moved south into New Hampshire. After less than a year of working in a shoe factory, he decided to head west.

Getchell arrived in Silver City during the summer of 1889. By then, both mining and stock raising drove the economy of Owyhee County; Silver City was a thriving community. Meserve landed a job as a clerk in the drug store and also assisted an uncle at the post office. Late that year, the uncle bought the Idaho Hotel and Getchell took a position as clerk there.

Around 1892-1893, Meserve herded sheep on range north of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. (Records don’t say, but it’s possible Getchell’s uncle received a flock in the transaction for the hotel.) He then returned to Silver City and worked in a mill while also helping out at his uncle’s hotel.

In late 1893, Meserve received a temporary appointment to fill the postmaster’s position in Silver City. The following year, President Grover Cleveland made the appointment official for a full term. Meserve had clearly done a fine job: Cleveland, a Democrat, would not ordinarily appoint a staunch Republican to such a position. (Meserve later served as chairman of the Republican Central Committee for Owyhee County.)

Silver City Post Office, Courthouse next door. Directory of Owyhee County.

Not content with just the postal business, Getchell stocked his shop with candy, tobacco products, stationery, and other notions. He also hired his younger brother Asher to help with the operation. In 1897, President William McKinley, a Republican, appointed Meserve for another term as postmaster

The following year, Meserve also became part owner of the Idaho Hotel. He had to find new help at the post office shop, since Asher went to work in the drug store. In fact, Asher remained in the drugstore business for over thirty years, including stays in Boise City and then Twin Falls.

Meserve married in 1891, but their one child died in 1893 and his wife passed away four years later. He remarried in 1898. Mining around Silver City peaked about 1900 and then began a steady decline. (Most of the mines would be closed by 1912.)

In late 1905, Meserve received a surprise. Another Silver City businessman had politicked behind the scenes to block Getchell’s reappointment as postmaster and get the job for himself. The Idaho Statesman observed that all this had happened “before Mr. Getchell knew any one was after his job.”

After the other man was appointed, Meserve sold his store and residence and shortly thereafter moved to Seattle. There, along with his brother-in-law, he invested in a sand and gravel business. Census records show that by 1910 Merserve was the company President, and that he and his wife had made a home for Getchell’s parents.

Getchell remained as President of the sand and gravel business until his death in April 1923, at the fairly early age of 55.

source: South Fork Companion
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Silver City Post Office

photo caption: Silver City folks wait for the mail coach to arrive, and hope it hasn’t been robbed yet again. Provided by Arthur Hart

source: Arthur Hart, Idaho Statesman “Delivering mail could sometimes prove deadly in Idaho frontier”
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Timothy Regan: Freighter, Mining Expert, and Business Developer

by Evan Filby

TimRegan-aTimothy Regan. J. H. Hawley photo.

Wealthy businessman and developer Timothy Regan was born November 14, 1843 near Rochester, New York. The family later moved to Wisconsin, where Timothy grew up and received a public school education. In 1864, he struck out on his own, taking the isthmus route to California.

He found little to his liking there and, being nearly broke, walked all the way to a prosperous gold camp about 20 miles southwest of Winnemucca, Nevada. He worked and saved for about six weeks and then joined with a handful of partners to haul supplies to Silver City, Idaho. But they lost all their goods to an Indian raid near the Oregon-Idaho border.

Again almost broke, Regan hoofed it into Silver City, arriving in early November. Timothy immediately found work chopping firewood. He then landed a job in the Poorman Mine, until it closed down in 1866. He went back to chopping wood, worked in Salt Lake City for a time, and then returned to the Silver City area when a new mine opened up in 1868.

Regan soon branched into several enterprises: operating a sawmill, transporting lumber and ore for the mines, and hauling freight in the region. In 1875, he and partner Hosea Eastman purchased the Idaho Hotel, in Silver City. (Regan bought Eastman out two years later.) Also in 1875, a bank failure ruined several mining companies and Regan, as one of their major creditors, acquired many of their properties.

Considered, according to the Illustrated History, “an expert in his judgment of ore,” Regan eventually held some of the most valuable properties in the area. He later sold many of these holdings at a substantial profit. Although he and his wife moved to Boise City in 1889, Timothy retained some of the mining properties as well as at least a share of the hotel. (He apparently sold the hotel interest about ten years later.)

Regan quickly became a force in Boise City development. Three years before the move, Regan had joined with Hosea Eastman and some others to organize the Boise City National Bank. (The building they later commissioned is today on the National Register of Historic Places.) Although he was a major stockholder, Timothy apparently never held an officer’s position with the bank.

Regan did serve for a few years as the President of the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company, which had opened the Boise Natatorium in 1892. Supplied with hot water from nearby geothermal wells, “the Nat” is still a noted Boise landmark. He was also a major stockholder and officer for the Weiser Land & Improvement Company.

Regan was General Manager and Treasurer of the Overland Company, Ltd., another firm he and Eastman shared. Seeing a need for more office space in downtown Boise, the Company demolished the old Overland Hotel to make room for a new structure.

Largely completed in late 1906, with full occupancy early the following year, the Overland Building would, according to a headline in the Idaho Statesman (November 13, 1905) “be a credit to a city with a population of 100,000.” For many years after, the Overland, later renamed the Eastman Building, was the prestige business address in downtown Boise.

OverlandBldg-aOverland Building, ca 1915. J. H. Hawley photo

Regan and his brother-in-law, Frank Blackinger formed a separate partnership, which owned the Capitol Hotel. Regan and Hosea Eastman were, in fact, married to two of Blackinger’s four sisters.

The Regans’ younger son, John, was killed in France during World War I. Timothy passed away in October 1919.

source: South Fork Companion
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Freight & Freightage, De Lamar, Idaho


Mule-drawn wagon train in the lower part of the town of De Lamar, on Jordan Creek, Owyhee County, Idaho. On ground, Eddie Morgan, Nampa. on horseback, Bob Grant, father of donor. Copied from photo loaned by Earl Grant, Boise.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Cattleman Con Shea Drives Texas Longhorns to Owyhee Ranches

by Evan Filby

ConShea-aCon Shea, ca 1898. Savings Bank of Santa Rosa.

On September 24, 1870, the Owyhee Avalanche (Silver City, Idaho) published the following item: “From Texas – Con Shea, one of Owyhee’s most adventurous and enterprising citizens, just got back from Texas. He and Tom Bugbee left here in March last, since that time they have purchased in Texas, and driven to within one hundred miles of Denver City, some 1300 head of cattle. Bugbee remains with the stock, which will winter on the waters of the Arkansas river. Grass is very short along the route, which accounts for their not coming on this season.”

Originally from Canada, Cornelius “Con” Shea arrived in Idaho in the spring of 1864. He worked as a miner and then teamster for awhile, but by 1867 had established himself as a cattleman. The following year, a well-off rancher bankrolled him to go to Texas and bring back a herd of longhorns. (Texas had a “glut” of cattle, and prices were low.)

Longhorns-aLonghorns on the move. International Texas Longhorn Association.

Con started east, but at Raft River ran into a drive already on its way from Texas. The owners agreed to sell him the herd. Con drove the cattle to range along Sinker and Catherine creeks (southeast of today’s Murphy). These are believed to be the first Texas cattle brought into the “Owyhee Country” of southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon.

The following year, Con and some other cattlemen bought longhorns along the Brazos River in Texas and drove them to Idaho. As noted by the lead newspaper item above, Con repeated the process in 1870. Many of these cattle went, as needed, from the range to meat markets in the Owyhee mining camps. But ranchers like Shea also began to build up their breeding stock.

In 1874, Con moved his herds to grazing land that straddled the Oregon border, about 15 miles northwest of Silver City. He and a brother also ran a meat market in a mining camp that flourished near Silver City from 1871 to about 1876. Con and two of his brothers took part in the Battle of South Mountain during the Bannock War of 1878. For the next twenty years, Shea played a major role in the Owyhee Country cattle business. He left his name on Idaho’s Con Shea Basin and on Sheaville, Oregon.

Around 1883, Shea purchased a winter home in Santa Rosa, California. After that, he “commuted” to Idaho and Oregon to oversee his ranch and business properties. Local newspapers usually referred to his town visits with the lead: “Con Shea of Cow Creek …” (Cow Creek rises about ten miles northwest of Silver City.)

After the Oregon Short Line laid tracks across Idaho, Shea began selling cattle to the Eastern markets. Thus, the Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho, reported (July 4, 1885) that Shea had sold a consignment to a company in Chicago. The item said he was about to “turn over 1500 or 2000 head to the agent of the firm at Caldwell.”

Around 1897, Shea disposed of his Idaho and Oregon ranch holdings and moved permanently to Santa Rosa. There, he had invested in land and other real estate, and served as Director of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa. After the 1906 Bay Area earthquake, a Santa Rosa newspaper lauded the fact that Shea intended to rebuild his commercial properties using reinforced concrete.

Con passed away in May 1926.

source: South Fork Companion
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Idaho Cattlemen meeting


Idaho Cattlemen meeting at Silver City. The Men are sitting on the steps of the Silver City School House Museum. August 17, 1950

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Capt John White


Birth: 1815 Ireland
Death: 13 Feb 1894 (aged 78–79) Grand View, Owyhee County, Idaho
Burial: Shoo Fly Cemetery Grand View, Owyhee County, Idaho

“Captain John White, an old man who has lived for many years at the mouth of Bruneau river, earning a livelihood principally by fishing, and who for the past year has been practically a county charge, died on the 12th inst. at Turmes ranch, on Shoo Fly, where he has been stopping during the winter. Captain White was an honest man and respected by all who knew him. He was about 70 years old”.
[DeLamar Nugget, Delamar, Idaho, 24 Feb 1894]

On a hillside near Shoo Fly creek, midst the weird and mysterious wind-carved formations of colitic sandstone, is another Owyhee County pioneer cemetery. Here other hard and persevering pioneers who helped make our history are found at their final resting places.

A white marble stone wtih the inscription, “Captain John White” indicates he lived in the area. John White was born in County Louth, Province of Leicester, Ireland, in 1815. He began seafaring at an early age and worked his way from cabin boy to captain of a vessel. After many adventures on sea and distant lands, Captain White came to the United States, going first to California in the early 1850’s. White tried his fortune in the gold mines until he had the misfortune to lose his eyesight. After partially regaining the sight in one of his eyes he came to Idaho Territory. Captain White lived alone on the Bruneau river for a quarter of a century where he was known by the old timers as the “lone fisherman”. White fished for salmon in the Bruneau and Snake rivers and once or twice annually delivered fish by the wagon load to the mining camps. During the 70’s and 80’s the people of Silver City looked expectantly for Captain White. The warm-hearted Irish sea captain was long and tenderly remembered in Silver City not only because of the treat of fresh salmon but for his sea-faring tales and genial manner.

An unknown friend summarized his passing with the following, “He never married and had no relatives of which he knew. He was happy in his old days and had the best care taken of him. ‘Poor Captain, may your rest be eternal, your sleep peaceful and your hopes realized’. ”
[Idaho Free Press”, Nampa, Idaho, Tuesday, February 29, 1972, section D-4 Owyhee County]

source: Find a Grave

Shoo Fly Cemetery Memorials

Grand View, Owyhee County, Idaho

link to: Find a Grave
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More photos at the Idaho State Historical Society

De Lamar

Silver City
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Link to Owyhee Pioneers (part 1)

Link to Silver City

page updated September 15, 2020