Caribou County, Idaho
Jesse “Cariboo Jack” Fairchild
Death: Sep 1881 (aged 44–45)
Burial: Fairview Cemetery Soda Springs, Caribou County, Idaho
Western Frontiersman. Born in Canada, he was a tale-spinning gold miner known as “Caribou Jack”. In 1870, he discovered gold in Soda Springs, Idaho. The resulting gold rush called the Caribou Mountain Strike, lasted 20 years and produced $50 million worth of placer gold. The Caribou National Forest was created in 1907, to help preserve wilderness land in an area marked by mining activity and westward migration. Caribou National Forest and Caribou County, Idaho, are named in Caribou Jack’s honor.
Bio by: John “J-Cat” Griffith
source: Find a Grave
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Excerpts from “Historic Soda Springs Oasis on the Oregon Trail” By Ellen Carney
Jesse Fairchild was quite a talker, and prone to try and impress people with his tall tales, one of which was about himself, “I was born in a blizzard snowdrift in the worst storm ever to hit Canada. I was bathed in a gold pan, suckled by a caribou, wrapped in a buffalo rug, and could whip any grizzly going before I was thirteen.That’s when I left home”.
Fairchild earned his nickname as “Carriboo Jack in Rocky Bar, Idaho, in the summer of 1869. Prone to exaggeration, when other miners laughed at or questioned the tall tales he told about Cariboo mining district of British Columbia, he would say, “It is so, I will let you know I am from Cariboo.”
In 1869, Carriboo Jack and his buddies, John Keenan, and Frank McCoy, all from British Columbia, are credited as the first to discover gold, on what was then known as Mt. Pisgah, but now is called Caribou Mountain north of Grays Lake. The find became known as “Carriboo’s Diggings.” Gold mining on Caribou Mountain lasted until the early 1900’s.
This account of Fairchild’s death is taken from “Historic Soda Springs Oasis on the Oregon Trail” by Ellen Carney with permission.
J. J. Call went up the river looking for beaver tracks, he heard there was a big one there, but he didn’t see any outstandingly large tracks until he got to where the big cold water spring comes in the river. He bent over looking at the tracks when he heard a noise and reared up. There was a huge grizzly coming right at him. He didn’t even have time to draw his pistol and turn around, but fired from under his arm.
He hit the grizzly across the face. The animal reared up on its hind legs and hit Call, who was wearing a big canvas hunting coat with an ample lunch in his pocket.The bear’s claws went through the coat and lunch and Call’s heavy underwear, leaving claw marks in his hip. The blow knocked him about twelve feet and into the river. The grizzly was about to come after him, when distracted by Call’s little cattle dog. Call, deciding not to stay and argue with a grizzly when armed with only a pistol went back to town to get his rifle and some dry clothing.
Call’s wife hid his rifle until he could get someone to go with him. In Gorton’s Saloon a man by the name of Lee Wright said he would go if he had a gun. The bartender handed him one. Then Fairchild, being the man who boasted he could whip any grizzly, and probably having a few too many drinks under his belt, quickly volunteered.
While the others set a row of fires to bring out the grizzly, Fairchild took off right down through the willows, and all at once they heard him screaming. Running towards the screams, they found a large grizzly had picked Fairchild up and was shaking him like a dog shaking a rat. When they finally got a shot at the bear, he fell with his head right on top of Fairchild.
Wright ran to town for a buggy and sent a rider to Malad for a doctor. When the doctor arrived, he sewed up all of the cuts instead of leaving an opening so they could drain. Carriboo Jack contracted blood poisoning and week later was dead.
Carriboo Jack had spent fourteen years at the Carriboo mines. His luck ran out towards the end. He finally met a grizzly he couldn’t whip.
Jesse “Carriboo Jack” Fairchild is buried in the Soda Springs Fairview Cemetery. His crumbling gravestone has recently been augmented by a new marker telling the world this man is the namesake of Caribou City, Caribou Mountain, Caribou County, and Caribou National Forest.
Carriboo, or Cariboo which one? I guess it depends on what historical document is read would be the way it was spelled, and it wasn’t until a new map was made in 1921 that the spelling was changed to Caribou. It is thought that the modern editor figured the older editor just didn’t know how to spell.
While Cariboo Jack gave his name to a mountain, a city, County and a national forest, he died long before it was determined he and his associates were atop a rich country now noted for grazing of large herds and flocks, for phosphate mining, fine timberland, fishing waters and recreation areas, a wealth to be enjoyed for many years.
source: Caribou County, Idaho (dead link)
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Discovery of Gold on Caribou Mountain
(larger map at source link)
Gold was discovered on Mt. Pisgah (now Caribou Mountain) in 1870 by Jesse Fairchilds or “Cariboo Jack”, an itinerant miner who gained his name in the Cariboo Mining District of British Columbia. A typical western gold rush followed. Two good-sized towns, Carriboo City and Keenan, grew up close to each other on the mountain, which looms above Grays Lake Valley to elevation 9,803 feet. Both cities were deserted after a few years but mining has continued sporadically to the present. About one million dollars of gold was taken from the area, mainly by placer methods, with the associated ditches and pipelines to supply water to the mines. Two hand-dug ditches,with a length of about 7 miles, rimmed Caribou Mountain.
source: Digital Atlas
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Jesse Fairchilds, “Carriboo Jack”, came to Rocky Bar in the fall of 1869. He told tall tales from the Carriboo Mining District of British Columbia where: “the caribou ran so thick that a fellow could run all the way to hell and back atop them and never touch bare ground. Their breath, which turned immediately into snow and ice, kept the north country covered in white. They would build a mountain in a minute with their breath.”
Of himself, he said, “I was born in a blizzard snowdrift in the worst damn storm to ever hit Canada. I was bathed in a gold pan, suckled by a caribou, wrapped in a buffalo rug, and could whip any grizzly going before I was thirteen. That’s when I left home.” When challenged on his tales he’d respond: “It is so. I will let you know I am from Carriboo!”
The “Jack” in the nickname came from his mule: “so danged smart he had to change socks once a week or she wouldn’t let him ride her.” She could open any gate built: “she stole a full year of grain, a sack at a time from a Quaker farmer — each night he built the latch higher on the door until finally the mule couldn’t reach it. That only stopped her one night — the next night the mule was seen standing on hind legs telling the family dog standing on her forehead how to open the latch.”
In 1870 Fairchilds was one of several credited as the first to discover gold on the mountain that bears his nickname. Claims were filed (for “Carriboo’s Diggings”) in Lander, because it was thought the area was in Wyoming. Jesse “Carriboo Jack” spent 14 years at the Carriboo mines near Keenan City, till the color played out.
Sitting at a saloon in Soda Springs he heard of a wounded grizzly bear down by Bear River. Reinforced with reputation and plenty of drinks, Carriboo Jack took the lead and walked right into the brush after the bear. The bear attacked, Jack’s shot missed and Jim Call finally killed the bear but not until the bear inflicted serious wounds. Medical help from Malad took several hours but apparently Jack died from blood poisoning within a week when the doctor sewed up his wounds but failed to allow openings so they could properly drain. Carriboo Jack was buried in Soda Springs where a commemorative grave marker has been established.
Near the cemetery at Geyser Park, a visitor center/public restroom commemorates the history of the area and explains the legacy that endures. The Carriboo Jack Memorial was dedicated May 18, 1996, as a central feature of Soda Springs’ centennial celebration. Next time you’re in Soda Springs, take a moment and stop to appreciate the source of the name for the Caribou Mountain, Caribou City, Caribou County and the Caribou National Forest.
Paul R. Nordwall, Retired, Caribou National Forest Supervisor 1983-1997
Quotes used here come from various sources captured in The Mountain Carriboo and Other Gold Camps in Idaho, by Ellen Carney and Elaine S. Johnson of Soda Springs, Traildust Publishing Co., 1994.
source: Caribou-Targhee National Forest
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source: Google Maps
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Caribou Mountains (Idaho)
Caribou Mountains are a mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, United States. The mountains are in the Caribou National Forest in Bonneville and Caribou counties, near the Wyoming border.
Named for Cariboo Fairchild, a prospector who had taken part in the gold rush in the Cariboo region of British Columbia in 1860. Fairchild discovered gold in this area of present-day eastern Idaho two years later.
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Soda Springs Idaho 1882
Copyright Idaho state Historical Society
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Soda Springs, Idaho – Curiosity on the Oregon Trail
Located along a shortcut in the Oregon-California Trail off of the main route to Fort Hall, Idaho was Soda Springs. These natural bubbling pools of carbonated water, caused by ancient volcanic activity, were first called “Beer Springs”. Visited by local Indians, fur traders, and trappers prior to the days of the Oregon Trail emigrations, the springs were rightfully considered to be one of the marvels of the overland trails.
At the time that pioneers were headed west for California and Oregon, there was an abundance of springs and water in the area and the area became known as the “Oregon Trail Oasis.”
Emigrants frequently took advantage of the hot water to wash clothes, bathing, and medicinal purposes, often noting the picturesque scenery of the area and the smell that came from the springs. On July 24, 1838, Sarah White Smith stated:
“Traveled … along the bank of the Bear River & are encamped at Soda Springs. This is indeed a curiosity. The water tastes like soda water, especially artificially prepared. The water is bubbling and foaming like boiling water. I drank of it. . . . We find it excellent for baking bread, no preparation of water is necessary. Take it from the fountain & the bread is as light as any prepared with yeast.”
excerpted from: Legends of America
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1860 Idaho Counties
courtesy Rick Just
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Caribou County, Idaho History
Robert Stuart explored the area of Soda Springs in 1812. Donald Mackenzie also explored the area in 1819. The explorers were followed by trappers, missionaries, and emigrants that would travel through on the Oregon Trail. Soda Springs’ namesake springs were an attraction for the trappers who met there to socialize on November 10, 1833. Missionaries and emigrant Journal entries describing the springs date back to John K. Townsend’s journal entry of July 8, 1834.
In May, 1863, members of the Morrisite religious sect took refuge at the junction of Soda Creek and Bear River where they formed Morristown. At the direction of General Patrick E. Conner, a fort was constructed in the Fall of 1863 for their protection. Soda Springs was established as the county seat of Oneida County when it was created January 22, 1864, serving as the county seat until 1866. The 1870 census lists a population of 144 for Soda Springs. Settlement of the present town of Soda Springs occurred in May, 1871 when Brigham Young and other Mormons purchased land at the present site of Soda Springs. Young would often recreate on his property holdings there.
Settlement in the western portion of the county from Thatcher to Chesterfield was primarily ranching and farming operations up until 1880. Chester Call, Chesterfield’s namesake arrived in 1880, bring his family in 1881. The towns of Chesterfield and Squaw Creek Station were settled in 1882. Squaw Creek Station was the initial name for Bancroft that was established when the railroad was built. It was renamed Bancroft on July 23, 1898. Settlement at the town of Grace commenced in 1893. Chesterfield declined in population while Grace and Bancroft endured.
All of present Caribou County became a part of Bingham County when it was created on January 13, 1885. The 1890 census lists four precincts of Chesterfield, Gentile Valley (now Thatcher), Little Blackfoot (now Henry), and Soda Springs with a combined population of 1.722. The Caribou precinct with 342 residents also contained residents within present-day Caribou County, but also included territory now in Bonneville county.
Bannock County was established on March 6, 1893. Bancroft, Chesterfield, Chubb Springs (now Henry), Gentile Valley (now Thatcher), Salt River (now Freedom), and Soda Springs were in existence at the 1900 census with a combined population of 3,430.
When the legislature formed Caribou County on February 11, 1919, Bannock County retained the Gem, Gentile Valley, and Upper Portneuf valleys. The retained area contained 4,486 residents at the 1920 Census, declining to 3,572 residents by the 1940 Census. On January 11, 1948, the residents of this area voted to become part of Caribou County.
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1879 Caribou Mine
source: Mike Fritz Collection
link to full large 1879 Idaho map
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A History of the Caribou Mountain Mining Area
“Treasures of Cariboo”
Quoted from Captain Bonneville’s County, pp. 151-160
“Cariboo is legendary – so legendary that the facts become more elusive with each new bit of information. Who discovered the gold? How much was taken out? Fifty million? Sixty-two million? Or a paltry two million five hundred thousand? Who got rich from Cariboo? Were there two towns or three? Or was there just one, called at various times Cariboo, Keenan, Iowa Bar? On-the-spot notes on Cariboo are scarce, and even those do not agree…
“Gold was discovered on the slopes of the highest mountain east of Gray’s lake on what is now southern Bonneville county in 1870. That much historians agree on. It was discovered by one of the following claimants: George Chapin, a trapper; an unnamed Negro cook from the Oneida Salt Works on Stump Creek; P.M. McCoy and P.S. Babcock; Jesse Pairchilds, late of Canada, and full of hair-raising tales from the fabulous gold diggings at Cariboo, British Columbia; or perhaps some obscure prospector who was drygulched either literally or legally and thus eluded historical note.
” ‘In 1870 reports of new gold diggings travelled fast, and within a year there were approximately five hundred white miners and four hundred Chinese at the mines,’ according to a history of Caribou County. (1) Commerce to and from the diggings went chiefly through Soda Springs, fifty miles southward, to the railroad at Corinne, Utah.
” ‘The placer mines of Cariboo were discovered by Babcock and McCoy in September, 1870, and since have yielded as high as $250,000 a year,’ according to J.L. Onderdonk, writing in 1884. (2)
” ‘Placer mining and amalgamation were the processes used in obtaining the precious mineral. The ore was crushed in crude devices operated by horse power. It was combined with quicksilver or washed in pans. At some claims one and one half foot canvas hose was used to wash the gold. Mountain streams, fed by the heavy snows which occurred at that high, altitude were the only available source of water. This necessitated hard and rapid work during the summer runoff.’
“Most accounts place Caribou City on the eastern slope of the mountain; ruins there indicate this to be true. The elusive Keenan City, if a separate entity, is placed on Keenan Creek or Barnes Creek; a definite location has yet to be established. Captian John Codman in 1873 thought Caribou City and Keenan City the same. He was told that scattered claims on the western slope constituted Iowa City. Lt. G. C. Doane in 1876 wrote in his journal that he was at Keenan City, but datelined a billet from that point ‘Iowa Bar.’
“Caribou City developed into the largest camp in the district, reaching a population of about fifteen hundred. As a center of Idaho population in the middle ’80’s it ran a close race with Eagle Rock, later Idaho Falls. It was a typical mining town of that day. Besides the gambling halls, bars, saloons, dancing girls and the usual aggregation of men of all kinds and nationalities seeking a fortune in gold dust, there were several supply stores, a post office and boarding houses. Caribou City also boasted a three-story hotel known as the ‘Green House’ which was considered quite an elaborate lodging place to be situated in a mining camp. Robert Campbell operated a butcher shop in the town, and his wife opened and maintained a boarding house.
Captian John Codman visited Cariboo in August, 1873, making the trip from Soda Springs.
“… We came to a log-house which we were told was Cariboo. The real name of the town is Keenan City, it contains about a dozen log-houses, including a saloon, lodging house, and restaurant, entertainment being furnished on the ‘European plan.’
“It was after 2 a.m. when we were shown to our apartment. This was a log house of one room, in which two gentlemen were already sleeping jn a shelf under a blanket. Two other double shelves were provided for us. Neither of them, had a mattress upon it, but they were furnished with horse blankets, and pillows were not. I selected the least inebriated, of my fellow passengers for a bed fellow, and turned in after placing my coat and pantaloons on a empty box, using my monkey-jacket for a pillow and walking to my shelf over the bare ground, for the apartment had no floor. But we were all tired enough to sleep until seven o’clock, when I awoke first and got out of doors.
“It was a lovely morning after the storm, and the air was delightfully cool and invigorating. But the wretched- woebegone look of Keenan City! The street was nearly knee-deep with mud and the miners were already wading through it to their work, with their picks, shovels and pans on their backs.
“I went to a restaurant and found it was kept by a Scotsman and his wife, and Englishman… it was neatly arranged, and my breakfast of toast and fresh butter, and a tender beefsteak with potatoes was well cooked.
“I met Jeff Davis at the table – not Jeff the rebel, but Jeff the teamster, who is well known all over this country. After breakfast Jeff proposed a walk to the placer diggings, a mile or two outside the city limits.
“The men were busily employed in the gulch when we arrived. This gulch is away back in the pine forest, and the sight is very romantic. The men were at their work, and near by among the trees several log-cabins, tastily decorated with spruce boughs, and some very spruce young women too, the wives and daughters of the miners, around them.
“The process of placer-mining is hydraulic, a strong stream of water being turned on to wash away the banks of dirt and then running through wooden flumes, in the bottom of which the gold settles and is afterwards removed.
“Besides these works there are some owned by poor men and Chinamen, who pan out gold in the primitive way. I borrowed a pan and was not very successful, getting only a few specks of dust for my trouble. Indeed, little is done by this method now, those who simply pan are rarely getting more than two or three dollars per day.
“In the afternoon Mr. Brown, my landlord, invited me to go with him to the top of the mountain and see the place where he had been successfully prospecting for quartz-gold. Brown and I… ascended towards the mountain through what would have been a magnificent forest if a recent fire had not sadly marred its beauty. There was no trail, and we were obliged to pick our way through thick underbrush, and over hundreds of fallen trees. Cariboo is about two thousand feet higher than Soda, so it is some ten thousand feet above the level of the sea. The mountain is 1500 feet above the level of the town.
“After ascending five hundred feet we came to patches of snow. Above them it was beautifully green with pines and grass, and just where gold was struck, halfway to the summit, there was a great, wide, grassy lawn, looking as if it had been laid out by a landscape gardener. On the edge of this, among the pines, were the huts of the prospectors, made of bark and pineboughs.
“It was only three weeks since these quartz-mines were discovered and the ore had not been thoroughly assayed. But they are probably very rich, and are likely to be the original source of the deposits found in the gulches. Very little work has been done in them yet.
“After looking at the specks of gold in the broken quartz, and wishing that I owned the mountain, I determined to get upon the top of it and tread all its gold under my feet… It was tedious climbing over the loose rocks, and through the deep snow, but we accomplished it at last. We were on the highest peak of the range, and looked down upon the lesser mountains of snowy summits, and over them all beyond the valleys near us, into valleys in the far distance, tracing the Snake and Blackfoot River for at least a hundred miles… as far as the eye could reach in the clear atmosphere on this brilliant afternoon.”
The following day, August 6, 1873, Captain Codman accepted an invitation to go “Over beyond the mountain and see some of the other quartz-leads.”
“There were almost perpendicular descents into ravines, and away up more than a thousand feet above the valley, we crawled along the side-hill like flies on the edge of a teacup… Below us was an immense basin shaped valley, carpeted with the greenest grass, and figured with patches of giant pines, looking like shrub, shrubs, beneath us. Over beyond, range upon range, were clearly defined mountains of different shades of dark granite to the faintest blue in the far distance.
“In the early part of our ride we had cone through flocks of mountain grouse. They were so tame that we shot them with our pistols from the saddles, and brought along a lot of young chicks with us. We camped with Thompson and Graham and another man, the prospectors who had just discovered a new quartz-lead, and from which they expect to make their fortunes.
“Introductions and drinks were in order… it is only by falling back on total abstinence that I have escaped being drunk half the time and being poisoned for life, since I have been in Cariboo.
“If I was asked what miners lived upon I should answer, ‘Whiskey and hope.’ As to the former, I would prefer having the value of what is drunk, to having all the gold that is, panned in Cariboo, for the miners spend all their gold dust for whiskey, and are still in debt for it. As to hope, they are always living, and that joyfully, on ‘Great Expectations.’
“On the morning of August 9,… we started for Iowa City, This ‘important town’ is situated in a valley on the other side of the mountain, distant from Cariboo about seven or eight miles.
“I really could not find Iowa City, although I was assured that we had been there. Here and there within the distance of half a mile, there were some log-cabins, in all perhaps half a dozen. The last place to which we came waa the residence of Wm Clemens, Esq. the head man of the place; there we alighted, tied our horses to trees, and then went with Mr. Clemens to see his claim. To arrive at it one must go on foot, by a wild shaded path through the pine woods. On the way we gathered a great many whortle berries… a dark purple color, slightly acid and very pleasing to the taste.
“Returning to the cabin of Mr. Clemens and resting a while, we came back to Cariboo.”
(1) “Tosiba,” by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.
(2) History of Idaho Territory.
“After lunch, our miner friend brought out a small glass jar, with the yellow evidence of his labor, consisting mostly of flakes and kernels – nothing very large – probably several ounces. At this date, gold had not escalated in price, and was valued at some 30 dollars per ounce. As far as we were able to see, this was the only consistent mining operation in progress on the mountain.”
“There was Gold On Caribou!” by Reed Olsen Snake River Echoes, Vol 13, #4.
“… The Trail led up Herman Canyon, east through Della’s Basin and over the next pass to the headwaters of City creek, then downstream to Barnes Creek that has its headwaters on the northwest base of Caribou Mountain. (is called Keenan City.)
“Below in the creek bed lay long rows of washed rock, piled high as the eaves on a house and wide as a barn across the bottom. Rocks small as baseballs or large as watermelons piled neatly in windrows. Each rock looked as if it had been carefully placed rather than being carelessly tosses away to rest where it fell.
“On the last trip as the afternoon shadows lengthened across the canyon, I let my horse pick his way through the rocks and fallen trees to the dusty road that led northward into Caribou Basin. The trail led upward passing Keenan City, past the Hayden cabins, up to the foot of Houtz Basin (named after Johnny Houtz), around and beneath the high cliffs where the cables came down from the Pittsburg Mine, high above on the north face of the mountain, then out and around a steep rocky point to the Robinson mine with its stamp mill, boilers, air compressors and all fascinating machinery for underground mining.”
“Keenan City. Gold!!!!” By Robert A. Collins, Snake River Schoes, Vol. 14, #2.
Historical Paper Though to Have Been Written By D.U.P. at Unknown Time According to Anthony A Varilone, District Ranger, Caribou National Forest, Jan. 1986.
“The first mining activity, the discovery of placer gold, was made on McCoy Creek, September 187O, by F.S. Babcock, P. McCoy and Jesse Fairchild. This discovery started a gold rush in 1870 and placer gold was found in Iowa Creek, Anderson Creek, City Creek, Barns Creek and Bilk Creek. Before the end of 1870 the mining town of Keenan (now a ghost town) named for John Keenan, who discovered gold on upper McCoy Creek, had more than 500 population and a ‘Chinatown’ was located a short distance below with a population of about 400 Chinese.
The first placer claims along City and Barnes Creeks were, by agreement, only 200 feet in length along both banks of the Creek and the average ‘Haul’ was one ounce of gold per man.
Iowa Bar, later known as ‘Caribou City,’ was opened in 1870 and is credited with a population of 1500 people during the 1870’s.
The town of Herman along the Gray’s Lake meadow came into existence about 1875 to serve as a supply center for the gold camps. There are three old buildings, two saloons and an old residence still standing on the old Herman townsite.
The ‘Caribou’ gold dust was normally very fine. Some called it flour gold of +$21.00 fineness. Many mining men consider that it is the source of the flour gold along Snake River.
Quartz mining developed on the ledges on Caribou Mountain about 1875 and flourished for many years with sporadic activity continuing up to the present time.
The ores found in the Caribou country reached a low ebb by 1900 but placer mining has continued on a small scale up to the present time. (date of writing uncertain) Barzilla Clark reports that the production of gold was reported to exceed 50 million dollars.
Two dredges were operated in Upper McCoy Creek after 1900 but both proved unsuccessful because of the shallow ground and roughbed rock.”
source: A History of the Caribou Mountain Mining Area Compiled for the Star Valley Historical Society Afton, Wyoming by Forrest Kennington, Kathleen Hamblin November 2014
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1888 Cariboo Mountain
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Site Report – Caribou Mountain – Tincup Creek
Some placer mining camps were worked out rather quickly, while others lasted for many seasons. Richness of the mines did not determine how long they lasted; length of the normal mining season (usually the length of the season water was available to operate sluices and other gold recovery equipment) and difficulty of handling the gold-bearing gravel, along with amount of gravel to be processed, generally had more impact on the duration of a mining camp. Most placer miners preferred to get rich quickly and to finish working their claims as soon as possible. But mining districts which could not be exhausted in a season or two enjoyed greater stability and performance. Cariboo Mountain, with a short annual water season and with deeply buried placers, lasted a long time as a mining center.
Discovered in the summer of 1870, these mines were named for Jesse Fairchilds, generally known as Cariboo Fairchilds because he had worked earlier in the Cariboo mines in British Columbia. While contrasting greatly in richness with the fabulous buried placers characteristic of Cariboo, B.C., some of the deep placers on Cariboo Mountain were slightly reminiscent of Cariboo Fairchilds’ earlier experience. Some of the Cariboo Mountain deposits showed enough early promise to set off a modest gold rush from Malad and Corinne — the latter a new anti-Mormon freighters’ community on the Central Pacific in Utah. Accounts of the excitement in Corinne and of the beginnings of the new mining district (mistakenly identified at first as in Wyoming) came out of Utah early in September:
Reports reach us of the discovery of very rich gold mines in the district known as Cariboo, in Wyoming. The precious metal is said to be in the form called “free gold,” and the richest location about seventy miles east of Soda Springs and near the headwaters of Green River. Of course, the reports give it as richer than anything yet struck in the mountains. A party is going from this neighborhood, and as the distance is not great, we shall probably have authentic intelligence before many days.
A more accurate report was available two days later:
At last we have some reliable news from this new Eldorado, and from gentlemen not liable to be mistaken. Messrs. Fisher and Lavey reached Corinne yesterday, direct from the mines. Their party of twelve had located and gone to work but a few days before, when a sudden fire destroyed all their provisions but fifty pounds of flour. Three men were at once sent out, making the distance to Ross’ Fork, ninety miles, with no provisions but one sagehen. One of the number returned at once with supplies obtained there, while the two mentioned came on to this city. Their entire company and all they had seen were making from ten to fifteen dollars per day to the man. The area of pay- ground is quite extensive. Quite a number of companies are already on the way there, two of which got lost in the mountains by attempting to find a shorter route, and suffered considerably. The only direct and safe route is to go up the regular Montana road to Ross Fork, from which place a trail leads off a little north of east for ninety miles to the center of the district.
A large map, posted up at Ross Fork, shows the exact route. Fisher and Lavey rode horseback from the last point here, over a hundred miles, in a day and night, about the quickest time on record in these parts. They have purchased 10,000 pounds of supplies and several hundred picks and shovels, with which they purpose to make good freighting time back to their locations. The supplies were obtained of Barratt, who worked all of last night to get them shipped, and the scenes around his store this morning remind one powerfully of the old times of “gold stampedes.” Now that the mines are an established and ascertained fact, whether rich or not, quite a number of Corinnethians are preparing for a start, of whom more anon.
By September 12, the rush to Cariboo provided an excellent vacation opportunity for almost anyone in the vicinity who wanted to see the new mines:
It is not yet a week since the discovery of the rich gold diggins in Eastern Idaho became known through the towns and settlements along the roads between here and Montana. Thomas Winsett informs us that he was at Malad City when the account reached that place, and in an hour afterward there were parties of from two to ten on their way to the gold fields, and all the way down to Corinne he met people going up to try their fortunes. In addition to the party that left here yesterday, we notice now some more, including many of the business men of the city who are to start tomorrow.
Among these are Harry Creighton, Mr. Burgess, Mr. Short, J. W. Wallace, Geo. Wright, and a number of others. The distance being only a four or five days’ journey, and the road a good one, the trip, outside of the nature of the expedition, will be pleasant to the participants. Later accounts all indicate that the district is a basin of great extent and richness. The only practicable route of travel in there is that described in our last issue, namely, the stage road to Ross’ Fork, 120 miles from Corinne, and thence 90 miles northeast to the district. We are informed by persons long acquainted with that part of the country that these mines are in Idaho, and not in Wyoming as we inadvertently stated on Saturday. This city is the nearest starting point on the railroad, as well as the most convenient supply depot for the new diggings, and all present appearances promise that we are destined to have an immense trade this Fall with the miners of Idaho.
Because of the high elevation and lateness of the season, those who joined the Cariboo gold rush in 1870 could not do very much except prospect when they go there. They could go out panning gold to find the best claims; but with acres of gravel to be worked, panning was too slow and difficult a process to use for gold production. Sluice boxes (in which a strong current of water carried placer gravel over slats that trapped and separated out the gold) worked best. But they could be used only when a lot of water could be brought through ditches to the better claims. Some water still was available for operating a sluice box (which did not function so well as it should,) and the miners gained confidence that they would have a lively camp the next summer.
Reports from Cariboo the next spring continued to show optimism. J. H. Stump, who had a salt mine between Soda Springs and Cariboo, passed on some reliable information concerning the new gold camp, April 24:
The first news of the season from the new diggings reached us through Hon. J. H. Stump, of Malad City, who has just returned from Soda Springs. He says that some of the men who remained all winter in the basin, came out a few days ago after supplies, and they had sums of three or four hundred dollars each in good dust, panned during their sojourn. The road in will be passable in a few days, and the placers in McCoy’s basin will afford six dollar diggins to several hundred men, with good prospects for still richer product than this.
Many mines are now getting ready up the road to go in to New Cariboo, and all are satisfied that a good season is ahead for the summer.
Cariboo Mountain rises to an elevation of 9,803 feet, and most of the mines there were found at high elevation. Few other Idaho camps were anywhere near that high. Heavy winter snow prevented much in the way of mining for half the year; and when the deep snow finally melted, water ran off so that little could be done much of the rest of the time. This kind of situation was typical of mining in the high country. When spring finally came to Cariboo in May, those who had spent the winter there had a chance to give their sluices a better test. Keenan, Allen, and Davis–the pioneer company who started operating in the spring– recovered $60 in a day and a half. Their return ran high enough to encourage construction of a saw mill to turn out lumber for more sluice boxes. This kind of success helped to overcome some of the discouragement arising from difficult mining conditions in the new camp:
Since the discovery of gold in California up to the present time every new mining camp has had its rush and stampede of eager fortune seekers, and likewise a reaction. Rushing to the new El Dorados without aim or purpose, except to find gold in lumps on the surface, the excited stampeder is disappointed and soon disgusted if shining nuggets as large as boulders are not as thickly scattered before his view as leaves on the strand. Cariboo has not been an exception to this characteristic custom, and although the mines had hardly been prospected, the most discouraging reports were circulated concerning them, until all confidence had been destroyed in the new region. But a shrewd miner’s proverb runs that “gold is where you find it, and not where lazy men say it is not.” Reliable advices from Cariboo were received here yesterday, which convince us that extensive gold fields exist, and that the yield of dust will be large. A letter received last evening by Mr. Kupfer from a Mr. Meyer, a reliable gentleman mining at Cariboo, states that active mining had but just commenced, and that the most encouraging results had been obtained from several “clean ups.” Two men working the claim immediately above the writer had made their first “clean up” the evening before the date of the letter from a ten hours’ run and realized $23 and some cents in good dust.
Three claims further above the claim of the writer three men had cleaned up $43.60 in one day’s sluicing.
The yield of some other claims is given, but we have quoted sufficient items to demonstrate that Corinne has valuable gold fields in her immediate neighborhood, which will cause a stir before the dog days are over.
Mr. Meyer pronounces the dust of Cariboo as worth more than the average stuff, being fine and pure. The credit of claim owners is said to be good, and a poor man who wants to work his mine can get all his tools and “grub” on “tick.” An express will shortly be put on between this city and Cariboo, when information will be received more regularly from the new El Dorado.
Confirmation of the problems of mining at Cariboo — as well as of potential wealth of the district — came with a report that the miners there wanted to import Chinese labor:
A gentleman now here from the gold diggings of Cariboo, reports to us that claim owners are steadily making $20 a day to the man. Ground on McCoy and Iowa creeks, is growing richer, but there is great scarcity of hands.
Three hundred men could find work by the day, now, at $4, but those going in generally stake out claims and work them in preference to taking wages, and hence the drawback in securing labor by those who own the best paying placers. Water is abundant in all the streams, the roads into the mines good, and many miners from Idaho and Montana are gathering there. An effort is being made to obtain Chinamen to work the diggins, as white men are not to be found in sufficient numbers to supply the demand for laborers. It is somewhat astonishing that gold placers of such extraordinary richness, only two days’ journey from the railroad, should thus go a begging for men to come and gather up their wealth, but this is the actual fact. If any one would see the evidence of Cariboo’s richness, let him drop in at any of our banks during the day and see the sacks of dust which miners are exchanging for coin and currency.
As was the case in most mining camps that got over some of the hard feelings engendered by the Civil War, Cariboo miners had grand, old-fashioned Fourth of July celebrations even though they had to hold their parade in deep snow. In 1873,
The true spirit of patriotism was unmistakenly and forcibly evinced by the miners and citizens of Cariboo and Soda Springs, on the Fourth. In Cariboo the usual exercises were gone through with, such as cannonading, bell-ringing, fire cracker shooting, cocktailing, etc., a grand oration, a procession on snow shoes, a huge feast of bear meat, trout, mountain sheep, grouse, and other luxuries of that district, a war dance in the afternoon by a few of the noble red men residing in those parts, and a grand ball in the evening, which wound up with a roaring serenading party that browsed round on the rim of the basin to the tune of “Hail Columbia.” Thus ended the Fourth at Cariboo, but quite a number of the miners and merchants living there went over the Soda Springs to celebrate, and there, in the shade of the veteran pine forest which covers those medicinal founts with its umbrageous foliage, they lavished multiplied encomiums on the heads of the sires of ’76, while a stream of pure sparking soda water gently disappeared between their patriotic lips.
A glorious soiree also wound up the day’s programme at Soda, and a day never to be forgotten by the participants of these two places wore pleasantly away, and slipped, reluctantly, away into the never-ending eternity.
Aside from turning to Chinese workers for help, miners from Cariboo resorted to labor savings equipment standard in many western camps. Hydraulic giants were installed to obtain placer gravel to feed the sluices. Giant streams of water (shot out of nozzles fed by metal pipe leading from ditches at higher elevation) cut away surface gravel and swept the gold-bearing placer gravel into sluice boxes. Within a year or two a number of giants were at work in the region, and by the fourth season, eight of them had gone into production.
As the years went on, gold recovery at Cariboo proved erratic. A few spots yielded well, but most of the ground turned out to be marginal. One or two claims gave satisfactory results — an ounce a day (about $20) for each miner at work. Most of the others provided from $2 to $5, with the leaner ones of interest mainly to Chinese. They never seemed to get enough white miners to come to work the ground available, so driving out the Asiatics seemed pointless.
Chinese companies owned claims and operated giants along with everyone else — apparently without discrimination. That way, unlike other camps that kept out Chinese competition during the more productive early years, Cariboo had whites and Chinese at work on adjacent claims most of the time and did not become strictly an Oriental camp after a few seasons of early excitement.
In the early days of placer operations, Cariboo Mountain had two mining districts, one on the east side at Iowa Bar and the other on the west with Keenan City as its center. Keenan City, with a dozen or so log cabins on McCoy Creek, had become the major (and only recognizable) mining center; Iowa City on the other side of the mountain was pretty hard to find, even for the people fortunate enough to go through it. In the Iowa district (named for an Iowa discoverer), William Clemens — a cousin of Mark Twain who mined in various parts of Idaho for more than thirty years — spent many seasons placering and promoting the country.
He had three hydraulic giants in operations there, the most in the district. Cariboo Fairchilds spent fourteen years in McCoy district not far from Keenan City and had quite a time there:
in 1872 he “broke his leg while ‘skylarking’ with a friend one day,” and in 1884 he had a disastrous misadventure with one of Cariboo Mountain’s numerous bears, an encounter which he unfortunately failed to survive.
With the discovery of lode claims in 1874, Cariboo Mountain offered an additional attraction to early miners. Over the next decade, a number of these new lodes were developed to enough depth to prove that thousands of tons of ore were available if anyone would manage to operate a hard-rock mine in such a remote and difficult location. Simple arastras — rock crushers made of local materials, with drag stones used to grind up ore in a circular rocklined surface — provided a modest production. But not enough thousands of tons of ore were available in one place to justify a major stamp-milling enterprise in the early years, although such a possibility attracted attention to the district season after season.
Even though the slowly worked placers proved spotty, with an occasional rich streak at bedrock, by 1886 production may have amounted to a million dollars or so. Reports of $200,000 in 1879 alone suggest that large a total — or perhaps twice that much if enough of the other seasons provided as much as a hundred thousand dollars. Considering the relatively small number of miners at work most of the time, and the shortage of water high on Cariboo Mountain, even a million-dollar total is difficult to substantiate. (All kinds of exaggerated reports of mineral wealth came out of most western mining camps, but with enough short seasons with a fair number of giants at work, Cariboo did provide a substantial return to a modest number of miners.)
Remote from other mining districts and distant from sources of supply, Cariboo Mountain provided a definite economic stimulus to early development of the upper Snake country. At least one enterprising miner found that he could grow some kind of premium Idaho potatoes next to a snowbank high on Cariboo Mountain at a time when few farmers were at work in the valley below. But generally the mines at Cariboo had to depend upon distant sources of supply, and their needs offered an inducement to settlers to develop the surrounding country at a time when not too many other economic attractions were available to encourage settlement of that part of Idaho.
Rail service to the broad valley of the Snake to the west eventually helped in the development of Cariboo Mountain lode properties; and about the time that Idaho became a state in 1890, a long awaited stamp mill served the Robinson lode. A pretty good test of the only developed property was made. From a 246-foot cross-cut tunnel, ore was removed from a 275-foot stope on a 25-foot vein opened to a depth of 264 feet. But the mill burned up in a fire not long after that initial ore body was processed, and the company did not bother with a replacement. Edmund B. Kirby reported in Denver on August 6, 1894, that
“a great number of quartzite strata near the top of the mountain have been prospected by surface pits, and are found to be gold bearing. The surface soil and gravel down the entire slope of the mountain on this side is said to pan well in gold. These strata range from three feet to sixty feet in thickness . . . .”
Geologically, these Cariboo Mountain gold deposits had the same corrosive alkaline origin and structure that characterized quartzite gold deposits in Ouray and Battle Mountain, Colorado.
After years of sporadic effort, several companies gradually made some headway in trying to develop lode properties on Cariboo Mountain. An Idaho Falls corporation, established October 8, 1903, invested $60,000 in an 800-foot tunnel and a 100-foot shaft on the Monte Cristo. Copper discoveries in 1904 encouraged the Monte Cristo investors for a time, but they could not be mined successfully. Eventually, though, a Salt Lake enterprise was incorporated, April 19, 1917, to spend another $13,002.60 on the Robinson, which attained 1,200 feet on tunnels–compared with only 246 feet during the era of production. In a still more ambitious project, undertaken by a Boise company incorporated March 17, 1920, four men drove 1,600 feet of tunnel for the Searchlight. But that concern soon shut down too. After many years of idleness, activity resumed at the Robinson in 1938, when leasers put five men to work there. Eventually another 100 feet of tunnel was driven in 1952, and more prospecting followed on the Robinson in 1955. Work at the Evergreen also helped maintain interest in the district during those recent years. Although a ball mill was utilized there after 1940, large lode mining simply could not be managed on Cariboo Mountain.
Twentieth-century placer mining did a little better. With ten men at work in 1907, the American Placer Company handled about 50,000 yards of gravel that season. Then an experiment in dredging came with the efforts of the Wolverine Placer Company, incorporated May 10, 1917. With eight men and capital outlay of $70,000 to install a 150-horsepower hydroelectric plant, eighteen miles of transmission lines, and a McCoy Creek dredge, this operation showed promise before work was suspended in 1922. At that time, an ambitious Barnes Creek placer operation was started up with Pittsburgh capital. A four-mile ditch fed water into a 2,500-foot pipe that finally supplied two four-inch giants and a 300-foot sluice line. A substantial permanent camp accommodated twenty miners. A 30-horsepower hydroelectric generator with a mile transmission line provided power for a modern amalgamation plant and a warehouse, blacksmith shop, assay office, boarding house, and bunk house, along with a company office building, made this the district’s most ambitious placer operation. When the Wolverine dredge resumed operation in 1924-1925, Cariboo looked still better.
As was the case with most old camps, Cariboo profited by revival of interest in gold mining during the depression. A Minneapolis company, incorporated May 3, 1936, employed four men to move 16,000 yards of gravel in 1938. Small operators, able to engage in subsistence mining in old placers, recovered modest amounts of gold–enough so that they could stay off relief– throughout most of the depression. But total production from all of this enterprise amounted only to four or five thousand dollars a year in 1938 and 1939, so the addition to the district’s total production still was pretty limited. From the time that George Hearst had anticipated that
“the next year of our history will show a record of population and mineral wealth unparalleled in the records of our Territory.” But somehow Cariboo’s golden age never quite materialized.
excerpted from: Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series Number 205 Revised December 1981
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by Rick Just
When you think of a miner, you probably picture some old Gabby Hayes character with a pinned back hat brim crouched over a stream with a pan, dreams of gold glittering in his eye. That’s not a bad picture of a prospector, because most miners (some of whom were also minors) started out that way. Panning for gold is slow and tedious. Shake, shake, shake, rinse, shake, shake, shake, rinse, and repeat until your beard grows down to your waist. Gold flecks are heavier than most of the surrounding material so they sink to the bottom of the pan. A good panner could sift through about a yard of sand and gravel a day. If they turned up $3 or $4 worth of gold, that was excellent. It was about what they might make for a day as, say, a captain in the army in the 1860s, or your average bricklayer in the East.
But miners did not dream of bricklayer wages. They wanted more. That’s why prospectors were typically testing the waters, so to speak, in search of a vein higher upstream. Let’s assume for a moment that they couldn’t find that ledge of quartz, but the quantity of gold in the stream gravel was pretty good. They were stuck with mining the streambed itself or an alluvial fan where water once ran. That’s called “placer mining.” In that case they needed a way to sift more sand and gravel faster in order to have more gold at the end of the day.
Rockers were boxes into which the miner dumped gravel and sand scooped from a stream bottom or alluvial deposit. At the top of the box was a sieve where the larger bits of gravel were screened out. Below that was an incline set up with a series of bumps or ribs down the length of the box over which sand would run when the worker poured water into the device while rocking it back and forth, the equivalent of shaking a gold pan. A piece of draping canvas helped filter out the gold from the lighter stuff. Rockers were especially useful if the material a miner was working with was partially cemented, meaning sticky clay had to be washed away. A good rocker operator could triple his day’s take over panning, meaning he was up close to what a major general might make.
Still, it was pretty tedious work and the miner was not making the fortune he was dreaming of. A faster production method was called for.
The quickest way to pull gold out of a streambed for one or two men was a sluice running into a rocker. The downside was that you needed a downside. That is, you needed some elevation for water to pick up some speed to wash over the material you were working. Sometimes that meant digging a ditch, which was a lot of work. A sluice was only practical if the bits of gold were fairly large. Gold “dust” would float right out.
A sluice running through a giant could handle 500 yards of gravel a day, compared with that one yard a man with a pan could process. That meant a miner could work material that was a lot less rich and still pull much more gold out in a day.
This sloshing escalation of mining methods could be carried to ends that a single miner couldn’t handle, such as hydraulic mining and large-scale dredging.
continued: Rick Just Speaking of Idaho
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