Mining History of Yellow Pine, Stibnite and Cinnabar
(Part 1 Yellow Pine)
A Historical Summary And Cultural Resource Study Of Yellow Pine, Stibnite, and Cinnabar, Valley County, Idaho, Stibnite Mining Project
Prepared By Arthur A. Hart, Director Idaho State Historical Society 1979 Chapter 2
During the 1979 summer season an intensive literature review, interviews, and field reconnaissance were performed by this investigator under a subcontract with James M. Montgomery, Consulting Engineers, Inc. (JMM) as a subelement of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Stibnite Mining Project Gold Mine and Mill. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was prepared by JMM under a “third party” agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Payette National Forest, and Canadian Superior Mining (U.S) Ltd.
The report prepared by this investigator is intended to serve as a support document to the DEIS, and be utilized by JMM to meet the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and Executive Order 11593. These directives require that federal agencies consider the effects of federal, federal-assisted, and federally licensed projects on properties included or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The regulations also require that the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation be offered the opportunity to comment on such undertakings. Approval of a cultural resources assessment which includes a historical and archaeological resources evaluation by the Agency Official (Forest Service) and State Historic Preservation Officer is also required.
Information from this report was used by JMM in preparing the DEIS. The results will also be incorporated into the Operating Plan which is currently being developed by JMM. This will ensure that adequate mitigation is implemented where potential adverse effects are determined so that historical/cultural resources are adequately protected.
Historic cultural resources in the Stibnite area were inventoried and studied using the following procedures:
1. All available literature on the history of mining in the Stibnite area was searched and studied. Sources used (and cited in the report) include:
a. H.D. Bailey, Stibnite 1978.
b. The Engineering and Mining Journal 1903
c. Prospectus of the Golden Gate Mine 1902
d. The Stibnite Miner 1942-45
e. U.S. Geological Surveys Reports 1921-50
f. Idaho State Mine Inspector’s Reports 1921-50
g. Other serials used included The Idaho County Free Press, Saturday Evening Post, Idaho Power Company Bulletin.
2. Photographs in the collection of the Idaho State Historical Society were used for descriptions of structures no longer extant. Private collections of photographs, including those of Hubert Martin and Ernest Oberbillig were also of great value in reconstructing early Meadow Creek Mine, Yellow Pine Mine, Cinnabar, and the town of Yellow Pine, as well as Stibnite itself at various stages of its development.
3. Field work included on-site inspection of every extant structure known to the most experienced and knowledgeable residents:
a. Ernest E. Oberbillig, whose father J.J. Oberbillig pioneered the claims in the area, personally conducted the author over every road and jeep trail shown on U.S.G.S. maps of the area, and over a number not shown. Oberbillig, whose resume is attached, has known the area for more than 50 years. He personally built a number of the roads in the area.
b. Warren Campbell, Roy Smith, and E. Fay Kissinger also supplied information and suggestions on sites to be investigated.
c. Aerial inspection of the area was made with Oberbillig and pilot Ray Arnold of Cascade, Idaho.
4. Oral history was collected from a number of informants who had known the area in its early days and especially during the 1940’s boom period. Five hours of tapes were made from interviews with Ernest Oberbillig and Hubert Martin. These tapes are on file at the Idaho Historical Society.
5. Documentation of sites and structures was made on film. About 750 existing photographs are on file at the Idaho State Historical Society, in addition to those included in the report.
6. Maps dating from 1902 until the present were studied to establish early trails and wagon roads, mine locations, and sites of structures.
7. Special attention was focused on areas which might be impacted by proposed mining activities in the area. These were found to be minor, but are discussed in the recommendations following the Stibnite section of the report.
History Of Yellow Pine, Idaho
The town of Yellow Pine takes its name from Yellow Pine Basin, a sheltered mountain valley above the junction of Johnson Creek and the East Fork of the South Fork of Salmon River, about 50 miles northeast of Cascade, Idaho. Boulder Creek and Quartz Creek enter the East Fork at the eastern end of the valley. The average elevation of the townsite is about 4750 feet above sea level. The area of gently sloping ground upon which the original town is located comprises about 40 acres; later additions are northeast on higher ground.
Yellow Pine Basin was known and named long before a town was located there. Prospectors, who covered nearly every square mile of the central Idaho mountains after gold was discovered in the north on Orofino Creek in 1860, were no doubt struck by the impressive stand of giant virgin Ponderosa pines in the sheltered basin.
An interesting early reference in print to Yellow Pine Basin appeared in the Idaho County Free Press of Grangeville on July 30, 1886. Norman B. Willey, a pioneer miner and legislator who would become Idaho’s second state governor in 1890, wrote from Warrens on July 20, 1886:
“A report has been in circulation this spring of the discovery of rich placer mines on some unknown tributary of the South Fork. Many parties went in, some over the snow from the south and west in search of it, but without avail so far as is known. Two men were caught in there by the approaching winter and managed to survive till spring losing their horses. One fell sick and his partner made his way out over the crust to the Basin after medicine and grub, having $700 in dust in his possession. Of course he had made it by some fortunate strike. He left notices in various places stating the facts and location of his sick pard. But his pard did not die. He entrapped various unwary squirrels and fool hens and got about again. In due time the other one returned, and they both left, supposably for supplies and equipments. Undoubtedly there must be very rich mines in that section. P.S. It appears that they had $700 apiece making $1400 for the little work they did. Since writing the foregoing I am reliably informed that the two men rocked all winter near the forks of the east branch of the South Fork and took out altogether twenty-seven dollars. How are the mighty fallen! N.B.W.”
A month later the Free Press commented on Willey’s letter editorially, condemning “the Yellow Pine Humbug,” and some other newspapers which were still “booming the fraud as though they honestly believed in the reports they are circulating.” It said it would “burn the pants off anything or anybody that tries to beat its way into prominence under false pretenses.” 1
Real mineral developments of importance in the area of Yellow Pine were still years away when the item quoted above was written, but the incident had results of another sort. A mining engineer named George C. Catlin wrote and published a novel called “Yellow Pine Basin, the Story of a Prospector.” Catlin’s book was copyrighted in 1897 and published in Boston by Small, Maynard and Company in 1898. It was obviously based upon his own experiences and on the “Yellow Pine humbug” described in Willey’s letter. Its historical value is in the way it depicts the life of two prospectors in Yellow Pine Basin. Descriptions of topography, flora and fauna are too accurate for us not to believe that Catlin knew first-hand the country he wrote about. His description of Placerville, Idaho is another authentic note which suggests strongly that the author had been there. Since mining engineer Catlin had also served in the Civil War, the stories of the war worked into his narrative are also probably autobiographical. 2
Catlin’s novel deals with the adventures of two prospectors working in Yellow Pine Basin, Idaho in 1881 and 1882. Bud, a young man, learns the prospector’s trade from Zeb, a hardy old-timer with experience in California, the Fraser River of British Columbia, and in Montana, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.
In long evenings over the campfire, or before the fireplace in the winter cabin they build, Zeb tells Bud about his adventures in prospecting, mining, and the Civil War. (All subjects the author knew first hand). The two work hard and strike it rich before Zeb is seriously injured and Bud decides to risk the journey alone to the nearest settlement in search of a doctor. Through deep snow and bitter cold, he finds his way to Placerville, in Boise Basin, more than 80 miles south. The townspeople are helpful and sympathetic. However, the doctor, whom Bud had counted on taking back with him, is too frail for the tough journey on snowshoes. Bud returns alone, after men from Placerville help him part of the way. He find Zeb dead, and a touching farewell note. The balance of the novel deals with Bud’s return east with a fortune in gold and his later adventures outside Idaho.
In 1897, the year Catlin wrote his novel about Yellow Pine Basin, news got out that the Caswell brothers had made a rich gold discovery at Thunder Mountain 20 miles to the east. By 1902 thousands of miners and prospectors had flooded the region. This influx indirectly led to the establishment of a permanent settlement at Yellow Pine. It was a sheltered spot, relatively milder in winter than the high country around, and at the crossroads of trails from Warrens, Pen Basin on upper Johnson Creek, and placer locations on the South Fork of Salmon River. 3
As was usually the case, prospectors who had no luck at the main strike fanned out over the surrounding country to try their luck. Golden Gate mine was located in 1902 on the ridge east of Johnson Creek just above the Basin. 4 This and other claims in the area led to the establishment of a general store and unofficial post office at Yellow Pine by A.C. Behne, traditionally regarded as the first settler and long called “Mr. Yellow Pine.” 5
Production of gold near Yellow Pine was negligible because of the difficulty of getting it out economically. Although John Oberbillig, a pioneer miner in the area, credited a Mr. Baker with the first discovery of antimony at an early date, 6 it would be years before there was much interest in this strategic metal, or before it could be produced economically. It was not until after 1927 that the Bradley operation at Stibnite, 14 miles from Yellow Pine, gave the smaller place some importance as well.
Mining continued on a small scale on a number of claims in the Yellow Pine area after Thunder Mountain declined. Pringle Smith and Albert Hennessy were pioneer miners who did annual assessment work on several claims from 1902 onward. Smith located the Cinnabar float with rich quicksilver possibilities, and in World War I the military need for mercury used in shell primers led to some small development and production. 7 The fuller development of Cinnabar had to await World War II, however, when it became profitable to greatly enlarge production there.
During all of this time Yellow Pine remained a small supply center and wintering place. A post office was officially established at Behne’s store, and a few new buildings were put up using sawn lumber. Photos of the World War I era show mostly log cabins.
The builders of mountain cabins in the Yellow Pine area used the largest logs they could handle. Figure 2-1 shows examples of these log structures. Lodgepole pine was plentiful and easy to work, but the thicker walls possible when Ponderosa pine was used reduced the amount of chinking needed and produced a better insulated structure, especially important in the sub-zero winters typical of that vicinity. 8 Several sawmills operated in Yellow Pine Basin, and from about 1918 on nearly all of the local buildings were made of lumber rather than logs.
Examples of pre-1920 built log structures in the town of Yellow Pine.
[*Note: this is a photo of the 2nd School in Yellow Pine which was built in 1922.]
Yellow Pine, Idaho Today
A curious feature of the present architecture of Yellow Pine is the large number of buildings which have been moved there from Stibnite. When the big war-time development was abandoned in the 1950’s, the town of Stibnite was dismantled. Although many structures were torn down for the materials in them, most of the houses were moved out by truck. Today perhaps a quarter of Yellow Pine is made up of Stibnite houses built between 1940 and 1945, and moved in the 1960’s. 9
One house was moved to Yellow Pine from Big Creek — a bungalow of 1924 now owned by Roy Smith. 10 Although there are a number of other buildings surviving from the 1920s, there is only one of unusual architectural quality. This is the log house-hotel on the hill to the east which dates from 1925-26. 11 An inventory of the architecturally or historically interesting buildings of Yellow Pine follows, keyed to the map shown on Figure 2-2. The original 1930 plat of the townsite is also shown on Figure 2-3.
Selected Architectural Inventory of Yellow Pine, Idaho.
[*Note: See document for larger size.]
Initial Plat of the Town of Yellow Pine, Idaho, November 16, 1930.
[*Note: See document for larger size.]
Recommendations On Potential Significance For Yellow Pine
The potential historical significance of Yellow Pine is derived from its role as a supply and social center for miners in the area following the 1902 rush to Thunder Mountain. Not until World War I was there enough activity to create a cluster of log buildings recognizable as a settlement in Yellow Pine Basin. It was 1930 before a plat was filed by Albert C. Behne. Greater accessibility of Yellow Pine by automobiles led to the establishment of a lodge, tourist park, and taverns in the 1930’s, even before the World War II boom at Stibnite. Elk hunters and fishermen came regularly to Yellow Pine, expanding a local economy basically dependent on the Bradley operation at Meadow Creek and Monday Camp.
Although some bootlegging had been done before 1932, the repeal of prohibition made taverns an important local attraction. Like mining camps on the Idaho frontier of an earlier day, Yellow Pine has always had more taverns than any other kind of business. Social life centers in them, although there is strong loyalty and participation by adults in the operation of the one room school.
Architecturally, the potential historical significance of Yellow Pine primarily associated with the Stibnite houses moved in after that town was dismantled. Yellow Pine is a potential historic district, but will not be clearly eligible for the National Register until the majority of its structures are 50 years old.
Proposed mining developments at Stibnite would not appear to have a significant impact at Yellow Pine, unless the decision is made to house employees there instead of at the Stibnite site. At present, the company (CSM) is not planning to house a major portion of the mine work force at Yellow Pine. The company is, however, negotiating with a local land owner for a small parcel of vacant land (approximately two acres) northeast of the townsite. Several pre-fabricated housing units would be located on the parcel if arrangements can be finalized. These units would house CSM administrative personnel. Growth at Yellow Pine will undoubtedly take place in any case, continuing the process by which living towns gradually change character in many ways. Increased summer/winter second home development is expected to occur regardless of whether the proposed Stibnite Mining Project is implemented.
Suggested Considerations For Mitigation Of Potential Impacts
The study of Yellow Pine history and architecture contained here should be continued. The Idaho State Historical Society and Long Valley Historical Society should be encouraged to record the life and times of this interesting community. Recommendations for mitigating potentially adverse effects on identified historical resources should be developed as elements of the EIS and the Cultural Resources Assessment, and submitted to the Forest Service Officer and State Historic Preservation Officer in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Executive Order 11593. A specific mitigation plan (if determined necessary) should then be developed for incorporation in the Operation Plan prior to approval of the project.
Notes on Yellow Pine
1. Idaho County Free Press (Grangeville, Idaho, 20 August, 1886) p.l.
2. Who Was Who in America (Chicago: Marquis-Who’s Who Inc. 1968). Volume IV, p. 162
3. The Engineering and Mining Journal (28 March, 1903), map p. 478.
4. Prospectus of the Golden Gate Mine (Boise, Idaho, 27 December, 1902), Original in Huntington Library.
5. Albert C. Behne and H.T. Abstein homesteaded at Yellow Pine before World War I. The townsite is on Behne’s original property, and was platted by him in 1930. (See page 14 of this report.)
6. J.J. OberIDillig, letter to the editor, The Stibnite Miner (Stibnite, Idaho 28 October 1942) p.l.
7. Esper S. Larsen and D.C. Livingston. Geology of the Yellow Pine Cinnabar Mining District, Idaho. United states Geological Survey, Bulletin 715 (Washington, D.C., 1921) p. 80.
8. Ernest Oberbillig, interview with the author 10 September 1979, (tape on deposit, Idaho Oral History Center, Idaho State Historical Society) Oberbillig’s father, J.J. Oberbillig, built several cabins in the area in the 1920s.
9. Warren Campbell, interview with the author, 27 November 1979. Ibd. Campbell moved the Stibnite houses. (See more in Stibnite chapter.)
10. Roy Smith, interview with the author, 9 November 1979. Ibid.
11. E. Fay Kissinger, interview with the author, 20 November 1979. Ibid. Kissinger was in Yellow Pine in the 1920s. He built a number of the buildings and ran a sawmill there later.
(To be continued – Part 2 Stibnite)
source: AHGP – Valley County Idaho
Full Text: A Historical Summary and Cultural Resource Study Of Yellow Pine Stibnite and Cinnabar Valley County Idaho Stibnite Mining Project.pdf
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Yellow Pine Hotel
Now home of Donna Earl Valdez. At one time a hotel in Yellow Pine. Lee Earl collection.
courtesy: Alyce Ruth Milstead
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Yellow Pine Mid-1970’s
Heading to Yellow Pine
Captioned: “Going to “town” for a night of partying.”
source: Carol and Jim photo album – “My summer in Stibnite salvaging barn wood in the mid 1970’s.” photo collection:
Link Yellow Pine School Part 1
Link Yellow Pine History table of contents
Link Stibnite History table of contents
Link “Yellow Pine Basin: The Story of a Prospector” By Henry G. Catlin 1897 (entire book)
Link Idaho State Historical Society Mining Collection [photos]