Wild West


The 1860 discovery of gold along Orofino Creek within the northern borders of what would become Idaho Territory set off a mass migration to the area. While the California Gold Rush had begun more than a decade earlier, placer mining there was starting to play out, and prospectors were eager to seek riches in the new goldfields to the east. Within a year miners had staked some 1,600 claims, launching the Idaho gold rush. Less than two years after the initial strike near present-day Pierce the discovery of gold farther south shifted seekers’ focus to the Boise Basin. Mining camps sprang up like mushrooms across the 300-square-mile catchment area interlaced with 3,500 miles of rivers and streams.

Rich deposits at the confluence of Bear and Steel creeks above the Feather River gave rise to Rocky Bar, which became the district’s main settlement. Boasting a peak population of more than 2,500, it served as Altura County seat and was poised to become the territorial capital, though Lewiston won out when Idaho Territory officially formed on March 3, 1863. In 1866 Boise City replaced Lewiston as capital and became the primary supply center for area mines and boomtowns.

Gold seekers with assumed names and falsified histories found welcome refuge in the fleeting camps, where few people sought or kept records. Men fleeing the law, the Civil War, debts, women or all four made Saturday night drunks, brawls and gunfights regular events. The miners dredged and washed away entire hillsides, sometimes collapsing the foundations from beneath houses, before moving on to plumb deposits elsewhere. Time and again such fly-by-nights dismantled and reassembled entire operations.

Across the mining frontier of the 1860s women were scarce. Those who did join the rush lived as boisterously as their male counterparts—at

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