For those who understand the history of mining know quite well the challenges the early miners had to deal with. The success or failure of a mining camp wasn’t just based on the richness of the ore. This was certainly the case with many of the early Idaho mining towns.
Deep in the mountains of Idaho were many towns that were quite rich, and thrived for a short time despite the access challenges. Gold will pay the way, (if there’s enough of it.)
In this article we are going to look at an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention. There are several mining camps scattered through the mountains of the Nez Perce National Forest. These are areas that you would probably never find yourself there unless you made a point to. We’re talking dead end roads, deep in the mountains with no services. It’s some of the most beautiful country in the West, but go prepared if you decide to explore.
As the crow flies, Florence is a mere 14-miles from the nearest town of Riggins. Getting there is another story. Expect a 2-hour drive in the best conditions, heading east along the Salmon River and to Riggins Hot Springs, then across the river and up the grade.
The gold strike at Florence was one of the first in Idaho, just after the discoveries at Pierce in 1861. As far as boom-and-bust towns go, this was as big as they come. In the first year an estimated 9000 men had arrived in Florence to work the rich gravels. The ground was indeed rich, but not nearly extensive enough to warrant such attention. Within just 3 years the population of Florence had dropped down to less than 300.
Chinese miners remained to work what was left after the white miners left the area. A few quartz lodes brought some renewed attention, but the not much interest remained after those first few years. By then, much more extensive strikes at Warren and the Boise Basin lured most miners away.
Some 40-miles east of Florence is a large mountain called Buffalo Hump. The first rumors of gold brought much excitement, but the first miners to the areas were disappointed to find no placers, and only low-grade ore deposits. It was mostly ignored until the turn of the century.
Renewed interest in 1900 brought what would become one of the last American gold rushes. A mill was constructed on site and new processing methods were found to be profitable. Ores were worked for many years from numerous mines spanning 5 miles of north/south trending veins.
The town of Dixie sits on Crooked Creek, which starts high in the Nez Perce Forest, eventually draining through the Gospel Hump Wilderness and into the Salmon River. You would be hard-pressed to find a more remote mining camp than Dixie.
The ores at Dixie were rather complex, showing values for silver, gold, lead, iron, copper, zinc, and many other metals. Early miners in the area were most focused on gold. Specific details on production history are hard to come by. Dixie does have a few summer residents these days. Mining activity is limited now.
You won’t find much in Orogrande today, but it was once a sizable hub of activity. Not only was there some hard rock mining here, but it was also a jump off point to Humptown and Dixie. It is located at the headwaters of the Crooked River which was dredged extensively in later years.
Also Read: What is Placer Gold & How do You Find it?
Elk City was the major supply town for most of these remote mining camps, but it also the epicenter of mining activity. Elk City was plenty remote itself, and establishing mines here was no easy task. But the placers in the surrounding area were rich and extensive.
For prospectors, areas of special note are the Red River, American River, and Crooked River. Each of these rivers held many miles of rich placer gravels.
Of course, the richest and most economically important placer deposits were found in the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Several hydraulic mines were established to work the bench gravels high above the current water level.
The tiny town of Golden is located on the South Fork of the Clearwater River. It might not be worthy of note except for a few rich mines located up on the hill that helped establish the town. The Lone Pine Mine, Sentinel Mine, Clearwater Mine and Blackbird Mine are all located less than a mile from the town site. All that remains today is an abandoned general store.