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Silver City Living History in the Owyhees Boise State University Center for Idaho History and Politics Pictured: View east on Jordan Street, Jimmy Wayne
Before the gold rush brought fortune seekers to Owyhee Country, generations of Shoshone and Paiute people moved freely about the mountains and canyon lands of southwestern Idaho. Shortly after the mining boom began, Congress designated the Idaho Territory. Owyhee was designated the first county. Tension grew between natives and settlers, and a series of violent battles ensued. The Bannock War of 1878 culminated in early June near Silver City at South Mountain. The U.S. Calvary caught up with warriors, killing Chief Buffalo Horn. Survivors fled to Oregon. Eventually many were captured and returned to the reservation at Duck Valley. Pictured: Northern Paiute adults and children in the town of DeLamar, 1910. ISHS; Shoshone-Paiute tribal seal and map
In the 1860s, gold fever lured prospectors to the land that would become Idaho. From north to south, Florence to Idaho City and beyond, gold camps and boomtowns sprang up across the territory. Pictured: Idaho Territory, 1863
Historians call Silver City the queen of Idaho’s ghost towns. Residents reject the ghost town description, preferring instead historic mining town. Nestled within the Owyhee Mountains at 6,200 feet, it has outlived its closest neighbors Dewey, DeLamar, and Ruby City. In 1867, SC became Owyhee’s County Seat (after Ruby City). Since 1934, the town of Murphy has held that distinction. Pictured: 2008 aerial view of town
In 1863, turning their sights from the Boise Basin strikes to search for the mythical Blue Bucket gold, a group of prospectors led by Michael Jordan discovered treasure in Sinker Creek, a short distance above the SC townsite. Pictured: Jordan Creek flowing under Jordan St., Dave Wilper
By 1864, most of the placer gold was gone. The surrounding mountains revealed rich gold and silver veins, requiring greater effort to extract. Within the next year, over two-hundred fifty quartz mines and 12 ore processing mills were operating in the Owyhees. The Poorman, Blackjack, Morningstar, Oro Fino and others yielded $40-$60 million. Today no major mines operate in the area. Pictured: The Blackjack mine and mill, ISHS
Mining was dangerous work. Falling rocks, cave-ins, and other random accidents could be deadly. In 1868, workers from the Golden Chariot and Ida Elmore mines tunneled toward each other. When the Golden Chariot men broke through their side, the angry Elmore men insisted they back up. An underground war erupted. Weaponry included powerful jets of hot water and steam, shot guns, rifles, handguns and grenades. Territorial governor David Ballard sent in a marshal and troops to settle down the fight. In the end, One miner was seriously injured, two were dead. The Owyhee War Pictured: National Geographic topographic map of the Owyhee mining region.
In 1867, to ensure fair pay and safe working conditions, the Silver City Miner’s League began. It was Idaho’s first labor union. Years later, the union would weigh in, but distance itself from the trouble that erupted in the northern Silver Valley and the subsequent assassination of former Governor Frank Steunenberg. Former Silver City miner Harry Orchard (Albert Horsley) confessed to the murder, accusing William “Big Bill” Haywood of hiring him to commit the crime. Haywood and other leaders in the powerful Western Federation of Miners were acquitted. Orchard served a life sentence in the state prison. Pictured: SC Miner’s Union ribbon; Harry Orchard as witness for the prosecution at the trial of William Haywood, 1907, ISHS
It wasn’t long before the town came to life. Women and children followed the men. Germans, Chinese, Basques, Irish, African Americans, and people from all corners of the U.S. ran businesses, made homes, provided services and built a community. Citizens formed a brass band and a baseball team. Pictured: SC children, ISHS
Once boasting a population high of 2500, today resident numbers fluctuate with the seasons. A town watchman is the only winter resident, while a few dozen occupy their part-time homes in the warmer seasons. Pictured: SC Pioneers, about 1890. ISHS
At its height, the town had over 300 homes and shops. Today about 40 structures remain. In 1875, telegraph service began and the OwyheeAvalanche became the territory’s first daily newspaper. By 1880, residents had telephone service. Today, Silver City operates the nation’s the only magneto phone system, with a directory consisting of one white page and one yellow. Pictured: (L) Dr. A.C. Lippincott’s office and residence, formerly the site of the Avalanche office. (R)Knapp Drugstore “Model Pharmacy.” In 1905, it became the telephone office. (inset) a resident in her home, ISHS
Wells Fargo ran a stage line from Boise to Jordan Valley, Oregon. Passengers endured a treacherous 2-day ride between Boise and Silver City, spending one night in Nampa. Pictured: Wells Fargo station in winter,1880s, ISHS. (inset) modern depiction of SC Stage.
Author Julia Conway Welch recalled that on snowy winter afternoons her mother, awaiting her father’s return from a long day in the mine, knew he’d be in for supper soon, “When at last the men came sliding down they looked like pieces of soot drifting down a white page.” Frigid winters ensured chilled summer ice boxes. Pictured: Ice harvest, ISHS
The Pioneer Cemetery, one of four burial areas for the town, is a short walk down an aspen covered path. Marked and unmarked graves tell the stories of prominent citizens, immigrants, outlaws, and too many children. Civil War soldier/Irish-born California Volunteer Patrick McMahon rests near Confederate Pressley Sawyer Cooper. Pictured: Path to cemetery; graves. Wilper,Hyslop,Pollard
Idaho Hotel The original Idaho Hotel was in Ruby City. In 1866, when Silver City was clearly the livelier site, J.K. and Hosea Eastman built this famous building on Jordan St. Today it is one of three operating businesses in town. Visitors can rent a room, purchase a snack or meal, or take a tour of rooms and dining areas. Pictured: Patrons at the hotel bar, ISHS; back of hotel, Ken Pollard; interior room, Bingo Barnes.
Idaho Standard School opened in 1892. Recent restoration efforts made it safe for visitors and preserved it for future use. Silver City schoolchildren attended classes in the whitewashed, two-story building: younger grades on the first floor, older students upstairs. For a number of years Walt and Mildretta Adams who grew up here, operated the second floor as a museum, displaying hundreds of artifacts. Pictured: Schoolhouse 2009, Penelope H.; Restoration, Dave Wilper
Masonic Hall The Masons were a thriving group in Silver City. Their lodge building straddles Jordan Creek. Originally a planing mill, turning out finished boards for homes and other structures, the second floor served as a social hall. Today, like many former businesses or social buildings, the hall is a private residence. Pictured: Workers install a new roof on the Masonic Hall, Dave Wilper
Stoddard Mansion Young John (Jack) Stoddard served in the Civil War as an Iowa Volunteer. He sought his fortune in the Owyhees, discovering the first major strike near DeLamar. In 1870, Jack married Mary McMahon and built this two story home. Local carpenter Otto Patscheck fashioned the intricate woodwork featured outside and inside the home. By far the fanciest house in town, the Stoddard house boasted wall to wall carpeting, custom wall paper, center light fixtures, and hand wood graining by Jack and Mary’s son George. Current owners work painstakingly to restore the features. Pictured: Exterior of Stoddard House, Dave Wilper
On a rocky bluff above town stands Our Lady of Tears Catholic Church. Founded in 1898, OLT is in its third home, two earlier churches destroyed by fire and heavy snow. The Catholic diocese purchased the current building from the Episcopal Church in 1933. With a sturdy new foundation and roof, fresh paint, custom made windows, and restored interior, it is one of the best preserved buildings in Silver City. Services are held in the church once a month during the summer. Open doors and a bell welcome visitors. Pictured: Exterior and interior of Our Lady of Tears Catholic Church, 2008
Nugent House John E. Nugent was a lawyer and state senator who lived here in the 1890s. The home was built in 1876 by Benjamin W. Abbott, a local businessman. Today’s owners, Peter Burrill and Dave Wilper, have worked tirelessly over three decades to restore the home to it’s original splendor. Pictured: Nugent House before and after renovation, Dave Wilper
Controlled burns conducted by the Bureau of Land Management are closely monitored to avoid disaster. Pictured: BLM burn hillside on NE side of town, viewed from Nugent House, Dave Wilper
Silver City Fire and Rescue volunteers train and prepare for emergencies. Pictured: EMT and fire training, Jim Hyslop
Rising high above town, War Eagle Mountain (8,051’) was the location of a number of lucrative mines. Today, it is a site for a radio transmitter and solar-powered generator. Pictured: Radio tower atop War Eagle, Brian P. McCamish
Today the remote Owyhee mountains can attract other varieties of fortune seekers. In 2008, one of the largest marijuana growing operations in Idaho history was discovered near Silver City. Owyhee County law enforcement officials destroyed the harvest. Pictured: Helicopter brings illegal plants to leading area; officials load trailers and burn the entire harvest, September 2008. Jim Hyslop
On the second weekend after Labor Day, Silver City residents and business owners hold an open house. Visitors are charged a small admission fee for guided tours of private homes and are encouraged to support the three local businesses: the Idaho Hotel, Sinker Creek Outfitters, and Pat’s What-Not Shop. Proceeds from the annual fundraiser go to the Silver City Fire and Rescue Dept. Pictured: SC citizens dressed in period clothing, greeting visitors, Hyslop
Several days each year, Silver City becomes a classroom for hundreds of students. Pictured: Melba, Idaho 8th graders pose with their teachers in front of the Idaho Standard School, Dave Wilper
Population 0 Ghost Town of Silver City, Idaho Evelyn Boynton Grierson