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Catlin: Part 4, Section F - Idaho Gold - The Last Nail - Tales by William Goulder - On the Banks of the Clearwater - Army of Sluicers - Orofino to Florence - Snowblind and Packing Liquor - A Little Empire - Lords Paramount - Very Sadly Out of Luck

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IDAHO GOLD – THE LAST NAIL

In early October 1860 the discovery of gold at Canal Gulch - in soon to be Idaho Territory - served to provoke greater calamity for the Nez Perce nation than any other event before that. Just as in Oregon and California, the mining population was unstoppable. The Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series presents a short study of the first Idaho prospectors and their legacy: (See - http://www.history.idaho.gov/Reference%20Series/0008.pdf )

E. D. Pierce (1824-1897) was no ordinary prospector. Instead of searching for gold in country that was reasonably accessible, he became obsessed with the opening of a new mining region in the forbidden lands of the Nez Perce Indians. The obstructions to entering the Clearwater country held him back eight years, but finally in 1860 he broke through the Nez Perce barrier. Although he never did much mining in the new districts that resulted from the gold rush which followed his 1860 discoveries, he did have the satisfaction of setting off a mining excitement that soon led to establishment of Idaho Territory--and of Montana as well, for that matter. Pierce seems to have been more interested in fathering a new mining empire than in making a fortune for himself.

A native of Northern Ireland, Pierce came to Virginia in 1839 and to Indiana in 1844. He became an attorney, but soon left Indiana to serve in the Mexican War, after which he joined the forty-niners in the California gold rush. In California, he traveled about as an itinerant trader, although by 1852 he served in the state legislature. That same year, he joined a former Hudson's Bay Company trapper in a trading expedition to the distant Nez Perce Indians, and spent the winter at Lewis and Clark's historic Canoe Camp Site [Ref. Series No. 1] on the Clearwater with a prominent Nez Perce named Wislanaeqa. Satisfied that he was on the border of a great gold region, he tried to arrange a prospecting tour. His efforts, however, got nowhere until after Indian hostilities to the north came to an end in 1858. At last he was able to smuggle a prospecting outfit into Wislanaeqa's camp: on February 20, 1860, he went out panning in the North Fork of the Clearwater with Wislanaeqa and found gold. Dropping his disguise as a trader, he undertook to interest the Indians in allowing the whites to develop the Nez Perce mines.
 
Indian opposition to exploitation of these Nez Perce mines almost defeated Pierce in his great ambition to prospect the Clearwater region. Most of the settlers around Walla Walla (Pierce's base for operation) were convinced that any trespass of miners on the Nez Perce Reservation would provoke war--and since there were more Indians than whites, they opposed the enterprise. Although Pierce advertised for prospectors over the Northwest and California, the party he led from Walla Walla, August 12, 1860, numbered only twelve men, and they had to sneak across the reservation (from which they were excluded by law and by treaty) by a difficult, untraveled route on which they had to spend six weeks to make a one-week trip. The discouraged band finally reached Canal Gulch, September 30, and discovered some very promising placers on Oro Fino Creek during a week's successful prospecting. From then on, nothing could stop the Clearwater gold rush. A second party came in to found the town of Pierce, December 3, 1860, and to prepare for the next mining season.

Hopeful miners rushed to Pierce long before winter snow and high water of the late, wet spring of 1861 disappeared so that mining on any large scale could commence--and by June there were several thousand unemployed gold hunters around Pierce. Many of them were able to work there when the season at last got underway; others went out to discover other rich placers at Elk City and Florence that summer. The district around Pierce itself expanded rapidly, and during the summer a still larger community--Oro Fino City--sprang up two miles away near some rich strikes on Rhodes' Creek. Shoshone County (which had just been established for the Nez Perce miners) grew suddenly into the leading county of Washington Territory by the time that the congressional election was held, July 8, 1861; and Pierce, the county seat, proved to be a permanent community. Oro Fino City lasted only briefly.

Several million dollars in gold eventually came out of the Pierce area. Although the more easily worked deposits were worked out in a few seasons, hundreds of Chinese came in to continue mining in Idaho's oldest camp for years after most of the whites had left. Pierce himself had never been much of a miner, and although he had returned to Pierce with a sawmill in the spring of 1861, he soon left to try to scout out another major gold region. His later searches turned out to be nearly fruitless, and his claim to fame rests upon his drive and perseverance which led to Idaho's original major gold discovery.


TALES BY A WITNESS – WILLIAM GOULDER

In his book, REMINISCENCES, Incidents in the Life of a Pioneer of Oregon and Idaho, author William A. Goulder discussed his life and experiences in the early Idaho mining region around Oro Fino (his spelling). After witnessing most of the salient events of Oregon expansion for more than a decade, he joined the gold rush to Idaho in 1861. He had first arrived in Oregon Territory in 1845 after traveling via wagon to Fort Laramie where he saw thousands of Sioux Indians parleying with Colonel Stephen Kearney - and thence to Fort Bridger, Soda Springs, Fort Hall and the Boise Valley. Blindly led from Boise Valley by Stephen Meek, brother of famed Joseph Meek, his party nearly perished as it became lost in the middle of Oregon. After working as a surveyor and residing in the Willamette Valley for 16 years, Goulder too succumbed to the lure of the Idaho’s new El Dorado: (pp. 196 – 242)

By the first of June, thousands of eager gold-hunters had pitched their tents along the level alluvial bottoms of Oro Fino Creek, and along the streams and gulches that empty into it, far up into the heart of the Bitterroot Mountains. Into the fastnesses of these mountains went representatives of every civilized nationality on earth, with many whose native lands could hardly be thus classified...

The causes of the excitement and of the sudden occupation of the district by thousands of miners was not so much in the richness of the deposits in any one or more localities, but in the fact that the district was soon known to be very extensive and that it had everywhere been found that the gold was very evenly diffused through the gravel wherever examinations had been made. There seemed to be room and to spare for all the miners that might come, and this was the very welcome account and description that was spread abroad everywhere...

ON THE BANKS OF THE CLEARWATER

The 15th of July, 1861, found me on the north bank of the Clearwater River, just opposite a little cluster of shacks and tents, which afterwards grew into the present beautiful and flourishing city of Lewiston...

Three days of battling with the fallen timbers on the trail and with alternating hills and deep ravines, and we are safely landed among our old Webfoot [Oregon] friends on the golden sands of Rhodes’ Creek in the heart of the placer-mining district of Oro Fino. Our first care was to provide a home for our ponies, that were given in charge of another dear friend named Theodore Poujade, who had established what he called a horse ranch away out on the Weipee plains some fifteen miles from our present camp. Then we set to work and built for our solace and comfort a fine summer residence with whatever material we could find at hand, small logs and poles forming the skeleton, which we covered with pine boughs to keep off the fierce rays of the sun during the day and to protect us from the attacks of the coyotes and burglars in the night-time. This being done, we began to “take our ease in our inn” while waiting for somebody to tell us of a place where we could dig prospect holes without infringing upon the vested rights of our predecessors...

ARMY OF SLUICERS - FABULOUS YIELD OF GOLD

 
Our company worked two strings of sluices, employing something over two dozen men, divided into day and night shifts. Thus the work goes on without cessation, until Saturday evening, when a halt is called for the final “clean up” of the week and for payment of the hands who have richly earned their little stipend of $5 per day, amounting at the end of the week to two ounces of gold dust, the yellow dust having a market value of $15 per ounce.

Sunday morning brings only a change of occupation to the miners. At an early hour, the advance guard of a great army of miners begins to file past our cabin doors, almost staggering under the loads of worn implements, which must be repaired by the blacksmith that day for the renewal of hostilities the next morning. Steadily for two or three hours the procession moves down the creek. This army is moving upon the busy town of Oro Fino, whose streets are soon crowded and thronged by other thousands of miners coming in from all the creek gulches and ravines in the surrounding mountains...

The principal mining events of the summer were the operations in the several localities of the district and the almost fabulous yield of gold from the Oro Fino placers, which far exceeded the hopes and anticipations of the most sanguine, and the discoveries of other rich placer deposits in all the tributaries of the Clearwater River. This was, of course, followed by another rush of miners, traders, and adventurers of every class to the scenes of the new discoveries. In the Oro Fino district, everywhere along all the creek bottoms, high mounds and long ridges of “tailings” and other debris had been heaped up. Millions of dollars had already been contributed by these miners to the general output of the precious metal from other sources...

Summer now wanes and blends into autumn. The first of October comes bright, clear, and cold, with several inches of the new white winter dress covering mountain, hillside, and creek flats... Many of the miners, particularly those who have homes and families in the Walla Walla, Willamette, and other valleys in the lower country, begin to gather their ponies from the neighboring “horse ranches” and prepare to abandon their camp until the following spring, when they would return to their claims and their labors...

OROFINO TO FLORENCE – SNOWBLIND AND PACKING LIQUOR

Goulder’s remarkable tales included the harsh realities of remote mining camps:

This was my first winter in the high altitudes among the evergreen forests where snow-storms are frequent and where the white product lies deep for several months of the year. [Goulder wintered at the Poujade ranch.] I was young and impressionable at the time and didn’t stop to reflect that the same natural features and characteristics prevailed over all the vast mountain region of which the section where I happened for the time to be, formed but an infinitesimal part. Though the snow lay deep on all the roads and trails from December till April, there was but little interruption to the tide of travel that went on. All winter long men were daily leaving Oro Fino on snowshoes with heavy packs on their backs for the distant mining camp, Florence in the Salmon River country being the principal point that attracted them...

The route from Oro Fino to Florence, one hundred miles, lay through the country owned, occupied, and cultivated by the Nez Perces Indians, who rendered important services and saved many lives by giving food and shelter to the travelers when lost and snowblind and hungry. It seemed like a fit of madness for men to undertake to battle with all the difficulties and dangers that attended this transit on foot across snowfields for a distance of one hundred miles, and with heavy loads on their backs, but there were hundreds who did not hesitate to confront the task. Nearly every week would bring some returning pilgrim or messenger from Florence to Oro Fino...

One of the greatest needs felt at Florence at this time was that of a well-appointed and well-supplied first-class saloon. To meet this crying want, several kegs of alcohol were carried over the snowy trail, accompanied by the enterprising proprietor of the contemplated liquor emporium, traveling on snowshoes and carrying in a satchel the little vials of chemicals that would convert this alcohol into the mildly-exhilarating fluids of various names and colors and flavors to suit the whims and tastes of his future customers. Everything needed to start an attractive place of resort in the mines was thus carried except the water, which, it was hoped, could be obtained by melting the snow of the Florence Mountains... One evening two men, bending and perspiring under their heavy packs, reached the ranch and reported that on approaching Grasshopper Jim’s old cabin, they came upon two little white mounds, which, upon examination, proved to be the winding-sheets of two unfortunates who had died on the trail the day before from the effect of drinking the raw alcohol from the kegs which they were carrying. The kegs, when found, had been opened and were quite empty. What the poor biped beasts of burden had not consumed had been spilled in the snow. This much alcohol was a total loss, besides the inconvenience and labor which some one had of carrying the bodies out of sight by the roadside...

One of the causes of much misfortune and suffering was from becoming snowblind while traveling across the country, even under the mild glare of the winter sunshine. If one of the party chanced to escape the affliction, he would be chosen as the leader, carrying the blade of a long-handled miner’s shovel under his arm, while the one immediately following him held the end of the handle in his hand and the blade of another shovel under his arm, for the guidance of the one coming after him. In this way, a dozen or more snow-blinded men would often be seen marching in single file, all loaded down with their blankets and provisions. Sometimes night would overtake the party on the road before they could reach the [Poujade] ranch, and then the leader would miss his footing on the narrow beaten trail, and all would go floundering into the deep snow, the trail would be lost in the darkness, and a halt would have to be called till daylight. If the night happened to be unusually cold, they would have quite a task to keep from freezing. As a preventive from the effects of the snow and sunshine, men would blacken their faces with a compound of pulverized charcoal and bacon grease. This remedy did not always, however, prove a specific. I remember one evening seeing a long line of men with blackened faces approaching the ranch, all following the lead of one by the aid of the intervening shovels. With the exception of the leader, they were the most miserable and helpless lot of beings I ever saw. They had to be led around and taken care of in every way like so many helpless infants. In addition to being blind, they all suffered from severe pains in the eyes, which made the house for the time being a veritable hospital...

With the first week in March, the miners and traders who had passed the winter in Walla Walla and Portland and other points in the lower country commenced returning in crowds to their claims and places of business in the Oro Fino district...

The mining operations of the preceding year in the Oro Fino district had done but little more than determine the extent and value of the camp, owing to the drains that had been made upon the mining population by other discoveries. With the opening of the season, work was resumed with renewed vigor, being stimulated by the arrival in camp of crowds of new miners and prospectors...


A LITTLE EMPIRE – LORDS PARAMOUNT

A large part of Goulder’s narrative focused on the Nez Perces:


When we first begin to take a look at any new settlement in the great West, we are always confronted by the Indian and the missionary, and until these parties can be gently coaxed out of the way, there is neither room nor opportunity for presenting anybody else... In 1836 came Reverends Whitman and Spaulding, who established missions, the one in Walla Walla country, and the other among the Nez Perces, where Lewis and Clarke found them in 1805 living under conditions not materially changed since the time of their first acquaintance with white men. These Indians then claimed and inhabited as their tribal estate an extensive region of country, taking in all the land watered by the Clearwater River and its tributaries, extending to the Salmon River on the east, and also a large extent of country on the opposite side of the Snake River. Over all this rich, wide region, with natural resources enough to have made it a little empire, the Nez Perces were, and had been for untold ages, lords paramount, with nothing to disturb them in the quiet and peaceful possession and enjoyment of their ancestral homes. From the time of Lewis and Clarke, they had always maintained excellent relations with the white people who chanced to pass through or sojourn for a time in their country, and were always ready and willing to extend any friendly services in their power to their white visitors and neighbors. Mr. Spaulding and his wife, with their company of missionaries, were cordially welcomed by the Nez Perces and were gladly accepted as religious instructors. The Indians were found to be well-disposed, docile, and easily persuaded to adopt the new methods of thought and living which the missionaries desired to inaugurate. Though these Indians had never before been the pupils of any Christian missionaries, they seemed to be naturally of a religious turn of mind, and showed a great desire to learn all that their new friends wished to teach them. There is something in the religious history of the Nez Perces that here deserves special mention. The first mention made of the Nez Perces by explorers, hunters, and trappers records the fact that these Indians were observers of the Christian Sunday, and that they always devoted a part of that day of the week to religious exercises, to praying and singing religious chants wherever they happened to be encamped during their rambles in the mountains, and that they had a tradition of the white man and his “Book,” which they thought would some time come to them. The same is true with regard to the Flatheads and other tribes, both east and west of the Rockies. The question here is, where did the Indians get these ideas of the religious character of the Sunday and of the white men who had a “Book” that would show them how to please the Great Spirit? It is certain that they had these ideas and traditions long before the advent of the missionaries into their distant mountain regions. Some Methodist missionary writers tell us of a party of Indians who traveled thousands of miles to St. Louis during these early ante-missionary days, for the purpose of finding and securing this precious book. A somewhat amusing account is given by Rev. H.K. Hines, a noted Methodist minister of the Northwest, in his “Missionary History of Oregon.” The good brother Hines tells us of a party of Indians, whose homes were in the Rocky Mountains, near the sources of the Missouri River, who made a journey of many thousand miles all the way to St. Louis in quest of the wonderful “Book” of which they had heard so much. The Indians, Brother Hines tells us, searched the town over and over, but they “could find no Book.” This is not to be wondered at, as they had stopped at a town on the west bank of the river before God had yet crossed the Mississippi. The Indians are made to say that somebody took them to a church where the people “worshipped God with candles,” but that they could “see no Book!” Anybody who at any time has ever visited one of these churches where the people “worship God with candles,” will be inclined to pity these poor Indians, who failed to see what is always quite conspicuously in view in such places. Anyhow, the Indians had their long, perilous journey for nothing, and those of them who survived the ordeal went back to their distant homes lamenting that they could find no Book. Other Historians tell us of parties of these Indians from the far-off mountain regions, coming to St. Louis in search of “black gowns,” whose presence in their country they desired as instructors and guides. Always the object of the journey and the search is a Book, or a teacher clothed in dark raiment. Mountain men of every class testify to the prevalence among the Indians of these ideas and traditions, the origin of which we find fully accounted for in the writings of Irving and others. No intelligent and unprejudiced reader or observer of the past doubts the sincerity, zeal, and earnestness of purpose of those early-day missionaries, nor the spirit of self-sacrifice which governed them in all their relations with the Indian tribes. That they all failed, in greater or less degree, to realize the ideal success for which they had hoped, was owing in every case to the operation of a general cause, over which they had no control or influence. The white man and the Indian had to meet as two hopelessly unreconcilable and uncongenial elements and forces on the same arena, and of who, as all testify, were so peaceful and friendly in the beginning, they soon found themselves in the presence and grasp of a great nation, which, while pretending to treat with them for their lands, insisted upon naming all of the conditions of the treaty, with the power of enforcing compliance with the conditions named. Treaty after treaty was thus made, each one taking away larger and larger slices from the original domain of the Indian, until very soon he was shorn of the major part of his former possessions and restricted to a comparatively small tract, called a “reservation,” the boundaries of which he had no voice in choosing or naming. Very soon the “reservation” was judged to be too large for the needs of the Indian, and he was again forced to agree that it should be “thrown open to settlement” by the whites. But it is the same old story, and the same old play, that has been a hundred times told, rehearsed, and acted over and over again...

NEZ PERCES “VERY SADLY OUT OF LUCK”

...Under our theory of Indians and Indian reservations, the reservation is supposed to be the home of the Indian, where he enjoys certain specified rights under the supervision and protection of the Federal Government, and from which the whites, with the exception of the Indian agents and other employees of the Government, are supposed to be rigidly excluded. The Indians, on their part, according to this theory, are supposed to confine their operations of every kind and their wanderings within the limits of the reservation, which they are not allowed to leave except under specified regulations and restrictions. So much for a mere theory and its rules and regulations, to which, it must be said, the Indians had never given their assent or their consent, in any manner or form, or to the degree and extent that would have been recognized as of binding obligation by nations, bodies or parties of white men acting independently or freely in the matter of acquiring or ceding rights to territory or otherwise... Facts and conditions are supposed to justify the rubbing out of theories, as in the case of the Nez Perces Indians and the white people occupying their country, they practically rubbed out the boundary lines of the reservation. In noting some of those facts, it will be found that all the travel to and from and between the several mining camps was across the Indian reservation; that white people claimed the right of making their homes on the reservation; that the Indians never thought of confining their wanderings within the prescribed limits, the Indians finding the best market for the products of their little farms in the mines among the miners, and their home-town and base of supplies at Lewiston, just as the white people did...

...[W]e find these same Indians assisting white miners in passing through the Indian country on their way to the gold-fields in the neighboring mountains. In the meantime, the government was keeping up an expensive show of protecting the Indians and whites alike, by the establishment of a military post at Lapwai, with an Indian agency and a school for the instruction of the Indians in the arts and sciences, and in the duties of Christian civilization, in order that they might be able to live in peace and harmony with newly-acquired white neighbors.

From the time of the first occupation of the mountain mining districts by the white gold-diggers, down through several decades to the breaking-out of the Nez Perces Indian War in 1877, each recurring summer found the Indians assembled in large numbers in their hunting, grazing, and root-digging resort on the Weippe plains, within a few miles of the mining towns of Oro Fino and Pierce City, and along the principal traveled routes leading in the direction of Lewiston and other settlements at Elk City, Florence, etc.

But now, the Indians are no longer left alone and to their own devices and resources for occupation and amusement. A vile and dangerous element has been added to their numbers. A class of degraded and lawless white men have here found an opportunity of turning the Indians to account by supplying them with intoxicating liquors and by teaching them the white man’s methods of horse-racing and other forms of gambling, with the result that, at the close of each season’s festivities, the Indians found that they had been abused and injured in many ways by the presence of these white men, who were a disgrace to their country and to their race. In their gambling encounters with these degenerate representatives of civilization, the Indians had lost money, horses, blankets, and everything tangible that could be won and carried off; and in addition to having been degraded and injured by the abuse of liquor, they had the deep humiliation of knowing that their wives and female relatives had been debauched, and in many instances carried off before their eyes. It was no unusual sight to meet on the roads and in the mountains bands of these abused and infuriated Indians, crazed with liquor and redolent with grease and vermilion, howling vengeance against the white men, in their inability to distinguish the good from the bad, and friends from enemies...The simple truth is, that all the “non-intercourse laws,” more especially the law prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors to Indians under severe penalties, were everywhere, where there could be access to Indians, persistently and almost undisguisedly, violated, with very few prosecutions that amounted to anything serious to the offenders. With these conditions existing, no gift of prophecy was required to predict what inevitably followed.

But I have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue this theme further. It is so much easier to accept the general conclusion and verdict that the Indian was always a being very sadly out of luck; that he never had any real friends, and that he never had any rights that superior beings were bound to recognize or respect.

William Goulder went on to become an Idaho Territorial legislator and a journalist.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 14 January 2012 16:26