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Gold placers were discovered in Idaho in 1852 along the Pend Oreille River (Ross, 1930b, p. 2); however, Staley (1946, p. 5) considered the placer discovery at Pierce City in 1860 as the earliest discovery of consequence in the State. Other placers were discovered in Elk City, Orofino, and along the Salmon River in 1860 and 1861, and a year later discoveries were made at Florence, Warren, and Boise Basin. There were only 10,000 people in Idaho before the gold rush. By 1890, more than 90,000 settlers called the state home. The swell of people came in the form of gold prospectors and suppliers of goods from California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada.

Although reports of gold discoveries have been reported in the entire state, there are a few mega-rich regions of Idaho that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the state in gold production and mining history.

The Idaho State Historical Society that in 1862 George Grimes, Moses Splawn, and an accompanying party of men discovered gold in the Boise Basin, along Grimes Creek. The influx of miners quickly changed the area from a wilderness inhabited mainly by Native Americans to a booming mining community. The Boise Basin in central Idaho was one of the richest gold discoveries in American history. The vast basin is located 24 miles north of Boise covers over 300 square miles. It was also one of the most important discoveries of the gold rush days, and people moved to the area in droves. In "The History of Idaho," author John Hailey writes that many miners traveled from Portland, Oregon, boating up the Columbia River, then moving overland to the Snake River and on through the Payette River, finally reaching Horseshoe Bend and the Boise River Basin. The journey usually took about two weeks.


Placers were discovered in Boise County in 1862 about 25 miles northeast of Boise in Boise Basin, an area of about 300 square miles. The placer operations led to the discoveries of lodes at the heads of streams, and some of these lodes were mined as early as 1863 (Anderson, 1947, p. 176). The lodes were never developed to sustain any extended yield; first one district would be active for a few years, then another. Placers, on the other hand, had a less erratic history and remained highly productive through the 1890's. In the early 1900's they were worked by dredges, and some time later, by large-scale hydraulicking (Ballard, 1924, p. 31-32).

The Boise Basin is divided into many mining districts. In this report that part of the basin that includes the Idaho City, Moore Creek, Gambrinus, and Centerville camps is referred to as the Boise Basin district. The Pioneerville (Summit Flat, Grimes Pass) and Quartzburg (Gold Hill, Granite, Placerville) districts are considered separately.

Recorded production in the county began in 1863 (Jones, 1917, p. 86). Total gold production for the county from 1863 through 1959 was 2,891,530 ounces, about 95 percent of which came from the Boise Basin. Boise Basin District The Boise Basin (Idaho City, Moore Creek, Gambrinus, Centerville) district is in the central and southern part of the Boise Basin. All the districts in the Boise Basin have a common history related to the original placer discoveries in 1862 and subsequent development of both placer and lode gold mines. The first placer discoveries in Boise County were made in this area in 1862. Most of the county's gold production came from the rich placers during the first few years of mining. Estimated production from 1863 to 1896 from the Idaho City camp was valued at $44,651,800 (2,167,500 ounces) (Lindgren, 1898, p. 655). The district produced 129,038 ounces from 1939 through 1958; its total production was about 2,300,000 ounces, mostly from placers. Read the rest of the story here. When all was said and done, the Boise gold rush yielded more gold than Alaska!

Another world famous mining district is the Coeur d'Alene Mining District. In the northern region of Idaho, this incredible producer of gold and silver continues to produce astounding precious metals to this day. The important mineral deposits of Shoshone County are in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, along its northeast boundary. This mineralized area covers about 500 square miles and includes about eight mining districts, known collectively as the Coeur d'Alene region.

Shoshone County's gold production from 1881 through 1942 was 393,088 ounces (Staley, 1946, p. 27) ; from 1943 through 1959 it was 41,113 ounces a total of 434,201 ounces for 1881-1959. The first mineral discoveries were lodes in 1878, but it was not until rich placers were discovered along Prichard and Eagle Creeks in the early 1880's that any concentrated interest was shown in the area. The town of Murray was founded in the placer area, and it soon became the county seat of Shoshone County. In 1885 rich deposits of lead and silver were discovered along the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River; at the same time the placers at Murray began to decline (Ransome and Calkins, 1908, p. 78-80).
A railway into the region was completed in 1887, and by that time many properties—among them the Bunker Hill and Sullivan, Mammoth, Tiger, Morning, Poorman, and Granite —were producing substantial amounts of ore. The succeeding decade was marked by strife between the miners' unions and the mine owners, and several times troops were called in to restore order (Ransome and Calkins, 1908, p. 81). Meanwhile the Murray placers experienced a revival. The bench gravels were worked, and several new lode properties began producing. The region became slightly active again in the mid-1930's and remained so through 1959.

Most of the early gold production of the region was from placers and gold-quartz veins near Murray. A total of 227,890 ounces of gold was produced in the region from 1884 to 1905 (Ransome and Calkins, 1908, p. 82). From 1906 through 1934 the Murray area produced 66,092 ounces of placer and 3,154 ounces of lode gold (Shenon, 1938, p. 17), and from 1935 through 1951 a total of 16,275 ounces of placer and lode gold was produced (Hosterman, 1956, p. 740). Mines in the Coeur d'Alene region, including the Murray district, produced a total of $7,180,151 (348,550 ounces) in gold from 1884 through 1931 (Ross, 1941, p. 85). Total gold production of the region through 1960 was about 439,000 ounces (Shenon, 1961, p. 1). Ref: Western Mining History

More Reading

Gold Mining Districts of Idaho
Gold Prospecting in Idaho
Gold Producing Boise, Idaho
The Boise Basin
Boise Basin History

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Experts say that only a small fraction of the gold in this country has been recovered.