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Idaho Territory Gold Mines and Ghost Towns

Rare set of maps of the Boise and Owyhee Mining Districts in Idaho Territory, along with a fine large view of Buena Vista Bar and the boom town of Idaho City.

The map highlights the remarkable boom and bust experienced by Idaho Territory, between the discovery of gold in these regions in 1864 and the post-1890 demise, once the boom played out.   Warren Heckrotte comments,

This map appeared in George Owens, A General Directory and Business Guide of the Principal Towns East of the Cascade Mountains, for the year 1865, [published in] San Francisco, 1865. Though folded my copy does not appear to have been bound in the book. This is a fine map and scarce or rare. The book is not found in the past major private collections of western Americana."  

The primary map shows the area centered on Idaho City and the Boise Basin, covering teh area north of the Snake River, extending east to the Wood River Valley (home to today's Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley) and northwest to the Payette River.   The map emphasizes the topographical features onf the reigons and identifies the major gold mining regions, centered on Buena Vista Bar and the Volcano District near Franklin.

The smaller map locates the Owyhee Mines on the Jordan Creek, Snake Creek and Rabbit Creek and their tributaries, with a detailed list of roughly 32 mining claims pasted down to the left of the map, keyed to numbers and letters.  Located in southwestern Idaho, the area shown is no all ghost towns, with virtually no signs of the towns of Booneville, Ruby City and Silver City (once one of Idaho's largest cities and the first city in Idaho Territory to have a daily newspaper, telephone and electric service) remaining.

In 1860,  the Idaho Gold Rush began with the discovery of gold Pierce, at the juncture where Orofino Creek meets Canal Creek.

The most popular gold producing district in Idaho is Boise Basin County, which was discovered only two years after the Pierce discovery, which would go on to produce nearly 3 million troy ounces (more than 90 tons) of gold, mostly from placers.  Another major district was the Silver City district in Owyhee County, which began producing in 1863 and delivered more than 1 million troy ounces of gold.  

Although Boise Basin did not actually start the whole Idaho Gold Rush period, it produced the most gold compared to other districts. The Basin included several gold mining towns including Centerville, Placerville, Idaho City, and Pioneerville.  Originally known as “Bannock”, Idaho City was settled in December of 1862, early in the gold rush to the Boise Basin region of southern Idaho. The Boise Basin rush was the largest since the California Gold Rush of 1849, and by 1864 Idaho City would become the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, eclipsing even Portland, Oregon.

Silver City was founded in 1864 soon after silver was discovered at nearby War Eagle Mountain. The settlement grew quickly and was soon considered one of the major cities in Idaho Territory. The first daily newspaper and telegraph office in Idaho Territory were established in Silver City. The town was also among the first places in present-day Idaho to receive electric and telephone service.  

In 1860, only about 10,000 people lived in Idaho. By 1890, the end of the Gold Rush, the population had grown to 89,000.


The map is extremely rare. 

OCLC locates 3 examples of the map (Library of Congress, Idaho State Archives, Newberry Library)

While there are 4 auction records for the map in the past 20 years, 3 of the 4 are for the Heckrotte Copy (Waverly 2005, OWA 2005 and PBA 2016), along with the present example, offered in 2022 (Swann).  The Owens Guide identified by Heckrotte has only appeared at auction once, lacking the map.

Condition Description
Restored along several folds, with loss and discoloration. Ex-Bancroft Library copy.
References: Wheat, (TMW) #1127; Howes O-171, Bancroft, History of Idaho, Chapter 2, in vol 31 of his Works gives the early history of this area.