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While trespassing onto Nez Perce reservation land on September 30, 1860, Captain Elias D. Pierce discovered Idaho’s first gold. Thereafter, thousands of prospectors flocked to the area and turned Pierce into a boomtown. Less than a year later, over 1,600 mining claims had been filed. A courthouse was built in 1862 to handle all the claims. It still stands today and is Idaho’s oldest remaining government building. The post office was established in 1863.

Obviously, the town owes its namesake to community founder and prospector, Elias D. Pierce. Pierce emigrated from Ireland to Virginia when he was fifteen years old, studied law under the guidance of a lawyer, and briefly established his own practice in Indiana. When the Mexican-American war began in 1846, Elias volunteered for service. After nearly ten months of duty and earning a Second Lieutenant rank, Elias returned to Indiana, settled down, and planned to marry Rebecca Jones. However, Elias decided he first should make the couple a fortune. He postponed the wedding and left for California’s golden hills. During the journey, Elias supervised the travel progress, and his companions dubbed him “captain,” a title that remained with him throughout his life.

Upon Pierce’s arrival in California, he abandoned his mining ambitions and turned to the trading business with Native Americans. Next, he worked construction on the doomed Shasta River Canal, became the first person to climb northern California’s Mt. Shasta, and became a member of California’s Third Legislature. His lust for gold, however, was still on his mind.

Returning to the trading business, Pierce headed to Idaho, found a way to sneak onto the Indian Reservation, and devised his plan to hunt for gold. His plan worked, and Pierce’s discovery skyrocketed Idaho Territory into the national spotlight. As for Pierce, he finally returned to Indiana twenty years after his departure, married his fiancee, hunted for more gold prospects in the west, and eventually retired with his wife in Pennville, Indiana. He died in 1897.

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