Silver City

Location: Drive 5 miles south of Murphy on State Highway 78; exit west off this highway onto a 23-mile road leading through Striker Creek Basin Gulch (Note: The road is generally open by June 1, but avoid traveling during rainy conditions as the steep mountain passes become very dangerous when wet)
Silver City is a treasure among American ghost towns. Complete with forty remaining buildings, Silver City is a popular attraction where visitors can glimpse into Idaho’s mining history. Initially, mining in the area focused on placer gold, but most of the findings were insignificant. In 1864, though, riches were struck as vast deposits of silver and gold were found on War Eagle Mountain east of present day Silver City. Silas Skinner, Colonel W.H. Dewey, and Michael Jordan knew the mines would prosper with adequate supplies. Together, these men requested a fifteen-year franchise to build a toll road from Jordan Valley to Silver City seventy miles down Reynolds Creek to Boise City. Silas Skinner completed this road May 19, 1866, and supplies from Chico, California began reaching the settlement in just four days.

As supplies poured in and the Oro Fino and Morning Star mines on War Eagle Mountain prospered, New York investors sent capital to the area to develop more mills along Jordan Creek. By 1866, eighty-two mills were fully operating, producing $70,000 each week, and in the first ten years, the mines made a total of $30 million in profits.

Silver City’s population surged as more mines were developed on War Eagle. In 1866, the community was named Owyhee county seat and an 1867 population of 3,000 enabled construction and business growth. The town boasted two schools, the elegant fifty room Idaho Hotel, six general stores, a brewery, eight saloons, a miner’s hospital, several houses of ill-repute, a Masonic Temple, and Catholic and Protestant Churches. During the same time period, the Idaho Avalanche began reporting area news and acquired the first telegraph service in the area. Silver City also had a large population of Chinese miners. These men were forced into Chinatown, an area separated from the rest of the city by the narrow Deadman’s Alley.

With great riches also came great conflict. In 1865, the Poorman mine opened on the already existing claim of Hays and Ray (an illegal action as determined by the apex mining doctrine). Determined to maintain their claim, Poorman employees armed themselves and built Fort Baker at the entrance to their mine. While some high-grade ore was sent to Portland, Oregon before the standoff ended, a judge soon ruled that the Poorman was on the same vein as the Hays and Ray and fined the Poorman owners. Afterwards, the two mines decided to work together and by January 1867, the Hays-Poorman mine had made nearly $1 million.

As the Hays-Poorman miners learned to work together, another conflict was brewing. D.H. Fogus staked the Ida Elmore mine while Hill Beachy claimed the Golden Chariot mine in September 1867 on War Eagle. With tensions running high between the two competing mines, Golden Chariot workers shot their way into the Ida Elmore shaft on March 25, 1868. For three days, workers from both mines were involved in an underground gun battle that killed three people. Reinforcements were called in, and Governor D.W. Ballard sent deputy marshal, Orlando Rube Robbins, to read a cease-fire proclamation to the workers. Apparently, the company leaders hammered out an agreement ending the conflict, but Governor Ballard ensured the community’s safety by sending ninety-six Fort Boise soldiers to the area for four days.

After the conflict was settled, mining on War Eagle Mountain continued steadily and peacefully and production by the end of 1868 yielded more than $3 million in profits. Mining continued in the area steadily until the Great Depression, but activity lessened so much that the county seat was eventually moved to Murphy. At the start of World War II, mining restrictions forced the last of Silver City’s operating mines to shut their doors, and the community soon became a ghost town.

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