Big Creek History

While you are waiting for the photos to load, scroll down and read some mining history from the Idaho State Historical Society and some stories excerpted from great books.  More to come!  NEW 03-24-04

Photo from "The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War"
by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley - copyright 1977

BIG CREEK                         Number 563          1980
     Mineral discoveries near Elk Summit high on a ridge between Big Creek and the south fork of the Salmon River came a decade before prospecting on Monumental Creek expanded Big Creek mining possibilities into an even-more remote area around Thunder Mountain.  Deep canyons and rough country delayed development of mining anywhere on Big Creek, but an early twentieth-century gold rush finally brought a horde of prospectors into Idaho's Salmon River mountain wilderness west of Leesburg and north of Stanley and Deadwood.
     Antimony had been noticed in that country years before anyone succeeded in identifying commercial gold and silver there.  A Thunder Mountain lode which no one could develop and some Chamberlain Basin placers had been investigated as early as 1866 or 1867.  Nothing came from that activity.  Finally James Reardon and L. M. Johnson brought a small discovery party to Big Creek as early as they could prospect in 1884.  In June, they found an eleven-hundred foot outcrop of a system of parallel veins about sixty feet wide.  A year later, on June 15, 1885, they organized the Alton mining district, and that summer a hundred and fifty miners located about a hundred claims.  They found silver ore described by Norman B. Willey as "refractory, but not base."  In 1886, prospect cuts had reached a depth of fifty feet.  A. L. Simondi, a Weiser assayer, created a lot of interest when he reported a 2,000-ounce silver sample in August.  A ton of ore from these exploratory holes, packed out to a railroad at a cost of eight dollars, provided a favorable test yield of 267 ounces of silver later in 1886.  Since an eighty-five mile wagon road would have to be constructed at an estimated expense of $20,000 to reach their district, miners at Alton faced a severe obstacle.  Their ore, distributed in small stringers through a broad zone or lode, could yield flattering assays from selected samples, but averaged only a dollar or two a ton.  A large low-grade lode of that kind eventually could be worked profitably by twentieth-century methods where good transportation was available.  Elk Summit offered no such attraction.
     Gradual expansion of mining possibilities around Alton--both in the immediate vicinity as well as around Big Creek--came during two decades or more of prospecting there.  Following some preliminary work by John Osborn in 1880, a modest excitement attracted interest on Sugar Creek in 1887.  Then James Hand located a Beaver Creek claim on August 18, 1893, which he retained for half a century.  A more promising find brought more miners to Smith and Government creeks near Alton in 1898.  A Topeka firm acquired this property in 1902 and eventually drove about 2,000 feet of development tunnels in a lode two hundred feet wide.  Returning to Beaver Creek in the spring of 1899, James Hand "discovered and located the most extraordinary ledge on the North American continent.  It is an enormous porphyry dyke of free milling quartz that stands out boldly like a huge cathedral.  Measurements taken show the ledge to be 300 feet at the widest and 60 feet at the narrowest part.  The ledge can be easily traced for over three miles.
     Assays of the croppings of this ledge made by Mr. Tillson, of the Iola mine, show values "ranging from $18.50 to $186.60."  Another nearby discovery of Charles Crown, came on Logan and Fall creeks in 1899.  Crown went on to find "some remarkably rich locations in Thunder mountain" that season.  But his Logan and Fall creeks prospects proved disappointing.  By 1902, about 200 feet of development tunnels demonstrated an absence of ore (as evaluated in such a remote area), but  after some additional effort at development, George Lauffer and Joe Davis relocated this abandoned property in 1908.  Nothing but negative information came from all that effort.
North of Big Creek, Richard Hunter reported an unexpectedly successful 1899 placer operation:
     In the Chamberlain basin, strikes showing phenomenal values have been made by the Briggs brothers, of Ohio, and a quartet of lucky prospectors from Utah.  The Ohio boys located a placer claim on the top of a mountain and worked like Trojans for two weeks to the intense glee of the old rock smashers.  The boys succeeded in getting a 12 hour run of water and washed out $1,876 in coarse gold.  In the clean-up nuggets worth $10 were found.  The hilarity of the "way-backs' ended suddenly.
     Copper also created excitement in 1899.
Mike Nevins, the genial, big hearted proprietor of Nevin's cosy ranch, at the mouth of Elk creek, has located a colossal ledge of copper near the fork of Elk and Smith creeks. As the ledge towers upward to a height of over 600 feet the reader can form a slight idea of the magnitude of Nevin's discovery.  A representative of Marcus Daly has gone to examine Nevin's discovery.
     A somewhat more successful effort attended another nearby discovery of 1903.  Four years later a small 300-pound prospect mill turned out $173 in a seventeen-day run.  A five-stamp mill, brought there in 1911, produced a six or seven thousand dollar yield by 1916.  In addition, a fourth Alton lode discovery on Government and Logan creeks filled in some mining territory between the 1898 and 1899 segments.  Also in 1911, D. C. Macrae and E. F. Goldman located claims along a ridge between Government and Logan creeks, but they had low grade ore at best.  Some may have gone as high as four dollar a ton higher up and two dollars at greater depth, but their average ran lower.  Development of this series of four mining areas along a single northeast and southwest mineral zone showed that a large lode extended close to four miles in length and one to three hundred feet in width.  Yet almost no production could be managed at such a difficult location.  During the Thunder Mountain rush, some of these properties acquired an unenviable reputation by reason of unwarranted wildcatting operations of that period, but not a single instance of intelligent mining development was then recorded, and as a matter of fact 90% of the money raised from the sale of stock based on Big Creek properties during that period was used for promotion purposes and never reached Idaho.
     Farther down Big Creek, other lodes had more of a chance for development.  W. A. Edward's property on a ridge between Logan and Government creeks (below D. C. Macrae's later 1911 discovery), located in 1904, justified importation of a stamp mill.  Logan City (later Edwardsburg) began with a saloon, store, butcher shop, and a house on Big Creek flat that summer, and a four-stamp mill arrived in 1906.  Milling finally began five years later, with a production of $1,200 in 1911.  Sulphide ores, requiring a cyanide process, continued to present a problem which accounted for so long a delay and such a small production.  Edwards also held additional claims twelve miles farther down Big Creek, where a 2,500-foot lode was developed.  Most of Big Creek's production came from the Snowshoe mine in that area, with a yield of about $400,000 between 1906 and 1942.
Publications--450 N. 4th Street, Boise, ID 83702--208-334-3428

Big Creek, Idaho in 1939
Photo from "Idaho Mountains Our Home" by Lafe and Emma Cox - Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books

"Napier Edwards was a son of William Edwards and his wife Annie.  In 1904 when Napier was two years old, they came to Big Creek, where they acquired a mining interest.  The predominant metals were gold, silver, lead and copper.  It was a 40 mile horseback ride from Warren to Big Creek.  Soon Edwards built a road from Warren over Elk Summit to Big Creek.  This family were real pioneers."
Pg. 114 "Idaho Mountains Our Home" by Lafe and Emma Cox - Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books

"From Crooked Creek they
[Clark, Beulah and Lafe Cox and party] rode up Big Creek to the Forest Service Headquarters , then called Edwardsburg, now known as Big Creek." [1927]
Ibid. pg 25

"We arrived at Big Creek headquarters
[March 1939] where Dick and Sophia Cowman operated a store, post office and hotel.  I saw the ranger station and a Forest Service commissary building.  We weighed our dogs, sled and ourselves with our load, which weighed 947 pounds for seven dogs."
"The Cowmans had a milk cow and chickens, so they always had fresh milk and eggs to serve their customers.  It was such good food.  We all enjoyed our overnight stay there after our 32 mile
[dogsled] ride."
Ibid. pgs. 71-72

"After hunting season, [1939] we all made a trip to Boise with the two pickups for our supplies for six months: groceries, stock salt, grain and horseshoes.  We had to buy a lot of flour, as we baked our own bread and pastries.  Returning from Boise, we hauled the load as far as the Snowshoe Mine.  From there everything had to be packed in by mules the six miles to Mile High.
"We ordered two truckloads of hay from Cascade to be delivered at Big Creek headquarters.  But a big snowstorm came in, so the truck driver unloaded on top of the summit.  It was snowing so hard he could not see to drive any farther.  He went back for a second load.
"The next day the driver came in with the second load.  It had snowed all night.  He got as far up Profile as Camp Creek, where he spun out and slid off the road.  He hurried to cut the ropes on the hay to keep the truck from turning over, but most of the hay landed in the creek.  He did save his truck from going in or doing any damage.
"The storm continued, and some people were about to be snowed in. Stibnite Mine had a crew working on the head of Smith Creek on Dan McRae's claims.  They were all snowed in, so the mining company got their cat to open the road from Smith Creek to Big Creek and on over Profile Summit.  There were 17 vehicles that needed to get back to Stibnite.
"We were behind with our team and bobsled, going on over the top after a load of the hay.  Lafe had to use the team to help get some of the vehicles over the top."
Ibid pgs. 79-80

"That spring
[1942] Lafe subcontracted a mail contract.  The mail was to be delivered from Yellow Pine to the Big Creek post office, then on down Big Creek to the Snowshoe Mine and on down a trail from there to Cabin Creek.  The contract was for 45 miles, to be traveled by auto when accessible, in summer and early fall.  In the winter mail was flown in by Penn Stohr from the airfield at Cascade to Big Creek, to be taken the rest of the way by horseback, dog team or team and sleigh.
"We purchased a pickup to deliver from Yellow Pine to the Snowshoe Mine.  The baby and I rode along with Lafe so I could learn the route, as he had to deliver up a few side roads to places I had never seen.  We knew I would have to be the substitute driver when hunting season opened.
"That fall Lafe catered to his hunting parties and would be gone a week to ten days at a time.  We had a tent house at Jake and Eric Jensen's place on Crooked Creek neat the Snowshoe Mine.  A book should have been written on these two fine Finlanders who had built their home and other outbuildings on their property.  They were both skilled carpenters, log home builders, cooks -- you name it.  It was interesting to hear of their experiences and stories about the time they operated a saloon at Roosevelt.  They were always very careful how they expressed themselves in front of me.  They were such gentlemen!"
"When Lafe was hunting, I drove to Yellow Pine to pick up the mail, ...  I delivered mail and freight from the Yellow Pine post office to the Big Creek post office, where it was sorted and put in mail sacks for each of the individuals along the way, and for the 12 to 18 employees at the Snowshoe Mine."
"The road was narrow.  At one point, above the transfer camp, was an incline where you could not see over the hood of your pickup.  You had to know which way the road turned.  I also had to drive across two bridges, that I often think about today.  The bridges had very little railing and the logs were laid crosswise.  When the first frost came, this was dangerous.  It was always bumpy -- rough driving over.  About the only time the baby was disturbed was when we crossed these two bridges, due to the roughness and noise.  The stream at Big Creek was almost the size of some rivers.  I always breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the other side.
"The miners always knew when I was coming.  If their trucks were coming out with loads, they always waited at a turnout for me.
"The people at the mine were always glad to see me come.  Perhaps they were concerned with my driving -- I will never know.  However, they really looked forward to their mail.  Someone was always there to help me unload the mail and freight, as at that time everyone ordered through the Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs.  In the spring they ordered seed from the catalogues to plant in their gardens.
"On mail days everyone at the mine gathered at the large dining room table, where the mail was sorted out.  While this was going on, Mrs. Rodman, the cook, always had a cup of hot cocoa and a piece of pie or cake for me.  I could also warm up the baby's bottle on her stove.
"The caretaker at Mile High met me at the mine to pick up the ongoing mail down Big Creek, which was only accessible by horses.  He delivered to the Phil Beal ranch, Cabin Creek and Mile High, which at one time was a designated post office called Clover.  In early days settlers came there for their mail.  When we sold the ranch many years later, the post office pigeonhole cabinet was still hanging on the wall.
"In the summer we delivered the mail every Tuesday and Friday; the rest of the time it was just once a week.  Otherwise the baby and I stayed at Jensen's place awaiting Lafe's return from his hunting trips."
"In November the snow on the summit got too deep for the pickup.  Even though we had a compound gear, it was too hard on the vehicle.
"Johnson's Flying Service based in Cascade had the contract to fly the mail directly to Big Creek airfield.  Penn Stohr did the flying.  He was not only a great pilot, he was a  wonderful person."
"Before the snow got too deep …, Lafe picked up the mail by auto.  On the way to the mine he had to make a stop at Copper Camp and Little Ramey cabin.  The others who lived along the route had gone out for the winter."
"It was typical snow country and each day we watched it pile up.  Some days a real blizzard would blow.  As the snow accumulated, we knew it was set in for the winter.
"The next trip, Lafe got as far as Little Ramey, where he had to leave the sleigh.  It would stay where he left it until spring, as there was too much snow.  He loaded the outgoing mail onto one of the work horses and rode the other, continuing his trip to the Big Creek Post Office."
"Soon it was time for Lafe to make another mail run.  He started out by riding one of the work horses and packing the other, but after several tries, he could see he couldn't make it.  So he took the horses back to the mouth of Crooked Creek and started them back up the road to our cabin at the mine.  He left the riding and pack saddles at the Little Ramey cabin to be picked up later.  He put a pack sack with the outgoing mail on his back and webbed up to Big Creek.  The trip took him two days.  It was real arduous going with snow falling hard.  In places the drifted snow was three to four feet deep.
"From Copper Camp, Lafe phoned to tell me the team would be coming in sometime that night.  I put hay and grain in their feed boxes in the barn, thinking they would go right in to the hay."
"For Lafe's next return trip back, he had rented three dogs and their harness from an old timer living near Big Creek.  With so much snow, he needed a dog team to travel.  He also called his dad, asking Clark to try to locate some good dogs with harness and have them flown in with the coming mail plane.
"Clark sent a good lead dog and two others.  With the dogs the old timer had given him, and his own dog, that gave Lafe seven dogs, which were what he needed for some of the loads that went to the mine.
"On the crank Forest Service phone in our cabin, I could talk to Lafe in Big Creek.  He called real often to check on the baby and me."
"With lots of snow, Lafe made weekly trips by dog team.  Sometimes the weather would warm up and cause snow slides.  You had to keep an eye on the mountain above the trail in case a slide came in.  That year there were several small slides and two or three large ones.  The dogs all worked well together, and each knew their duty."
Ibid pgs. 99-108
We continued to deliver mail all summer [1943], driving over Profile summit to Big Creek.  The mail route went over many side roads, as the summer people were back, then on to the cabins that were occupied year round, and then to the Snowshoe Mine.  It was the same route as in the winter, but now we were driving a vehicle."
"The Profile Summit road from Yellow Pine to Big Creek was completed in 1933.  The fist one to drive a car over it was Harry Withers, an old timer from Yellow Pine."
Ibid pg. 112

Photo from "Idaho Mountains Our Home" by Lafe and Emma Cox - Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books

Hopeless point - the mail run up Big Creek

This "road" is now part of the Big Creek Trail in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

Photo from "The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War"
by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley - copyright 1977

"Dog team hauling mail to the
Big Creek country in 1929. 
Photo courtesy of Margaret and Ken Twiliger"

Big Creek [from Yellow Pine c. 1982]

"On to Big Creek and a ribbon of road that winds around hairpin curves and a profile grade that will keep you wide awake.  However, the feeling of wilderness compensates for the mountain miles.  You look down to cascading white water and up to craggy peaks; reel in the forest of pines and tamaracks, the quaking aspens and small, flowered meadows that come as brief surprises.

"Finally you reach the old settlement of Edwardsburg and a mile beyond that you round a corner and a break in the woods exposes Big Creek Lodge.

"Almost every map of Idaho marks this little settlement, yet it qualifies as neither a city or town. 

Photo from "The Idaho Rambler"
by Betty Derig & Flo Sharp, Copyright March 1982

It is a rustic lodge, long an outpost on the fringe of the Primitive Area in the Salmon River drainage.

"Nearly 60 years ago the hand-hewn cabin (now enlarged) served as Headquarters for the Forest Service.  Now, with newer Forest Service buildings 1/2 mile away, Big Creek lodge caters to the back country hiker and fisherman, hunter and miner.

"Big Creek hasn't changed much since 1923 when Jake and Eric Jansen split the logs for the little Forest Service camp.  A few more summer people come in now and a mountain-meadow airport reminds us that we are late in the Twentieth Century.  The cook at the lodge says she can tell who is coming to dinner by the color of the airplane.

"Communication with the outside is mostly by radio although the sprinkling of mountain residents can ring each other on big wooden wall phones, 1920 vintage.  This may be one of the few places where you talk after cranking out two shorts and a long….

"Mining brings more activity to the area now with a lot of heavy equipment coming in for the old Golden Hand and Yellow Jacket Mines just outside the borders of the Primitive Area.  The old ways continue, however.  Dave Stucker came riding down the road with his pack string headed for Chamberlain Basin.  According to one of the wranglers, John Turner, each summer they set up at least nine camps and guide 40 parties or more on hunting and fishing trips in the primitive area.  The core of the business is the permanent herd of 2,000 elk that roams the back country.

"However, you don't need a guide to find several interesting nearby places.  Hike approximately 3 miles to Logan Lake to catch some big rainbows.  Inquire at Big Creek Lodge for directions….

"A public campground is less than 1/2 mile from Big Creek Lodge.  Turn off the main road just before the airport and you will find an attractive wooded area by a small creek.  No hook-ups.  Watch for deer along the creek and by the salt lick near the barn.

Excerpted from "The Idaho Rambler" Copyright March, 1982 by Betty Derig and Flo Sharp
ISBN 0-9609754 Printed in the USA by Lithocraft Inc. Boise, Idaho

Photos from "The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War"
by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley - copyright 1977