History on Yankee Fork Road -
Charles Franklin buried
the newlyweds next to Richard King, and interestingly, did not include her
married name on her marker, and instead of putting the date she died on
the marker, put on both her’s and Hawthorne’s grave markers, the date of their marriage.
Though suspensions were high that Franklin had killed the pair, he was
never arrested. A short time later, Franklin packed up his belongings and
moved to a placer claim near Stanley. A few years later, he was found dead
in his lonely cabin, clutching Lizzie's photo in a gold locket. His body
was buried next to his cabin, miles away from the tiny cemetery where his
love, Lizzie, lay between her two husbands.
Bonanza is located about
8 miles north of Sunbeam on
Idaho State Road 75 (Yankee Fork Road.)
They soon formed a subsidiary called the Snake River Mining Company and
the following year, the dredge began operations in October, 1939. The 988
ton dredge, which was 112 feet long, 54 feet wide, and 64 feet high went
to work recovering the remaining gold. Requiring 11 feet of water to
float, the dredge could dig to a depth of 35 feet and included 72 buckets,
each of which was eight cubic feet in size to haul up the gravel ore.
Constantly dredging out
rock and recovering the precious mineral by washing and separating the
rock and dirt from the gold, the dredge operated continuously until 1942.
Operations ceased briefly until 1944, when they were continued once again
until the dredge reached a rock dike below Bonanza in 1949.
At that time, the Snake
River Mining Company sold the dredge to J.R. Simplot and Mr. Baumhoff, who
operated the dredge until 1951. Baumhoff then sold his interest to Simplot,
who continued to operate the dredge for another year, at which time, he
ran out of mining claims on which to work. In 1952, the dredge ceased
production forever. One of the most efficient dredges ever in production,
it recovered about $11 in ore over the years.
J.R. Simplot, the last
owner, donated the dredge to the U.S. Forest Service, but there were no
funds to develop it as a museum. However, in 1979, the Yankee Fork Gold
Dredge Association was formed by former employees and their families, who
worked hard to restore the dredge and today it is open for tours during
Yankee Fork Gold
Just about ½ mile on down
the road from Bonanza is the Yankee Fork Dredge. Once placer mining was
exhausted and the major mines ceased operations, the Yankee Fork claims
owners knew that there was still "gold in them thar hills,” or river and
tailings, in this case. In the early 1930’s a number of placer miners who
knew that valuable gold still existed on the Yankee Fork, joined together
to see if they could find a company who might be interested in dredging
By 1938, they had interested the Silas Mason Company of Shreveport,
Louisiana, whose initial tests indicated that as much as $16,000,000 worth
of gold was recoverable.
Just two miles north of
Bonanza is the more intact ghost town of Custer, which was founded in
early 1879 right below the General Custer mill site. The settlement was
first founded by a man named Sam Holman, who was a transplanted Harvard
Law School graduate who had headed west and worked as a prospector rather
than pursuing his law career. Coming to the area of Yankee Fork in 1878,
he became to first justice of the peace in
Bonanza. He also staked a large
claim two miles north of Bonanza, but rather than working the claim, he
divided and sold his property as lots, and for the building of a new mill.
When the Custer Mill was complete in December, 1880, Custer began to grow
in importance. In the 1880’s, both cities flourished, as Custer grew to a
population of about 300.
Cabins in Custer, Idaho with mine peeking up
in the background, Kathy Weiser, July, 2008.
This image available for
photo prints & commercial downloads
By the 1890’s the cities
had virtually grown together, supported by the operations of the Lucky Boy
and Black Mines, and were operated by common authorities. During this
decade, Custer grew larger than Bonanza, especially after two fires wiped
out some of Bonanza's
buildings and the merchants moved to Custer. The town reached its peak
population of 600 in 1896. In its heydays, the town boasted a post office,
a general store, a boarding house, several restaurants, the Nevada House
Hotel, a school, and the ever popular numerous saloons. However, it never
had a church.
was also at this time that residents of the town passed a law forbidding
any Chinese to live within the town limits, so a small Chinatown developed
just southwest of Custer. The immigrants worked as launderers, cooks, and
miners on low-grade properties.
But, by the turn of the century, the end was in site for both communities
and in 1904, the Lucky Boy Mine and General Custer Mill closed. A few
businesses continued to survive by supplying new mines near Sunbeam and in
the Loon Creek district, but the vast majority of people began to leave.
By 1910, there were only about 12 families living in Custer and when the
Sunbeam Mine closed in April, 1911, it spelled the end of the mining camp
and Custer became a ghost town.
Today; however, the
settlement has been restored and preserved by the Yankee Fork Historical
Idaho Department of
Parks and Recreation and the
Salmon-Challis National Forest.
A walking tour begins at
the historic schoolhouse which now serves as the Custer Museum. The tour
provides for a peek at over a dozen buildings, including several cabins
and homes, the Empire Saloon, the assay office, transportation building,
mining equipment, and the sites of several long lost buildings.
Challis - Yankee Fork Ranger District
HC 63 Box 1669
Challis, Idaho 83226
of America, updated March, 2017.
Yankee Fork Mining
All images available for photo prints and
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