Idaho City, Idaho – Queen of the Boise Basin

Masonic Hall in Idaho City, Idaho

Masonic Hall in Idaho City, Idaho

One of the new structures that was built that year was the Masonic Temple, known as Lodge #1 of Idaho’s Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. it was completed in October 1865 after James Pinney, a Mason himself, received permission to build the new structure. Idaho Lodge #1 moved its meetings to Boise in the 1920’s, but its occasional use of the building makes the structure the oldest Masonic Temple this side of the Mississippi River still in use today.

In the meantime, ex-sheriff, Sumner Pinkham had returned to Idaho City and the locals immediately began to speculate that Pinkham and Ferd Patterson were going to have it out.

After the Civil War’s end, Sumner Pinkham staged a gala Fourth of July party. The crowds were mostly in a festive mood with fireworks blazing and booze flowing. The celebration included a brass band, speeches, patriotic songs, a picnic, and Sumner Pinkham leading the parade through town. For the victorious Yankees, it was a proud day. But, for the sullen Confederate sympathizers, it was not so much, as they heckled the “Blue Bellies” throughout the day. For Ferd Patterson, seeing Pinkham leading the parade, was a further stab at his southern loyalties.

Pinkham was singing “Oh, we’ll hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree!” Ferd Patterson yelled out to Pinkham that if he didn’t shut his mouth he’d shut it for him. Pinkham invited him to try and he did .A brief scuffle between the two men resulted in the flag falling into the dust of the street. Some witnesses later swore they saw Ferd Patterson spit on it and others swore they heard Pinkham swear he would kill Patterson for that.

Several weeks later on Sunday, July 23rd, Ferd Patterson shot and killed Sumner Pinkham at the Warm Springs Resort about two miles west of town. Witnesses reported they heard Patterson say the word “draw” and then taunted Pinkham by calling him an “Abolitionist son-of-a-bitch.”

Patterson quickly fled but was captured, returned to Idaho City, and tried for the murder. But, he was quickly acquitted, prompting the Oregon newspaper to report:

This ruffian has gone through the farce of a trial by a jury of fellow “Democrats” at Idaho City, and of course, has been acquitted. By those who know the character of Patterson and his associates in Idaho, no other verdict was anticipated.

Previous to the killing of Pinkham, who was regarded as the leader of the loyal element of the Boise Basin society, no vigilance committee had existed within the precincts of the mining district. However, the trouble between Patterson and Pinkham and threats made by desperate characters to burn the town, a meeting was called by C.S. Kingley, the Methodist preacher, and the businessmen of Idaho City. A local blacksmith was chosen as the captain and the organization soon had several hundred members.

St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Idaho City, Idaho

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Idaho City, Idaho

Two years after Idaho City’s first fire, almost to the day, Idaho City was again the victim of an equally devastating fire in May 1867. All the hotels, the post office, express office, and many of the principal business places were consumed, with losses estimated at over a million dollars. For the second time the Jenny Lind Theater and the office of the Idaho World, which was in the Masonic building, were saved. This time, however, the St. Joseph Catholic Church and its nearby convent were destroyed. The present building was rebuilt in November. It continues to stand today with some of the vestments and altar pieces rescued from the fire still inside.

One of the buildings that suffered damage in the fire was the Boise Basin Mercantile located on northeast corner of Main and Commercial Streets. The store was originally built in 1865. In its rebuilding, every effort was employed to guard against future fire damage, including a brick façade, iron doors and windows, and dirt packed into the attic. Another building was built next to it in 1868, and a third in 1869. Today these three separate buildings serve as the Boise Basin Mercantile. Fire has never again invaded this building, making it oldest mercantile in Idaho.

Boise Basin Museum, Idaho City, Idaho

Boise Basin Museum, Idaho City, Idaho

It took Postmaster James Pinney only 29 days to build the Montgomery Street post office after the fire destroyed the first one on Main Street. Pinney lived in part of the building and in addition to selling stamps, he sold books, musical instruments, pistols, magazines, knives, and toys and operated a circulating library. After Pinney resigned as postmaster in 1872, the building housed a meat market and later the Idaho World newspaper. It remained a post office until 1910. Today it serves as the Boise Basin Museum located at 503 Montgomery Street.

Another building established in 1867 was the Pon Yam House at the corner of Montgomery Street and Commercial Streets. Pon Yam was a skilled goldsmith, successful businessman and a respected leader in the community. It was reported he owned the largest diamond in the mining camp, and he was often called upon to settle disputes among the Chinese Tongs. From this building, he sold herbs and other Chinese products until 1885. It is the only remaining building from Idaho City’s large Chinese population, today serving as a Chinese Museum and Cultural Center.

A famous political battle occurred in Idaho City on June 17, 1870. Congressman E. D. Holbrook and a gambler named Charles Douglass met one evening at the corner of Wall and Main Streets. After Holbrook called Douglass “a liar, a coward, and an assassin,” both men drew their guns. Eleven shots were fired. Holbrook was taken to his law office with several bullet holes in his abdomen. The next morning he was dead. Douglass escaped and was never heard from again.

Chinese in Idaho City, Idaho

Chinese in Idaho City, Idaho

In the early 1870s, the easily-worked basin stream gravels had yielded most of their gold and miners shifted their attention to washing down higher bench placers with hydraulic equipment. To get water to the elevation needed to cut down the hillsides, extensive systems of flumes and ditches were built. Some of these ran eight to ten miles in length.

In the meantime, many of the placer mining claims were sold to Chinese miners, who were willing to work the lower grade claims.

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