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Old April 5, 2013, 09:33 PM   #1
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The Owyhee War

I'm still rummaging through a couple of centuries of papers passed on down through the family. I ran across this interesting story, written by John McBride, who was the chief justice of the Idaho Territorial Supreme Court in the late 1860s when an underground war broke out between two mining companies near Silver City, Idaho.

Silver City, Idaho, 1868

The Owyhee Peak, called War Eagle Mountain, rose to an altitude of 9000 feet, and was the center of a cluster of subordinate hills. Its summit was rounded like a huge hay-mow and was seamed by rich veins of quartz, bearing gold and silver.

The Oro Fino was the earliest lode discovered and was very productive. Other mining locations were made in the vicinity, but little work was done upon them for a time. Some were made parallel to the Oro Fino very near the summit and others were upon ground supposed to contain the same vein further on its course.

One of them was the Golden Chariot and one of the parallel locations was the Ida Ellmore. As work progressed both the Ellmore and Chariot were ascertained to be on the same vein and as the surface ground overlapped endwise, the two claims came in conflict. It happened that the lode in the conflicting ground was very productive and a dispute arose involving the title to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ore.

F. Marion More, a pioneer of Boise Basin, was one of the owners of the Ellmore, who by reason of his liberality in efforts to develop quartz mining, had become much reduced in fortune. His personal popularity was great and the sympathy of the community naturally drew to his side of the controversy. There was a mystery about the man's early career which in some degree clouded him; but his general deportment was without reproach and his character for integrity the best. While he never associated with the baser element, he had their friendship to an extent that seemed inexplicable for one who was so generally esteemed. There was a tie between him and this class that was difficult to understand.

When the contest arose over the mine, More left his home in the Basin [he lived in Idaho City, which he had helped to found, in the Boise Basin] and went to Owyhee to look after his threatened interests. The opposing claimants were men of mark. Hill Beachy had gone to Northern Idaho in 1862. He was a man of resolute character. He had been a hotel keeper at Lewiston and was now the proprietor of a line of stages from Nevada to Boise Basin. He and George W. Grayson were the owners of the Golden Chariot location and they contested the claim of More and his party to the disputed ground. Both sides of the controversy were represented by wealth and determination.

The conflict reached its crucial stage underground. The works of the two parties were driven from opposite sides of a ridge. Each party claimed that the other had left its vein and by cutting through the contry [sic] rock had entered the lode of the other. The levels upon which the collision occurred were more than 300 feet beneath the surface at the point of intersection, and the truth of these allegations could only be settled by impartial witnesses. Such could not be found. The workmen on each side conformed their opinions to the claims of their employers, and all were equally positive. Possession of the ground was the vital point to both. Legal proceedings were too slow, where a single day's output of ore meant thousands of dollars to the persons taking it.

[Sentence illegible] the works. Who first began this method of defending their claims is not known. Each side charged the other with the initiative and each resorted to it under the pretense of being on the defensive. The two mines became fortified camps, in which at least one hundred men were stationed, nominally for work, but one-half really employed like troops in an army, for fighting purposes only. Barricades were erected; side pits were cut out along the drifts and levels as shelter for these guards and the engineering skill of the military art was brought in to requisition for the exigency. Arms of all kinds, rifles, shot-guns and pistols were imported by the case and each had a magazine of ammunition within its works. Attempts were made by each of the parties to capture the works of the other. Neither succeeded, but it served to open the contest and thereafter the battle went on day and night.

Whenever a light appeared in the works of one side it was greeted by a fusillade from the other. Hand grenades and greek fire were thrown and all the strategy known to the sapping and mining department of military engineering was employed.

For two weeks attack and defense went on unabatedly; and during its progress, two men were killed and several wounded. Silver City, situated two and one-half miles distant at the base of the mountains and the headquarters of both parties was in a ferment.

Neither party could identify its assailants and proceedings by regular process to stop the war were not resorted to. The sheriff went upon the ground on several occasions, but found all peaceful on the surface. When a man was killed he was brought out and publicly buried, but no witness could be found who would testify how his death occurred. It was one of those affairs where all were convinced of the facts and yet no proof was attainable.

In Idaho City, where More's friends were abundant and at Boise City, where Beachy was well known to enthusiastic sympathizers, the excitement was intense. Reinforcements for the belligerents left these places constantly to go to aid their friends, and the affair at last caused so much anxiety, that Governor Ballard, thinking that I might contribute some advice or influence towards a settlement of the conflict, urged me to visit the scene. I was requested to report the actual conditions of affairs and thereby aid him in the discharge of his duty. As Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, I was well known to the principals and possessed their confidence and while I had no official duty in that county, I concluded to go.

The last twelve miles before reaching Silver City, I traveled in a sleigh, being compelled to abandon the stage by reason of the snow. I arrived at the close of the day to learn with great pleasure that the two parties had just agreed upon a compromise, by which each conceded certain ground to the other and all hostilities were to cease. There was a general rejoicing over this result and More and his friends were having a celebration and banquet over the event. I was invited to this but for obvious reasons declined.

I had quarters on the second floor of the hotel. As the contest was over I was curious to ascertain the facts about the situation and had called at the room of Mr. Grayson, which was near my own, to procure such a statement from him as he might desire to give.

An hour had been occupied in general conversation when an outcry in the street was heard, followed by pistol shots. Then came a rush of mixed rabble and the streets were filled with a surging, excited crowd. The cause was soon explained. An encounter had taken place in the street. Marion More was shot mortally and two others were wounded.

A few minutes after I heard a rush of feet on the hotel porch below. A crowd rushed up the stairway. I opened my door and saw Beachy and two others busy loading rifles and fire-arms, and a man by the name of Sam Lockhart, a friend of Beachy, holding a disabled arm, from which the blood was dripping. In front of the hotel an angry mob was gathering and voices wild with passion and loud with threats and cursing filled the air. "Bring him out; Hang him!" were the exclamations.

Beachy rapidly loaded piece after piece and remarked as he did so; "The man who comes to take Lockhart out of this hotel without a warrant, will die before he reaches the head of the stairs!"

Beachy, Grayson and their friends were in the hotel, the friends of More on the street. Beachy and Grayson had no more to do with the shooting than they had with the Battle of the Wilderness, but it was enough for More's friends to know that Lockhart, who did the shooting, was a "Golden Chariot" man, and endeavored to fix the responsibility on them as well as on him. The clamor against Grayson particularly was loud and vengeful.

Finally some citizens, who thought I might aid in restoring peace, requested me to go to the balcony of the hotel and speak to the crowd. I did so and called to know if there was anyone present from Idaho City. Several recognized me and came forward to the front; when I descended the stairway and passed out and finding several who were friends of More's and of mine, I succeeded in convincing them that the orderly way was to procure warrants from a magistrate for such persons as they desired to complain against and have them arrested; and that all attempts to take anyone by mob force would only lead to the worst consequences. IT took but a short time to restore something like quiet and as the sheriff had appeared in the meantime, the crowd soon dispersed. Complaints were made and warrants issued and Grayson and Lockhart were soon in the custody of the officers.

I then proceeded to the place where More lay dying. He had been shot in the breast, the ball penetrating the lungs, and he was rapidly failing. He was able to converse in a faint voice and recognized me when I took his hand and spoke to him. He said; "They have stolen the mine and now their man Lockhart has killed me."

I learned from those who witnessed the shooting that More, who had been dining with his friends and had drunk heavily, although the controversy about the mine had been settled, was not at all satisfied and considered that he had been wronged. Though generally a quiet man, he was irritable when drinking and in this mood he met Lockhart and another of the Chariot party on the street. Some hot words passed between them. More was without arms, but carried a rough cane in his hand, which he raised as if to strike Lockhart. Lockhart backed away a pace or two and fired. Ben White and Jack fisher, who were with More, both drew pistols and fired, one of Fisher's shots striking his opponent's arm. White's pistol missed fire. Lockhart always insisted Fisher fired first and that he shot More after he had been struck in the arm.

Fisher was wounded in the leg by Lockhart. More died in about three hours after he received his wound. Lockhart had his arm amputated but gangrene set in and after several weeks of intense suffering, he died. Fisher, who was probably more responsible for the difficulty than anyone else, fled the country.

This contest, first or last, cost the lives of six men and left the whole community in a state bordering on anarchy. Governor Ballard decided to call on the soldiers stationed at Fort Boise and one hundred and fifty United States troops, with so the Owyhee War ended.

Shortly after this, I retired from office and some of the parties to the dispute became my clients and I had an opportunity to visit the mine and works and see the results of the conflict. On one level there was a heavy timber used as a support for the roof of the drift. It was probably fifteen inches in diameter and stood upright in the center of the drift. It was filled with bullets and had been so frequently struck and pierced that at one place about two or three feet from the floor it was cut nearly in two. It was said that this one piece of timber had been struck by two thousand bullets.

The Poor Man, Oro Fino, Golden Chariot and Ida Ellmore mines produced many thousands of dollars per day; but by the close of the year the yield had declined and the camp has since had only a varying fortune. While probably the largest producer in the state (the De Lamar and Trade Dollar mines are in this district), its history has been that of most others; periodic prosperity and then depression. The bullion was about equally divided between gold and silver. In the bar it was worth about eight dollars per ounce.
Well we don't rent pigs and I figure it's better to say it right out front because a man that does like to rent pigs is... he's hard to stop - Gus McCrae
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Old April 5, 2013, 09:36 PM   #2
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Here's a picture of Marion More and of his gravestone, which is not too far from my family's plot in the Idaho City Pioneer Cemetery.
Well we don't rent pigs and I figure it's better to say it right out front because a man that does like to rent pigs is... he's hard to stop - Gus McCrae
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Old April 5, 2013, 09:39 PM   #3
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And a bit more about Hill Beachy, who, when not running stage coaches or hard rock mines, had a bit of a daring streak!
Well we don't rent pigs and I figure it's better to say it right out front because a man that does like to rent pigs is... he's hard to stop - Gus McCrae
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Old April 5, 2013, 09:53 PM   #4
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Thank you Hardcase.
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!
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Old April 6, 2013, 10:35 AM   #5
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Interesting how devastating the wounds were. Not from the actual gunshot, but from the lack of modern medical care.
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Old April 6, 2013, 11:25 AM   #6
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Fun and interesting read.
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Old April 6, 2013, 05:01 PM   #7
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Thanks Hardcase. Always interesting to read about local history.
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Old April 6, 2013, 08:06 PM   #8
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The hotel that Judge McBride stayed in, the Idaho Hotel, still stands today. It's open from June to September and offers all of the amenities of a late 19th century hotel, including indoor plumbing!

It's got an interesting story, too. The hotel was built in 1863 in Ruby, Idaho, but in 1866, Silver City was named the county seat of Owyhee County, so the owners took the hotel apart, timber by timber, moved it by sledge over the ice and snow to Silver City and rebuilt it in time for Christmas.

By the 1890s, it was quite a spectacular example of Victorian construction, but after the gold and silver played out, Silver City was eventually abandoned and by the late 1940s, the hotel closed. Somehow it escaped demolition, was sold in the early 1970s and restored and reopened. My understanding is that it's still a work in progress, but for about a hundred bucks a night, you can get a nice room in the best hotel in town...the only hotel in town!
Well we don't rent pigs and I figure it's better to say it right out front because a man that does like to rent pigs is... he's hard to stop - Gus McCrae
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Old April 7, 2013, 08:21 AM   #9
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Good read Hardcase
Idaho has a lot of interesting history that’s often overlooked .
There in fact is a lot of Fur trade history here which is in fact where the Owhyee’s got their name from
Fort Hall and Ft Boise are also often mentioned . Fort hall often being called Fort Holly .
Many folks also don’t realize that the White Bird Trail that some of which Miles Chased Joseph and his Walla Wallas across also starts just below Wieser . Runs north along the hells canyon rim and then drops over into the Salmon near Slate creek . Then back north into the clear water before turning east and back south .
a lot of the lands we think as being Shoshone and bannock , especially west of boise up into the payete and Weiser area were in fact Northern Piute . At one time the Piute Rez was here in the payette , Ontario area prior to their removal down to Duck valley in Nevada .

Then we also have the Yakima wars as well as the mining war which you mentioned . Loots and lots of history right here were we live
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