The Life of Jeff Standifer, Part 2: Idaho Gold

This is the second of a series of posts on the life of Jefferson J Standifer. If you have not read the first part, click here.

Idaho began with a dream.

Elias Pierce, a veteran of the Mexican American War and former member of the California House of Representatives, claimed that a member of the Nez Perce Tribe told him of a dream he had in which he was led to a cliffside by a representation of the Great Spirit. The next day, the man and two companions followed the path shown in the dream and found a great, shining ball in the side of a cliff. When Elias Pierce heard this story, he determined to find that ball of what he assumed was gold. The problem was prospecting was prohibited on the Nez Perce Reservation, so Elias and 11 other men disguised themselves as traders and set forth. They would find gold on Oro Fino Creek, thus ushering in the first Idaho gold rush and causing tensions with the friendly Nez Perce to mount, eventually leading to the tragic Nez Perce War of the late 1870s.

Elias D. Pierce, 10 years after his gold discovery on Oro Fino Creek

Jeff Standifer was one of thousands of men seeking fortune to flood into the Nez Perce Reservation, causing the U.S. Government to create a new treaty and shrinking the native's lands. Standifer, however, was not just another prospector. On December 20, 1861 the Washington Territorial Legislature created Idaho County, and appointed Standifer as sheriff of the county. Idaho County was a huge chunk of land, encompassing the portion of Washington Territory south of Nez Perce County and East of the Snake River. Buford Standifer was also given a political appointment, that of mayor of Walla Walla, Washington. It is unknown how the Standifer brothers came to curry such political favors, but that will be speculated on in a later post.

After the easy to get to placer gold was picked out of the Orofino area, prospectors moved south Baboon Gulch and established the town of Florence. Florence became a rough and tumble town where infamous outlaws such as Henry Plummer and Boone Helm hung around. It is unclear how much law enforcing Standifer did there, but some warrants with his name on it do still exist. Standifer had a mine claim on Baboon Gulch, where most of the mining in the Florence area occurred. While in Florence, Standifer became involved in the second of three lost mine stories during his life.

Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh was one of those interesting characters from the old west. He was a mountain man and trapper, and supposedly got his nickname from Brigham Young for his trapping ability. While travelling along the Salmon River, Beaver Dick spotted a rich ledge of silver and convinced several men in Florence, including Jeff Standifer, to put together what would become known as the Salmon River Expedition. Jeff was chosen to lead the journey, but they hit a snag soon after setting out when their supply boat was torn away from the rest of the boats in an eddy. Standifer sent men after it, but they choose to steal the supplies instead of return it to the expedition. One of those men lost his life after falling off of a cliff. The rest of the men travelled on but did not find the promised mountain of silver. Unlike the misadventure involving Peg Leg Smith, Beaver Dick was not blamed for the lack of a payday.

Beaver Dick and family

One day while washing gold bearing gravel at his claim near Florence, a man named Moses Splawn was talking to a member of the Bannock Tribe. The native told Splawn that when he was a child he once visited a basin to the south where the creeks glinted in the sun. Splawn got all the details he could and began to prepare an expedition to find this Basin of Gold. Another party had been assembled under the leadership of Captain Thomas Turner to search for the mythical “blue bucket mine”. In 1845, two boys wandered away from an immigrant train looking for a drink of water. They reported that they had found a creek which they could scoop gold up with a blue bucket. Turner and Splawn agreed to join forces to look for both the blue bucket mine and the basin described to Splawn, but a disagreement split the party soon after they set out. The Splawn party then joined up with another expedition headed by George Grimes, also looking for the basin of gold. Another party headed by Jeff Standifer had also set out around the same time.

The Grimes party was the first to reach a creek near where the town of Pioneer City, or Pioneerville, would be built. By the time the Grimes Party established their camp, supplies had dwindled dangerously, so some men were sent back to Walla Walla to bring in new supplies. In the meantime, the remaining party constructed a 12-foot-high timber wall around the camp, giving it the look of a military fort. They did this to protect themselves against the hostile natives camped in the area. A few days after discovering gold, Grimes was murdered by a native while he was panning in a creek. Grimes was buried in the divide between the Boise and Payette Rivers, and the creek he died in was named in his honor.

Monument to George Grimes, near where he was killed

When Jeff Standifer and his party arrived a few days later, they found all of the claims had already been taken by the Grimes-Splawn party. This led Standifer to give Pioneerville the nickname “Fort Hog’em”. Undeterred, Standifer led his men a little further down the creek and set up camp at a place they would call West Bannock, later to have its name changed to Idaho City. Further explorations found the basin was indeed filled with the gold as promised to Splawn by the Bannock, and the area would come to be named the Boise Basin.

In the next post, we will find out about the influence Jeff Standifer had on the Boise Basin, and how he set off to protect the mines from hostile natives.

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