The Life of Jeff Standifer, Part 3: Basin of Gold

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

This is the third in a series of posts on the life of Jeff Standifer. Click here if you have missed parts one and two.

The legend of the Basin of Gold turned out to be reality. Prospectors, miners, and merchants poured into the Boise Basin to chase their fortunes. The towns of Pioneerville, Centerville, and West Bannock, later renamed Idaho City, swelled with people, in an area between the mountains where shortly before the natives only passed through during certain times of the year. Mines sprang up everywhere, and the mining was good, good enough to draw an estimated 20,000 people into the Basin by the end of 1863.

Map showing the towns and mines in the Boise Basin

Placerville was established as a supply point for the Boise Basin. Besides mining, Jeff Standifer became involved in several other business ventures including the building of the Magnolia Saloon in Placerville, which is now one of the oldest surviving structures in the Basin. He was also authorized by the Washington Territorial legislature to build a canal to supply water to the mines, as well as a pack trail that ran from a ferry on the Payette River through Horsehoe Bend and up into the Boise Basin. Standifer and company were authorized to charge a toll for anyone traveling the road.

Horses and wagon on one of the toll roads leading into the Boise Basin

It was during this era of his life that a picture of Jeff's character emerges just a little between the lines of the history books. Some of the men that Jeff ran with were not of the most upright caliber. One of his close associates at the time was Mathew Bledsoe, a man with a reputation for violence and sympathies for the Confederate cause. On July 4th, 1862 Bledsoe supposedly rode his horse by a child holding an American flag. Bledsoe grabbed the flag from the boy, threw it on the ground, jumped off of his horse, and stomped on the flag. He was also accused of several atrocities in battles with the native population. Bledsoe ended up in the Oregon State Penitentiary on a murder charge before being granted medical parole. He ended up being shot by a bartender in Prescott, Arizona during a drunken row.

Probate record of Mat Bledoe's will

His associations with "bad men" notwithstanding, Jeff Standifer performed good deeds in Idaho. While waiting for the snow to melt enough to enter the Boise Basin for the first time, Jeff Standifer helped a fellow prospector rescue a native girl from a bad situation. Nina, as she came to be called, was essentially taken as a slave by a Spanish packer who sold her to a young man in the camp. George Collier Robbins, former mayor of Portland, witnessed the abuse of this poor girl and was determined to do something and paid the young man two-twenty dollar gold golds, the price that had been paid to the packer. Robbins gave Nina a place to sleep and a few jobs to do around camp, but that night the packer came back and demanded Robbins hand her over to him. Standifer stepped in, and threatened the packer with violence should he take Nina. Once the men reached the Boise Basin, Nina was given to a family to be taken care of but she was kidnapped a short time later. Robbins and Standifer rode together to once again rescue, this time from a Frenchman. When they found her, Nina was sobbing, and a group of miners threatened to hang the Frenchman, but Robbins would not let them. Nina went on to marry and was able to attend school in Walla Walla, but sadly she passed away three days after giving birth.

George Collier Robbins served as mayor of Portland from 1860-61.

Standifer's relations with the native peoples were not always this inspiring. Soon after the miners invaded the Boise Basin, the so-called "Snake Indians", a term for Shoshone, Bannock, and Northern Pauite, began to raid supply trains coming into the Basin. This caused the price of essential goods such as food and mining equipment to skyrocket.

The citizens of the Basin came together to do see what could be done. Word was sent to the Washington Territorial government and the Federal military district officers to send support, but everyone knew by the time the government got around to it, it would be too late and the miners would be forced out of the area. By March of 1863, these "indian depredations" were becoming more frequent and rumors began to fly around that a general assault on the Boise Basin towns was being prepared. To that end, a group of miners, merchants, and others came together in Placerville's town square. This group would come to be known as "Standifer's Rangers" after their elected captain. The men had to supply their own horses and guns, while the merchants of the Basin donated what little food and other items they could. The Rangers had no expectation of pay or reimbursement, especially after their application for militia status with the Washington Territorial government was denied. Still, the Idaho National Gaurd recognizes Standifer's Rangers as the first organized military unit in Idaho's history.

The next post will tell the story of Standifer's Rangers and the battles they fought against the native peoples. Leave a comment to let us know what you think of Standifer's story so far, and share it with your friends. Thank you for reading!

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