The Life of Jeff Standifer, Part 5: Where you going with that gold?

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

This is part 5 of our series on the Life of Jeff Standifer. In this post, Standifer leaves Idaho, but what he does next shows us his real motivations.

On January 14, 1863, three months before Standifer's campaign against the "Snake Indians", the Secretary of War authorized the building of a fort on the Boise River. This was a response to requests from settlers and miners in the area, citing the need for protection against further attacks. At the start of the Civil War, most of the regular U.S. troops were sent east, leaving only around 750 regular troops in the Pacific Northwest. Volunteer companies were recruited to fill the ranks but it took time to train and get them ready, so it wasn't until June 1, 1863, when Brevet Major Pinkney Lugenbeel set out from Fort Vancouver to the Boise with a company from the 1st Oregon Cavalry Regiment. While the Battle of Gettysburg raged in the east, Lugenbeel was selecting a site for Fort Boise, which he officially located on July 4th, 1863. As the fort was being built, travelers began to stop nearby on the Oregon Trail, and many of them never left creating the City of Boise.

Lugenbeel retired as a colonel after building several military posts. An Army Reserve training center near Fort Boise still bears his name.

Lugenbeel was not just there to build a fort; his other orders from General Alvord read as follows. "SIR: It is hoped and expected that the company of Independent Rangers under Captain Standifer, which was at last dates operating against the Indians beyond Fort Boise, will disperse on your arrival. I do not think that any forcible steps to accomplish this will be necessary, but at all events, it cannot be permitted that any independent military operations be conducted after your arrival."

Brigadier General Alvord was commander of all troops in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War. He also wrote works on mathematics and botany.

During the height of the Civil War, Alvord feared that Standifer's Rangers were a secessionist militia that might rest control of the newly created Idaho Territory from Union hands. The thing is, Alvord was probably right. There was a substantial number of Southern sympathizers in the Pacific Northwest and California at the time. A secretive Confederate militia known as the Knights of the Golden Circle was operating throughout the West at the time. The United States could not afford to lose control of the mines of Idaho to the Confederates, which partly led to the creation of Idaho, and later Montana territories.

By the time Major Lugenbeel arrived to build the fort and put an end to Standifer's Rangers, they had already done what they set out to and returned to the mines. Still, the presence of U.S. Troops in the area did not bode well for Standifer. Just 7 weeks after the establishment of Fort Boise, Standifer and his brother Monroe were on a steamship from Esquimalt, British Columbia set for San Fransisco. Standifer left behind his mining claims, several business interests, and a home in the Boise Basin, never to return. Also aboard the ship was 13,700 ounces of gold, mostly from the Idaho City mines, and perhaps even more in the possession of the Standifer Brothers.

Steamship Sierra Nevada carried Jeff and Monroe to San Francisco. The ship regularly carried gold and passengers from the PNW to California but was lost in a wreck in 1869.

In San Francisco, Standifer met a man called Captain H. Kennedy, a Confederate spy. Kennedy had traveled from Texas, guided through Mexico by none other than Cole Younger, notorious outlaw, cousin to Jesse James, and member of the James-Younger gang. Kennedy's mission was to travel all the way to British Columbia where he would meet with representatives of the British government to secure the purchase of a warship, probably to target Union gold ships traveling off the West coast to the mint in San Francisco. After completing his mission in B.C., Kennedy returned to California, and then made a trip out to Virginia City, Nevada where he met with members of the Knights of the Golden Circle. There, he plotted to gather Southern sympathizers to create an army to march east to open a road between Texas and Nevada, so that the Confederate army could seize the rich mines on the Comstock Lode. Several mines were fortified to act as small forts so Confederate troops would have bases. Union troops were alerted to Kennedy's presence and he fled back to San Franciso and hid in the hills until he could take a boat to Mazatlan, Mexico.

Judge David Terry, after killing an abolitionist California senator in a duel, went to Nevada where he built walls around his claims so act as forts for when the CSA arrived. Also a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, more on him in post #7.

It was in Mazatlan where Kennedy and Standifer met. Standifer was engaged in helping men get from California to Texas through Mexico so they could join the Confederate Army. For four months, Standifer led Kennedy, along with about 30 other men across Mexico without much trouble until they were almost at the border with Texas. After crossing the Rio Grande, they were ambushed by a Union patrol of about 130 men. A running gunfight began with the outnumbered Standifer-Kennedy Part attempting to break for the safety of the Texas border. When they had the strategic advantage, they would stop and engage the enemy and then remount their horses and run. The Southerners had only 16 rifles among them, the rest of the men had only revolvers making the fight difficult. Four of them were killed in the battle, seven were wounded, and six ran away from the fight, but Kennedy estimated Union losses were much higher. The party lost all of their provisions, cooking equipment, and mules in the fight, and they ended up having to eat their horses, and walk the remaining 450 miles to Fort Clark, Texas.

Standifer was praised by the Confederate commander for his bravery in the fight, and he was to go to Bastrop, Texas to obtain supplies. Bastrop, if the reader may recall, is where Standifer grew up and one has to wonder how much of that Boise Basin gold was in Jeff's saddlebags when he returned to Texas. If he was bringing back gold for the Confederate coffers, it and the men that Standifer helped deliver to the CSA were too late, for just a few weeks after their arrival, General Lee surrendered his army at Appomatox Courthouse, which signaled the beginning of the end of the war.

What was not over was Jeff Standifer's story, nor the interesting events that made up his life, nor his involvement in pro-Confederate conspiracies. Next post will finish out the story of his adventures and his untimely death, while post #7 will wrap up some theories about his level of involvement in the organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. Thanks for reading, and leave a comment on what you think of Standifer's story.

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