Nez Perce Reservation boundary in 1855 covered parts of Washington,  Oregon, Idaho & Montana but was dramatically reduced in 1863 treaty
Nez Perce Reservation boundary in 1855 covered parts of Washington, Oregon
Idaho & Montana but was dramatically reduced in 1863 treaty

The 1855 Treaty with the Nez Perce Indians created a reservation that covered a large area in northern Idaho, north-eastern Oregon and south eastern Washington, into Montana. Then, because of the gold strike and invasion of miners onto the reservation a new treaty was written reducing the reservation to a tenth of its original size.

Gold Rush History

Captain E.D. Pierce heard that gold could be found above the Clearwater River on its tributaries, so he and a group of eleven men quietly and illegally entered the Nez Perce Reservation in search of riches. Canal Gulch held the first discovery and Pierce said “they found gold in every place in the stream, in the flats and banks...” The men built cabins and laid out a plan for the town and named it Pierce City. A January 1861 meeting of miners established the Oro Fino Mining District of the Washington Territory, from Quartz Creek up Orofino Creek, including all the creek’s tributaries. A big strike was found on Rhodes Creek shortly after that and it was added to the Oro Fino Mining District during a miner’s meeting.

Tunnel mine in an unknown location The gold was discovered in the Territory of Washington so the Washington Territorial Legislature included this area in Spokane County. Shortly after the mining began Washington Territory established Shoshone County to cover the mining area that was growing so quickly. Idaho Territory was established in 1863 and Shoshone County became part of Idaho Territory.

Gold was discovered on Moose Creek in 1862 by wandering prospectors up the headwaters of the North Fork of the Clearwater River several miles northeast of Pierce. The second rush to that area brought about Moose City. They worked that region for twelve to fifteen years.

A day’s work on his claim a man could make up to twenty-five dollars or about two ounces of gold.

The miner’s committee ended its exclusion of the Chinese from the Oro Fino Mining District in 1865. As the white population abandoned Pierce City and Oro Fino, the Chinese became the majority influence in Pierce City for the next twenty-five years. Pierce City probably would have disappeared, as many Idaho ghost towns if the Chinese hadn’t moved in. The elections in 1885 showed that only seven votes were cast in Pierce City.

The “History of North Idaho,” printed in 1903, related a tale that took place in Pierce City in September of 1885 when a merchant was found dead in his business. Five Chinese men were held for the crime. Apparently the Chinese men wanted to eliminate the only white merchant in town so they would have a monopoly on goods and because they were angry at David M. Fraser for taking the side of the Indians when the Chinese paid with bogus gold dust. It was decided that seven men would take the guilty Chinese men to Murray, but when they were only four miles out of Pierce City a mob met them, seized the prisoners and hanged them from a pole between two trees. No punishment was ever meted out to the lynch mob.

The remains of an old dredge used in the Pierce City Mining District in the early 1900s.
The remains of an old dredge used in the Pierce City Mining District in the early 1900s.

This newspaper article in the “Orofino Tribune,” talks about shipping a dredge in pieces to Quartz Creek.

Orofino Tribune
Clearwater County, Idaho
September 29, 1911

NOW INSTALLS DREDGE
W. J. Harris Last Week Finished
Hauling Heavy Machinery to Quartz Creek

W. J. Harris, a mining man of Spokane, last week hauled several loads of machinery into Quartz Creek. When all the machinery is on the ground and set up, this will be one among the largest dredges now being operated through this part of the country. It is the intention of the party handling this project to finish hauling the heavy parts of the dredge onto their ground over the snow, as they believe the machinery can be handled much easier at that time.

The company now has twenty-four placer claims of virgin ground located, and it will take about eight years to work this over and there may be other territory in the same neighborhood that will pay to dredge if properly prospected, the dredge when in operation will employ several men at the main works, and other help will be needed in various ways.

”It has thoroughly demonstrated” said Mr. Harris ”that there is more valuable dredging ground in the State of Idaho than any other state in the Union, and there is more of that kind of mining being carried on throughout the west at the present time than at any other period of its history.

It is calculated by the dredging proposition, that in the eight years it will take to work out their ground they will be able to clean up about $350,000.

Mining tools used during the gold rush in Oro Fino Mining District  & Pierce City Mining District from 1860 to about 1930s.
Mining tools used during the gold rush in Oro Fino Mining District
& Pierce City Mining District from 1860 to about 1930s.
Placer Mining Location Notice for  Arthur L. Barnes & Grace L. Barnes Discovered July 12, 933
Placer Mining Location Notice for Arthur L. Barnes & Grace L. Barnes Discovered July 12, 1933