Clearwater County Idaho Gold Production

Posted July 16, 2009 in Gold Mining


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Clearwater County, which was formed in 1911 from parts of Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Idaho Counties, had a total gold production through 1942 of about 29,136 ounces (Staley, 1946, p. 18) ; from 1943 through 1959, it produced 1,001 ounces. Most of the gold credited to Clearwater County came from the Pierce district in Tps. 36 and 37 N., Rs. 4 and 5 E. However, most of the gold mining in this district occurred before Clearwater County was in existence; hence, the early production is in¬cluded with other counties.

In the fall of 1860, E. D. Pierce led a party of 12 miners into the upper Clearwater River region, a territory then guarded by the Nez Perce Indians. Within a short time, substantial amounts of gold were found in the gravels of Orofino Creek, a tributary of the Clearwater River. Before the end of the year, the town of Pierce was founded, and enough gold was mined to attract a horde of prospectors despite forceful Indian objections (S. M. Barton, M. W. Wells, and E. Oberbillig, written commun., 1958). The placers of this district were the first in Idaho to be worked on a large scale, and their development accelerated interest in gold prospecting throughout the State.

Unlike many other districts that collapsed completely after the initial boom, the Pierce district continued to be active, though after 1875 the pace was slower. Ross (1941, p. 37) estimated a total production of between $5 and $10 million in gold before 1875. Lindgren (1904, p. 102) reported the production before 1902 in this manner: "A guess may be hazarded that the total output of Pierce is in the vicinity of $5 million." According to S. M. Barton, M. W. Wells, and E. Oberbillig (written commun., 1958), the most productive period was between 1861 and 1867, when gold with an estimated value of $3,400,00 was produced. A noticeable decline in production began in 1866 because lower grade deposits were being mined by Chinese labor employed at low wages. In later years the district was rejuvenated periodically by large-scale dredging operations. Some time before 1905 lode mines were developed and yielded about $250,000 in gold. The most important of these was the Wild Rose mine (Thomson and Ballard, 1924, p. 114). The placers were worked on a moderate scale through the 1930's, but after 1941 they produced only a negligible amount. Total production of the district through 1959 was about 385,000 ounces.

The Pierce district is underlain by granitic rocks of the Idaho batholith, Precambrian metasedimentary rocks of the Belt Series, and Columbia River Basalt (Ross, 1941, p. 37). The lode deposits are discontinuous fissure fillings of quartz, auriferous pyrite, free gold, and some arsenopyrite. They are distributed in or near gneissic bodies and are closely associated with pegmatite, aplite, and dia¬base dikes.

The placers are in stream channels and on terraces as much as 500 feet above present streams. Terrace deposits possibly were formed along stream channels dammed by the Columbia River Basalt (Ross, 1941, p. 37) and were left in their present perched positions by subsequent erosion of later diverted drainage systems. Perched or bench placer deposits are characteristic of much of the area in central Idaho.

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