I was recently looking over some old papers and photos, and remembered an interesting weekend that I had back in around 2001.
Getting some time off work, I decided it would be fun to spend it mining in the Rocky Bar area of south central Idaho. I was a member of the Northern Utah Prospectors Association, a small Utah club that had two groups of good claims in the Rocky Bar area. These claims totaled five claims on three creeks. I also had two of my own claims in Wide West Gulch, just upstream of the club claims, and there were several areas on my claims had been fairly productive in the past. With all these claims, I figured that I should have plenty to do.
Gold was discovered on the Feather River in 1863, and the town of Rocky Bar quickly grew to support the new mines. Rocky Bar, Idaho, is located about 40 miles east of Mountain Home, just to the north of Anderson Ranch Reservoir.
While there is little left of town (particularly, the south half where the owner has sold off the buildings one by one to discourage visitors), it was at one time a thriving town with over 2,500 residents and the county seat. Rumor is that it was a candidate for the Idaho Territorial Capital. Most of the gold found here was load gold, but there was a lot of placer gold found as well. Most of the area creeks contain gold, including Bear Creek, which runs through Rocky Bar, Steele Creek, Red Warrior creek, and Elk Creek. The Feather River, which has its own rich gold history, is formed from the confluence of Bear Creek Elk Creek.
While most of the gold in the region is fine, coming in the form of small granules similar in appearance to sugar grains, Bear Creek does have some coarse gold as well as the occasional nugget. Elk Creek is also known for have some larger pieces of gold.
After getting out of bed just a little too early for a day off, packing the truck and trailer—including my wife and son (and car seat too) into the small cab (it was a small, 2wd Toyota pick-up)—we were off to Idaho. It was a long, slow and crowded drive, although it was other wise uneventful.
When we arrived, we first set up camp on a club claim that sat next to Red Warrior Creek named NUPA 1. This claim has one of the best camping sites in the entire area. The campsite is set back off the road, surrounded by trees for privacy, and has a nice, sandy bottom for a tent. Firewood is also plentiful. Red Warrior is also known for fine, sugar grain sized granules of gold—and if you dig in the right place, they can be fairly plentiful. While Red Warrior Creek does have some nice gold, I had my mind on another place that would give me better odds on a nugget.
Sluicing Red Warrior Creek.
The first place that I thought I would try prospecting was on the Los Kelios Group—this was a group of claims that began just above the junction of Bear Creek and Red Warrior Creek. This claim then followed the creek north through a narrow canyon, around a tight horseshoe bend where it joined with Elk Creek, flowing south, to make the Feather River. The claims then continued down stream for anther ½ mile. This is a very large claim block formed by 3 rich gold bearing creeks. (Unfortunately, a year or so later, the club lost the claims—something to do with a missing signature on an Affidavit of Assessment.) The place I specifically had in mind was a small hill to the east of the road that was cut on the east by Red Warrior Creek and the north by Bear Creek.
Climbing the hill, I found a spot out on the point above rivers that was already cleared to bedrock. It looked good, so I hauled several buckets of dirt down to the creek to pan out. I found that by breaking up the bedrock I could get some large flakes, but I couldn’t find anything of quantity. I spent the rest of the afternoon there, still finding the occasional large flake—and once in a while a small one. Giving this spot up, I headed back to camp. Before retiring for the evening, I tried sluicing some of the gravel in Red Warrior Creek. I did this with some optimism, as this had been quite rewarding the last two times I had been here. This time, however, was different. After sluicing the gravel for about 15 minutes, I cleaned the sluice and found just one small piece of gold. Yeah.
Trying to increase my yield, I decided to work a different spot on the second day. I went up to one of my personal claims, but with spring run-off over, most of the places that I usually work were too far away from water.
I then decided to work the bottom end of the Los Kelios claims, since rumors held that this was a rich area. After almost an hour of climbing hills, crossing rivers, and pushing through brush, I made it to Pinto Creek, which marks the bottom end of the Los Kelios claims. I set up my sluice, and went to work. The gold I was finding was OK—it was granular, like on Red Warrior Creek, but the pieces were quite a bit larger in size. Unfortunately, before I could really get going, a thunderstorm blew in over the mountain. After only an hour and a half there, I packed up and headed out. Two days were shot, and I still didn’t have much gold.
By the morning of the third day, I was very discouraged. I walked over to Red Warrior Creek to look around. The best gold on this claim was found on the high bars. Old-timers had ground sluiced the area, and we found that by digging into the rock piles, we could often find virgin dirt that the old timers had missed. Often they would start stacking rock on top of gold bearing gravel so as to clear a channel for the water to flow, but as the working progressed, it wasn’t worth their time to go back and move the rocks to get to the gold beneath them. Because of this there were some very rich pockets found under these rock piles. One miner that I know pulled out about ¼ oz. of gold from one 5 gallon bucket of this gravel. Due to the good gold, this claim was one of the club favorites.
Stairs cut into the bank leading up to the old highbar deposit above Red Warrior Creek.
In fact, there was one elderly couple that used to camp there for most of the summer, spending most of their time mining the high bar and generally taking care of the claims. They were a very friendly couple, always ready and willing to show you around. They would help greenhorns learn to pan, show you where to dig, and show you their gold. They always had a nice full vial or two to show. They were also very conscientious about cleaning up the claims, mucking out the creek when the sluice tailings filled it up, and making the area look generally undisturbed.
Earlier in the season, during a club outing, a forest ranger noticed the club members up on the high-bar and stopped to see what they were doing. This ranger, who was actually visiting from a neighboring Ranger District, came to be affectionately known as “Annie Oakley” to the club members. “Annie Oakley” because they could not remember her name; and “Annie Oakley” because of the way she walked around with her hand on her gun, while threatening what she would do with any of the miners who did not comply with her requests. She told the members that they would need to quit digging until they had secured a formal Plan of Operations. Many of the miners who had been working the claim objected to her request, as they were only using hand tools (pans, shovel and sluices—and a self contained gold buddy)—and that under the 1872 mining laws, as well as the CFR’s, hand tools were legal, and that they did not need a Plan of Operations. They complained that they only needed a Plan of Operations if they were to bring in equipment, which they had not done. Annie Oakley (still with her hand on her gun) told the miners that she didn’t give a damn about the mining laws or Congress, and that if they did not comply immediately, she would start issuing citations, and making arrests if necessary. She nailed several other groups in the area on the same day, including my partner on our personal mining claims. As we later found out, she had been transferred from another Ranger District (the Idaho City District, if my memory serves me) because of her attitudes toward mining, and just happened to be on loan to our district that day.
After this exchange, the club submitted a Plan of Operations—and were promptly told that they did not need one for what they were doing, but that since they had already submitted the application, they would need to stop working the high bar until it was approved.
Because we weren’t supposed to dig on the high bar until the Plan of Operations was approved, there was not that much that I could do on this claim. Remembering the older couple who had worked hard to keep the creek mucked out, I noticed that the creek was full of sand and rocks. I decided that since I didn’t have a place to mine, I could at least clean out the creek and try and build the banks up a little with the sediments. After 20 or 30 minutes of digging, I heard the shovel scrape on bedrock. Like any good prospector, I sampled the bedrock—and am glad I did. I found a half a dozen pieces in the first pan, so I took a second pan. The results were the same. I panned for about 20 minutes, before I finally put my trusty sluice to work. It was nice, with the sluice just down stream from where I was digging, I didn’t have to carry gravel—or sort out rocks—just clean up the gold. When I finished up with this area three hours later, I probably had several pennyweights of fine gold (I didn’t have a scale and couldn’t weight them). I also found several nice pieces of fairly coarse gold—including one very nice picker. As I write this, I am remembering a prominent writer who once told me that there was no gold in Red Warrior Creek. “Not enough gold to fill a tooth” was his exact quote. I won’t mention names. I just wonder how much more I could have gotten with a dredge (and in how much less time).
I poked around for another day and a half before heading home. Yes, I did get a little more gold, but nothing compared to what I found at that spot in Red Warrior Creek when I decided to muck it out. Maybe I am off the mark a little bit, but I think that this is just one of the benefits of service. If I hadn’t decided to clean out the stream, I would probably have headed home without enough gold to fill a tooth. All I know is that I am glad that I took the time to try and make the claim a little better for everyone—it sure paid off for me.
This is an old photo of me taking a break while working in Red Warrior Creek.