A very significant gold occurrence can be found at the Yankee Fork placers east of the Stanley Basin. The first discoveries of gold here took place in 1870, and by 1871 miners were panning the gravels in the area and finding gold.
A few years later, placers started being mined on Jordan Creek.
This general area is near the town of Sunbeam east of Stanley, and along the Yankee Fork at the mining towns of Bonanza and Custer.
As with any gold rush, there was good excitement in the early years, but it was soon determined that the placer gravels were not as rich as they had hoped. Miners continued work in this area for many years, but only modest returns for their efforts.
It was a later discovery of quartz lode deposits containing gold that spurred new interest to the region. These quartz veins were thought to be the source of the Jordan Creek placers, and the towns of Bonanza and Custer were soon booming with several thousand miners.
Gold mining continued in the region for several more decades, but eventually the richest deposits were depleted to a point that they were not profitable for most miners. By the early 1910s, most of the gold miners had left the region.
Today, the Yankee Fork is perhaps best known for the dredging operations that took place here, long after the heyday of Bonanza and Custer. In the 1940s, a dredge was constructed to mine the gravels of the Yankee Fork River and Jordan Creek. The dredge mined a stretch just upstream of the confluence with the Salmon River, up past Bonanza, and up Jordan Creek several more miles.
The dredge tailings are clearly evident as you travel the main road north of Sunbeam.
The giant bucket line dredge worked here for many years. The gravels here had proven to be unprofitable for some time, but with the use of dredging the miners were able to make the ground pay very well.
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The dredge operated for many years up through 1952, and was able to profitably work much of the ground that was of limited value to small-scale miners.
When mining stopped, the dredge was donated to the US Forest Service. It is now a historical site and is very well-preserved.
Large dredge tailings are clearly evident in this area, and the Yankee Fork Dredge is still in place near Bonanza. It is now one of the best preserved bucket line dredges in existence today.
This mining district gets limited attention today from miners, although there is certainly still gold left in the gravels that can be found by panning and sluicing. Most of the gold in this area is noted as being very fine textured flakes, fines, and flour gold.
This is a very popular area for tourists in the summer, primarily due to its close proximity to the Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Mountains.
Additional Reading about Gold Mining in Idaho:
Start Finding Gold in Idaho eBook
Gold & Silver Mining in Atlanta, Idaho
Gold Mining in Murray, Idaho