Even though Pearl is only about 1 hours drive from Boise, most people in Idaho have never heard of it. For a short period of time it was one of the most productive quartz mining centers in Southern Idaho. By the early 1900s the Pearl mines were producing gold bullion worth millions.
Mining in the town began in the 1870s and continued through the early 1900s when the major mines closed down and many miners left. However, mining continued in the dry hills around town for several decades as a number of early miners remained operating small scale mines. The town faced a sharp decline after 1910 and eventually the post office was closed in 1928. The last resident died in 1950 leaving a ghost town.Let's take a closer look at the history of this overlooked mining town.
The Discovery of Gold
Gold was first discovered in the region that became known as Pearl in the 1870s by placer prospectors. Small amounts of fine gold were recovered from Willow Creek
, a tributary to the Boise River. Although there was gold present it wasn't enough to garner much interest. The quantity of gold discovered was so small that it did not attract any large scale mining efforts, especially in comparison to the nearby placers of the Boise Basin
In 1894 Dan Levan and his small family moved to the area setting up a small summer camp. The local cowboys showed him a rusty edge of the hillside which they said contained gold deposits. He immediately took to prospecting the area and soon discovered some rich ore and filed a claim. However, this brought about disputes with local cowboys and the claim was sold to E.H. Dewey by the local judge to settle the court battle as the proceeds of the sale were shared among all the claimants.
E.H. Dewey set up a mining company to mine the claim although the transportation of ore was still a huge problem at the time. The claim had been quite productive producing about $30,000 worth of gold in 1894 and some $80,000 by the end of 1896. The news of these productive claim spread quickly creating interest in the area. Several other lode claims were soon staked as many miners began moving to the area.
In the years following the stake of the Levan claim to Dewey, several dozens of claims were staked in the area leading to the creation of the Pearl mining district. By 1900 there were 243 people living in Pearl. Most of these people were miners coming in from mining camps in Nevada and their main occupation at the time was mining.
By 1902 the Checkmate mine was fully operational, but bad roads transport of ores difficult. That same year, the Idaho North Railroad reached Emmett making mining more easily as the town began to take shape. Mining boomed with the Checkmate mine becoming the most productive mine in the area. In 1903 the mines in the area produced ore worth $100,000 and in 1904 production had more than tripled reaching above $300,000 in a calendar year for the first time.
The ore mined in Pearl was oxidized quartz that contained about 95% gold along with silver, zinc, and copper among other elements. Checkmate mine was the most productive mine and had some of the richest ores in the area. By 1904 the mine had reached a depth of over 500 feet and had produced ore worth $500,000. It employed hundreds of miners which added to the growth of Pearl. In 1905 the mine was bought by the Gold Dollar Mining & Smelting Company which invested heavily in expanding it and this further served to grow its output.
The other productive mine in the area was the Lincoln mine which was situated about a mile to the west of the Checkmate mine. The mine was quite expansive with three very deep shafts reaching over 200 feet deep by 1904. The mine was operated by the Lincoln Company and produced ore worth an average of $20,000 a month at its peak.
Mining in pearl reached its peak in 1906, but after years of productive mining the ores began to get worked out. This put pressure on the mining companies which eventually began to slow down mining activities as the ore depleted. Mining and prospecting continued in the area for several years as many of the mining companies had extensive tracks of land to explore and mine.Also Read: Gold Panning on the Snake River
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The rapid decline began somewhere in 1907 and 1908. By 1910 pearl had shrunk in population to about 123 people of whom 30 where miners, while the rest were engaged in other, activates like farming and ranching. Most of the mines had closed down and the businesses had dwindled with parts of the town being abandoned. By 1920 the population was reduced to 40 and the largest majority of the residents were farmers.
When I was a kid, there were still a few old cabins standing at the townsite, but in a visit to Pearl a few years ago I noticed that all the cabins were gone. Most people would have no idea that there was so much history in this area. You can still see signs of a few old mines as you drive up the road that goes up Willow Creek. There may be some small-scale mining activity going on today, but nothing like it was back at the turn of the century.Next: Mining History of Silver City, Idaho