Area History

North Idaho & The Silver Valley

The Snake Pit ~ Since 1880

The Snake Pit has been serving the people of the Silver Valley since 1880. 

Left: Miners in Kellogg, 1899. Right: Group near Hercules mine, 1901. 


The Early Days

The promise of gold brought miners to the Silver Valley in the 1880s. The Snake Pit served the growing population. 

Left: Hercules Mine, 1905.  Center: Last Chance Mine, 1900.  Right: Hecla Mine claim, 1920. 


The Great Fire of 1910 

In the summer of 1910, a huge wildfire devastated the Silver Valley, and large areas of North Idaho & Eastern Montana. It is believed to be the largest fire in US history.


The Great Fire of 1910 

Left: The Wallace Fire Department, 1907  Center: These firefighters saved over 40 men from the Great Fire.  Right: A Wallace building burns.  



The Silver Valley endured both man-made and natural disasters. 

Left: Wallace Flood, 1900.  Center: Bunker Hill Explosion, set by strikers, 1899.  Right: Northern Pacific Train Explosion, 1907. 


Train Wrecks

Silver Valley history includes several spectacular train wrecks . 

Left & Center: 'S' Bridge Wreck, 1903.  Right: Ore car wreck, Wallace, 1913. 


Life Goes On 

Silver Valley residents overcame difficulties to enjoy good times. 

Left: Lee Tire Truck 1910.   Center: Traveling Grocery Truck, 1920   Right: Snow Plow, Coeur d'Alene cutoff, 1900. 



Locals enjoyed recreational activities...and a visit from President Roosevelt. 

Left: Girl's basketball team, Burke, 1900.   Center: Picnic party in boats, 1897   Right: T.R. Roosevelt visits Wallace, 1903. 

Enaville in 1908 – A Boomtown

Area History: North Idaho and The Silver Valley

Enaville Booms proclaimed the headline. The building of the Idaho Northern Railroad from Enaville to Murray, up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene in Shoshone County, back in 1908 caused a big boom in the spring of that year. This occurred in late March, when some 400 men were hard at work, clearing and grading the right of way for the new line.

Labor camps were set up a mile apart for a distance of seven miles up the river from Enaville, and the construction company eventually had 2,000 men at work scattered along the 30 miles from Enaville to Murray. The crews grew as fast as the snow melted that spring.

The Wardner news, in its edition of March 28, 1908, relates the story with the aforementioned headline.

“If anyone wants to see a booming town and one that bids fair to make the far-famed city of Taft, Montana, take a back seat, they only need to go down to Enaville at the west side of the famed Coeur d’Alene Mining District where a few short weeks ago was a barren piece of lowlands is today a bustling little community of businessmen and laborers and soldiers of fortune”.

The Great Fire

The Great Fire of 1910 (also commonly referred to as the Big Blowup, the Big Burn, or the Devil’s Broom fire) was a wildfire that burned about three million acres (1,214,057 ha), approximately the size of Connecticut) in northeast Washington, northern Idaho (the panhandle), and western Montana. The area burned included parts of the Bitterroot, Cabinet, Clearwater, Coeur d’Alene, Flathead, Kaniksu, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, Lolo, and St. Joe National Forests. The firestorm burned over two days (August 20–21, 1910), and killed 87 people, mostly firefighters. It is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, forest fire in U.S. history. The outcome was to highlight firefighters as public heroes while raising public awareness surrounding national nature conservation.

The Big Blowup
On August 20, a cold front blew in and brought hurricane-force winds, whipping the hundreds of small fires into one or two blazing infernos. The fire was impossible to fight; there were too few men and too little supplies. The United States Forest Service (then called the National Forest Service) was only five years old at the time and unprepared for the possibilities of this dry summer. Later, at the behest of President William Howard Taft, the U.S. Army, 25th Infantry Regiment (known as the Buffalo Soldiers), was brought in to help fight the blaze.

Smoke from the fire was said to have been seen as far east as Watertown, New York and as far south as Denver, Colorado. It was reported that at night, 500 miles (800 km) out into the Pacific Ocean, ships could not navigate by the stars because the sky was cloudy with smoke.


Northern Pacific Railway

The Northern Pacific Railway began building a transcontinental railroad route across the northern United States from Minnesota to the Pacific Coast in 1870. Crews built from both the eastern and western ends, progressing towards a yet undetermined meeting point somewhere in between. The two crews finally met near the Independence Creek in Western Montana on August 22, 1883. At this point the track was connected, completing the transcontinental line; however, the “golden spike” completion ceremony would not occur until September 8, 1883.

The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 19, 1983. A wooden sign erected by the Northern Pacific marking the location still exists and can be seen from Interstate 90 near where the Independence Creek runs into the Clark Fork River.

Labor Disputes

There were two related incidents between miners and mine owners in Coeur d’Alene: the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho labor strike of 1892, and the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899.

The confrontation of 1899 resulted from the miners’ frustrations with mine operators that paid lower wages; hired Pinkerton or Thiel operatives to infiltrate the union; and routinely fired any miner who held a union card.

Angered by wage cuts, Coeur d’Alene area miners conducted a strike in 1892. The strike erupted in violence when union miners discovered they had been infiltrated by a Pinkerton agent who had routinely provided union information to the mine owners. After several deaths, the U.S. army occupied the area and forced an end to the strike. The response to that violence, disastrous for the local miners’ union, became the primary motivation for the formation of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) the following year.

In the period from 1899 to 1901…

Federal troops demonstrated the power of the back east [mine] owners, compelling some miners to work at gunpoint, others to build their own bull-pens, inventing the rustling card system so no man could hunt a job without the sheriff’s approval, and using Governor Steunenberg, whom the miners had helped elect as a Populist, to oust the elected local authorities who might have some sympathy for the strikers.

The Bunker Hill Mining Company at Wardner, Idaho, was profitable, having paid more than $600,000 in dividends. Miners working in the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mines were receiving fifty cents to a dollar less per day than other miners, which at that time represented a significant percentage of the paycheck. The properties were the only mines in the district that were not unionized, and the Bunker Hill company had employed Pinkerton labor spies to identify union members.

In April 1899, as the union was launching an organizing drive of the few locations not yet unionized, superintendent Albert Burch declared that the company would rather “shut down and remain closed twenty years” than to recognize the union. He then fired seventeen workers that he believed to be union members and demanded that all other union men collect their back pay and quit.

Dynamite Express
On April 29, 250 angry union members in their “digging clothes” seized a train in Burke from Levi “Al” Hutton, the engineer later claimed at gun point.[4] At each stop through Burke-Canyon, more miners climbed aboard. In Mace, a hundred men climbed aboard. At Frisco, the train stopped to load eighty wooden boxes, each containing fifty pounds of dynamite. At Gem, 150 to 200 more miners climbed onto three freight cars which had been added to the train. In Wallace, 200 miners were waiting, having walked seven miles from Mullan. Nearly a thousand men rode the train to Wardner, the site of a $250,000 mill of the Bunker Hill mine. After carrying three thousand pounds of dynamite into the mill, they set their charges and scattered. Two men were killed, one of them a non-union miner, the other a union man accidentally shot by other miners. Their mission accomplished, the miners once again boarded the “Dynamite Express” and left the scene.

From Kellog to Wallace, ranchers and laboring people lined the tracks and, according to one eyewitness, “cheered the [union] men lustily as they passed.”

At the Idaho governor’s request, President William McKinley sent black soldiers from Brownsville, Texas and other areas, veterans of the Spanish–American War, to round up 1,000 men and put them into bullpens. The arrests were indiscriminant; Governor Steunenberg’s representative, state auditor Bartlett Sinclair believed that all the people of Canyon Creek had a “criminal history,” and “the entire community, or the male portion of it, ought to be arrested.” The soldiers searched every house, breaking down the door if no one answered.

As Sinclair had ordered, they arrested every male: miners, bartenders, a doctor, a preacher, even the postmaster and school superintendent. … Cooks and waiters [were] arrested in kitchens, diners at their supper tables. … For desperate criminals, the men of Burke went quietly, the only gunshot was aimed at a “vicious watch dog.”

One thousand men were herded into an old barn, a two-story frame structure 120 feet long by 40 feet wide and filled with hay. It was “still very cold in those altitudes” and the men, having been arrested with no opportunity to bring along blankets, “suffered some from the weather.” The overflow were herded into boxcars. The prisoners were then forced to build a pine board prison for themselves, and it was surrounded by a six-foot barbed wire fence patrolled by armed soldiers. Conditions remained primitive, and three prisoners died.

The U.S. Army followed escaping miners into Montana and arrested them, returning them to Idaho, and failed to comply with jurisdictional or extradition laws. One man arrested and transported was a Montana citizen who had no connection to the Wardner events.

Two of the three county commissioners had been caught in the roundup, as had the local sheriff. These, too, were held prisoner. Later, a district court removed all of the county commissioners and the sheriff from office, charging that they’d neglected their official duties.

~  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coeur_d%27Alene,_Idaho_labor_confrontation_of_1899

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