Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Places You've Never Heard Of: Silver City, Idaho

It was 1863 in the Owyhee Mountains located in the southwest corner of Idaho Territory. The War Between the States raged in the east, but out west, men had dollar signs in their eyes, looking for that next bonanza. They could get rich raising cattle, or logging, but fastest of all, gold. And silver.

The mining boom town of Ruby City was formed--a hotel, several business and residents, and the county seat. A few years later, Silver City sprang up as well. Ruby City hung on for a while but after a series of floods and a few other things that went haywire, the Idaho Hotel and the county seat were moved to Silver City.

Silver City was born on mining. Silver mine tunnels numbered in the hundreds, and dotted the countryside as well as the city. Here's a pan view of Silver City I found you YouTube. There's even a mine under the church! 60 million dollars worth of silver was taken in the 1900s, and if converted to today's currency, that would be a whole lot more for this little area. The silver lodes were the richest in Idaho Territory.

Historic Silver City Idaho writes:
During its "heydays", Silver City had about a dozen streets, seventy-five businesses, three hundred homes, a population of around 2,500, twelve ore-processing mills, and was the Owyhee County seat from 1866 to 1934. Some of the largest stage lines in the West operated in the area, and Silver City had the first telegraph and the first daily newspaper in the territory in 1874. Telephones were in use here at least by 1880, and the town was "electrified" in the 1890's.

(Picture to the left: the bar at the Idaho Hotel.)

Never heard of it? Most people haven't, but it was truly the wild west in all manner of ways. It's located in Owhyee County, which is a large county in southwest Idaho. The newspaper they refer to is The Owyhee Avalanche, the longest operating newspaper in Idaho and one of the oldest in the West. I subscribe to it--it's a very high quality publication. There was never a shortage of news from the tough men who risked their lives in the mines every day for the promise of a life of luxury.

From The Owyhee Avalanche, October 17, 1868:
Between seven and eight o'clock last Monday evening a shameful shooting affar occurred at Sommercamp's saloon, between two of our citizens. On account of the hitherto respectability of the parties and for the sake of their friends we suppress names. On the evening in question, we, together with the twenty-five or thirty others were in the saloon, when the two valiant shootists commenced banging away at each other with revolvers . . .
Silver City and the surrounding ore-rich area drew men from all over the world to mine the silver lodes. Many Chinese came to make their fortunes, and several did. Of course, as with the Anglo immigrants, most didn't. Still, the Chinese established a strong presence and the economy couldn't have survived without them. Not that there weren't a few problems along the way:

From The Owyhee Avalanche, October 17, 1868:
Last Tuesday night a Chinaman was shot and severely wounded in a Chinese gambling house on Jordan Street. It appears a Chinaman who was bucking at a game wanted to bet five dollars on jaw-bone, the dealer objected, the other fell back on his dignity and shot the almond-eyed gamboiler through the right shoulder. The next day we noticed Deputy Sheriff John Springer and a posse of mounted Chinamen hunting for the shootist. We learn from Dr. White, who is attending the wounded Chinaman, that he will get well.
And yes, there were Cyprians--the ladies of the evening. Men out-numbered women at one point by 200 to 1 so every woman, no matter what her status, was highly regarded. The women, however were not so impressed with one another.

From The Owyhee Avalanche, February 26, 1870:
One evening this week be observed two frail females in the vicinity of Catalow's stable, engaged in commintting assault and battery upon each other. For some time the fur flew in all directions. The finally sank down in the snow through sheer exhaustion. Jealousy was the cause of the muss.
And, yes, confrontations with the Indians were frequent. Be warned, this next quote is even worse than the one about the Chinese. "Politically Correct" was not yet invented. But we must also avoid revisionist history--Anglos were, for the most part, of the opinion that Native Americans were sub-human. This is why I avoid the entire issue in my westerns. I write humor and there isn't anything the least bit humorous about the treatment of the Indians.

From The Owyhee Avalanche, September 12, 1868:
Tho's H. Smith Esq. just in from Camp Three Forks, informs us that last week the military of that place gobbled up and brought into Camp six-teen Indians as prisoners. Under promise of bringing in for-teen more, three bucks, whose squaws were retained as hostages, were allowed to go out into the mountains. The miserable wretches profess a desire to give themselves up and stop robbing and scalping the whites--at least till they recruit and obtain a fresh supply of arms and ammunition.
Silver City was difficult to get to and from (travel can get a bit dicey even today), so the subject of roads was always prominent in the news. Keep in mind "highways" is a subjective term here. The road into Silver City from the east isn't two-lane all the way even now. It's a dirt road and depending on the season, you drive on the high side of the ruts in order not to high center your vehicle. In those days, horses, stagecoaches, and wagons traveled the very same road.

From The Owyhee Avalanche, May 16, 1868:
We are pleased to know that Mr. Abbott, Supervisor for the Road District No. 2, has commenced repairing the roads. As a consequence of the ground's thawing out and the melting of the snow, our highways in many places were in bad condition, but now the ground is becoming dry and the money now on hand in the road fund, with the taxes yet to be collected for that purpose will serve to put the roads in good order.
But most of all, people need entertainment, and the residents of Silver City weren't any different. There was a theater, several saloons, and lots of parties and receptions at the I.O.O.F Hall. In the dark of winter, entertainment was even more sought after.

From The Owyhee Avalanche, January 4, 1868:
seems to be the motto just now--just what we expected, as soon as it became known on the outside that times were lively and money plenty in Owyhee, in comes a batch of hurdies to gobble up their share. It is an easy matter to find out where the hold forth --watch the crowds of suffering manhood as they emerge from cabins along the creek in the dusky twilight, or silently wend their way, in Indian file, down the mountainside; their steps are directed to Gabriel's large building, corner of Jordan and Second Sts., where, seated on a bench at one side of the spacious hall, are four coy and blushing damsels. . .

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Where the Heck is Grasmere, Idaho?

In fact, whoever heard of Grasmere, Idaho?

It's in Owyhee County, located in the southwest corner of Idaho. This is one of the largest counties in the lower 48 states, and has about the same area in square miles as New Jersey. Population is a about 1 person per square mile (twice as many people as when I lived there), although far less dense than that around Grasmere. (New Jersey's population density is about 1,170 people per square mile.) You'll find Grasmere . . .

South of Grandview.
Farther south of Murphy.
Way south of Marsing.
And way, way south of Homedale.
North of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

This is what Grasmere looks like.

At the bottom of the page, you'll see my fictional world of Grasmere.

My editor was a bit stunned when I told her that there are twice as many characters in Down Home Ever Lovin' Mule Blues as there is actual population in Grasmere, Idaho, where the story is set. Last I knew, Grasmere had phone service but not electricity, and outlying ranches have neither. All appliances and electrical devices are run with generators or propane.

In high mountain desert, Grasmere's elevation is a mile high: around 5,200 feet. Precipitation is scarce, about 8" per year, so even though the altitude is high, Grasmere ususally only receives less than a foot of snow total--a dusting here and there that blows away with the incessant, biting wind. In the summer, there is no wind at all, sometimes not a hint of a breeze. Temperatures can get up into the 100's, although average temperature in August is only 86 degrees.

So who lives In Grasmere? I'm not sure, at this point. Grasmere is a city with a post office, but last I knew, only one family lived in the city proper, and they were looking for a buyer. The buildings there are: restaurant/gas station/post office, a house, a garage, and I think a shed. Take a look at the Mapquest Aerial Map.

And exactly why did I set Down Home Ever Lovin' Mule Blues in Grasmere? Because I wanted to make communication a little more difficult, the lifestyle more contrasting to the urban life, and my heroine just a little bit ashamed of her roots. In fact, that's her external character arc, to become proud of her family, her roots, her childhood home. To contrast that, the hero comes from an urban family and settles in one of the most rustic places he can find. His external character arc is to learn that happiness comes from what and who you are, not where you live.

I just don't see how this story could have worked anywhere else. The long drive to the hospital, the infrequent shopping trips to the city, and whole joke about Triangle--these elements are integral to the story.

And, as promised, here's the fictionalized Grasmere:

To get an idea of how I envisioned the story world, take a look at the book video.

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Faery Special Romances * Book Video * Royalties go to Children's Tumor Foundation, ending Neurofibromatosis through Research

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