TWIN FALLS • In the early days, Idaho was a desolate land that emigrants had to pass through to get somewhere else.
Nothing about the barren landscape said “Home Sweet Home.”
Nothing, that is, until gold was found.
In 1860, the first significant gold discovery was made in Idaho. It wouldn’t be long before miners rushed into the area, prompting the formation of Idaho Territory in 1863.
And with the miners came even more population. Freight-haulers kept the miners connected with suppliers on the outside, and storekeepers and cattlemen kept the miners fed.
The same scenario unfolded over and over across Idaho — even along the banks of the Snake River.
Gold was discovered below Shoshone Falls in 1869, and hundreds of miners moved into the canyon in hopes of finding their fortune. The best placer for mining was said to have been the stretch from just east of Murtaugh to Clark’s Ferry, west of Twin Falls. In 1870, 400 men worked the sand bars in the canyon for $4 per day.
Three short-lived towns popped up in the areas with the easiest access to the most gold flour: Shoshone City between Shoshone Falls and the Twin Falls, Springtown near the present-day Hansen Bridge, and Drytown at the mouth of Dry Creek near Murtaugh.
Gold yields diminished quickly in the canyon, and many mining claims were sold or abandoned. Miners began other careers, and business owners moved their operations out of the canyon as other settlements began to take shape.
Chinese miners, who were previously discouraged from moving into the area, were eventually welcomed as American miners sold their mining claims to the newcomers.
Springtown, the longest-lived mining town along the river, would eventually become known as the Mon-Tung Chinese site.
For 10 years, the Chinese mined the Mon-Tung site. They raised vegetables and herbs in terraced gardens and lived in crude rock huts. Several of these rock shelters remain in the canyon today.
According to the 1870 census, 28 percent of the population of Idaho Territory was Chinese — including many displaced railroad workers, and miners who had come to the United States specifically looking for gold.
Mychel Matthews is the chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission and the director of the Twin Falls County Historical Museum. The Hidden History feature will run every Thursday on Page 2. If you have a question about an object that may have historical significance, email Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org.