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Hidden History: Florence, a flash in the pan — mining pan, that is

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Florence, Idaho, now a ghost town

The gold mines near the short-lived gold-rush town of Florence, seen here in the 1860s north of Riggins, were "unbelievably" productive, historians Merle Wells and Arthur Hart said in their book "Idaho, Gem of the Mountains." A miner at Baboon Gulch near Florence recovered $6,000 worth of gold — more than $168,000 in today's money — in only two days. 

Intrepid miners abandoned California mines in 1860 to climb into the mountains of north-central Idaho in search of silver and gold. Prospector Elias Pierce, following animal trails to evade Nez Perce warriors, found gold on Sept. 30 at Orofino Creek.

Oro fino means “fine gold” in Spanish.

The mining town Florence, some 60 miles as the crow flies south of Orofino, was one of the richest mining areas in the state for a short time.

Jacob Weiser’s operation at Baboon Gulch yielded $6,000 worth of gold in two days. And Peter Bablaine’s claim yielded 60 pounds of gold worth $7,200 — equal to more than $200,000 in today’s money.

Word of Florence miners’ wild success traveled swiftly in its first year, bringing in more than 10,000 fortune hunters to the town in 1862. That year, the mines produced $50,000 per day.

Major “excitements” in Florence had ended by 1864, the year after Idaho became a territory, historians Arthur Hart and Merle Wells wrote in their book “Idaho, Gem of the Mountains.”

Florence was all but a ghost town by 1896. In all, its mines yielded $10 million in gold.

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Mychel Matthews is the senior reporter for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and at If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at or call her at 208-735-3233.


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