Thursday, January 26, 2012

Silver City, Idaho Territory: Rowdy, Raucous, & Rich

Current boundaries of Owyhee County, Idaho
Copyright © 2012 Jacquie Rogers
The Much Ado series and many of my other western historical romances are set in the Silver City area of Idaho, in Owyhee County, a large county in southwest Idaho with area about the same as New Jersey, but with one person per square mile.  The county was considerably larger in the 1880s, when my stories are set.  This remote county was a wild and wooly area of the West. 
The gold and silver strike sent prospectors, gamblers, painted ladies, merchants, Chinese miners and merchants, bankers, and newspapermen to Ruby City.  Problem is, the creek liked to flood there so the residents packed up the town, buildings and all and moved them to the Silver City site, where it still stands.
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.
So let's take a tour.  On the right is the sign that tells you how to get there.  I'd advise not to miss the sign.  Oh, wait, there's only one road.  I'd advise you to stay on that road.  If you get lost, you have to pay Owhyee County to hunt for you.  They had to implement this because so many city people got themselves into fixes they couldn't get themselves out of.  Costs mounted and the budget just didn't have room for people's errors in judgment.
These pictures are all taken by my daughter, Mercedes Christesen.  Special thanks to her husband, Rodney, for using his day off to chase after pictures for his mother-in-law.  Yes, you get points for that.
Drug Store
Here's the Drug Store.  She wasn't able to get any history on it, but it was either called the Knapp Drug Store or the Model Pharmacy.  Or maybe it was one and then the other.  I think it's just called the Drug Store now, and not open for business anymore.  It's currently a residence, as are so many former commercial buildings. 
There's an open house the weekend after Labor Day every year.  I've been there--really interesting, and I urge you to go if at all possible.  Make sure your car has decent ground clearance, though, and don't get too worried about the one-lane road (meaning room for only one car) because seldom does a vehicle come from the other direction.  And well, if that happens, someone will have to back up for a mile or two.  It's all fun.
Silver Slipper Saloon
To the right is the Silver Slipper Saloon.  This is a 20th Century saloon, open from 1918 to the early 1940s but it still looks cool so I included it.  Silver City had many, many saloons and of course also had cribs and a street called Virgin Alley where ladies of ill-repute plied their trade.  On, you can see an older photo of this saloon and the drug store above.
Oh 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:
FEMALE PUGLISTS 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. They finally sank down in the snow through sheer exhaustion. Jealousy was the cause of the muss.
Silver City Trivia:
Houses at its peak, 400: now, 67.  Businesses at its peak, 125: now, 2.  Working mines at its peak, 250: now, 1.  This informaton comes from a sign on the menu at the Idaho Hotel.  The building was constructed in Ruby City and moved to Idaho City in 1866.
Even though Silver City had telephone service by 1880, the telegraph business thrived for longer distances.
Silver City, Idaho Territory, never did have rail service, but the train service was within a stage ride.  Here's a Union Pacific train ticket:
May 10th. 1869
Rail Road from the Atlantic to the Pacific
of the
Union Pacific Rail Road
Platte Valley Route
Passenger trains leave
on the arrival of trains from the East
In Less than Four Days, avoiding the Dangers of the Sea!
Travelers for Pleasure, Health or Business
Life was hard in the Old West, especially when you're a couple hundred miles off the beaten path, at over 6,000 feet in elevation.  But this wasn't empty country. A long-standing population of Native Americans from the Bannock and Paiutes were not all that happy about Europeans coming in and ruining their livelihood and cultures.  The next photo is the gravestone of Oliver Hazard Purdy, born September 12, 1824, and killed during the Bannock Indian War in 1879.
Sometimes bad things happen but instead of dying, the perpetrators were put in jail.  It looks as if this jail wouldn't be too secure these days, but it was formidible in its time.
For more cool photos and accompanying descriptions, I highly recommend and  You can see the school and the church, too, where services are still held.  The Masonic Lodge is still in good condition and is in use as well.
I'll leave you with the coolest hotel ever.  I mean EVER.  This is the Idaho Hotel that I talked about above (menu board trivia).  Yes, you can still stay there--they have 13 rooms in service (and I've even heard that it's haunted!).  Go to the hotel's website for more cool history about Silver City.
Idaho Hotel, in Silver City, Idaho
The Much Ado series takes place in Owyhee County, and most books are set in or near Silver City because it was the county seat, the largest city in the county (maybe in the territory), and was the hub of activity for a couple decades.
Much Ado About Marshals takes place in Oreana, Idaho Territory, but the pre-story takes place right here in Silver City.  Stay tuned because another book in the Much Ado series, Much Ado About Madams (February 2012), is be set near Silver, in Dickshooter, Owyhee County, Idaho Territory.  No, I didn't make that name up, but I did move it closer to Silver City to suit the story purposes.  The third Much Ado book (June 2012) is set in Henderson Flats (modern day Marsing) and the fourth book, still in the planning stages, will be set in Silver City proper.
Several stories on my backlist are set there, too.  Owyhee County has a rich history and it's fun to share with others.
Where to find Jacquie Rogers:
Would you like to give Much Ado About Marshals a try?  One commenter wins a smashwords coupon for a free copy.  Be sure to include your email address in the comment.  Drawing will be held 19pm Pacific Time, January 31.  Good luck!


Paty Jager said...

Jacquie, You should have contacted me. I went to Silver City when I was researching for the book Lauri Robinson and I wrote together- For a Sister's Love.

It is a wonderful little town in a gulley between two mountains. I could easily move there and be content, but my hubby wouldn't.

Great info!

Jacquie Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacquie Rogers said...

Oops. Typo. Had to repost. I wish Blogger would let us edit. Grrrr.

Paty, I love it there, too. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to clamber all over the old buildings, imagining all sorts scenarios with robbers and rustlers. I was sad to see the old hotel at Delamar destroyed by vandals and go to ruin. There's not much left of any of the towns around there except Silver. Luckily the Silver residents have been good custodians of history, although they weren't able to prevent the museum contents in the old schoolhouse from being sold. That was pitiful and the residents aren't at all happy about it.

Shannon Kennedy said...

Love the photos and the info - I think I visited Silver City a few years ago. But, after reading all about it, I want to see it again, now.
Shannon Kennedy

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I've never been to Idaho--yet--but it sure sounds like a very interesting place to visit. Isn't it amazing the number of beautiful places where towns just disappeared? What a shame. Loved your photographs. I wonder if there are any Big Foot roaming the area. It seems so remote and untamed.
I read Much Ado About Marshals and it was fabulous.
Loved your blog today.

Jacquie Rogers said...

There's lots to see, Shannon, especially during the open house after Labor Day, when many of the residents open their houses and buildings to the public. You can see the firefighting equipment, telephones, and other things we don't often associate with the 1880s and earlier, but Silver was quite a progressive city.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Sarah, there's so much to see in Idaho! All types of terrains and climates. I come from the desert but there's mountains (real ones), forest, and even some flat land. Not a lot of out-of-staters know much about Idaho's history at all. But hey, Sacajawea was from Idaho, so the area has produced quite a few history-makers.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Genuinely fascinating post - really enjoyed reading it! I want to stay at the hotel now...

Gerri Bowen said...

Great post, Jacquie. I loved Much Ado About Marshals, and looking forward to the next book in the series. Nice to have these pictures in mind when I read.

divavixenqueen said...

I've never been to Idaho, but your post was really interesting and very informative.