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FLORENCE

After the initial discovery of gold at Pierce Idaho in 1860, miners began to spread out throughout the Clearwater Country looking for more big strikes. Nearby Oro Fino was the first new area found, and then prospectors discovered gold along the South Fork of the Clearwater River near what would become Elk City. But the strikes at Florence, even further south, turned out to be the big bonanza all the miners had been trying to find.

photo of florence

The prospectors who came to Florence in 1861 had done so over the objections of many of the Nez Perce Indians, who had been trying to limit the miner's incursions into their lands. But a twenty-three-man party was strong enough to force its way through to a high basin not far from the Salmon River. Before long the news of incredibly rich placers had reached Elk City and other camps in the area. There were stories of miners getting $20 to the pan or making upwards of $100 day, huge money for that time.

By late fall a frantic rush to Florence was on. The lust for riches was so strong some miners even attempted to get to Florence during the bitter winter of 1862. Those already there hunkered down despite limited supplies. Frozen waters and snow ten feet deep shut down mining until the spring thaw. But by the end of April another prosperous mining season was well under way.

1862 turned out to be the richest mining season Florence would ever see. It's estimated as many as ten thousand miners passed through the remote camp that year. While only a few thousand were mining, others came as carpenters, merchants, hotelkeepers, or bar tenders. Historian Merle Wells writes that production in Florence during the height of the 1862 season very likely reached 50,000 dollars a day and that the total for the year probably exceeded six million dollars.

During those first couple of years at Florence the miners went through much of the gold. By the end of 1863 most of the placers had been "worked out". Placer mining continued in Florence for the next twenty to thirty years although the district was pretty much given to the Chinese after the richest workings were depleted. A quartz revival in 1896 gave the district another dose of excitement but it didn't come anywhere close to matching the big season of 1862 when this remote gold camp earned it's nickname "Fabulous Florence".