Saturday, January 10, 2015

Idaho's Mount Pisgah Gold Region


(Creeks in the Caribou or Mount Pisgah region.)

Also known as the Caribou Mountain Gold District, Idaho's Mount Pisgah region has been producing lode and placer gold since 1870. Now popular with hunters and fisherman, the region's gold potential has faded somewhat but still holds promise for you small-scale prospectors and miners living in this beautiful state.

Rich Placer Ground

The Mount Pisgah region is within an hour's drive of Idaho Falls and Jackson, Wyoming. Located at a respectable elevation of 6,000 feet or more, the region's higher peaks are well over 9,000 feet high. Needless to say, winter snow packs can be quite heavy at Mount Pisgah and the gold areas therein could be best described as "remote." In other words, don't expect to pull off the side of the highway there and start panning or sluicing. That's what I've been told anyway.

One of the first mining camps or mini-boom towns in the region was located at a site known as Caribou City and as gold prospectors and miners spread out in the area, another camp called Keenan City was formed on the north side of Mount Pisgah. To get to the sites of the old gold camps today you'd have to travel north from Soda Springs and then traverse ranch grazing lands (be aware of private property issues here) or, alternately, you could head up McCoy Creek from the Snake River where a dam and large reservoir (Palisades Reservoir) are now located.


(Old miner's cabin near Caribou City.)

As in most gold strikes in the West, yellow metal in the form of placer gold was found in streams and low-lying areas on the east and north slopes of Mount Pisgah. These were very rich placers early on with production over the course of succeeding decades placed somewhere in the 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 ounce range. Those sorts of gold production figures are not small potatoes by any stretch of the imagination (no pun intended to you Idahoans!). What these numbers tell me is that there's a likelihood that plenty of placer gold is still left in the region. Although very good at what they did, the old timers never got it all, especially with the mining equipment they used back in the day. However, if large-scale or commercial operations followed hard on the old timers' heels...well...you small-scale guys and gals may have to look and work harder. But you're used to that, right?

Here's a short list of the main gold-bearing streams in the Mount Pisgah region:
  • Iowa and Bilk Creeks 
  • McCoy, Barnes, and City Creeks
  • Tincup Creek 
  • Anderson Gulch
  • North fork of Eagle Creek
  • Willow Creek
I would suspect that an experienced small-scale prospector or miner could tease color out of most of the existing streams, gulches, and low-lying areas in the region. With as much placer gold as was found in the region, this is a pretty sure bet.

Highly Interesting

Geologists say that glacial gravels were the source of most of the placer gold in the Mount Pisgah region. They go on to state that the existing streams in the area cut their way through these auriferous gravels and subsequently concentrated them into placers, including some with astoundingly rich pockets and paystreaks. Additionally, the effects of erosion and other natural mechanisms contributed to gold transfer and deposition over the course of millennia.

 (Glacial gravels.)

Now I find this highly interesting indeed. Outside Alaska, I can think of no gold region in the West where glaciation was a key factor in gold deposition. Sure, parts of Canada and the Midwestern United States (e.g., Indiana, Ohio, etc.) were recipients of gold from large-scale glacial movements, but the gold areas in the West I've worked in my prospecting and mining career were based on metamorphics and batholithic genesis and transfer. So, in my limited knowledge of geology, I see the gold at Mount Pisgah as an anomaly of sorts. This just goes to show you that Ma Nature doesn't always play by hard and fast rules when it comes to gold.

Benches and Terraces

Streams and low-lying areas are not the only locations in the Mount Pisgah region where placer gold can be found. If you can gain access there, I suggest you sample bench gravels and even terraces in the area. The old timers hit the gulches and streambeds first and worked them the hardest because that's where the bulk of the placer gold was concentrated. Many of these old sourdoughs "poo-poohed" the idea of working benches and terraces because the gold values contained in those locations was too widely dispersed to translate into good money for the amount of work involved. Look at it this way: if you were an old timer and could work stream gravels paying $10.00 a yard as opposed to working benches or terraces at one or two dollars a yard, what would you do? And remember, back in the day the old timers were only getting $16.00-$22.00 an ounce for the gold they recovered. Just a thought...

 (Idaho placer gold.)

Like most gold areas in the West, the Mount Pisgah region was hit again in the 1930s by "down-'n-outers" looking to feed and clothe themselves during the Great Depression. Many of these would-be argonauts had little, if any, real gold prospecting and mining experience, however. Some gave up and headed back into town to stand in soup lines, but others learned the ropes and became quite adept at running small-scale mining operations. I don't know if the Chinese ever worked placers in the area after the initial boom at Mount Pisgah was over, but if they did you want to steer clear of those areas. Chinese miners were meticulous and thorough, and any gold ground they worked will be picked clean...much like a chicken wing in the hands and mouth of a starving person.

If you can add anything to what I've said here about the Mount Pisgah region please feel free to do so. I've never been to Idaho, let alone these placers, so if you have first-hand knowledge of the region why not share it with the rest of us?

Best of luck to each and every one of you.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com

1 comment:

  1. Good morning JR, I have not made it that far over, but the glacial gravels picture shown here looks very much like what we have here in the Salmon, Idaho area. Maybe this could explain part of the reason we have been unable to reach bedrock? If you ever get a chance, come to Idaho. It is much more than potatoes, In fact, I know of nobody North of Mud Lake that raises them and that is the Southern half of the state, From there North is rugged mountains and the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states........lot's of room to roam, and why I love it here.

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