Gold Stampede at Thunder Mountain Brought New Life to Yellow Pine Area

by Earl Willson1

published in The Idaho Statesman, December 26, 1962

Yellow Pine - This story is about Yellow Pine and its site that took root among giant ponderosa trees in a meadow filled with quaking aspens and clumps of willows.

A remote settlement, it actually came into existence just after the well known Thunder Mountain gold excitement, but was little importance even as a tiny village, until the advent of the Bradley Mining Company operations, and subsequent establishment of Stibnite at the Yellow Pine mine near the headwaters of the east fork of the south fork of the Salmon River.

At the time of the Thunder Mountain gold stampede into the Monumental Creek area, Yellow Pine was practically an uninhabited "basin" only a very few miles above "Dead Man's" Bar and Regan2 cabins on the east fork where isolated placer mining operations were carried on by the sluice box and the gold pan. Today, these cabins are a tumbled down decayed pile of logs, among which a crude sign was found a few years ago and is now on display over the door at the Yellow Pine mercantile store. The very skillfully cut lettering showed that the cabins were built in 1876, and occupied the winter of 1885 and 1886. Later the structure known as the Buckhorn cabin on Regan Flat, was apparently occupied by a prospector known as Fox.

Three Cabins Built

When this correspondent first entered Yellow Pine in 1907, accompanied by his father, the late "Profile Sam," there were only three cabins — the first to be built in the area was unoccupied, and the other two were inhabited by the late Theodore Van-Meter and the late Albert C. Behne who finally became the postmaster, mining recorder, justice of the peace and the founder of Yellow Pine.

Contrary to some people who connect Yellow Pine and its later business and social activities with the Thunder Mountain era, may we set the record straight by saying that it was many years later before a few scattered log cabin homes were erected, or any places of business opened up in Yellow Pine —in fact not until the Bradley mining operations at the Yellow Pine Mine seemed permanent, that the hamlet even reached the proportion of a village. Then its fatherly founder, Mr. Behne, who had applied for a post office in 1905, carried his own mail from the Johnson Creek bridge (now known as 'Twin Bridges') for at least once a week until finally the Roosevelt–Thunder Mountain route was abandoned and in turn re–routed to Yellow Pine about the year 1909.

The site of Yellow Pine, more commonly referred to in the old days as Yellow Pine Basin by the few scattered patrons of the post office just proceeding the turn of the century, was only considered a very beautiful meadow nestling among the surrounding ponderosa forests, and inhabited by denizens of the adjacent areas—a place too, where the few scattered sourdoughs might drop into from the high, snow blanketed areas during the early spring months and somewhat relieve themselves of bad cases of "cabin fever" contracted by all too much isolation.

Homemade Brew

"Cabin fever" could be arrested, at least temporarily, by drowning it in' the contents of Mr. Van-Meters open barrel of home brew he called "old hen." Actually a mixture of raisins and other assorted fruits and juices that made up a concoction so highly impregnated with sugar that one tin cup full of the alcoholic beverage would either take one blissfully out of this world or loosen the tongue at both ends. Incidentally too, perhaps "Old Van" had the only tomcat in Idaho that could catch enough mink during the winter months to keep him in tobacco from the proceeds derived from the mink pelts—at least that's the way the story goes.

The Yellow Pine of today is not just an attraction for the surrounding "hillbillies" and the, outside tourist, hunter or fisherman. Denizens of the surrounding yellow pine forests, after which the settlement was named, still wander through and around the town even as their predecessors did in the ancient meadow, perhaps even in pre–historic, times. Even the bear, whose ancestors came down out of hibernation from the high elevations early in the spring to feed on Mr. Behne's garbage dump, seemingly are just as curious as to man's recent endeavors in the village. And no doubt attracted by the scent of food lingering around the homes, these clownnish animals have actually disturbed ladies' privacy by looking in windows — unusual "peeping toms" that after being driven off, we are wondering whether perhaps bruin did not return for another look, so undeniably human are their many antics.

The first school to be held in Yellow Pine was conducted in a tent in the year 1920 by a teacher identified as Miss Smith, and who taught a total of eight children. They were identified as George McCoy, Doris Edwards, Leslie McCoy, Eva McCoy, Ted Abstetn, Helen Trinler, Myron McCoy and Gil McCoy. A photograph of this group submitted by this writer, also shows the first log school house and the teacher's cottage (now owned by William Schlerding of Yellow Pine). These structures were built in 1922, and the village showed little growth up to that time.

Somehow the Yellow Pine of today seems headed in the direction of making a modern hamlet that could well be likened unto the fictitious Shang-ri-la of the far away Tibetan mountains, so vividly portrayed in the book "Lost Horizon," the similarity being in the isolation of both places. The real and the fictitious, the entrance covered over and then through the blizzard-swept mountain routes, until the final entrance into snow-free areas entirely surrounded by mountain pinnacles that tower above a basin where comparatively long summer seasons, and the greenery of a typical farming community, the likes of which are comparable to the Cox Dude Ranch on the adjoining Johnson Creek, and the Fred Holcomb place on the East Fork.

Comparable to Cascade and Long Valley in elevation, but much more protected from the rigorous winter blasts; Yellow Pine's present population of "Johnny Come Latelys" are profiting by the small number of early pioneers who blazed the trails and constructed the first pack bridges to span the streams.

Packed in Supplies

These first few settlers from the high surrounding areas were kept busy packing in the supplies needed to last through the eight months of closed trails and the constantly drifting snow. Then the silence broken only by the snow-laden wind and the cry of an occasional tallow hawk.

This was pioneering that those now interred in Yellow Pine pioneer cemetery3 are but a part of the small group who scattered to the far flung areas of what is now known as the primitive wilderness.

Where in those days such pioneer ventures as the old Werdenhof and the Sunday Mine at Edwardsburg were in operation, and only a winding trail down Big Creek reached the Copper Camp and the Jensen brothers Snow Shoe Mine. These and many other small operations from Profile, Quartz Creek and clear to the Ramey Ridge, were the reason that held those men snow-bound and isolated in regions where only the melting snows of spring could free the trails and again make transportation by pack or saddle animal possible. This was indeed pioneering the hard way.

1Earl Willson obituary.

2 Deadman's Bar and James Reagan on Isolated Grave page

3Yellow Pine Pioneer Cemetery

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