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Prairie Pulse

Florence history scripted like a western movie

During last week's blog about the Gold Point Mill and the birth of Elk City, I discovered its link with the long gone city of Florence. I should reiterate the fact that I moved to Idaho two years ago in September; so the history of Idaho County is new to me.

I enjoy digging into the remnants of the past and learning the stories of the people who built this land. In fact, last weekend I watched the movie "The Magnificent Seven" and couldn't help but wonder how similar some portions of Idaho County history might match to its portrayal of the ol' west.

If you are looking for an interesting report on the history of Florence, the U.S. Forest Service created a 16-page brochure. It is available online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5356586.pdf.

As I noted last week, gold was discovered in Idaho County in 1861. Miners filed into Elk City and then within months fled over to Florence. I was surprised to learn from the report that Florence began with 50 residents and by the following year counted as many as 9,000 residents. That's nearly three times the size of Grangeville now!

Another interesting footnote in the history of Florence is the success of their mining efforts. The report states in 1862 $6 to $7 million worth of gold was pulled from the mountains. Wow! I reckon I moved to the county in the wrong era.

In fact, the report said "by the summer of 1862 this little miners camp had flourished into a boomtown." It also noted "this quick growing town boasted a saw-mill, ten butcher shops, seven bakeries, eight lawyers, six gambling saloons, a few 'hole-in-the-wall doggeries' (saloons), a dance house, Masonic Hall, and a jail. A few of the log cabins, particularly the saloons, had fancy fronts and glass windows but others let in the light through muslin coverings."

One particular event at Florence I found interesting was the tale of Orlando "Rube" Robbins.

(Cue the old west whistling. Setting the scene.)

In 1863, Robbins and another man, Jakey Williams, shot Cherokee Bob Talbotte during a gunfight. Talbotte was the owner of Florence's Boomerang Saloon.

(Screenplays don't come up with better names than this, I can visualize this whole scene in my head. Spurs click on the wooden floor. One cowboy tips his hat slightly upward to give another the ol' stink eye. Then quick as a jackrabbit ducking headlights on an old dirt road, pistols swivel out of their holsters and pop, pop, pop.)

Now I don't know what lead to the gunfight, but it's fun to imagine. I've watched a few too many on Boot Hill in Dodge City, Kansas, to not let my mind wander.

This leads me to another interesting footnote. Robbins and Williams were cleared in the killing of Talbotte; and Robbins later became a deputy U.S. Marshall in Boise. The Forest Service report calls him the "Wyatt Earp of the Boise Basin." Robbins was killed a few months later and buried in Boot Hill.

Now I am sure Robbin's body wasn't toted off to Dodge City, Kansas, so I am anxious to learn where this Idaho Boot Hill is located. But I find it interesting that there is reference to Wyatt Earp and Boot Hill here is this county some 1,421 miles northwest of the infamous old west town.

By the winter of 1865, "only one man was in residence at Florence, a gambler named Billy Courtney who was hired to keep the snow shoveled off the roofs of several buildings in town." In 1933 only one building remained in the town of Florence.

There are many tales to be told of the history of Florence, but they will have to wait for another day.

(Cowboy nudges horse with spurs and rides off into the sunset.)

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