Many people found their way to Idaho from California following the pursuit of gold. Moving to Idaho for mining was strenuous and mortality was high. Initially, gold was the motivator. In the 1870 census, most of the miners in Idaho were in Boise County working on gold claims. Miners and prospectors explored further into the Rockies in search of more gold as the increasing population created competition. Instead, they discovered silver. In the 1880s, a silver mining boom attracted many to the Wood River Valley and north into Custer County.
This gelatin silver print photograph was taken in 1881 in Bayhorse by Eugene Antz, a photographer and assayer by trade. The photo shows three Chinese men attending to a row of blast furnaces in the open air. A blast furnace would be used to melt the ore and extract the metals in it. One of the largest mines in the Bayhorse area the year the photo was taken was the Ramshorn Mine, which employed sixty men. The Bayhorse smelter was owned by the Omaha and Grant Smelting and Refining Company.
There were many Chinese people in Idaho during the 1870s and 1880s who worked in the mining camps and associated jobs and contributed to the development of the region. But in 1882, a year after this photo was taken, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law, prohibiting Chinese immigration and preventing those already here from becoming naturalized citizens. It had a devastating impact on the Chinese immigrants in the western United States.
To find out more about mining in this area, Chinese Idahoans and the legal history that affected the central Idaho Chinese population, visit the Betty Olsen Carr Reading Room at The Community Library.