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The Pioneer Cemeteries of Idaho City and Grimes

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We always try to visit a cemetery in the places we visit and, whether it’s the baroque elegance of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires or the haunting beauty of Savannah’s Bonaventure, they often end up among our most memorable experiences. On our day trip to Idaho City, we hadn’t expected to even visit one cemetery, but ended up spending time in two.


In order to get to Idaho City from Cascade, we took a gravelly road known as Grimes Pass (NF-382), which switchbacked up into the mountains. At the highest point, we found a trail leading to a small cemetery. Tombs were scattered about the parched land, many marked as “unknown”. A few held the bodies of infants of pioneers, while others were relatively recent. And in the center, we found the grave of George Grimes.

In 1862, George Grimes was the head of the prospecting group which discovered gold in the hills of the Boise Basin, and sparked one of the world’s most lucrative rushes. Just days after his historic discovery, Grimes was murdered. Officially, he fell at the hands of an Indian, but the true story has always been shrouded in mystery. Greed and crime ran high among the prospectors, and most assume that his own men were the ones who gunned him down. They were, after all, the only witnesses… and Indians make awfully convenient scapegoats.

After we were done touring Idaho City, we drove just outside of town to the Pioneer Cemetery, which holds the graves of over 3000 people. Only a fraction of them have been identified and of those, very few are known to have died of natural causes. Idaho City was a wild, violent and dangerous city, where it was far more common to catch a bullet in the streets than reach old age.


At the tourist office, we had picked a brochure which led us to the most prominent graves and shared some of their tenants’ stories, such as that of the beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter of the town’s newspaper mogul, who broke her neck after being thrown from a carriage, sparking a citywide period of mourning. Or J. Marion More, who found himself on the losing end of one of Idaho City’s frequent duels, after a fight over a mining claim.

I never assumed that the life in a pioneer mining town would be all peaches and cream, but our walks through these two cemeteries confirmed it, and made me appreciate how lucky we are to be alive in these modern days.

Location of Grimes Cemetery

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More pictures from the Grimes Pass Cemetery:


More pictures from the Idaho City Cemetery:

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September 13, 2012 at 2:14 am Comments (3)

The Craziest House in Idaho

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We enjoyed our self-guided walking tour of historic Idaho City immensely, but our favorite house didn’t appear anywhere in the brochure. We decided to just call it the Crazy House, because it’s among the most eccentric structures we’ve seen anywhere in the States.

Strangest House In Idaho

It looks as though someone coated a normal two-story house in super glue, then dumped the contents of a well-stocked second-hand store on top of it. And then left it to rust and age for twenty years. It’s all been shuttered up, and peering through the windows, it’s clear that nobody has been inside for quite awhile. What did this building used to be? A crazy person’s home? An antique store? Who knows? The only thing not in doubt, is that this was the strangest and coolest house we had yet seen in Idaho, and we spent a long time admiring it from every angle. Enjoy our pics of this Idahoan curiosity — and if you know anything about it, please share!

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September 12, 2012 at 2:32 am Comments (4)

The Gold-Rush Town of Idaho City

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In the late 19th century, the largest city between San Francisco and Saint Louis was Idaho City — a boomtown constructed after the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin. With a rowdy population of miners from California, Washington, Missouri and China, Idaho City was the kind of place where whiskey was cheap and lives even cheaper.

Blacksmith Idaho

The Boise Basin gold rush of the 1860s was one of the biggest in American history, and Idaho City was its nexus. Prospectors arrived from around the world, and the city’s story is filled with murder, gun fights, unbelievable wealth and thievery. Over two billion in gold was extracted from the area, and it’s not hard to imagine the scenes which must have played out… especially when you consider the fact that whiskey was cheaper than water in those days. The only thing more unscrupulous than a greedy miner, is a drunk greedy miner.

Today the town is something of a living museum. People still reside and work there, but there’s a definite focus on the past. The first building we visited was the County Council office, which used to be the town saloon. The bar is still in place and looks surreal amid the bustle of current-day office life. One of the clerks took a break from her computer to show us inside the old walk-in safe, where records streching back to the town’s founding are kept on file.

Across the street is the county courthouse, dating from 1873. Here again, one of the office workers volunteered to take us on a short tour of the historic building — locals here are apparently accustomed to tourists. The courthouse was fascinating, and looked much as it did back in the day. Justice was quicker and more vicious back then — after being convicted, felons were immedately hung over the judge’s desk.

Idaho City is so picturesque and atmospheric that it almost seems fake. Mostly, it reminded me of Frontierland in Disney world, and I half expected a gun-totin’ Goofy to come ambling out of the saloon. Almost every building had a story, from the schoolhouse to the Idaho World building, home of the state’s oldest running newspaper. There was a grand two-story Masonic Temple right next to the county penitentiary and, around the corner, the “Pest House”, where sick unfortunates were locked up. The old post office has been converted into a museum, which is supposed to be great, but was closed during our visit. And we saw the Pom Yam house, owned by a rich Chinese merchant — according to local lore, his ghost still floats around.

I suppose it’s a good thing that the lawless, gun-happy days of the gold rush are behind us. But for anyone nostalgic for that era, Idaho City is the perfect place to spend some time.

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September 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm Comments (3)