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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:


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

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)

Go West, Young Men!

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$17+ Save on Car Rentals in Top Cities Nationwide!

Since we’re never on one continent for long, we don’t own a car. But during our 91 days in Idaho, the ability to drive was an absolute requirement. Luckily, my parents generously let us borrow their second car. “If that’s the price of having you in America”, reasoned my mother, “then I suppose it’s worth it”. Yep, mom, that’s the price. Now give me the keys.

Ultimate Road Trip

Over 2000 miles separate Springfield, Ohio from Cascade, Idaho, and we split the 33-hour journey into three days. Google Maps suggested we speed along Interstate 80, through Nebraska’s interminable farmland and southern Wyoming. That sounded boring, so we tweaked the directions a bit. It would be a bit longer, but when you’re already going to be on the road for three days, you might as well enjoy yourself.

The first day was the worst — through west-central Ohio, Indiana, central Illinois and then Iowa. Twelve hours of corn, soy, corn, Peoria, corn and cows. The highlight was probably the soy (sorry, Peoria). We listened to Sufjan Stevens’ album Illinois albumIllinois as we cut through the state which inspired it, and then put on some Korean Pop for the stretch through Iowa. Iowa looked like it needed some K-Pop.

It was around 8pm when we arrived at South Sioux City, just over the Nebraska-Iowa border, and pulled into the Budget Host Inn. When a motel’s parking lot is filled with sketchy people in lawn furniture drinking Busch Lite, it’s usually a sign to stay away. But it’s also a sign of economical pricing. Yes, there were bloody scab-boogers crusted onto the sheets, and the room smelled faintly of butane and pickles, but a bargain is a bargain.

Neverending Street

South Sioux City might have more to recommend itself than nasty motels, but we wouldn’t know. We went to bed immediately and left at dawn on the next morning, for an entertaining day on the road. Highway 20, also known as the Bridges to Butte Scenic Byway, skirts across northern Nebraska within five miles of the South Dakota border. The empty, perfectly-maintained road cuts through beautiful, undulating countryside, and made for fun driving.

As we crossed into Wyoming, the landscape became ever more dramatic. Past Sheridan, we took Highway 14, which ascends into the Bighorn Mountains. The sun was getting low in the sky, and we pulled over in order to look back east over the flat, endless land we’d just traversed. These were the first mountains we had reached, and it felt as though we’d finally arrived in the Great American West.

We spent the night in Greybull, Wyoming: as western as a town gets. A massive guy welcomed us into the Greybull Historic Inn, and recommended dinner at the saloon. The bar was rocking and we probably could have gotten into a game of billiards with the locals, but we were too exhausted to be social. And another big day loomed in front of us. The final segment of our journey would take us through Yellowstone National Park into Idaho…

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August 25, 2012 at 11:35 pm Comments (5)
The Pioneer Cemeteries of Idaho City and Grimes 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.
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