Boise Basin Expedition

 

Below, is a list of the men who participated in the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin drainage area in 1862. Some of you know this expedition as the "Grimes Party."

This list of expedition members can be found in various Idaho History books by the following authors: Bryon Defenbach, James Hawley, and John Hailey, just to name a few of the most known authors of such books. Additionally, the list is found in the book, Ka-Mi-Akin, Last Hero of the Yakimas, by A. J. Splawn. A. J. Splawn was the youngest brother of Moses Splawn. Although the Ka-Mi-Akin book pertains mostly to the settling of central Washington state, he included a chapter dedicated to his brother's participation in the Idaho Boise Basin gold discovery.

Branstetter, Joseph
Antoine and Philipe - Azores Portuguese Men
Fogus, David H.
Grimes, George W.
Miller, D. W.
Reynolds, John
Splawn, Moses Splawn Mining Claims
Westenfelder, Jacob
Wilson
1 Unknown

Based upon my research of the Boise Basin Expedition members for the last fourteen years, I prefer to give credit where credit is due.Moses Splawn should be credited with finding the Boise Basin gold. Yes, George Grimes was a co-leader, having attempted to catch up with Tom Turner who was enroute to look for gold along a tributary of the Snake River. Instead of finding Turner, Grimes and his seven men caught up with Moses Splawn and seven men he had recruited from the Turner party. Both Grimes and Splawn joined forces to look for the gold that Splawn stated could be found in the northern mountains beyond the future town site of Boise, Idaho.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the only reason history has referenced George Grimes as the leader of this discovery party was because he was killed soon after the gold was discovered. One can easily understand that people would use the Grimes Party as a familiar way of referencing the name of the man who was killed and that he was a member of the group of men who found the gold. Thus, after repeated references to the "Grimes Party" history accepted that George Grimes had to have been the leader since his name was most often spoken with the word, "party."

Subsequent newspaper articles written soon after the gold rush to Boise Basin further perpetuate the myth, and mix fact with fiction regarding that renowned gold discovery. The Boise News of Idaho City is one of many newspaper accounts that continues to build the myth that Grimes was the one man who "opened up the territory to the most extensive gold fields on the Continent."

On into the 1900's the Grimes myth continued to build momentum, as indicated by an article in the Idaho Statesman reporting that the Grimes grave atop a pass near Pioneerville will be marked with a monument. Another article, this time from the Evening Capitol News adds additional embellishment onto the story of Grimes and his participation in the gold discovery. This article reports that five acres of land is being donated by the forest service to the Sons of Idaho, who intend to place a granite monument at the present burial site of George Grimes. Placing of a monument is commendable, however, the reporter states that a Shoshone Indian guide killed Grimes. This erroneous claim is without merit as there is no evidence available yet that proves or disproves who actually shot and killed George Grimes.

In the fall of 1926, a monument is erected at the Grimes gravesite by the Sons of the Pioneers. Former Idaho Governor, James Hawley, gave a lengthy historical speech detailing events that led to the creation of the state of Idaho. In his address, he spoke of the first gold discovery by men, led by Moses Splawn and George Grimes. According to the Idaho Statesman article, that soon after discovering Grimes's body, the remaining members were thrown into total panic without Grimes's esteemed leadership. This statement is totally false because the members of the expedition were seasoned miners who were used to the rigors of the wilderness and in defending themselves against hostile Indians.

For the last 14 years, I have researched these men. I have yet to find any information that Grimes had knowledge of gold being located in the Boise Basin. Nor did he have any knowledge of its existence. However, recent research suggests that he might have had first hand knowledge of gold being found in the Snake River drainage areas because he was a member of a wagon train headed to Oregon in 1845. This discovery is known as the "Blue Bucket" gold which was indeed found by members of an 1845 wagon train.

Moses Splawn, on the other hand, HAD detailed knowledge of gold being located in the mountains of present-day Boise County. He was made aware of this information from his gold hunting in northern Idaho during the spring, summer, and fall of 1861. He became friendly with a Bannock Indian who later told him of plentiful gold to be found further south of their location around Florence, Idaho. This Indian gave Splawn detailed information and descriptions of the area enough that Splawn could locate the exact terrain. This information can be found in the aforementioned books on Idaho History, written by numerous authors. I mostly take my information from A.J. Splawn's book, Ka-Mi-Akin, Last Hero of the Yakimas.

Splawn was an experienced man used to the rigors of inclement weather, dealings with unsavory characters, and with Indians. He knew that he would need a sufficient number of men to scout the wilderness around the Basin because of hostile Indians. Therefore, he joined with Tom Turner who was already going to be in that area looking for the "Blue Bucket" gold. When the expected great quantity of gold that the legend stated was not found, Splawn tried to convince Turner to join with him on his quest. He did persuade seven men to join him and while en route to the Old Fort Boise Oregon Trail crossing of the Snake River, he encountered Grimes and his seven men who were trying to catch up with the Turner Party. Splawn convinced Grimes that he and his men should join with him to search for gold that he felt did exist in the mountains; mountains that lay north of the Boise River valley.

That encounter was the first time that Grimes knew of the gold in the Basin. I have researched the mining claim records for most of the Pacific Northwest and have not found ANY mining claim filed by George Grimes.

Another interesting story is the question of who killed George Grimes. Upon returning to Walla Walla for supplies and more men, the prospectors reported that Grimes had been killed by the Indians. During my research, I have uncovered a chilling account that one of the men in the party killed Grimes. A friend, who is now deceased, said she had met the great grand daughter of Joseph Branstetter. This woman reportedly told my friend that her great grand father had killed Grimes because he was a mean son of a gun, and deserved death. I have not been successful in locating the great grand daughter. Branstetter was known (behind his back) as Bloody Joe.

Before anyone who may be related to Joe Branstetter gets up in arms about this information, please be aware that I have found no evidence suggesting that Branstetter and Grimes even knew each other before this expedition.

And I've heard other opinions that Splawn killed Grimes for his gold. That is totally incorrect. Splawn had faults like anyone else, but greed was not in his nature. Many times he walked away from paying claims to look for gold in other localities. The bottom line for Splawn's search for gold was that he just liked looking for it and loved the wilderness experience.

However, I have another suspect in mind. Jacob Westenfelder, according to family lore, had a hot temper and had left Baden, Germany, under suspiscious circumstances. He was well known as a sharp shooter before leaving Germany. He arrived in Oregon Territory in 1852 and settled in Silverton, Oregon Territory. He joined the army and fought in the Rogue River Indian wars. Another comrade in the army was George Grimes. According to Moses Splawn's account of the expedition, Grimes and Westenfelder got into an argument and had drawn guns on one another. Splawn intervened and stopped the men from shooting each other. Westenfelder is more likely to have been the man who shot Grimes, either on purpose or accidently. No one will know for certain but my research of Westenfelder indicates that he was a volatile person and his hot temper caused his untimely death a few years after the Boise Basin gold discovery.

Then again, Grimes could have been mistakenly killed by friendly fire during the Indian attack as described by Splawn in his written (and allegedly signed) account of the expedition.

Changing history of events so long ago probably will be an uphill battle. That is why researchers, such as myself, shed light upon the facts as they are uncovered and clarify events. Besides, everyone loves a good mystery, and history is full of that.


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Last updated October 2008