Mining History Association

13th Annual Conference, June 19-23, 2002

Coeur d' Alene Mining District

Wallace Inn, Wallace, Idaho


The 13th Annual Conference of the Mining History Association was held in Wallace, Idaho, June 19-23, 2002.  Wallace is near the eastern end of the Coeur d’ Alene Mining District.  The name comes from that given to the Native Americans of the region by the early French trappers and traders in the late 18th century.  The “pointed hearts” or “Coeur d’ Alenes” (heart of an awl) referred to their shrewdness in trading.  Interstate 90 traverses the district through the Silver Valley, as it crosses the Idaho Panhandle.  As you drive through the forested mountains of the Coeur d’ Alene you see headframes, mine dumps, and monuments that make a mining historian’s heart beat faster.  What you don’t see are the hundreds of miles of underground workings.  What you don’t hear are the thousands of adventurous stories that accompany this 130-year-old, world class mining district. 

The population of Wallace was less than a thousand in 2002, but the business district is about the same as it was when the mines were booming and there were four times the number of residents.  The town is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The main venue for the conference was the Wallace Inn and Conference Center.  Virtually all the services and city attractions are contained in the ten square blocks of downtown, an easy walk from the Center. The Wallace District Mining Museum and the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum are “must see” downtown attractions. The Wallace Visitor Center, just off the Interstate, is an excellent source for maps and other useful information.  The adjacent park contains a wonderful statue of the Sunshine Miner and His Family and the Mining Heritage Exposition with a number of excellent mining equipment-related displays.

Field trips and tours gave conference participants the opportunity to visit many parts of the district.  Underground tours were arranged at the Galena Mine near Wallace and the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullen.  In Burk Canyon in 1882, the Frisco Mill was dynamited by union miners during a labor war.  The surface buildings of the Hecla Mine can also be seen in Burk.  Murray, north of Wallace, was an important gold placer and hardrock mining area.  Between Wallace and Kellogg, along Big Creek, the Sunshine Mine was the site of a disastrous fire in 1972 which killed 91 miners.  A memorial to those who died is located along I-90.  Kellogg and Wardner are home to the inactive Bunker Hill Mine. Since the 1980’s, a massive Superfund clean-up has removed the smelter, concentrator, and a fertilizer plant which used sulfuric acid from the smelter.  Only the foundations of these once huge facilities remain.  Tailings and slag dumps have been stabilized to prevent further erosion by the South Fork of the Coeur d’ Alene River.  The hillsides where sulfur dioxide had killed all vegetation are now turning green again thanks to revegetation efforts.

The people of Wallace call their hometown “the Silver Capital of the World.”  They may brag that the district has the deepest, richest, and largest silver mines in the United States: the Star-Morning, Sunshine, Bunker Hill, and Lucky Friday mines.  Click here for a map of mine locations. (Courtesy, Wallace Mining Museum, 2011). Through 2010, the district had produced metals valued at over $6.6 billion.  In 2002, at the time of the conference, the silver price was low and the deep and rich mines were becoming uneconomic.  All but one mine was in the process of closing.  The town was losing many of its experienced underground miners to the more profitable platinum/palladium mines in Montana or to the open-pit gold mines of Nevada. Fortunately, by 2011, the silver price had risen dramatically and mining and exploration were back on the upswing. 

Northern Idaho has many other natural assets.  The mountains, streams, and lakes make for some of the nation’s best fishing and hunting. Wintertime skiing is available at the Lookout Mountain and the Silver Mountain Recreation Areas.  Ten miles west down the Interstate from Wallace is the old Bunker Hill mining and smelting town of Kellogg, which claims the world’s longest gondola ride.  The Staff House Mining Museum contains mining and cultural artifacts and the mine models from this huge underground complex.  More than a hundred miles of old mining and railroad rights-of-way, including tunnels and trestles, have been converted to hiking and biking trails.  The 73 mile long Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes runs through the heart of the mining district and along beautiful Lake Coeur d’ Alene.  Perhaps the most spectacular is the Route of the Hiawatha Rail Trail.  The 15 mile Idaho section of this trail includes the 1.7 mile long Milwaukee Railroad St. Paul Pass (“Taft”) Tunnel, 8 smaller tunnels, and 7 high trestles.  Bikers can enjoy the entire trip downhill and take a shuttle bus back to the top of the pass.

(Adapted from the September and December 2001 and the March 2002 Mining History News)

Statue of the Sunshine Miner and His Family, Wallace Visitors' Center.


Historic Bank Street, Downtown Wallace.


Great Northern Railroad Museum and Historic Depot.

Bars and the Oasis Bordello Museum (right) are part of Wallace’s colorful history.




Welcoming Reception, Wallace Visitor’s Center, June 20, 2002

Awards Banquet, Wallace Elks Club, June 21, 2002

Presidential Luncheon, Wallace Inn, June 22, 2002


Wallace District Mining Museum Tour, June 20, 2002 

Trolley Tour of Historic Wallace, June 20, 2002

Murray Gold District, Sunshine Mine, and Burk Canyon Tours

Lucky Friday Mine, Galena Mine, and Bunker Hill Tours


Idaho Division of Tourism

Wallace Chamber of Commerce

Kellogg Chamber of Commerce

Hiawatha Rail Trail



Ray Chapman, “History of Idaho’s Silver Valley, 1878-2000,” (Kellogg, ID: Chapman Publishing Company, 2000).

John Fahey, “The Ballyhoo Bonanza,” (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971).

John Fahey, “The Days of Hercules,” (Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press, 1978).

John Fahey, “Hecla, A Century of Western Mining,” (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991).

Patricia Hart and Ivar Nelson, “Mining Town,” (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984).

J. Anthony Lucas, “Big Trouble,” (New York” Simon and Schuster, 1997).

Richard G. Magnuson, “Coeur d’ Alene Diary,” (Portland, OR: Metro Press, 1983).

Gregg Olsen, “The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America’s Richest Silver Mine,” (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005).

Robert Smith, “History of Placer and Quartz Mining in the Coeur d’ Alene District,” (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1993).

William T. Stoll, “Silver Strike,” (Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press, 1932, 1991 Reprint).

John V. Wood, “Railroads through the Coeur d’ Alenes,” (Caldwell: Claxton Printers, 1993).



John Amonson

Jeremy Mouat

Carlos Schwantes

Bob Weldin




Welcoming Reception at the Wallace Visitors' Center and Mining Heritage Exposition Park.

Old friends and new get together at the Reception..



Johnny Johnsson and Jim Besleme on the field trip to the Sunshine Mine.


Where did you find that mine car, Dawn?


Mining Heritage Exposition, Wallace, ID.

(Above) Eimco Mucker with ore car, timber car, and mine motor (locomotive).


(Left) Evolution Mine headframe and hoist.



Ore bucket and cage at the Evolution Shaft.

Hand steel and drill bits galore.

Photo Credits: Johnny Johnnson and Mike Kaas

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