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Bonanza City, Idaho

Bonanza City, Idaho

Like many boomtowns gone bust, Bonanza City sprang to life almost instantly when gold was discovered, then died just as quickly after the gold ran out. Located along the Yankee Fork, a large tributary of Idaho’s upper Salmon River, Bonanza City is well worth a stop when traveling through scenic central Idaho. And while you’re here, also explore the nearby gold mining ghost town of Custer, as well as the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.

Established in 1876, the town’s name of Bonanza represented the optimism felt by early miners—which paid off richly for a great many of them. By 1881, the population of Bonanza peaked at 600 and the town boasted a dentist, a tin shop, a watchmaker, hotels, saloons, boarding houses, a post office, and even the first newspaper in Custer County, The Yankee Herald. Bonanza City prospered for over 30 years, until its glory days of gold mining faded around 1910.

From the beginning, Bonanza was a well-planned settlement. Its streets were laid out in a rectangular grid, which was quite unlike most boomtowns that tended to be constructed haphazardly. Bonanza’s main thoroughfare was wide and lined with trees, and there was a public well and a water system. Despite the latter, major fires in 1889 and 1897 destroyed much of Bonanza. But by then, the tiny town of Custer had been established two miles south, and most merchants reestablished their business there.
Bonanza City, Idaho

Not much is still intact in Bonanza today. Most of the old buildings succumb to heavy snow and windstorms each year, but they still make for interesting photos and historic reminders. It’s tempting to get out your metal detector and treasure hunt amongst the rubble, but posted signs prohibit the removal of artifacts, so stick to just taking pictures.

The historic Bonanza Cemetery, about a mile west, is a peaceful final resting place among the pines. Most of the townsfolk from both Bonanza and Custer were buried here, including some of the more colorful characters of the day. Look for the headstone of Agnes "Lizzie" King who ran Bonanza’s Arcade Saloon and Yankee Fork Dance Hall. She is buried between her two husbands. Lizzie and her second husband were mysteriously murdered just a week after their wedding. Following that tragic event, the original founder of Bonanza City, Charles Franklin, was found dead, clutching a gold locket containing Lizzie’s photo. Coincidence?!

For more information, contact Land of the Yankee Fork State Park in Challis, Idaho

Phone: (208) 879-5244

While in the area, don't miss a stop at the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.

Bonanza City, Idaho