A Brief History of Wallace, Idaho

At the heart of the Silver Valley, Wallace has always been a town of boom and bust.

Founded in 1884, the town is named for William R. Wallace, a local farmer. Silver mining would soon replace agriculture, and the community that emerged around Wallace's small cabin would soon develop into a regional center for the Silver Valley mining industry. The town boomed in 1884 with the discovery of the Poorman and Tiger silver lodes. Additional lodes of precious metals were soon discovered, forming one of the largest Silver deposits in the United States. By 1886, the town's population surpassed five hundred, continuing to grow with new access to the railroad.

In 1890, Wallace had its first brush with disaster when a fire tore through town, burning the town's timber buildings. After the fire, the town was reconstructed with brick, in the hopes of reducing the risk of fire. In August of 1910 the stage was set for a great fire storm which would ravage Washington and Northern Idaho. The heat and dry summer conditions aided in the spread of fire and its destructive wake. The fire, known as the "Big Burn" destroyed at least one-third of Wallace and killed over eighty people in the Inland Northwest. Wallace had no sooner recovered when a second disaster struck. The Great Flood of 1913, caused by heavy rains and a swollen river, unleashed a torrent of water in northern Idaho. Several towns were inundated with flood water, even washing a train from its tracks.

Each time Wallace rebuilt, financed by the apparently inexhaustible veins of silver in the surrounding mountains. Labor troubles as well as natural disasters roiled the Silver Valley as mine owners and their employees battled over working conditions and labor costs. In 1892, mining violence erupted between the two sides as the Frisco Mill was destroyed by explosives killing several people. Then, the following year, the price of silver collapsed causing many mines to temporarily shut down. By 1899, tensions grew as mine owners tried to break the unions, causing workers to resort to violence. After seventeen workers were terminated for joining a union, workers used dynamite to destroy the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mines.

Responding to the pleas of the mine owners and Idaho's Governor Steunenberg, President McKinley sent troops from Fort George Wright in Spokane to restore order to the region. These were African-American Buffalo soldiers. The use of black troops to suppress white miners was a great shock to many at a time when white supremacy was the law of the land.

Mining tapered off after World War II, and Wallace shrank in size and importance. Wallace's population peaked at nearly four thousand in 1940s and has slowly declined each decade since to less than 800 in 2010. Today Wallace is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can walk the streets of town and catch a glimpse of mining life in Wallace. Filled with old buildings and mining history, the town of Wallace is an important link to the past of northern Idaho and Inland Northwest. Going to Wallace one takes a trip back in time, experiencing life as it was one hundred years ago.