A Brief History
Looking West on Earle Street
Mullan, Idaho was named for United States Army Captain John Mullan who, in 1850, was given the task of building a 640 mile, twenty-five foot wide road to connect the headwaters of the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Montana to the headwaters of the Columbia River in Walla Walla, Washington. This road, called the Military Road, cut a trail across Idaho’s panhandle in 1859 and 1860.
In the 1880’s, gold was discovered, and this led to the Murray Gold Rush of 1884. During the winter of 1884, four men spent the winter in what is now known as the Mullan area. In May of 1884, Joseph Hunter and Frank Moore discovered the silver-lead lode destined to become the Gold Hunter Mine. In less than a month, George Good and C.C. Earle staked the Morning and Evening Lode claims downstream from the Hunter. The Grouse Claim, an extension of the Morning Mine, was also located in 1884. In September, the Atlas lode, or Carbonate Hill, was found.
The population of the Mullan area was made up mostly of transient prospectors until 1886 when the first real settlers began to arrive. In those early days, long trains of covered wagons were a common sight as part of the last great migration to the West. Among the mushroom “tent” towns that sprang up, Mullan became the principal camp because of its central location, and the Gold Hunter and the Morning Mines gave the town the foundation of a substantial payroll.
The leading mine was the Morning, the second largest mine in the Coeur d’Alene’s, situated on Chloride Hill in the Hunter Mining district two miles from Mullan. The mine had a work force of 100 men.
The Hunter Mine, situated on Hunter Gulch three-quarters of a mile north of the river, also employed about 100 men. These were the original Hunter Claims.
In the early years, Mullan was a wide-open mining town with a dozen bars, dance halls, and brothels. Most of the men at that time were single. Many of the men lived in rooming houses near the mines where they worked, and they ate their meals at boarding houses. The biggest boarding house serving Mullan miners was called “The Beanery.” The Beanery was owned and operated by the Morning Mine and was located on Mill Road. It was considered the largest rooming/boarding house in the state and served meals and provided beds to 400-500 miners. The “Beanery” kitchen was open twenty-four hours a day providing hot meals to miners working all shifts. In addition, the Beanery staff made lunches for men to take to work and also did their laundry.
Mullan built its first school in 1890.
The period of time between 1892 and 1900 was a time of labor disputes, strikes, violence, and hard feelings throughout the district. A miners’ union was formed in Mullan in 1890 and had fifty members.
The first miners’ strike was broken up by a battalion of the United States Army in 1892. Idaho Governor Willey petitioned President Harrison to allow martial law to be declared in Shoshone County. Shoshone County remained under martial law for four months.
In 1899 the miners held another strike, and Governor Frank Stunenberg petitioned President McKinley to place Mullan along with the rest of Shoshone County under martial law. Again, the United States Army sent in troops. This time martial law lasted for over one year. The governor impeached all the elected officials in the county and took control of the press. A barbed wire enclosure was built in the town of Kellogg and over 900 miners were held in what was referred to as the “Bull Pen.”
Deputies arrested every man in Mullan, along with the men of Burke and Gem. All miners suspected of union involvement were terminated from their jobs and blacklisted forever from employment. As the Mullan Road and the railroad were watched, the miners, attempting to avoid arrest, hiked to Montana through the snow. Some of these miners sought safety in Canada; others returned to Mullan, working under assumed names.
During the 1880’s the Mullan Road was re-built and connected the Coeur d’Alenes directly with the Transcontinental Railroad. The OWR & N and Northern Pacific Railroads were completed in 1889.
In 1891, standard-gage railways served all the mines in Mullan, Kellogg and Burke, beginning a long period of production of lead, silver, and zinc.
Mullan’s Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1894 and, in the early 1900’s boasted three fire stations in the town.
The first attempt to incorporate Mullan was in 1903. This effort to incorporate 19,045 acres on the Mullan Road failed because of a disagreement on land ownership between the incorporators and the mine owners. In 1913 there was finally clear title to the land and incorporation took place.
Many of the early residents of Mullan were immigrants who considered alcohol to be a part of their native countries culture. In 1916, the voters of Idaho approved state-wide prohibition of all liquor. This state-wide liquor law was in effect until 1920 when Idaho ratified the National Prohibition Law. The National Prohibition Laws remained in effect until 1933 when they were repealed.
Prohibition was ignored by numerous Mullan and other country residents. Making and selling liquor provided needed income for poor families. Many widowed miners’ wives attempted to support their families by selling bootleg liquor out of their homes. Early newspaper reports tell of Finnish immigrants skiing down Lookout Pass from Montana carrying liquor in rucksacks. One article, in a 1918 Mullan newspaper, tells of a bootlegging “Finlander” killed by a bullet in his back as he attempted to flee from revenuers. The locals referred to the bootleggers’ route as the “Old Moonshine Trail” which ran from Rainy Creek at Taft, Montana, followed the ridge west to Printer Gulch, and then into Wallace.
In 1888 Mullan had a population of 800. In 1894 the population had grown to 1,200. In 1908 Mullan had a population of 1,800, and in 1920 the population had grown to 2,000. Mullan had a population of 2,027 in 1950. That same year the Morning Mine closed and many mining jobs were lost. A major fire at the mine in 1957 seemed to seal its fate. This was the beginning of Mullan’s population decline.
Today, the Lucky Friday Mine is the only remaining silver mine near Mullan. In December of 2011, MSHA federal mine safety inspectors ordered the Lucky Friday Mine to close until specific safety issues were addressed. The mine is expected to reopen by February of 2013. Many miners have temporarily left the area to seek work in other mines. At this time, according to the latest U.S. census, Mullan’s population is currently around 690.
The Mullan Historical Society was formed in 1984. The Captain John Mullan Museum, located in the former Liberty Theater, was opened to the public in 1985. Hecla Mining Company, owner of the Lucky Friday, Morning, and Star mines feels that, with metal prices rising, the future looks bright for Mullan and the county.
Mullan Museum Hours
June 1 through August 31
Monday through Friday
10:00 am to 4:00 pm