Graveyards: an outdoor museum thats free!

Bonanza, Custer’s underrated other half. The twin ghost towns sit at the end of the Yankee Fork Road off of Hwy 75. The ghost towns and the old Yankee Fork Dredge serve as historic attractions for tourists during the season. However, Bonanza doesn’t get as much attention as Custer. Its not as built up, there aren’t as many interpretive signs, there’s no museum, and you can’t go inside restored buildings that give you the sense of what life was like.

Bonanza was part of the Yankee Fork gold rush, one which occurred in a context of a series of numerous other gold rushes that occurred throughout the 1850’s and 60’s in the intermountain region. This contextualizes Bonanza as not just one small mining town, but a site in a sea of gold strikes, which caught national attention, especially in the context of the decline of the California gold rush being in decline, and many California miners looking east to continue to find gold. (Chang, p.4-5)

The California Gold rush was a global event, and this globalism carried through in the mining towns of Idaho in this second wave of the western gold rush that occurred in the mid nineteenth century.

Custer’s interpretive signs emphasize individuals and families in the towns, trades, and specific establishments. However, it discusses its overall population very little. Compared to the Bayhorse ghost town, the next closest historic attraction down the road, it has very little sociological overview.

Bayhorse’s interpretive signs describe the different immigrant communities that had moved to the town, what languages would have been heard on the streets, which customs were practiced.

Bonanza has this wealth of information available as well. But its not on the main road, which is the overlooked section of abandoned houses that people drive past on their way to Custer.

Five miles down a dirt road off the main gravel road is the Bonanza Cemetery. It details who lived in the area through grave sites that have been identified. The identified graves list who the people were, and their cause of death, national origin, family, and brief biographical information, if available.

In the format of exploring the cemetery, the interpretive signs at Bonanza are able to illuminate more demography than many of those at Custer. The Bonanza cemetery is incredibly scenic. Riddled with little footpaths through overgrown shrubs and grass, a walk through the Bonanza Cemetery gives a perspective on the terrain and the lives of various members of the community. It identifies not only those who had jobs but children and stay-at-home mothers as well. The Bonanza Cemetery is a scenic walk that demonstrates the classes of citizens and material conditions of wealth. The cemetery signs detail that over 40% of the population at one point in time was comprised of Chinese immigrants, the largest immigrant community. Many more residents were immigrants from other countries as well. It helps demonstrate something much larger than merely its local citizens or their living conditions. It is a fragment of evidence that shows the Gold Rush as a global event.

Ana Sherer-Estevez, Historic Specialist 2020