I am always alert to interesting avalanche stories having spent many years as an avalanche forecaster and control professional. So when we stumbled across the tiny ghost town of Custer City, Idaho and discovered the role avalanches had played I was immediately intrigued. There are two avalanche stories associated with Custer City that survive to this day. One brought fortune and the other brought tragedy. Searching a hillside near the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River in August 1876, three men stumbled upon a rich vein of gold ore that had been exposed by an avalanche from the previous winter. The site was to become the most famous mine in this part of Idaho. The ensuing community was named after General George Custer.
The second avalanche saga occurred on February 2, 1890. Avalanches began to rain down all around Custer City with the mine whistle sounding the alarm to the community. One large avalanche crashed down from Bald Mt. and into the home of Nels and Mary Johnson. The house was plucked from its foundation and sent across the Yankee Fork. The parents were pulled to safety but three daughters, Olga (10), Anne (6), and Josephine (4) perished. Other avalanches prevented burial in the community cemetery so the three girls were laid to rest as shown in the photo.
Thirty Five years later, the gold is gone and the town became a ghost. Custer City’s remains offer a fascinating glimpse into a significant slice of Western history.
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