Ghost Town of Idanha, Oregon

Ghost Town of Idanha, Oregon

Modern day Idanha is little more then a collection of houses and a gas station and quick stop market in the middle of nowhere these days.

Yet, if not for the political maneuverings of Portland railroad interests in the late 1800s, the town would have much more prominence then it does now.

John Minto, in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol 4, No 1 reports (in 1903) that the pass fell out of favor among the Indians due to family feuds between the Mollalas and the Cayuses which originally been the same tribe. The exact nature of the feud is most likely lost to history, but the Indians beliefs that the spirits of fallen warriors took on (or entered) animals such as Wolves, Panthers and Bears made the route less favorable. From a practical standpoint, the passes deep walls lent themselves well to ambushes which no doubt helped it’s lack of use.

Like so much of the Pacific Northwest, the Hudson Bay Company was the first white men in this area. They used these old trails until about 1844 to 1845, about the time that beaver had been hunted to extinction or “trapped out,” as the old saying went. Stephen L. Meek had heard of the pass while wintering with some ex-Hudson Bay Company employees near the Willamette (most likely on or very near “French Prarie,”) and attempted to lead a party of immigrants through it and into the Willamette Valley in the Summer of 1845. A combination of low supplies, bad luck, and a rock that hid the passes’ entrance led to Meek running for his life.

This, and another failure by Dr. E. White, sub-agent for the Indians of Oregon led to settlers putting together an official party to explore and map the pass for future immigration. Led by Colonel Cornelius Gilliam the party found the pass but came to a “scaly rock mountain” that was plainly impassible to wagons of any sort.

The next record of the pass being used was not until October of 1873 when hunters found their way there. They informed John Minto who later wrote the account in third person. Minto convinced others to create a committee to explore and survey the pass, which was done in 1874.

The success of the survey was it’s very undoing though. Third parties unrelated to the wagon road survey and interested in an easier route across the Cascade Mountains, filed articles of incorporation to create a rail road through the pass to Winnemuca, Nevada. Afterwards no one was willing to invest money for a wagon road when their hard work was likely to be wiped out by the rail road.

A small group of people did form an association, raised $1,800 and managed to build a stock trail through the pass. It’s reported by Minto that another $1,800 would have finished up the wagon road, but no more money was forthcoming. It remained in light use by horses until 1880.

The Honorable John B. Waldo, taking a summer vacation in the area reported that he found a “lower” pass only 7 or 8 miles south of the stock road. He convinced John Minto to approach Marion County and request money to re-open the stock road. Minto did so in the spring of 1881. Minto, having some money left over, convinced the County to let him have it in return for a better exploration of the pass. This was done, and a better, flatter route for rail road use was found.

Colonel T. E. Hogg’s real name is somewhat in question, but his actions are not. Leader of a Rebel squad during the American Civil War, they seized a steamer traveling between San Francisco and Idaho (via the Columbia River,) then sailed the steamer to Belize, Honduras. Informing the British that it was Confederate Blockade Runner, he illegally sold the cargo. But the crew identified him and sent the British Authorities after him. He eluded capture and showed up in Panama to attempt the same again.

The plan was to seize the steamship Salvador, give it guns and a Confederate Flag and to rob the opium trade ships coming in to California from China. This plan failed and Hogg was sentenced to hang. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment which he served at San Quentin prison. As part of the General Amnesty in 1866 he was let go.

With the help of English publicist Wallis Nash (then in San Francisco at the time,) he convinced the citizens of Corvallis that we was there to build wagon roads. It soon came to light that his real eye was on the “free” lands the United States Government was giving out to help finance new railroads all across the country. Through skullduggery, deceit, and outright lying, Hogg actually successfully managed to build a railroad from Newport Bay to Albany.

In 1878 or 1880 (two different sources) the railroad was renamed from the Corvallis and Eastern Railroad to the Oregon Pacific Railroad with the lofty goal of creating a transcontinental railroad. The railroad slowly extended eastwards. Supplies had to be shipped into Yaquina Bay (at Newport Oregon,) at the head of the railroad and then shipped east. Even though the railroad was connected to Portland at Albany, the connection was owned by Henry Villard of the Western Oregon Railroad in Portland, who did not allow any western bound trains on to the competing line.

In 1889, at Camp 11 or later Muskrat Camp money for the railroad finally ran out. Millions of dollars were unaccounted for, and Hogg was removed as head of the railroad in 1893.

About 1895 there was a land rush in the area. A resort hotel was built and enough residents lived in the area to necessitate a post office headed by Alma Kriesel and the town’s official name change to Idanha. Lewis A. McArthur in “Oregon Geographic Names” says that the town got the name from the owner of the resort hotel. Fred J. Kiesel of Ogden, Utah incorporated “The Natural Mineral Water Company” which bottled Idan-Ha water in Soda Springs, Idaho. McArthur also states that Kiesel had two brothers active in Idanha, Oregon. He also notes that the Kiesel and Kriesel names both originate in Germany, so it’s possible one of the brothers named the town in honor of Fred J. Kiesel’s operations.

He also goes on to point out that Idan-Ha was the Indian name for a legend of the Spirit of the Healing Waters, which would dovetail nicely into a resort hotel and the “Cure” craze that was going on in the United States at the time.

A.B. Hammond and E.L. Bonner purchased the railroad during the bankruptcy for $100,000 and turned it into a lumber railroad. The railroad ran under various names until the construction of the Detroit Dam in 1950 forced the line to be abandoned. At this time Idanha’s population was 442 people, the number faded to 382 in 1978, and estimated at 230 in 2007.

9 Responses to “Ghost Town of Idanha, Oregon

  • That is a rather long and sorted history for a town that now hold a mere 230 people. Coming from Portland it is hard for me to imagine living in a town that has almost as many people in it as my Face Book friends list. Thanks for the informative history lesson.

    • I grew up in Lyons, Oregon population 900 people. Idanha is about 34 miles from Lyons and although it looks mostly abandoned as you drive through it on HWY 22 there is a road to your right, right after the abandoned mill and there is a pretty good sized neighborhood of people and houses. I wouldn’t really call it a “ghost town” as the only thing that is really abandoned is the old mill and all thats left of that is huge concrete slabs.

  • Idanha may only have 230 people living there now, but it’s home to hundreds more. I grew up there my parents still live in Idanha and I still call it home…

  • The pass is some 28 miles above Idanha, and some of this sounds more like Detroit since that is actually where the gas station is .. As for halfling, the quality of friends is more important then the quantity of.. Smalls towns at least don’t have to deal with the gangs and all the other crime larger cities have. Don’t knock it! Its home and its pretty here.. and hardly a ghost town!

  • Excuse me, but I happen to live in Idanha, our population is closer to 143. We are NOT a ghost town. We all love our city and want to help to keep it viable.So ditch this talk about us being a ghost town.

    • Thank you for stopping by Dena! Do you have any stories about Idanha that you’d like to share? How about how it should be pronounced?

  • Hi…I grew up here as a child. It was pronounced by us locals as (eye-dan-uh) Idanha. My grandfather owned a store there and had a logging company. I really loved the sound of the river. I remember the mill across from where I lived and watching the men float the logs into the mill. They seemed to agile as the stood on the logs! Idanha is always my hometown.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jill! If you have any better photos of what the town used to look like, I’d love to show them off here.

      • I don’t have any pictures, so sorry. Idanha used to have a gas station on the edge of town. It is no longer there. I had my 7th birthday in the great room above the volunteer fire station. I miss my hometown.

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