Manuscript Details 19th-century Fiddle Music from Idaho Mining Camps
Handwritten manuscript brings to life a nearly forgotten period of American traditional music
In 1862, miners discovered gold along Warren Creek in the remote and rugged mountains of central Idaho, about 40 miles northeast of McCall. Miners from all over the world flocked to the new diggings. Because the discovery came during the Civil War, the miners established two separate camps: Camp Richmond for Southern sympathizers, and Camp Washington for Union sympathizers. Ironically, Camp Richmond was soon torn down because it had been built on top of a rich vein of gold, and the “Reb” miners moved into Camp Washington, which became known as “Warren’s Diggin’s.”
The name of the community eventually was changed to Warren, and for a while it was one of the largest towns in Idaho. In the 1980s, the bustling boom town became the backdrop for the critically acclaimed film A Thousand Pieces of Gold.
Yet, fiddlers seeking to learn the dance music played in that pioneer town have had little information to work with—until recently. The recently published Peter Beemer Manuscript is the first collection of music actually played for dancing in those colorful mining camps. It has provided a great deal of insight into the tunes, dances, and level of musicianship of pioneer dance bands in the Far West.
This handwritten manuscript was created in the mid-1860s for a dance band in the mining camp of Warren’s Diggin’s, and it contains 124 tunes. In 1961, Taylor Smith, the person to whom the manuscript was given in the 1890s by Charles Bemis, one of the violinists in the band, lent it to the Idaho Historical Society to make a microfilm copy. It was then sold to a collector, and its whereabouts went unknown until it was tracked down in 2007.
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