Adventures in Auburn

September 25, 2003 12:00 am
Third-grade students from Baker City participated in an outdoor school Wednesday, where H.H. Griffin discovered gold and later was laid to rest. The Old Auburn town site and cemetery was the classroom for about 150 students. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Third-grade students from Baker City participated in an outdoor school Wednesday, where H.H. Griffin discovered gold and later was laid to rest. The Old Auburn town site and cemetery was the classroom for about 150 students. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Samantha Stone knows a bit more about Auburn than her classmates.

"I live here," she says, stepping around ancient burial plots at the Boot Hill Cemetery.

Technically, she lives down the road from this former gold mining town, but her great-grandparents and great-uncle are buried here, she says, and she's toured the area before.

On Wednesday, 150 other third-graders from North Baker, South Baker and Brooklyn elementary schools had the chance to explore the abandoned mining town of Auburn, located about seven miles south of Baker City off Highway 7.

"It ties in with our social studies and science curriculum," said Emmy Albrecht, who teaches third grade at South Baker.

Third-graders study Baker County history.

Seven stations were set up west of the original townsite, offering the students a taste of the history and a tour of the cemetery, a lesson on the native plants, trees, animals and insects, and a peek into log cabins that resemble the original homes.

Phil Stone started the tour with a bit of mining history.

"Do you guys know who Henry Griffin was? He built the first cabin in Baker County," Stone told one group of students.

Griffin and David Littlefield first discovered gold several miles north of Auburn, at an area now called Griffin Gulch.

That was in October 1861.

What followed was the worst winter, Stone said, with 14 feet of snow.

When Griffin and Littlefield sought supplies at Fort Walla Walla, they blabbed a little too much.

"When they got up there to get supplies, they paid with gold," Stone said.

Then the miners revealed the location.

By spring of 1862 there were 150 men at Auburn.

By autumn of the same year, the population was 6,000.

"They just kept diverting the creek to do their panning," Stone said. "Most of the gold here was surface gold."

Once the gold dried up, the miners moved on to stake other claims.

"And when everybody left, they just abandoned their houses," Stone said.

Farther up the hill, students settled down on the dry grass and pine needles to hear Dick Micka tell a few stories from the rough and tumble days of Auburn.

"There were 6,000 men. That's not counting the women or Chinese," he said. "Back in those days, they only counted men — white men."

Then he offered the children two stories before they ventured into the Boot Hill Cemetery.

The first was about French Pete, a miner who poisoned his partner by sprinkling strychnine into the flour sack.

One batch of hotcakes and his partner was a goner.

"Then he had the gold all to himself," Micka said.

Unfortunately for Pete, his scheme was spoiled when a dog licked up some flour and dropped dead.

After testing the powdery substance, the local authorities took action.

"So this is what happened to French Pete," Micka said, lifting a knotted noose in the air.

"They hung him," a third-grader exclaimed.

Spanish Tom was the second Auburn character Micka described. Tom is known for stabbing two men he thought were cheating him.

Again, the noose was the punishment for these crimes.

"Two of the men Spanish Tom killed are buried in his cemetery," Micka said.

On the lighter side of Auburn's history, South Baker third-grade teacher Amy Micka showed the students through two log cabins.

Though the buildings aren't original — they're only 60 years old — they give the children a rough idea of life at the mining town.

A few of the third-graders weren't sure what they'd do for fun as a n 8-year-old living at Auburn.

"I'd keep myself busy with my horse, if I had one," said Leah Burt.

"If an animal was hurt, I'd help it," said Courtney Nees.

Erin Guyer, 8, said she "maybe" would have liked to live at Auburn in the 1800s.

What about using an outhouse? Or hauling her own water to the kitchen?

"Um, no," she said, shaking her head.