Saturday, September 30, 2023


Visiting Deadwood Mine and its mysterious vault. Was Geraldo Rivera here?

Idaho’s Deadwood Mine is this month’s Ghost Town Trails ghosted place.

I chose to feature the Deadwood Mine, not for its extensive remains, fortunes mined or past residents of interest. I chose the Deadwood Mine for its ornate and large vault.

During my ghost town travels, I have found plenty of safes strewn about the rubble of old businesses, Wells Fargo express offices, and the like. The doors are typically missing and the contents are long gone. However, the Deadwood Mine was never more than a remote mining camp. It wasn’t even close to being a full-blown town that would have contained banks, businesses, stage stops and the like, where cash and bullion would need safekeeping.

Lead and zinc mined at the Deadwood Mine

Most of what was mined at the Deadwood Mine was lead and zinc, which would have been too heavy and bulky for thieves to easily steal, let alone carry up a flight of stairs to a vault. Yet, the main office/residence of the Deadwood Mine contains a very ornate walk-in vault reminiscent of where safe deposit boxes are safeguarded today. What is even more interesting is that the door to the vault has been removed with a cutting torch in recent years.

Deadwood Mine vault door
Outer vault door that was removed with a cutting torch. Photo: Cheri Helgeson

I expect those who found this place long before me had visions of what riches might lay behind the vault door, as did Geraldo Rivera and The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults. However, whoever used a cutting torch to remove the outer door at the Deadwood Mine wasn’t about to share what lay behind via a live two-hour TV special event. Did they walk away with riches or just find it empty with a bit of debris, as Geraldo did? Maybe it was Geraldo himself who torched off the door to the Deadwood Mine vault! The world may never know!

Deadwood Mine history

Placer deposits in Deadwood Basin first attracted miners in the early summer of 1863, followed by a second Deadwood Basin placer gold rush in 1867. By 1868, miners discovered quartz outcrops which would lead to the discovery of the Deadwood lead-zinc deposits. However, many of the miners left the following year for richer ground.

Interest waned until 1915 when the Hall Brothers organized The Hall Interstate Mining Company to explore what lay underground. Development of the mine eventually started in 1926–27, when 2,200 feet of tunneling took place and construction commenced on a mill, along with a 250-horsepower hydroelectric power plant and camp buildings, including a large combination office and residence building. By 1929, things were rolling along when the mill treated 2,729 tons of lead-zinc ore, which yielded 415 tons of lead and zinc concentrates, which together yielded 25 ounces of gold, 17,723 ounces of silver, 13,118 pounds of copper, 165,208 pounds of lead, and 324,164 pounds of zinc.

Deadwood Mine mill
1930 photo – Mill in foreground, residence/office and boarding house in background

However, by May 1931, worthwhile ore had become scarce, and the mine was closed with just a small crew left behind to maintain the property. In June 1932, all the supplies were removed from the property.

World War II brings revival to the Deadwood Mine

The mine laid dormant until the early 1940s, when new management rehabilitated it along with the mill the following year. In 1942, a total of 7,733 tons of zinc-lead ore were mined, which yielded 240 tons of silver-lead-copper concentrates and 590 tons of zinc concentrates, which were in high demand due to World War II. Again, commercial ore in the mine became hard to locate, but with bonuses being paid by the federal government on badly needed metals like copper, lead and zinc for the war effort, the mine continued to operate.

Once the war ended and the bonuses ended, the mine struggled and eventually closed for good in 1950. Total production from 1929 to 1950 from the Deadwood Mine produced 125,793 tons of ore, which yielded 2,658.46 ounces of gold, 634,277 ounces of silver, 444,343 pounds of copper, 4,978,449 pounds of lead, and 10,176,833 pounds of zinc. (Source: History of the Deadwood Mine by Victoria E. Mitchell)

Deadwood Mill today
Present-day Deadwood Mine mill

Our visit

Upon arrival at the Deadwood Mine we found ruins of the mill with some machinery, a huge boarding house that had partially collapsed, and, oddly enough, a vintage travel trailer that has been crushed like a pancake by the winter snows. The three-story office/residence built in 1926–27 is still fully intact. It contains many lavish features you wouldn’t expect to find in a 1920s off-grid mining camp located deep in the wilds of Idaho.

The entire building was fully electrified, complete with a stout distribution panel. Baseboards and trimmed window frames grace the office and living space. Fine-grain tongue-and-groove floors are found in the office and main living areas. You will find double-hung windows that utilize window weights throughout most of the structure. The basement contains a wood-burning furnace rather than the typical woodstove found in most mining camps.

Deadwood Mine office
Geraldo emerging from the vault! Oh wait, that’s just me! Photo: Cheri Helgeson

Along the north side of the second-floor office, you will find the ornate walk-in vault mentioned at the beginning of this article. The torched outer door is off its hinges leaning up against an adjoining wall. The inner doors still swing on their hinges, allowing entry to the concrete vault.

Deadwood Mine office then and now
Office / Residence – Then and now.

Third-floor residence with a great view

The third-floor residence features a full bathroom with a built-in porcelain bathtub, built-in dressers in the bedrooms, along with a dining area, China hutch, and a pass-through to the kitchen. A side room features rows of windows along both sides of the room that drop down into the wall cavity when opened. I assume this unique feature allowed for a cooling cross breeze on warm summer days. Large windows on the third floor living room provide a commanding view of the valley below. If you have an interest in architecture or old buildings, as I do, you will enjoy touring this nearly 100-year-old structure at the Deadwood Mine.

Deadwood Mine Boarding House
Remains of the boarding house. Photo: Cheri Helgeson

Getting there

From the junction of Hwy 95 and Warm Lake Road near Cascade, Idaho: Head east on Warm Lake Road to the end of the pavement. Once the pavement ends, continue approximately 300 yards straight ahead to the junction at N44° 39.147 W115° 32.622. At the junction take a right (heading south) on the somewhat rough Landmark Stanley Road (aka NF 579) and drive approximately 14 miles to N44° 28.170 W115° 35.100, where you will find the Deadwood Mine approximately 200 yards up a side road to the east.

The entire route is suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles with medium clearance. Many “crazy Idaho RVers” travel this road all the way down to Deadwood Reservoir, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so. If you choose to travel with your RV past Warm Lake to the end of the pavement on Warm Lake Road, please read my experience doing so here.


RVs Dispersed Camping
Boondocking near the end of the pavement on Warm Lake Road


RV Parks:

The closest RV park to the Deadwood Mine is The Ranch in Donnelly.

Other RV parks in the vicinity include the Chalet Family Campground and Mountain View RV Park.


Much of Warm Lake Road passes through USFS land where boondocking is permitted. During our visit we camped at the last boondocking campsite just prior to the end of the pavement on Warm Lake Road. To find it take a right at N44° 39.196 W115°32.951 and travel into the woods approximately 200 feet, where you will find a nice campsite (pictured above) capable of holding multiple RVs. However, this campsite requires traveling up and back down the pass I shared here previously.

Past installments of Ghost Town Trails you may enjoy:

Dave will be speaking at the 2023 America’s Largest RV Show in Hershey, PA, September 13th – 17th. He would love to meet readers that are attending. Feel free to introduce yourself after one of his seminars. Breaking News – Those attending Dave’s Dry Camping Tips and Tricks seminar (10 a.m. daily) can enter to win a soft start device. One given away daily!


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.


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Neal Davis
1 month ago

Thank you, Dave!

Bill Braniff
1 month ago

My work involved the testing of cables and hoists in underground mines and ski resorts. An aside was the Eiffel Tower in France. Northern Idaho was my first involvement around the Kellogg and Wallace areas. I srtrongly suggest that if you are in the areas of Wallace and Kellogg to go visit those areas. Wallace boasts a Brothel Museum which originally was owned and started by a friend of mine who was a Mechanic at the Hecla mine I believe. Lots of fun things to see and do while learning about the history of a very important part of underground mining.

1 month ago

Geraldo, a Lead (and Zinc) Mine and Al Capone. Somehow they do conjure up a narrative. How useless nothing wasted hours of my life. The suspense was murder.

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