Two mining towns in Idaho were decidedly unlucky. There were productive mines associated with them, and some miners found their fortunes. But the towns themselves, Burke and Mace, about 3.5 miles north of Mullan and a quarter-mile apart, each had a double dose of bad luck.
On February 27, 1890, 16 people died when a midnight snowslide 3000 feet long and 75 feet deep buried the Mace, Idaho.
Mrs. R.H. Pasco heard the rumble of the slide and sat up in bed, wondering what was going on. Then, the mountain of snow hit, flipping her bed on its side and pinning her beneath it up against the wall. Rescuers found her pinned beneath the twisted bed frame, the only survivor of her family of four.
Mrs. George Gibson owed her life to a man who saw a single finger protruding above the snow. After being buried alive for more than an hour, rescuers dug her out, half-frozen.
It was the second fatal slide of the month. Earlier, two men were killed on the outskirts of town when chinook winds destabilized the mountainside snow, causing a slide that engulfed their tents.
Thirty years later to the day, on February 27, 1910, a monster slide struck Mace again. That was just before midnight. The next dark morning, a second avalanche roared through Burke. The combined death toll in the two towns was 20. Among them were three residents of Burke who had spent the night helping to rescue people from the Mace slide, only to be buried by the Burke avalanche when they got back home.
The Burke Canyon, where both towns sat, is steep-sided enough for it to get a mention in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The canyon is so narrow there is barely room for a street. A railroad spur and Canyon Creek ran in a tunnel between two parts of the Tiger Hotel. No wonder the area was prone to avalanches.
Burke and Mace shared at least one more disaster. In 1923, a spark from a passing train caught the roof of a house on fire in Mace. The fire spread from building to building, taking out most of Mace and much of Burke.
So, double lousy luck, at least, for these mining towns. But calamity had long loomed on the sides of the mountains above them. Bad luck often visits those who tempt fate.