Robert Currie Beardsley, born in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1840, had tried his luck at running a sawmill in Montana and mining in California, but he didn’t make a real go of it until he moved to Idaho in 1877. He and two partners, W. A. Norton and J.B. Hood discovered what would become the Beardsley Mine near Bayhorse. The town was so named because an earlier miner who had a couple of bay horses first told of of riches along what would soon become Bayhorse Creek, about 14 miles southwest of Challis.
The Beardsley Mine once said to be the second-largest silver mine in the state, was one of two major operations at Bayhorse. The other was the Ramshorn Mine.
After operating his mine for several years, Robert Beardsley sold his share in the mine for $40,000, setting him up for life. Sadly, it was a short life.
In 1884, Beardsley traveled to New Orleans for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. It was one of the first major world expositions. Think of it as a world fair. Beardsley probably did not go seeking a wife. Nevertheless, he found one.
The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported that on the 18th of February 1886, “another link was forged in the chain that binds Louisiana to the far Northwest. It was a golden link, and took the shape of a marriage between Robert Beardsley, one of the representative men of Idaho Territory—a hard-headed, successful miner—and Miss (Eleanor) Nellie Hallaran, of Magazine Street, a native of this city. Mr. Beardsley met the lady last year while here on a visit to the Exposition. He said nothing but bore away in his Northwestern heart so strong an impress of her image that his return was a matter of necessity.” The newlyweds left the next day, taking a train to Blackfoot, then traveling by stage to Challis.
Though his name is attached to his mine in the history books, Beardsley left a legacy that far outlasted it. He homesteaded on property east of Challis in 1880. The view was gorgeous and the meadows green, but it was the water that attracted Beardsley. It was hot. So hot that horse teams pulling Fresno scrapers to dig the soaking pools had to be changed out every couple of hours to let their hooves cool down.
Known today as Challis Hot Springs, the place was originally the Beardsley Resort and Hotel. Robert Beardsley floated logs down the Salmon from forested hillsides upriver and pulled them out on his property to construct some early buildings. Perhaps this casual, friendly relationship with the river gave him a false sense of confidence.
On June 30, 1888, Beardsley set out to cross the river to his hot springs resort with a team of horses and a wagon. While a handful of people watched, the raging current caught and tumbled the wagon, pulling the team and Beardsley under. Beardsley was sighted for a time in the current, but there was no way to attempt a rescue. You can find his grave on the mountainside above the hot springs today.
Eleanor eventually remarried a man named John Kirk. Eleanor continued to build up the hot springs resort. Ownership eventually passed to Eleanor and Robert Beardsley’s daughter Isabella and her husband John Hammond in 1931. Their son Robert Beardsley Hammond took over the hot springs in 1951. Twenty years later, his son, Robert Charles Hammond, purchased Challis Hot Springs. Bob and his wife Lorna maintained a home on the property until November 2013, when Bob passed away. Their two daughters, Kate Taylor and Mary Elizabeth Conner, managed the property until 2023.
And, now, the announcement. I’m pleased to be joining Lorna Hammond and her family, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation Director Susan Buxton, and invited guests today in Challis for the dedication of the Challis Hot Springs Unit of Land of the Yankee Fork State Park.
I’ve been among the many people working to make this happen over the past several years. It will be great to see IDPR take over ownership and management of the property to carry on the Hammond Family tradition of welcoming visitors to Challis Hot Springs.