Colorful Past, Promising Future

By Heather Branstetter

Historical Photos Courtesy of Historic Wallace Preservation Society

Exactly half my lifetime ago, I found myself the only girl working at the crushing plant of the Lucky Friday Mine on the edge of tiny Mullan. It was my first job out of high school and my wages started at about three times the minimum rate, not including the time-and-a-half I earned for the twenty-four hours of overtime I worked each pay period. Memories of the summer I spent pulverizing lead and silver ore still come back to me when I smell diesel, water on cement, and greased-up giant machinery. I would fall asleep to visions of dull gray rock bobbing along on black rubber conveyor belts, muck littered with wiring from detonated explosives and miners’ stray gloves.

Mining was responsible for the settlement and stability of the town in the late 1800s, and it continues to be a major part of Mullan’s life, even though the Friday’s hourly employees have been on strike for the past six months.

This little town along northern Idaho’s Interstate 90 corridor is home to 674 people, two bars, a combination gas and grocery store, bowling alley, and indoor Olympic-sized pool with a high dive. Five miles from the Montana border, Mullan is 3,300 feet in elevation, tucked in the evergreen Bitterroot Range of the Rockies.

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Heather Branstetter

About Heather Branstetter

Heather Branstetter grew up among the mountains of the Silver Valley, where rumors circulated about her classmates’ grandma, who ran a cathouse. She received her PhD in rhetoric and cultural studies from the University of North Carolina in 2012 and moved back to Wallace in 2015 to finish her book, Selling Sex in the Silver Valley. Signed copies may be purchased from her website,, and to schedule a book talk, email her at [email protected].

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