|Riffle Box for Placer Mining. Library of Congress.|
They found gold near the confluence of the American and Red rivers. Further prospecting discovered more and more “color.” By mid-June they had slapped together a log cabin to serve as a recorder's office, in which “Captain” L. B. Monson recorded the first claim on June 14, 1861.
Some men returned to Orofino for supplies and the new rush began, somewhat dampened by worries about the Indians. However, as more and more prospectors struck pay dirt, the rush swelled. That finally led to the founding of Elk City.
By the following summer, the town had four to six stores of various kinds, five saloons, and two decent hotels. Because of its location deep in the mountains, heavy winter snow shut down work on almost every claim. By the fall of 1862, a quickly-established Express company had shipped out over $900 thousand in gold dust (over $50 million at today’s prices).
Gold discoveries in easier country in Montana drew many prospectors away from Elk City the next year. However, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco reprinted (May 29, 1863) a letter that said, in part, “Six ditches have been dug during the last winter in the vicinity of Elk City, and are now furnishing water to the miners.” As could be expected, “The miners are doing much better than before the ditches were completed.”
Also, in 1864 and 1865, determined gold-seekers built mores ditches, and flumes, to begin large-scale hydraulic mining. Thus, the value of metal extracted from the region actually increased. A sawmill built to supply lumber for these flumes did a booming business.
Miners continued to obtain reasonable returns from claims in the region for more than a decade. Then, after 1880, many claims were leased to Chinese miners. Like most of the older mining towns, Elk City’s prosperity rose and fell with the output from the gold fields in the region.
The economy received a “bump” when prospectors discovered gold in the “Buffalo Hump,” region, about 20 miles to the southwest. By the summer of 1899, about five thousand prospectors had poured into that area. Although Grangeville became the major supply point for “the Hump,” Elk City also won a share of the stagecoach and freight traffic. However, significant work at Buffalo Hump ran its course by about 1910.
|Elk City at sunset. Elk City tourism.|
For a time in the twentieth century, Elk City operated as a center for logging activity. However, that faltered when the U.S. Forest Service imposed more restrictions on timber harvesting in the area.
Today, Elk City survives as a recreation and tourism center, a “gateway” to the Nez Perce National Forest. The Elk City web site offers hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and ATV riding during the summer, with skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
|References: [B&W], [Illust-North]|
|“Buffalo Hump Stage Lines,” Reference Series No. 794, Idaho State Historical Society (1985 ).|
|M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).|