Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gold Prospectors Found Elk City Deep in the Idaho Mountains [otd 8/6]

On August 6, 1861, a band of miners founded the mining town of Elk City, Idaho, about 35 miles east of the present town of Grangeville. Prospectors had first entered the area in the latter part of May. A large party left the Orofino area earlier in the month. Somewhat less than half penetrated the region, having ignored protests from a Nez Perce Indian chief because they had intruded onto reservation land.
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).


  1. We enjoyed finding your blog. Recently traced a grandfather from PA to Elk City during the gold rush 1880-1900 timeframe. He was about 55 when he went west (alone as far as we know) and returned home to PA about 1901 where he died in 1907. What a trooper!! Samuel Myers was his name in case anyone has tidbits for us. Not the same Samuel Myers who had a ranch south of Dixie though!

  2. Did a quick search on Samuel Myers, from Pennsylvania (born Dec 1831) does appear in the 1900 U.S. Census for Elk City, Idaho County, Idaho. Although he's 68 years old, he lists his occupation as placer miner. Separate from that, I found a newspaper item about a ranch in that area that belonged to a Sam Myers. However, that was from 1904, after your Sam supposedly returned East.

  3. Do you know exactly where the Sam Myers Ranch was? My Great Uncle's, Claude Rucker's, body was found in the Salmon River and supposedly buried at the confluence of the Salmon River and Split Rock Creek, just downstream from the Myers Ranch,in 1912. I have not been able to find Split Rock Creek, and am trying to narrow in on the location.

  4. I have checked my references and found no mention of the Sam Myers ranch. However, the clipping mentioned above ("Idaho Statesman," Dec 30, 1904) says "Another ferry is projected for Salmon River. G. I. Porter went down to the ranch of Sam Myers and surveyed a line across the river at the mouth of Five Mile. Mr. Myers says he will put in a ferry .. . "

    Fivemile Bar, at the mouth of Fivemile Creek, is 41 miles almost directly due east of Riggins, and 29 miles almost direct due south of Elk City. Not sure if this helps, but that's all I've been able to find.

  5. Look up a guy in Elk City named Joe King he can lead you the right direction if anybody can he was raised on the salmon and is very sharp