ELK CITY HISTORY
Like most of the businesses left in Elk City, the Elk City Hotel has had many different “lives” over the years, but in whatever form, has always been the end of the road, literally! (Idaho State Highway 14 and the old Elk City Wagon Road officially end at our northwest storefront porch post). We’re still digging up horseshoes from where the old livery barn stood that served as the Elk City Stage “end-of-the-line”. But maybe a little history is called for about now.
Elk City’s past is all about gold and the pursuit thereof. Although not within the boundaries of the original Nez Perce Treaty territory, the easy access was. The long used southern Nez Perce Indian trail to the buffalo hunting grounds and trading still goes right through here and was a natural access to displaced California gold prospectors and new “gold fever” victims escaping the coming storm of the Civil War in the east.
So it was that, in June 1861, gold was discovered here and the second great western gold-rush, this time to Idaho Territory, was on in earnest. A town sprung up overnight at the bottom end of a small mountain meadow/valley stocked with a few namesake elk and by August, Elk City boasted saloons, stores and all the other trappings of the old west mining frontier life. By 1862, the “big strike” moved over the hill to Florence, but Elk City remained to this day as the hub for supplying the needs of pioneers scratching out a living from the wilderness. This was the early period that included the Magruder massacre and the first bona-fide territorial hangings, the Idaho connection to the infamous sheriff Plummer gang, etc.
By 1865, most of the “white folks” followed the “easy diggings” to other places and the remaining “hard work for pay-dirt” was picked up by a huge influx of Chinese prospectors, replete with “gold-dousers”, opium and a work ethic and engineering skills second to none. Miles and miles of water supply ditches for “washing out” the placer deposits, gazillions of rocks tossed one at a time into heaps and occasional “artifacts” remain to this day as testament to their fortitude and “better life” than the Tong and starvation back “home”.
Changing laws about “foreigners” owning mining claims, playing-out of competing “diggings” and new “hardrock” discoveries fueled Elk City to its biggest “heyday”, between 1890 and 1915. Swelling to 5,000 people, four hotels, baseball teams and “payroll” mining operations, the pounding of “stamp mills” echoed for miles and miles. The Elk City Mining News(paper) was regularly filled with “sugarplum” stories from the surrounding mines and hamlets with names like Jumbo, Frogtown, Golden, Frisco, American Eagle, Raymond, Sungold, Badger, Dixie, New York and Iron Crown. Reports of the railroad coming in and Wall Street development were all in the cards till the “boom” ran into the “bust” and Elk City dropped from the spotlight. By the time the fire of 1930 consumed most of town, things were pretty “slow”.
Although gold still provided an existence during the 1930s, World War II was the straw that broke the back of mining. However, new life was under the winter snow and by the 1950s, timber was becoming king. Electricity came in 1960, large herds of elk and deer thrived to support numerous outfitters and life was once again “good”. The last 18 miles of the highway was paved in 1980.
The most “important feature” of The Elk City Hotel & Gift Shop is the section that houses the closest thing to a museum that Elk City currently has. Through the aid of some “seed grant” monies and thousands of donated hours, pictures, relics, etc., Jamie Edmondson has spearheaded the birth of the Idaho Goldfields Historical Society, which includes more than 2,000 archival photos of the past 150 years of Elk City and surrounding area history.
Reprints of any of these historical photos are available for a modest cost with monies supporting ongoing museum development.
In addition, a couple of working scale models of stamp mills, old mining tools, Chinese slippers, bottles, etc. round out this display waiting for a permanent home.
SEARCHING FOR ANCESTORS
Over the years, quite a number of folks have come through or contacted the hotel for information about relatives that once lived and worked in this area. Obviously, history is one of our passions and we’ve had great fun helping connect families with their past, either through a picture, a newspaper article or on the ground sleuthing grandpa Fred’s mine. A lot of memories are tucked away in the mountains and woods we call home and that others have also, if only for a short period of their lives.