Idaho History Oct 28, 2018

Elk City, Idaho County, Idaho

(Part 4 Transportation)

Elk City Wagon Road

This painting of Corral Hill Station, by local artist Robert Thomas, depicts life along the Elk City Wagon Road 100 years ago.

Picture yourself on a wagon 100 years ago. The rough road makes your ride bumpy, and you hang on as the wagon moves forward.

In the winter you’re atop a sleigh drawn by horses wearing snowshoes. They plod their way through drifts as high as ten feet. The air is cold. It’s rough going.

Travel along the Elk City Wagon Road, and follow the same road miners and freighters took to the gold fields of Elk City.

Traveling the Road Today

How to get there:

The Elk City Wagon Road begins at Harpster, a small town on the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Harpster is between Grangeville and Kooskia at milepost 13 (about 13 miles from each town). It’s located along State Highway 13, part of the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.
(pg 2)

Traveling the Road 100 Years Ago

On a spring day in 1900, a wagon made its way along the Elk City Wagon Road. Loaded with mining supplies and mail, a team of several horses pulled the wagon.

The driver knew he’d have to switch from wagon to sleigh when he encountered snow, but the road was well used and the snow packed. If he could make it to Mountain House Way Station [Mount Idaho] before nightfall, he could get a good meal and a place to sleep. With a little luck and no breakdowns, the freight would reach Elk City in another three days.

So it was along the Elk City Wagon Road from 1895 to 1932. The freight and stage route was prominent in the mining and homesteading history of central Idaho.

Starting at Harpster on the South Fork of the Clearwater River 80 miles upstream from Lewiston, the road stretched about 50 miles to the mining town of Elk City. A branch of the road ran from Stites and joined the main route at the town of Clearwater. Beginning in the South Fork River valley at an elevation of about 1600 feet, the road climbed as high as 6200 feet in the Baldy Mountain vicinity and then dropped into the Elk City basin at around 4000 feet.

The first route in this area was the Southern Nez Perce Trail. Indian tribes used the trail to travel from the Camas Prairie in Idaho to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. The Southern Nez Perce Trail remains significant to the Nimiipuu, the Nez Perce people.

The first gold miners from Pierce used the trail on their way to explore the Elk City area in 1861. The trail became a thoroughfare and was modified for pack strings and wagons in the mining boom that followed.

By 1890, several way stations had been built along the trail: Harpster, Newsome House and a rest station for mail carriers called Ten Mile.

In 1894 construction started on the Elk City Wagon Road. The road was finished in 1895. It closely followed the original trail, overlaying it in a few places.

By 1896, there were way stations at Switchback, Mountain House [Mount Idaho], Corral Hill and Mud Springs, providing room and food for travelers. These stations were some of the first homesteads in the area.

A stage trip from Stites to Elk City took two days in the summer. Leaving Stites at 6 a.m., the stage arrived at Mountain House by noon and at Newsome by nightfall. There, travelers spent the night.

In the winter, the trip to Elk City took five days, with overnight stops at Switchback, Mountain House, Newsome and Mud Springs. The stage fare from Stites to Elk City was $6 in 1910.
(pgs 4-5)

Corral Hill (mile 17)

Built in 1896, Corral Hill Station provided lodging and a livery stable. The house was north above the road; the barn and stock facilities were on the ridge to the south. A spring and a house platform remain.

[This brochure is a tour of the old Elk City Wagon Road, with historic sites and a lot of history.]

(click image for large map)

excerpted from: USDA Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests
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Corral Hill, stage stop on Elk City wagon road.


Burned down in 1910.
(go to source for larger photo)

FB source: Shannon Dolph Perry Idaho History 1860s to 1960s
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North Idaho Stage Lines Lewiston-Grangeville-Mount Idaho

Idaho Historical Reference Series Number 814, 1985, Prepared by Larry R. Jones

Mining excitements at Florence, Elk city and other interior locations bordering the Salmon River created a need for adequate transportation routes. Lewiston became the supply headquarters for the new mines and Mount Idaho the dispersal point. Suitable wagon and stage roads soon developed between those two points, but beyond Mount Idaho pack trains remained the standard for supplying the mines until the emergence of wagon roads in the 1890’s.

Following the Nez Perce War in 1877, Camas Prairie rapidly developed as an important agricultural and stock area and Grangeville became the leading town, eventually surpassing Mount Idaho as the dispersal point for the interior mining camps.

excerpted from: “North Idaho Stage Lines Lewiston-Grangeville-Mount Idaho”, Idaho Historical Reference Series Number 814, 1985, Prepared by Larry R. Jones
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Old post card of stage on the Stites to Elk City wagon road

(go to source for larger photo)

Staging between Stites and Elk City
Pub. for Post Office Drug Store, Stites, Idaho

FB source: Shannon Dolph Perry Idaho History 1860s to 1960s
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Stites to Elk City stage

(go to source for larger photo)

FB source: Shannon Dolph Perry Idaho History 1860s to 1960s
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Assessment Of The Lewiston-Elk City Trails

Elk City in 1904
Photo Courtesy of the University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives. PG 5-116-1

The Mapping and Location Of The Elk City Trails And Associated Sites in Idaho, Nezperce, Lewis and Clearwater Counties.
For The Idaho County Historic Preservation Commission
Assessment prepared by James G. Huntley
October 2016 to November 2017

Elk City was the first city founded in Idaho County when a party of some twenty men led by L. B. Monson did not heed the warnings of a Nez Perce Indian and crossed the South Fork of the Clearwater River at the present site of Stites. This party went over the Southern Nez Perce Trail to the Elk Creek Valley. Monson was accompanied by Moses Milner, who would become a legend, and who the following year, would build a trading post at Mount Idaho. The first Claim in the Elk City area was dated June 14, 1861 in the mining district of Union, apparently named by Union sympathizers.

James and William Galbraith started an express and by the end of the placer season of 1862 had shipped some $933,742 in gold dust out of the district. At today’s prices that amount of gold would bring about $70,000,000. A much more conservative estimate is: between 1861 and 1932 some 19,183,000 in gold was shipped out of the Elk City area.
(pg 4)

The Elk City Trail began in Lewiston, Idaho at an elevation of some 737 feet, it went up the east side of Lindsay Creek and entered Township 35N, R5W some 500 feet east of the section corner for section 4 &5. It then went southeast to approximately 1000 feet west of the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, where the trails forked. The southern route bearing south up McCormack Ridge and the northern route bearing east up Lapwai Creek.(pg 5)

At Kamiah the trail to Elk City tied into the Southern Nez Perce Trail and turn southerly up the west side of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River to Kooskia, some 8 miles up river. The elevation on the trail at this point is 1277 feet. From Kooskia the trail continued up the South Fork of the Clearwater River, crossing the river three times before reaching present day Stites. The Trail left the river at this point; climbing the hydrological divide just south of Rabbit Creek until it reached the common junction with the Cottonwood branch of the Elk City.Trail. The elevation at this point is 2800 feet. The Southern Nez Perce trial continues on over Corral Hill (5800 feet), China Point (6100 feet), Mountain House (6400 feet), Elk Summit (6386 feet) and at Elk City the elevation is 3962 feet.
(pg 7)

Elk City Timeline

1861: In May of that year some 52 men left the Pierce City,Oro Fino district to explore the upper waters of the Clearwater River. (Based on my plotting of these old trails, this party traveled over the trail later known at the Kamiah-Pierce City Trail as far as Kamiah.) From Kamiah they traveled up the west side of the Middle Fork as far as Kooskia. Then up the South Fork of the Clearwater River as far as present day Stites. At this point the party left the river and some six miles later the arrived at a Nez Perce village.

The Chief of the village objected to the further advance of the party citing the treaty which banned white men from the south side of the Clearwater. A long discussion followed and thirty of the party turned back, but some twenty men continued on over the Southern Nez Perce Trail and camped at what is now Elk City, where they discovered gold.
(pg 10)

1862: This year saw numerous people flocking into the Clearwater region via the Camas Prairie over two or three routes which passed through present day Cottonwood, Harpster, Kamiah, and Mount Idaho. One Mr. Allen built a way station at Cottonwood, and Moses Milner who had come back from, the Elk City region, built a station at Mount Idaho, which became known as Mountain House. When Milner finished his station he began cutting a trail to Florence which would eventually replace the trail from the Salmon River.

While Allen and Milner were busy building their stations, William Jackson was building a toll bridge and station on the Cottonwood branch of the Elk City Trail. This station was known as Bridgeport and was located at present day Harpster. Sometime prior to the Indian War Jackson apparently sold to a man named Clindinning who ran the station until the Nez Perce War of 1877, when the Indians burned the station, which was never rebuilt.
(pg 11)

1878: In August a small band of Nez Perce decided to return from their refuge in Canada. They were returning over the Southern Nez Perce trail with the Calvary in hot pursuit. When they came to Elk City they stopped at a “China-man’s” cabin looking for something to eat. The band was spotted by a white man who ran into town and proclaimed the Indians were about to attack, which resulted in the whites holding up in the fortifications they had erected the year before. The Indians ignored the whites and proceeded on the Newsome Creek where they “plundered a China-man’s” cabin and stole a horse.

Meanwhile word of the Indians in Elk City had reached Mount Idaho and a few settlers under the command of Benjamin F. Morris went looking for these “renegades”. The volunteers spotted the Indians across the South Fork of the Clearwater beyond Jackson’s Bridge. Upon encountering the whites the Indians scattered and escaped.
(pgs 13-14)

1894: Construction of a wagon road from the town of Clearwater to Elk City was started. It would be finished in 1896. The way station at Switchback was also built in this year.

1895: A gold boom occurred in the Elk City-Dixie Districts and the Salmon River regions that would last until 1898.
(pg 15)

1932: The Highway to Elk City was completed which spelled the end to the stations along the trail to Elk City. This writer has found no record of when the trail from Cottonwood to Harpster was abandon.
(pg 16)

excerpted from: Assessment Of The Lewiston-Elk City Trails, Assessment prepared by James G. Huntley, October 2016 to November 2017source: Idaho County GenWeb
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Elk City Wagon Road Stage just below Newsome headed for Elk City.

Two four-horse teams and passengers. Circa 1920.

(go to source for larger photo)

FB source: U.S. Forest Service – Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests
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Ferry near Elk City – abt. 1910

source: © PBC Compiled by Penny Bennett Casey, Idaho County GenWeb
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Bridges, Clearwater River

Ten miles east of Grangeville lies the principal Clearwater river crossing for roads leading to the mining districts of Newsome, Elk City, Oro Grange, Moose Creek, Deadwood, Red River and Buffalo Hump.Two women riding side saddle are in the foreground.
Copyright is held by the Idaho State Historical Society.
source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Elk City Highway Half Tunnel

Copyright is held by the Idaho State Historical Society.
source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Landslide Elk City, ID. Feb. 18, 2016

Bret Edwards

WARNING: Foul Language! My husband, Bret Edwards and fellow co-workers were working on clearing small debris from Hwy 14 near Elk City, Id. when all heck broke loose! This has been a problem area for sometime, so whenever small rocks start coming down they get out of the way and wait for it to stop trickling. Bret usually gets out his phone and shoots some video just in case. This time it payed off! This was a very close call for the entire crew, things could have turned out much worse. Not only was there the threat of a massive landslide, there are overhead power lines that came crashing down onto the front loader and right where Bret was standing. This is a crazy, real life scary moment. I am thankful to still have him, and the rest of the guys! No one was injured. In the winter, this highway is the only way in and out of Elk City, Dixie and other small communities up river. Thank you for viewing. This video belongs to Bret and Londa Edwards. Do not use this video without written consent from its owner.


Link to Elk City (Part 1 Mining)
Link to Elk City (part 2 News)
Link to Elk City (Part 3 Murder)

page updated Aug 20, 2020