Idaho History May 19, 2019

Thunder Mountain Gold Rush

(part 6)

Salmon City to Thunder Mountain Route

1909 Map Thunder Mountain route Salmon to Roosevelt

1908-Idaho-EastRouteA(click for larger size)
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Thunder Mountain Story

by Marilyn Afford

While Thunder Mountain is not a part of Lemhi County, its history is enmeshed with ours. The trails to Thunder Mountain and the old town of Roosevelt were heavily traveled and many Lemhl County people were involved with the short but hectic story of that area. Thunder Mountain is located on the Payette National Forest near the head of Monumental and Marble Creeks, both western tributaries of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

In 1991, as a part of the National celebration of the centennial of the first Forest Reserves in the United States, the Salmon National Forest began maintaining and reconstructing a segment of one of the historic trails to Thunder Mountain for use by recreationists. While the location of parts of the old trail are unknown, or have been obliterated by roads or other activity, the segment from Williams Lake to China Springs is still largely intact and recognizable.

The gold rush was intense, involving thousands of people from all walks of life. To supply their needs, horse and mule strings found their way through the rugged terrain of the Salmon River Mountains from several directions, including Salmon City. One of the routes used involved travel from Salmon, up Lake Creek. past Williams Lake, to China Springs. then southwest to Yellowjacket on the way to the Middle Fork and Thunder Mountain. It was a long and arduous trip of over one hundred miles through some of the most rugged terrain in the state of Idaho. The trail from Salmon City to China Springs was steep and largely dry. At China Springs, teamsters and their animals could stop and refresh.

The gold rush began in the Thunder Mountain District in 1901, spawning the boom towns of Roosevelt, Thunder [Mountain] City, and Belleco. On December 11, 1901 an item appeared in the local newspaper that indicates the excitement that existed over the Thunder Mountain area:

The Red Rock and Salmon River Stage Line is preparing for the rush to Thunder Mountain. and has ten 4-horse Concord coaches and four 6–horse Concords in readiness. This will handle Twenty-five to fifty passengers daily, conveying them within fifty miles of Thunder Mountain at Yellow Jacket, from which point the journey must be made by pack outfits. It will require three days to make the trip in, one day being used to travel from Red Rock to Salmon, and two days from Salmon to Thunder.

Another item from the “Lemhi Herald” of November 20. 1901 reads:

Salmon to Leesburg, 14 miles – Leesburg to Leacock Station on Big Creek, 9 miles – Up Big Creek to Forney, 12 miles – Forney to Three Forks (which form Camas Creek), 14 miles – Down Camas Creek to the Middle Fork, 14 miles – Up the Middlefork to the mouth of Marble Creek, 8 miles Up Marble Creek to Mouth of Mule Creek, 20 miles — You are now in Thunder Mountain Country, but not the heart of it. Up Mule Creek 9 miles and we are in the land of wealth.

Card addressed to: Mrs. Roy J. King, Grass Valley, California.
“Darling, this is where I stopped for the night of July 2nd. The town consists of one house and three individuals. Lovingly, Roy”
“Homestead of Abner C. Leacock, at confluence of Nappias and Big Creek.”
From “Centennial History of Lemhi County, Idaho,” compiled by Lemhi County History Committee, Hon. Fred Snook, Chairman; 1992; p. 168f

The combined population of Roosevelt and Thunder [Mountain] City grew to over five thousand, but some sources indicate that in 1902 there were as many as 22,000 men at work there on 11,000 claims. About fifty mining stock companies had formed, but only two had any money to work with.

Roosevelt 1902 (?)

The boom was short-lived, as the town of Roosevelt was drowned by a landslide–formed lake in 1909. Water seeping through the workings, true to the predictions of many experienced miners, caused the slide. The mountain slid 2.5 miles down Mule Creek to the mouth of Monumental Creek Canyon in twenty six hours, damming Monumental Creek.

Today, the waters of this remote lake ripple over the remains of a ghost town that was perhaps the most isolated mining town in Idaho.

References. “Recorder Herald” August 1991, and Research notes of Marjorie B Sims

source: Idaho AHGP / SMc
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The Eastern Route

Salmon City tried to promote an eastern route, claiming it was shorter — although it lay on the other side of both the Salmon River and Yellow Jacket ranges, as well as the Salmon Middle Fork. Herndon says that “a wild and enthusiastic meeting” was held in this little mountain town, with Al Mahoney of Leesburg contracting to build a bridge across the Middle Fork. However, the people hadn’t figured on “the influence and power of the state capital.”

Excerpted from: The Ghosts Walk Under the Water by Faith Turner from “Scenic Idaho”, Winter 1954
[h/t SMc Back Country History Project]
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Stage Coach Salmon City, Idaho

Last Stage Coach to Leave Salmon, Idaho. 1900s
source: Building in the Past
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1901 Thunder Mountain Rush

During the rush to Thunder Mountain in 1901, the following appeared in the Recorder-Herald:

F. W. Vogler, general manager of the Redrock, Salmon City and Gibboasville stage line, was in town Monday and states that his line is making all arrangements for the handling of the great crowd of people which, it is expected, will rush to the wonderful quartz discoveries recently made in the Thunder Mountain district in Idaho, about 100 miles front Salmon City. He can easily handle 25 – 50 passensers each day, having ten four-horse Concord coaches and four six-horse Concords to do it with. He will be able to land passengers within 50 miles of Thunder Mountain at Yellow Jacket, from which point the journey must be made by pack outfits.

excerpted from: pgs 51-52 The History of the Salmon National Forest 1973
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Salmon, Idaho stage to Red Rock, Montana

source: Hugh Hartman
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January of 1902

Unable to go to Thunder Mountain, impatient miners began to pile up in Warrens, ready to dash on in as soon as an opportunity should offer. Stage lines from Union Pacific stations in Ketchum, Mackay, and Red Rock, Montana (operating via Salmon) also prepared in January of 1902 to offer service over non-existent roads (through country in which roads still have not been completed eighty years later) when winter might break. Seventeen Concord coaches were procured for a line from Red Rock alone.

excerpted from: Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series Number 20 1966
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Thunder Mountain Trail

ThunderMountainTrailMap-aphoto of an old map the USFS put out in the 70’s from a historical map from 1918. The trail went from Salmon Idaho to Thunder Mountain mine.

Shared by Diana Rackham Nielson
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Union Pacific Railroad – Routes to Thunder Mountain


Great Thunder Mountain gold fields, Idaho Co., Idaho
Description Blueprint. Inset: Map showing routes to Thunder Mountain. Scale [1:1,647,360]. “Thunder Mountain gold fields are reached only via Boise, Ketchum, Mackay, Red Rock or Weiser, all good outfitting points on the Oregon Short Line R.R.”
Date 1905

source: Idaho State Historical Society
(Go to source link, zoom in, it also shows townsite of Roosevelt and the mining claims around it.)
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Jan 21, 1902 The Silver Messenger, Challis Idaho


Mr. C. C. Tautphaus, who has been a prominent stage man on the Pacific Coast for many years, and who was one of the first to enter the Klondike gold fields, arrived in Challis last Tuesday in company with Mr. Sid. Roberts, to ascertain the best and most direct route to Thunder Mountain.

Mr. Tautphaus is a man of experience in the stage business, and is backed by a company with plenty of capital who intend to put on a fast stage line from Mackay, the present terminus of the Salmon River Railroad, via Challis to Thunder Mountain. It is the aim of this company to put on one of the best-equipped stage lines known, and have it in operation by March 1st.

A new route from Challis to the famous gold fields has been discovered and which will easily shorten the distance 35 miles. Instead of going by Morgan creek, the new route proposed is to follow the wagon road up Challis creek for a distance of 8 eight miles in a Northwesterly direction, and then cross the Challis creek pass over onto Middle Fork. This route will be in direct line with the Thunder Mountain country and easy of access. To make a survey of this new route last Thursday in the neighborhood of one hundred dollars was raised by the citizens of Challis within a few hours, and on Friday, the following morning, Mr. Tautphaus and Mr. Roberts, with horses and the necessary camp equipment, departed over the new route for Thunder Mountain. On their return, which will probably be within about two weeks, we hope to give a complete account of their trip over the most direct route known to Thunder Mountain.

Following is a very close and conservative estimate of the distances from Mackay to Thunder Mountain via the Challis creek route. Half of this distance is surveyed — not estimated, and a portion of the distance — nearly one-half — over one of the best wagon roads in Idaho:


This not only being the most direct, quickest, cheapest and most feasible route to Thunder Mountain, but it is the earliest road in the Spring to reach the great gold fields on account of tho extremely light snow fall, and it is a road that can be kept open the year around with little expense.

This is the BEST ROUTE for the gold-seeker, because the entire distance it passes through a rich mineral region.

This is the BEST ROUTE for the prospector.

This is the BEST ROUTE for the capitalist.

This is the BEST ROUTE for the tourist and pleasure-seeker, for the lakes, rivers and streams abound in trout, and deer, bear and other animals roam at will through the mountains. On this route the grandest mountain scenery can be seen.

This is the BEST ROUTE for the public who desire to go to Thunder Mountain, for it is the quickest and most direct.

From all indications the Salmon River Railroad will extend its Mackay branch to Salmon river next Spring, and from this point will be the outfitting place for the great gold fields, and then the distance by stage will be cut down 50 miles, making it only 90 miles from Challis, the nearest railroad point, over an easy stage road to Thunder Mountain.

From all maps thus far published, one can see at a glance that the Mackay-Challis route to Thunder Mountain is the shortest and most direct. It is on a direct line and no one can well dispute this fact, regardless of all prejudices in the matter.

source: Idaho AHGP [h/t SMc]
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April 4, 1902

Miners To Start A Race For Thunder Mountain

Will Travel by Different Routes to Determine Which Is the Shortest

Boise, Idaho, April 4 [1902] – A couple of miners from Wood River made the statement in a hotel lobby today that the Ketchum route was the best. They were willing to wager, they said, that if two men left Boise for Thunder Mountain, one going by way of Weiser, Council and Warren and the other by way of Ketchum and Cape Horn, the latter would get into camp first. Within fifteen minutes $2000 was raised by Thunder Mountain miners who had come out by the Weiser route. The Ketchum men have sent home for money to cover the bet. The Boise money is on deposit in the Overland Hotel safe. If the Ketchum pot is raised one of the most unique races in the history of the Northwest will take place.

source (broken link): San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 126, 5 April 1902
[h/t JTR]
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April 8, 1902 The Silver Messenger, Challis Idaho

1902MckaytoThunderMountain-aThunder Mountain

From Mackay, present terminus of Salmon River Railroad, to Challis by daily stage 50 miles. From Challis to Singiser or Three Forks, by wagon road 40 miles. From Singiser or Three Forks to Thunder Mountain, by good trail, 50 miles. Total 140 miles.

source: Idaho AHGP [h/t SMc]
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Thunder Mountain Map used by Zane Grey

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The Stampede to Thunder Mountain: The New Idaho Gold Camp

london-4-aJack London / Collier’s May 3, 1902

Not since Klondike has there been such a stampede as that now underway to Thunder Mountain. Despite the warning that it is no poor man’s country, at least one hundred “sooners” are going in daily on snowshoes, packing their outfits on their backs or dragging them on toboggan-sleds. Further, all the towns adjacent to the gold field–such as Boise, Ketchum, Council, Red Rock, Lewiston, Weiser and Salmon–are jammed with an army of cooler-headed gold-seekers, waiting the opening of the trails. And each train swells these towns to overflowing, with more men hastening eagerly from the north, south, east and west.

Boom times are on and stampede prices are up. Railroad transportation for seventy-five thousand people has been already bespoken; and as regards the finish, the rush will outrival Klondike; for every man who starts will get there, and there will be more men on the ground than were on the Yukon five years ago.

Thunder Mountain is one of the blank spaces on the map which will no longer be blank. The Thunder Mountain country is as large as the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut combined, and has long been known as a very rich, though largely unprospected, mining country. Thunder Mountain, in particular, is in the southern portion of Idaho County, Idaho, and is situated not far south of Vinegar Hill of the maps. To the south lie the Sawtooth Mountains, which extend from the Seven Devils region, along the Snake, to the main Salmon River. It is a rough and jagged country, of volcanic formation, with a general elevation of from 7,000 to 9,000 feet, and promises to become one of the world’s greatest treasure houses.

The Caswell brothers are responsible for this rush. In 1804, Ben and Dan Caswell made their way into Thunder Mountain and located several claims. Notwithstanding it was entirely a quartz formation, they panned the decomposed porphyry, which had become air-slacked, and washed out $260 in gold. They were joined by another brother, Luman Caswell, and by W. T. Ritchey and Mr. Huntley, and each year for seven years they returned to the spot. Their efforts were crude; water from the melting snow permitted but two weeks’ worth; yet in the fourteen weeks all told they secured $20,358.00 in gold, as shown by the receipts of the United States Assay Office at Boise.

But Thunder Mountain was a quartz proposition, absurd to work as a placer and too big to work without capital. In 1901 Colonel W. H. Dewey, the well-known Idaho millionaire mining and railroad man, bonded the claims for $100,000 and incorporated the Thunder Mountain Gold Mining and Milling Company with a capital stock of $5,000,000, Pittsburg, Pa., capitalists being chiefly interested. Then began the proper development of the deposit. Last fall a ten-stamp mill was freighted in on mule-back and set up. Tunnels and cross-cuts were run and the astonishing value of the deposit discovered. Not only as the mountain itself determined to be a huge ore body of free milling gold running from seven dollars to the ton upward, but rich chutes were found, as wide as seven feet, carrying $2,000 to the ton and penetrating the mountain an unascertainable distance. Recent reports go to show that the value of these chutes has been underestimated.

Thus Thunder Mountain becomes another Treadwell. It is not a fissure vein, but simply a mountain of ore, a first-class quarry scheme, capable of busying two hundred stamps for an interminable period. But, whereas Treadwell is low-grade ore, Thunder Mountain is not only much higher but very much higher grade ore. In addition (and this is the secret of the rush) prospects go to show that the contiguous ground is likewise rich, and that the possibilities are large for a second Cripple Creek, while the very sanguine are not at all backward in proclaiming a second Transvaal. Incidentally, the real Cripple Creek men have achieved a great faith in Thunder Mountain, and every third man is either on the way or talking of going.

And so, because of the Caswells, miners from all the Americas are gathering up their outfits and stampeding to Idaho. The “sooners” are taking the chances of snow and famine in order that they may miss no chances on the spot. Since the ground is covered with many feet of snow, perforce they stake the snow. Later on, when the snow melts, they will find other sets of stakes beneath. Then there will be trouble. But a gold rush without trouble is like a pneumatic tire without punctures.

It never happens.

There are two main reasons for the magnitude of this stampede. Thunder Mountain is the only excitement of the year, and money is easy. Which is to say that the chronic stampeders and adventurers have no where else to go and work off their unrest, and that the good times of the last several years have put the money in their pockets wherewith they may go. That there are all the possibilities for a new Eldorado goes without saying. Idaho has already added $250,000,000 to the world’s gold supply, while thousand of square miles of mineral territory remain practically unexplored. As Thunder Mountain is to-day likened to Cripple Creek, who knows but in some future day new bonanzas may be likened to Thunder Mountain? Anyway, 75,000men are hitting the high places to find out.

The historic works of Jack London and other major journalists are freely available from The Archive of American Journalism:

source: Historic American Journalism
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June 10, 1902 The Silver Messenger, Challis Idaho

1902ChallisThunderMountain-a“In a letter dated May 26, received by Miss Pearl McGowan of Challis, from her brother, George, in which he states that he is within three miles of Thunder Mountain, and his pack-train was the first to reach the new Eldorado. He also states that he rode the first horse to the Dewey mine this year.

source: ID AHGP [h/t SMc]
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Thunder Mountain Pack String


Sam Hopkin’s pack string loaded for a trip down Camas Creek trail and up to Thunder Mountain.

Photo from “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977
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Middle Fork of the Salmon River

MF1-a(click image for larger size)
Left to right: Jim Hash, Jenney Laing Lewis, Belle Hash, 1903, crossing the Middle Fork on a bridge built a year earlier.

Mile 36.3

Jim and Belle Hash cabin on the right. Jim Hash was raised on his father’s ranch at Idaho Falls. He had all his front teeth knocked out in a fight — when someone hit him with a chair. After that he always carried two guns.

When he was 25 he married Belle, who was 15. They never had any children, but they were so busy they could scarcely have had time for any. They settled on six acres near the junction of Mayfield and Loon Creeks for several years. Then they moved down below Little Creek.

Jim and Belle raised vegetables and kept a packstring of 20-30 burros. They would loose-herd the burros along the trail, selling their produce from Custer to Thunder Mountain. Packing charges for supplies ran 5-15 cents a pound. Everyone liked and respected the Hashes.

When the Thunder Mountain boom was over, the Hashes left and John Sader filed a homestead on the place. Sader acquired title and sold out to Nethkin. The Hashes’ cabin was nicely restored by Harrah’s.

Fred Paulsen’s folks started the second cabin at Little Creek, but it was never finished. It is the building, since roofed, which stands behind the Hash cabin. These cabins are part of the Middle Fork Lodge property today.

from: pgs 85-86 “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977

link to Amazon:
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Middle Fork Salmon River

The Middle Fork has long been a popular recreation area of the Salmon National Forest but the numbers of people visiting it were limited by its inaccessibility until later years. In the days of mining at Yellowjacket, Loon Creek, and Thunder Mountain, the Middle Fork was crossed by main thoroughfares of travel, and several homesteaders settled there in the early 1900’s to raise food for the nearby miners.

The lower part of the canyon, below the mouth of Big Creek, was labeled “Impassable Canyon” by those who came in to find the Sheepeater Indians during the Sheepeater War.
(pgs 114-115)

Graves Associated with Thunder Mountain

Moyer, for whom Moyer Creek is named, was killed along the Thunder Mountain trail, and is buried on a ridge near Moyer Creek.

Near Middle Fork Peak is the grave of a Mr. Armstrong, who died of mountain fever during the Thunder Mountain boom.

Graves at the mouth of Musgrove Creek include Charles O. Scott, a hunter shot by a hunting companion, and Neal Stewart, a miner who fell to his death.
(pgs 127-128)

excerpted from : The History of the Salmon National Forest 1973

Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page

page updated October 31, 2020