Idaho’s Pompeii

A Gold Rush Town Drowned

By Robin McRae

Photos courtesy of Robin McRae

Some years ago, Doug Tims asked me to travel with him to the site of Roosevelt, a former gold rush town almost five hours’ drive from Cascade in the Payette National Forest. My forebears lived in the mining area around Roosevelt known as the Thunder Mountain District. Doug, who owns the historic Campbell’s Ferry Ranch on the main Salmon River to the north, was interested in the area’s history and geology for a book he was writing (see “Alone” by Doug Tims, IDAHO magazine, February 2014). Many gold rush folk came into Roosevelt by way of Lewiston, through Elk City and then Campbell’s Ferry, where they crossed the Salmon to reach Thunder Mountain. From there, they followed the Three Blaze Trail sixty-five miles to Roosevelt.

During the drive with Doug, I related stories of mining and the town that grew up to support most of the seven thousand people who once received their mail at the Roosevelt Post Office.

“Most likely, this was the most isolated cultural area ever formed in the state of Idaho,” I told him.

Nowadays, Roosevelt is best known for the torrent of muddy water that flowed down Thunder Mountain in 1909, covering the town to create Roosevelt Lake. After the settlement met its watery fate, my grandparents moved with their six-year-old son (who would become my father) and their two-year-old daughter to the Dewey Mine, two miles above the new lake that covered about forty buildings.

My grandparents, Daniel C. and Grace McRae, first had interests in the area from about 1897 to 1902. They lived on Thunder Mountain from 1914 to 1942, after which the government put a moratorium on gold production. They worked both of the two main mines, the Dewey and Sunnyside, eventually partnering with Marie Dewey Davis in ownership of Sunnyside. My father, Robert McRae, then patented Sunnyside in 1960 in partnership with local logging baron Warren Brown. The mine remained in the family until we sold it to the Public Trust for Lands in 2005, which subsequently sold it to the U.S. Forest Service.

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