The Way to Elk City
A Journey into History
By Dana Lohrey
Photos Courtesy of the Dana Lohrey Collection
I wonder if there’s any gold left? That’s what I used to think when we fished Newsome Creek and other streams along the historic Elk City Wagon Road when I was a youngster in the 1950s. When gold was discovered at Newsome and Elk City in 1861, the sole route to the gold strikes was by way of the old South Nez Perce Trail, although later the Elk City Wagon Road was used. More than a half-century after that, the wagon road still served numerous purposes for my family and our neighbors in the Clearwater area.
For many years I have been fascinated by the rich and colorful history of the Elk City Wagon Road. Some of this interest spilled over to me from my mother, who researched and wrote many newspaper articles about the history of the gold rush era in the Clearwater Mountains. I traveled the road often during my early years and heard a lot of stories from Clearwater’s old-timers about their experiences on it, especially from Fred Murphy, the Clearwater storekeeper back then. These people told me of the heavy freight and passenger traffic that passed through Clearwater en route to the goldfields of Newsome, Elk City, Buffalo Hump, and Thunder Mountain. It was common for them to see ten to twelve freight wagons traveling between roughly the same number of passenger stations along the wagon road. All of this inspired me to write twenty-six locally written and self-published books on aspects of the gold rush era, the wagon road, and the communities served by the route.
Before 1932, the Elk City Wagon Road provided the sole access to Newsome, Elk City, Buffalo Hump, and the Bitterroots country. By the time the South Fork Highway (also known as the Elk City Highway, State Highway 14) was completed in 1932, the wagon road was no longer the main route to Elk City. Today the historic road is used for recreation, historical and educational research, hunting, and wood-gathering.