The first white men to come to the Lemhi Valley were the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On Aug 12, 1805, Captain Meriweather Lewis and three companions crossed the Continental Divide and reached the headwaters of a creek that came to be known as Agency Creek, flowing toward the Columbia River Basin.
The explorers were seeking a contact with the Shoshoni Indians in order to obtain horses to enable the Expedition to cross the mountains. It was a well-known fact that the Shoshoni Indians had taken horses from the Spaniards in earlier times. Obtaining the necessary horses was a singular and difficult problem.
During their winter stay at Fort Mandan, in 1804, the explorers discovered a young Indian squaw named Sacajawea. Sacajawea, and her husband, the French trader Charbonneau, joined the expedition, so that she might serve as an interpreter for the group. As luck would have it, it turned out that Sacajawea's brother was the Shoshoni chief Cameahwait. This reunion of the two siblings bode well for the group, and they were granted the horses which they so desperately sought.
The expedition continued on their way, exploring the Salmon River for about 70 miles. The made a camp by the creek, called Tower Creek, because of the rocky towers that surround it. The Salmon River is known as "The River of No Return" because flatboats that carried freight down the river, could not back the trip back over the awesome, dangerous rapids.
In 1832, the first crossing of the Rocky Mountains by wagon was made by Captain B.L.E. Bonneville, who built a small fort and wintered on the Salmon River near the mouth of Carmen Creek in 1832.
In 1855, a Mormon missionary colony was sent from Salt Lake City and settled on the river. A fort was built on the large open space that the Indians had always used as a pasture for their horses. They named it Lemhi, which was later to become the name of the Fort, the River, the Indian Agency and the county. The mission was abandoned in 1858, due to trouble with the Indians.
Five Montana prospectors, B.F. Sharkey, Elijah Mulkey, William Smith, Ward Girton and Joseph Rapp, discovered rich gold deposits at a place about 14 miles west of Salmon, which became "Leesburg" on July 16, 1866. This discovery of gold on the creek which the Indians called Napias Creek, the word napias meaning gold or money, started a gold rush that led to a mining town at Leesburg of 3000 people, the creation of Salmon City in 1867 and the organization of Lemhi County in 1869.
Miners going to the Leesburg gold fields were at first ferried across the Salmon River, but soon a toll bridge was built wide enough for a man or horse. Later this was replaced by a wagon sized toll bridge.
In 1880, William McKay discovered lead in the dump of a badger hole on which he had sat down to rest, while hunting stage horses. The result was a mining boom that created the Viola Mine, one of the richest lead mines in the world. The town of Nicholia, named for the superintendent of the mine, had a population of about 3,000 and was one of the largest voting precincts in Lemhi County in the election of 1886.
The activities of the Gilmore mines were the incentive for the building of a railroad to Salmon with a spur to Gilmore for hauling ore to the Oregon Shortline for shipment to the smelter. The 1929 financial crash caused the Gilmore mines to cease operation. The Gilmore and Pittsburg Railroad became less useful and stopped its run in 1939. The track was torn up and the scrap metal sold to an agent of the Japanese government about a year before Pearl Harbor.
Jesse Creek was named for the pioneer Jesse McCaleb, who was killed by the Indians on Lost River. He was the partner of George L. Shoup, the last Territorial governor and the first state governor of Idaho.
The Lemhi County Historical Museum, located at 210 Main St, Salmon, was built by the Historical Society, the Salmon Jaycees, and the people and friends of Lemhi County, as a memorial to the Pioneers and in honor of the Idaho Territorial Centennial. It was dedicated on March 4, 1963, 100 years to the day the President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill creating the Territory of Idaho.
Information for this page was taken from the Salmon Valley Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Guide, and reprinted with permission