Riggins' Rich Resources
—Salmon River Heritage Waking Tour —
Over eleven thousand years ago, groups of Native Americans started the long history of land use in this area. The Nez Perce Tribe carried on the rich tradition of hunting, fishing, and gathering food, herbs and wood. Mountain men and early explorers hunted and trapped as they passed through the area. They were followed by miners and loggers.
During the gold rush of the 1860s, Salmon River gold was extracted by placer mining using sluice boxes called "long Toms" and hydraulic mining, which used water cannons known as "monitors." The evidence of these early mining processes can still be seen along the riverbanks. br
As the mining era progressed, a market developed for beef, wool, fruit and vegetables. Enterprising early settlers began to ranch and farm the area. Fruit and vegetables were grown in quantities and packed or freighted by wagon to nearby mines and communities. In 1863, cattle ranching was introduced to the Salmon River country by August Berg. Sheep ranching soon followed with pioneer Charlie Clay operating his sheep outfit from the Berg Ranch at the turn of the century. When the National Forest reserve was formed in 1897, there were 13,992 head of cattle and 70,000 sheep permitted on the Nez Perce National Forest.
As the area prospered, the need for lumber grew and the Salmon River's
timber industry was born. Since it was easier to haul lumber than logs, lumber was cut in the mountains and packed out on horseback. Soon roads were built and rough lumber freighted to town. Eventually, there were small sawmills up nearly every stream and gulch.
With the advent of timber sales from nearby public lands in 1945, the lumber industry became the base for the area economy and remained so for many years. The sawmill having the greatest impact on Riggins was the Salmon River Lumber Company originally started by George Jensen. Later, Warren Brown developed the company located at the confluence of the Little Salmon and Main Salmon Rivers to include a sawmill, shipping operation, planing mill, dry kiln, and logging operation. The company was the community's major employer until 1982 when the sawmill burned. This devastating event marked the end of an era in Riggins history.
In the early 1980s, as the area's timber industry declined, tourism and recreation became the lifeblood of the canyon community. Today Riggins is famed for whitewater boating, hunting, and fishing, These sports along with hiking, biking and camping are a few of the outdoor activities one can enjoy in Salmon River country.