From Allatlo'puh to Gouge-Eye to Riggins
—Salmon River Heritage Waking Tour —
From Allatlo'puh to Gouge-Eye to Riggins
The river terrace, now known as Riggins, has a long and varied history. Although it is known that the general area has been used by various groups of Native Americans for about 11,500 years, the oldest actual evidence of occupation at this location was during the Cascade Phase about 9,000-5,500 years ago.
The Nez Perce (NiMii'Puu) Indians have used this area for at least 4,500 years, according to archaeological evidence, and had several permanent seasonal camps here. The place was known as Allatlo'puh, place of the yellowjackets, and the village which was located adjacent to the river front near the enter of Riggins was known as
Meolpellyee'we wee, mouth of the Little Salmon.
Settlers came to the Salmon River Canyon in the 1860s following the discovery of gold in the area. In 1873, Mike Deasy, whose family originally settled up Race Creek, took squatter's rights for mining on the barren flat of sagebrush, sand, boulders down known as Riggins. Thinking the land had little value, in 1891 Easy traded it to Charle Clay and Johnny Irwin for two spotted ponies and a gold pocket watch.
The Gouge-Eye Settlement
Charlie Clay and Johnny Irwin began a mining operation on the north end of the flat. Mining activity soon waned and the ditch built for their gold-panning operation became used for irrigation and drinking water. The dry arid flat quickly blossomed into rich gardens and fruit orchards. Homes soon followed and the town was born, complete with stores, hotels, and saloons. The settlement was called "Gouge-Eye" for many ears as a result of a dancehall fight.
In 1901, the first post office was opened, and the town was officially named "Riggins: in honor of early pioneer and stage driver John Riggins. Life was not easy in the rugged canyon, but the early settlers were a hardy lot. They hauled supplies and move livestock over the steep rocky trails along the Salmon, relying on ferries for river crossings. Although it was a obstacle for early travel, the river was beneficial to the settlers. The water was used for transporting lumber and supplies downstream and each year provided driftwood for winter fires and ice to be preserved for summer use. The pioneers lived off the land - raising livestock, farming vegetables and fruit, and dining on wild game and fish from the river.
Upon the completion of the Orangeville-Meadows Wagon Road in 1903, Riggins became a supply stop for the heavy traffic to nearby mines and was the center of the canyon's livestock industry. Lumber mills soon followed to produce lumber for the community's needs.
The Depression Years and Beyond
The Depression of the 1930s brought many changes to Riggins and the Salmon Rivere. Three Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camps were set up in the area and roads were built to open up territory previously accessible only by horseback. More homes and businesses were built to accommodate the CCC-boys. The simple life and pioneer days of Riggins seemed to be left behind.
Greeting the 21st Century
While mining, ranching and recreation played an important role in the development of the community, the timber industry was the economic backbone of Riggins for may years.
In 1982, the local mill burned and was never rebuilt. Without a major industry or employer, the community turned once again to the area's pristine resources - the river and surrounding mountains - to sustain the economy.
Today Riggins is a thriving, recreation-based community offering visitors a variety of outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, hunting, and fishing. It offers tourist shopping, visitor accommodations and services including many outfitters and guides to assist with recreational activities. There are churches to serve all faiths, excellent schools, municipal utilities and emergency services.
Although Riggins now has all amenities of the modern city, the slow pace of country living and peaceful surroundings can transport you back in time. The remote and rugged countryside is relatively unchanged and uninhabited and the sound of the river echoing through the canyon seems to whisper. "Welcome to Gouge-Eye!"