Dennis Cassinelli: The history of the town of Jarbidge

I have visited Jarbidge, in Elko County, a few times on hunting trips and with my family camping. The town is located at the bottom of the scenic Jarbidge River Canyon. It is near the edge of the Jarbidge Wilderness about 10 miles south of the Idaho-Nevada border.
It is easy to access Jarbidge from Elko, but use a map, as there several turns. Often, the road is closed between late October and June due to heavy snowfall. Known for its remoteness, no paved roads exist within about 20 miles of Jarbidge.
The name "Jarbidge" is derived from the Shoshone language meaning "devil." Natives believed the nearby hills were haunted by a weird beastly creature. A more correct pronunciation for this Shoshone word would be would be "Jahabich.”
The town of Jarbidge is on the Bruneau River that flows north to Idaho and the Salmon River. It was once known as the "River of No Return" since boats could navigate down the river, but could not return due to the fast rapids. It got this name from a 1954 movie, "River of No Return.”
The song by the same name was sung by Marilyn Monroe in her second movie. My prehistoric novel “Legends of Spirit Cave” has an interesting character named Bruneau who came from Jarbidge.
During the town's early life, Jarbidge was like most mining camps, a rough and tumble place, but law enforcement was never much of a problem. The little community does hold one distinction in the history of crime. It is the site of the last horse-drawn stage robbery in the nation in 1916. Note that the word is "stage," not "stage coach.” It was a buckboard carrying letters, packages, supplies and cash.
The main industry in Jarbidge in the early days was mining. Gold was first discovered there in 1909, exactly 50 years after silver was discovered on the Comstock. During the summer of 1910 a modest town took shape and wooden buildings replaced the tents of the initial rush. Once the winter snow finally melted, additional ore deposits were discovered and it turned out that the initial rush wasn't so overblown after all.
Most of the men left the camp before the next winter, but in the spring of 1911, the previous year's rush repeated itself, this time with nearly 1,200 men flooding into the remote camp. The town again declined that summer and was left with just a small population by the following winter.
The remoteness of the district and the harsh winter conditions at an elevation of over 6200 feet resulted in slow development of the mines. It wasn't until 1918 that the Elkoro Mining Co., consolidated the best claims in the canyon, built a mill, brought in electricity, and finally got the Jarbidge mining industry started in earnest. Ultimately Jarbidge became a mining camp of a couple hundred people that produced about $10 million in gold through the early 1930s.
Jarbidge today is a pleasant place to visit. Tall conifers and steep canyon walls are a perfect setting for the town. Residents organize several weekend celebrations during the summer which brings in so many people that the place takes on the appearance of a boom town again. A few hardy souls live there year round. Others choose to winter over in Idaho where the winters are milder due to the lower elevation.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment