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Murphy History

Murphy, Idaho – brief history

Murphy is a small town in Owyhee County, Idaho. It is one of the smallest county seats in the country, its population as of the 2010 census was 97 people.

Murphy is located in the arid Owyhee Desert, with the mountains to the south and the Snake River to the north. It is located on the edge of a ravine through which the Rabbit Creek flows.


Murphy developed around the Boise, Nampa, and Owyhee Railroad, built in 1899. Originally, it was planned to extend the railroad to Silver City, but when mining operations in the mountains became less and less, the line was not extended beyond Murphy. The railway closed in 1947.

In 1934, the voters of Owyhee County chose Murphy as the county seat. Although the county seat was moved to Murphy after the vote, and a new courthouse was built in 1936, the Idaho legislature did not ratify the change until 1999.

The main theory is that the name of the town comes from Cornelius "Con" Murphy, crew chief on the railroad and foreman during the construction of the bridge in 1897. Another source of the name could be Pat Murphy, a mining engineer and a friend of the owner of the Dewey Railroad.

Owyhee County

Before Murphy, in 1863, Owyhee became the first county created by the newly formed Idaho Territory. Today, it is the second-largest county in Idaho. "Owyhee" is an early spelling of "Hawaii".

In 1819, three natives from Hawaii, who were a part of a fur trapping expedition, were sent to fish a large stream flowing into the Snake River. When they did not return, the expedition conducted an investigation and found that one person had been killed in the camp, and there was no trace of the others. The creek was named after them.

The earliest road in the area, has been used by emigrants for over 30 years during their long journey to the Oregon Country. The portion of the trail in county was known as the Southern Alternate Route or "dry path". The road was shorter but much more difficult than the main trail. In May 1863, gold was discovered in rich places in the mountains.

The search for the source of gold led to quartz ledges. Until the autumn of 1863, several mines were developed for the extraction of solid rock. Three cities have grown to meet the needs of prospectors, which later led to the establishment of Murphy.

Boonville, Ruby City, and Silver City are the first three settlements in the county. Only the latter is still standing, its well-preserved buildings are mute evidence of the busy mining days. The beautiful ruby silver ore and gold mining in the mountains have made this mining area world famous. Although another city was named the first county seat, its population and businesses soon moved to a more convenient location two miles upstream. Silver City was closer to most mining enterprises and had a better winter location. In 1934, after the decline of the mining industry, the county government was moved to Murphy, a more central location in the livestock and agricultural parts of the country.

Gold near Murphy

In 1863, a group of 29 people led by Michael Jordan left Placerville and went in search of gold in the tributaries of the Snake River. They crossed the Snake River at the mouth of the Boise. While camping, two of the men climbed the watershed west of the camp for observation. On the other side, they found a large stream surrounded by forested hills.

The next morning, the whole group headed in the direction of the discovered stream. They reached it late on the evening of May 18, at a point they named Discovery Bar. Dr. Rudd, without waiting for his mule to be unpacked, took a shovel and scooped up some loose gravel from the bank of the stream. He shoveled it, finding about a hundred gold “flowers”, as they were called. Each man followed his example, finding from 25 to 50 cents per pan. The excitement that followed can be better imagined than described.

Murphy Today

Today, Murphy is where you can find County Historical Museum and Library. Idaho Highway 78 passes through Murphy, which runs parallel to the Snake River and connects all the major cities of the county. Murphy has an airport, the runway runs parallel to the highway, throughout the city. In 2020, the population of the town rose to 190 people.