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The name, Owyhee, comes from early fur trappers. In 1819, three natives from Hawaii, part of Donald McKenzie's fur-trapping expedition, were sent to trap a large stream that emptied into the Snake River. When they did not return, McKenzie investigated and found one man murdered in camp and no sign of the others. The stream was named in their honor. "Owyhee" is an early spelling for the word Hawaii.
The Oregon Trail, the earliest road in the area, was used by emigrants for over 30 years on their long trip to the Oregon country. The part of the Trail in Owyhee County was known as the South Alternate Route or "dry route". The Owyhee road was shorter but much harder than the main trail.
Gold was discovered in rich placer deposits in the Owyhee Mountains in May, 1863. A search for the source of the gold led to quartz ledges on War Eagle Mountain. Before the fall of 1863, several hard rock mines were being developed. Three towns grew to supply the miner's needs.
Booneville, Ruby City and Silver City were the first three settlements in the county. Only Silver City still stands; its well-preserved buildings a silent testimonial to the lively mining days. The beautiful ruby silver ore and the wealth of gold taken from the mountains made the mining district world famous.
While Ruby City was named the first county seat, its population and businesses soon moved to a better location two miles upstream on February 1, 1867. Silver City was closer to most of the mining operations and had a better winter location. In 1934, after the decline of mining, the county government was moved to Murphy, more central to the livestock and agricultural sections of the country.

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