Heritage - Brief History

A Brief History of the Ashley National Forest History

Byron Loosle – December 2001

The Uinta Mountains have been an oasis and sanctuary for thousands of years. The first humans used the Uintas almost 8000 years ago. They hunted the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which were so numerous in the high sloped and steep canyons. Although the Spanish Friars Dominguez and Escalante passed along the southern flanks of the Uintas in 1776, the first to describe crossing the Uintas was General William Ashley in 1825, as he brought a group of fur-trappers into the local area. Ashley floated down the Green River through Red Canyon and beyond, then worked his way back across the Uintas on horseback. Later Major John Wesley Powell also explored the "man-eating" Green River, naming many of the geological features along the way--including Red Canyon and Flaming Gorge. This isolated corner of the world became a favorite haunt of outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch and other notorious sorts. The isolation of these mountains also attracted homesteaders, such as Oscar Swett and Elinore Stewart.

In 1897, President Grover Cleveland set aside the Uinta Forest Reserve, encompassing most of the Uinta Mountains. On July 1, 1908, President Roosevelt designated the eastern end of the old Uinta Reserve as the Ashley National Forest. The federal government was not always popular and the first Forest Supervisor William Anderson worked hard to maintain good relations with local cattlemen and loggers. There were still town meetings when he made sure his revolver was handy and confrontations on the forest when he actually had to draw it.

Concern for the Uinta Mountain sanctuary began to grow after World War II, and in 1949 a portion of the Uintas was set aside "where primitive conditions of transportation and habitation will be preserved as much as practical." This designation was continued until 1984, when Congress created the High Uintas Wilderness. After completion of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1964, another important addition to the forest was made in 1968 when President Johnson approved legislation which transfered the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to the Ashley National Forest.

Although our tools have changed, with computers used today more than guns, many of the issues and concerns remain the same. Forest land is needed to provide timber, grazing, and water, but a healthy environment must be maintained so that wildlife, loggers, ranchers, and recreationalists hundreds of years from now also can utilize the Uinta Mountains.

Key Contacts

Jeffrey A. Rust