History of the Bitterroot National Forest


The Bitterroot National Forest has been occupied by humans for at least 8,000 years or longer, and is the ancestral home of the Bitterroot Salish Native Americans. It was also frequented by other tribes including the Nez Perce. These hunters and gatherers harvested plants and animals throughout the year.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805 was the first recorded contact of Euro-Americans here. After crossing the rugged divided near what is now Lost Trail Pass, Lewis and Clark descended into Ross' Hole and encountered an encampment of Bitterroot Salish preparing to travel to bison hunting areas east of the Continental Divide.

Seventy-two years later when the Nez Perce fled their homeland in Idaho. They retraced Lewis and Clark's route into the Bitterroot. After passing peacefully through the valley, they were confronted by a regiment of soldiers and the Battle of the Big Hole ensued. A segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, known also as the Nee-Me-Poo, can be hiked on the Sula Ranger District.

Euro-American occupation of the Bitterroot Valley accelerated in the 1860's with the discovery of gold, first in Idaho and then in Montana. One of this area's most prominent mining operations was the Overwhich-Hughes Creek Mining District in the upper West Fork of the Bitterroot River drainage.

The lumber industry began its development in the 1880's. Much of the timber harvested was cut from public land until in 1897, when the Bitterroot Forest Reserve was created. This made it part of a national effort to help preserve the forest in the western United States from further devastation.

In 1907, the Bitterroot Forest Reserve and others became National Forests with the creation of the Forest Service. This marked the beginning of National Forest Conservation and management policy.