History of the Intermountain Region

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[Photo]: Man and a campfire. The configuration of the region has changed a little since its creation. The region has lost northern Arizona, gained a portion of eastern California and experienced some readjustments in Wyoming. However, the current outline of the Intermountain Region is, generally, the same as it was when it was established.

American Indians had located themselves in the area long before the arrival of Euro-American settlers. The majority of aboriginal people of the Intermountain Region were Shoshonean-speaking peoples belonging to the broad tribes of Shoshoni, Ute, Bannock, Paiute and Goshute.

It is interesting to note that the Indians used fire for a number of purposes. They burned dense undergrowth of grass shrubs to stimulate desired plants, improve the soil and to kill insects and remove unwanted plants. They also drove animals with fire. They were aware, however, of the potential destructive force of fire and tried to contain it.

At the time of the Euro-American penetration, a rich diversity of lush foothill and mountain meadows, tall timber and sagebrush covered or peppered the mountains and valleys of the Intermountain Region. Early diaries indicate that wildlife was also unevenly spread over the eastern and northeastern portions of the region. Peter Skene Ogden reported numerous herds of buffalo and elk and a great many beaver. In the Cache Valley, he found buffalo scarce but reported grizzly bear in abundance.

As early as 1825, Ogden's journal indicates that areas formally rich in beaver had become entirely destitute. By 1835, other mountain men and trappers were having similar experiences. Other species had disappeared from areas where they had previously abounded. Cache Valley was found entirely destitute of game and trapping parties were forced to live chiefly upon roots.

By 1843 conditions had changed even more. Most of the Indians in western Idaho were living on fish and insects rather than larger wildlife, which was generally absent. John C. Freemont found most of the buffalo gone from portions of the Intermountain Region where they formally inhabited. He attributed the eradication to the work of fur traders who killed them for their hides in the mid to late 1830's.

When settlers started arriving in force in the 1890's, other areas exhibited similar patterns. The supply of big game in and around the Boise Basin had declined significantly because of overgrazing by sheep and heavy commercial hunting. Elk had disappeared everywhere in Utah except for the northern slope of the Uinta Mountains by 1900.

The explorations, like the adventures, of trappers and mountaineers served to advertise the intermountain country and bring in more settlers. The first to occupy the Wasatch Front were the Mormons who arrived in Utah beginning in 1847. The Mormon expansion led to the settlement of many portions of the Intermountain Region. The settlements established a pattern of community ownership and certain resources together with individual entrepreneurship in farms and businesses. Brigham Young decreed that neither "private ownership of the streams that come out of the canyons, nor the timber that grows on the hills. These belong to the people, all the people."

Patterns in Idaho and Wyoming were similar to those of Utah and Nevada. Outposts like Fort Hall, Fort Boise and Fort Bridger were established on the overland route in the 1830's and 1840's either to facilitate the fur trade or to protect migrants.

In parts of southern Idaho, gold became the magnet drawing settlers. Beginning in 1861, miners poured into the Salmon River country and the Boise Basin. The north Salmon diggings around Florence and Warren had produced nearly $16 million by 1867. By 1864, an estimated 16,000 people lived in the Boise Basin, and Idaho City itself boasted a population of more than 6,000. Though the short-lived mining boom attracted people to the area cattle ranching drew additional settlers. Grazing began in the present day Boise National Forest area in 1862, soon after the mining had started.

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