History & Culture

The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland are rich not only in natural history, but in human history.

The USDA Forest Service, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland are located on the ancestral lands of many Native American Tribes that have stewarded them for time immemorial. These tribes include the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Chippewa-Cree Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Crow Nation, Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Ute Tribe, Oglala Lakota Nation, Rosebud Lakota Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribes, Southern Ute Tribal Council, Standing Rock River Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation), Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Yankton Sioux, and Santee Sioux Nation.

The USDA Forest Tribal Connections Map is a tool to learn about the many tribes that have cared for our nation’s forests and grasslands for millennia and still maintain strong historical and spiritual connections to the land.

The land has also been used for a wide variety of agricultural, homesteading, and operational purposes. Use the links below to explore the administrative history of the MBRTB land management unit.

The Medicine Bow National Forest dates back to May 22, 1902, with the establishment of the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1929, the former Hayden National Forest along the Continental Divide was added. The Pole Mountain Unit between Laramie and Cheyenne was formally administered by the War Department. In 1959, the area formerly used by the military was added to the Medicine Bow National Forest, and in 1961 all military interests in the Pole Mountain District were terminated.

The origin of “Medicine Bow” is legendary. The generally accepted version is that the Native American tribes which inhabited southeastern Wyoming found mountain mahogany in one of the mountain valleys from which bows of exceptional quality were made. It became the custom of friendly tribes to assemble there annually and construct their weapons. At these assemblies, there were ceremonial powwows for the cure of disease which, in the hybrid speech that developed between the Indians and the early settlers, was known as making –medicine. Eventually, the settlers associated the terms “making-medicine” and “making bow”, and Medicine Bow resulted as the name for the locality. Later the name gained worldwide renown through Owen Wister’s novel, “The Virginian”.

The Routt National Forest is named in memory of Colonel John N. Routt, the last territorial governor and first state governor of Colorado. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Park Range Forest Reserve in Northwest Colorado and in 1908 he changed the name to honor the former governor. The Routt National Forest occupies a unique setting in Northwest Colorado. The forest is between two internationally recognized destination sites -- Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. It's also home to the world famous Steamboat Ski area. The Continental Divide follows the Park Range from the Wyoming border to Rabbit Ears Pass, a popular summer and winter recreation area. The Forest is surrounded by historic and modern ranches and evidence of past cultures, including the Ute Indians.

The Routt National Forest has diverse topography consisting of high plateaus, rolling foothills and mountains. The climate can be summarized by the statement "long, snowy winters and short, cool summers." Elevations exceed 13,000 feet in some locations. The Routt National Forest manages four Congressionally designated Wilderness areas: Never Summer, Sarvis Creek, Flat Tops and Mount Zirkel, which offer superb hiking opportunities. The Forest also provides for livestock grazing, timber production, and other forest products including Christmas trees, firewood, ferns and mushrooms.

Thunder Basin National Grassland(TBNG) was initiated in 1934 as the Northeastern Wyoming Land Utilization Project under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The program also has been administered by the Farm Security Administration, Bureau of Agriculture, and the Soil Conservation Service. The lands were transferred from the Soil Conservation Service to the Forest Service in 1954. In 1960, the area was designated as the TBNG with permanent National Forest System status. The Grassland was subdivided into three units for grazing administration, each unit having a grazing association. These associations were established during the mid 1930's and have been in effect since that time. In 1987 the TBNG was combined with Laramie Peak Ranger District into the Douglas Ranger District.

At first glance, the Thunder Basin National Grassland appears quiet and empty, a land dominated by sky and wind, stretching from horizon to horizon; yet a closer look reveals a surprising diversity of landforms, vegetation, and wildlife. It occupies over 572,000 acres in a mosaic of state, federal, and private lands totaling over 1.8 million acres. Lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and the Wyoming State Land Board are open to many public uses. Numerous roads cross the Grassland. However, many do not provide legal access to public land. Many private land owners are willing to permit use of their roads or land to hunters, campers, bird watchers, or hikers, but the land owner’s permission MUST be obtained BEFORE using these roads to avoid trespassing. Not all private land is fenced, so care must be taken to determine the land ownership of the lands you want to visit. Most old buildings, corrals, or structures are located on private land and should not be disturbed.