History & Culture

Payette National Forest Agency History

In 1944 the Weiser National Forest and the Idaho National Forest were combined to create what we know today as the Payette National Forest. The Weiser National Forest was established in 1905 with the headquarters at Weiser, Idaho. The Idaho National Forest was created in 1908 from parts of the original Payette National Forest (established in 1905) and the Bitterroot National Forest, and the headquarters was at Meadows, seven miles west of McCall.  In 1909, Tom McCall offered to donate a building and land in the town of McCall if the Forest Service would move the headquarters. His offer was accepted and Tom and his son, J.D. "Daws", built the building which remained the Supervisor's Office until 1914. Today that building is known as the Lake Street Station.

Indigenous History & Culture

Indigenous communities have occupied the area of present-day Payette National Forest lands since time immemorial.  Excavated archaeological evidence on the Forest suggests that Paleo-Indians were interacting with these lands for as long as 11,000 years. However excitingly, recent excavations, such as those at Cooper’s Ferry located on the lower Salmon River near Cottonwood, indicate dates that extend further to over 17,000 years ago. Indigenous oral histories convey deep connections with the Forest landscapes as they have changed with time and by significant historical events.

Native Americans of central Idaho practice hunting, gathering, and fishing for their subsistence. Winter villages, associated with big game winter ranges and access to anadromous fish, were located along major rivers in lower elevations. In the spring, bands left their winter villages as the snow receded to access a diversity of ecosystems that supported a variety of plant medicine and foods and big game migrating into summer range, following a seasonal round.

The influx of Euro-Americans into central Idaho in the early 19th century as a result of the fur trade influenced indigenous populations and impacted their lifeways. Mining starting in the 1860s on the Forest and later development associated with homesteads, agricultural pursuits, and settlement increased tensions and caused displacement of tribal communities. The Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes consult with the Payette National Forest and convey that the Forest landscape is integral to their community life and culture.  Tribal members maintain their subsistence and ceremonial practices on the Forest and continue to exercise their treaty-reserved rights and non-treaty connections with the landscape. Be respectful of these practices and of the Forest’s heritage and archaeological sites.

Homestead, Settlement & Mining History

The Payette National Forest has an extensive history of mining, homestead establishment, settlement, and ranching and herding. Significantly, the Warren Mining District was established in 1862, where various mining methods were utilized to extract gold from ore. Chinese miners and other laborers, mostly originating from the Guangdong Province, arrived in 1870 when the District was opened to Chinese laborers. Although many were miners, the Chinese served many roles such as launders and cooks. Lee Dick was a miner and Chinese medicine doctor who treated Chinese and Euro-American alike, newspaper excerpts describe many lives of which he saved. Polly Bemis contributed greatly to the community of Warren and established a homestead together with her husband Charlie Bemis on the Main Salmon River. Settlers arrived in Council Valley in 1870 and many homesteads were established throughout the lands that are now the Payette National Forest, seeking to make a living. Some buildings remain, but sometimes orchards and other heritage plants like daffodils and rhubarbs are all that mark these individual stories. The Thunder Mountain gold rush started in 1902 and further increased mining and settlement on the land. Although the rush was brief, the event remains a significant part of the Forest history.