The first white men in the Owyhee country were fur trappers. They were part of the Donald McKenzie expedition of 1818. In fact, it is this expedition that gave the area its name. Three Hawaiian Islanders accompanying the party disappeared while exploring the Owyhee River. Afterwards both the river and the entire region became known as "Owyhee", a variation of the word Hawaii. Early fur traders also named another river in this high desert. The name Bruneau River comes from the French trappers phrase "le brun eau" or the brown water.
The trappers were few in number and they didn't stay long. It was the discovery of gold that brought many more people to the Owyhees. Idaho was already a mecca for gold seekers by the early 1860s. As prospectors fanned out throughout the state they eventually found their way into the Owyhee Mountains. It was a worthwhile trip for the group that discovered gold there in 1863. The small stream that yielded the treasure was named Jordan Creek after the leader of the party. Other miners quickly poured in to seek their fortune and towns like Booneville, Ruby City and Silver City were born.
The strikes were rich and Silver City and other mining towns thrived. Before long entrepreneurial ranchers saw an opportunity in feeding the throngs of miners. Eventually ranchers established large herds of cattle on the sage covered plateaus and along the canyons carved by the Owyhee and Bruneau rivers. But life in the harsh desert terrain wasn't easy for those early pioneers. Rough-hewn log cabins miles from nowhere stand as a testament to their challenge of the desert.