For 14,000 years or more, people have lived in central Idaho. In particular, the Mountain Shoshoni Indians lived along the Salmon River and its tributaries. In 1824, fur trappers discovered the area, and they worked there on and off for a few years with little success. Instead, they found the vicinity of the Boulder-White Clouds a refuge from conflict with the Blackfeet and a valuable place to gather, because it offered seclusion and an abundance of food, including salmon, sheep and elk.
In 1860, gold was discovered 150 miles north of the Boulder-White Clouds at Orfino Creek near what is today Pierce, Idaho. Two years later, gold discoveries in the Boise Basin sparked widespread interest in mining in Southern Idaho. In 1864, serious prospecting began in the adjacent Sawtooth range, and soon after, mining commenced in the White Clouds at Robinson’s Bar. But the long winters and exceptionally difficult transportation problems hindered mining in this remote setting.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, ranching in the area got underway as people began to acquire land in the valleys through homesteading. Beginning in the 1920s the area became a popular destination for Idahoans. From 1933 to 1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed Forest Service buildings, roads, trails and campgrounds throughout the region that is today the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Drought in the 1930s caused many fires in Idaho, including the 1,424-acre Germania Creek fire. It was one of the first fires to be fought, costing $1,054.
The Idaho gubernatorial election of 1970 drew attention to the Boulder-White Clouds when Cecil Andrus challenged the incumbent Don Samuelson’s support of mining development in the White Clouds. “I think that one issue voted me into the governor’s office. I did not consider myself to be an environmentalist. I didn’t know what the word meant. I considered myself a commonsense conservationalist,” reflects Andrus.
After winning the election, Andrus worked with Senator Frank Church and
Idaho’s other members of Congress to craft the Sawtooth National
Recreation Act, which passed in 1972. Since then, there have been multiple
attempts by conservation groups and politicians to establish the Boulder-White
Clouds as congressionally designated wilderness, but none have been successful.
Recently, the Boulder-White Clouds began to receive extensive press coverage
when Congressman Mike Simpson expressed interest in sponsoring a bill
to protect this area.