History of the Area
American Indian tribes hunted this area for bison, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The historic End of Woods trail, which crosses the southern part of the Refuge was long used by American Indians, fur traders, and explorers. During the early 1900s, Euripean American settlers developed farms and ranches in this area, plowing native prairie and lowland meadows, and draining wetlands along the river with hopes of growing crops. When the drought of the 1930s hit the west, it had devestating effects on both wildlife and agriculture.
In the early 1900s, plummeting waterfowl populations prompted the establishment of a number of national wildlife refuges, including this one. To restore waterfowl habitat on the Refuge, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a series of low dikes and water control structures along the river. As the waters of the Souris River slowly inundated the valley, aquatic plants were planted to enhance marsh development.
The original water control structures still remain. They have been improved and expanded over the years to better manage the water levels and wildlife habitat.
The Refuge, established in 1935, was originally named the Lower Souris NWR after the river that flows throught its center. The name "souris" is French for "mouse." French explorers named the river the "Souris River" when they learned that local tribes called it the "Mouse River" because of the large numbers of mice found in the meadows there.
In 1976, the Refuge was re-named after J. Clark Salyer II, a former North Dakota biology teacher and Chief of the Divison of Wildlife Refuges in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1934 to 1961. He was known as the father of the Refuge System.
J. Clark Salyer II, Credit: USFWS