History of the Refuge

western expansion - 512x395

During the western expansion in mid 1800s, emigrants traveled the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails through the area which is now Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. 


Historical Perspective

 

The first recorded humans in this area arrived when continental ice sheets receded to the north. They were followed by the Shoshone Indians who began arriving in this area approximately 700 years ago. Both groups were nomadic, largely dependent on buffalo and antelope herds that migrated through the area. 

   

The early 1800s marked the arrival of the first European trappers to this area in search of beaver to trap. These rugged mountain men, including Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger, and William Sublette, crossed the Green River where Seedskadee NWR is now located.  

   

Beginning in 1841, many emigrants followed in these trappers’ footsteps. The much traveled Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails all cross the Refuge. Segments of these trails can still be seen on and adjacent to the Refuge. 

 

 

With the arrival of the railroad in 1868, stockmen began to settle in the area. Intensive livestock grazing in the late 1800s caused the gradual deterioration of wildlife habitat. As the new century began, homesteaders also made their mark on the land. Some of the structures they built, now considered national historical sites, can still be seen on the Refuge. For more in-depth historical information of these sites, pick up our brochure titled “A Historical Perspective” at the Refuge headquarters.  

 

Historical Quotes 

 

On the 16th we frequently encountered snow. There were large beds of it on the summit and slopes of the mountains visible to the north. We halted beside the Spanish River [Green River], a large stream on whose banks, according to some Indians, the Spanish live. It flows west and, it may be supposed, empties into the Gulf of California. We were surrounded by mountains in which we found beautiful green meadows where many herds of buffalo graze - a fact the more interesting to us because we had not seen a single one of these animals for several days. I found three different species of gooseberries: the common type with red berries, low bushes, and very spiny stems; a second with excellent yellow berries and non-spiny stems; and a third with dark red berries that taste much like our winter grapes. It is nearly as large and has very spiny stems. I also saw three kinds of currants; one has red berries, large and savory, with bushes eight or nine feet high; another with yellow berries about the size of ordinary currants, and with bushes about four or five feet high; and a third with bright red berries that are almost as sweet as strawberries but are rather insipid. Their bushes are small. (20 miles)  On the 17th we continued to follow the river to the opposite end of the mountains. Beaver and otter seemed to be everywhere. In fact, for some distance down the mountainside the area appears to be very favorable for trapping beaver. Ducks and geese are also plentiful. 

-Wilson Price Hunt 1812

 

Sunday 19th We left the creek which turned South traveled west 6 miles over a broken sandy country & came to the Shetkadee which bS S.E. & N W runs S E - is one hundred yards wide 4 to five feet deep with a rapid current - mountains bS N & westerly about 15 or 20 miles - And a range of mountains at a great distance say 40 or 50 miles southwardly - pleasant weather - game scarce Some fresh sign of beaver on this river and much old sign - timbered with long leaf cotton wood & small willow – Thursday 23rd our boat answers the desired purpose greatly beyond my expectation it is Easily navigated & Carries as much again as I expected we decended the River to day about 3 [sic] miles 10 miles of which The river ran E. S. E. to a small Creek 30 yds wide 20 S E - high broken country on Each side the bodirs of the river Wooded with Cotton wood & willow ...

-William H. Ashley 1825

 

Green River Rendevouz

June 19th. We arrived to-day on the Green river, Siskadee or Colorado of the west,a beautiful, clear, deep, and rapid stream, which receives the waters of Sandy, and encamped upon its eastern bank. After making a hasty meal, as it was yet early in the day, I sallied forth with my gun, and roamed about the neighborhood for several hours in quest of birds. On returning, towards evening, I found that the whole company had left the spot, the place being occupied only by a few hungry wolves, ravens, and magpies, the invariable gleaners of a forsaken camp. …… Captain W. explained to me that he had heard of good pasture here, and had concluded to move immediately, on account of the horses; he informed me, also, that he had crossed the stream about fifty yards below the point where I had entered, and had found an excellent ford.

30th. Our camp here is a most lovely one in every respect, and as several days have elapsed since we came, and I am convalescent, I can roam about the country a little and enjoy it. The pasture is rich and very abundant, and it does our hearts good to witness the satisfaction and comfort of our poor jaded horses. Our tents are pitched in a pretty little valley or indentation in the plain, surrounded on all sides by low bluffs of yellow clay. Near us flows the clear deep water of the Siskadee, and beyond, on every side, is a wide and level prairie, interrupted only by some gigantic peaks of mountains and conical butes in the distance. The river, here, contains a great number of large trout, some grayling, and a small narrow-mouthed white fish, resembling a herring. They are all frequently taken with the hook, and, the trout particularly, afford excellent sport to the lovers of angling. Old Izaac Walton would be in his glory here, and the precautionary measures which he so strongly recommends in approaching a trout stream, he would not need to practise, as the fish is not shy, and bites quickly and eagerly at a grasshopper or minnow. 

Buffalo, antelopes, and elk are abundant in the vicinity, and we are therefore living well. We have seen also another kind of game, a beautiful bird, the size of a half grown turkey, called the cock of the plains, (Tetrao urophasianus.) We first met with this noble bird on the plains, about two days' journey east of Green river, in flocks, or packs, of fifteen or twenty, and so exceedingly tame as to allow an approach to within a few feet, running before our horses like domestic fowls, and not unfrequently hopping under their bellies, while the men amused themselves by striking out their feathers with their riding whips. When we first saw them, the temptation to shoot was irresistible; the guns were cracking all around us, and the poor grouse falling in every direction; but what was our disappointment, when, upon roasting them nicely before the fire, we found them so strong and bitter as not to be eatable. From this time the cock of the plains was allowed to roam free and unmolested, and as he has failed to please our palates, we are content to admire the beauty of his plumage, and the grace and spirit of his attitudes. 

-John Kirk Townsend 1839

 

In the spring of 1837, I went to the Rocky Mountains with a few companions, trapping on the way, selling pelts to Bridger at Green river. One is a branch of the "American Fur Company," under the direction of Mess Dripps and Fontanell: The other is called the "Rocky Mountain Fur Company" The names of the partners are Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublett and James Bridger. The two companies consist of about six hundred men...This stream is called Ham's fork of Green River. The face of the adjacent country is very mountaneous and broken except in the small alluvial bottoms along the streams, it abounds with Buffaloe, Antelope, Elk and Bear, and some few Deer along the Rivers. Here Mr Wyeth disposed of a part of his loads to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and on on the 2d of July we renewed our march towards the Columbia River. After leaving Ham's Fork we took across a high range of hills in a NW direction and fell on to a stream called Bear River which emptied to the Big Salt Lake. This is a beautiful country. the river which is about 20 yards wide runs through large fertile bottoms bordered by rolling ridges which gradually ascended on each side of the river to the high ranges of dark and lofty mountains upon whose tops the snow remains nearly the year round. We travelled down this river N West about 15 miles and camped opposite a Lake of fresh water about 60 miles in circumference which outlets into the river on the west side.

From Journal of a Trapper by Osborne Russell