Technical Report

A History of Native Elk in Mount Rainier National Park
Paul Schullery


Appendix III includes several references by nineteenth century writers to bighorn sheep being present in the park. As has been pointed out, many of these early observers were not familiar with wildlife and made mistakes of identification. McWhorter (1917) did take pains to quote Sluiskin on the presence of sheep in the park area in the 1854-1855 period; that reference is probably the most reliable of these early mentions of sheep.

Johnson (1983) has reviewed the past history of bighorn sheep in Washington, pointing out that "disease is probably the biggest cause of bighorn declines." Uebelocker (pers. comm.) has evidence of bighorn populations in the Pacific Northwest that were apparently wiped out by their early contacts with domestic sheep and the diseases contracted thereby. Domestic sheep were introduced to the Puget Sound trough in numbers soon after the establishment of Fort Nisqually, and by the 1860s were common on both sides of the Cascade crest. These could have brought with them diseases to which native bighorns had no resistance.

The only wildlife student of the park who seems to have devoted much attention to the possibility of sheep having occurred in the park was Floyd Schmoe. In 1926 he wrote two short articles for Mount Rainier Nature News Notes. They follow:

For some time there has been a question in the mind of the naturalist as to whether or not mountain sheep were ever found on Mount Rainier.

I have talked with Yakima Indians who have hunted in what is now the park and they told me that some thirty or forty years ago, there were a few sheep to be found on the mountain. I have found however that the Indians designated both the sheep and the goat by the same name so I am not certain that it was not the white mountain goat they referred to. Goat have always been, and still are, quite abundant on the mountain.

Len Longmire was telling me recently that "Old Indian Jim" killed a sheep about 1890 over on the Cowlitz. Mr. Longmire saw the animal but he was not sure exactly where it had been killed.

The only definite record that I have been able to secure was of a sheep (Ovis canadensis californiana) taken in Yakima County "Near Mount Adams" and now in the National Museum. The record bears the date of 1912. Mount Adams is about fifty miles to the southeast of Mount Rainier and the country is very similar in type, so it is very likely that sheep found about Mount Adams would also be found on Rainier.

However none of the old settlers remember seeing sheep on the mountain so far as I have been able to learn (Schmoe 1926b).

During the summer a park employee reported seeing a small band of sheep on the east side. He is a most reliable man and was quite definite in his identification. Sheep range over long distances and it is entirely possible that some may have entered the park (Schmoe 1926c).

Many years later, when he wrote A Year in Paradise, Schmoe also recalled that Ben Longmire told him of finding "a set of big ram's horns while building trail at the foot of the Tatoosh." Schmoe called this "the only fair authentic story I have of bighorn sheep ever inhabiting the central Cascades" (Schmoe 1959).

Gustafson (pers. comm.) has reported that the mammal bones found at the Frying Pan Rockshelter in the park are those of bighorn sheep. Perhaps when more extensive archeological work takes place more will be learned about the past presence of bighorns on Mount Rainier.

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Last Updated: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division

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