The Nezperce Story
A History of the Nezperce National Forest


The beginning of the cattle industry was practically contemporaneous with the beginning of agriculture. No farmer who saw the vast areas of grass-clad land and the sheltered Salmon River canyons and valleys which would furnish warm winter retreats, could fail to recognize the profit that surely must accrue from this business. In the spring of 1863, John M. Crooks and Aurora Shumway bought Lusk's station on Three Mile Creek. Later Shumway purchased the adjoining farm of John Carter. The two, under the firm name of Crooks and Shumway, brought in a thousand head of cattle from the neighborhood of The Dalles, Oregon, and became pioneer stockmen in what is now Idaho County.

They were leaders in the industry throughout all the early days. However, others were not far behind them. Seth Jones was the second man to engage in cattle raising as a business, although a number of farmers on Camas Prairie and Salmon River undoubtedly had a few head from their first settlement. Jones' start consisted of 10 cows which he bought for $60 each.

It was the custom among those early cattlemen to drive their beef animals to the mining districts where they were sold for good prices, although beef was never high in proportion to other food. Among the leading cattlemen in the years prior to the outbreak of the Nez Perce War was Henry Elfers, who at one time had as many as 2,000 head. Other leading cattlemen were Seth Jones, James Baker, John Wood, Charles F. and Charles P. Cone, A. Berg, Getter and Orcutt, Hickey and McLee, John Doumecq, Victor Glatigny, J. M. Crooks, John and Dan MacPhearson, George Sears, Rice Bros., Ed Byrom, Charles Redman, and James Lambert.

Their herds numbered between 300 and 1,600 head. The stock business never reached the size in North Idaho that it did in Harney County and in other parts of eastern Oregon where the larger herds ranged between 15,000 and 50,000 head. However, the quality of the stock was undoubtedly better. The cattle had marked strains of Durham and Devon in their blood but were somewhat mixed with Texas stock. It is said that 4-year-old steers were known to dress out at weights as high as 1,100 pounds.

On July 20, 1885, the cattlemen of Idaho County met at Mt. Idaho, pursuant to call, and organized the Idaho County Stockgrowers Association. The objectives were stated to be, "to advance the interests of stockgrowers and dealers in livestock in said county and for the protection of same against frauds and swindlers and to prevent the stealing, taking or driving away horned cattle, sheep, or other livestock from the rightful owners thereof, and to enforce the stock laws of the Idaho Territory."

The first officers were:

President: Loyal P. Brown
Vice President: John Coram
Secretary: F. A. Fenn
Treasurer: H. C. Johnson
Executive Committee:
James Surridge, C. Overman, James Witt, James McDermott, James Odle, and the President.

It would be interesting to know if there was a continuous organization to the present cattlemen's association.

The present Bentz Bros. grazing permit dates back to 1906 in connection with the Bentz Ranch near Whitebird. Other early grazing permits were:

1904 Amos Carver.
Deasy Bros.
W. H. Perry
Lyda Bros.
Edward Robie
Don Harras
S. S. Fenn
Henry Elfers
Sam Large
Rice and Harness
H. L. Taylor
W. A. Scott
J. B. Chamberlain
Fred Painter
Elbert Rhett
"Indian" Moses
John Sorenson
Gabriel Elbing
Wm. Boufard
Hall and Delinadge
Bert Henley

Several of these are family names that still appear in the grazing records.

In 1912 Elbert Rhett, Rice and Harness, J E. Long and J. O. Harsh were still among the permittees. Long was on the Coolwater and Harsh on the Upper Red River. In 1913 McCaffey Bros. showed up with cattle on Snake River. In 1915 O. W. Rhodes had a permit for 78 cattle on Rapid River. In 1917 Frank Wyatt had a permit for about 1,000 head of cattle and Holt and Rhodes had several hundred head on the Nezperce and Weiser. (That would be in the vicinity of Whitebird Ridge.) There was also a sheep outfit with about 4,500 head on the Hump range. (This could have been the Hagens from Whitebird.)

From the statistics it is learned that the largest number of cattle - 13,992 head - were permitted in 1919. The sheep numbers reached a peak of 70,456 head in 1918. In 1958 there were 7,200 head of cattle and 7,500 sheep permitted on the forest.

During World War II, the number of sheep declined rapidly. It appears doubtful if sheep will ever again become a major factor in the grazing business on the Nezperce. It is evident that many forest ranges were badly overused in earlier years and it is an ever pressing problem to balance numbers with safe carrying capacities. Good progress has been made, but a number of problem areas remain.

A big surprise to many are the number of cattle that graze in heavily timbered areas and come out fat. Aside from a few high alpine meadows, grass ranges are largely on the Salmon River and Slate Creek districts; however, the number of stock that are permitted on the other districts are of considerable importance to the stockmen of the area.

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Last Updated: 11-Nov-2008