Human History

Cultural resources are defined as definite locations of human activity. These locations include historic structures, archaeological sites, or places that have important public and scientific uses. Often times, these sites are of traditional or religious importance to social or cultural groups. Cultural history in the canyons ranges from ancient fish operations to cattle-driving legacies and more recently to the culture of white-water recreation.

Throughout the history of these canyons, one pattern of cultural use is quite clear: these canyons have always been a site of visitation, but rarely have they been a site of permanent residence. The canyons have been both revered for their natural resources and feared for their inaccessibility and many potential dangers, such as swift water, steep cliffs, rock fall, predators, and rough terrain. Valued resources include stones for tool making and gem collecting, fish, game, water, and rock shelters.

The ancestors of the Shoshone-Paiute and Shoshone-Bannock peoples have used these canyonlands for thousands of years. A Native American legend about a dangerous creature that lived in the Jarbidge canyon supports the idea that ancient peoples avoided living there long-term. The creature was called Tsa-hau-bitts or Jahabich, loosely translating to “evil spirit”. Through many English interpretations of these names, the area eventually became known as Jarbidge.

Tradition in the Bruneau area claims that Bruneau was either named by its French translation of ‘brown water’ or after a French explorer by the name of Jean-Baptiste Bruneau. Native Americans have utilized the canyonlands for shelter, weaponry, fish and game, and water for thousands of years. They left rock-art and other artifacts behind in a few locations. The canyonlands are still a vital part of their lives. Cowboys historically used the Cougar Creek Arch as a place to find community and relax while driving cattle. They also left their marks on the sheltered canyon walls. A few homesteaders chose the canyons as a place that was well-suited for collecting water, hunting game, and perhaps using nearby thermal pools.

These homesteads were most likely not permanently inhabited for very long due to the harsh environment of the isolated canyons. Many of the abandoned sites seen in the area today were most likely used as line-shacks for cattle driving operations. The cabin at Indian Hot Springs exhibits a prime location providing access to a river crossing in order to drive cattle or sheep from one side of the canyon to the other. There is also a historic cabin foundation near the Murphy Hot Springs launch site. Mining claims for Bruneau Jasper and other gem stones in the area were first filed in the 1950s. There is very little ore left to extract in these locations. Today boaters, hunters, and fishermen seek the solitude and beauty of the canyons.

The white water is a place for both adventure and a relaxing environment for fishing as well. Recreational values are not to be confused with traditional cultural values—they are very different. However, it is important to recognize that the groups of people using the canyons today also represent a culture. By fishing in the Jarbidge or floating the Bruneau, people today are preserving a culture of adventure and solitary recreation within the sheltered canyons of the Wild and Scenic River designations.