Idaho History December 31, 2017

Taylor Ranch on Big Creek

TaylorRanchBigCreek-a(click image for larger size)
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Early Settlers at the Taylor Ranch

In 1890 the Bull brothers built a cabin in the area that became the Taylor Ranch. Dave Lewis had been living in a rock house at Goat Creek, across Big Creek from Soldier Bar. When the Bull brothers left for Thunder Mountain, Lewis moved upriver into their old cabin. In 1910 John Conyers built a cabin there, then after he moved upriver to Cabin Creek, Lewis occupied that cabin for a while. Mr. Lewis patented the 65 acre homestead in 1924. Lewis sold the ranch to Jess Taylor in 1935. In 1969 the University of Idaho bought the ranch.
(personal notes)
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Back Country Homesteads

… The backcountry ranches were very remote and were generally associated with mining activities. The primary area that had back country ranches were: Big Creek, Middle Fork of the Salmon, South Fork of the Salmon, and Johnson Creek (Yellow Pine).

The backcountry ranches were not designed to ship goods to the more developed area of the county, but were established for a life of self-sufficiency. Livestock was raised and sold to miners. Hay and grain was grown to feed the miners’ horses. Other products, such as butter, milk and eggs were also sold to the miners. Attempts to raise larger herds of sheep and cattle usually met with disaster because of the hard winters…

…The Taylor ranch, located between Rush Creek and Pioneer Creek was first settled by the Bull Brothers in the 1890s. They were miners and when the gold strike began in Thunder Mountain, they abandoned the site. John Conyers arrived there in 1910 and built a cabin. After a few years, he moved back up Big Creek and David Lewis moved onto the site. He was a packer during the Sheepeater War of 1879. Lewis lived in a cabin at the mouth of Goat Creek prior to moving to the Taylor ranch.

Excerpted from: pages 209-210 Backcountry Homesteads by C. Eugene Brock, “Valley County Idaho Prehistory to 1920”, Valley County History Project
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Cougar Dave

Cougar David Lewis was a military packer in 1878 and during the Sheepeater War of 1879. He lived in a cabin at Rush and Pioneer creeks and later sold to Jess Taylor.

from Valley County Geneology, Complied and Edited by Eileen Duarte, “Free Land! Hopes and Hardships of Pioneers of Valley County, Idaho”, Valley County History Project
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1920 Census

Lewis David 75 Male Head Single Birth Year 1844 Farmer Stock Farm

1930 Census

David Lewis Male 86 Single Head Birth Year 1844
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Dave Lewis

“…famous cougar hunter who was known as “Uncle” Dave Lewis. Lewis lived at the place on Big Creek now called the Taylor Ranch. It is currently owned by the University of Idaho.”

excerpted from: Jensen Brothers and The Snowshoe Mine by Duane Petersen from information provided by Ron and Myrna Smith, “Pans, Picks & Shovels – Mining in Valley County, Idaho”, Valley County History Project. Pages 27-34
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October 1927

Dave Lewis and Harry Shellworth

source: (Idaho State Historical Society)

Harry Shellworth, Idaho Governor H. Clarence Baldridge, Stanley Easton, photographer Ansgar Johnson and others went on a trip down Big Creek and visited with Dave Lewis in October 1927.

source: A Campfire Vision: Establishing the Idaho Primitive Area
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see also: Cougar Dave Lewis History
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Heart of Idaho beats in the Salmon River wilds

By Jeanne Huff – Idaho Statesman November 20, 2006
(Updated October 21, 2015)

To get to the Taylor Ranch Field Research Station in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, you can hike or horseback for several days through some of the more remote and uninhabited country in the continental United States.

Or you can spend 35 minutes on a wilderness plane ride with Walt Smith.

The 29-year-old is a pilot for Arnold Aviation in Cascade, one of several such companies that serve the Frank. Ray and Carol Arnold started Arnold Aviation in 1972. At first, it was a part-time gig, but in 1975 they got the “mail call” business and went full time…

… It’s a big place, yes, [Ray] says, “and it’s a lot bigger on foot.” Flying a small plane into the wilderness can be daunting. “There’s a saying about flying: ‘It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.'”

… Today, none of Smith’s passengers use the “sick sacks” but they find the fluorescent orange earplugs useful. It’s a loud, short, and at times, white-knuckled plane ride. Air currents whistle through canyons, bubble up over mountains and buffet the small plane, which holds a maximum of five passengers. Smith deftly maneuvers the plane through a dizzying turn, a stomach-lurching roller-coaster dive, and into a sudden landing. The plane, with nose-down tricycle landing gear, bumps to a stop at the end of the remote airstrip at the Taylor Ranch research station.

The 65-acre Taylor Ranch lies between the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Big and Monumental creeks, 36 miles from the nearest road. It was once an outfitter’s ranch owned by Jess and Dorothy Taylor. They sold it to the University of Idaho in 1969 as an educational and research facility. Now, through grant and intern programs, lucky U of I students, including at least 19 this year, get to spend summers here.

Meet the Akensons

Jim and Holly Akenson do multiple jobs as managers, research biologists, teachers and mentors for students. This is their second stint. They were here from 1982 to 1991 and returned in 1998. They and their students conduct research on wolves and bighorn sheep. They document bobcat, bear, cougar, fish and rattlesnakes. They watch how cougars and wolves interact.

“It’s like National Geographic in Idaho,” Jim says.

… A trail at Taylor Ranch follows Big Creek. It’s the same trail, she says, that everyone takes, whether traveling on two feet or four….

‘Cougar Dave’

… Before the Taylors owned the ranch, it belonged to “Cougar Dave” Lewis, who lived from 1844 to 1936. He became an outfitter of some renown, homesteading on the property. He got his nickname as a cougar trapper. His lodge, more than 100 years old, is still standing.

full story: Taylor Ranch Story.rtf
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Taylor Wilderness Research Station

Embedded within the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is a one-of-a-kind venue for scientific discovery combined with the opportunity to explore the social and political impacts of human economics on natural resources. Surrounded by over four million acres of wilderness in central Idaho, the station provides outstanding access, facilities and logistical support for research on natural environments and processes.

The station’s remote location provides an abundance of unique research opportunities for study.

Taylor Wilderness Research Station is located in Valley County, Idaho, in the center of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It spans 65 acres on both sides of Big Creek, the largest tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, which is eight miles downstream. It can be accessed by air (approximately 70 air miles north east from Cascade, Idaho), or on foot starting at the Big Creek trailhead, approximately 35 miles downstream.

Taylor is located at approximately 45.1019°N and 114.8517°W. Our elevation at the head of the airstrip is 3835’.

Taylor’s airstrip is privately owned. Permission to land must be obtained from the station managers prior to arrival.

source: University of Idaho

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The Frank Church Wilderness

Outdoor Idaho Aired: 02/15/2002 TV-G

(Taylor Ranch starts at 8:25 mark)

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area is the crown jewel of the National Wilderness System. The Frank is twice the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. Outdoor Idaho looks at the history of the Frank, learns about the opportunities in “America’s wildest classroom” and explores a place, as one hiker described it, that is “about as close to heaven as you can get.”

video link:
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When Taylor Ranch Burned

Read Jim Akenson’s diaries (pdf file) about the fires of 2000 which nearly destroyed the property.

Idaho Public TV (broken link) (pdf file)

Unfortunately Jim’s diaries from 2000 are no longer available at IDPTV. See below for their book.
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New Book Captures 21 Years Living In The Frank Church Wilderness

By Samantha Wright Dec 1, 2016

Here, Jim and Holly Akenson pack home their Christmas Tree in the Frank Church, with a little help from Mica the dog and pack mule Bird.

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area is a step back in time. The area is rough and rugged and few people actually live in this part of central Idaho’s backcountry.

But tucked into the middle of these sprawling public lands is the University of Idaho’s wilderness research station, known as Taylor Ranch. From there, researchers conduct surveys on everything from wolves to bears to cougars to wildfires.

Researchers Jim and Holly Akenson were among those who made Taylor Ranch their home. Now they’re looking back, with a new book called “7003 Days: 21 Years In The Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness.”

The husband and wife team talk about their amazing experiences in the book.

In August of 2000, wildfire came to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Jim and Holly got caught in the middle of the blaze. Jim says they made it out OK.

“And that was extremely harrowing, it was certainly life-threatening and it made for a good action-packed chapter to write about,” says Jim Akenson.

source: Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio
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7003 Days: 21 Years in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

by Jim and Holly Akenson

“Deep in the Idaho wilderness the last vestiges of Old Idaho linger. In 1982, an eager young couple seeking adventure and challenge, Jim and Holley Akenson, moved to a log cabin in the back country to manage Taylor Ranch, the University of Idaho’s wilderness research station. In 7,003 Days, Jim describes their encounters with wildlife and nature: tracking wolves and cougars, using mules for transportation and ranch work, and introducing university students to life in the rugged Salmon River Mountains of Central Idaho”

source: Amazon

page updated October 20, 2020