Idaho History June 23, 2019

Big Creek Lodge History

(part 1)

Big Creek Area Mines Map


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Road to Big Creek 1933

“The Profile Summit road from Yellow Pine to Big Creek was completed in 1933. The fist one to drive a car over it was Harry Withers, an old timer from Yellow Pine.”

from page 112 “Idaho Mountains Our Home” by Lafe and Emma Cox – Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books, P O box 173, Emmett, Idaho 83617
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Big Creek Headquarters Winter

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possibly before 1937 courtesy Sandy McRae
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Big Creek

When the road from Yellow Pine to Edwardsburg was completed in 1933, it was a great boon to the miners and ranchers along Big Creek. …

Big Creek Store and Big Creek Ranger Station are now [1974] the centers of activity for the valley. …

excerpted from: Chapter 5 “Southern Idaho Ghost Towns” by Wayne C. Sparling 1974
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Big Creek 1937


Photo from “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War” by Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley – copyright 1977
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Big Creek Post Office

Established May 13, 1936, Richard H. Cowman
Walter A. Weymouth, November 5, 1946
Marie A. Weymouth, December 31, 1949
Discontinued December 31, 1951, mail to Yellow Pine
Location: On Big Creek, 27 m. SE of Warren, 23 m. NE of Yellow Pine, center Sec. 35, T21N, R9E.
Post Office History source: Valley County GenWeb [h/t SMc]
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Big Creek Headquarters 1939

“We arrived at Big Creek headquarters [March 1939] where Dick and Sophia Cowman operated a store, post office and hotel. I saw the ranger station and a Forest Service commissary building. We weighed our dogs, sled and ourselves with our load, which weighed 947 pounds for seven dogs.”

“The Cowmans had a milk cow and chickens, so they always had fresh milk and eggs to serve their customers. It was such good food. We all enjoyed our overnight stay there after our 32 mile [dogsled] ride. Mrs. Cowman was a registered nurse and was very supportive to me. She told me not to be afraid of the bachelors. She also said, “I don’t know anything about wildlife – I’ve never been out there.”

from pgs 71-72 “Idaho Mountains Our Home” by Lafe and Emma Cox – Copyright 1977 by V.O. Ranch Books, P O box 173, Emmett, Idaho 83617
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Early Big Creek Lodge

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(possibly 1940’s?)

source: Mike Fritz Collection, courtesy Heather Herber Callahan
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Big Creek 1954

by Ron Smith

The deputy job for the county was even more exciting. I helped to haul several “wanted” people to the jail in Cascade. The most serious was a man wanted for Killing a state policeman in Oregon. Dad [Lawrence Smith] got a tip that he was living at Big Creek headquarters. We went to Big Creek early and caught him in bed. He was taken to Cascade without any trouble. This happened in 1954.

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from pgs 190-191 “Pans, Picks & Shovels – Mining in Valley County, Idaho” by the Valley County History Project, available at Watkins in Cascade
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Historical Photos of Big Creek

Big Creek “Station”

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source: Mike Fritz Collection, courtesy Heather Herber Callahan
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Big Creek Winter

courtesy Sandy McRae
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Big Creek c. 1950’s

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courtesy Sandy McRae
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1955 photos of Big Creek

from Sandy McRae

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(back of photo) Big Creek Lodge Sno Cat Circa 1955

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(back of photo) People: Napier Edwards, Carl Tyger, Mr. Brown, Ike Eichelberger – plane pilot, circa 1955

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(back of photo) Napier, Tyler, Pilot Ike Eichelberger, circa 1955

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(Big Creek Sno Cat on the airstrip)

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(back of photo) Bob McRae, Mrs. Brown, Ranger’s Wife, Ike Eichelberger – the pilot – aircraft, circa 1955

courtesy Scott Amos
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Big Creek Lodge 1982

[from Yellow Pine c. 1982] On to Big Creek and a ribbon of road that winds around hairpin curves and a profile grade that will keep you wide awake. However, the feeling of wilderness compensates for the mountain miles. You look down to cascading white water and up to craggy peaks; reel in the forest of pines and tamaracks, the quaking aspens and small, flowered meadows that come as brief surprises.

Finally you reach the old settlement of Edwardsburg and a mile beyond that you round a corner and a break in the woods exposes Big Creek Lodge.

Almost every map of Idaho marks this little settlement, yet it qualifies as neither a city or town.

It is a rustic lodge, long an outpost on the fringe of the Primitive Area in the Salmon River drainage.

Nearly 60 years ago the hand-hewn cabin (now enlarged) served as Headquarters for the Forest Service. Now, with newer Forest Service buildings 1/2 mile away, Big Creek lodge caters to the back country hiker and fisherman, hunter and miner.

Big Creek hasn’t changed much since 1923 when Jake and Eric Jansen split the logs for the little Forest Service camp. A few more summer people come in now and a mountain-meadow airport reminds us that we are late in the Twentieth Century. The cook at the lodge says she can tell who is coming to dinner by the color of the airplane.

Communication with the outside is mostly by radio although the sprinkling of mountain residents can ring each other on big wooden wall phones, 1920 vintage. This may be one of the few places where you talk after cranking out two shorts and a long….

Mining brings more activity to the area now with a lot of heavy equipment coming in for the old Golden Hand and Yellow Jacket Mines just outside the borders of the Primitive Area. The old ways continue, however. Dave Stucker came riding down the road with his pack string headed for Chamberlain Basin. According to one of the wranglers, John Turner, each summer they set up at least nine camps and guide 40 parties or more on hunting and fishing trips in the primitive area. The core of the business is the permanent herd of 2,000 elk that roams the back country.

However, you don’t need a guide to find several interesting nearby places. Hike approximately 3 miles to Logan Lake to catch some big rainbows. Inquire at Big Creek Lodge for directions….

A public campground is less than 1/2 mile from Big Creek Lodge. Turn off the main road just before the airport and you will find an attractive wooded area by a small creek. No hook-ups. Watch for deer along the creek and by the salt lick near the barn.

Excerpted from “The Idaho Rambler” Copyright March, 1982 by Betty Derig and Flo Sharp
ISBN 0-9609754 Printed in the USA by Lithocraft Inc. Boise, Idaho
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Big Creek Lodge History

Before the first Lodge came into being, the Big Creek drainage drew in hundreds of miners and a handful of ranchers to the area, hoping to extract the gold, silver, lead, and copper hidden in the hills. In 1904, William and Annie Edwards established Edwardsburg … The US Forest Service later established a ranger station at Big Creek in 1920.

Prior to the completion of the road to Yellow Pine over Profile Summit in 1933, the only access to the area was from Warren, a difficult 40-mile slog on dogsleds or horses. Around the same time the new road came in, brave pilots began using an adjacent pasture as a landing field. Dick Cowman and his wife Sophia saw these new entryways as an opportunity. They built the original Big Creek Lodge just south of the pasture/landing field in the mid-30s. The Lodge, general store, and gas station provided a sanctuary for travelers from near and far.

The Forest Service worked with local miners to improve the landing field to a smooth length of about 1,300 feet before making major drainage improvements in the early 1940s. The local mailman, Lafe Cox, often stayed at the Lodge where he could enjoy a meal or call his wife from the crank phone that connected Big Creek to the rest of the world. His mail route was treacherous, spanning 45 miles from Yellow Pine to Cabin Creek, and requiring airplanes, sled dogs, horses, snowshoes, and the occasional truck to get the job done.

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In 1957, the airstrip was completely rebuilt and extended to its current length of nearly 3,600 feet. The Forest Service continued to operate the airstrip until 1961, when it issued a special use permit to the Idaho Department (now Division) of Aeronautics, that continues to manage and maintain it to this day.

In October 2008, Big Creek Lodge went up in flames, engulfing an adjacent bunkhouse and cabin in its wake. The only buildings to survive the fire were the old store/post office, a duplex Cabin, and a historic tack shed. Many mourned its loss as one of the few remaining fly-in backcountry oases of the West.

Soon after, the Idaho Aviation Foundation decided to raise funds and rebuild this priceless destination as a not-for-profit Lodge to give future generations of pilots and recreationists a place to welcome them to the beauty of Big Creek. In 2018, Big Creek Lodge reopened to the public.

source: Big Creek Lodge Idaho
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Link to more Big Creek and Edwardsburg History

page updated June 25, 2019