Idaho History

History of the Land

The Central Idaho Timberlands were initiated by the Organic Act of 1897. During that time, the Boise River valley was being settled as families built homes and business people constructed buildings to supply the ever-growing population. There was a large need for lumber to build these homes and businesses, so the timber industry constructed mills to begin supplying lumber to the growing population. 

This image was taken in 1908 across the dam from Barber Lumber Mill in Boise, Idaho. This image is part of the Records Bureau of Reclamation projects. Image courtesy of: University of Idaho.

The area had three primary mills, one in East Boise called the Barber Lumber Co. The other two were in Emmett, just 30 miles away, home to many prominent cattle and sheep ranching families who had settled in Idaho. One of those mills was affiliated with Weyerhaeuser, currently one of the largest timberland and timberland management companies in North America. 

The Barber Mill in East Boise received logs using log drives down the Boise River. Logging was a dangerous profession that attracted only the toughest of men. With steel spikes driven through the soles of their leather boots, these men would walk along with the logs, breaking loose the tangled log jams and guiding them down the river.  

The men stayed in a “wanigan,” as it was called, which is a floating mess hall and sleeping quarters, followed the log drive down river, supplying the men with food and a place to sleep.  

Image taken in 1971 of the last wanigan used for the last log drive makes its way towards Lewiston. Image courtesy of the University of Idaho.

The log drives down the North Fork of the Boise River began to fulfill the lumber needs of early Boise and the surrounding communities.  The Emmett Mills got their logs from the North Fork of the Payette, but that river was a tough drive. Log drives were a common mode of transportation to send these logs from the forests of Idaho down the river to the mills.  The last official log drive in Idaho was on the Clearwater River in 1971 due to the construction of the Dworshak Dam, which blocked the North Fork of the Clearwater River at Orofino, Idaho.

Image was taken in 1925 of a steam-powered engine taking a trainload of logs from Bovil to Potlatch. Image courtesy of the University of Idaho

The Weyerhaeuser affiliate mill began using railroad technology, which was much kinder on log quality and predictable for log supply. As the rail lines were being constructed, the Barber Mill acquired state timber in the Centerville area and built a drive on Grimes Creek with a large volume of logs. Due to the smaller size of Grimes Creek, the whole log drive was stranded, and several million board feet of logs never arrived. Cash flow went to zero, and The Barber Mill was broke.

Barber was forced to merge with the Weyerhaeuser Mill to get the railroad technology and did in 1913, which became Boise Payette. The railroad would become its own entity called the Intermountain Railway Co. The President of the Intermountain Railway was C. A. Barton. The area we now know as Cabarton, south of Cascade, Idaho, was once a town with logging crews where Jack Morgan and Gordon MacGregor started in the business. The MacGregor family still owns the Cabarton area, and Jack Morgan became JI Morgan Inc. in New Meadows and is still in business today in the 3rd generation. JI Morgan continued to operate logging and road-building activities on these Central Idaho Timberlands for decades. 

In addition to logs, the Intermountain Railway also facilitated the construction of the Arrowrock Dam in 1915. At 350 feet tall, this was the tallest dam in the world for nine years until the completion of the Schräh Dam in Switzerland. At just 21 miles upriver from Boise on the Boise River, the train would traverse the rugged terrain, and as some would describe it as a "harrowing event," they arrived at a breathtaking view. When workers arrived at the work camp, they were surprised to see the amenities available. A central heating plant, running water, and an efficient sewage system fully powered the site.    

At the same time, Weyerhaeuser/Boise Payette began consolidating the newly minted private timberlands resulting from the Organic Act of 1897. Before 1920, it had wrapped up considerable acreage for use in the Boise Payette/Cascade timberlands for the next 100 years. The acreage was nearly 500,000 acres, but by 1948 was less than half after selling parcels, mostly adjacent to Long Valley and New Meadows Valley.  

The anomaly to this process was the Boise Basin, a consolidation of older mining claims from the 1863 Gold Rush that preceded the Organic Act. Boise Payette became a public entity in 1931. In 1957, Boise Payette reformed into Boise Cascade Corporation with a merger with Cascade Lumber Co. of Yakima, Washington. The original mills for Boise Payette/Cascade in Idaho were Council, Barber, and Emmett. The Cascade Mill was bought in the 1930s from Hallock & Howard. The McCall Mill was purchased in the late 60s from Brown Tie and Lumber, along with the Red Ridge and Big Cr timberlands acreage. The Horseshoe Bend Mill was purchased in 1972 from Hoff Lumber Co.

The Boise Cascade lands continued to remain private land holdings but have changed hands several times, including Potlatch Corporation, Western Pacific Timber, and its current owner DF Development LLC from August of 2016. DF Development LLC continues to manage a robust tree farm while protecting the environment and enhancing the wildlife population.