A Rich Human History

An old waterwheel remains from a time when pioneers homesteaded the Owyhee country. Many homesteads were abandoned.Photo by: Tim Davis Photo by Tim Davis

The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to a living cultural richness for the indigenous Northern Paiute, Bannock and Shoshone tribes. These ancestral lands contain areas considered sacred and the landscapes, rivers, fish and wildlife support tribal traditions to this day.

For at least 13,0000 years semi-nomadic hunters and gathers have inhabited the Owyhee Canyonlands. They shared a lifestyle and culture similar to the indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, seeking out wheatgrass, fescue and Indian rice to winnow and grind into flour.

There are more than 500 known archaeological sites in the Owyhee. Near ancient campsites and hunting blinds, archaeologists have unearthed weapons and stone tools made from chert, obsidian, agate, jasper and opalite. These lithic scatters include bones of bighorn sheep and deer hunted centuries ago, as well as remnants of seeds and plants. A number of excavated sites reveal objects of an ancient daily life including pottery, clay figurines, woven baskets, nets and sandals.

Traveling around the Owyhee also evokes its Wild West heritage. A couple of dirt roads in the area follow wagon roads from the mid-1800s. Basque herders and ranchers arrived in the region as well. At Birch Creek Historic Ranch, on the National Register of Historic Places, the public can visit and explore outbuildings, cabins and barns. Basque influences can still be seen in the Owyhee gateway town of Jordan Valley.