Establishment of the National Forest System in the early 1900s, included the Sawtooth National Forest, in 1905. In 1972, Congress established the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It is located near Ketchum, Idaho.
Prehistoric hunters inhabited the Redfish Lake area 9,500 years ago, using the Redfish Rockshelter as cover while they hunted elk, deer, antelope, mammoth, and bison.
Later, Native Americans fished for salmon and quarried basalt for stone tools at other sites in the Sawtooth Valley. The Northern Shoshoni, called "Tukudeka," lived in isolation in the grassy meadows and high mountain valleys of the Salmon River country. Mountain sheep constituted a large part of their diet, and the word Tukudeka means "eaters of white meat." Early explorers and trappers referred to those native people as "sheepeaters."
As the 19th century approached, Alexander Ross, of the British-owned Hudson Bay Company, led the first party of trappers and explorers into what is now the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. By 1840, the beaver stock was depleted, and trappers were leaving the western mountains. For a while there was nothing to attract settlers to the wild valleys of Sawtooth country.
The event that brought the abrupt change to Northern Shoshoni/sheepeater country was the discovery of gold in central Idaho, in 1860. By the winter of 1861-62, gold seekers were entering the Idaho mountains by the thousands.
In July 1864, a group of miners led by Captain John Stanley arrived in the Valley Creek area near present-day Stanley, found gold, and staked claims. They named the valley "Stanley Basin," but isolation, supply shortages, and awareness of the nearby Shoshoni, discouraged the party enough to compel them to leave the area. But others soon followed, and half million dollars of gold was taken from the gravels of the Stanley Mining District, in the 1870s.
In 1878, Levi Smiley discovered silver ore in the lower Sawtooth Valley. That find proved to be extraordinarily rich, and with capital from developers in San Francisco and New York, mines began to operate.
The valley's first towns, Sawtooth City and Vienna, were established. The ore soon played itself out and its boom towns began to disappear. The mill closed in 1887, and all that remains of historic Sawtooth City is part of one log cabin, held up by surrounding tree trunks.
In 1887, sheepherding came to Sawtooth country, replacing mining as the new booming economy. By 1907, the area north of Ketchum supported 365,000 sheep, tended mostly by Basque sheepherders. Following the establishment of the Sawtooth National Forest, the number of sheep was gradually reduced, and by 1993, there were just 12,800 sheep grazing in the Sawtooth Forest.