The Early History of Cache Valley
Cache Valley has always been known as a popular gathering place. First with the Shoshoni Indians, who called this valley "the house of the great spirit." Then the fur trappers, who held major rendezvous in Cache Valley and Rich County. It was a popular meeting place to exchange furs, supplies and to swap a good story. Cache Valley continues to be a popular gathering place for travelers.
The Shoshoni People
For nearly 5,000 years, the Shoshoni people lived in Cache Valley. They were dependent upon wild foods since they were nomadic hunters and gatherers who seasonally followed big game. Shohoni life changed dramatically in the early 1700's when they acquired horses, which allowed the Shoshoni to hunt bison and other big game.
The valley was first called "Willow Valley" for the abundance of bushes and trees. Indians would start grass fires to drive buffalo herds or to improve forage for their horses. The fires, however, cleared the valley of bushes and trees, except for those located near the rivers, and forever changed the look of the valley.
The Mountain man Era
Many of the local place names originated from early mountain men. Men such as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Ephraim Logan and Peter Skene Ogden left their names to mark the areas they explored. The name of this travel region, "Bridgerland," is derived from one of the most famous mountain men, Jim Bridger. As a trapper for the Rocky Mountain Fur company, he was in Cache Valley when he was only twenty years old. He floated down the Bear River and in 1824 became the first known white man to see the Great Salt Lake. Upon tasting the salty water, he spat it out and reportedly declared, "Hell, we are on the shores of the Pacific Ocean."
Fueled by the demand from high society for Beaver pelts, mountain men came to Cache Valley for the rich abundance of furs in the area. The name "Cache" is a French word that means "to hide." The trappers would dig a hole or "cache" in the ground or side of a mountain to store their beaver pelts until they could be sold at the rendezvous. Bridger is said to have stashed nearly $150,000 worth of pelts in Hyrum, near where the city square is located today. Fur pelts sold for $6.00 a pound and each skin weighed about 2 pounds. During the late 1820's, some of the most famous mountain men rendezvous were held in Cache Valley and Rich County.
The town of Logan was named for mountain man Ephraim Logan, who spent 1824-25 in Cache Valley. Logan attended the first Rocky Mountain rendezvous in 1825. A few years later, Logan joined a hunting trip along the Snake River. The group was attacked by Shoshoni Indians, and Logan was killed. Ephraim's fame spread and what had previously been known as Bourdon River (after mountain man Michel Bourdon) was renamed Logan River.
By the 1840's, the whims of fashion changed and the era of the mountain man was over. During this time, however, the beaver population was nearly destroyed in the Rocky Mountains.
On July 24, 1855 the first settlers arrived in Cache Valley. Brigham Young, a Mormon pioneer leader sent 23 men and two women to begin a cattle ranch near the Blacksmith Fork River. The plans were to graze the cattle during the summer, and then move the cattle to a warmer climate for the winter. Unfortunately, winter came early. In a desperate attempt to save the cattle, John C. Dowdle and William Garr drove them through Wellsville Canyon to Brigham City in a raging blizzard. The snow drifts were four feet deep in the valley and even deeper in the mountains. Only 420 cattle survived. Garr lost both of his feet from the cold.
The following year, Brigham Young sent another group of Mormon pioneers to settle in Wellsville. The comments of today's travelers echo the comments of one of the first settlers. Peter and Mary Ann Weston Maughan drove the first covered wagon into the valley. Mary Ann's eyes scanned the lush, grassy valley that spread out before her and said, "Oh, what a beautiful valley."
These seven families settled Maughan's Fort in Wellsville, September 15, 1856. Eleven days later the first snowstorm fell, and during the storm, Mrs. Maughan gave birth to the first child born to permanent settlers in Cache Valley.
Jim Bridger, known for telling tall tales, said that since it froze every month in Cache Valley, crops would never grow there. Brigham Young, however, promised the settlers that Cache Valley would become the "Granary of the West." In only half a century, his prophecy came true. By 1915, more wheat was shipped from Cache Junction than any other part of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Bear Lake Valley
First inhabited by Shoshoni Indians, The Bear Lake Valley became home to mountain men who hunted and fished in the area. The first permanent settlers, lead by Charles Rich, were sent by Brigham Young. The name of the county bear's Rich's name.
Bridgerland has evolved from an area of grazing, to fur trapping, to lumbering, to agriculture, to dairy and food processing and to high-tech businesses that are off-shoots from Utah State University.Bridgerland is known for its pristine beauty and the wide variety of recreational opportunities. When he passed through Cache Valley almost a century ago, the novelist Thomas Wolfe, said, "It was the most lovely and enchanted valley I have ever seen, a valley that makes all that has gone before fade as nothing."