Idaho Tribes Making A Comeback — Duck Valley Reservation

Idaho Tribes Making A Comeback — Duck Valley Reservation
Photo by Jack McNeel

By Jack McNeel

East to west and north to south, Idaho at one time was totally indigenous territory. Tribes  didn’t  own  the  land;  owning  land is not part of their belief, but they certainly hunted,  fished,  and  harvested  throughout the state.

Then Lewis and Clark arrived, followed by trappers and traders, and then settlers, and the world of the native people was changed forever.

But the tribes never left, and their five Idaho reservations are widely spread through the state with three from the Lewiston area northward and two in southern and southeastern Idaho.

Recent years have seen remarkable gains with significant impacts on Idaho, both financially and with a renewed vitality for the future.

A Unique Reservation

The Duck Valley Reservation is home to the Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute Tribes. The reservation is unique in that it splits in half between Idaho and Nevada. The walkway leading to tribal headquarters is on the state line, the 42nd parallel.

Despite that, and the fact the nearest town is in Nevada, it’s listed as an Idaho reservation, located due south of Mountain Home on Highway 51, and operates on Mountain Time rather than Nevada’s Pacific Time.

The only significant town within the reservation is Owyhee, Nev. From there to Mountain Home is 97 miles, and south to Elko is 98 miles.

The reservation was originally created by executive order by President Rutherford Hayes in 1877. It was then enlarged by President Grover Cleveland in 1886 and further expanded in 1910 by President Taft. It measures about 450 square miles.

In  1869,  before  this  reservation  was created, the government marched all the Western Shoshone to Fort Hall, north of what is now Pocatello.

The Bannock War took place in 1878, lasting eight months. The Northern Paiutes are part of the Bannock Nation, and the war involved both the Paiutes and Shoshone.

Following the war, some Shoshone remained at Fort Hall, and others traveled to the Duck Valley Reservation. It was after that when President Cleveland enlarged the reservation to accommodate the Paiutes as well.

The Terrain

This is high desert country for the most part and unlike any of the other four Idaho reservations. The town of Owyhee is at 5,400 feet in elevation.

For comparison, Boise is at about 2,700 feet, and even McCall is just over 5,000.

The highest point on the reservation is over 7,500 feet. The combination of green valleys, rock formations, high mountain ranges, plus streams and reservoirs create a beautiful landscape.

Peaks and Plains Medical

In earlier history, the Bruneau and Owyhee Rivers were filled with salmon and steelhead returning from the ocean to spawn. Tribal members ate an estimated average of 143 pounds of these fish annually, a major part of  their  diet. 

That  ended  when  a  dam  on the Owyhee River was built in 1932, along with  an  irrigation  project  by  the  Bureau  of Indian Affairs.

Salmon runs ended, but, despite that, fishing is still important for other species.


Duck Valley is also unique to the other four Idaho reservations in that tourism has not been greatly promoted. It has no casinos or hotels, only a small motel in Owyhee, unlike the other reservations.

The primary industries are ranching and farming.

The biggest lure for visitors is fishing, and that attraction dates back decades. Wild Horse Reservoir was created in 1937, providing waters that could be stocked, along with Lake Billy Shaw, Mountain View Reservoir, and Sheep Creek Reservoir, which were created more recently and add to the fishing opportunities for tribal members and visitors alike.

Mountain View is the most heavily fished and nearest to the Idaho border with easy access. Lake Billy Shaw is relatively small, some 430 acres, but quite deep. It’s stocked with Kamloops rainbows and generally produces the largest fish, many in the 14- to 18-inch size with some running upwards of 20 inches.

Camping is also available at these locations, with electrical hookups available at Mountain View. Prices for fishing and camping are modest. Season licenses are available as are single-day licenses.


Fishing can frequently be very good, but as with every fishing location, success rates will vary. Prices for the various options can be seen online at

Anglers may want to purchase licenses prior to heading to the reservation. License vendors are located throughout the Boise Valley as well as in Twin Falls, Bruneau,and Grandview. The names of vendors are also listed at the web site above.


Hunting is another activity gaining in popularity for visitors to the reservation. Antelope has been the primary species to hunt and requires a tribal license. Chairman Ted Howard pointed out that last fall, for the first time, two permits were also issued for elk hunting.

Jinwon Seo, Director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department for the tribes, said that both elk hunters took outstanding bulls. Each measured above the score for inclusion in the Boone and Crockett Records of North American Big Game.

The Duck Valley elk permit includes a five-day guided hunt providing meals, lodging, and licenses. Permit numbers for 2018 have not yet been set.

Antelope permits and guides have been available for more than 10 years with 37 issued last fall and a similar number expected this coming year. Seo added that the success rate was 100 percent, a rate seldom matched elsewhere. The average horn length over the last two years was nearly 14 inches. Most hunters were reported to be very satisfied with their hunts and the beautiful landscape on the reservation.

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