In the settlement of the west, gold fever played an important role. A vision of the mother lode could send a man searching and dreaming for years. The Caribou National Forest was named for an early miner nicknamed Cariboo Jack, who along with two friends, discovered the first gold in 1870 near what is now called Caribou Mountain. Jesse Fairchild, alias Cariboo Jack, had a reputation as a story teller, a weaver of tall tales about the Canadian Caribou Country. Today we remember him as the namesake of the Caribou National Forest.
After the first discovery, the gold rush lasted nearly 20 years and produced $50 million worth of placer gold. Two of Idaho's largest "gold" cities were Keenan City (900 population) and Iowa Bar (1,500 population), later known as Caribou City. Both sites are now abandoned.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the Forest in 1903 with the establishment of the Pocatello Forest Reserve. The Pocatello Reserve was created by the request of the local residents to protect their precious watershed. Forest Reserves were given authority to manage five surface resources: water, wood, wildlife, recreation and forage. In 1905, all Forest Reserves were converted to National Forests and moved from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture.
The Forest is located in southeastern Idaho and contains portions of six different Idaho Counties and parts of two others in Utah and Wyoming. Caribou National Forest is comprised of just over one million acres, which includes the 47,000 acre Curlew National Grassland, west of Malad, Idaho. The Forest has approximately 250 miles of streams and 8,100 acres of lakes and reservoirs.
Geographically, the Forest is characterized by several north-south mountain ranges formed by numerous geologic disruptions thousands of years ago. Caribou National Forest is situated atop a geological formation known as the Overthrust Belt, which is believed to hold heavy deposits of oil and gas. Rich phosphate deposits underlie a large portion of the Forest. These deposits have been mined on the Forest for more than 50 years. Several large mines currently operate on the Forest, supplying phosphate for fertilizer and a variety of other uses. Although no deposits have been found, oil and gas exploration activities occur with varying intensity.
Sawtimber harvesting on the Forest averages 10 million board feet per year. Many people also obtain permits to use the National Forest for firewood, fence posts, and poles. The Caribou has some of the best range and grazing lands in the Intermountain West. Under a permit system, there are annually about 22,000 cattle and 91,000 sheep grazing on 140 different grazing allotments.