David (Cougar Dave) Lewis Papers, 1879-1984

Overview of the Collection

David (Cougar Dave) Lewis, ca. 1844-1936
David (Cougar Dave) Lewis Papers
1879-1984 (inclusive)
0.5 cubic feet
Collection Number
MG 190 (collection)
Photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other documents, chiefly relating to "Cougar Dave" Lewis and his Big Creek cabin and ranch in the Idaho Primitive Area. Also correspondence and photographs relating to Jess and Dorothy Taylor, who purchased the ranch in 1936, and to their mining claims, 1955-1970.
University of Idaho Library, Special Collections and Archives
Special Collections and Archives
University of Idaho Library
875 Perimeter Drive
MS 2350
Moscow, ID
Telephone: 2088850845
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Almost nothing is known about the early life of David Lewis. In conversations with Jess Taylor he related a few facts: He served in the Civil War where he was at the Siege of Vicksburg with Wild Bill Hickock. He scouted for Captain Benteen at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but missed the action. He was also in charge of the ammunition train, consisting of two mules, during the Sheepeater Campaign of 1879.

He found the wilderness of Idaho to his liking and settled in the Big Creek area about 1879, and in 1924 patented a homestead on 65 acres. He built a cabin on Big Creek, a major drainage of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, about 30 miles from the confluence of the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon, where he lived alone for 50 years, occasionally acting as guide to hunting parties.

In 1910 he was named predatory animal hunter by the Forest Service, a job he held for many years. He had a particular dislike for the cougars in the area and killed over 1,000 in his lifetime, thus earning his name "Cougar Dave." On occasion he would wrestle a big cat out of a tree, dropping it to his dogs below, no mean feat for a man who stood 5'7" and weighed only 130 pounds.

Jess Taylor met Dave Lewis in the fall of 1934, and purchased his ranch the following year. Dave stayed with Jess during the winter of 1935/36, but in the spring was anxious to be away. At the age of 93 he left his ranch alone, with his pack horses. He died of pneumonia shortly after reaching the town of Cascade.

In 1969 the University of Idaho bought the Taylor Ranch for use as a wilderness research station.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The papers of David Lewis span the years 1879-1984, with the bulk of the material covering the years 1907 to 1935. Included are correspondence, photographs and newspaper clippings, some about Lewis, others about things of interest to him. Two relics of the Sheepeater Campaign, a fork and the shoe of a mule, were returned to the Taylor Ranch in December 1991. Material relating to the use of the Taylor Ranch by the University of Idaho College of Forestry is found in the papers of President Ernest Hartung (UG 13).

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The papers were in no apparent order when received, therefore a series order was imposed during processing. The material was divided into two sections, those items concerning David Lewis and those items of a later date. The material was then separated by type, and the folders placed in alphabetical order.

The first item in the first series is the 1935 agreement between Lewis and Taylor for the purchase of the property, which includes a legal description of the land.

The correspondence includes a list of provisions purchased by Lewis in 1907, page two of a letter from Frederick Weyerhaeuser thanking Lewis for his hospitality, letters appointing him hunter of predatory game for the Forest Service, plus letters from hunters who refer to him as "Uncle Dave."

The maps include one of the Sheepeater War, and one of the Idaho National Forest.

Some of the newspaper clippings make mention of Cougar Dave, but many are simply interesting item he saved and have no relation to him or the Big Creek area.

The photographs include pictures of Lewis and his dogs, and the area around his cabin. The scrapbook contains correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

The second series contains correspondence about the Taylor Ranch, including a letter from Warren Bowles in which he enclosed photographs which he took of the area in 1928, Taylor's notices of location of mining claims and proofs of labor statements, photographs and interviews of Jess and Dorothy Taylor, and several items relating to the 1961 wilderness legislation, Senate Bill 174.

Acquisition Information

The papers of Cougar Dave Lewis were originally contained in a tin box which he left at his ranch in the care of its new owner Jess Taylor when he left the ranch for the last time in the spring of 1936. In 1969 Jess and Dorothy Taylor gave the papers to the University of Idaho College of Forestry, which in turn donated them to the Library in March 1990.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series I. Cougar Dave's Papers , 1879-1948Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Agreement to Purchase Property
2 items
Colt Pistol Instructions
2 items
25 items
  • Post card from Ernest and Grace Miller
  • Birth announcement: Dorothy Ross
  • Letter to Honorable Peter G. Johnston from H.C. Baldridge, Nov. 4, 1927
  • Letter to Forest Supervisors from F.A. Silcox, Feb. 25, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from George V. Ring [?], Mar. 14, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from ? Acting Forest Supervisor, Apr. 4, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from George V. Ring [?], Feb. 28, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from George V. Ring [?], Feb. 23, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from Frederick Weyerhaeuser, undated
  • Statement for David Lewis from Alexander Freidenrich Department Store, July 11, 1907
  • Letter to [?] from George M. Reed, Mar. 25, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from McCall [?], Assistant Ranger, Sep. 12, 1910
  • Letter to David Lewis from Edwards [?], Feb. 9, 1915
  • Letter to Dave Lewis from State Game Warden [?] Nov. 22, 1923
  • Letter to Dave Lewis from Armstrong, Aug. 19, 1924
  • Advertisement from Kimball Gun Store, Tacoma
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from Mrs. John Routson [?] Mar. 6, 1928
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from W.H. Bolles, July 8, 1929
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from Emmit Rantsan[?] Oct. 19, 1924
  • Receipt for Dave Lewis from C.E. Armstrong & Co. Sporting Goods, Aug. 9, 1924
  • Copy of This Week Magazine from Sunday Journal dated August 29, 1948: cannot be duplicated due to fragility
  • Letter to Dave Lewis from Shellworth, May 18, 1925
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from Harry Shellworth, Sep. 27, 1926
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from Jack? Russel, Oct. 2, 1927
  • Letter to Uncle Dave from Ansgar E. Johnson, Nov. 25, 1927
2 items
  • Map of Country Between Big Creek and Salmon River, I.T. showing trails made by troops, from notes taken in the campaign of 1879 by N.C. Brown, 2nd Lieut. 1st Cavalry
  • Map of Salmon area
Newspaper Clippings (cannot be duplicated due to fragility)
11 items
30 items
  • Two unidentified landscape photo prints
  • Thelma Page photograph prints, c. 1931, Cougar Dave Lewis and his dogs, other Big Creek scenes: 8 items
  • Photo print identified as either Bellingham place or Caswell Ranch
  • Negatives: men loading pack horses; Dave Lewis at blacksmith shop by ladder; Dave Lewis with two dogs; Gov. Baldridge, Davis Lewis, Rutledge, Soldier Bar monument; men on horseback and pack horses; two men; Dave Lewis’s cabin; Trapper Creek; six people with Dave Lewis in front of cabin; horses and man by cabin; Dave Lewis with dog and cat; Salmon River map
  • Photographs and negatives, August 1928. W.H. Bolles: Dave Lewis’s cabin; Dave Lewis and two men fording stream on horseback; Dave Lewis with dog and cat
  • Photo print of Gov. Baldridge, Art Francis, Rutledge
  • Photo print of Gov. Baldridge, Dave Lewis, Rutledge (and dogs!)
1 item

Series II. Later Papers , 1955-1984Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Interviews with Jess and Dorothy Taylor (audiotapes)
3 items
4 items
Map of Taylor Ranch
2 items
Jess Taylor's Mining Claims
31 items
13 items
Wilderness Legislation
3 items

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Idaho -- Nez Perce County
  • Mining claims -- Idaho -- Nez Perce County
  • Predatory animals -- Control -- Idaho -- History -- Sources

Geographical Names

  • Idaho Primitive Area (Idaho) -- History -- Sources
  • Taylor Ranch (Nez Perce County, Idaho)

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Lewis, David, 1844-1936--Archives.
    • Taylor, Jess