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Buckskin Bill



By Megan Paulson Outlaw Partners Chief Operating Officer

On the banks of the Salmon River, 52 miles into Idaho’s Frank
Church River of No Return Wilderness, lived a man so captivating
that Sports Illustrated published a 6,000-word feature
on him in 1966.

“On the River of No Return, in the country named Light on
the Mountains, there lives a gray-bearded man who has turned
back time,” wrote Harold Peterson. “At Five Mile Bar, beyond
which no human soul dwells, Jedediah Smith and Christopher
Carson have but recently passed by, and the year is 1844

Born Sylvan Hart in Oklahoma Territory in 1906, Buckskin
was a mountain man at heart and in his craft: resourceful,
independent and artistic. From ornate carvings on hand-made
knives and guns bored with a homemade machine, to mining
and smelting copper and creating tools and utensils, he had a
knack for living off the land.

Buckskin spent more than 40 years living on his
Salmon River homestead, fishing, hunting wild elk
and bear, mining gold and copper, making wine from
local fruit, and cultivating an elaborate 10,000-square-foot

Photo by Megan Paulson

Those who met Buckskin on the river knew him as an
odd and humorous man. The rangers who frequented
the Salmon gave him his nickname, after the handmade
deer hide clothing he wore with the hair on the
inside, next to his skin. Rumor has it, the smell from
the tanned skin clothing was quite rank, justifying the
alias “Buckskin Bill.”

The oldest of six children, Buckskin was averse to
civilization even as a boy. He left Oklahoma during
the Great Depression to work in the Texas oilfields,
then earned an English degree at the University of
Oklahoma and began a master’s program in petroleum
engineering, but never finished.

In 1932, at age 26, he traveled with his father to Five Mile
Bar on the Salmon River from McCall, Idaho, which required
a two-and-a-half hour drive to the old mining town
of Warren, then a 14-hour hike over 20 miles of rugged
trail. They bought 50 acres of land for $1 and lived there a
number of years before the elder Hart left, seeking a connection
to society.

During World War II, Buckskin tried to enlist in the Army,
but medical exams found an enlarged heart, so he worked
instead as a civilian at the Boeing factory in Kansas. Returning
to Five Mile Bar not long after, he settled for good on
the banks of the Salmon.

When a conservation movement led by Howard Zahniser
in 1956 tried to designate the area surrounding the
homestead a Primitive Area, precluding human habitation,
Buckskin built a stone watchtower on the hillside above
his cabin to defend against government acquisition and
U.S. Forest Service enforcement.

While much of the land became designated Wilderness in
the Wilderness Act of 1964, the feds left Buckskin alone,
and he lived at the outpost until his death in 1980.
To this day, the watchtower and the compounds’ hand-hewn
log cabins, root cellar and underground bomb shelter remain
intact, maintained as a museum for floaters on the Salmon
River. Visiting the mountain man’s home today, one can sense
Buckskin’s presence and understand the pride he must have
felt living in this remote and beautiful place.

This story was first published in the summer 2013 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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