double clickThe Legend of Buckskin Bill on the Main Salmon River

Buckskin Bill: The Mountain Man of the Main Salmon River

Sylvan Ambrose Hart, better known as "Buckskin Bill", was the stuff of legends. An eccentric recluse, a skilled hunter, a storyteller with a flair for exaggeration, and one of the last true mountain men to roam the remote expanses of Idaho's wilderness. His chosen home for over half a century was the rugged and beautiful Main Salmon River, where he carved out a unique existence, living off the land and becoming synonymous with the untamed spirit of the region.

Early Life and Arrival on the Salmon River

Born in 1906 in Oklahoma, Hart was restless from a young age. He worked on Texas oil rigs during the Great Depression, and later attended universities before dropping out. In 1932, after a stint working for the Norden Bombsight Company, Hart headed west, seeking both solace and adventure in Idaho's sprawling backcountry. The Main Salmon River, known as the "River of No Return" for its treacherous rapids and isolation, became his sanctuary.

​Buckskin Clothing and a Solitary Existence

Hart was named “Buckskin Bill” due to his preference for clothes crafted from the hides he tanned himself. His lifestyle was as unique as his attire. He built a compound of rudimentary cabins with names like "Pneumonia Hall" and "Misery Mansion". He hunted, fished, gardened, and occasionally ventured into nearby towns to trade furs for supplies, his arrival inevitably causing a stir. While known for his gregarious personality and tall tales, he fiercely guarded his solitude and the rugged freedom of his chosen life.

Buckskin Territory Magazine 1

"I Figure It's About 99% Willpower"

In his own words, Hart described his philosophy: "I live on beans and taters. I ain't never been sick a day in my life… I figure it's about 99% willpower." [1] His resourcefulness and ability to thrive in the harsh conditions earned him the respect (and sometimes bemusement) of both locals and the growing number of rafters venturing down the Salmon River.

​Controversies and the "Threat" of Progress

In 1956, the National Forest Service designated the Five Mile section of the Salmon, Hart's home, as a "primitive area," threatening potential eviction. Hart famously constructed a stone gun tower overlooking the river, a symbol of both his defiance and his fear of losing the life he had built. While he avoided eviction, the incident cemented his reputation as both a defender of the wild and a relic of a bygone era.

Defense Tower

​Legacy and Final Days

While never a wealthy man, Hart's stories and lifestyle made him a regional folk hero. After his death in 1980, his property was turned into a museum, where visitors can glimpse the life of this remarkable mountain man and contemplate the vanishing wilderness lifestyle he embodied. The only way to access this unique piece of history is from a rafting trip down the Main Salmon River, or a jetboat tour.

References and Further Reading

Voicewrite Media: "Buckskin Bill: The Man, the Legend" (

Wikipedia: "Sylvan Ambrose Hart" (

Sports Illustrated Vault (

Kam Wixom
Kam began guiding in the Grand Canyon in 1991, met & guided with his wife in 2000, and is the proud daddy of 5 kids. He now works as the Marketing Director for Western River Expeditions.
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