Native Americans (Shoshone) inhabited the Oakley Valley area and used it as hunting and gathering grounds. They primarily gathered pinyon pine nuts in the fall in the City of Rocks area (Boothe 1963). The first Euro-American explorers and trappers entered the area in late 1811 (ibid). In the mid-1800s, thousands of emigrants passed through on their way to California. Cattle were first brought into the area in 1871 and 1872. In 1870, William Oakley established the pony express and stage station two miles west of the present town of Oakley. The earliest settlers of the Cottonwood area were James and John Iverson and Peter Anderson in approximately 1870.
In 1934, Charles W. Bariger acquired 80 acres of land adjacent to Big Cottonwood Creek (the southwestern portion of Big Cottonwood WMA) from the General Land Office under the 1862 Homestead Act (General Land Office 1934). In 1943, Weyley and Mattie Cooper (daughter of John Iverson) purchased 134 acres, including the above 80 acres, from Charles and Bessie Larson for $700 (Cassia County 1943a). Two months later, Bariger quitclaimed the same 134 acres to the Coopers (Cassia County 1943b). In 1957, the Coopers claimed an additional 80 acres of BLM land along the western border of Big Cottonwoord WMA (USDI 1957). In 1965, Harold and Kerma Cranney purchased 814 acres (present day Big Cottonwood WMA) from the Cooper’s (Cassia County 1965). In 1993, The Conservation Fund (a Virginia non-governmental organization) purchased the 814 acres from the Cranneys and subsequently sold the property to the department.