NHT Auto Tour Guides

Idaho

brochure NHT Auto Tour Guides - Idaho

The National Historic Trail route along the Snake River through Idaho. Published by the National Park Service (NPS).

National Trails System National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Along the Snake River Plain Through Idaho “Three Island Crossing” by William Henry Jackson “Great Falls” on the Snake River. Courtesy of Library of Congress. NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILS AUTO TOUR ROUTE INTERPRETIVE GUIDE The Tangle of Trails Through Idaho Prepared by National Park Service National Trails System—Intermountain Region 324 South State Street, Suite 200 Salt Lake City, Utah 84111 Telephone: 801-741-1012 www.nps.gov/cali www.nps.gov/oreg www.nps.gov/poex www.nps.gov/mopi NATIONAL PARK SERVICE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR October 2008 Contents Introduction• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 1 THE DESERT WEST• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 2 THE SNAKE COUNTRY • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 4 FINDING THE WAY • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 7 WYOMING TO FORT HALL• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 11 THE RAFT RIVER PARTING OF THE WAYS• • • • • • • • • • 20 ON TO OREGON• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 22 ‘O FOR MORE PATIENCE’: A SNAKE RIVER SOJOURN • • 29 ‘DEATH OR THE DIGGINS’• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 32 ‘OUTRAGES HAVE BEEN COMMITTED’• • • • • • • • • • • 35 YESTERDAY AND TODAY• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 41 SITES AND POINTS OF INTEREST• • • • • • • • • • • • • 42 AUTO TOUR SEGMENT A: WYOMING TO OREGON ON THE SNAKE RIVER ROUTE OF THE OREGON TRAIL • • • • 45 AUTO TOUR SEGMENT B: THE SOUTH ALTERNATE OREGON TRAIL ROUTE, GLENNS FERRY TO OREGON STATE LINE • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 78 FOR MORE INFORMATION: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 82 Credits: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 82 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho Introduction M any of the pioneer trails and other historic routes that are important in our nation’s past have been designated by Congress as National Auto Tour Historic Trails. While most of the old roads and routes still in existance are not open to motorized Route traffic, people can drive along modern highways that closely parallel the original trails. Those modern roads are designated as Auto Tour Routes, and they are marked with highway signs and trail logos to help today’s travelers follow the trails used by the pioneers who helped to open the American West. This interpretive publication guides visitors along the Auto Tour Routes for the Oregon and California National Historic Trails across Idaho. Site-by-site driving directions are included, and an overview map is located inside the back cover. To make the tour more meaningful, this guide also provides a historical overview of the two trails, shares the thoughts and experiences of emigrants who followed these routes, and discusses how the westward expansion impacted native peoples of Idaho. Individual Auto Tour Route interpretive guides such as this one are in preparation for each state through which the trails pass. In addition, individual National Park Service brochures for the Oregon and California National Historic Trails are available at many trail-related venues, and also can be requested from the National Trails System administrative office at 324 South State Street, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. Each brochure includes a map of the entire trail and an overview of trail history. Additional information about each trail also can be found on individual trail web sites. Links are listed on the “For More Information” page of this guide. Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho THE DESERT WEST A s covered-wagon emigrants crossed today’s Idaho, they found the romance of the road wearing as thin as the soles of their trailtorn shoes. The pioneers’ initial energy and excitement curdled into fatigue and crankiness after three or more months on the road. Nightly fireside dances got left behind back down the trail, next to Grandpa’s clock, Mother’s good china, and heaps of souring bacon. Highjinks and horse races grew rare, quarrels more frequent. Journal-keepers, when they “Freighters Grub Pile,” by William mustered the energy to write at all, Henry Jackson. Courtesy of Library of generally jotted terse complaints Congress. about fellow travelers, Indians, heat, exhaustion, dust, mosquitoes, aches and pains, and the “stink” of the never-ending sagebrush. It seems the nearer we approach Oregon the worse roads we have, and a worse more rough looking country. —Amelia Hadley, 1851 Oregon emigration Felt today like giving up in despair, the intolerable heat and dust, together with fatigue makes me almost sick at heart. —Esther Belle Hanna, 1852 California emigration [Men] are by turns, or all together, cross, peevish, sullen, boisterous, giddy, profane, dirty, vulgar, ragged, mustachioed, bewhiskered, idle, petulant, quarrelsome, unfaithful, disobedient, refractory, careless, contrary, stubborn, hungry and without the fear of God and hardly of man before their eyes. —Israel Shipman Pelton Lord, 1849 California gold rush 2 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho Most emigrants reached this part of the overland trail in late July or August, when the heat of the day presses down like a heavy quilt, burdening the body and muddying the mind. Some of the strongest oxen, too, were weakening and failing, having faithfully pulled heavy wagons nearly 1,300 miles over mountains and plains. But even as energy and enthusiasm ebbed, travelers knew that they were beginning the most difficult part of their overland journey. They were entering the heart of the Desert West: a land of volcanic barrens, sagebrush steppe, salt-crisped deserts, and mountain ranges like rows of teeth. Idaho’s part of the Desert West is known as the Snake Country. Southern Route of the Oregon Trail near Murphy, Idaho. 3 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho THE SNAKE COUNTRY T he Oregon Trail, also used in part by travelers bound for California, follows the sweep of the Snake River Plain across Idaho. Much of this plain is irrigated farmland now, but it was no bountiful prairie in covered wagon days. Parts are basalt-encrusted barrens with sharp, broken rock that chewed up hooves and feet. Other parts are covered The Snake River Plain (outlined in red) with volcanic ash or ancient provided a relatively flat surface for wagon lake sediments, easily kicked travel. Base map is courtesy of Idaho State into the air by passing wheels University Department of Geology. and hooves. Instead of lush grass for hungry livestock, this land then bristled with gray-green sagebrush that snatched at wagon wheels and tore the legs of oxen. The plain is stingy with water, too. It thirstily sucks up runoff, pulls rivers underground into desert “sinks” (that’s how Idaho’s Big and Little Lost Rivers became lost), and then spits the water directly into the Snake River, miles away. And that unfriendly river has cut itself deeply into the plain, where it flows aloof and armored by high walls of black basalt. For miles along the Snake River, thirsty people and livestock could only look down from high on the rim rock to the taunting water hundreds of feet below. The Snake was no tame workhorse either, no docile carrier of people and freight. Today it has been gentled by irrigation and dams, but 150 years ago this was a wild bronco of a stream, with rapids, falls, and cascades that bucked off all manner of boats. Such was its violence that French-Canadian trappers called it La maudite rivière enragée—“the accursed mad river.” 4 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho This is one of the most singular rivers in the world being for miles enclosed by a perpendicular ledge of rocks & the thirsty animals are obliged to toil for miles together in the heat & dust with the sound of water in their ears & neither man or beast able to get a drop. —Polly Coon, 1852 Oregon emigration The Snake River (which emigrants also knew as Lewis’s Fork of the Columbia River) takes its modern name from the so-called Snake Indians who controlled that region. Snake was the common name given by nineteenth century white Americans to the various Shoshone groups, possibly because the sign language for Shoshone was a snake-like motion of the hand. Many Shoshone groups depended on Snake River salmon as a primary food source. (Buffalo, once common on the Snake River Plain, were rare there by the 1840s.) Emigrants following the Oregon Trail sometimes encountered Shoshone Indians and their Paiute friends, the Bannocks, fishing along the river. Sick of a diet of bacon and beans, travelers were happy for a chance to trade for fresh salmon. These encounters typically were peaceful, with the The Shoshone people viewed the emigrants as a threat to their survival. emigrant “trade caravans” meeting Courtesy of Library of Congress. up with the Indian “food bazaars” and everyone hoping to strike a good deal. But while emigrants grudgingly admired the native Plains horsemen they had met earlier along the trail, some scorned the Snake River people—especially poorer groups without horses—and tended to treat them harshly, sometimes brutally. For their own part, the Shoshones and Bannocks were skilled nighttime raiders who could make horses, mules, and oxen vanish from under the noses of wagon-camp guards. Sometimes after a quiet night, a guard would be discovered dead in the morning, his eyes open wide in surprise, his chest pierced by silent arrows. By the 1850s, many emigrants regarded 5 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho the Snake Country as the most dangerous part of the overland trails. The native people of the region viewed the emigrants as a threat to their very survival. I can hardly lay down to sleep without It seems as though The Indians stood all around me ready to masacree me, shall be glad to go. —Amelia Hadley, 1851 Oregon emigration But Indians were the least of the worries faced by the first covered wagon pioneers who rolled into Idaho. Towering basalt cliffs frequently kept thirsty emigrants and livestock from the life-saving waters of the Snake River. 6 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho FINDING THE WAY T he 69 men, women, and children who joined the first emigrant wagon train to set out across the Kansas prairie knew where they were going: to California, some 2,000 miles away. And they knew how they would get there: they would go west until they arrived. It was an elegant plan; but the devil, as they say, was in the details. In May 1841, no wagon roads to Oregon or California yet existed. There were only long-distance Indian footpaths worn deeper by fur trade “Emigrant Party on the Road to California.” Courtesy of traffic following the Beniecke Rare Book & Manuscript Collection, Yale University. Platte River toward the Rocky Mountains. No member of the emigrant party knew the route, and no useful government map or published guidebook was available to advise tenderfoot travelers along the way. On top of all that, these American emigrants would be trespassers in much of the country to be crossed and illegal squatters on the land they planned to settle, for nothing west of the Continental Divide was American soil. Mexico claimed the Southwest, the U.S. and Great Britain disputed the Oregon Country, and American Indian peoples— nations, really, with distinctive languages and cultures—occupied and controlled the region. Yet the members of the “Western Emigration Society,” as these pioneers called themselves, were determined to go overland to California and confident they would get there. No one of the party knew anything about mountaineering and scarcely anyone had ever been into the Indian Territory, yet a large majority felt that we were fully competent to go anywhere no matter what the difficulties might be or how numerous and warlike the Indians. —John Bidwell, 1841 California emigration 7 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho What these greenhorns lacked in good sense they made up in good fortune. Near the start of their trip, just a few days west of Independence, Missouri, they met up with Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick. The famed mountain man was guiding a company of missionaries bound for the Pacific Northwest, but he agreed to take the emigrants along through the Rocky Mountains. “And it was well that [he] did,” recalled pioneer John Bidwell years later, “for otherwise probably not one of us would ever have reached California, because of our inexperience.” Fitzpatrick led the combined company up Nebraska’s Platte River, through the Rockies and across the Continental Divide at South Pass, Wyoming, and into today’s Idaho southeast of present-day Montpelier. The party then followed the flow Relatively flat land and adequate of the Bear River northwestward water made for a good wagon road in the Bear River valley. past Soda Springs to Sheep Rock, where the river curls around the north end of the Wasatch Mountains and turns back to the south. There, Fitzpatrick’s party prepared to split up: the missionaries and their guide would continue to the Northwest by way of Fort Hall, a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade post, and the settlers would turn, pilotless, toward California. “Westward America,” by William Henry Jackson, near Split Rock, Wyoming. 8 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho …there was no road for us to follow, nothing was known of the country, and we had nothing to guide us, and so [Fitzpatrick] advised us to give up the California project. He thought it was doubtful if we ever got there; we might get caught in the snow of the mountains and perish there, and he considered it very hazardous to attempt it. —Josiah Belden, 1841 California emigration Fitzpatrick believed the inexperienced emigrants were foolish to blunder into the unmapped interior on their own. He persuaded about half of them to give up their California dreams and follow the Snake and Columbia Rivers to Oregon, instead. The other 34 determined emigrants (including a woman and infant) spurned the mountain man’s sensible advice and turned their oxen south down the Bear River toward the Great Salt Lake. The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, as that group is now known, took the first wagons into northern Utah, but the trial-and-error trail they blazed down the Bear River, around the Great Salt Lake, and into Nevada was so difficult that few would attempt to follow in their track. Later Californiabound travelers developed a network of better routes through southeastern Idaho. We were now thrown entirely upon our own resources. All the country beyond was to us a veritable terra incognita, and we only knew that California lay to the west. —John Bidwell, 1841 California emigration But the other Western Emigration Society pioneers left their wagons at Fort Hall and continued with pack animals along the Snake River, as Fitzpatrick had advised. Their faint trace through the sagebrush would become the main emigrant route to Oregon, leading thousands of people west over the next 30 years. As more wagons trickled and then flooded across the West, the track along the Snake River evolved into a wagon trail and finally a network of well-beaten roads that snaked around mountains and marshes, kept to high ground, and generally went wherever water and grass could be found. These roads were not rustic wagon-width versions of today’s paved highways, direct and efficient, with two lanes for 9 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho traffic to follow in orderly single file. Rather, they were evolving, bustling, multi-lane, winding, spreading-out and drawing-in, freefor-all travel corridors with no rules of the road, constrained in their wanderings and widths only by geography and the locations of grass and water. They went wherever somebody thought he could drive a wagon, and they were developed by repeated use, rarely by engineers or work crews. Over the years, travelers developed a tangle of wagon trails through the basin and range country of southeastern Idaho and across the Snake River Plain as they sought out shorter, easier, or safer ways west. The Snake River route formed the spine of the combined Oregon and California Trails. To reach the river, westbound wagons first had to thread through the mountains of southeastern Idaho. The basic course of the road to Oregon followed the Platte River to the Sweetwater, to the Bear, to the Snake, and ultimately, to the Columbia. 10 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho WYOMING TO FORT HALL T he combined Oregon and California Trails enter eastern Idaho from Wyoming through the natural mountain-edged corridor of the Bear River Valley. That valley was glorious: nearly 80 miles of abundant water, cool air, spectacular scenery, and plentiful timber, grass, fish, and wildfowl. Its beauty and bounty, coming on the heels of a hard, dry haul across southwestern Wyoming, raised the emigrants’ spirits and inspired some writers to poetry. Love never dwelt in a much more charming valley. Here one might live secluded. From side to side his eyes might rest on mountain tops and no gate left open, except where the babbling waters play. —John Edwin Banks, 1849 California gold rush The main trail crosses the Thomas Fork, stays north of the Bear River, and climbs directly into the Sheep Creek Hills. That climb was hard but the descent was far worse, forcing emigrants to lock their wagon wheels for a long, frightening skid down Big Hill to the valley floor. Furrows scoured into the earth by unyielding iron-rimmed wheels are visible today from U.S. The descent from Big Hill followed Highway 30. From there the main the wash just to the left of center in trail went along the north side of the this image. Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society. Bear River Valley through today’s Montpelier and on to Soda Springs, one of the natural wonders of the Oregon and California Trails. The Soda Springs are a complex of gaseous mud-pots, fountains, and naturally carbonated pools, which according to Shoshone tradition are healing waters. 11 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho My spirits were low till I heard, “There is the Soda Springs.” This acted like electricity....They are wonderful and deserve a place in the wonders of the earth. —John Edwin Banks, 1849 California gold rush The whole valley…is the most interesting spot of earth that I ever beheld. Here is a grand field for the geologist, mineralogist, naturalist, & any other kind of ‘ist’ that you can conceive. —Dr. Wakeman Bryarly, 1849 California gold rush The most famous of these features was Steamboat Spring, which huffed and whistled like a steamboat as pressurized gas and water erupted from a low travertine cone. Sarah White Smith, traveling with a missionary company in 1838, watched a prankster try to stop Steamboat Spring from spouting by removing his trousers and sitting on the cone’s six-inch opening. “Steam Boat Springs” by artist James F. Wilkins, 1849, at Soda Springs, Idaho. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “He did not have to wait very long for the flow,” she recounted. “It came gradually at first, but increased in force every moment. Doyle soon began bobbing up and down at a fearful rate. At this stage of the fun several of the boys took hold of Doyle and tried to hold him on the crevice, but in this they failed, for the more weight they added to Doyle the more power the spring seemed to have, and Doyle kept bobbing up and down like a cork.” The man finally pleaded to be released, exclaiming, “I am now pounded into a beefsteak!” Steamboat Spring is submerged by Alexander Reservoir now, but a churning on the lake surface reveals its location. Dozens of other springs have been altered or destroyed by years of development, which began in 1863 when a settlement and an army camp were 12 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho established in the area. A few, including Hooper Springs, are still local attractions. Emigrants loved to sample their water, using flavorings to create soda beverages, mixing it into bread dough for leavening, or just drinking it like beer and imagining themselves growing tipsy. The Sody Spring is quite a curiosity thare is a great many of them Just boiling rite up out of the ground take alitle sugar and desolve it in alitle water and then dip up acup full and drink it before it looses it gass it is frustrate [first rate] I drank ahol of galon of it. —William J. Scott, 1846 Oregon emigration But in the Bear River Valley, emigrants began encountering another natural wonder that was not so much fun: crawling armies of large, leggy “crickets” that devoured anything in their path. The “crickets” are really a type of katydid—not a true cricket, a locust, or a grasshopper—that feeds on sagebrush and other plants. Periodically their population booms and they swarm by the millions, as many as 100 per square yard, across the Desert West. They will gobble up gardens and field crops, munch on clothing, quilts, and linens, and even cannibalize their own kind. They earned their popular name, Mormon cricket, when they attacked settler’s crops around Salt Lake City in 1848. Native peoples used the insects to make protein-rich Mormon cricket. Courtesy of Idaho soups and pemmican “bread,” but Photo most emigrants regarded Mormon crickets as unappetizing. The ground, for a strip of about four miles, was covered with black crickets of a large size. I saw some that were about three inches in length…. Our teams made great havoc among them; so numerous were they that we crushed them at every step. —Joel Palmer, 1846 Oregon emigration 13 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho Wingless, dumpy, black, swollen-headed, with bulging eyes in cases like goggles, mounted upon legs of steel wire and clock-spring, and with a general appearance that justified the Mormons in comparing him to a cross of the spider on the buffalo, the Deseret cricket comes down from the mountains at a certain season of the year, in voracious and desolating myriads. —Thomas Leiper Kane, in “The Mormons, a discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, March 26, 1850” A few miles west of Soda Springs, the Bear River hairpins around Sheep Rock and flows lazily south toward the Great Salt Lake. Sheep Rock, named for the bighorn sheep that passing emigrants sometimes saw there, is where the 1841 Western Emigration Society split up, with Fitzpatrick’s company going on to Fort Hall Sheep Rock, called Soda Point today, and the Bidwell-Bartleson Party is the northern end of the Wasatch continuing down the river toward Mountains. Courtesy of Library of Utah. In 1849 a third alternate, the Congress. Hudspeth Cutoff, was blazed as a shortcut to California. It angled directly southwest away from the Bear River at Sheep Rock toward the northeast corner of present-day Nevada, and soon became the preferred route of the 1849 gold rushers and later emigrants to California. Some Oregon traffic, as well as California-bound travelers hoping to resupply, continued northwest along Fitzpatrick’s route toward the Snake River and Fort Hall. Good bye to Bear River. In one mile farther we reached the junction of the Ft. Hall and Headspeth’s cut off roads, and after some debate and a vote it was decided to go by Ft. Hall, the minority grumbling greatly. The Mountaineers had invariably advised us to take this rout. —Byron N. McKinstry, 1850 California emigration 14 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho As the trail crosses today’s Fort Hall Indian Reservation and approaches the site of the old Fort Hall trading post, the Lander Cutoff merges from the east. This cutoff, developed in 1857-59 by government engineer Frederick Lander, was the only federally funded road ever constructed for the overland emigration. Lander’s road went directly from the Ninth Crossing of the Sweetwater River, near South Pass, Wyoming, to Fort Hall, thus bypassing the original trail’s long meander southwest through Fort Bridger. But Fort Hall never served the emigrants who arrived by the Lander Cutoff. By the time the new road opened to traffic, the old fur-trade depot was closed and abandoned. Fort Hall, built in 1834 by New England businessman Nathaniel Wyeth, was the first permanent American post in the entire Oregon Country. Hardball business tactics by rival Hudson’s Bay Company soon drove Wyeth into debt and forced him to sell his enterprise to the British-owned corporation. As the profitable beaver-pelt trade collapsed in the early 1840s, the Hudson’s Bay Company might “Old Fort Hall Trading Post on the Snake River,” by William Henry Jackson 15 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho have closed Fort Hall for good—but former trappers like Thomas Fitzpatrick found work as trail guides and began bringing new customers to the post. The developing Oregon Trail helped keep Fort Hall in business for another 15 years. Fort Hall was the last trading post for many miles, and as Californiabound Margaret Frink wearily observed in 1850, from there “the worst part of the road is yet to be passed over.” It was a place where emigrants could re-supply, repair wagons and equipment, exchange livestock, and steel themselves for the hardest leg of their journey. Even the exceptionally fierce clouds of mosquitoes that greeted arrivals to Fort Hall did not discourage business. Many emigrant parties stayed for several days, camping among the notoriously buggy, boggy river bottoms around the post. We camped four miles from the fort [Hall] amonst a million of mosquitos they would not let you rest a moment and after swallowing a cup of tea and about fifty of them with it I bundled up head and ears and let them sing me to sleep. —Joseph Hackney, 1849 California gold rush Mosquitos were as thick as flakes in a snowstorm. The poor horses whinnied all night, from their bites, and in the morning blood was streaming down their sides. —Margaret Frink, Fort Hall, 1850 California emigration I have been much in musquitoe country, but confess I never before saw them in their glory. They were so thick you could reach out & get your handfull. —Dr. Wakeman Bryarly, 1849 California gold rush Ironically, the very success of the emigration helped put an end to the fort, for the swelling tide of wagon traffic through the Snake Country ignited Shoshone and Bannock resistance. Conflict in the region helped persuade the Hudson’s Bay Company to close its Snake River posts in 1855-56. Floods gradually washed away the fort’s adobe buildings, but emigrants continued using the site for camping and some independent traders operated there. Today, Shoshone and Bannock guides lead travelers to the site of the old post, where they 16 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho can enjoy an authentic trail experience: the mosquitoes there are as welcoming as ever! Starting in 1852, travelers to Oregon could cross to the north side of the Snake River near Fort Hall and take Jeffrey’s Cutoff, later called the Goodale Cutoff, along the upper edge of the Snake River Plain. This 230-mile alternate goes generally northwestward from the fort toward Big Southern Butte, a notable landmark on the plain. The Goodale Cutoff then turns west and crosses the north end of today’s Craters of the Moon National Monument. Trail remnants all along this route are still visible. They rejoin the primary route of the Oregon Trail east of Boise. It is a sun-baked, boot-shredding, wagon-jolting route that alternately crosses rugged lava flows, dense stands of sagebrush, and sand barrens with no feed for the livestock. Despite its challenges, the Goodale Cutoff became a popular option for Oregonbound emigrants in 1862 when fights between emigrants and Indians along the Snake River road were making national news. The roadbed is only known by the rocks and lava being crushed by the many teams passing over it...all day long we slowly creep along lacerating our horses feet and threatening wheels, axles, or some portion of our outfit. All along were pieces of broken wagons which had met with such accidents. —Harriet A. Loughary on Goodale’s Cutoff, 1864 Oregon emigration Most wagon trains departing Fort Hall, though, turned west to follow the combined Oregon/ California Trail down the south rim of the Snake River, which lay snug in its deep bed of basalt. The main trail crawled southwestward over increasingly rough terrain and, in places, along dangerously narrow riverside bluffs. One or two days’ travel—about 25 miles—over that road brought Dams on the Snake River have reduced the roaring waterflow, revealing the deep basalt walls that determine its course. Courtesy of Idaho State University Department of Geology. 17 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho travelers to the American Falls, where the river dropped 50 feet in a series of roaring whitewater cascades. Emigrant journals often remarked on the spot’s natural beauty and sometimes mentioned trading with Indians for fish at this location. The tranquility of the place belies the violence that occurred nearby one hot August evening in 1859. The Miltimore Party, a wagon train of 19 men, women, and children on their way to California, had strung out along the trail as they approached their evening camp above American Falls. Several wellarmed white men poorly disguised as Indians—having dark skin but light brown hair and beards and speaking standard English— suddenly approached on horseback and commandeered two lagging wagons at the rear of the train. At their signal, 15 to 20 more men jumped the rear wagons and began shooting, sparing no one. The forward wagons quickly were drawn into the attack, as well. Some emigrants escaped into thick willows along the river, where they listened, terrified, to the “whooping and hollering of the Indians” through the night. An army expedition from Fort Walla Walla, encamped on the Raft River, came across 11 survivors afoot on the trail three days later. Soldiers looking for more survivors found a horrific scene of brutality at the attack site. They buried eight victims in a common grave that now rests beneath American Falls Reservoir. Indians, probably Shoshones and Bannocks, took part in the killings, but according to some of the survivors, white “land pirates” in search of plunder master-minded the ambush. Volcanic basalt along the south side of the Snake River Canyon at Massacre Rocks provided hiding places where unsuspecting wagon trains could be attacked. 18 Three years later and about 10 miles west of the Miltimore killing grounds, in an area now called Massacre Rocks, about 150 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho fighters under the Northwestern Shoshone War Chief Pocatello engaged several more wagon companies in retaliation for earlier unprovoked attacks by emigrants on his own people. Again, some survivors reported white renegades among the attackers. Ten emigrants and eight Indian fighters died in those skirmishes of August 9-10, 1862. Pocatello’s Shoshone and Bannock warriors launched several more strikes that season along the Oregon and California Trails in Idaho, hoping to halt emigrant trespass there. Within a year, his efforts would pull disaster down on his people. “Pilgrims on the Plains,” by Theo R. Davis. During the 1840s and 50s, tens of thousands of emigrants poured across Bannock and Shoshone homelands. Courtesy of Library of Congress. 19 Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Idaho THE RAFT RIVER PARTING OF THE WAYS N ews and wild rumors of Indian attacks through the 1850s and early ’60s flashed up and down the trail and appeared in newspapers throughout the country, fueling public demand for military protection. Meanwhile, many emigrants already on the road weighed the risks along the Oregon and California routes ahead. Some 15 miles west of Massacre Rocks, at the Raft River Parting of the Ways, travelers would get another chan

also available

National Parks
USFS NW