Salmon, Idaho – Sacagawea’s Homeland: September 1–10, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

Before I get to Salmon, a brief story. I recently copied the travelogue to date back off the website, to archive it and to provide a printed copy to my ma-in-law, who at 89 has not embraced the Internet. When I did so, I discovered that I had completely left out one of our stops: Deer Park, WA. I just spaced it. I know why: there was not a thing memorable or scriptable about it. We’d stopped there with plans to tour Spokane, 20 miles to the south. We tried to do so, but finding the first two attractions closed and getting totally tied up in traffic and construction, we said FIDO (forget it, drive on).

The moral: Unless I have something special to talk about, I will merge a dead stop into the meaningful stop that follows. Such as now. On the way to Salmon, Idaho, we took a roundabout route to again avoid Teton Pass and spent two days in Rexburg, Idaho for no other reason than to break up the trip and take a break from the intensity of the Parks.

So now on to our week in Salmon. We stayed down in a ravine behind Buddy’s giant Texaco station and restaurant. It was a 14 site campground that put us adjacent to the Salmon River, where we spent spare time walking the bank and watching fisherpeople, rafters and kayakers.

This was the closing segment of our Lewis and Clark sojourn, at least for now. As you may recall, Sacagawea’s true value to the Corps came once they left the Missouri River and continued their down the Jefferson to search for the tribe of her birth. They needed to secure horses for the trip across the mountains. She recognized landmarks, provided direction and served as translator. The deal was guaranteed when she discovered that the head of the Lemhi Shoshone bargaining team was her brother, Chief Cameahwait. The tribe provided not only horses aplenty but direction, sage advice, and a guide, whom the Corps named Old Toby. The party traveled north from Salmon, up to Traveler’s Rest in Lolo, Montana and thence across the Bitterroot Trail through Lolo Pass. The last was a trip from hell; after they made it through almost two weeks of bitter weather and severe lack of food, they collapsed on the Weippe Prairie in dire straits. Only through the kindness of more strangers — the Nez Perce — did they recover. We reviewed the subsequent phase of the journey in our chapter on Orofino (July 20-27).

Salmon takes great pride in its Native American roots. Unfortunately, the tribes were chased out of there and on to reservations as early as the mid 1860’s. The first incursion of westerners dates back to the early 19th century, when fur trappers found the Salmon River area ripe for the picking. Next came a contingent around 1855 sent by Brigham Young; they established a fort and agrarian presence and sought to convert the natives. It was they who provided the Lemhi distinction to the valley and local Shoshone tribes – Limhi is a figure in the Book of Mormon. Ten years later, five prospectors got rumors of gold in the area; they struck it poor at first but then found a lode across the river. This, plus ranching, timber, and other important metal deposits brought the flood of non-native Americans to the region, and they displaced the original settlers to reservations very quickly.

The natives were known as the Agai Dika, or “salmon eaters.” The land in native language is Agai Pah. They distinguished themselves from other Shoshone tribes and were somewhat advanced, using horses earlier than other branches, for example. The integration in the area – far more peaceful than others—is a tribute to their last Chief, Tendoy. A son of Cameahwait , and thus a nephew of Sacagawea, he led his followers through peace councils and treaties to retain as much ownership as he could. Even so, their reservation, Fort Hall, was reduced by two thirds from 1868 to 1934.

Chief Tendoy had a strong compatriot. George L. Shoup is the Grand Old Man of Idaho. A merchant in Virginia City, Montana, he moved to Salmon in 1867, soon after the gold rush started, and eventually became the chief mercantile supplier to the region from three locations. Turning the businesses over to family, he turned his attention to the welfare of Idaho, becoming its last territorial governor, leading the statehood movement, and becoming one of its first two senators. In 1877, Shoup and Chief Tendoy acted together to convince the retreating Nez Perce Chief Joseph and his followers to leave the Valley without bloodshed. Some was spilled, but it was minor compared to the havoc that could have been wreaked.

There are three primary sights in and near town that provide comprehensive views of the area’s history. The first is a tiny park wedged between two buildings on the main drag, featuring a series of storyboards that illuminate the key people and eras. Included are several boards on the long history of forest fires in the Salmon-Challis Forest and a tribute to lost firefighters. In fact, a fire north of there (threatening our friends in Hamilton, MT 100 miles away) delivered haze, smell and soot daily during our visit.

The second site, the Lemhi County Museum, was also on Main Street, right next to the river. It was typical of the better county museums we have visited: long on precious local artifacts and pictures, long on obvious dedication, and short on glitzy displays and slick organization. We saw our first museum of this type in Beulah, ND last year; like that one, this one rated a 10 in category. Our visit was enhanced by the docent on duty, Chuck Dana, a gentleman a bit better in age than us who was a fourth generation Salmonian. And we were his only customers that morning. As he showed us around, he spoke authoritatively of the exhibits, having met many of the townsfolk who were celebrated. We were enrapt. But his brief story of Sacagawea, from what we know of her history, couldn’t have been more inaccurate. It would thrill the unknowing, however, and that’s good enough. We just nodded at that part.

The three images below picture a remarkable instrument. It’s a Showinger piano, manufactured in 1823, that was shipped by covered wagon to Salmn from Utah in the 1880’s.

One entire wing of the museum contains artifacts collected from the Far East, namely China, Japan and Tibet, by Ray Edwards, sone of Salmon pioneers who traveled to the Orient in 1920. His family presented the entire collection to the museum in 1964.

The Sacagawea Interpretive, Cultural and Education Center is proudly the property of the City of Salmon, supported by partnerships with a dozen federal, state, regional and county organizations, most prominently the Bureau of Land Management. It is a 71 acre site with a small museum and a field of dreamy composure. As importantly, it hosts by far the loveliest rendition of the young hero and her younger progeny, which is tender and age appropriate. Next to the statue – for reasons we couldn’t quite understand – is a second sculpture, a tribute to Seaman, the four legged member of the expedition. History believes that he made it all the way home; direct mentions end before the Captains’ logs do. But there was nothing establishing a relationship between the Squawr (Clark’s spelling) and the Newfie.

The museum itself traced Sacagawea’s history from her youth, as best it could be reconstructed. One of the facts it stressed was the knowledge of nature instilled by her mother, knowledge of fields and flowers and herbs and roots that provided both nutritive and healing properties. This familiarity became critically important for the Corps, time and time again, as Sacagawea gathered the natural elements that nourished them, often adding palpability to otherwise foul tasting food. Her natural medicine also supplemented the Captains’ extensive medical kit and knowledge. They mentioned these contributions over and over again in their journals, along with her prowess for direction and diplomacy. Her kidnapping, cohabitation with Charbonneau, and life upon her return to North Dakota were also described or surmised.

The field was a testament to her nation. The trail circled the rim, giving the walker a constant opportunity to look inward and visualize the existence of a village, laboring in a tilled plot, grazing horses and maintaining households. From time to time, you come across a descriptive sign, many accompanied by structures: teepees, sweat lodges, crude huts and the like. And salmon weirs – Sihi Vee Nei-Goade — the key to the survival of the Agai Dika A leisurely perambulation can take 45 minutes or more, with an extra bit for the branch off to the wildlife sanctuary. It’s a delightful and healthful escape.

Drives and walks about town rounded out our stay. Ready or not, we were about to hop back into the real world with our trek down to Boise.

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