Wednesday, March 23, 2011

History Abounds on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon

The natural beauty of the Middle Fork of the Salmon is the most appealing aspect of a float trip for many visitors. But the river canyon has a rich human history as well. There are many old cabins, homesteads, old farm equipment and Native American pictographs to visit along the river. They take you back to a time when sleeping along the Middle Fork was not a vacation of a lifetime, but a way of life. Here, the five most experienced river companies on the Middle Fork will share some of their favorite historic stops.

Solitude River Trips on “Prehistoric/Native American Sites”

There are four types of archeological sites that you’ll encounter on the Middle Fork – rock shelters, open camps, pictographs and pit house villages. Rock shelters were formed in steep canyons where there was an overhanging rock face. Pit house villages and open camps were generally established on terraces. No one is sure what shape shelters took on open camps; pit house villages were made up of tipi-like structures built over small circular depressions, the pits. Pictographs are not as abundant on the Middle Fork as they are on some western rivers, but some are found in rock shelters. No one knows if the images scrawled on the rock tell stories of the Indians’ experiences or were meant to act as maps. One popular theory goes that they are a record of a shaman’s visions. Native American sites may be viewed, but never disturbed!

Rocky Mountain River Tours on “Middle Fork Lodge”

This structure has a long history and many different owners throughout the years, Bill Harrah (owner of Harrah’s casinos in Nevada) bought the ranch in 1966 when the Forest Service dropped the ball and did not pick up an option to purchase the ranch. Harrah spent millions turning the old ranch into a wonderful lodge, which had antique cars on the grounds and Charley Russell paintings hanging on the walls. Many celebrities visited the lodge, including. Loretta Lynn, Steve Mc Queen, Sammy Davis Jr., Glen Campbell and Bill Cosby. The place changed hands many times since Harrah died and is now owned by an investment broker from New York.

Far and Away Adventures on “Daisy Tappan Cabin"

This cabin rests at Grouse Creek; it was there when Willis Jones settled at this spot in 1917. Jones sold the place to Fred and Daisy Paulson-Tappan for $1200. Fred was from Iowa and daisy was from Prineville Oregon. They raised cattle, grew a big garden with strawberries, watermelons, blackberries, raspberries and muskmelons. Daisy said that the rock chucks would make a little hole in the melons next to the ground and then hollow out the entire melon, which appeared edible until picked and the hole was discovered! As self sufficient as they were, Fred and Daisy still had to buy horseshoes, leather and clothes. $300 dollars would easily see them through the year! In later years the Forest Service cut off their grazing permits. By then (about 1933), their boys were old enough to go to school, and they moved out. Years later, Daisy said, "You know, it was three years before I could sleep without the sound of that river and creek. It was just too darned quiet.

Idaho River Journeys on “Powerhouse Mill”

Longtime Middle Fork drifters will fondly recall the Powerhouse Cabin & Stamp Mill, which rested adjacent to Powerhouse Rapids. The cabin is called the Smith-Hussey cabin after the builders, and was built back in the 1920s. It featured a unique roof system that had yard long wooden shakes. The stamp-mill – with a waterwheel that could be lowered into the river when needed – was used to process gold ore that was harvested from the White Goat mine on the opposite side of the river. The ore was brought down a steep trail by mule and then brought across the Middle Fork via a cable car system. Gold was processed here until the 1950’s. Regrettably, the cabin and mill were consumed in the 2007 wild fires that ran through the valley, though metal components from the mill remain, hinting at the past.

Hughes River Expeditions on “Joe Bump’s Cabin”

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many pioneer families moved to the Middle Fork and built homesteads along the river. Some were successful and became private land, others moved on and made their homes elsewhere. Descendants of many Middle Fork pioneer families still live in the region. One settler who didn’t stay was Joe Bump, whose cabin – or at least its remains – rest just a little bit below Powerhouse Rapids. Joe Bump was a prospector and packer from Cascade, Idaho. One winter Joe lost his toes to frost bite in the upper Middle Fork in Bear Valley in a snowstorm and developed blood poisoning and left for good, moving back to Cascade. (That’s why you float in the summer!)

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