Farewell Snake River

Oregon Trail emigrants traveled through the Snake River country for over 300 miles. Hardship and danger were constant companions, and death, particularly at river crossings, was not uncommon. The river also sustained life, however, providing water and fish in abundance. For many emigrants along with Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank, emigrants of 1852, bidding “farewell Snake” at this site, parting was bittersweet.

“…we came on the Snake river bottom again, here I campt a very good place, a largte dry creek comes in here which has got good grass….There the road leaves Snake river and we see it no more only in the Columbia I was sorry for that for we have caught a number of fish Willie gets his hook and line in a morning and soon catches enought for breakfast for us we have travelled down it for about 360 miles it is a fine stream
George Belshaw
, August 23, 1853


Respite for the WearyRespite for the Weary!

Camp sites along the Oregon Trail were determined by the presence of water, grazing for livestock, or simply the end of a long, exhausting day. Although emigrants camped at Farewell Bend, a typical day’s journey brought emigrants from the Malheur river through the alkali desert to camp at nearby BirchCreek. Water was available along this route, but it was often tainted, and many along with Martha S. Read, emigrant of 1852, found themselves “most all sick from the effects.” Farewell Bend provided a welcome respite for emigrants recovering from the effects of bad water and other illness.

“…moved 3 miles to the river to get better water. found plentty of feed. The Indians have visited us every day and brought us fish. they appear fery friendly. We have had very warm days ever sionce we stopt here. To day we have had afew sprinkles of rain. There is an immense sight of sickness on the road. Lydia is getting sick today….” Martha S. Read; September 13, 1852.


Cattle is DyingThe Cattle is Dying

        The emigrant road from the Snake River Crossing to Farewell Bend was dry, dusty, and extremely arduous; it was also the end of the trail for many already exhausted oxen. George Belshaw, emigrant of 1853, noted that his “cattle is dying…some of them bleeds at the nose and dies in a few minutes after working through the day.”  Water holes were few, and with the distance between them great, emigrants often faced a life-threatening dilemma: to press on and risk losing their teams to fatigue, or to stop and risk that they would die of thirst.

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“After cattle have worked all the way from the STATES here , they become weak and tired, and it does not take much to make them a load. Sometimes having a good feed, then poor, then none at all, is enough to try anything.  We have come 12 miles and camped at Sulphur spring; a poor place with very little water and that inferior.” Samuel Handsaker; September 4, 1853


Hook, Line & FishtrapHook, Line and Fishtrap

      Rivers and creeks along the Oregon Trail supplied emigrants with both food and water, and the Snake River was no exception. although some emigrants employed hook and line , most found it easier to trade with the Indians. Long before the arrival of emigrants, local Indians had perfected techniques for harvesting the bountiful Snake River salmon.

“I have not observed that the Indians often atttempt fishing in the ‘big river’, where it is wide and deep; they generally prefer the slues, creeks, &c. Across these a net of closely woven willows is stretched, placed vertically, and extending from the bottom to several feet above the surface. A number of Inidans enter the water about a hundred yards above the net, and , walking closely drive the fish in a body against the wicker work. Here they are frequently become entangled, and are always checked; the spear is then used dexterously, and they are thrown out, one by one, upon the shore.  With industry, a vast number of salmon might be taken in this manner.” 
John Kirk Townsend, Naturalist; August 24, 1834


Old's FerryEastbound Lane Opens

       Gold was discovered in Idaho during the 1860s, and emigrants traveling westward often met prospectors heading east. Gold rushers seeking the most direct route to their bonanzs crossed the Snake River near farewell bend.  In 1863 Reuben P. Olds, a local entrepeneur, realized substrantial profits from both emigrants and miners by establishing a ferry a few miles to the south.  Old’s ferrry allowed emigrants to bypass the Snake River crossing near Fort Boise and follow an alternate route along the north bank of the river.

“Going seven miles we reach the ferry. It took all the fore noon to get our party across, only one wagon at a time, with one span of horses or one yoke of oxen, for which we paid $2.00 in gold dust or $4.00 in Green Backs, but with plenty of patience and still plenty of money we finally crossed. When the ferryman said, ‘here you are in a land of rain, grain, and big red apples,’  yet neither was realized only in anticipation.” Harriet A. Loughary; August 5, 1864


Lost LucyLost Lucy

  It was not easy for Oregon trail emigrants to account for everything that had to be unloaded and repacked at cmp sites or river corossings. some things, including family members, were accidentally left behind.

“…we left unknowingly our Lucy behind, not a soul had missed her until we had gone some miles, when we stopt awhile to rest the cattle; just then another train drove up behind us, with Lucy   she was terribly frightened and so was some more of us, when we found out what a narrow escape she had run.  she said she was sitting under the bank of the river, when we started, busy watching some wagons cross and did not know we were ready.  I supposed she was in Mr. Carls wagon, as he always took charge of Frances and Lucy…when startign he asked for Lucy, and Frances says ‘shes in Mothers wagon.’  as she often came in there to have her hair combed.–it was a lesson to all of us.”
Amelia Stewart Knight; August 8, 1853