Snake River Crossing
OTCC Interpretive Kiosk

Rte. 201 6 miles S. of Ontario, OR


Snake River CrossingSnake River Crossing

River crossings were difficult for Oregon Trail emigrants and the Snake River was no exception. Emigrants, wagons, and livestock all had to cross the river; casualties were common. Celinda Hines, emigrant of 1853, watched in horror as her father vanished into the depths of the Snake River at this crossing: "Uncle G swam in & got out Pa's hat", she lamented. Fortunately, local Indians could be hired to assist emigrants at this river crossing.

". . . our worst trouble at these large rivers, is swiming the stock over, often after swimming nearly halfway over, the poor things, will turn and come out again, at this place, however, there are Indians who swim the river from morning till night it is fun for them, there is many a drove of cattle that could not be got over without their help, by paying them a small sum, they will take a horse by the bridle or halter, and swim over with him, the rest of the horses all follow, and by driving and hurraing to the cattle they will most always follow the horses, sometimes they fail and turn back." Amelia Stewart Knight, August 5,1853

Wagons Crossing SnakeWagons Crossing

For Basil Nelson Longworth, emigrant of 1853, crossing the Snake River near this site was easy with the help of the newly established ferry: "we ran both wagons on the boat and in a few minutes were safely on the other side." Before the ferry was established, river crossing required careful planning and considerable creativity.

"we found the river here too deep to ford and had to ferry in a large canoe belonging to the Fort. the plan of crossing was to pile the load into the bottom of the canoe and balance the wagon on top of the canoe. this required a good deal of care and skill to prevent capsizing. we had one wagon tumble into the river, but succeeded in getting it out alive. But it was well soaked."
P.V. Crawford, August 10-11, 1851

Wagon Passage SuccessfulWagon Passage Successful!

The average American would not have considered heading west with only a few pack mules. To emigrate without a wagon meant leaving behind the possessions acquired during a lifetime to start anew in the wilderness. When missionary emigrants Marcus and Narcissa Whitman left their one-horse wagon at Fort Boise in 1836, great excitement was generated in the States: emigration to Oregon via wagon was within the realm of possibility. Two years later, Thomas Jefferson Farnham would claim that: "a safe and easy passage has lately been discovered by which vehicles of the kind may be drawn through to Wallawalla."

"This being a fishing spot of the Indians, we easily found a canoe made of rushes and willows on which we placed ourselves and our saddles ... Perhaps you will wonder why we have left the waggon having taken it so near through. Our animals were failing & the route in crossing the Blue Mountains is said to be impassable..." Narcissa Whitman, August 22, 1836

Fort Boise, OutpostFort Boise
Outpost of the British Empire

Chinese and European aristocrats of the early 19th Century had one thing in common, and it was the best that money could buy - a genuine beaver hat! Half a world away, in the Oregon Country, the British Hudson's Bay company was doing all it could to remain the primary supplier of  furs to make those hats. When American fur traders built Fort Hall as a trading post in what is today southeastern Idaho, the Hudson's Bay company built Fort Boise across the Snake River from this site to oppose them in 1838. By the mid 1840's trappers had depleted the beaver population; Fort Boise and Britain's claim to the Oregon Country was in rapid decline.

Banquet in the WildernessBanquet in the Wilderness

Oases along the Oregon Trail were few, and Fort Boise was one of them. Emigrants stopping at Fort Boise in the 1830's were greeted and assisted by friendly Indians; they were also offered hospitality that only the Hudson's Bay Company could provide. Sydney Smith, emigrant of 1839, feasted at a table laid with "fowls, Ducks, Bacon, Salmon Sturgeon Buffalow and Elk... Turnips Cabbag & Pickled Beets..." The banquet was hosted by the clerk of the fort, Francois Payette, a gentleman who could make an emigrant temporarily forget the privations of the wilderness.

"Mr. Payette, the person in charge at Boisas, received us with every mark of kindness; gaveour horses to the care of his servants, and introduced us immediately to the chairs, tables, and edibles of his apartments. He is a French Canadian; has been in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company more than twenty years, and holds the rank of clerk; is a merry, fat old gentleman of fifty, who, although inthe wilderness all the best years of his life, has retained that manner of benevolence in trifles, in his mode of address, of seating you and serving you at table, of directing your attention continually to some little matter of interest, of making you speak the French language..." Thomas Jefferson Farnham.

Fort Boise in DeclineFort Boise in Decline

The beaver population was decimated by the 1840's; fur trade was in decline, and so too was Fort Boise. Although friendly Indians were still available to assist crossing the Snake River, many emigrants were shocked by the dilapidated condition of the oasis described so lavishly by those who had gone before them. Charlotte Stearns Pengra, emigrant of 1853, called Fort Boise "that world renowned spot of one miserable block house going all decay..." For emigrants in need of provisions, the Fort's demise was a serious matter.

"...a great many had depended on getting provisions here but failed entirely of anything but fish - There is little sugar for sale here at .75 pr pound - Prospects seem to darken entirely around us a good deal for some families are already entirely out of bread and many more will be in the course of one or two weeks - We have enough to last us through but we shall have to divide if necessary." Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank; September 20, 1852.

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