Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A river runs through it


Painting of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea by N.C. Wyeth, 1940
Idaho was an enclave for the Soshone, Nez Perce and other native tribes until the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805.  They more or less stumbled upon Idaho after they came upon the source of the Missouri river in Western Montana.  The explorers were determined to reach the Pacific, portaging their canoes over rugged terrain, crossing the Lemhi Pass into present-day Idaho.  They had been aided by the Shoshone, most famously by Sacajawea, who proved a vital interpreter as they encountered other Numic language speakers in the region, but it was the Nez Perce who would bail them out when they encountered the Bitterroot Mountains in late autumn.

The Nez Perce provided food and shelter, and after the expedition team had recovered, gave them cottonwood canoes which proved much easier to handle in the Clearwater and Snake Rivers before reaching the mighty Columbia River.  I had followed part of the trail when I traveled out West in the late 1980s.  I had come in from Missoula along US Highway 12 and was utterly captivated by the long running canyon through the "smokestack" of the state, which the Clearwater River had carved out.  You can stop at places like Lochsa Historical Ranger Station.  I crossed into Washington at the towns of Lewiston and Clarkston on the opposite banks of the Snake River.

Clearwater River along US Highway 12
These native tribes came to regret the assistance they offered, as it wasn't long before mountain men and fur traders made their way to their wilderness.  Missionaries followed suit, including Henry Harmon Spalding, who was responsible for bringing the potato to the region, which Idaho is now so famous for.  Soon the native tribes felt themselves odd man out, as settlers poured in following the gold rush in 1860.

The territory became sharply divided between the southern Mormon half and the northern anti-Mormon half, each trying to push the other out.  It was against the backdrop of this bitter rivalry that Idaho gained statehood in 1890, with the anti-Mormon faction winning out, much to the chagrin of Utah, which still found itself excluded.

Funny enough, Ezra Pound was born in Hailey before Idaho became a state, but didn't stay there long.  His mother had enough of the hardscrabble state and packed up her toddler Ezra with her to New York.  Her husband followed suit a couple years later.  Pound is not a person present-day Idahoans would embrace given his open admiration of Mussolini's regime during WWII and the treason trial that followed suit.  Yet, you can visit his childhood home near Boise in the central part of the state.

Idahoans feel more comfortable with Ernest Hemingway, who was attracted to the state in 1939.  He made his home in Ketchum, where he lived off and on until ending his life in 1961.  Sadly, Hemingway didn't have very kind words for Pound after the poet "ran off the rails" during WWII, especially when you consider that Pound gave Hemingway entry into the literary world, as he had done others, and would give his shirt off his back to defend these budding writers.  Pound would find some measure of redemption in the Beats, who would embrace him the 60s, and in his many cats.

Idaho still feels like a pretty remote place, attracting survivalist groups and other right-wing wackos, determined to survive the "Apocalypse."  One group has even planned a 7000-person walled Citadel, seemingly modeled upon early Christian lines, to ward off all evil, a throwback to the 19th century pioneer days of the state.

Fortunately, much of Idaho is under the Bureau of Land Management, allowing free access for all outdoor enthusiasts.

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