Earlier this summer, I went down into the Clarks Fork gorge for the first time. (just below ‘the Box’). I was blown away by the energy and the beauty of the place…
Very soon I also gathered the idea of the route’s historical significance. Specifically for the Nez Perce and their legendary journey of 1877.
Previously I believed that the Nez Perce had traveled over Dead Indian Pass, but following a bit of research, I learned that it was much more likely that they descended into the Clarks Fork canyon (in fleeing from the US cavalry).
Awesome to imagine what the Indian scouts felt when they found this route. And what better way than ponder the history, than to retrace their footsteps and explore the landscape (via packraft).
So in 1855, with settlers pouring in from the East, the Nez Perce were pushed from their homelands, like the Wallowa Valley of Oregon, and 'persuaded' onto a reservation. Five years later gold was discovered on their spread, so Congress chopped the reservation to a tenth the size…
So imagine the American West, 135 years ago.
800 Nez Perce traveling with 2-3,000 horses!, being chased by twice as many US troops (with ten times the fire power), trying to capture and corral them onto a desolate piece of land. Already hundreds of arduous miles in to the chase, the Nez Perce found themselves in the Lamar Valley, with the Northern Absaroka’s rugged crest separating them from the Great Plans to the east, and possible salvation. Avoiding potential conflict with miners up around Cooke City, it seems they may have traveled up Miller Creek (through the Hoodoo Basin?) and on over the divide, descending Crandall Creek. Soon thereafter dropping into the Clarks Fork canyon, hoping it would go.!
Turns out it does. Following a waist deep ford, the north side of the river goes clean on out to Edelweiss. The difference being, after floating 20 miles, I had the option of beer and ice cream, while waiting for a pickup truck and a hitchhike back to Cooke City. While the Nez Perce still had an incredibly long walk to Canada, with winter fast approaching… at best.
Music by Neil Young.
Animation adapted from a Fist Full of Dollars.
Additional cinematography (and angling) by Gabe Lapito.
Paddled up on about 15 Great Blue Herons, and 3 or 4 Ospreys too.
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