September 21, 2017
A few miles out of Lewiston is the headquarters for Nez Perce National Historical Park. The rest of the park is composed of 38 sites in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. We would visit two more sites today, one the basalt area north of our campground, and one at Buffalo Eddy on the Snake River.
We watched a 33-minute movie about the Nez Perce, who call themselves the Nimiipuu. They were a huge tribe that inhabited the Columbia Plateau. A very spiritual group, they are one with the land and waters. In 1804 they were instrumental in saving and guiding Lewis and Clarke, giving them food and trading for Appaloosa horses. In an 1855 treaty, they were granted approximately half of their homelands as a reservation, but a later treaty reduced their lands to 10%, and they were forced to move in the spring when waters were high and dangerous. Thousands of white settlers had moved into their territory. Chief Joseph led 500, many of whom were women, children and elderly against 2000 cavalry. He had only 145 men burdened with many noncombatants, but through many skirmishes and four major battles, they managed to hold off the soldiers for four months, crossing the dangerous Snake River many times. In Big Hole Basin in Montana at 3:30 in the morning Colonel John Gibbon attacked the sleeping Indians with 183 men, killing women and children. The Nimiipuu counterattacked with guards from the surrounding hills. The soldiers lost 29 men with 40 wounded. The soldiers fought with rifles and pistols, while the Indians fought with bows and arrows. The army counted 89 Nez Perce dead, mostly women and children.
The remaining Indians escaped and managed to elude the army for another two months, but in the Battle of Bear Paw Mountains, Colonel Nelson Miles dealt the final blow. Those not killed surrendered. They were only 40 miles from the Canadian border. Chief Joseph famously said, “I will fight no more forever”.
The museum is very well done, with excellent exhibits, and the movie is also excellent. I hope I am not related to John Gibbon. Roger Dailey of the park service was very helpful and generous with his time telling us other sights to see and places to visit. He is from this area and was a fire jumper for many years. There is so much to see in Idaho!
We took the “Spiral Road”, as Roger suggested, back to camp for lunch. Lewiston is the lowest point in Idaho at 700 something feet, and is surrounded by mountains. After lunch we took Roger’s advice to visit another Nez Perce site at Buffalo Eddy on the Washington side of the Snake River. It is a gorgeous drive up the river toward Hell’s Canyon. The Snake River canyon is the deepest in the United States. Driving 25 miles into the canyon, the river becomes more wild, yet there are houses and cabins all along the Washington side.
Buffalo Eddy is a huge eddy on the powerful Snake River. Having fished for trout for three weeks, I know to look for backwater currents where fish find calmer waters to rest and eat from a constant easy flow of food. This eddy is huge, at least two football fields long and about 40 yards wide. Beautiful basalt rocks lie beside the pool, a perfect place from which to fish. Native Americans came here for 10,000 years to fish for salmon coming upriver all the way from the mouth of the Columbia River to spawn. I imagine there were thousands of salmon in this pool. These large hard, black, flat-sheared rocks were a perfect place for the Nimiipuu to hammer out figures on the rocks. It would be quite a job to chisel these out with stones on these hard surfaces, but that is what made them survive all this time. It was very cool to be in this incredible place.
Returning to camp, we walked a path two miles up river to a basalt rock formation along the river. This is rock formed from a series of lava flows 17-6 million years ago. Surging up to form the Columbia River Plateau. The weight of the flow caused Central Washington to sink, forming the Columbia River Basin. It and also damming up the ancient rivers and forming two huge lakes, Idaho Lake and Columbia Lake. There were a series of catastrophic floods known as the Ice Age Floods. “the deluge caused American Falls Lake to breach its natural lava dam, which was rapidly eroded with only the 50-foot-high American Falls left in the end. The flood waters of Lake Bonneville, approximately twenty times the flow of the Columbia River…swept down the Snake River, leaving debris and sediment deposits across southern Idaho. For miles on either side of the Snake, flood waters stripped away soils and scoured the underlying basalt bedrock, in the process creating Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Crane Falls, and Swan Falls, while cutting and deepening gorges and canyons along the way”. (Elizabeth Orr, Geology of the Pacific Northwest)
We think of all the disasters going on today with fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Then every now and then I read these things and try to imagine the rocky mountains being formed or that a whole part of the western continent just fell off into the sea. I love the Will Durant quote, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice”.