North Fork of the Salmon River

North Fork Salmon River

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Interactive aerial photo labeling the North Fork Salmon River

© 2001 Airphoto, Jim Wark. All rights reserved.

This view looks south down the lower reaches of the North Fork—which Lewis and Clark called Fish Creek—of the Salmon River, which flows from upper left toward the confluence at upper center, then westward (right of photo).

Arriving at the forks of Salmon on August 22, 1805, Clark found several families of Indians who were sun-drying fish and berries. "We allarmed them verry much as they knew nothing of a white man being in their Countrey," he reported. "They offered every thing they possessed (which was verry littl) to us, Some run off and hid in the bushes. . . . I gave a fiew Small articles to those fritened people which added verry much to their pasification but not entirely as Some of the women & Childn. Cried dureing my Stay of an hour at this place." When his Shoshone guide, Toby, caught up with him, he and his party proceeded three miles down the Salmon below the forks, and camped. The next morning they made a little more than four miles before the going got too difficult for the horses to negotiate safely, so Clark took three of the men with him and followed Toby another sixteen miles downriver.

Clark kept his eyes peeled for details along the way. Among other things, on the 22nd he noticed a "Bird of the wood pecker kind which fed on Pine burs its Bill and tale white the wings black every other part of a light brown, and about the Size of a robin." It was the first observance of a new species of the crow family, now known as "Clark's nutcracker."

On August 31, 1805, the Corps left their camp four miles up Tower creek and "proceeded on" reported Private Whitehouse, "over verry high mountains which was verry bad for our horses to climb up and down," and crossed "Several large creeks the water of which is verry cold." That afternoon they crossed a mountain "nearly as Steep as the roof of a house"–so steep, in fact, that "one of the horses fell backward and roled over," reported Sgt. Ordway.1

They camped for the night on the North Fork just below the bottom of the photo, about 3-1/2 miles above the Indian village. The best part of the day was the harvest of "the greatest quantity and best service berries I had ever seen before," Sgt. Gass recalled, "and abundance of choak-cherries." To top off the day they boiled some, which, in Ordway's opinion, "eat verry well."

The North Fork of the Salmon begins only a little over 20 miles north, up the canyon, where the West Fork converges with a stream now called Moose Creek. Some students of this episode believe Toby took the Corps up the West Fork to their campsite near the divide on 3 September. Others believe they took the east fork, now Moose Creek—the same drainage where U.S. Highway 93 was built more than a century after the explorers passed through. In either case, there was no road to follow, so they scrambled and bushwacked up the narrow canyon toward the Bitterroot divide.