101. Salmon River Fishing Trip

Salmon River, fifty miles southwest of Kamiah, Idaho

View northeast, upstream

Aerial photo of the Salmon River in Hell's Canyon

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Side Trip

On 27 May 1806 Lewis remarked, "the dove is cooing which is the signal as the Indians inform us of the approach of the salmon." None of those fish were yet present up the Clearwater River where the explorers were camped, at today's Kamiah, Idaho, but they saw Nez Perces with several fresh chinook salmon, "fat and fine," which the Indians said came from "Lewis's River," known today as the Salmon River. The captains dispatched Sgt. John Ordway, with Pvts. Robert Frazer and Peter Weiser, on horseback to buy some. Indian information put the river only half a day's ride to the south, but there was a slight miscommunication on that point.

Ordway's journal contains but a few details of his trip, so the exact route their Nez Perce guides led them on is partly a matter of conjecture. Ordway merely told the captains it was "not a direct one." Certainly it led out of Clearwater Canyon, across the high Nez Perce Prairie, and down to the Salmon River, which they reached at the mouth of deer Creek (just beyond the photo at far upper right) late on the 28th. While there, Frazer traded his worn-out razor for two Spanish coins that Nez Perce warriors had taken from a Shoshone battle casualty, providing the captains with material evidence that European goods were reaching Indians who had not necessarily seen a white person before.

But the spring chinooks still had not appeared in the Salmon River yet, so the men rode down the north bank (left in the photo), climbed back up to the prairie, and descended "the worst hills we ever saw a road made down" to the Snake River. After buying seventeen salmon there, the men headed back to camp. Unfortunately, by the time they got there, at noon on 2 June, most of the fish were spoiled.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press