The Middle Fork of the Salmon River abounds with history making it an excellent destination for both kids and adults. Humans may have been present in this area as long as 14,500 years ago. Excavations of Wilson Butte Cave, near Twin Falls, reveal evidence of human activity that are among the oldest dated artifacts in North America. On your river trip, you’ll have opportunities to hike up and view Native American pictographs, and our river guides are excellent resources for your historical questions.
Senator Frank Church
Frank Church was a pivotal figure in the preservation of the wilderness surrounding the Middle Fork. He served as a Democratic senator of Idaho from 1957-1981. As a strong environmental advocate, he played a vital role ensuring our nation’s wilderness would remain protected. In 1968, he sponsored the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which included the Middle Fork of the Salmon River as one of the original 8 rivers under protection from development. He helped establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which protected this incredible gorge from dam building.
In his final year in the Senate, Church fought to establish the River of No Return Wilderness, home of the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon Rivers. This pristine area totals 2,366,757 acres and is the largest protected area in the contiguous United States. In 1984, this area was renamed The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and is known today by locals as The Frank Church.
Sacagawea was born into a Shoshone tribe near what is now Salmon, ID around 1788. She was kidnapped at 12 by a tribe of Hidatsa and taken to a village in present-day North Dakota. When she was 13, a French trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau took her as his second wife. Lewis & Clark arrived near their village in the winter of 1804-05 and planned to head up the Missouri River in the spring. They hired Charbonneau as a guide after learning that his wife spoke the Shoshone language, and they expected to need the assistance of the Shoshone on their journey.
They left camp in April, and Sacagawea proved to be an incredible asset to the team. She rescued the journals of Lewis & Clark from a capsized boat and even traded her own beaded belt for a fur robe that the men wanted as a gift for President Jefferson. Along the journey, Sacagawea was reunited with her brother who had become chief of their tribe! She accompanied the expedition all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where Lewis & Clark built their winter shelter at Fort Clatsop.
Learn more about this influential Native American at the Sacagawea Interpretive Center in Salmon, ID where there is a 71 acre park dedicated to her people, the Agaidika, and her influence on American history.
The Shoshone inhabited various areas in the West including central and eastern Idaho. As the area around the Snake River was their stronghold, they were sometimes referred to as the Snake Indians, however the actual translation of Shoshone is The Valley People. The Shoshone were split into different groups, and it was those known as the Agaidika, or Salmon-Eaters and the Tukukika or Sheep-Eaters that lived in the Salmon River Valley. As their names suggest, they fished for salmon and also hunted mountain sheep, deer, antelope and buffalo.
In 1875, President Grant established an executive order for 100 sq. miles as a reservation for the groups inhabiting the Salmon River Valley, however due to pressure from local residents this order was eventually rescinded in 1905 and in 1907, these Shoshone were forced from their homeland to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in southeastern Idaho.
Learn more about the Shoshone at the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum located at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
The Nez Perce inhabited the area surrounding the Middle Fork for an estimated 10,000 years. In the early 1800’s they were the largest tribe in the area with around 6,000 individuals living in camps or villages. They were a migratory people, that followed food sources with the change of season. Fishing in the Snake, Salmon and Clear Water Rivers provided Chinook salmon and steelhead for sustenance.
Today, there is a Nez Perce reservation totalling almost 2,000 sq. mi. in northern Idaho. You can visit the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which consists of 38 sites throughout Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington commemorating the history, culture and legends of these Native Americans.