Four panels in the Birch Creek Campground kiosk deal with the history of Birch Creek Valley A Prehistory and History of
Lower Birch Creek Valley
a natural travel route between the Salmon River & the Snake River Plain
Birch Creek rises from springs on the valley floor between the Lemhi and Beaverhead Mountains. The stream flows south across the valley floor and ends in shallow sinks on the Snake River Plain. The Birch Creek and Lemhi Valleys form the longest north-south valley in the Pacific Northwest, providing a natural travel route between the Salmon River and Snake River Plain.
Archaeological research has traced human occupation of this valley back more than 10,000 years. The first people in the valley, Paleoindian hunters, experienced a cooler, wetter environment populated with mammoth, horse, camel, giant bison and other now extinct megafauna.
About 8,000 years ago, the climate became warmer and drier. Native Americans visiting the valley used a more varied tool kit that included a spear with a replaceable points and atlatl to hunt deer, elk, moose, modern bison, antelope, and mountain sheep. These forerunners of today's Northern Shoshone lived in family bands and traveled seasonally to the through the valley to hunt game, fish and harvest camas, pine
nuts and other edible plants. A record of Native American activities in the valley was left on limestone cliffs and rock faces located on either side of the valley.
In the early 1800s, the opening of the Fur Trade Era saw British and American trappers competing for beaver pelts in the valley.
In the fall of 1830, John Work, a Hudson's Bay Company trapper, camped near Birch Creek's springs. His journal notes he sighted many bison in the valley. W.A. Scott was the valley's first settler (1882). He built a cabin near the Birch Creek's springs. In the late 1890s, Maier Kaufman's ranch featured a school, hotel and post office. A group of wooden buildings mark the post office and hotel site on private land east of Highway 28.
The Shoshone and Bannock Tribes
The Shoshone and Bannock Tribes have alway had a rich heritage in the valleys, rivers, streams, and mountains of Idaho, from the tallest peaks to the foothills. As Idaho commemorates these trails, understand that these are the homelands of the Shoshone and Bannock people.
The Sacajawea Historical Byway is only one such trail, which leads into the rich Lemhi Valley from Sage Junction to the city of Salmon, Idaho. The Shoshone and Bannock people have always helped those who have crossed our homeland, beginning with the neighboring tribes. We have extended our hands to allow
some tribes to accompany our people to the buffalo hunting grounds of eastern Idaho and southern Montana into the Great Basin.
These lands we hold sacred. Our ancestors have been laid to rest through the entire length of the valley and to points only known to our people. These lands are our exclusive homelands and link to our rich culture which has gone unnoticed by the coming of Euro-Americans.
Our history begins long before the time of Sacajawea. Our chiefs have aided those early explorers as they passed across our mountains, valleys and waters in search of big waters of the Pacific Ocean. As the mountain men, pioneers and settlers, who follow Lewis and Clark crossed our vast lands, the people of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes gave their assistance.
Our ancestors were removed from their homelands and forced to settle into a culture new to our way of life. We were made promises by the early Americans, only to have those promises and treaties broken. We forgave those who crossed us, only to be forgotten by America.
Our history did not stop there, but continues to this present day. We live and return each year to gather and harvest the natural bounty that once and still sustains our way of life. Our children and the future members of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes will alway return to hunt and fish as our forefathers before us.
As you travel the
Sacajawea Historic Byway and across, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming be mindful of our ancestors and living descendants always watching and protecting our homelands and our way of life as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow.
The Nez Perce Conflict of 1877
For thousands of years the fertile Wallowa Valley was home to many Nimiipuu or Nez Perce. A treaty in 1855 affirmed Nez Perce ownership of this homeland. Competition for land, grazing and hunting opportunities, and the discovery of gold in 1960 resulted in a renegotiation of the 1855 treaty. The new treaty of 1863 reduced the reservation to 10% of the original homeland. Ultimately General O. Howard ordered the peaceful Nez Perce, no long protected by treaty rights, to move to the reservation near Lapwai, Idaho, in May of 1877.
The Wallowa band sadly gathered their belongings, livestock and horses, and headed for the reservation. They crossed the Snake River, swollen with spring runoff, and gathered at Camas Prairie near Grangeville, Idaho. Agitated by pas events, a few young Nez Perce men attacked several white settlers. In the aftermath of their attacks, there was no option but to flee.
In June 1877, nearly 800 men, women, and children with over 2000 horses began the flight that took them over the Bitterroots, through the Rockies, and onto the high plains of
Montana. They survived sweltering heat, dangerous mountain passes, and attacks by five U.S. Army Regiments. The Nez Perce families were within 40 miles of freedom at the Canadian border before being surrounded by U.S. Army soldiers just as the winter snow began to fall.
For five days, the Nez Perce endured cannon fire, freezing temperatures, and starvation. When it became obvious the people could no longer, Joseph negotiated a settlement that would allow the people to return to Idaho. Unwilling to trust Colonel Miles, Chief Whitebird led his people on a nighttime escape to Canada. Chief Joseph stayed with the remaining people. On October 5, 1877, Chief Josep walked across the wintry plain and surrendered to Colonel Nelson A. Miles.
"From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." — Chief Joseph (Hein-mot Too-ya-la-kekt
Chief Joseph accompanied his people into exile, first in the unhealthy lowlands of Kansas and later in the windswept prairies of Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. The exiled group included 79 men, 178 women, and 174 children.
The group was initially transported to Fort Keogh in the Montana Territory, then on to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they spent a miserable winter in squalid conditions. In the spring get were moved to Baxter Springs, the Quapaw Agency and finally the Ponca
Agency in Oklahoma. During this time of continued death and deprivation, Joseph took every opportunity to publicize their plight to advance their return to the beloved homeland.
Finally in 1885 Joseph's persistence, coupled with a sympathetic press, strong public support and pressure from the Presbyterian Church, convinced the government to allow the remaining 268 survivors to return to the Northwest. Of that group, 118 Nez Perce went to the reservation at Lapwai. Chief Josep and others who would not renounce their traditional religious beliefs were sent to the Colville reservation near Nespelem, Washington. The tribe was never allowed to reclaim its Wallowa homeland. Chief Joseph, the most famous of the Nez Perce leaders, died and was buried in Nespelem in 1904.
The Nez Perce removal and exile remains one of the darkest chapters in American history. The 1800 mile journey of 800 brave men, women and children wanting to live and believe as they chose stands as one of the most courageous stories in our nation's past.
"Let the nation in its glory Bow with Shame before the story of the hero it has ruined and the evil it has done." — Harper's New Monthly, 1879
Birch Creek Incident 1877
On August 15, 1877, an advance party of warriors with the Nez Perce survivors of the dawn attack at
the Big Hole, six days earlier, happened to meet a train of freight wagons along the Mormon Trail near this location. The freighters were hauling supplies consigned to George L. Shoup* and Company in Salmon City.
The Nez Perce, short of food, ammunition and shelter, and slowed by their many wounded from the Big Hole battle were anxious to obtain rations from the freighters. According to one account, even under these difficult circumstances things might have had a happy conclusion if the younger warriors had not discovered liquor in the ransacked wagons and if the white teamsters had heeded the cautions of the elders and stayed close to them for protection.
The next day Shoup and his volunteers found the smoking wagons and buried James Hayden, Albert Green, and Daniel Combs of Salmon City, along with two unidentified men. One teamster, Albert Lyon, and the two Chinese cooks escaped. Yellow Wolf in "His Own Story" recalled: "The wagons, harness and what goods that were not carried away were burned. All of the team animals were added to the Indian herd."
The Nez Perce, now provisioned and restocked, continued their escape traveling south then east toward Camas Meadows and the Yellowstone country.
One of the Chinese cooks that accompanied the freight wagons described what happened:
We camped for dinner about noon on Birch Creek, had finished dinner and were lying under the wagons when we heard the clatter of horses' feet, looked up and saw a party of armed and mounted Indians advancing toward us at a gallop. The men all started for the wagons to get their guns, but before they could get them the Indians has surrounded us and leveled their guns and commanded us to surrender, which we did. I counted them and there were 56 of them, all well-armed and mounted... The Indians after eating made us hitch up the teams and drive up to their main camp about a mile away, where they made us go into camp. The men (teamsters) started with some Indians to drive the animals out to feed. I never saw any of them again."
* Colonel Shoup (photograph at bottom right) later became the Territorial Governor, the first State Governor and one of the first United States Senators for Idaho.