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"Manning's book, a work of hard-hitting integrity, provides a passionate rendering of a river and its disputed worth."-Outside
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"Manning's book, a work of hard-hitting integrity, provides a passionate rendering of a river and its disputed worth."-Outside
|Truth Is Butte||103|
|Hole in the Heart||149|
|Acknowledgments and Sources||211|
THE HUMAN MEMORY of water runs deep in Montana. The Missoula Valley is famous for this, at least among geologists, who specialize in reconstructing the earth's deep memories. This place was the epicenter of one of the planet's most important and most recent catastrophes.
The record of this event is all indirect, drawn from the tracks and marks on these hills. One can read this history on any walk up any mountain trail that rims the Blackfoot and the rest of the streams in the web of the Clark Fork River, virtually all of Montana west of the Continental Divide. It is not subtle. Once a friend's father flew into Missoula on a clear crisp afternoon, got off the plane and announced, without any specific knowledge of the area's history, "This place was once all a great big lake." He is a geologist and could spot the water's tracks from a mile away, literally, even after the lake was more than 10,000 years gone. The rest of us can see it best in spring when a sprinkling of snow hits the hills--suddenly, perfectly flat tiers of terraces stand out, as if cut by bulldozers. They were cut by the water and ice of a lake's flat surface. One can spot it digging a posthole on the valley floor where gravels have been packed together nearly as hard as concrete by the great weight of the ancient lake.
It is named glacial Lake Missoula and once was as large as Lake Ontario. More than once, actually. The lake formed toward the end of the last glaciation, the end of the Ice Age, by an ice dam in what is now northern Idaho. Miles thick, the dam pooled an enormous body of water throughout what are now the river valleys of the region. The glaciers melted slowly in fits and starts, and periodically the dam would melt enough to float, draining this massive inland sea in a matter of a day. The lake flushed as many as forty times during the course of about 3,000 years, the first time as early as 16,000 years ago. The spectacular geology of the Columbia Basin, everything between the Blackfoot and the Pacific, is largely evidence of Lake Missoula, so much so that the existence of the lake was deduced from observances in Washington state. A highschool biology teacher, J. Harlen Bretz, spent his spare time wandering the Columbia Plateau scablands, until he finally figured out that the landscape had to have been the result of a great flood. He formally offered that controversial hypothesis in 1923. He was right, and it was quite a flood. It roared toward Washington at speeds up to fifty-eight miles an hour, its front lip a wall of water and ice 1,000 feet high. At one point, it gouged a pothole 164 feet deep.
Anthropocentric as it may be, what makes this event stand out in my mind against the great backdrop of catastrophe that shaped the planet is that all human reckoning of it may not be indirect. At the end of glaciation, there were already people in the region, people we call Clovis, whose progress from the Bering Land Bridge south through the continent is marked by fire pits and distinct stone points that reveal their hunting habits. They are the camels, sloths, bison and woolly mammoths here at the time. They are the best candidates for direct ancestors of most American Indians.
Forty floods. Somebody could have seen these immense deluges, or more likely, wandered into the region while the enormous wounds were still evident. How many centuries' worth of water stories would these floods have created?
TO SEEK THE SOURCE one simply walks upstream, but walking upstream only finds the stream splitting to its forks again and again to teach that there are many sources. Pick one. Naming a river or deciding where it begins and ends is arbitrary. On the day in question, I was headed first up the Blackfoot, then up the Landers Fork a few miles until I could drive no more, because to really seek a source one must go walking. The road peters out low in river-ese, low means downstream, close to its mouth on the Landers Fork, but the stream goes on and up into formal, legal, congressionally sanctioned wilderness. This is the south edge of the Scapegoat Wilderness, which is a part of the sprawling Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, the first in the nation's wilderness system. From this edge one may walk for a day up to a divide then cross from the Blackfoot drainage to the Flathead, another tributary of the Columbia, or one may veer east over the Continental Divide onto the Dearborn drainage, which is headwaters to the Missouri, meaning from here the waters run all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. From either side of the divide one may walk straight north for ninety-five miles, in unroaded wilderness all the way, then for a minute out of wilderness to cross U.S. Highway 2 and a set of train tracks then into Glacier National Park, the Hudson Bay River drainage and on into Canada. The Bob Marshall is the source of pure waters.
It's July, hot and clear as Montana tends to be in July. I'm carrying a fanny pack, a plastic bottle of water, light binoculars and a map. I did have a plastic bottle of trail mix, but cached it early on the trail, since today would be about walking. I want to travel as lightly as possible so as to travel as far as possible. I am headed for the Continental Divide, to the source of the Blackfoot and back, a round trip of about twenty-four miles, and I will need all the daylight to make it. I am not the first to walk this trail.
There is no direct tie we know of from the Clovis people, who we suspect have walked this place, to the Salish, who we know were here. Lewis and Clark found the Salish here; they remain today. The Salish called this trail, the very bit of path my boots are now pounding, Cokahlarishkit, the going-to-the-buffalo trail. It was old by the time Meriwether Lewis used it in 1806, but one can still find the very stretch of it he used, using the same ancient marker that guided him, as I will later this trip. This trip is about finding our way.
Unlike many tribes hereabouts, the Salish admit to being newcomers, interlopers in the river valleys of western Montana. Their stories suggest they were from the region that is now northern California and southern Oregon. One story says an argument developed in this tribe when a duck flew by, with one person maintaining the quack came from the bill and the other partisans believing it was from the wings. The disagreement split the tribe. The bill side eventually decided to leave the country, traveling into the Snake River Plateau of southern Idaho then through Lolo Pass into the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana.
The valley was already occupied by the Pend Oreilles, another group of Salishin people with a language that differed from the newcomers' as much as British differs from American English. The two groups simply coexisted, peacefully, for centuries before whites came along.
Commonly, the Salish are called Flatheads, a term they object to, but descriptive of a practice common throughout the Pacific Northwest. Many of the tribes in the language group used a particular sort of cradle board that deliberately flattened the foreheads of infants, a deformation that was regarded as handsome and a sign of nobility. In some tribes, slaves were forbidden to flatten the heads of their infants. There is no record of the Salish of Montana ever doing this, although the Pend Oreilles report the Salish did when they first arrived in Montana, but quit. The Salish deny they ever did.
Both groups, however, agree that they were not the first to occupy the region, and that when they arrived they found a thriving population of giants, dwarfs and a less fantastic race labeled the Foolish Folk. The last was said to be a tribe of squat, bowlegged, nearly naked, bad-mannered and above all stupid people eking out a primitive sort of existence. The Salish highly regarded both manners and intelligence, so surviving stories have very little good to say about the Foolish Folk. It is understood that they buried their dead sitting upright, and some of them wore copper jewelry, which the Salish did not--an indication that these aboriginals may not have been nearly as primitive as the Salish would have it. There is copper in western Montana. As we shall see, the metal was the curse that preceded gold in recent times, responsible for environmental degradation on a monumental scale. This copper, however, is embedded in ores, and barring smelters, jewelry would require copper in its metallic form. The source of pure metallic copper was much farther east, meaning these Foolish Folk were plugged into a transcontinental trading network centuries before whites arrived, and the existence of such trading networks is well documented.
The Salish stories may be wrong, but in 1934, Edward Lozeau, a placer miner and a Pend Oreille, happened to find a corpse buried upright in the Foolish Folk fashion near the Clark Fork River downstream of Missoula. The necklace it wore held three beads of sheet copper.
According to Salish legend, the Foolish Folk were a river people, traveling everywhere in canoes. One day, a chief paddled his canoe over the Spokane Falls and died. His whole tribe followed him, and they died too, explaining the extinction of this group.
The fate of the giants and dwarfs of Salish legend is more problematic. The former group, said to be about fifteen feet tall, were relatively peaceful but mischievous. They were unable to speak Salish and simply faded into extinction in the early nineteenth century. The Salish say the giants needed a lot of food because of their size and could not compete with the growing numbers of other tribes. They disappeared, but only after several centuries of contact and stories. In the early 1930s, a Salish informant told anthropologist Harry Holbert Turney-High, "They were taller than the roof of this house, and they were strong even for their size. Once a man was thrown clear over Mount Sentinel [a prominent peak near Missoula] from Pattee Canyon into the Missoula [Clark Fork] River on the other side by a giant who just wanted to show off."
A woman then more than ninety, a member of the Kalispel, another Salish tribe, reported that a giant came to her house when she was a child, and she fed him. He wore grass sandals.
It is not known whether the dwarfs are extinct, in that they continue to play a role in Salish life. In the early stories, their role was ordinary. They were a group of dark-skinned people about two and a half feet tall. The Salish encountered them long before the Indians knew anything at all about livestock, yet report that the dwarfs kept domestic animals, specifically a three-foot-tall type of horse that was glistening black. The dwarfs were said to have every aspect of material culture that the Salish lacked but whites would later bring into the Bitterroot Valley.
The ultimate disposition of the dwarfs is not altogether clear, although the stories say they simply retreated against the onslaught of newcomers up the river valleys to headwaters and wilderness where they live today in volcanic craters and lakes. Like most tribes of the region, Salish go on quests for guiding spirits, and like most, frequency receive visions of a coyote or bear that will become a person's personal totem. On rare occasions, though, a supplicant encounters a dwarf, and then becomes forever blessed with the overarching intelligence of one of the little people. Dwarfs, however, are only accessible in the most remote and pristine pieces. Mostly, they are encountered by vision seekers who are," fated to wield sumesh, a Salish word frequency translated as "medicine ' but probably better called "power." Like many people, the Salish object to using "medicine" as a synonym for "power" because they had medicine in the same sense modern people do, derived from the plants hereabouts. Sumesh is something different, a power that is a sort of wisdom and accrues to shamans. Medicine is easy; sumesh is a gift, and much harder to come by, especially now when we need it so badly.
THERE IS A THEME to Salish life that sets them off from the tribes in the region and by the same token seems to make them more like those of us muddling through life in this place in modern times. They were a between people, a moving people whose ways were shaped by conflicting circumstances. Their stories and traditions were northwestern, tied closely with their relatives, all of whom were salmon people. The people of the Northwest built a culture of peace, abundance and stability, thanks largely to the gift of the salmon. The Salish name for Lolo Pass, the divide between Idaho and Montana, means "no salmon," so they were conscious of leaving their Eden for the harsher life of the mountains. Through their Montana history, they periodically wandered back to fish on the Clearwater in what is now Idaho, just as many whites do today, but they didn't move back, always returning to their salmonless adopted home.
In the early years in the Bitterroots, a new set of stories and rituals emerged to replace salmon culture. These were largely related to the plants--camas, wild onion, bitterroot, serviceberry, huckleberry--and the range of species that fed and healed them. They became a plant people, but another element arose, another conflict. The horse came, and with it a realignment of their lives along the Blackfoot River.
There is no doubt that the ponies that filtered into western Montana in the early 1700s, long before anyone in the region had seen a white man, were Spanish. Horses were a white-introduced revolution of Indian life long before the Indians of the region had seen a white face. The Salish most likely got their horses from the Snake tribe nearly a century before Lewis and Clark passed through. The descendants of Spanish horses brought to Mexico City by Cortes in 1519 worked into Indian hands in the Southwest and were traded or stolen by tribes to the north. The equestrian life spread into the Colorado Plateau, then west and north into the Great Basin, to the Snake River Plain in what is now southern Idaho, then to the Salish. Like any leap in technology, the advent of the horse cut with two edges.
Long before the horse's arrival, the Salish were hunters, taking the abundant deer, moose and bighorn sheep of the broad intermontane valleys of western Montana. There is some evidence, both physical and oral, of bison in the region around the Bitterroot before the coming of the horse, but the increased efficiency of the mounted hunter quickly eliminated bison from west of the Great Divide. At the same time, the horse allowed the Salish to travel east to the plains where bison were abundant. The way to the plains was straight up the Blackfoot River to a gentle pass at the headwaters of the Landers Fork, Cokahlarishkit.
The undeniable blessing of this leap in technology was a state of plenty. Stories and celebrations, even the seasons among the Salish--former salmon people, then plant people--shifted to honor the bison, a 1,000-pound pile of meat and shelter. The longhouse and lean-to, long the tribe's shelter, gave way quickly to the bison-hide-covered and easily portable tipi. Yet these material changes overlay what had to have been a profound change in the spirit of life, a change contained in words like "stories" and "portable" and "plains."
The shift brought on by the horse was not unique to the Salish but occurred about the same time all up and down the Rockies on the western edge of the great American grasslands, as well as all up and down the Mississippi Basin on its eastern edge. The horse enabled a nomadic hunter's life. Tribes that had for millennia survived as farmers, fishers and gatherers threw it off in a blink and took to the horse. No one went the other way; no one ignored the allure of the horse--the same problem Chinese landowners had when their peasants ran off to ride the horses of Mongol hordes.
Yet the cost of this horse life was enormous. At the north edge of the Bitterroot Valley, where the city of Missoula now stands and just a couple of miles downstream of the Blackfoot's mouth, the Clark Fork River pinches into a narrow, high-walled canyon called Hellgate. My son went to Hellgate High School, named for this place, a name high-school students must find particularly apt, but it has nothing whatever to do with the passage through adolescence. It was named by the first white settlers, who found it filled with skeletons and rotting bodies of Salish people, casualties of war.
The Blackfoot River corridor was the path to the bison, but also the path to the Blackfeet--a fierce, forever nomadic plains people who used it to cross to the mountains to make war on the Salish. This warfare was the result of horses. Horse stealing was a mater of honor among the Blackfeet, its name synonymous with the term for warfare. They stole horses from all other tribes in the region, a way of counting coup, but also a necessity, a redistribution of wealth, the basis of their economy. Through some accident of genes, maybe, or through a skill in breeding and training, the Salish were known for owning a stock of particularly fine horses. Even in this century, the Blackfeet stole Salish horses at every opportunity.
WHEN LEWIS AND CLARK returned east from the mouth of the Columbia in 1806, the expedition crossed Lolo Pass with the help of the Nez Perce. They stopped at a place called Traveler's Rest at the head of the Bitterroot Valley, a couple of miles from where my house now stands. They split into two groups. Clark headed south and Lewis headed for the Blackfoot River. In his journal entry of July 3, 1806, Lewis wrote:
These people now informed me that the road which they showed me at no great distance from our camp would lead us up the east branch of the Clark's River and a river they called Cokahlarishkit or the river of the road to the buffalo and thence to the medicine [Sun] river and the falls of the Missouri where we wished to go. They alleged that as the road was a well-beaten track we could not now miss our way and as they were afraid of meeting their enemies the Minnetaeres [Blackfoot] they could not think of continuing with us any longer, that they wished to proceed down Clark's River in search of their friends the Shalees. They informed us that not far from the dividing ridge [Continental Divide] between this river and the Missouri river the roads forked. They recommended the left hand [Landers Fork].
Lewis's party headed up the Landers Fork on July 7, 1806.
I headed up the Landers Fork at the same spot on July 23, 1996. The place Lewis describes as "the right hand side through handsome plain bottoms to the foot of the ridge" is the site of the proposed Seven Up Pete gold mine. It was marked then and it is marked today with a series of rock cairns that were there long before Lewis walked through. The Salish marked their important trails with cairns, and it was their custom, when passing, to add a rock to the pile as a sort of traveler's offering to the guidance of the trail. The cairns here and another rock marker in northern Idaho are today the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Trail known to remain. They are not marked or signed in any way. One must hunt for them. The guidance that was obvious to the Salish and those who walked their trails is not so obvious to us today.
A two-lane blacktop road parallels the Landers Fork North lining up on the gunsight pass through the Great Divide about twenty miles upstream, the way home as Lewis must have seen it from this spot in 1806. But it turned out to be the way to many other places, and Lewis must have had a hint of that on his trip. It was also the way to riches, not so different, really, from what it had been to the Salish for centuries, a shot at a big pile of meat that would make the coming winter easier. Foremost on the explorer's mind was not meat but fur, "soft gold," as it was known at the time. The Northwest and Hudson Bay companies had already been trapping throughout the region for many years. At the time, trappers joked that the initials of the latter meant "here before Christ." Explorer Alexander Mackenzie had already walked across the continent in 1793 but to the north in British territory. Lewis and Clark were drawn at least as much by commerce as by curiosity.
Their trip came but a few months before the infant nation would ship boatloads of gold to France to pay for the Louisiana Purchase, of which this grand landscape was the very western edge. It has been said the whole adventure had the fed of a prospective real estate buyer sizing up rooms and measuring lot lines before closing on a deal--and to be sure that's what it was. It was the opening foray of Manifest Destiny, that seminal American notion that considered the perfectly settled and relatively prosperous homeland of a human culture unsettled and unpopulated, land for the taking. And there was a taking, and all of the West's history from then on, from the Mississippi through this pass to the Oregon coast and the gold fields of California, was cast in that single idea. It was this land's job to give of itself until it was used up. Then we would leave, head farther west to see what might be there for the taking. We cover this with the term "natural resources" but the more accurate and simple word is "taking."
There are, however, pockets where it is possible to pretend for a time that the taking has not happened. In 1964, our nation passed the Wilderness Act, under which we would inventory those tracts--mostly in the West--that had somehow survived not visibly diminished by logging, ranching, mining, tourism and development; in the phrase of the law, those lands "untrammeled by man." That's not quite what we meant. What we really sought were those lands that looked as they did after being trammeled for 10,000 years by people such as the Salish and Blackfeet but before white settlement. All the serious trammeling has been done since.
The single defining idea that would govern the care of formally designated wilderness was roadlessness. There would be no mechanized or motorized travel of any sort, as if such travel defined the difference between those who came before and ourselves. And when you think about it, that we can mark the beginning of the end of this place by a single expedition's travels, then travel indeed was a watershed.
The largest chunks of wilderness excluding Alaska are in Montana and northern Idaho along the Rockies. The two-lane blacktop road winds up the Landers Fork for four miles, crosses it, winds around to a tributary, forks to a gravel road leading to a parking lot at a place called Indian Meadows--and there all roads end. To go farther, one must walk, as one may from here for weeks or even months up and down a network of boot trails woven among the mountain streams, alpine meadows, uncut forests, grizzlies, elk and loneliness for as long as one wishes to go.
I parked my pickup truck in the lot and grabbed only a fanny pack, then it was quiet except for the beat of boots that would tick off the eight-hour walk. I meant to walk to the Great Divide, twelve or so miles up the trail.
A QUARTER OF A MILE UP the trail I remembered I had come here for something definite; it's just I was not altogether sure what that might be, something that would spring from the rhythm of walking in woods. The Salish used to come here for a similar purpose, not simply for buffalo or whatever meat or plants were in season, but for the spirit of the high mountain valleys. It was a formalized part of their ritual and was preceded by fasting, so I thought it best to drop the food, stashing the trail mix I had brought near a tree ten minutes up from the trailhead. I felt better without it.
The water may have seemed silly too, in that I would be walking next to a stream the whole way. I remember hiking along trails that hugged Lake Attitlan in Guatemala and noticing that every single Indian I met broke out laughing. I considered them an inordinately good-humored people, until I finally realized they were considering me inordinately silly. I was carrying a canteen in sight of a perfectly good lake full of water. My water bottle no doubt would make just as much sense to the Salish, but even here in wilderness, unseen microbes make it best to carry one's water. Largely spread by beaver and horses, the amoebic parasite giardia has become ubiquitous. It causes horrible stomach distress for a week or so; in severe cases it leaves some people unable to eat certain foods the rest of their lives. I carried the water.
Up trail an hour and a half, bits of clear sky began to peek between the trees, and I took the clearing to be a lake, which it was. Heart Lake. It was a flawless, sunny mountain morning, and I had this half-mile-long lake all to myself as I broke out on the bluff that overlooks it. I could see ten miles or so off west to Red Mountain, a bald hump of rock still shouldered in snow. The scene was unreal in its beauty and there came then the idea that forever nags one through wilderness, that this place is so stunning as to exist as the standard of beauty. Not a thing we could possibly do could make it more beautiful. I've read our poets, I've heard our music and I've eaten our food. I know we as a species are capable of creating beauty, but it is hard to consider its worth in wilderness. Any landscape dominated by humans is less than this. That's the painful fact of the matter, only completely revealed on a solo hike in wilderness.
The unhuman magic behind this beauty likely has something to do with why virtually all of the native cultures that lived here used these mountains for vision quests. They came here for sumesh. The dwarfs, a race of people who best understood this power, may still dwell in craters and beneath pristine lakes in the most inaccessible of alpine terrain. They are what we are not, just as wilderness is what we are not. We may only comprehend their power in light of this place. We have an idea of what magic is and what lies behind it, and believe it must be obtained from an approach to the supernatural.
The anthropologist Turney-High used as an informant a shaman, a Kalispel man he knew for many years. He gathered stories both about and from the shaman, Charlie Gabe, who, among other gifts, could predict when someone was about to die suddenly and unexpectedly, or even when someone was coming to visit. Turney-High gathered this story about Gabe:
In 1931 the shaman hired two men to work for him on his ranch, one a bachelor, the other married to a pretty girl. It was necessary for the married man to spend a night away tending cattle. So just before dawn the other man rose to go to work. When Gabe arose he knew that something was wrong. At noon he went to the spring and got a pail of fresh water. Making sumesh over the water he gave a dipper to each person to drink, just as if he were doing them a favor. When it came turn for the bachelor to drink he found that he could not, and dropped the dipper and the water on the floor. "You cannot drink," said the shaman, "because you have done something wrong. Tell me what it was."
The man had seduced his absent colleague's wife. In the end, Gabe foretold his own death by the fact that he was no longer able to drink pure, running water. When he healed people, his advice often included drinking pure and running water. We have a notion that magic resides in a separate and inaccessible world, but magic is with us and contained in reality. It is natural, not supernatural. Power flows from the natural world and the measure of its integrity and of our integrity is the presence of clean running water.
EUROPEANS RECONSTITUTED on the American continent also have stories to explain our origins and values drawn from deep oral traditions. We know, for instance, that we are travelers and have been finding and exploring trails for a very long time. Like the Salish who used the Cokahlarishkit trail, we have traveled to obtain riches, but probably just as much we have traveled to travel. Our history is a history of odysseys.
The Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts recounts an epic journey in the Mycenaean period, nearly 4,000 years ago. In that the whole quest was wound up in a search for golden fleece, we first think of this tale as pastoral symbolism, but the fleece and gold were real; the details of oral tradition often are real. The Mycenaeans were actively working in gold by the time of Jason, but there are no gold deposits around the Aegean Sea. They traveled for it, generally to the Caucasus and the lands beyond the eastern shore of the Black Sea where flooding streams worked gold from veins on mountains. The gold was gathered by staking sheep's fleeces in streams, because the hides had a natural affinity for the precious metal. Once laden, the fleeces were loaded on animals and packed back to Greece.
Midas, however, is the name most connected with gold in Western tradition, yet his is also a river story. Midas was a Phrygian king, ruling in an area of Asia Minor long associated with gold. His contemporary was the Lydian king and tyrant Gyges, who maintained his hold with a power to become invisible, which he manipulated with a gold ring. He is credited with inventing money; the first coins were gold rings. Money is the basis of financial transaction, which gave gold the power of producing goods, of making them visible then invisible, which is the magic of trade.
Midas, however, came to the power of gold through an accident. He entertained a traveler, who turned out to be the father of the god Bacchus. In gratitude the god granted Midas a wish, the Midas touch, which was on its reverse side a curse, the depth of which became clear when Midas touched his daughter, sapping the life from her and replacing it with gold. The god took some mercy on the greedy mortal, however, and allowed him to surrender the touch by washing it off in the Pactolus River, a real river once, now dry, but then mined for gold. The magic that ruined Midas's life did wash off in the river, where the curse stayed, and from then on it would be the curse of rivers to produce gold. It would not be the last time a river would suffer after washing away the sins of a greedy political leader.