Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Traveler Joel Palmer Tackles Notorious Three Island Crossing [otd 8/23]

Joel Palmer. Oregon Historical Society.
On August 23, 1845, the small wagon train led by pioneer Joel Palmer approached the notorious Three Island Crossing, near today’s Glenns Ferry, Idaho. In his Journal, Palmer wrote, “The difficulties attending the crossing of this stream had been represented as being almost insurmountable; but upon examination we found it an exaggeration.”

Palmer was born in Canada to American Quaker parents. During the War of 1812, the family moved to New York state. Joel later formally became a U. S. citizen. In 1836, he moved to Indiana, where he served two terms in the legislature.

Somewhat skeptical about glowing descriptions of Oregon, he decided to make a scouting trip to verify, he said, “by personal observation, whether its advantages were sufficient to warrant me in the effort to make it my future home.”

Palmer kept very good notes along the way. After providing a description of many features around the Soda Springs, he said, “Companies wishing to remain for a length of time at the springs, would pursue a proper course in driving their cattle over the river, as good grazing can thereby be had.”

Much of Palmer’s text concerned the nature of the trail itself. The “sandy plain” east of the Fort Hall bottomland proved to be “very heavy traveling.” Beyond the Fort, they crossed a succession of creeks, some of which were dry, or nearly so. Commenting on the country around Goose Creek, he said “The road we traveled was very dusty, and portions of it quite stony.”

Palmer took a careful and systematic approach to fording the Snake River at Three Island Crossing. He described in great detail the track to follow to minimize the force of the current and safely negotiate potholes in the river bottom. “We commenced crossing at eleven o'clock, A.M., and at one o'clock, P. M., we effected the passage of the stream, and were so fortunate as to land our goods free from all damage.”

Six days later, Palmer wrote, “We traveled … to Bois river, a stream of forty or fifty yards in width, and abounding in salmon; its banks are lined with Balm of Gilead timber. The bottoms here are two or three miles wide, and covered with grass.”

The “Balm of Gilead” poplar was probably more familiar to Palmer than the very similar black, or “cottonwood,” poplar that actually grows along the Boise river.

The travelers reached The Dalles about five weeks after the Crossing. While the party skirted the south flank of Mount Hood, Palmer made the first recorded climb of that mountain. Palmer traveled extensively through the settled areas and found them to his liking.
Rev. Henry Spalding.
National Park Service.

He even made his way to Reverend Spalding’s mission at Lapwai [blog, November 29]. There, he and some companions traded for Nez Perc├ęs horses. Palmer wrote, “They have made considerable advances in cultivating the soil, and have large droves of horses, and many of them are raising large herds of cattle.”

Palmer and a party of other men returned east in the spring of 1846. His Journal, published the following year, proved to be a very popular Trail guidebook.

After seeing to the publication, Palmer returned to Oregon, this time with his wife and family. He later played a significant role in the development of the state of Oregon, serving in both houses of its legislature. He died in 1881.
References: [Brit]
Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, 1845-1846, reprinted, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed)., in Early Western Travels, Vol.  XXX, Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland (1906).
“Joel Palmer (1810-1881),” Oregon Biographies, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society (2002)
“Notable Oregonians: Joel Palmer – Pioneer/Writer,” Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon (2009).

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