Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In mining era, natives clung to traditions

Ancient Elkhorn archaeological site discovered in 1973


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

During the mining boom in the Wood River Valley, regional Indians moved through the area to trade and hunt. Photo courtesy of The Community Library, Regional History Department

In 1879, the Army fought the last war in Idaho against about 300 Sheepeater people, or Tukaduka, a band of mountain-dwelling Western Shoshone Indians living along the Salmon River.

The Army fought in difficult terrain following reported attacks against miners and other settlers by the Tukaduka. The Tukaduka were no match for U.S. cavalry aided by 20 Umatilla scouts.

The discovery of gold in Custer County in 1873 sparked a two-decade mining boom in the region. Safety from Indian raids, presumably guaranteed by Army actions, brought the mining boom to the Wood River Valley. Quick fortunes were made in the towns of Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum.

Ed Price moved to Ketchum with his family in 1885 when he was 4. He would later work for the Ketchum Keystone newspaper for nine years.

In "The Chronicles of Ed Price," Ketchum native Mary Jane Griffith Conger relates stories about Indians told by Price during the mining era.

"One favorite spot for their tepees was on a creek bottom along where the Sun Valley golf links [along Trail Creek] are now located," Conger wrote. "In the eighties [1880s] new arrivals in Ketchum were not accustomed to the mannerisms of roving Indians."

As early as 1864, a group of prospectors encountered an Indian Camp in East Fork, Conger said in an interview.

"They had free passage through a toll road across Trail Creek Summit. Sometimes whites would dress up as Indians to get through for free, but that didn't work very well."

Conger had until recently been perplexed by the disappearance of prospector and packer David Ketchum, the man her hometown was named after.

"We heard he had been killed in a bar brawl, but it turned out he went back to Missouri and made a fortune selling Indian medicines," Conger said.

The prosperous Friedman family of Hailey had merchant businesses in the Wood River Valley and a ranch near Fort Hall. During the early 1900s, the Friedmans traded with Indians in Hailey as they passed through the Wood River Valley pulling horse-drawn travois packed with supplies, including tanned deer-hide goods for trade.

"They always came out at the time the Camas was out," said Lucille Friedman in a recorded interview with The Community Library in Ketchum in 1986. "We would get up in the morning and there would be Indians all over our yard. ... Mother'd always take them out something to eat, you know and all. She was scared to death of them," she said, laughing.

The hides were tanned and smoked and fashioned into deer-hide gloves, which Simon Friedman bought or traded for.

"There wasn't any ill feeling around here," said Lucille Friedman. "We had such a foreign population around here, you know. Most of the miners, you know, most of them were foreigners."

The Indians, having hunted in the area for many generations, would have considered Friedman and her family as foreigners.

Carolyn Boyer-Smith, cultural resources coordinator for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes at Fort Hall Reservation near Pocatello, said in an interview that a trail had existed through the Wood River Valley to Galena Summit, where Alexander Ross first viewed the grand Sawtooth Mountains in 1824.

"The route to the Salmon River Valley [through the Wood River Valley] is still being used," Boyer-Smith said. "Now it's a modern highway."

Velda Racehorse, archivist for the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, said those were seasonal hunting and gathering areas.

"We would have gotten chokecherries and fish there," she said. "Family units stuck together, but were scattered all over. We were a migrating people. Our burials were usually in the mountains and on hillsides, so there would have been a lot of burials in that area."

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The Elkhorn discovery

After the mining boom went bust in the Wood River Valley in the late 1800s, ranching and agriculture played prominent roles in the local economy. The tribes at Fort Hall slowly developed an economy of their own, but during the Depression continued traveling 150 miles by wagon to the Great Camas Prairie near Fairfield for camas bulbs and other traditional food sources.

When Count Felix Schaffgotsch "discovered" Ketchum for Union Pacific board Chair Averell Harriman in the mid-1930s, he paved the way for development of America's first destination ski resort at Sun Valley, changing the economy of the valley once more.

Famous movie stars, writers and tourists would travel to the valley, many of them unaware of the Native American tribes that had lived in the region for thousands of years.

That would change in 1973 when developers began excavating a known archeological site prior to construction of the Elkhorn golf course in Sun Valley.

Archeologists slowly unearthed the most significant site ever discovered in the Wood River Valley, a campsite where Native Americans had fashioned stone artifacts as long as 10,000 years ago, perhaps up until the time of first contact with Europeans.

"Locals knew there had been a site there," said Idaho State Archeologist Ken Reid. "There is not much doubt that there were winter camps and villages in the Wood River Valley during the beginning of the mining boom."

The Elkhorn site contained thousands of artifacts, including spear points, arrow points, pottery fragments, mammal bones and a cooking oven. A definitive recording and analysis of artifacts from the Elkhorn "Indian Springs" site will be completed by Idaho State University students in May.

Claudia Taylor Walsworth, an archeologist familiar with the site and other sites in the valley, said she has found seasonal camps, hunting blinds, vision quest sites, sacred sites and trails throughout the Wood River Valley. She said she has heard about native burial sites, but has not verified them in the field.

Walsworth said she found a very large projectile point made of muted green basalt that she interpreted as a "ceremonial point" in a valley north of Ketchum, and a large obsidian knife along Christmas Ridge on Bald Mountain, when Sun Valley Resort was developing a line of snowmaking equipment.

When an exhibit of the artifacts opened in Elkhorn in 1990, Walsworth hosted a blessing ceremony conducted with Fort Hall tribal members and the public.

There was a small fire pit built and "sage-smudging" purification practices done by James Osborne, a tribal leader from Fort Hall.

"He was very aware of the spiritual aspects of the site," Walsworth said. "When he spent the night at the hotel after the ceremony and exhibit opening, he was unable to sleep, so he went up to the site again by himself and lit another small fire and did some more smudging, all night long."

Walsworth said she has heard many stories about the Elkhorn site being haunted. When she later offered to show Osborne an apparent archeological site she had discovered above her home in Hulen Meadows, north of Ketchum, Osborne declined, saying he was afraid of the "Little People."

The Little People, or Ninninbe, are a mythical race of people thought to kill animals with sticks and stones, and also to shoot invisible arrows at people they disliked.

"The springs site is one of many prehistoric, or pre-contact sites if you will, in the Dollar Mountain-Elkhorn vicinity, which probably constitutes an archaeological district," Walsworth said.

She learned that many of the artifacts from the Elkhorn site had been lost or given away. Some are on display at the Ketchum-Sun Valley Heritage & Ski Museum in Ketchum.

"There's a wealth of information on the ground still to this day, and it's a shame that more studies aren't done, but then again it's private land," she said.

Ken Reid said keeping potential archeological sites unknown to the public is a general policy among archeologists, due to the threat of grave robbing and the looting of artifacts.

"There's no legislation in Idaho that protects historical property on private and state lands, except for unmarked graves," he said. "We have to rely instead on good will and optimism.

"There's nothing in the Idaho code that forbids people from selling Clovis Points on Ebay."

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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