Books About the Salmon River Country

New books about the Salmon River

Salmon River books

Reading Salmon River books is always a high point for us. Last year Richard Holm brought out “Bound for the Back Country–a History of Idaho’s Remote Airstrips”, (available from boundforthebackcountry@gmail.com). This year it has been revised and updated based on input from the first edition, and is available in paperback. It is much more than a listing of landing strips of central Idaho. Because aircraft have been so essential to access and activity, history of the whole region is interwoven through the book. For the student of the Idaho wilderness, this book is a must have. I can’t imagine how he gathered all the information, but I’m certainly grateful that he did. 550 large pages of pictures, personalities, histories, and locations. This is one of the standout contributions to the literature of the central Idaho wilderness area.

Doug Tims’ book about the Campbell’s Ferry area on the Main Salmon, “Merciless Eden “ (doug@rivertraveler.com) is another must-have. He has researched the history of the area in great depth, digging up a lot of previously unknown background about residents of the ferry. Prominent among them was Francis Zaunmiller Wisner, who lived there for over 45 years, until her death in 1986. Doug discovered a lot of material from her early life that she had intended to remain hidden. Doug is currently a co-owner of the Campbell’s Ferry property, so has a deep interest and background on its history, and also current issues affecting its’ preservation, including fires and agency policy. Doug is also owner of Maravia inflatable boats, Cascade Outfitters which is a boating equipment supply and catalogue in Boise, retired river outfitter on the Middle Fork and Selway, and past president of Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association and the national outfitter organization, America Outdoors. He and wife Phyllis spend the summers at Campbell’s Ferry, and welcome visitors there. Phyllis does a very good discussion of history of the site.

Last summer Doug organized a gathering there to commemorate Frances’ hundredth birthday, which fortuitously matched our trip schedule. Stephanie was not about to miss that, so came along on the trip with Wesley. (pictureBernt family jpg “Bill, Wesley, John, and Stephanie at Campbell’s Ferry” )

Harold Thomas, who owns Allison Ranch on the Main Salmon, has done an autobiography, “Pilot with a Purpose”, available at Orders@Xlibris.com. Harold is one of the founders of the Trus Joist corporation based in Boise, but has had a strong interest in the back country and flying. The book is a very interesting account of an up-by-the-bootstraps life and the building of a major corporation, and Harold‘s intense religious faith.
In the mid-70s a young fellow named Clifford Dean (“Mountain”) came to Salmon River and spent a couple of years with Buckskin Bill, who was nearing the peak of his fame. He recently gathered recollections, called it “Laughter in the Mountains”. The book provides some additional background on Buckskin. It’s a quick, entertaining read. www.authorhouse.com.

Available again is “Murder on the Middle Fork” by Don Smith, through his daughter Heather Thomas, at hsmiththomas@centurytel.net. Don was a minister in Salmon for many years, with a deep interest in the back-country. The story is based on the murder of Jake Reberg in 1917 at Sheep Creek on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. In Don’s notes, he says “…Our arrival (in Salmon) was less than 30 years after the murder….the story had been told and retold so many times by so many people with different opinions that sometimes it was hard to believe they were talking about the same thing”. Don used the various stories to piece together a romanticized version that might be as accurate as any. One of the primary participants in the aftermath lived across the street from us for a while in the ‘80s, and I got to hear his story–but wish I had asked more questions.

Last year Tony Latham, who ran a boat for us a season or two in the late 80s, then became an Idaho game warden, had a new book , a true but pretty dark story about one of his major undercover poaching cases on the fringe of the Idaho wilderness (“Trafficking–a memoir of an undercover game warden“, tony.latham@gmail.com). Tony is retired now, and had time this year to do a fiction/thriller (“Five Fingers”) with a setting in the Challis area, upstream from Salmon. Beyond the suspense plot line, the book provides a bit of insight into the routine of a game warden.

Larry Gwartney (gwartneyj@yahoo.com) has another novel this winter– “Reflections in the River of No Return“. It’s fiction but told as personal escapades while growing up in Salmon, then a boatman’s story of a Middle Fork trip of the “No S…, I Was There” category– and written so that you will feel you were there, too. Larry’s detail and style rings as true as the anvil in his dad’s blacksmith shop. Larry is a retired English teacher, from a very colorful Salmon family. His dad was a great story-teller, and his uncle Jack was better; unfortunately I was too late to know his grandpa, who was even more of a legend. Larry boated a few trips for us in 80‘s, taught in the Salmon high school with Peg for a career, good campfire guitar and dutch oven hand.

New Salmon River Books in 2012

“Bound for the Back Country–a History of Idaho’s Remote Airstrips” by Richard Holm, boundforthebackcountry@gmail.com, is much more than a listing of landing strips of central Idaho. Because aircraft have been so essential to access and activity, history of the whole region is interwoven through the book. For the student of the Idaho wilderness, this book is a must have. I can’t imagine how he gathered all the information, but I’m certainly grateful that he did. 550 large pages of pictures, personalities, histories, and locations. This is one of the standout contributions to the literature of the central Idaho wilderness area.

“Wilderness Brothers–Prospecting, Horse Packing, & Homesteading on the Western Frontier”, by Wayne Minshall, available streamside scribe@gmail.com, is an editing of the diaries of Luman Caswell, who was prospecting and homesteading on Big Creek off the Middle Fork in the 1890s. The result was the short-lived gold rush–the last in the US–at Thunder Mountain that peaked in 1902, with a significant impact on the Salmon River country. There is a lot of detail about how the Caswells came to be in the Big Creek country, how they developed their homestead and claims, how they lived. There were three Caswell brothers and a couple of partners, who sold their claims to a developer for a significant sum before the whole thing fizzled out. They were all well off for 20 years, prosperous businessmen and stockmen–and all went broke in the 20s and died in poverty. The depression of the 30s is part of the national culture, but the 20s were tough in agriculture. There was a boom during WWI, ag prices inflated, land prices followed, and after the war the bubble broke. Hard times hit here well before the 30s. Another interesting point was the comments on wildlife. Trapping was an important part of the Caswell’s economy in the early 90s as they were getting started. While there were many references to deer, there were very few to elk. The frequent encounters with mountain lions and wolves was remarkable. Very interesting read.

Another book, by well-known California river outfitter William McGinnis, is “Whitewater–a Thriller” available at WhitewaterVoyages.com/books, or Sue@WhitewaterVoyages.com–or 800-400-7238. The book is adventure fiction, set on the Kern River in California–not the usual subject of this list, but a novel with a river setting is interesting entertainment. There is some good description of paddle boating, and a bit of description of California guide culture. McGinnis has written several how-to whitewater books over the years, partly through training boatmen for his large day-trip business in California.

“Halfway to Halfway”, by river outfitters Dick Linford and Bob Volpert, is a collection of stories by boatmen–not we-almost-died stories, but a variety of experiences over the years. Daughter Stephanie has a story in it. Available from halfwaypublishing.com. Just the thing for winter evenings.

“Anything Worth Doing”, by Jo Deurbrouck, www.anythingworthdoing.com, is about the life and death of boatman Clancy Reese. Clancy had been a boatman on the Salmon River for many years, and died during a high-water distance record attempt a few years ago. The author worked as a boatman for several years, so has a feel for her material. In addition to the details of the final accident, there is good description of Clancy the individual. The book is very well-written.

“Trafficking–a memoir of an undercover game warden” by Tony Latham, tony.latham@gmail.com, is not directly a Salmon River book, but deals with an issue of back-country areas–poaching game animals. Tony ran a boat for us a season or two in the late 80s, then became an Idaho game warden. Serious, commercial, poaching often requires undercover, “sting”, investigations to get convictions, which Tony became involved in. Fish and Game violations can range from incidents due to ignorance, confusing regulations, inattention to detail, poor judgement, excitement, frustration at the difficulty of a hunt, and bad luck, to increasingly deliberate greed and disregard of ethics of hunting, to just plain no-good sons of bitches that disregard all basic rules of civilized behavior. This book deals with one of Tony’s investigations of the latter. Well-written, and an eye-opener to a sub-culture.

“The Ballad of China Lee”, a novel by Larry Gwartney, gwartneyj@yahoo.com, describes life and prejudices in Salmon in the early ’30s. When I came here, Salmon was very homogeneous, but it wasn’t always so; there was a small Chinatown, the Indian camp, recent European immigrants, Basque sheepherders. Larry is a retired English teacher, from a very colorful Salmon family. His dad was a great story-teller, and his uncle Jack was better; unfortunately I was too late to know his grandpa. While the period is before Larry’s time, his family was here, and the story rings as true as the anvil in his dad’s blacksmith shop. Larry boated a few trips for us in past years, good campfire guitar.

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