Travel Tips and Tricks

Three Island Crossing State Park

Glenns Ferry, ID
Wagon Wheel (Upper) Campground

The Oregon Trail was the scene of one of the greatest migrations of people in this country's history. Over 50,000 men, women and children (some historians say as many as 300,000) traveled over the 2,000 mile trail in search of a better life in Oregon.

History tells us that traveling the Oregon Trail was difficult. At what is now Three Island Crossing State Park, the emigrants had a difficult decision to make. Should they risk the dangerous crossing of the Snake, or endure the dry, rocky route along the south bank of the river?

The rewards of a successful crossing were a shorter route, more potable water and better feed for the stock. About half of the emigrants chose to attempt the crossing by using the gravel bars that extended across the river. Not all were successful; many casualties are recounted in pioneer diaries.

Mrs. Marcus Whitman, August 13, 1836:
"They were preparing to cross the Snake River. The river is divided by two islands into three branches, and is fordable. The packs are placed upon the tops of the highest horses and in this way we crossed without wetting. Two of the tallest horses were selected to carry Mrs. Spaulding and myself over. Mr. McLeod gave me his and he rode mine. The last branch we rode as much as half a mile in crossing and against the current too, which made it hard for the horses, the water being up to their sides. Husband had considerable difficulty in crossing the cart. Both cart and mules were turned upside down in the river and entangled in the harness. The mules would have been drowned but for a desperate struggle to get them ashore. Then after putting two men swimming behind to steady it, they succeeded in getting it across. "

Elizabeth Wood, August 21, 1851:
"We forded the Snake River, which runs so swift that the drivers (four to a team) had to hold on to the ox yokes to keep from being swept down by the current. The water came into the wagon boxes, and after making the island we raised the boxes on blocks, engaged an Indian pilot, doubled teams, and reached the opposite bank in safety."

Cornelia A. Sharp, August 9, 1852:
"This day we traveled five or six miles to the river. where we remained all day. Made several attempts to swim our cattle, but without success." August 10: "This morning we finally abandoned the idea of crossing the river; gathered up our cattle, hitched up our teams and took the sand and sage for it."

Emigrant Narcissa Whitman:
"Husband had considerable difficulty crossing the cart. Both the cart and the mules were capsized in the water and the mules entangled in the harness. They would have drowned, but for a desperate struggle to get them ashore. Then after putting two of the strongest horses before the cart and two men swimming behind to steady it, they succeeded in getting it over."

Emigrant Samuel Hancock:
"We lost 2 of our men, Ayres and Stringer. Ayres got into trouble with his mules in crossing the stream. Stringer, who was about thirty, went to his relief, and both were drowned in sight of their women folks. The bodies were never recovered."

Three Island Crossing State Park is located on the Snake River at Glenns Ferry. It is home to The Oregon Trail History and Education Center where visitors can learn about pioneer emigrants and Native American history.

Oregon Trail pioneers knew this spot well. It was one of the most famous river crossings on the historic trail. Pioneer travelers used the three-island crossing until 1869, when Gus Glenn constructed a ferry about two miles upstream.

The Glenns Ferry community sponsors a crossing commemoration the second Saturday of each August. Events often include living history presentations and historic skills fair.

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Posted by Michael Worth at 03:41 PM on July 22, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
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