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Native People

The first human inhabitants of the Salmon River Canyons were ancestors of the Nez Perce Indians who arrived over 11,000 years ago.  Living off of the land, they ate large and small game, fish, and numerous plants that are found within the river corridor and surrounding areas. 

Around 2,000 years ago, there was a dramatic, short term increase in precipitation.  The Salmon River settled into its current level, and the area residents began to build permanent winter villages along the river.  These villages consisted primarily of pit houses with the floor excavated into the ground for insulation against cold weather.  Poles around the outside of the pit were lashed together at the top and covered with mats made of tule or cattail.  A fire burned in the middle of the floor.  Some of these pits can still be seen today along the Salmon River.  Take a break just above Billy Creek Rapid to see an example.  

Residents moved seasonally with the migrations of large game animals while continuing to winter along the rivers edge.  The importance of salmon, steelhead, and root crops as food sources grew.  Roots of the cous, found in river canyons, and camas, common in moist upland meadows and prairies, were eaten raw or baked and stored for winter use.

Around 1720, the Nez Perce obtained horses drastically altering their lifestyle.  Horses enabled them to travel greater distances and expand their already extensive trade networks.  Trading and hunting trips into what is now Oregon and Montana became common. 

Rock art created by the pre-historic and historic inhabitants of the Salmon River is still visible in many places.  Pictographs, designs painted on the surface of the rocks, can be found along the river.  Some of the best examples can be seen at Shorts Bar.  The function of pictographs is unknown.  They may have been drawn to represent events, serve as trail markers, or send messages to others.  Along the Salmon River, the color of the pictographs is usually red.  The paint was made by grinding iron oxide, and mixing it with animal fat and resin.  Please remember that rock art is fragile.  View and photograph these sites, but please do not touch the paintings!  Rubbing the figures, or even just touching them can destroy this early art.  Remember that all artifacts are protected by the American Antiquities Act.


Wildlife | Fish and Fishing | Plant Life | Geology | Lewis & Clark and Early Settlers

Native People | Mining | Agriculture and Ranching | Boating History