Henry’s Fork: A History as Rich as the Fishing

Henry's Fork: A history as rich as the fishing
Casting your first line out into the Henry’s Fork, you settle back to enjoy your time. The sun is just starting to climb over the mountains and hills, and the weather is still cool and dewy from the night. This river is renowned for its beauty and its fishing. Anglers from all over the world come to Southeast Idaho to fish in the Henry’s Fork, and it’s diverse terrain and fishing conditions.

Long before modern fishermen came to Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, it was home to some very different people. Even though the river came to be named after a fur trader, the history of the land is intertwined with the Native American tribes that once called this place home. It is the place where Shoshone, Crow, and Blackfeet tribes lived and hunted. Henry’s Fork was also along the path that Chief Joseph and his tribe used to escape from General Howard.

Fur Trade and Exploration

In the early 1800s, fur trade was popular. Early trappers acted as guides, and one such person was John Colter. He was a trapper, but more importantly, he had been a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Five years after Lewis and Clark’s exploration, Andrew Henry led another expedition to explore the West, with John Colter as his guide.

Andrew Henry was a fur trader, and a partner in the Missouri Fur Company. His expedition took them from Montana and across the Continental Divide. They followed the Madison River. As they prepared to cross the pass, now known as Reynold’s Pass, Crow Indians stole many of their horses.

Henry and his expedition group pressed on, passing over the Henry’s Lake Flat. They continued to a spot five miles south of St. Anthony, and constructed Fort Henry. There is a monument that marks the site. They spent the winter at Fort Henry, and afterward, Andrew Henry returned to Missouri, where he lived.

Chief Joseph’s Escape

Many years after Andrew Henry’s expedition along the Henry’s Fork, Chief Joseph led a small group of the Nez Perce tribe across the Island Park caldera. This was in the summer of 1877. Chief Joseph’s escape is legendary, and the Nez Perce tribe’s tactics here provided them with a solid lead over General Howard and his troops.

The Nez Perce camped along the Sheridan Creek, and General Howard and his troops were not far behind them. In a brilliant move, Nez Perce warriors snuck into General Howard’s camp in the early morning. The warriors captured three horses and nearly two hundred mules. They set up an ambush, and in the ensuing skirmish, the Nez Perce warriors created enough confusion and disarray, that Howard was forced to fall back.

With four of his men dead, and many of his animals stolen, General Howard had to divert his troops to Montana. They needed fresh animals and supplies in order to return to their pursuit of the Nez Perce. The daring attack gave Chief Joseph and his tribe the strong lead that they needed to continue their escape. While General Howard and his men had been as close as twenty miles away, they were now two days behind the Nez Perce, giving Chief Joseph the time he needed for his tribe to escape.

Remnants of History

Today, Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is still covered with remnants of the past. Just outside of St. Anthony, there is a monument marking the site of Fort Henry. It stands as a reminder of the early explorers and fur traders that sought to learn more about the land, and to find routes through the rugged, untamed countryside. Harriman State Park was a gift to the state from a railroad baron and rancher. The park was created to protect the land and wildlife, while honoring and ensuring that the ranching way of life would survive.

The area around Henry’s Fork is rich in culture, heritage, and history. Once the lands where Native American tribes lived and hunted, and where Chief Joseph once rested during his escape, Henry’s Fork today is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. It is home to some of the best fishing in the world, incredibly diverse landscapes, beauty, and it still holds the history of early pioneers, explorers, and the original Native American residents of the land.

When you cast your first line of the day, take a moment to appreciate the history. Idaho is full of beauty and nature. Much has been done to protect the wilderness of Idaho, and to ensure that this state’s history is preserved and remembered. Enjoy living and playing here, because Idaho is an incredible state, with amazing opportunities for recreation and living.

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