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Klamath River Historical Floods,  from In the Land of the Grasshopper Song by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed. Excerpts compiled by Barbara Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade Vice President of the Board of Directors.. See posts on KBC Discussion Forum.
A Klamath River History Lesson
Sun Aug 6, 2006 9:56AM

I just finished reading In the Land of the Grasshopper Song written by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed.

In 1908 two young women - the authors of this book - accepted Indian Service appointments as field matrons for the Karok Indians in the Klamath and Salmon River country in northern California. In the forward, they write: "The white men we knew on the Rivers were pioneers of the Old West. All around us was gold country, the land of the saloon and of the six-shooter. Our friends and neighbors carried guns as a matter of course, and used them on occasion. But the account given in these pages is not of these occurrences but of the everyday life on the frontier in an Indian village, and what Indians and badman did and said when they were not engaged in wiping out their friends and neighbors. It is also the account of our own two years in Indian country where, in the sixty-mile stretch between Happy Camp and Orleans, we were the only white women, and most of the time quite scared enough to satisfy anybody."

I learned a lot from Mary and Mabel about what the middle Klamath/Salmon River area was like back in 1908-09. They rode mules on their travels up and down the river. In the summer time, they could cross the Klamath River at known fordings across sand bars with water only up to their mules knees. During the late summer and fall, crossing the Klamath on sand bars was a tricky job. Because of the color of the water, riders could not see the sand bars and had to watch for the ripples the low, slow moving water made over the sand bar. One false step and they and their mules would find themselves in deep pools.

But in the winter (Nov till April) their mules had to swim across while Mary and Mabel were taken by Indian dugout canoe.

The fall of 1909 when they left the 'Rivers' to travel back to their homes and families in New Jersey; they had a devil of a time getting from I-to Poo-a-rum to Happy Camp, through Orleans and down to Eureka to catch a steamer for San Francisco. The rains came early that year and all the streams and creeks that feed that portion of the Klamath were flooded. The Salmon River was a torrent from bank to bank.

Starting on page 302: "It was just as we were pulling into Happy Camp that the storm broke, and all day Thursday, as we packed and shifted out things in Mr. Pines warehouse, the rain came steadily down.

"'You won't try to make Elliotts' in this storm, will you?" asked Mr. Pine. "Why not wait until tomorrow?"

"As we had come up river, two days before, on our way to Happy Camp, we had stopped as we always do on the bridge over Clear Creek. The Creek is deep, maybe ten or twelve feet, but it is so clear and green that you can see straight down to every pebble on the sandy bottom. . . .

"But on Friday, as we rounded the mountain on our way back to the Elliotts', Clear Creek was no longer beautiful green, shining water. After two nights and one day of rain, it was a raging river, looking almost as deep and dangerous as the Klamath itself. The water had spread out about ten feet on either side of the bridge, and it lapped and tore at the supports. We dug our spurs into the mules as we thought of the creeks still ahead of us.

"Beyond the creek, the trail led up the mountain. As the rain poured steadily down, little trickles appeared in the dry places on the trail. The trickles grew into little runs, and these spread so that, in the low places, water began to cover the trail. Still it grew warmer. The snow must be melting fast in the mountains. . . .

"Coon Creek had to be forded. It was pitch dark when the trail turned sharply downhill and the trees met over our heads. But there was no fear of panthers on a night like this. The next instant, we were in the rushing waters of the creek, but it was not as bad as we had expected, and Mabel suggested fording Siwillup, as it was so late, instead of taking time to go around by the bridge.

"At Siwillup, the mules took the water readily enough, in spite of the darkness. We splashed across and had nearly made the other side when Maria (mule) took a deep step, and in another minute the water was up to my waist. I heard a splash from Mr. Darcy (mule), and then we were out, and the mules pulling themselves up the bank. . . . .

"All night it rained. We waked to hear it beating steadily down on the roof over our heads (at Elliotts'). Above the noise of the rain was the roar of the Klamath. . . . "

On page 306, the girls write: "All night it rained and the strange warmth continued. The noise of the Klamath is very plain at the Hickoxes'. Every few hours either Mabel or I would wake up and listen to it. You do not think of the Klamath as a river when it is in flood. It is a great evil force. It is alive, and it means you ill. You know why men used to pray to the gods when they lived on the Rivers. Powerful and unfriendly forces are all around you. They will do you harm if they can. The deep roar of the Klamath beat down on us like the rain on the roof. We turned uneasily in our beds. . . . .

The next morning: "With every hour the roar of the river grew plainer. Luther came in while we were eating, He told us the river had risen three feet since the night before. But we would have known that by the sound."

On page 307: "By the time we reached Orleans we were in a little better spirits. The worst of the trail ought to be behind us, Anyhow, we had made Orleans. Maybe we could get through after all. . . .

"We got through Orleans Creek. We got through Camp Creek. Our spirits rose. What if it did continue to rain? Things were going well. We came to Salstrom Creek.

"There was no sign of the ford across Salstrom Creek. Salstrom Creek was three times it natural size. It was a stretch of white, tumbling water carrying everything before it. There were whirlpools and eddies. The water bounced back from rocks and boulders. And above the roar of the water was the grinding roar of stone against stone as they were swept downstream.

"The mules took one look at Salstrom Creek and refused to take it. We tried every device we could think of. Then we went back to the Salstroms' for men and ropes. . . .

Page 308: "We went back with him to the house (Salstrom's). We were licked. Rivers in the Karok country were an evil, malevolent force. We had known they were out to get us since the night we lay sleepless at the Hickoxes'. Now they had. We couldn't make the Forks of the Salmon because we should have to cross the Klamath. We couldn't even get back up river to I-ees-i-rum. The creeks would be too high. We were licked. Only a miracle could get us across Salstrom Creek, and we prayed for a miracle."

The reason I've related all the above is because of the down stream Tribes insistence that four of the Klamath River dams be removed and the river returned to it's natural ebb and flow to help the spring and fall salmon runs. Take out the dams and the river will return to the condition that Mary, Mabel and their Indian neighbors had to deal with before the dams were built.

The Klamath River Dams were not built just for hydroelectric power, but for flood control. The downstream Tribes seem to disregard this fact and the fact that they also regulate the late summer and fall flows, keeping spring run off in their reservoirs for release during historic low water time. And during years of drought, they keep the river flowing from storage, for the benefit of all - man and nature - all the way from Iron Gate to the ocean.

The dams were built, as were the fish hatcheries to mitigate the fact that the salmon could not pass up river past them; for flood control and hydroelectric power.

Maybe it is a 'bad thing' to regulate/control a river. Maybe they should all be free flowing. But do we really want the destruction and mayhem, including loss of human life from a flooding river? Do we really want the Klamath River to become a mere trickle during droughts? Who will the down stream Tribes and the environmental groups sue then? Mother Nature?

Barb (Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade Vice President of the Board, and KBB website manager)
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