Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
June 1, 2005
By Liz Bowen
Pioneer Press Assistant Editor
*1851 journal states Klamath River ran putrid from dead salmon
SISKIYOU COUNTY – In the fall of 1851, George Gibbs accompanied an expedition of Colonel Redick McKee through the Klamath River and up the Scott River into Scott Valley. Gibbs was a graduate of Harvard University and traveled West, when the California Gold Rush was in progress.
Gibbs’ journal, along with a second official document “Minutes Kept by John McKee,” secretary on the expedition, were recorded and published in “Documents of the Senate of the United States During the Special Session Called March 4, 1853.”
It is Gibbs’ journal and John McKee’s documentation that signified the U.S. Treaties signed by Colonel McKee. This resulted in establishing territories of the Native American tribes along the Klamath River and its tributaries; which then became recognized by the U.S. government and still provides the aboriginal boundaries more than a century-and-a-half later.
Beginning at the Pacific Ocean, Gibbs documented various tribes and treaties during the several months of travel along the Klamath River. On Saturday, October 18, 1851, Gibbs wrote about the Shasta Nation. “The name of Shaste (Shasta) may perhaps be found applicable to the whole tribe, extending from clear creek up; as, with perhaps some trifling variation, the same language appears to prevail as in the valley of the same name.”
The present-day mountain of Mt. Shasta was referred to as “Mount Shaste” by Gibbs.
It is interesting to note that Gibbs reported the Klamath River was of poor quality. In one entry, he said, “In camping on the Klamath, it is necessary to seek the neighborhood of the brooks, especially that this season; as the water, never pure, is now offensive from the number of dead salmon.”
Earlier in the month of October, Gibbs described the “large fish-dam” that crossed the entire Klamath River at what he referred to as Camp Klamath. This is where Treaty Q was signed with Lower Klamath Tribe called “Youruk” on Oct. 6, 1851.
A supplement to Treaty Q was signed on Oct. 12, 1851 at the mouth of the Salmon River with “the rest of the lands belonging to this division of the Klamath.” This band was called “Kahruk.”
Gibbs also mentioned other dams that crossed the entire Klamath River and one that crossed the Trinity, “thirteen or fourteen miles from its mouth.” He intricately describes the structure of the dam at Camp Klamath. It crossed the entire river “about seventy-five yards wide, elbowing up stream in the deepest part.” Stout posts were driven into the bed of the river “at a distance of some two feet apart, having a moderate slope, and supported from below, at intervals of ten to twelve feet, by two braces.” According to Gibbs, the labor of constructing the dam must have been “immense” and explained the “whole dam was faced with twigs, carefully peeled and placed so close together as to prevent the fish from passing up.”
Roy Hall Jr., who is chairman of the present-day Shasta Nation, has stated repeatedly that the coho salmon are not indigenous to the Klamath River and its tributaries of Trinity, Scott and Shasta.
“The water is too warm and always has been,” reiterated Hall. “Coho salmon need cool water.”
As adults, coho swim upriver in the dead of the winter high waters and the juveniles try to leave the system in early summer, when water levels naturally decline due to loss of snowpack.
In Gibbs 1851 documentation, it showed that even the fall runs of chinook and other salmon species found it difficult to swim up the “never pure” Klamath River.
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