Adventures with Grandpa: Three Island Crossing

On this adventure we went to the Three Island Crossing State Park near Glenn Ferry, Idaho. The area is a famous Oregon Trail crossing over the Snake River. It was one of the most difficult crossings along the trail. When emigrants arrived here, they had to decide if they would take the northern or the southern route to Fort Boise. If the water was low, almost everyone crossed the river and took the northern route. It was shorter, water was more abundant, and there was better feed for the stock. Conversely, when the water was high most emigrants were forced to travel the dry, rocky, and sandy southern route. 

 . . . 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. . . . 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. “ Mrs. Marcus Whitman, August 13, 1836

A few years later, in 1843, William T. Newby, wrote: We crossed Snake River. First we drove over a part of the river one hundred yards wide on to a island, the[n] over a northern branch 75 yards wide on a second island; then we tied a string of waggons together by a chain in the ring of the lead cattle’s yolk & made fast to the waggon of all a horse & before & him led. We carried as many as fifteen waggons at one time. We had to go up stream. The water was ten inches up the wagon beds in the deepe places. It was 900 hundred yards across. ” William T. Newby, September 11, 1843, in “William T. Newby’s Diary of the Emigration of 1843,” edited by Harry N.W. Winton, Oregon Historical Quarterly (September 1939), 4:219

We drove to the south side view area to get a good look at the crossing from the plateau above. I can see how it would have been a bit daunting for some emigrants.

After, we drove back into town and went to the Oregon Trail History and Education Center.

Oregon Trail History and Education Center, Three Island Crossing State Park

After trying to pack a miniature wagon and then seeing how little room there is in an actual wagon,I realized how little emigrants were able to take with them on their journey. If I had to go on a journey like that now, it would be very hard to leave my beautiful piano, my soft bed, and all the modern conveniences that we have like hot water and indoor plumbing. The emigrants who traveled the Oregon Trail should never be forgotten. They are great examples of not giving up on their journey despite trying circumstances. Many lost their lives along the way and never made it to their destination, but we can learn about them and their stories and find a way to connect to our lives today. Don’t we all want to be happy and are traveling in this life to find happiness?

Published by Karen Painter

Karen Painter is a freelance real estate/health writer and historical romance author. She has written blogs, news,and feature articles for different publications over her twenty year writing career. Despite her struggles with anxiety and depression, she works hard to be positive and uplifting to others. She loves hiking, singing, and traveling.

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