Lolo Pass is a historic Nez Perce Native American Trail used by Lewis & Clark during their Westward Ho expeditions in the early 1800’s. I’m late to the game to read that Lewis & Clark book, but it’s on the list. C & Me are on a road trip vacay visiting places neither of us have been to before, well for the most part. Today we head through Lolo on our way to Montana, land of the Big Sky. Here’s C & Me and all…
Now here’s the Go Go’s…
Now back to the point… Lolo Summit. It’s not a high elevation as far as summit passes go. The road as it is in its present day wasn’t even finished until 1962. It’s famous, besides the history, as being quite wind-ee for a long stretch. Here’s a sign as it used to be…
… now here’s a sign as it is now…
Someone in the Dept of Transportation or within the Idaho or Montana state tourism got the bright idea to upgrade the sign to 99 miles of winding road because that’s just a better photo op right there. The bikers, Harley’s and such, evidently are drawn to the pass because it’s beautiful country and it’s probably good for a road cruise to hit winding roads. But here’s why we are looking forward to it today…
I think it’s about 16 miles long and you get to hit all these high trestles riding on an old railroad bed and I’m most excited to go through the 1.66 mile tunnel. Here’s something more official about it…
THE “CROWN JEWEL” OF RAIL-TO-TRAIL ADVENTURES
The Route of the Hiawatha mountain bike or hike trail is 15 miles long with 10 train tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles. The ride starts with a trip through the 1.661 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel, also known as the Taft Tunnel. It is a highlight of the trail that follows the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains near Lookout Pass Ski Area. The best part is…. it’s mostly downhill with shuttle buses available to transport you and your bike back to the top. This family friendly trail is easily enjoyed by a wide variety of people from young children to super seniors.
Click that link above Ma Swinn to see something cool about Chief Joseph. He looks cool. I’m pretty sure he was cool.
Here’s some interesting history about L&C and the Nez Perce…
Lolo Trail and Pass History
K’useyneisskit – Road to the Buffalo
The route over the Bitterroot Mountains, known today as the Lolo Trail, was used by the Nez Perce long before Euro-Americans came on the scene. Extending from Weippe Prairie to Lolo Pass along the Idaho-Montana border, it was the primary route over the Bitterroot Mountains into western Montana and the northern Great Plains. The route offered access to hunting, fishing, and food gathering areas and enabled trade with other tribes. It also led to bison on the eastern plains.
A Nez Perce legend tells us about the origin of the trail. A young boy was lost in these mountains. He was approached by Hah-hahts, the grizzly bear, angry that the humams were taking over his land. When confronted, the boy said, “I can only die. Death is only part of life. I am not afraid.” The grizzly, impressed with his bravery, took the boy to the “backbone of the highest mountains” to show him where the quas-peet-za (curled hairs) lived. He also showed the boy the huckleberry, chokecherry, and serviceberry. When they returned to the Kamiah valley, before leaving him, the bear said, “Here your people are living. Go tell them what you have learned about this great land, the food that has been provided for them, and the trail that will take them across the mountain.”
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark struggled over the Lolo Trail in September, 1805. What was thought to be a five day journey turned into an arduous journey of eleven days over snow covered hill tops and ridges. Led by a Lemhi Shoshone guide known to the expedition as “Old Toby”, they began their journey on September 12. By the 16 and 17, they were hit by severe snow storms that slowed progress significantly. There was also a scarcity of game on the ridge tops, forcing the expedition to eat some of its ponies and emergency rations. As they reached the southern end of the trail, Clark took a small party of hunters ahead of the main party to search for game and make contact with the Nez Perce, which they did on September 20.
Nez Perce Flight of 1877
During July of 1877 this traditional trail, which had long been a source of joy and sustenance, became a trail of flight, conflict, and sorrow for the non-treaty bands of the nimí·pu· (Nez Perce).
The nimí·pu· withdraw from the Clearwater Battle and camp that eveing near Kamiah, Idaho. Troops occupy and plunder the former nimí·pu· camp on the South Fork of the Clearwater River.
The non-treaty nimí·pu· cross the Clearwater River at Kamiah, Idaho.
The non-treaty nimí·pu· move to and camp near Weippe.
After struggling against the U.S. army for four weeks, the non-treaty nimí·pu· bands head east on the Lolo Trail, hoping to find safety in Montana. Musselshell Meadows was the site of their first camp after leaving the Weippe Prairie. Imagine for a moment you are a young nimí·pu· about to leave the land where you were born, where you played as a child, where you fished or gathered camas as an adolescent. Imagine leaving the land where your grandparents were buried, not knowing if you would ever return. These thoughts must have captured the minds of the nimí·pu· as they camped in this meadow.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army camped upon Temme ilpílp’s (Chief Redheart) band on the Weippe Prairie. There were about 20 men, women, and a few children in this camp who were returning from Montana. They had not joined the bands on the flight, but had only met and bid them farewell. One of General Howards Nez Perce scouts came riding in and told them, “It will be best to come on your own reservation. There you will be safe.” Most of them answered, “We will go.” Instead, they were marched 60 miles on foot in irons in the heat of July to Lapwai, then later sent by boat from Lewiston, Idaho to Fort Vancouver, Washington, where they remained prisoners until April 1878.
Not far from Incendiary Creek, a rear guard of the fleeing non-treaty nimí·pu· ambush a scouting party that General Howard had sent ahead of his other troops. Lepeet Hessemdooks (Two Moons) described the encounter: “…See, we have passed over some of the worst trails and still they keep after us… Let our families travel on while the warriors go back to where we can lay for the enemies. We hid in the brush to get them at close range. Soon the voices grew. It was Nez Perce scouts. Christians of our tribe, working for the government against their own tribe, their own blood people. Rainbow took a shot and wounded one of them . Other shots were fired and I do not know if any others of them were struck.” The scout who was hit, Sheared Wolf/John Levi, died from his wounds.
Two companies of the 7th Infantry with Captain Rawn, supported by over 150 citizen volunteers, constructed a log barricade near Lolo Creek at what became known as Fort Fizzle.
The non-treaty nimí·pu· arrived at Lolo Hot Springs, well ahead of the army. Duncan McDonald, a Nez Perce man who reported on the flight in local area newspapers, wrote: “When the Nez Perce camp reached the Hot Springs on the Lolo Trail… three Indians met them in their camp. One of these Indians was Nez Perce, but his home was in the Bitter Root Valley. He told Looking Glass there were some soldiers on the trail watching for them to come.” The soldiers he spoke were under the command of Captain Rawn at Fort Fizzle.
In addition to the three Indians, two young men from Stevensville were at the hotsprings on a summer outing. They rushed home to spread the news of the nimí·pu· arrival.
The non-treaty nimí·pu· meet with Captain Rawn at Fort Fizzle to make several things very clear.
They had no intention of molesting settlers or property.
They wanted to travel in peace.
They would not surrender their horses, arms, and ammunition.
They were not ready to return to the hostile environment in Idaho.
Soon after the meeting on July 26, many settler volunteers returned home. Some reports say they were convinced that the Nez Perce wanted a peaceful trip through the Bitterroot Valley.
Captain Rawn had clear orders. He said the Nez Perce could not pass. However, the barricade failed when the nimí·pu·, with their horses and possessions, climbed a steep ravine behind the ridge to the north and bypassed the soldiers. The previously unnamed barricade thus became the ridiculed ‘Fort Fizzle.’
General Howard leaves Kamiah and camps at Weippe.
General Howard’s command camps at Musselshell Meadows, more than two weeks after the fleeing non-treaty nimí·pu· had passed through.
General Howard established a five-hour breakfast camp with his cavalry and infantry in Parker Meadows, a favored gathering site for nimí·pu· to gather roots and other food sources. That night his command camped at Lolo Hotsprings, nearly two weeks after the fleeing non-treaty nimí·pu· had passed through.
Lolo Pass, sitting at 5,223 feet between Idaho & Montana, in the words of Rilo Kiley… “We’re ready to go…ready to go…ready to go.”