Three Island Crossing

wagon crossing riverYou've traveled all the way from Independence, Missouri, in a covered wagon. Finally, in August you arrive at what's known as Three Island crossing, on Idaho's Snake River. You can continue along the dusty trail; but if you do, the journey is longer and the food and water more scarce. Or you can cross the river.

That was the choice emigrants on the Oregon Trail had to make in the 1840's. To some, it became a matter of life or death.

Each August, covered wagons gather above the banks of the Snake River, in southern Idaho, to relive those stressful times.

Roy Allen has participated in all but two of the re-enactments. But even to old timers like Roy, the Three Island crossing is tricky business.

wagon crossing river"My grandpa was drowned in a river up in eastern Idaho in a wagon," says Roy. "He was crossing the river and drowned. My family has been in this kind of thing all of our lives. I've trained several horses to do it. Some horses can swim and some can't; and you want to know if they can swim before you get them out in the water."

So far, no one has died in these re-enactments. You can't say the same about the horses. The river has an underground current, called "the chute." It's fast moving water. If you hit the chute, the horses will likely drown.

In the summer of 2004, Dale Jeffrey served as the wagon master. "This year I can really relate to the pioneers because of the loss of a wonderful team of horses. They were my friends. And that's what happened here over the years. People lost their friends and their stock and their belongings. The river, it wasn't friendly to the pioneers, and sometimes it's not friendly to us."

Fpeople on horsebackor the spectators who line the banks of the river, the scene of horses and wagons floating across a deep, wide river is more real than any history book could ever be.

"The adrenaline is pumping really hard," says participant Julie Blackwell. "When we make it across, it is such jubilation. You think about how your ancestors must have felt, because their wagons were loaded and they had children in the wagons."

"Nowadays, everybody wants to buy insurance for everything and live a perfect life that is safe from risk and harm," says wagon master Jeffrey. "We value the honor to do this and the choice to do this, and the choice of our ancestors to come here. We believe in that kind of spirit."

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