The Road to the Buffalo basically followed present day Hwy 200 with the exception of the loop it took northeast from Plains, turning through the Camas Prairie returning to the Flathead River upstream from Perma.
Early river travelers went by foot, on horseback and in canoes. Local tribal bands used a special type of canoe known as the sturgeon nose. For a short period during the gold rush era (1860· 70s), stern wheel steamboats churned up the river.
Steam locomotives arrived in the early 1880s following much of the original Road to the Buffalo, changing its character forever.
A river of many names. lewis and Clark first named the river Clark’s Fork in 1805. Later the name was ch.am!ed to Clark’s Fork of the Columbia River. The Expedition did not take this fork, because it had no salmon which indicated some obstruction to their passage. David Thompson called it the Saleesh after the people he met along its channel and whom he wrote about in his journal and he also, as well as others, called it the Flathead. When Thompson mapped the river he used the Saleesh name. For a brief period the river was called the Pend Orei/le, now known as the Clark Fork.
The river system that comprised the Saleesh· Flathead-Pend Oreille took in today’s Clark Fork and the present day Flathead River. At the confluence of these two rivers, the Clark Fork turns south. Thompson called this southward flowing branch, Nemlssoolatakoo. In the 1820s, Alexander Ross, another Nor’ Wester, renamed it Courtins Fork.
Courtin was an American fur trader who was killed by the Piegan near present day Hellgate. Couron’s trading partners were the first Amer· leans Thompson met in this area when he traveled to a Salish camp near present day DiKon “to see to Mr. Courter’s affairs” as Thompson called him. The year was 1810. Thompson called the section of the Clark Fork though Hellgate, Courters River.
The use of the Clark Fork River corridor for travel and trade would have been some time after the last Glacial lake Missoula episode drained this valley some 11,000 years ago. Travel to the east side of the Rocky Mountains to hunt bison likely received its greatest use after the horse was introduced into this region in the 1700s. Aboriginal peoples used many travel routes through this land. Those routes represented the best terrain for because they traversed natural corridors like mountain passes, ridgelines or river channels.
1. Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
94,272 acres with clean pure waters. Historically, mountain goats were prized for their pelts and as a rich food source.
2. Ross Creek Cedars
Grove of western red cedars, many with greater than 8 foot diameters and as tall as 175 feet. Natural trails follow Ross Creek.
3. Historic Heron Rapids
Now covered by Cabinet Gorge Reservoir. These rapids were the site of a prized fishing site in use long before David Thompson reported trading tobacco with people he called the Saleesh for about 20 fish that he referred to as herrings in 1809. “… .I paid them a foot of Tob … “ Tob was tobacco.
4. The Blue Slide
A unique geologic feature where exposed bedrock composed of bands of metamorphosed sedimentary shale and mudstone easily weathers to be undercut and eroded by the Clark Fork River.
5. Historic Thompson Falls
c1910 · The Thompson Falls townsite of was established in 1885, as a base to supply the Coeur d’Alene Mining District and to provide access to the toll road over Thompson Pass for prospectors arriving from the east.
6. Koo-Koo-Sint Ridge
Koo-Koo-Sint means the Stargazer (the man who looks at stars), the name given to David Thompson by his Salish companions because of his nightly observations of the Moons of Jupiter for calibration of his chronometer. This ridge is part of the Belt Supergroup, some of the oldest rock on Earth dating back about 1.4 billion years.
7. Bad Rock Trail
Perhaps the most infamous site on the Road to the Buffalo. Thomson described it as ‘ … much bad Road and a very high Point of Rocks: In 1841, Father DeSmet’s description read, ” I have seen scenes of landscapes of awful grandeur, but this one certainly surpassed all others in horror.”
8. National Bison Range
Established in 1908, this site is one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the nation. Bison were nearly extinct by the 1880s. A Pend d’Oreille tribal member is credited with the origin of this herd when he returned from the eastern plains of Montana with four calves.