Trapper Hats & Trail Dust

Playing Lewis & Clark in Salmon

Published online: May 15, 2017 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors
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Live like Lewis and Clark for a day. That’s all Pam Hay and her friend Erica Ely wanted to do. That’s why they’re in Salmon, Idaho for a few smoldering, summer days in mid-July.

“How would you even write a story that good?’ says Pam Hay, Lewis and Clark history buff. “Two totally opposite leaders that came together and they only lost one person in a two-and-a-half-year expedition to a place that no one they knew had ever been. That’s amazing.”

Hay’s fascination with Lewis and Clark qualifies her as a groupie, if there ever was such a thing way back in the days of early American exploration. She’s read extensively about the party’s adventures and her commitment to follow in their footsteps is impressive.

She researched a trail outside of town that the expedition traveled in late summer. The nine-mile route, which starts at Wagonhammer Trailhead, is rarely used and relatively unchanged by the passage of time. She plans to backpack there overnight but first, the ladies need hats. Fur hats.

“They probably were sewing things together as they broke on the trail, like their moccasins and their buckskins and stuff like that,” Hay says.

The Salmon Outdoor School at the Sacajawea Center in Salmon, Idaho offers living-history classes. It’s an opportunity for modern-day man to live like Lewis and Clark. Hay and Ely are in the trapper hat class. They’re sewing by hand under the shade of a large tree before hitting the trail.

“People can connect with their past on a different level when they actually do something their ancestors might have done,” says Denyce Bigley, Salmon Outdoor School co-owner. “We all have a sense of adventure to get out and explore and that’s what [Lewis and Clark] did.”

The hour-long project of hand stitching fox fur to wool scraps actually takes the ladies five hours so they are way behind schedule when they get to the trailhead. It’s uncomfortably hot late in the day. Way too hot to hike wearing fur so the newly-crafted trapper hats are tucked away. Hay and Ely won’t need the extra warmth until well after dark. 

It’s also way too smoky, Hays is sure Lewis and Clark didn’t have a wildfire at their backs when they brought their horses through the dry, narrow canyon she’s in. Guaranteed they didn’t see a chopper sucking buckets of water out of the river and dumping it on the burning ridge.

Try as they might, Hay and Ely can’t replicate a day of living like Lewis and Clark even though they are in the exact same place as them at the exact same time of year. But it’s not the exact same year and that makes all the difference. Regardless of the rips in their replication, Hay is happy to be traveling the route once traveled by Lewis and Clark.

“Such a good adventure,” Hay says. “I’m having a great time.”

Story originally produced for Idaho Public Television.