A History of the Three Island Crossing Reenactment
By Dale Smith
The Three Island State Park was dedicated in 1971 mainly due to the efforts of one man, an early day pioneer, Frank Clark. In 1986 a group of local residents decided to re-enact the crossing of the Snake River much as the pioneers of 150 years ago had done. (First known crossing by the pioneers was in 1843). Wilson Steen, a long time resident of Glenns Ferry, who was also a State Senator, led this re-enactment effort. Even that first year Senator Steen worked closely with Jim Juker, Idaho Power area representative, to have the water level lowered in the river precisely at the time of the crossing – 11:00 AM. Sixteen horseback riders, two “Indian maidens”, and two pack mules planned to cross. Everything went well until the riders entered the water from the third island. They were immediately in swimming water with a current so swift that the horses couldn’t swim and some went across without riders. One short legged mule “Conrad” owned and led by Roy Allen was partially across when he saw the trouble ahead and broke away from Roy and swam back across to the south side of the river where he ran along the bank heading upstream. By then everyone else had made it safely across to the north side. Conrad, realizing at this point that he had been left all alone was causing quite a ruckus braying and running up and down the bank. Finally, he just jumped in the river and cheered on by the crowd WALKED across alone. Conrad had found the perfect place to cross! Participants in the ride were Juanita Steen and Rita Folkman the Glenns Ferry Indian Maidens; Lester McAnulty, Wilson Steen, Ralph Gluch, Don Carnahan, Jim Martell, and Rick Blakey from Glenns Ferry; Rex McAnulty, Hagerman; Jim Steen, Losteen, Oregon; Harold Tews, Hammett; Roy and Jim Allen, King Hill; Vern Gillespie, Mountain Home; Vance Butler, Bliss and Dan Butler, Buhl. Jet boatmen were John Shrum, Bob Cunningham and Larry Smith. EMT’s in the boats were Donna Thompson and Harold Southwick. One horse drowned and three riders were injured and required medical attention in this crossing. The quick thinking of the boatmen, and EMT’s helped prevent any other serious incidents.
The second crossing in 1987, again with saddle horses, following the route established by Conrad the mule, was completed without any problems.
About a week after the 1987 crossing, Wilson Steen talked to his good friend Bud Allen from King Hill and they became convinced that for the next year, crossing with a wagon would be a grand idea. (It had already become a yearly event!) Bud contacted a family relative, Morris Hamlin in Missouri about building a wagon that could be used to ford the river. (Unfortunately Wilson Steen died in December of 1987. The 1988 Crossing was dedicated to his memory). The wagon arrived in King Hill on August 9th with the crossing scheduled for the 13th. It was absolutely beautiful!! The craftsmanship was superb and to top it all off it was painted a bright red with white pinstripes and a black under-carriage. The cost was $3500. After putting this beautiful wagon in the river for a couple of practice runs only two modifications were made and it was ready to go. Hooked to Bud Allen’s wagon were his team of horses “Barney Bigfoot and Chucky Do” with Morris Hamlin in the passenger seat. Those on horses for this third crossing were Jim Martell, Andrea Martell, Bodie Ponton, Juanita Steen, Erv Hoagland, Fran Blackwell, Hank Severeid, Rick Allen, Buddy Allen, Jodie Allen, Roy Allen, Jim Allen, Vern Gillispie, Don Barnhill and Harold Tews. Terry Parish provided about 2500 spectators with a narration of the history of the crossing and announced the actual re-enactment as it unfolded.
This crossing by Bud Allen was the first known crossing of the Snake River at the Three Island Ford by a wagon and team of horses in almost 150 years.
The following year Jim Martell and Don Barnhill purchased additional wagons and went with Bud Allen to Missouri to get them.
The most important position in a wagon train is the Wagon Master. He is responsible for the safety of the entire population of the group. Safe river crossings were probably the most critical part of any wagon train’s travel. Bud Allen was Wagon Master from 1988-1993; Marv Wootan from 1994-2002; Dale Jeffrey 2003-2004; Marv Wootan 2005 and Roy Allen 2006 – 2007, J.T. McCallum 2008 to present.
Critical to any safe river crossing is the depth of the river. From the very first crossing, Idaho Power has been a partner with the Three Island Crossing Committee in controlling the levels of the river to ensure the most safe crossing possible.
The 1989 crossing was dedicated to the memory of Hank Severeid, a former editor of the Glenns Ferry Pilot and correspondent at the South Idaho Press. Despite being paralyzed from the waist down, in 1987 and again in 1988 he crossed on a horse led by Roy Allen. It was an ordeal for Hank to ride the one and a half miles down to the river. He had no grip in his legs and could only sit and try to maintain his balance by holding the saddle horn with both hands.
Over 9000 people attended the 1990 Crossing, recognizing the State of Idaho’s Centennial Celebration. A rededication of the Oregon Trail Monument was made in the Park on Saturday morning with dignitaries such as Governor Cecil Andrus attending. Dorothy Nichols and Joan Shrum led the community choir and MHAFB provided an honor guard. The Glenns Ferry Masons served breakfast to over 750 people. During the Crossing the crowd was treated to a mock battle between a “Calvary Unit” led by John Frank and Kip Drewrey and a band of “renegade Indians” led by Jack Anderson. Following the Crossing a barbeque meal organized by Liz Gluch from the Glenns Ferry Chamber and Dale Klitz from the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce was served to over 3500 people.
Highlight of the 1992 Crossing was the first crossing using a team of oxen. They were owned by Marv Wootan and pulled a wagon driven by Don Barnhill. During the summer of 1992 there was also an Idaho wagon train that commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail. This wagon train traveled across the State from the 25th June to the 27th July stopping at the Three Island State Park on July 18th and 19th.
An estimated 5000 people attended the 1993 Crossing. This was a celebration of 150 years since the mass immigration of pioneers had begun crossing in 1843. It was also the first year that a 32-foot replica ferryboat carrying several passengers and a team and wagon moved slowly across the river. Daryl Keck was the ferry pilot. A special passenger aboard the ferry was Joanne Spalding-Stacy, a great-great niece of Henry and Eliza Spalding. Eliza Spaulding and Narcissa Whitman made the crossing on horseback in 1836. These two missionary women were the first white women to cross the North American Continent and the Snake River years ahead of the Oregon Trail pioneers. Keck, Bud Allen, Buddy Allen, Marv Wootan, Jim Thomas, Lee Mowery, George McElfish, John Franks, John Brubaker, Jack Pruett, Ron Crane, Ron Mort, Nathan Mort, Tom Lanham and Jim Schrader built the ferry over four nights. Ten hot air balloons kicked off the activities in the morning. Park visitors were entertained throughout the afternoon. Joyce Bagsley-Hunsaker portrayed “Fanny” in a pioneer saga of a woman’s changing roles on the Oregon Trail. This was also the summer when a wagon train met a steam engine train near Clover Creek just north of King Hill. Governor Cecil Andrus and his family were part of the wagon train. Emmy Lou Harris & the Nash Ramblers entertained a crowd at a Friday night concert.
The 1994 Crossing was the first year that residents of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation participated. This was also the Second Annual Independent Wagon Train trip (July 22-24) to Bennett Mountain. Wagon Masters were Bud Allen of King Hill and Tom Hall of Bruneau. The wagon train was organized as a fundraiser for the proposed Oregon Train Interpretive Center and it did raise at least $5000. The train traveled 27 miles during the two-day trip with 2120 people representing seven states. Fourteen wagons started out on the trip.
For the 1995 event there were again thousands of people present. It was narrated by Bev Stone while her husband artist Gary Stone drew sketches of the crossing. The sketches were later auctioned to raise money for the Three Island Crossing Interpretive Center. Bud Allen loaded a wagon onto the ferry to cross. The river was high for the Crossing but led by Marv Wootan all people made it safely across. During this Crossing there was an important aspect: a Treaty Ceremony by the Duck Valley Indians with spokemans Terry Gibson. Gibson explained that the 1860’s was a “treaty era”. He also noted, “A treaty created at Bruneau in 1866 was never ratified. “But”, he said, “the Native Americans still feel that even though not ratified, that treaty should be honored today. It was a treaty of peace and friendship,” he said. Explaining, “We want to take our part to educate, while upholding our culture heritage.” As tribal officials took the parts of their ancestors, Wagonmaster Marv Wootan represented “the White Father”.
The 1996 Crossing was dedicated to the pioneer women who traversed the Oregon Trail between the years 1843 and 1866. More than 350,000 emigrants would eventually travel along the Oregon Trail and over 50,000 would navigate the Snake River at the Three Island Crossing. Eight area women were honored for their part in re-enactments at the Three Island Crossing. Four who had crossed were recognized: Jan Hall (1994), Carole Clark (1990, 91 and 92), Karen Frank (1991, 92 93 and 94) and Juanita Steen (1985, 86, 88 and 89). Not present at the crossing but also recognized were Fran Blackwell, Nancy Montgomery, Rita Folkman Gillespie and Carlene Alschlager. This was also the year that the drawing was made for the winning raffle ticket for the Oregon Trail Home. This was a home built entirely through donations of money and labor as a fundraiser for the proposed Three Island Interpretive Center. The winners of the home were Bob and Judy Hoover of Mountain Home. As a note, Bob was a descendent of the famous Ezra Meeker who traversed the Oregon Trail as a young man and then chose to make a return trip some 50 years later at the age of 76 making speeches along the way encouraging preservation of the trail.
The Shoshone-Piute tribe from Duck Valley led the 1997 Crossing. Dressed in full regalia Terry Gibson, Reggie Sope, Buster Gibson, Tyrel Atkins, and Ed Horn guided outriders and wagons across the river. Ted Howard, Cultural Resourse Director for the Shoshone Piute welcomed visitors to the event. Another highlight was an exhibit led by Lerry Heath showing the life of mountain men. He gave wonderful talks telling about how the mountain men lived in this country. Senator Dirk Kempthorn was one of the servers in the barbeque line.
The 1998 Crossing was exciting and also a little scary as the swift currents overturned two wagons. Several passengers were thrown into the river including Congressman Mike Crapo, Dr. John Bideganeta of Mountain Home and exchange student Paul Ulianov. All said they found the experience more thrilling than frightening. The ground breaking for the Three Island Crossing Interpretive Center took place on the 8th of August with Governor Phil Batt in attendance.
In 1999 Dale Jeffery’s wagon had a bit of trouble due to high water and river moss. The quick reaction by the Elmore County Sheriff Department rescue workers prevented any serious injuries. For the first time in 14 years organizers used radio to advertise the event. During the Crossing radio station KMXM out of Twin Falls did live transmissions during the crossing and other events of the day. Claudia Morrison led this effort.
On 14 July 2000, The Oregon Trail Education and History Center was opened. Guests included: Gov. Dirk Kempthorn, former Govs. Phil Batt, Cecil Andrus and John Evans. The actual crossing had an estimated 3500 people attend. There was a 5K run and a 10K walk/run prior to the crossing. This event was led by K.C. Duering. A wagon pulled by mules and driven by Tom Hall Sr. loaded onto the ferry. Vern Gillispie of Mt Home rode shot gun. Five wagons and 30 horse back riders attempted the crossing. One wagon driven by Larry Smith of King Hill went over in the rapid water.
For the 2001 Crossing only 1 of 5 wagons successfully crossed. Marv Wootan with his steady oxen Jake and Jack. A delay in the Ferry crossing was caused by a broken cable..
The Crossing in 2002 was at 5:00 P.M. A lot of river moss clung to axles of the 4 wagons that crossed. The crossing was led by Lloyd Jeffery and Julie Blackwell. Terry Gibson from the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe carried an American flag. Tribal member Reginald Sope also participated. His great-great grandfather assisted early pioneers who had crossed. Two teams of oxen were used by Dale Jeffery and Marv Wootan. Cinamagic, a filming company from Portland, Oregon filmed the crossing. The tape would be used as a 25 minute multimedia presentation for the “End of the Trail Museum” in Oregon City.
2003 – Despite higher than expected water levels and parasitic moss, all four wagons made it safely across. At age 73, Roy Allen was the oldest to cross. Dale Jeffrey was the wagon master as Marv Wootan had retired from participation. While many of this year’s riders and teamsters were veterans, Cheryl Bransford and Marvin Gregg of White Bird were new comers and prepared for the crossing by swimming their team across the Payette and Salmon rivers.
The 2004 Crossing was scheduled for 6:00 P.M. Two wagons and 10 riders successfully crossed. Dale Jeffrey’s oxen driven by Nick Moore of Montana brought the first wagon across. The next team was a pair of gray Belgians driven by Lloyd Jeffrey. Don Woody served as the pastor for the crossing.
Two wagons and over a dozen horseman and horsewoman participated in the 2005 Crossing. The crossing was delayed 90 minutes due to extremely high water levels. Lloyd Jeffrey drove a team of horses across and Wayne Wootan drove a team of oxen. The highlight of the crossing was the participation by riders Derrick Davis, National President of the Buffalo Soldiers who traveled to Glenns Ferry with Troopers Warren Burke and William Johnson from Atlanta, Georgia. They traveled over 2300 miles one way. Oliver Delcount, his wife Marie and son David from southern France also participated. Marie said the Europeans, especially those living in France, Germany and Beligum are infatuated with the settling of the American West. Appropriately outfitted in period clothing, the family fit perfectly with the crossing theme.
This 2006 Crossing was dedicated to Marv and Wayne Wootan who had died in accidents since the 2005 Crossing. Lloyd Jeffrey and his wife Julie were the only reenactors to cross in a wagon. The river was noticeably lower than in the past thanks to the efforts of Pam Pace and Layne Dodson of Idaho Power. Over 60 members of the Wootan Family were present for Crossing activities. Following the parade of wagons and equestrians on Friday night, a ceremony was held to dedicate a fire ring at the Three Island State Park in memory of Marv and Wayne. Steve Ratzlaff, Pastor of the Hammett Community Church led the dedication. Throughout the crossing, family members wore purple and blue corsages. Purple was Marv’s favorite color and blue was Wayne’s.
The 2007 Crossing had almost 1500 people in attendance. Because of sick horses and a lack of drivers, only one wagon crossed driven by Roy Allen. This crossing honored Bud Allen who was the first individual in 1988 to drive a wagon across the Snake River in almost 150 years The wagon Bud had purchased in 1988 was used in the 2007 crossing.. (See page one of this History). In 2006 the Three Island crossing Committee purchased a team of horses from Harold Ruby, of Wendell, Idaho. Roy Allen, working with Steve Ratzlaff, Michael Mitchell and Tom Hopkins began training the team in the spring of 2007. The team consisted of Barbara ( a seven year old mare) and her daughter Betty (3 years old). The week before the 2007 crossing Lloyd and Julie Jeffrey’s team became sick and they were unable to cross. On 11 August 2007 with Roy Allen driving and the team hitched to Bud Allen’s original wagon they crossed along with 8 outriders. This was the first time that Roy had driven a wagon across and the first time that Barbara and Betty had crossed as a team.
In 2008, JT McCallum took over from Roy Allen as the new Wagon Master. The Crossing Committee chose to honor Roy Allen for all of his efforts in support of the Crossing. 2008 would be the twenty first time that Roy had crossed the river. Two wagons were scheduled to cross with Lloyd and Julie Jeffrey’s wagon designated as the lead followed by Barbara and Betty pulling Bud Allen’s wagon and driven by Roy Allen. Unfortunately the week before the Crossing, Barbara became ill and died so again only one wagon crossed. Despite Idaho Power’s efforts to decrease the flow and water level, the river was still high and running fast on the morning of the Crossing. River moss which tangles in horses legs made the crossing even more dangerous. Lloyd Jeffrey, an 11 year veteran of crossings successfully brought his team of dappled Percherons across along with 9 outriders, including Roy on one of his mules. However, one rider on his mule, David Dineen, was not as lucky as the rest of the group. During the crossing he got separated from the rest of the group and drifted too far downstream and was swept away by the strong currents. The Elmore County Rescue Team and the Coast Guard Reseve did an outstanding job in rescuing David, but the mule was lost. Crowds for the Crossing were estimated at close to 1700 people. Dorothy Nichols received a special recognition from the Three Island Crossing Committee for all of her many years of hard work and dedication in providing entertainment for the Three Island Crossing event.
As an addendum: The Crossing has been dedicated to key people and has recognized special groups over the years but an event such as the Three Island Crossing could not happen without the support of many people. The ones who do the actual crossing may be in the spotlight but the success of the event is because of much planning, time, fund raising, hard work and dedication by many people who help in the preparation of all of the functions that go into a successful crossing. Besides those individuals already mentioned in the history we would like to recognize the following families, individuals, organizations, companies and government groups who have made this event possible:
Bud Allen Family
Roy Allen Family
Marv Wootan Family
Wes Wootan Family,
Lerry Heath Family & the Mountain Men
Wayne Wootan Family, Jim Martell Family
Rich and Connie Wills
John and Karen Frank, Honey Mowery
Cindy and Jay Wilde, Dorothy Nichols
Loyd and Julie Jeffrey
Dale and Vicki Smith
GF Chamber of Comm.
MH Chamber of Comm Glenns Ferry Moose
GF VFW Post 3646 Elmore County Fair Board, Three Island Seniors, Carmela Winery
Mountain Home AFB
GF Highway District
Elmore Cnty Sheriff Dept Local EMT personnel
Other riders not mentioned in the history who have made the crossing:
Phillippe Pairoux, Belgium
Will McFarland, Australia
**This may not be a complete list and is in no particular order. We apologize in advance for anyone or any group left off. Since this history is a work in progress the TIC Committee can easily add names. Please let us know of any additions.