HISTORY OF FOX CREEK
Fox Creek Farm was acquired by Seven Generations Land Trust from Wilfrid D. (Bill) Davis in 1989. The property was perceived by both Davis and Seven Generations to be exceptionally worthy of preservation because of the rarity of its healthy, high-desert, riparian habitat. Its relatively unspoiled condition was due to its purchase along with three other neighboring homesteads around 1900-1910, by the W.E. Baker family, maternal grandparents to Bill Davis. The Bakers lived here and grew peaches for almost half a century, until the 1950's. Idaho Power Company condemned the land and constructed Brownlee Dam and Brownlee Reservoir from 1955-1960, thus drowning the Snake River bottomland. The family retained the land above the high-water line. When Bill moved to Fox Creek in 1975, he completed acquisition of the lower riparian zone by buying the old Lum Davis homestead in 1985.
The oldest metamorphic bedrock underlying Fox Creek had its origin in late Paleozoic Era continental shelf sediments and is about 200 million years old. Thus, there are primarily loose, crumbly sedimentary soils. The steep, rugged topography currently seen in the Snake River Breaks is a combined function of uplift attributable to tectonic plate movement with the consequent massive erosion of the relative soft rock and soil. This is similar to the geologic process of the Grand Canyon, for instance, rather than the steep buckling of the Cascade Range. There is no evidence of glaciation on Lookout Mountain or in the Breaks.
In addition to the gradual erosion from the Snake River and its tributaries, a massive flood occurred about 15,000 years ago as one section of Lake Bonneville ruptured. The size of Lake Michigan, this lake covered the Salt Lake area of Utah and was draining north into the Snake River. One section of shoreline ruptured, sending a 400-foot-high wall of water (10 million cubic feet per second) down the Snake River Canyon.
Semi-nomadic Native American hunter-gatherers probably passed throughout this area for thousands of years but there is little trace of them in the deeper canyon bottom sediments. In more recent history, approximately 400 years ago, horses were reintroduced as transportation, rather than food to the Native Americans who had gathering places in the area as they began to use the ford at Conner Creek to cross the Snake River. Their stone tools have been found many places near the surface along the Snake and its tributaries.
In the days before the coming of the Europeans to the Pacific Northwest, the Native Americans forded the Snake River in the shallow waters between the mouth of the Conner Creek and the mouth of Trail Creek. This was the last fordable place above Hells Canyon, the next ford to the north being many days and many ranges away. The mouth of Fox Creek has many fine clear springs and has always been rich in fish and game and so it was the campsite, during high water, for countless generations of hunting peoples. There is rich evidence of campsite locations here, all of which are now below the maximum level of the Brownlee Reservoir but which are many times exposed during low water in February, March and April. Before the reservoir, these were strikingly apparent and a rich source of artifacts (Rynearson, 1998).
Early residents collected many of these stone tools over the years, including 'points', 'scrapers', grinders', 'hatchet heads', etc., most made of basalt or obsidian with a few 'finger tools' made of chalcedony. The tools are often found in distinctive dark brown soil layers associated with 'river oyster' shell deposits and obsidian ships and bone fragments.
In 1855 a treaty defined a 6.5 million acre reservation, including the Fox Creek watershed, but when miners discovered gold, the government reduced the reservation to 768,000 acres (and later reduced it further). Horses carried the entire Nez Perce band across the swollen Snake River. Several days later, the legendary flight of the Nez Perce began, lasting 1, 170 miles through the Northern Rockies until Chief Joseph surrendered 30 miles from the refuge of Canada (Palmer, 1991, p.219).
These reservation areas, later rescinded, are now considered "ceded" lands and are of particular interest to the Umatillas in their restoration and management activities. Fox Creek may be of particular interest. One unverified but persistent account states that the Shoshone-Bannok (Sho-Bans) and Umatillas, traditionally not allies, met at Fox Creek in the 1820's to plan together what to do about the European invasion.
In 1820-1830, rivalry between England and America prompted the British Hudson Bay Company to adopt a policy of extermination toward the beavers. According to Wilfred Davis, "This very successful genocide was the first great eco-catastrophe in the intermountain West.
When the beaver dams failed, the damage to fish and wildlife habitat can only be called catastrophic." (Davis, 1989)
"Two trappers took out 600 beaver pelts one winter from the headwaters of silver Creek and its tributaries in the southeastern part of the Ochoco National forest in eastern Oregon. With no beaver engineers left to take care of the dams the ponds disappeared. Grassy meadows built up by sub-irrigation died out. Instead of 15,000 tons of pasturage along the streams worth $3 to $5 a ton, the amount was reduced to a few hundred tons. Each year the water supply lessened. Good trout streams disappeared. Ranchers had to dig wells and pump water for their stock. Farmers lower down who had used the water for irrigation watched their ranches revert to a desert.
The trappers in one season cashed in their catch for $4,000 or $5,000. This may be compared to a continual yearly loss to stockmen of approximately $50,000. It has now run into hundreds of thousands. The proof is plain that a dead beaver may be worth $10 or $15, while a live one is worth $300." (Finley, p. 296)
From 1850 to present large scale grazing by open range livestock became common in the watershed. In the late 1800's and 1920-1950, in nearby areas, hydraulic mining seriously damaged a few watersheds. As far as can be determined Fox Creek has not yet been hydraulically mined although there are currently claims upstream of the trust properties.
In 1957-1969 the construction of three hydro-electric dams on the Snake River by the Idaho Power Company occurred creating the Brownlee Reservoir in 1958.
There was no provision made for maintaining the fish runs in the upper Snake River, thus they were eliminated.
Local legend has it that the next European Americans in Fox Creek were army horse wranglers who broke and cared for cavalry mounts in the 'box canyon' below the limestone cliffs for 2 or 3 years during the 'Indian Wars'. Miners most likely came to Fox Creek from Conner Creek in 1862-63, since placer mining was at a peak all over Baker County from 1863-66. The Conner Creek Lode was discovered by Eidelman and Wood in 1871, and lode mining operations began in 1872.
By that time there was a stage road over Sawmill Basin and down into Conner Creek, a wagon road up Sisley Creek and down Morgan Creek and other trails across the breaks, all leading to the Snake River bottoms and ferry across to Idaho. At Fox Creek there was a stage stop called Flick, and later the early Home Post Office. The railroad reached Baker City in 1886. By this time the Snake River bottoms and side canyons had all been claimed or homesteaded. The Speakes, the Flicks and a former Indian scout named Columbia Davis all had places in Fox Creek Canyon. J.S. Jellison had a tombstone making operation on Fox Creek at the base of the marble cliffs.
Sheep grazing in the late 1800's was followed by cattle grazing in the early 1900's, when the W. E. Baker family purchased the land (above).
We humans must take seriously the tremendous impact that has taken place on this ecosystem during the last 200 years since the European habitation. Responsible stewards of this land in perpetuity must consider the longterm consequences of their actions, not just for the next few decades or seven generations, but over hundreds and even a thousand years or more.
SOME HISTORICAL SITES AT FOX CREEK
Historical sites of interest in the watershed are:
1) The tombstone maker's operation and cliff house
2) Columbia Davis gravestone approximately 1 mile up Fox Creek
3) The Chinese ditch from Fox Creek to Hibbard Creek, built for the purpose of mining. It is currently in use at Fox Creek for irrigation
4) Old Flick (Home) Stage Station. This site is under water in the summer but is usually exposed in February, March and April
5) Home Post Office and General Store, now part of the tool shed and study center.