Nez Perce Creek…

September 2017
by dal…

 

Everyone who knows my name probably knows my search area. It has not changed a great deal in the past few years. I looked elsewhere when I first went out in 2011 and 2012. But since about 2013 I’ve concentrated on the greater Yellowstone area. That is not to say inside Yellowstone National Park precisely. But in the general area of Gallatin County, Park County, Yellowstone and a bit further north.

How come my area is so vast you ask…?

Well…I say…because I go where the clues lead me and there are many, many choices as I move along my path. It takes me time to explore all the possible routes.

I pointed out a couple weeks ago that I felt the poem is not unlike a mideveal labyrinth or maze. They are different from one another. Which one of these puzzle types has become more clear to me over time. I originally thought Forrest had designed a labyrinth. A long route that twisted and turned. The single path was simple to navigate…but long and twisty. Here is a two dimensional representation of a labyrinth:

Since then, I have decided that what Forrest has really constructed is a maze. A maze differs from a labyrinth in that a maze has many false doors. The route is not direct. Many choices have to be made along the path about which doorway to go thru.The problem with a maze is that you don’t know you have chosen an incorrect path until you’ve followed it to it’s dead end. Then you have to retrace your steps back to your last choice and try a different door. Of course it can be more complicated because the maze could be constructed with doors behind doors so the choices are exponential with hundreds of more chances to be wrong than right. And, of course, all the paths, all the doors look the same so it is sometimes not so simple to see that you’ve been in this same place before.

We’ve all seen mazes drawn out on paper as a child’s puzzle in a magazine or puzzle book. They look like this:

In the mideveal world mazes were often actual devices…physically constructed out of hedges or fences or walls. Garden mazes are sometimes used as plot devices in dramatic films and recently corn mazes have become fashionable around halloween.

Fortunately, with Forrest’s maze I can, at least see where I have been before. Each choice may look different but there are many to choose from. No path is a known winner in advance. You will not know if you have made the correct choice until you come to the end. If there is no chest at the end then somewhere along the path you went thru an incorrect doorway. But which one?

Forrest says there are nine clues. I think this means nine correct doorways. If I get to the end and there is no chest, how far back do I have to go to try again? In my case I go back to the last choice I had to make and try again from there. Once I have tried all those doorways without success I go back to a further choice and try again….and on…and on…

I think you can see why it takes so long to move through the possibilities…

Apparently I am bad at making choices.

Of course all this is based on the premise that I’ve selected the correct place to begin. If I have not done so then all I will ever have are some wonderful hiking experiences…which is okay with me. I would love to find the chest but not to the point of distress when I don’t . Locating Indugence is not the driving force behind getting out and looking for it.

Okay…so what is the driving force…

I’ll take you through my last attempt so you can see how this works for me.

My startiong point for many years has been Madison Junction inside Yellowstone Park.

Madison Junction, Yellowstone National Park – Where the waters of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers meet and where the Madison River begins. WWWH?

This starting place is based on a lot of thinking about “where warm waters halt” that I did over a couple years. I, like everyone, was bumping around in the dark about WWWH. I tried a few different things but none of them really clicked in my mind until Madison Junction. I feel good about Madison Junction and for the time being I am using it. But I also constantly consider what might be better…what Forrest really could have meant.. That is to say, I am keeping my options open even though I presently work from Madison Junction.

Since “where warm waters halt” is the place to begin it is certainly the most critical clue to identify. If I am wrong about where to start none of the other clues will lead me to Indulgence…but they do lead me on interesting adventures.

I had always felt that WWWH had to be a place of significance. It couldn’t just be another geyser or hot spring because there are thousands of those things in the RMs and as hard as I tried I could not make any single hot spring stand out above any other in the poem. There did not appear to be any identifying words or lines in the poem that would point to one hot spring over another.

I originally thought the Rio Grande River where the cold water springs start enriching it and making it viable for trout was a good place for WWWH. Those cold springs are common knowledge among fishers in that area. My first twenty or so searches began at that location around the place where the Rio Grande crosses into NM and they ended at various locations in New Mexico.

Frustrated with the places that I saw in NM, most beat to death by tourists and fishers, I felt that none met my criteria for a place Forrest would choose to be his last view on earth.

After reading the book again and again looking for hints I decided to look for a more prominent place as WWWH. I first saw Madison Junction while visiting the park to capture footage of grizzlys for a film project I was working on. Years later after being convinced that my place on the Rio Grande was not working out I was reminded about Madison Junction.  It struck me as a likely spot for Forrest to choose and to know about as WWWH.

I was also drawn to the Yellowstone area because of Forrest’s remark about Yellowstone being a “special” place to him according to a document that Tony Dokoupil read and wrote about in one of the very first stories written about the treasure hunt, back in 2012. And I was also interested in a location that met the criteria Forrest mentions while answering a question framed by mdavis19 about specialized knowledge required:

Q- Is any specialized knowledge required to find the treasure? For instance, something learned during your time in the military, or from a lifetime of fly fishing? Or do you really expect any ordinary average person without your background to be able to correctly interpret the clues in the poem? -mdavis19
A- No specialized knowledge is required mdavis19, and I have no expectations. My Thrill of the Chase book is enough to lead an average person to the treasure. f

To begin, there was signage at Madison Junction describing it as the place where the Gibbon and Firehole rivers both end and as the start of the Madison. This is an atypical geographic situation. Not unique, but not terribly common either. Often a lake might have two or more streams feeding it and one leaving it that takes a new name. But Madison Junction is not considered a lake. It is simply a basin where two rivers pour in and one leaves. The single caution that I have about the place being Forrest’s WWWH is that it is simply a human decision that the Firehole and the Gibbon end and the river that leaves this place is a new river called the Madison. Why didn’t those same men decide that the Gibbon joins the Firehole in this location and the Firehole continues? It’s a subjective opinion…made by early geographers in the area. Forrest did point out that a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Q- Mr. Fenn, Is there any level of knowledge of US history that is required to properly interpret the clues in your poem. 

A-No Steve R, The only requirement is that you figure out what the clues mean. But a comprehensive knowledge of geography might help.

Even more unusual in this scenario is the fact that both the Gibbon and the Firehole are “warm” rivers. Not at all cold as you might expect from a couple of mountain streams descending from higher elevations. They are both physically warm to the touch, comfortable to sit in. In the heat of summer they are often too warm for trout who have to escape up cooler side streams. These rivers are warm because they pass through geyser basins full of hot springs and other thermal events that drain into the rivers and heat them up.

The plural of “waters” might refer to the two rivers that halt in this spot.

Signage and descriptions of the curious geographic confluence at Madison Junction appear on visitor maps and brochures. It is a widely understood location for  the place where two rivers end and a third begins. All these rivers were mentioned in TTOTC. This was better than any hint I had for any possible WWWH location in NM. So I adopted it as my WWWH. I can assure no one that it is correct…and I may change when/if something better catches my eye. But for now Madison Junction is my place to begin.

Shortly after, I began my understanding of the poem as a puzzle…possibly a maze or a labyrinth, but certainly one or the other. I would have choices to make about words in the poem like “down” and “below” and “nigh”. The choices I made would lead me in specific directions. What I needed to do was try to decide how Forrest would think about these words. The book helped me some there too. I found other useful hints about Forrest and language in the video interviews and many stories he has given us. I paid attention but tried not to let the research take me deeper than I needed to be for my particular solution…

As stated, my WWWH is at Madison Junction.

Madison Junction- Gibbon enters from the right. Firehole enters from the south. Madison leaves to the left.

From that location I immediately have a decision between three routes…or three doors that I can use.

First, take it (the Madison River) downstream into the Madison Canyon and beyond toward Hebgen Lake.

or

Second, I can take it (the Firehole River) down (south) into the Firehole Canyon.

or

There is a third sketchier route but I can’t rationalize that one so I won’t discuss it so that you cannot accuse me of taking too big a bite of peyote.

So right off the bat my maze begins. I have two choices and must select one to try out. I tried the Madison first. I spent two years looking at that path for a hoB. The obvious choice is Hebgen Lake. A spawning area for Brown trout. Many hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks have considered this route. I have been uncomfortable with it from the start…Folks have examined the lake and all its tributaries and gone below the dam as far as Ennis trying to make this path work. It may be the second most popular search area, right after the Enchanted Circle in NM. Diggin Gypsy seems to have patented the search in this area. She’s been looking around there for  5? years now. What could she miss that I could find?

I managed to find an actual hoB above the lake. But it is an historic place and according to Forrest a knowledge of history is not required. None-the-less I looked for a year there. I could find things that encouraged me about meek and water high and heavy loads. I could even find a creek I could not paddle. But in the end, I could only find one convincing blaze and beyond that I could locate no chest..

So after two years in that area I retreated back to Madison Junction to explore another path. Heading south (down on a map) on the Firehole river and into the Firehole Canyon. Again, the hints and clues seem to work. I have two possible hoBs down this path. So the maze expands when I go in this direction. One choice is at Nez Perce Creek where the first Brown trout in the Park were stocked by the Army. More Brown trout…eeek.

Another is at Lower Geyser Basin where two fellows, one named Brown tried to stake out some land for themselves in 1870 so they could lay claim to the wonderful sights in that area and charge admission to see them. These fellows even started cutting fence poles in Firehole Basin. They were dissuaded from their entrepreneurial scheme by Nathanial Langford, a member of the Washburn Expedition who pointed out to them that the area would soon be a National Park and commercial holdings would not be tolerated.

Lower Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park

I liked this hoB…but in the back of my mind it seemed too esoteric and dependent on reading one small book written by Langford in 1870 titled “The Discovery of Yellowstone Park” . The account was nowhere else that I could find. Forrest clearly ruled out a knowledge of history would be required when he answered the question from Steve R. mentioned earlier.

So I began looking at other possibilities. But giving up on historical connections, in spite of the fact that Forrest had stated that US History was not needed….is difficult because I love to investiogate the history of the land where I stand at any particular moment…

I can sit down on a battlefield and imagine the battle. I can see individuals fighting for their lives. I can hear the sounds and feel the heat. I can smell the powder and hear the gun shots. It all plays out like a movie in front of me. It is an adrenaline rush. I can stand in a coulee in Washington and imagine the unimaginable mountain of water that poured out of the east to carve this thing I’m standing in thousands of years ago. When I pick up an arrowhead I can hold it tightly and imagine it being crafted . I can feel the breath of the individual carving it as I peer closer at his hands. History is intoxicating to me.

So, in June of 2017 when I visited the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park I was armed with the knowledge of what I believed to be three clues, and I was hunting for a fourth. I wanted to explore Nez Perce Creek as a possible “no paddle up your creek” but I also wanted to walk along it and see if I could conjur up the events that took place here. The history of the creek not neccessarily related to its potential as a clue…but interesting to me…Finding those connections alone would make the search delicious.

Confluence of Nez Perce Creek and Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park

There are many tales of fantastic human feats accomplished in Yellowstone. The tale that has conjured up the most interest from me has been the story of the Cowan group.

In 1877 nine tourists were camping in Yellowstone when 800 or so Nez Perce came through trying to outrun the Army and get to Canada. Mr and Mrs Cowan were two of the visitors in that group. The Nez Perce discovered their campfire one evening and raided them. The Indians decided they wanted the party’s supplies and horses. Mr. Cowan unwisely but heroicly objected. So they shot him in the head and left him for dead. They took the remaining eight tourists as captives, Mrs. Cowan, beside herself in grief, all their supplies and horses and headed northeast.

Miraculously Cowan didn’t die. The lead barely penetrated and flattened on his skull. He was knocked out cold. When he awoke he was all alone, no food, no horse and I imagine he must have had one helluva headache. But bad luck always comes in waves and later another element of the Nez Perce came by and shot him in the hip…and left him for dead again.

Tough guys, these Cowans. He survived and was eventually found by Army troops and treated by surgeons. He was later reunited with his wife and others in the camping group after the Indians let them go. He wore the lead slug that the Army surgeon dug out of his head, as a watch fob for the remainder of his long life.

In 1905 George and Emma Cowan pointed out the spot where George was shot and Emma was captured by the Nez Perce in 1877.

In 1905 the Cowans returned to the park to show historians where they were camping when they were raided by the Nez Perce. George Cowan lived into his nineties and Emma Cowan wrote an account of the story which is still available today.

Many, many years later descendents of the Cowans and the Nez Perce that were part of that event met together in Yellowstone to reconcile and to tell family stories. It must have been a fascinating meeting.

I was interested in following Nez Perce Creek as part of my pursuit of Forrest’s treasure but I was also interested in seeing if I could find the Cowan Group’s campsite from when they were raided. I had a copy of the 1905 photo of the Cowans that was taken in the spot they remembered as their campsite. So even if this path did not lead to the blaze and Forrest’s chest I was prepared to have some fun, explore and learn.

Nez Perce Creek

I have to tell you that if you are looking for a sweet hike in Yellowstone you couldn’t do much better than Nez Perce Creek. I parked in a pulloff on the loop road. Grabbed my camera and my photo and headed out. It was a magnificent day. Warm, but not too warm. I was in good spirit made even better by the day and the landscape and the purpose.

I spent most of the day walking that creek on its north side. I passed no other humans. Saw lots of birds and listened to more. The world was beautiful and I was exceedingly content.

Shooting Star along Nez Perce Creek

I get down on my hands and knees a lot when I am hiking with a camera because I love taking pics of wildflowers and ant hills and peculiar rocks.

In one wide spot along the creek I stopped to canvas the area. It felt warm and occupied. I could see no one else but I could sense that something had happened here. I could just make out a very old campfire ring near the creek and possibly…just possibly…old wagon tracks.

Was this the site where the Cowans had been raided? I took out the photo to compare. It was ambiguous. Possible match but not guaranteed. I went over near the ghostly mark of a campfire ring, got down on my hands and knees and started scouring the grass and dirt looking for something but I didn’t know what.

Under a small tree, perhaps uplifted by that tree over the years I saw a glimmer of white, no larger than a postage stamp. I reached for it. Picked it up and held in my hand a quite old piece of china. Possibly a piece from a broken dish or platter. Who brings china to camp? Civilized tourists in the 1800’s would have brought china. Emma Cowan could have brought china.

China sherd that I like to imagine is from one of Emma Cowan’s plates

A glass bead. Perhaps worn by a Nez Perce Indian during the raid

I did not dig. I only searched the surface. I looked for another twenty or so minutes and was just about to quit when I saw a second tiny flash of white about ten feet from where I found the china sherd. As I moved toward it, I lost sight of it. I spent another five minutes trying to recapture the location of it. I finally did. I picked up a tiny, oval shaped, pure white glass bead.

I sat right in that spot, facing the creek and looking in the direction that I imagined would have given the campers back in 1877 the most delight. Bead in my left hand and sherd in my right I imagined the Cowans, the camp, the Nez Perce, the gunshot, the fear, the anger. Like a John Ford film it all played out in my mind. Panoramic scenes on the stage in front of me. It was exciting. It was exhausting. It was fulfilling.

Lupine along Nez Perce Creek

I replaced the sherd and the bead and continued my movie.

I did not find a chest nor a blaze leading to one. At the end of the day I didn’t have any sense that I was even in the right spot for Forrest’s treasure but good god I enjoyed that hike…

dal-