About May 22, 1843 one-thousand people left Kansas City toward new lives in the Oregon Country. Over the next 20 years more than 50,000 people would emigrate to a land considered the “Garden of the World.” Much of the journey was across the dry high plains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Near what is now Burley, Utah they came to the fresh water and good grazing of the Snake River, and would generally follow it for the next 300 miles.
At Huntington, Oregon the Snake turns toward the northeast. At this bend in the Snake they would camp for a while to rest and regroup before setting out on the route across the barren plains of eastern Oregon to join the Columbia river along the route now taken by I-84.
So they said “farewell” to the water and grass that had nourished them for the past months and thus this bluff where the Airstream is now parked was known as “Farewell Bend.”
Farewell Bend – Epilog
While the Snake River is indeed picturesque, it is not the Snake River of the 1850’s that the emigrants saw. It was a wild river going from dry to flood. Since that time government agencies have dammed the river in a several places to control the flow, and it is now a 70+ mile reservoir. In the past couple of years the level has dropped dramatically – 25 feet or more. The green island you see in the picture would be completely covered and the river more than a mile wide in this photo.
While the low level is partly due to a drought that has afflicted the high plains recently, it is also caused by the extensive farm irrigation in the 5 states. In western Kansas where irrigation water is pumped from wells, the water table has dropped dramatically and has been the topic of state and federal agencies. In Idaho, irrigation canals are dry. American farmers can feed the world, but there is a cost.