I met Harry Guleke on page 439 of River Horse and became immediately fascinated by him. Any man who had the motto, “Until a man is afraid, he’ll be all right,” is someone I would like to know, but Harry was born in 1862 in New York State.
He left New York in his late 20s intending to become a fur trapper and never looked back. There is not much about him on the internet, a fact that would probably delight him if he were still around. Guleke died at the age of 81 and is said to be the first non-native Caucasian to descend Idaho’s Salmon River, usually called The River of No Return. By 1890 Harry Guleke was in Idaho to stay and working with miners as The Salmon River was becoming his lifelong passion. He proved it to be a navigable river and never tired of introducing people to what he eventually called his river. He developed a boat yard in the town of Salmon. The word captain became attached to his name, but I could find no record of military service. More than likely it was an honorary title that derived from his becoming the captain of a river fleet that provided the wildest boat ride in America. He made at least 200 trips down the Salmon River, a 425 mile experience if you sail the whole thing. The best part has many rapids, a swift current, and serious navigation difficulties in many places mostly west of the town of Salmon. This is still a notable wilderness experience that takes floaters through a gorge deeper than The Grand Canyon. Traveling up The Salmon is especially hard, but Guleke did it. It became his habit to take his scow, a boat that could be 30 feet long, down the Salmon River to Lewiston, ID where he would sell it and then travel back to the town Salmon.
Ruth and I have been to the Salmon area where Sacajawea was reportedly born. It’s a town of about 3,000 and the largest population center in this part of Idaho. In the summer there are more tourists than locals here. We have traveled south on 93 along the upper Salmon River to the Sawtooth Wilderness area, the loveliest part of Idaho. On 93 we saw Big Horn Mountain sheep lazily standing in the middle of the highway.
If you want to read more, check out “Montana & Idaho Dips & Curves” written on 9/13/16. We get to Idaho about once a year and have explored much of this state. Harry Guleke, however, remains pretty much a delightful mystery.