Snake River Salmon

And other fishy frontier delicacies enjoyed by our pioneers.


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“While travelling along the Snake River, father secured a fine, large salmon from an Indian, and we looked forward to a good feast at supper time.

There being no wood, the salmon was cut up and put in a pot hung over a fire of bunchgrass.... It was the first salmon we had ever tasted, and there is no doubt it was highly relished,” recalled 1852 Oregonian emigrant James Meikle Sharp.

Fish may not be what first comes to mind when you think about frontier fare, but fish was eaten more often than you might realize. Coastal Indians, pioneers who lived near lakes and Westward emigrants frequently dined on fresh fish.

Towns with water nearby offered locally caught items, while merchants sold landlocked businesses a variety of fish: smoked, tinned and in barrels. In 1872, a can of salmon cost 35¢, a box of oysters was 23¢ and a box of sardines cost 30¢. Mrs. Ford, who lived in Canyon City, Oregon, after the 1862 gold strike, remembered, “The stores used to keep huge barrels of pickled mackerel and salmon bellies. The fish was a real Sunday treat in the winter time.”

Store merchants all over the West advertised their fish offerings. On January 9, 1873, Taylor & Gilbert advertised in the Dakota Republican in Vermillion, Dakota Territory, “You can get White Fish, Mackerel, Codfish, Herring, Hake, Halibut, California Salmon, and also some of that nice Breakfast Codfish.”

Restaurants of the day reflected Victorian cooking trends. Regardless of their location, many restaurants offered specialties like Baltimore...

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