To download the full 24-page report in PDF format, click
By Gene and Mollie Eastman
The Lolo Tail, named about 1850, is not a single trail, but a network
of trails, cut-offs and shortcuts also referred to as the Buffalo
Trail or "khusahna Ishkit". It includes trails used by
the Nez Perce for centuries and which were later used by Lewis and
Clark in 1805 and 1806 and the 1877 Nez Perce War Trail.
Of the approximately 140 miles of historic trail tread from Weippe,
Idaho to the eastern Clearwater National Forest boundary on the
Idaho/Montana State line, 121 miles is located on the Clearwater
National Forest. (This does not include the Lolo Trail on the Lolo
National Forest, or lost pieces of the Lewis and Clark Trail on
the Clearwater National Forest)
Lewis and Clark traveled on several different trail systems (1805-1806)
within the Lolo Trail corridor. . In 1866 Dr. Bird and major Truax
received a government contract to improve the Lolo Trail. They cleared,
widened and built 45 miles of new side hill trail.
In 1877 the Nez Perce pursued by General Howard used the Lolo Trail
with Bird-Truax improvements. The 1877 War Trail is called the Nee-Mee-Poo
Trail (Nez Perce Trail) (Ni mi pu Ishkit, or "The People trail",
spelling of the trail by the Chief Joseph Band, Nez Perce Nation).
In 1934 a road was built in a few places on the same historic location
of the old 1915 Lolo Trail. This road has had several names: Lolo
Truck Trail Road, Lolo Trail road, and presently the road is referred
to as the 500 Road or Lolo Motorway.
The Lolo Trail was designated as a National Historic Landmark on
the Clearwater and Lolo National Forests, October 9, 1960. This
was done because the Clearwater National Forest contains the longest
piece of intact Lewis and Clark Trail in the nation.
In 1965 the Lolo Trail was designated a part of the Nez Perce National
Historical Park (NPNHP) May 15, 1965 by the passage of Public Law
89-19. "The law specifies the Park was created to 'facilitate
protection and provide interpretation of sites in the Nez Perce
country of Idaho that have exceptional value in commemorating the
history of the Nation.' Specifically mentioned are sites relating
to early Nez Perce culture, the Lewis and Clark expedition through
the areas, the fur trade, missionaries, gold mining, logging, the
Nez Perce War of 1877, and 'such other sites as well depict the
role of the Nez Perce country in the westward expansion of the Nation.'"
Three sites of the NPNHP are: (1) Musselshell Meadows Camas Grounds
(site No. 22), (2) the Lolo Trail from the western Forest boundary
to the state line at Lolo Pass (site No. 23); and (3) Lolo Pass
(Site No. 24) are on lands managed by the Clearwater National Forest.
The Lolo Trail Park site includes the historic Lewis and Clark Trail,
Nee-Mee-Poo, Bird-Truax and the "khusahna Ishkit or the trail
to the buffalo. It also includes the Lolo Trail Road and campsites
associated with prehistory and historical accounts.
The Lolo Trail was entirely intact in 1907 when the Forest Service
took control of the land. The U. S. Forest Service has roaded
and logged 44 miles of trail since that time. Recent logging occurred
inside the corridor in 1994 on the Lewis and Clark Trail located
on Beaver Ridge. The Federal Agency has obliterated, abandoned
and has "opened up" (built new trail where none existed
- and labeled it historic) an additional 60+ miles of trail. Opened
up can be defined as building a modern recreational trail that
goes on and off the old historical Trail.
When trails are obliterated by roads and logging activity, they
are forever lost. It is similar to removing a historic building.
When trails are obliterated by rerouting, the historic values
are compromised and/or lost. This is similar to changing the character
of a historic building by modernizing its interior and exterior.
It would be like replacing the Great Wall of China with new bricks
and modern mortar in a slightly different location and tearing
down the old wall.
Several of the ancient parallel trails used by the Nez Perce have
not been defined or surveyed in the Lolo Trail System and the
history of the Lolo Trail has been incomplete. The same is true
for the varying locations of segments of the Lewis and Clark trail.
Rather than recognize all old trail tread in the corridor as of
historic value, the Forest Service has no clear policy on what
is to be protected and they seem comfortable with trail obliteration
and rerouting claiming the new trial segments are in fact the
The Forest Service has refused to do a complete survey of the
Lolo Trail systems (trail treads or paths). In 2000 Historical
Research Associates, Inc. (HRA) signed a contract to conduct an
archaeological survey which includes the recordation of trail
tread and associated cultural resource properties within the trail
corridor. After the contract was awarded, the Forest Service contracting
officer modified the contract: identification of trail tread was
deleted except for short segments going to and from a cultural
site such as pre-historical and historical campsites. The Forest
Service has not complied with Forest Service Manual 2361-22b 2.
Complete Survey of the Lolo Trail which includes the Lewis and
Clark Trail, the Nee Mee Poo (Ni mi pu iskit or Nez Perce) Trail,
the Bird-Truax Trail and the Lolo Motor Road. Since these trails
(archaeological sites) have not been properly identified or surveyed,
no Smithsonian numbers have been assigned by the Idaho State Historical
The Forest Service has not complied with Executive Order 11593,
also Title 36 CFR Ch. VIII, part 800, the National Environmental
Protection Act, the National Historical Preservation Act, The
National Trails Systems Act, The National Forest Management Act,
the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Archaeological
Resource Protection Act, the 1863 Nez Perce Treaty, the Clearwater
Forest Plan, and the directives contained in the USDA Forest Service
Manual (guidelines) for the management of cultural resources concerning
the Lolo Trail.
Concerns by Forest Service Archaeologist
Steven W. Armstrong, forest archaeologist commented on a segment
of the Lolo Trail, "Many sites on the Forest (including the
Assessment Area) were recorded from the office without any type
of field verification. . . The management of the resource, let
alone the Assessment Area, becomes nearly impossible, for you
cannot properly manage a resource or geographic area without fully
knowing all of the "on the ground" details of that area."
Milo Mcleod, Zone Archaeologist for the Lolo and the Bitterroot
National Forest Service in his management recommendations, McLeod
stated that to meet federal regulations, "The Lolo Trail
should be managed in such a way as to not create any long term
adverse impacts to the trail, its environment and the related
sites and/or features. Careful attention to project planning detail
will be essential so as to not sacrifice or jeopardize any future
management options for the Lolo Trail . . . It should be remembered
that the Lolo Trail and its related sites individually may appear
insignificant. However when they are viewed together they represent
a very significant part of our national, state and local heritage.
Not unlike other cultural resources, the Lolo Trail and its sites
are nonrenewable. Once a portion is damaged or destroyed it is
Given the lack of complying with the law and Forest Service directives
to protect the historic trails and our national heritage by the
US Forest Service over the past 44 years, and the outright destruction
of important portions or sites, we recommend that the Department
of Interior manage the historic trail corridor as part of the
Nez Perce National Historic Park. We also recommend that the Nez
Perce Tribe have a leading role in assisting National Parks Service
in their interpretation of the Lolo Trail and heritage sites. To download the full 24-page report in PDF format, click
We also recommend that the area be expanded to include all segments
of the Lolo Trail. By establishing a wilderness on both sides
of the Lolo Trail the necessary wilderness setting will be preserved
from future logging and road building.
About the authors, Gene and Mollie Eastman: We are trail
researchers for the historic trails of the Nez Perce and Lewis
and Clark over Idahos Bitterroot Mountains. We authored a book
titled "Bitterroot Crossing: Lewis and Clark Across the Lolo
Trail," published by the University of Idaho Library, where
we located the historic route using the Journals of Lewis and
Clark as well as going on the ground. This endeavor took several
years. At the same time, we have researched the other historic
routes in this area.
Gene Eastman is a retired Idaho Fish and Game Officer, and retired
from the Air force with ten years active service and sixteen years
with the Washington Air National Guard. Gene attended four years
of college at the University of Idaho, College of Forestry. Mollie
majored in History, and graduated from Ft. Lewis College, in Durango,
Gene and Mollie Eastman
4160 Four Mile Road
Weippe, ID 83553
Photo: Nez Perce National Historical Park,
courtesy of the National Park Service.