In the 1800s, Southern Idaho was a major thoroughfare for emigrants headed toward Oregon and California in search of land and gold. Our rich pioneer history is still intact as hundreds of miles of authentic emigrant routes can be mapped across this region.

Photo © Jason LugoToday, several pay homage to those pioneer roots every June, during Snake River Heritage Days. While they’re not in search of land or gold, this new brand of Old West traveler is seeking to preserve a different kind of treasure: Legacy.

“It’s important to keep alive some of the traditions of our forebears. It makes you feel like part of a larger family when you experience some of the things your great grandfather went through,” says Jay Ward, coordinator of Snake River Heritage Days, which is in its fourth year.

These enthusiasts have pioneered an annual celebration of Southern Idaho’s heritage. The events begin June 2, when the wagon train gathers in Montpelier, Idaho, and embarks on a 17-day, 170-mile trek to Burley. The party is scheduled to arrive at the Cassia County Fairgrounds on June 19, kicking off a three-day festival, June 20-22.

Photo © Jason Lugo

The train makes its way through the beautiful Pasadena Valley in the King Hill area.

The festival’s activities will include a ride and shoot competition, art show, music, Old West melodramas, mountain man rendezvous, pioneer exhibits and horse shoe pitching contest. One of the main attractions will be the Chuck Wagon Cook-off, which could boast up to $10,000 in prize money. Authenticity is the name of the game, and cooks will prepare meat, potatoes, beans, bread and dessert, all cooked over a wood fire.

“Those were hard times without TV, without carving knives, without electric stoves,” Ward says. “You had to find an ax and chop a tree to start a fire and cook your meal. That was a part of life; they were things you just had to do.”

The Snake River Heritage committee’s goal is to pay tribute to those who pioneered Southern Idaho – perhaps the true “Crossroads of the West” – and to remember the great role this area played in developing our nation. Many of the proceeds are given back to the community.

Ward adds, “If we don’t remember where we came from, how are we going to have a sense of where we’re going?”

For more information, including Chuck Wagon Cook-off rules and registration, call Jay Ward, 678-0800.

Wagon Train: You can join the wagon train for the entire journey, a day, or just a meal. A limited number of seats are available, or bring your horse and ride along as an outrider. Call Jay Ward, 678-0800 or Lloyd Warr, 678-0385.