Treasure Hunters Destroy Idaho’s Historic Oregon Trail Ruts

By Adam Cotterell

The Oregon Trail passed through Idaho for hundreds of miles a century and a half ago. In some places you can still see the ruts from the wagons that brought people west. Now vandals have damaged a section of the trail in Idaho. Authorities don’t know who did it.
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Last week archeologist Suzann Henrikson drove a local historian and a local Boy Scout leader out to see a well persevered part of the Oregon Trail near the Snake River. Henrikson works for the Bureau of Land Management in Burley. She and her guests found something unexpected, “hundreds and hundreds of holes dug directly in the corridor of the trail, the ruts themselves. It’s just ghastly.”

Henrikson says people with metal detectors likely visited the site in hopes of finding valuable artifacts. 

She’s been expecting something like this to happen for a long time. Former pro-wrestler Rick Savage hosts a show on cable channel Spike TV now called Savage Family Diggers.

That show and its less explosive cousin on the National Geographic Channel, Diggers, feature people with metal detectors digging up historic artifacts and selling them. Henrikson says ever since they came out archeologists on federal sites have been dreading what has now happened in Idaho. Archeologists had even spoken to the shows’ producers.

Henrikson: “We’ve told them that we’re very concerned about the messages being sent in these programs, you know that there’s profit to be had.”

Henrikson says she wouldn’t be surprised if vandalism like last week’s becomes more common. The National Geographic Chanel and Spike TV did not immediately respond to requests for interviews. Meanwhile, a BLM special agent is looking for the people who took their shovels to the Oregon Trail. Henrikson says those people might have found some coins, or jewelry or silverware but probably nothing worth more than 50 dollars. And for that she says, they committed a felony.
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