Henry Jemmett and the waterway engineers
[Reprinted from original]
Henry Jemmett had a variety of interests; fishing, hunting, baseball, and music among them, but the interest that seemed to best define Henry and drive his awareness of the natural world was beaver trapping.
Henry and his brother George started trapping when they were about nine years old. This activity allowed the boys to develop outdoor skills and provided them with extra money. Little did Henry know that this experience would translate into a job some 19 years later when, in 1946, he went to work for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a beaver trapper.
Long before that, Henry developed a deep appreciation for nature’s waterway engineer. He believed the beaver formed a nucleus within the landscape that attracted many species of wildlife including deer, waterfowl, mink, muskrats, coyotes, and bobcats, and enthusiastically described the excellent fishing found at beaver dams.
Up until Henry was 14 or 15, in the early 1930s, beaver were very scarce in the Blackfoot River country. Henry wrote that his dad remembered two trappers that almost wiped out the beaver in this area. Henry said that by the early ‘30s beaver started to again appear, slowly at first and then he and his brother George began to see more and more signs while exploring the area’s streams. Eventually beaver became so numerous that a caretaker trapper was assigned to this part of the state to control beaver numbers.
Henry became the caretaker trapper in 1946. Caretakers were given a percentage of the selling price of the pelts. The pelt allotment to the caretaker was 68 for the stretch of the Blackfoot River that extended from Government Dam to the mouth of Wolverine Creek, including all of the river tributaries. This allotment was increased in 1949. Henry said that besides the living that his job provided “the fringe benefits were wonderful” because they included a life in the outdoors. From the 1946-47 winter through the 1956-57 winter Henry reported trapping 1,717 beaver along the Blackfoot River and its tributaries.
Henry didn’t just trap beaver for their pelts. In summer, he live-trapped beaver for restocking other areas of the state. As an example, he live-trapped 14 beaver in 1958 for restocking the Salmon River watershed.
Henry trapped beaver, transplanted beaver, and even explored the culinary qualities of beaver. Henry had heard tales of how old-time trappers relished beaver tail, or as Henry put it “the part of the beaver that entered the water last.” He wondered, though, why these old mountain men didn’t sing the praises of the rest of the beaver as table fare, meat Henry described as fine-tasting, juicy, and edible. Henry set out to investigate this mystery of the mountains. He concluded that anyone taking the time to prepare beaver tail for the pot would “surely starve to death” because the tail only offered a piece of bone and gristle covered by a scaly hide.
Most of Henry’s work took place during winter, hiking and snowshoeing throughout his area. This meant Henry had to carry a heavy backpack. After his trapping allotment was enlarged, Henry reported that it was usual for him to make a 35-mile trip carrying a backpack weighing 90 pounds. One of his regular trips was walking from Chesterfield Cow Camp (about 4 miles upstream from the Blackfoot River along Corral Creek) to Rawlins Creek and then downriver to his home at the mouth of Cedar Creek.
Henry was clearly a skilled outdoorsman with a deep understanding and appreciation of nature. I wonder what he would think of today’s outdoors people that are so heavily dependent on ATVs and all kinds of technological gizmos?
More on Henry in weeks to come.
Jack Connelly has lived in Bingham County for the last 42 years. He is an avid outdoorsman and has hiked, camped, hunted, and fished over much of the U.S. as well as parts of Europe and Asia. Connelly worked as a biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years. He now enjoys retirement with his wife Cheryl raising chickens and bird dogs at their home in Blackfoot.