History Mystery for Feb. 1

Sherrin Ungren and Gary Conley contributed to this report.

Last week’s History Mystery, above, was scanned from a glossy print labeled “Seufort Fishwheel #3” from the archives of The Dalles Chronicle.

Gary Conley noted it looked like the one on the river just above where the Shilo Inn is now. At one time, there were 51 fish wheels on the river, but they were outlawed in 1927 and “that was the end of that,” he said.

According to Wikipedia, “A fish wheel, also known as a salmon wheel, is a device situated in rivers for catching fish which looks and operates like a watermill. However, in addition to paddles, a fish wheel is outfitted with wire baskets designed to catch and carry fish from the water and into a nearby holding tank. The current of the river presses against the submerged paddles and rotates the wheel, passing the baskets through the water where they intercept fish that are swimming or drifting. A strong current is most effective in spinning the wheel, so fish wheels are typically situated in shallow rivers with brisk currents, close to rapids or waterfalls. The baskets are built at an outward-facing slant with an open end so the fish slide out of the opening and into the holding tank where they await collection. Yield is increased if fish swimming upstream are channeled toward the wheel by weirs.”

A fishwheel can be viewed at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson, Wash.

The fish wheel has become a culturally-embedded tool for self-subsisting communities and Indigenous peoples of the Northwestern area of North America, and on the Columbia River there has been discussion of revising their use for their ability to live-catch salmon, allowing for retention of only hatchery-raised fish.

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