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Earl K. Parrott Research Collection / The Hermit of Impassable Canyon (with video)

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   Earl K. Parrott (1869-1945) was known as “The Hermit of Impassable Canyon.”  He lived in the Salmon River country of Idaho for more than forty years, many of which were spent alone in a remote cabin high above the Middle Fork.   A native of Iowa, he appears to have come to Idaho by 1900 and made his living by prospecting, hunting, and farming.  His name appears in local records occasionally until the 1920s, after which he appears to have lived a life of seclusion and obscurity as a hermit.  He achieved some unwanted publicity in 1936 when Dr. R.G. Frazier of Utah came upon him while part of a boating expedition down the Salmon River.  Frazier wrote of his encounter with Parrott in articles published in Field & Stream and the Salt Lake City Deseret News.  After that, Parrott was called upon by river rafting expeditions.  His brother Allen, of Portland, Oregon, read an excerpt of Frazier’s article printed in the Portland Oregonian.  Out of touch with his brother for decades, and unsure if indeed the character Frazier described was his brother, he hired a packer and made the long arduous trip into the Middle Fork country and saw Earl Parrott for the first time since he had come to Idaho forty years before. In 1942 Parrott became ill and left his mountain retreat to live with others.  He died in Salmon, Idaho, in 1945.  His grave marker records a birth date of 1865, and he gave conflicting figures whenever asked his age, but family records indicate Parrott was born in 1869.

             This small collection consists of research material about Earl K. Parrott donated by Diana Aher, of Wolcott, Vermont, a great-great niece of his.  Entirely in the form of photocopies, it includes census records, newspaper clippings about Parrott, and letters Allen B. Parrott wrote to his sisters-in-law in 1936 describing his visit to Earl Parrott.  These are photocopies of the original letters which Cort Conley quoted at length in a chapter on Parrott in his book, Idaho Loners: Hermits, Solitaries, and Individualists (1994).  Another clipping about Parrott, dated 1939 (not part of this collection) is included in MSS 142 , the papers of Cort Conley (Box 1, Folder 11).

                                                            --   Alan Virta, 16 September 2002


The Hermit of Impassable Canyon

Watch a clip from the show on Earl Parrott.



vintage footage of Earl Parrott smiling at cameraMile 88

Occasionally, the early boaters would catch a glimpse of the "Hermit of Impassable Canyon." Earl Parrott lived along the Middle Fork for about twenty five years, starting in perhaps 1917.

Parrott lived high above the Middle Fork at about 3500-3800 feet in elevation, in a hanging valley above Impassable Canyon. He built a series of wooden ladders that allowed him to scramble up and down the steep cliffs to the river.

vintage footage of Earl Parrott going down a ladder leaning against a cliffIn the summers he would pan for gold. "But most of the time he would have been up at his own place," explains historian Cort Conley, "tucked away out of sight and certainly encountered sometimes not for years at a time."

Conley called Parrott "the archetypal hermit, the genuine thing... And after the initial encounter people always remarked on his cordiality and his willingness to share the few things that he had. He would run up all those ladders a thousand feet to his vintage footage of Earl Parrott panning for goldplace just to get something -- fresh vegetables -- to give to the people who stopped and gave him in return something like salt."

Our program features the only known film of Parrott, shot in 1939. Earl Parrott died in the town of Salmon, Idaho, in 1944.

Not much remains of Parrot's stay on the river, but there is a beautiful veil falls in a grotto a quarter mile above the river.