Blog Archives

The Freighter

Posted on by Billy Jim Wilson / Leave a comment

Early last spring, my youngest grandson, Jesse Shreve, and his girlfriend, Tracy Buchanan, rented a place north-northeast of Grangeville, off Lukes Gulch Road.

Looking at my Idaho Atlas and Gazetteer, I noticed another road going north from Grangeville, named “Old Stites Stage Road.” A light went on in my head—this must be the route my maternal grandfather, William Ellis McGaffee, followed when he was hauling freight to White Bird and Slate Creek for the Salmon River Stores Company of Thomas Pogue. I don’t know just when he started freighting for Pogue, but in 1908 he already had been there for a while.

William E. “Billy” McGaffee was born near Ione, in Amador County, Calif., on November 17, 1879. He came with his parents and siblings to Grangeville in the summer of 1883, before he turned four. His father, John Sybile McGaffee, is reputed to have operated the first steam-driven thresher on the Camas Prairie. John Sybile bought a house on the north edge of Grangeville. Sometime in the late 1980s, before my mother, Murrielle McGaffee Wilson, lost her sight, she typed up for my brothers and me many of the stories she’d heard from her father. Here’s her account of how Billy got his early training to be a teamster:

When Billy was ten and Fred [his next older brother] was twelve, their father had just returned from a trip, and at breakfast the next morning he told them,‘There’s a team of black mares in the barn lot. They are yours if you can break them to work.’ The boys rushed out to the barn lot as soon as breakfast was eaten, and sure enough two young black work mares stood with halters on. They started working with the mares, currying, brushing, talking and, of course, giving them a little feed of oats. Continue reading

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Soaking in the Big 150

Posted on by Steve Carr / Leave a comment

Idaho Territory celebrated its 150th birthday this year. That’s not that long when you figure I’ve been here for most of a third of it.

Still, any excuse to celebrate, so the Idaho Legislature renamed the Senate Auditorium after the U.S. President who signed our territorial papers, Abraham Lincoln.

Lately I’ve been hearing Lincoln this and Lincoln that, so, I decided to get me some education about the man. Last month I spent some time in the Idaho Falls Public Library with the President, sans stovepipe hat. I have to say, he throws a pretty darn inspiring fireside chat. Frankly, he didn’t look much like the Abraham Lincoln portrayed on my nickel, and he sported a distinct Idaho inflection to his voice. But surely no one other than Honest Abe himself could have known as much about our 16th President, so I concluded that Dr. David Adler, a scholar of the American presidency, must have been channeling Mr. Lincoln from Presidents’ Paradise for the distinct and distinctly Idaho crowd.

It wasn’t his abundant knowledge of intimate details that really sold it for me, but the manner in which he interacted with the anxious audience. Regardless of the edge or angle of several soapbox statements disguised as questions, our “greatest” President graciously and tactfully responded, seguing from Tea Party to balanced repast without upsetting a single teacup. Who else but the man who saved the Union could have been so adept at negotiating such a varied and opinionated crowd? Continue reading

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Oh, So Close

Posted on by Laura McAnulty / Leave a comment

In the spring of 1939 my young and eager husband, Rex McAnulty, bought two lumber trucks on the strength of a contract to haul green lumber from a small family sawmill in the hills north of Mountain Home down to town some fifty miles away.

Like us, the sawmill owners were trying to pull themselves out of the Great Depression by their own bootstraps. Continue reading

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Spring Plumage

Posted on by Mark Winchester / Leave a comment

On a dark, quiet, shivery morning, I drive to a greater sage-grouse lek near Dubois from where I camped, sleeping in the back of my full-sized pick-up. The moon is bright, but I can still see a slew of stars above me. The moonlight reveals a sprinkle of snow glistening like diamonds that swathes the lek. The only sound I hear is frozen vegetation crunching under my feet. As I approach the blind, I’m thankful for the warmth of gloves, protective boots, and a down coat.
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Isabella’s Escape

Posted on by Herman Wiley Ronnenberg / Leave a comment

The author, a University of Idaho lecturer in history, published a book last year titled, Pioneer Mother on the River of No Return: The Life Of Isabella Kelly Benedict Robie. In the following edited excerpts from the book’s introduction and first chapter, reprinted with permission, he describes the inception of his project and provides a glimpse of his protagonist’s flight to safety with two of her children after the death of her husband in a skirmish as the Nez Perce War began.

My interest in Isabella’s life story began as an offshoot of my research on her close friend, Jeanette Manuel. Jeanette’s husband, John J. (Jack) Manuel, was the owner of the brewery in Warren. He was included in research I had completed for a book on the lives and businesses of all Idaho’s brewers. Finding the acorn of Isabella’s story, so to speak, involved a convoluted trail from the trunk of the oak. In October 2009, I published a brief synopsis of Isabella’s life story in Echoes of the Past, the journal published by the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude’s Monastery near Cottonwood. Shortly after, Deborah Starr of Orofino contacted me to say she was a great-granddaughter of Isabella and had a great deal of research material to share.

Isabella shared fifteen years of her life with her friend Jeanette. They were the co-belles of the ball in Florence, at a dance celebrating the new year of 1863. In June 1877, Isabella was the last woman to see Jeanette alive. Isabella, however, had a long life ahead when the Nez Perce War ended that autumn. She had five children with Samuel Benedict, and four more with her second husband, Edward Robie. Her descendants made enormous contributions to Idaho and the Northwest over the last century-and-a-half. Isabella’s story helps us remember the sacrifices and the values that enabled the first generation of Idaho pioneers to stay and build a new culture. Above all though, it is a marvelous human adventure story. Continue reading

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Posted on by Rachel Gattuso / Leave a comment

The morning is so cold I see vapors rising from an irrigation creek on my left as I drive through Filer on my way to Twin Falls. Though the sun rose thirty minutes ago, the clouds shroud direct sunlight. A line of trees leading to a house approaches on the right and the veiled sunlight casts eerie, frozen rays through the bare, dark branches. Like I do every time I drive by this hauntingly beautiful scene, I chastise myself for not bringing a camera.
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The Emmett Eliminator

Posted on by Brian D'Ambrosio / Leave a comment

Homer supposedly once said, “Art obtains the prize.” This doctrine has endured in boxing with some noteworthy exceptions, as in 1952, when Rocky Marciano slugged his way through the crafty Jersey Joe Walcott. Smart fighters typically find a way to win.

Yet a successful fighter sometimes emerges who doesn’t think the least bit in the ring. Such a fighter swears off the scientific approach, and simply hammers his opponent. He doesn’t consider himself a student of boxing, and makes no claims to boxing as an art form. For sixteen years, Emmett’s Kenny Keene was that type of fighter.

“I was no boxer,” Kenny told me during our lengthy phone conversations, which began when I was conducting research for a book about another boxing champion, Marvin Camel. “I was not skilled. I plowed ahead. I may not have been a great boxer or puncher, but I was a good, small-town guy who always plowed ahead.”

Plowing ahead is a bit of a euphemism. Kenny Keene fought with unprotected abandon. Inside the ropes, he was a workmanlike brawler, a straightforward machine who was often impervious to pain and virtually impossible to knock out. His bravery took the form of being able to resist blows that other men could not stand. Those traits contributed to his appeal among Idahoans and fans beyond the state. My grandfather and I were always ecstatic to see Kenny Keene and his crowd-pleasing punching on television’s now-defunct Tuesday Night Fights.

Boxing is a brutal, unforgiving sport. People “play” baseball and basketball, football, tennis, and golf. No one “plays” boxing. Fighting is not a pastime. It takes a certain aptitude, both physical and mental, to endure. Kenny had the fighter’s sense of endurance. Continue reading

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On Slick Rock

Posted on by Mark Weber / 1 Comment

Twelve miles east of McCall, hidden in the folds of the Salmon River Mountains, lies one of Idaho’s most coveted long-climbing objectives—the thousand-foot-tall sweep of solid granite known as Slick Rock.

Here on a sunny summer day in 1967 three local climbers, Harry Bowron, Jim Cockey, and a man named Dorian (whose surname the others could not recall), set out to scale the imposing east face of this monolith. In a landscape where mountain peaks scrape the sky, deep valleys rend forested slopes and crystal clear streams tumble over boulders, this colossal swath of granite rises almost a fifth-mile and stretches nearly a half-mile in breadth.

In the nearly half-century that has passed since this first ascent of Slick Rock, the adventure and climbing experience remain much the same. On a morning in July 2011, the sun is shining brilliantly overhead as we hike the hillside that leads up to the wall. The rushing stream in the valley below echoes off the surrounding slopes, while the trail splits a thick carpet of wildflowers and verdant shrubbery. Two of our party of four have been here before, while the others are making their first pilgrimage to a “big” climb.

A gentle breeze sweeps through the towering pine forest, rustling branches, and I sense a few butterflies also rustling in stomachs. From this vantage, the sea of granite that looms above is intimidating if you have never been on a big route before.

The upper two-thirds of the wall are punctuated by three staggered, ascending cracks that split the pavement of solid stone for more than six hundred feet. These “triple cracks” seemed to provide a logical path to the summit for the first ascent party. In the late Sixties, the only reasonable possibility for protecting a climbing team on Slick Rock’s blank and seemingly featureless terrain was pitons hammered directly into these fissures.
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Hard Knox

Posted on by Evan Jones / 1 Comment

In search of the ghost towns of central Idaho, I have spent a lot of time over the last ten years driving down gravel forest roads, fording creeks or boggy pastures, slipping through the snow, putting my four-wheel drive vehicle to the test.

My wife and kids have grown to love these trips as much as I do, though they may tell you differently. They might joke about the time I got us stuck in Florence and had to leave the women and children with the reintroduced wolves while I got a ride back to town (for three hours) to get a big enough 4WD to pull us out.

They might complain how their backsides often hurt from riding down rocky paths all day long, or recall the time we had to change a tire on a rocky, steep incline (in the rain) on the way to Yellow Jacket, but I think they also would have to admit that these are unforgettable memories.

One year, we camped in McCall and the next day drove on back roads toward Roosevelt, in the very remote Thunder Mountain mining area. After the mining in Roosevelt slowed down, a mudslide on May 31, 1909 blocked Monumental Creek and turned the town into what it is today, Roosevelt Lake. By then, only a few year-round residents remained, and they left. I’m told from the shores of the lake you can see the logs from buildings, and on a clear day you can see outlines of the structures on the bottom.

This intrigued me ever since I found out about it some time ago, but I didn’t account for how long it would take to get there. Before we made it to the lake that day it started getting dark, and we grudgingly turned back to camp. Continue reading

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