After the discovery of gold in California, people went crazy…mad really for gold. For twenty years, in fact, all the West was mad for gold. People packed up their lives, and headed west, hoping to dig their fortune out of the California dirt. At first, the people heading west were mostly men, but there were families that went too. It didn’t really matter who it was, when it came to gold, people were willing to fight to the death for what was theirs, or for what they wanted. Greed was the word of the day, and it was a disease that everyone in California had.
The Gold Rush brought honest citizens and outlaws alike to California. People had to be on guard at all times. If someone struck gold, they were an immediate target for anyone willing to steal their gold, or even to kill for it. The mad rush for gold soon spread to other areas of the United States. The gold-hunters, no longer content with California, began to prospect lower Oregon, upper Idaho, and Western Montana too. They figured that if one place had gold, why wouldn’t another place have it too. And with the slightest discovery, came the craziness of Gold Dust Fever.
With Gold Fever came the sinister figure of the trained desperado, the professional bad man. The business of being an outlaw was turned into one highly organized profession that was relatively safe and extremely lucrative. There was wealth to be had for the asking or the taking, and these men, and sometimes women, were willing. Each miner had his buckskin purse filled with native gold. This dust was like all other dust. It could not be traced nor identified; and the old saying, ”’Twas mine, ’tis his,” might here of all places in the world most easily become true. There were no checks, drafts, or currency, as we know it now. The normal means by which civilized men keep a record of their property transactions, were unknown. The gold scales established the only currency, and each man was his own banker, obliged to be his own peace officer and the defender of his own property. It was a wild world. It was a world mad for gold.
With summer, and especially late summer, when things are beginning to dry up, comes an increased danger of wildfires. Add to that, an extremely dry spring and early summer, and you have a recipe for disaster. Such was the case in northwest Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana in 1910. There were a great number of problems that contributed to an over active fire season, and ultimately, the destruction that began on August 20, 1910, quickly became a firestorm that burned about three million acres…a full 4,700 square miles before it was over. The areas burned included parts of the Bitterroot, Cabinet, Clearwater, Coeur d’Alene, Flathead, Kaniksu, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, Lolo, and Saint Joe National Forests. The extensive burned area was approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. The extreme scorching heat of the sudden blowup can be attributed to the great Western White Pine forests that blanketed Idaho. The hydrocarbons in the resinous sap boiled out and created a cloud of highly flammable gas that blanketed hundreds of square miles, which then spontaneously detonated dozens of times, each time sending tongues of flame thousands of feet into the sky, and creating a rolling wave of fire that destroyed anything and everything in its path.
That summer had been described as “like no others.” The drought resulted in forests that were filled with dry fuel, which had previously grown up on abundant autumn and winter moisture. Fires were set by hot cinders flung from locomotives, sparks, lightning, and backfiring crews, and by mid-August, there were 1,000 to 3,000 fires burning in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and British Columbia. Then on August 20th, everything blew up into a firestorm. The firestorm burned over two days, August 20 and 21. It killed 87 people, most of them firefighters. The entire 28 man “Lost Crew” was overcome by flames and perished on Setzer Creek in Idaho outside of Avery. The Great Fire of 1910 is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, forest fire in United States history. It was commonly referred to as the Big Blowup, the Big Burn, or the Devil’s Broom fire. Smoke from the fire could be seen as far east as Watertown, New York, and as far south as Denver, Colorado. It was reported that at night, five hundred miles out into the Pacific Ocean, ships could not navigate by the stars because the sky was cloudy with smoke.
The fire actually started as many small fires. Then, on August 20, a cold front blew in and brought hurricane-force winds. The wind whipped the hundreds of small fires into one or two blazing infernos. The larger fires were impossible to fight. They simply didn’t have the manpower, or the supplies. The United States Forest Service…then called the National Forest Service…was only five years old at the time and unprepared for the possibilities of this dry summer. Later, at the urging of President William Howard Taft, the United States Army, 25th Infantry Regiment…known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was brought in to help fight the blaze. The most famous story of survival was that of Ed Pulaski, a United States Forest Service ranger who led a large group of his men to safety in an abandoned prospect mine outside of Wallace, Idaho, just as they were about to be overtaken by the fire. Pulaski fought off the flames at the mouth of the shaft until he passed out like the other men. Around midnight, one man said that he was getting out of there. Knowing that they would have no chance of survival if they ran, Pulaski drew his pistol. He threatened to shoot the first person who tried to leave. In the end, all but five of the forty or so men survived. Several towns were completely destroyed by the fire. The fire was finally extinguished when another cold front swept in, bringing with it, steady rain. Unfortunately, it was too late for the 87 people who lost their lives in the blaze. Memorials were placed in several of the fire areas.
For years, when I would research the Spencer side of our family, I continued to run into a woman named Alice Viola Spencer. I kept wondering how she fit in exactly. Early on in my quest for my ancestry, the relationships were a challenge for me. As I ran into her again and again, I learned that she was my great aunt…my grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer’s younger sister. She somehow seemed a bit out of place compared to the rest of his siblings. All the girls were ladylike and feminine, but Alice had a very regal style. I have often wondered what she might have been like, and I find myself wishing I had known her. I think I need to locate some of her grandchildren so that I can ask them about her.
Alice Viola Spencer was born in Mondovi, Wisconsin on May 5, 1884, and was married to Dennis Alburtice Dunahee in Ladysmith, Wisconsin on May 14, 1902. Their son, Bertie Raymon was born on Feb 19, 1903 in Ladysmith Wisconsin. At some point after Bertie’s birth, they moved to Dewey, Oklahoma, and in 1920 they would move to Twin Falls, Idaho, where Alice lost her husband on March 22, 1938. He was only 59 years old at the time of his death. By the time of his father’s passing, Bertie…who now went by Raymon, had moved to Los Angeles, California. I’m sure that having Raymon in California, and her husband Bert’s passing were the main reasons that Alice would leave her home in Twin Falls and move to West Covina, California, which is where she was at the time of her death, on December 11, 1944, at the young age of only 60 years.
It appears to me that Bert and Alice would only have one child, and that their son, would follow in their footsteps and have only one child as well…LuAlice Irene, who was born on December 5, 1930 in Twin Falls, Idaho. LuAlice would marry, Walter C Ball, and Alice would finally receive four great grandchildren. I’m sure that after two generations of only children, LuAlice and Walter’s children would be a bit of a culture shock…and not a bad one either. I can’t think of anything more fun than listening to a house full of giggling children. I wonder what Alice thought of all those little great grandchildren. I’ll bet it was the thrill of her life.
Travel these days is so common that we really don’t give it much thought at all, but travel or moving in days gone by, was a very different matter, or perhaps it is just that some things worry people of different ages more that other people, or shall we say older people. I was reading a story written by my cousin Raymon Dunahee, who is my Grandpa Spencer’s sister, Alice’s son. The story begins, “I slept soundly (I guess we all did) all night and woke up the next morning to find that I was still all there. If anything had carried us off during the night they brought us back before morning.” When I read that, it reminded me of some of the camping trips my family took when we were kids, and my sisters and I kept waking my dad up so he could put another log on the fire to keep the bears away…like that would have made any difference. As I read through the thoughts of a little boy as he embarked of an unknown, and maybe a little scary future, my thoughts turned to how different travel was back then.
As I read through the rest of his story, and the continuing mishaps they had, I could see why he felt a little apprehensive about things. The vehicle they were traveling in had a couple of “bum casings” and he was concerned that if the roads got bad at all they might end up stuck in a very desolate place. They were trying to make Kalispell, Montana that day, and they still had a hundred and twenty five miles to go. They were in the mountains when the rear tire blew. The spare was not good either, so they limped along the six miles to the next town and got a new tire. It was another forty miles to Kalispell, but they made it without further mishap and bought another tire there. The trip to Kalispell was a side trip to visit his grandparents before they went on to their final destination…Twin Falls, Idaho. During the visit with his grandparents, they decided to go on to Twin Falls, Idaho with them. The rest of the trip was filled with similar troubles and I’m sure that Raymon wondered if they would make it at all, and if he even wanted to go to this place when it seemed that everything was against their move as it was.
Then, to add to Raymon’s concerns, their trip started to become very slow going…not because of car problems, but because of fish problems. It’s hard to imagine that fish could cause such big problems, but they can for a boy who is really ready to get where they are going. It seems that over the next three days, they family only made twelve miles!! “How could that be?” you ask. Well, they were traveling in an area where there were lots of mountain streams, and every time they came upon another stream, the men wanted to stop and fish!! I don’t think they caught very many fish, but according to Raymon, there were plenty of mosquitoes, and he was really ready to be away from them. I’m sure he was thinking, “Let’s just go!!” And there was no reason to even ask, “Are we there yet?” because you have to be moving for that question to even make sense. In the end, they did make it to Twin Falls, Idaho, where they lived out their days.
In June of 1946, my Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris left Wisconsin, for points west. He had no intention of moving back to Wisconsin at that time. They weren’t sure where they wanted to settle, so they tried Idaho, Oregon, California, and Wyoming. Uncle Bill would have loved to stay in California…he said the warm weather suited him. Aunt Doris was homesick, and wanted to be nearer to her family. I can’t say for sure if it was totally Aunt Doris being homesick, or if it was my grandfather becoming ill, with the cancer that would eventually end his life, or a mixture of both. Uncle Bill has indicated the possibility of both being the reason for their return. It doesn’t really matter, but it is my opinion that Uncle Bill could not let his dad go through cancer by himself. I can relate to that quality in him, because I think I inherited it to a degree.
We never really know what events will transpire to change the course of our lives in an instant. We might be just living our lives, making plans for the future, or raising our kids, and then very suddenly we find ourselves in a position to step in when we are needed desperately. It is what we do with that call of duty that can make the difference between life and death for the person in need. Uncle Bill could not stay in Wyoming, where he was at that time, and simply let his dad handle the most horrible experience of his life without the benefit of help from family. He and his wife, my Aunt Doris headed home to Wisconsin, arriving in June of 1950. It was a decision he would never regret, nor did he ever decide to move away from Wisconsin again.
I think we eventually end up where we are supposed to be. Some of us move away from our childhood hometown, never to live there again, while others, like me, never live anywhere but in our childhood hometown, and still others like Uncle Bill, move away, and eventually move back for one reason or another, and never leave again. There must be something that either draws them away or back, or causes them to stay and never move away at all. I suppose the reasons vary as much as the people themselves, and sometimes there seems to be no real reason at all. They just end up in the place that draws them to it. I believe it is that we are in the place where God wants us to be.
Yesterday, we went to a barbecue at my sister, Caryl and her husband, Mike’s place out west of Casper. It is a place they are actually working on, and plan to live on when the retire. For now, they live in Rawlins, where he is a supervisor at the Sinclair Refinery and she is a Respiratory Therapist at the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County. The land they purchased will give them the opportunity to do something Caryl has wanted to do for as long as I can remember…have horses.
When Caryl was younger, she decided that she wanted to learn to ride horses, and she began taking riding lessons…oddly in the same general area of the land she and Mike have now purchased. Caryl loved those riding lessons, and became quite good at riding. Then, as with all of us, life takes us down a different road than the one we expected to take, and the plans we had made in our youth are traded for the plans we will now make as adults. After moving to San Diego, California, and then to Bremmerton, Washington, and finally Twin Falls, Idaho, she found herself back in Casper, and then moving to Rawlins. There weren’t many opportunities to ride horses where she was living.
Now, coming full circle, her life’s journey will once again place her in Casper, and living in a place where she can finally realize a dream that she has had for so many years. It didn’t occur to me that Caryl might actually be a country girl. I had lived in the country for 16 years, before realizing that the country was not where I wanted to be, and Caryl had lived all her life in town, and now plans to be a country girl. It is so strange how life changes sometimes.
I’m so excited for Caryl to be able to realize her dream. She seems so much in her element. It’s funny how I never really saw the cowgirl in her before. It’s just right for her. I’m sure she feels like their retirement can’t come soon enough. Today is Caryl’s birthday, so I guess she is one year closer to that big day. Happy birthday Caryl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
When a couple has been married for many years, as my mom and dad were, before his passing, the years beyond their earthly time together reminds me of the recent version of the Titanic, where Rose had to go on after Jack’s death, to live the life he had encouraged her to live. The loss of a spouse can be such a devastating event, that sometimes people just close themselves off from life, and waste away. Of course, not every spouse who is left behind is physically able to go out and have the many adventures that Rose had, but many of those have children who step in and take them to places they could not go on their own.
Rose could have gone back to the man she was engaged to, who was abusive, and mean in every way, but she chose to take the opportunity that had presented itself, and make a new life for herself…a very brave thing to a single woman to do in that era, considering she also had to escape her mother’s selfish ways, by also not telling her that she had survived.
My mom’s mother, and my mom both lost their spouses after more than 50 years of marriage, and while neither of them would travel alone after that, both have taken many trips over the years since becoming widows. Before my grandmother passed away, 8 years after my grandfather, she took several trips, including one to Ireland with her sisters and brother, and one to Louisiana to visit her son. Looking at the pictures from those places reminded me of the adventures Rose had after Jack passed away. And I’m quite certain that my grandfather would have been most pleased with her travels, and excited that she got to make the journeys.
My mom has also had the opportunity to do some traveling since my dad’s passing. They always loved the Black Hills, and my sister, Cheryl takes her every year over the 4th of July week, when Bob and I, and several other family members go, and she gets to continue to enjoy the magesty of the Black Hills. This past week, Cheryl, Mom and I traveled through Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington to attend my uncle’s funeral, and Mom got to go from the lakes to the mountain tops. She didn’t hike, of course, and at times it was hard work to get her where we all wanted to go, but we persevered and it went very well.
It is so important that the surviving spouse takes that journey beyond loss, because their spouse would want them not only to survive, but flourish. They would want them to remember the past, but live in the here and now. In many ways, they are taking their spouse along with them…especially if the trip is to a place they both had wanted to go, but didn’t get to. Things change in this life, but life is for the living, and time marches on, so we must keep the love for those lost, in our hearts, and live the rest of our lives in the ways that bring us joy.
Our travels to Washington to attend my uncle’s funeral took my mom, my sister, Cheryl, and me through such beautiful country. It had been a long time since I had driven through western Montana, Northern Idaho, and eastern Washington…since my daughter Amy was 3 months old, in fact. I have been to this area since that time, but I flew, so it was a very different trip. And yet, I remembered the road we traveled, like it was just yesterday. Of course, the trip we made was for a very different reason. We went to see Bob’s grandmother, and not for the loss of an uncle. Nevertheless, that part of the country is beautiful.
Once we left Billings, and headed up into the mountains, the scenery changed so much that you could imagine that you were in a different country all together. The trees were so thick that you almost couldn’t see through them. The snow was so deep that we were unsure of the conditions up ahead. Not that we needed to worry, because the roads were great. I loved looking at the beautiful trees, mainly I suppose, because I love the mountains. Many people like the lakes, or even the ocean and the beaches, and I like those too, but I will always love the mountains the best. There is just nothing like the smell of pine trees, and the sound of the wind rushing through the pine needles. It is the essence of the mountains…perfect.
The drives up to my cousins house have been a trip in themselves, and as a person who never really went in for 4 wheeling, I can tell you that it was an eye opening experience. I can also tell you that my cousin, who has been driving that road for 30 years, is very good at making that drive. She could easily have been a monster truck driver. Going over rocks and hills and climbing mountains doesn’t bother Shirley one bit. All I can say is, I’m glad she was doing the driving and not me. Nevertheless, I love the essence of the mountains as much as my cousin does. It is definitely God’s country, I think.
My mom had relatives who lived in Cascade, Idaho, and I remember going up there for visits as a child. The area is beautiful, and their home were practically right up in the mountains. The trees were pine trees, and the air was fragrant and cool, even in the summertime. We had a wonderful time every time we visited. It was almost like camping out, even though we weren’t. These were my mom’s aunts and uncles, her mother’s family, and they were wonderful people.
There were enough people in our family that it was not possible for us to stay at the same house, so we split up, which was fun in itself. I got to feel like I was at summer camp…sort of. I always stayed at Uncle Austin and Aunt Abby’s house, and they had this cool little day bed at the top of the stairs that I got to sleep in. It was a little scary at first, when the lights were turned out, but I got used to it, and then it was fine. I will never forget that bed. It was so strange to have a bed at the top of a stairway.
I’m not sure where everyone else slept, but I do know that Cheryl got to stay at Aunt Ada’s house. I wish I could tell you more about how things were over there, but I don’t remember. Chery and I were talking about this the other night, and she reminded me of the apple butter my aunt made. I do remember that, now that she reminds me of it. It was wonderful…in fact, as I recall, all the food was wonderful. There is just something about eating your food in a mountain area, that made everything taste better. Cheryl reminded me about the Apple Butter…oh yes, it was the best I have ever tasted. In fact, I think it was the first Apple Butter I had ever tasted. I suppose that is why it was so good.
In fact, just about everything about being up there in Cascade, Idaho was great. The small town in the mountains that was so big in my past that I can still see it in my imagination. The cousins, and the fun, the food, and so much more. Just a very special time.