Frontier Fest 2017: Dammed Fun for the Kids, and More

Half the town works, the other half turns up (and visitors).

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Harried but hopeful, I hurried to town. It was early Saturday morning, time to oversee the return of our annual Museum Day, this year with a new name: Frontier Fest. Sponsored by the Dubois Museum Association, the event promotes our delightful small history museum. Luckily for all of us, it was a beautiful day.
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The favorite features of the day were back again, of course. Here, Pat O’Neal tends the griddles turning out her amazing fry bread. I’ve discovered this treat in many cultures: The Mennonite ancestors from my childhood (they called them “crullers”), my Chinese ex-brother-in-law’s family (it was something like “io-tiao”), and here, the Native American version. Yummy, whatever you call it.
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They also served who only stood and waited — for the next visitor to turn up asking for lemonade or stew. We hoped people would slide something nice into the donation jar, because the entire event is free. It takes a whole village to create Frontier Fest: Seems like half the village works, the other half (we hope) turns up and enjoys the day. Many who are new to town discover a bit of our history, and a lot of our current culture.
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Billie came in her blue bonnet to work the first shift at the bake sale, and wound up staying the whole time. On Sunday at church you see her always dressed impeccably, but she obviously got into the frontier spirit on Saturday and pulled out some period attire. (What a pity this picture doesn’t show her lovely smile!) Much of the fun, said her daughter Sandy, was the chance to chat with friends.
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Steve Banks decided to bring out all of his Mountain Man regalia and paraphernalia again this year. Steve is another of our amazing assets. He’s walked nearly every step of the early explorers’ trails, working from their letters and journals, and he seems to know everything there is to know about the early history of the area. I saw him talking all day to small groups of fascinated onlookers. He said the questions never seemed to stop.
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Here’s Gordon the blacksmith, wowing an onlooker.
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Dan Seelye and Packin’ the Mail packed them in at the Dennison Lodge, and entertained everyone outside with the music piped on to the lawn. At the end of the day, when I went in to start cleaning up, I found many people were leaning against the wall, just listening to the music.
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Here’s Dean showing off his antique machinery, as he does every year. A retired watchmaker, Dean is a mechanical genius and a master carpenter. He was the behind-the-scenes star of the show, because he constructed …
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the great mini-flume race. This idea was created by the Board members of the Dubois Museum Association, but engineered and master-minded by Dean, who was intent on using his ingenuity to turn it into a truly competitive event. See the little knobs at the base of the chute? Those are the obstacles that stop your little marker from reaching the bottom. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
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The great flume race is modeled after the flumes created by the mighty tie hacks a century ago, when they hewed pine trees in our mountains in midwinter to create railroad ties. To get them down to the river and off to the railroad, they dammed up the meltwater as the snow subsided, and then released the water and floated them down to the river along giant versions of these chutes that went on for miles.
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The sandwich board at left held a poster explaining this history. I hope some of the kids looked at it! The object here was to be first to get your mini-tie to the bottom of the flume, controlling the flow of water with these mini-dams. Dean constructed it all. including the neat hand-held “dams” with their rubber gaskets and the mini-“ties” crafted at the same dimensions as real railroad ties.
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As this had never been done before, it was a challenge to figure out the best strategy.
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Competitors large and small took part.

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It was even a challenge to figure out the optimal flow from the hoses.
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We had arranged for prizes, but nobody seemed to care about them. They just wanted to keep playing!

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After we shut the water off, several kids simply couldn’t stop. They went back to the boring old beanbag toss.

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It was a great deal of hard work for a small army of volunteers. For me, at least, the best reward is this evidence of smiles all around. Many thanks to Bill Sincavage for these images, which are just as wonderful as the day itself.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

America At Its Best: Dubois, July 4, 2017

Serious. Fun. Together. It’s what we do, over and over.

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Here we went again, enjoying the best Independence Day celebration anywhere. That designation, awarded this year by several tourists on Ramshorn Street (who were obviously delighted and astonished at their good fortune in being here), arises in large part due to the nature of the town that creates it, year after year. I second the nomination, of course. It’s just the kind of July 4 we kept wandering around New England hoping to find for our children, back when they were small. We had no idea back then that we should be thousands of miles farther west.

 

 

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For one thing, as someone who came all the way from Cody pointed out, you don’t have to stake out your spot the night before to get a good view. An hour ahead of start time will do. Ramshorn Street is unusually crowded, but the scene is just about right: Festive, but not frenzied.
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We saw Daniel Starks’ fleet of Army tanks laboring slowly down the highway shoulder as we drove in. Seems like he sent out three times more this year than last.
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They set the pace in the parade, a powerful and sober reminder of what we celebrate on Independence Day. I wonder what, if anything, parents said to children about that. What would I have said to mine?
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Meanwhile, a neighbor kept making passes with his helicopter, just to add atmosphere. This sound normally means med-evac. Today, just more fun, and in the sky.
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What an odd juxtaposition against the century-old motel! Somewhere in the back of the mind: How far out of harm’s way we are. How many of own neighbors ready to put themselves in harm’s way for us–whether it’s mortar fire, forest fire, or house fire.
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Same location, much less thought-provoking display. Friendly wranglers from the CM Ranch turn up every year. This is what brings people here first–the image easiest to sell to the outside world, and least difficult to convey persuasively.
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“It’s great to celebrate July 4 in a town that is happy to be patriotic,” a visitor remarked. (Now that brings up a lot of thoughts this year!) I like the fact that nobody around here goes out of the way to tell me what my patriotism should mean to me. Just show the flag, and put your hand over your heart. We take it for granted you deeply feel what you feel. Whatever it may be.
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Someone chose to honor a fallen veteran in this wonderful old pickup. Another reminder that freedom is not free.
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Could it ever be a July 4 parade if there were no kids chasing free candy? So much of it! I asked for a little Tootsie roll. Someone didn’t want to share, but Mom shamed him into it.
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Uh-oh! Here come the fire hoses! Loudspeakers warn: “You WILL get wet!” The crowd begins to thin as people take cover.
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Some older folks complain about the fact that the firefighters don’t always aim the hoses straight up. Some younger folks seem eager for the harmless adventure. (Hey, it’s hot out here!)
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“Come under here!” urges a friendly gentleman, and I duck into the garage at Bull’s Conoco. (I’m not afraid of the water, but my camera is.) You can see that Dubois’ Bravest can be straight shooters when duty calls for it.
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I’ve never known a place more fond of its firefighters, except perhaps New York right after 9/11. Dubois’ Bravest are volunteers, of course. These are the same guys who came out in frigid subzero temperatures at midnight a few years ago, trying to save the old Mercantile. When we hear a siren in Dubois, everybody’s ears perk up and I’m sure many people think a prayer.
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There’s an ice cream social on the church lawn, just after the parade. (This picture is from last year, but the scene was the same.) I’d hitched a ride down to the middle of town with Randy, who was driving his SUV at the rear of the parade. He was exhausted after an early start to his day. After dropping me off, he would circle back and clean up the orange cones to let the traffic get through. “This event must really bring the town together,” a stranger from Riverton said to me, as he was enjoying his ice cream. Well meant, but I had to stop and think about that. “Um, I don’t really think so–no more than usual,” I said finally. “The town is together already. This is just what we do every year on July 4.” Along with everything else we do together every year. (Randy wasn’t present for ice cream, having gone home for a nap.)
Square dance, July 4 Dubois WY
Was there going to be a square dance on July 4? Well, of course! If it’s a Tuesday in the summer, there’s a square dance in the back room at the Rustic. I helped to serve soft drinks at the bar last Tuesday, as I often do. A quarter for a Pepsi or a 7-Up. The proceeds go to local charities.
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It’s fun to watch the dude ranch folks trying to figure it out, and slowly succeeding. But the best part of it all is the square that always forms in front at the right. The 8 young locals who turn up every week seem to have reserved that spot. They know what they’re doing, and they clearly enjoy doing it. I love how they take it very seriously and keep getting a kick out of it, at the same time. This is the very definition of good, clean fun.
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The lovely teenager at left began the evening helping out with the soft drinks. The Bob Marley shirt was an act of defiance. (“I’m not wearing any of those stupid Western clothes!” she had told my friend, whom she’s visiting.) And she refused to dance, saying she can’t. Once mother of a teenage girl, I found this all quite familiar. One of the young people saw the stranger at the bar, came on over, and pulled her onto the floor. (Friendly just isn’t something you can sell in a travel guide. You simply have to be here and witness it. Then you’re hooked.)

Nature Brings the Mountains Down

Melting snow hurries past, any way it can.

WindRiverFlooding“Hydrogeology in action,” said my neighbor Anna, with her usual wry wit, as she pointed out the high-water mark where the river was lapping up onto her lawn.

Well put.

Last winter’s record snowfall has been coming down the mountain this week, bringing plenty of the mountain down with it. The Wind River and its tributaries, which are normally crystal clear, are muddy and brown. The banks have disappeared. The water is level with the land.

For neighbors with riverside property, this is no mere curiosity. My friend Mary left home 3 days ago, and has been  sleeping on someone else’s cot.

Her worry wasn’t just that her lawn is now a lake. Like many of us, she had heard about uprooted trees coming downstream, possibly with catastrophic consequences. She didn’t want to wind up like old Doc Welty. He drowned in the worst of nightmares during great flood of 1919, when his cabin was dislodged overnight as Horse Creek swelled and rose.

Living well above the river, I (and my dog) find the flood only a minor inconvenience. Favorite hiking spots are denied to us.

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In the Town Park, the dog’s beloved Riverwalk is awash in both directions on the south side of the footbridge. So we’re limited to the more public north end of the Park, where he’s not free to run and roam. And I won’t even let him dash down and paddle in the river as usual, lest he be swept away.

The back half of the beautiful Wind River Access site west of Stony Point, where we like to wander around in the pine duff under a forest of conifers next to the river, is now inaccessible (unless I want to get my feet wet). A charming stream has wandered across the peninsula, turning that area into an island.

But the flood has granted unexpected pleasures. I turn off the dirt road at Sheridan Creek and the dog and I follow a game trail off into the woods. Father along under the trees, in a low spot we have always crossed on foot, a whole new lake has materialized — crystalline blue, complete with several floating ducks.

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Here’s a little waterfall I’ve never seen before because it hasn’t existed, at least not for the past decade or so. Now it’s trickling merrily down a slope toward the highway, in a spot I pass every day on my morning bike ride.

You know how you can learn about something in school, and read about it later on, and be able to explain it to someone else, but somehow never really get it? For some reason, at the sight of that little waterfall, with the memory of a record snowfall, the light finally dawned.

Ah, yes! The melting snow has to get down the mountains any way it can. Here it happens to be digging this little ditch a little deeper. I think of the Grand Canyon, which I saw only last month. Same concept. (Duh.)

Some afternoons, as usual, a crazy wind blows up and gusts a lot of dust around. Downwind comes a fraction of the badlands, being carved by that invisible sculptor. It also roils the already swollen river, and more of the banks fall away.

OxbowsWhere the land is flat, the onrush of water carves new islands in the oxbows and creates little swamps. The river is changing course.

Every day, we’ve been watching the distance between the surface and the under-side of a particularly low bridge. Yesterday there were barely two inches of clearance. This afternoon there was about a four-inch gap.

News sources predicted the flood would be at its worst last night, and I haven’t heard any reports of fresh disaster. Presumably life will return to normal again, until the next time Nature decides to bring up something else to keep us busy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Closely Guarded Unofficial Register of Historic Places

Why so much of our history goes unrecognized

PrescottSignsWe’ve just returned from a visit to Prescott, Arizona, a former mining town south of the Grand Canyon. The town wears its history like a badge.

Besides all the historic markers around the town square, perhaps a third of the houses in the residential area nearby bear handsome bronze plaques, announcing that the U.S. Department of the Interior has placed the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

A land surveyor out marking property lines told me that all those historic markers resulted from a campaign by the town government several decades ago. This set me wondering.

Those well-kept Victorian houses are charming, sure, but they’re no more “historic” than many buildings in Dubois. Why aren’t our old structures on the Register?

Weltys_LWIt’s easy to check. I looked up the National Register of Historic Places  online. Several properties in Dubois are listed, in fact. They include two original guest ranches (the CM Ranch and Brooks Lake Lodge), Welty’s store, and the Twin Pines motel.

But why not the historic Dennison Lodge, which once famously hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard? Why not St. Thomas church, built a century ago by some of the same fellows who cut the railroad ties? Why not the little cabin that Tony Dolenc brought down from the tie hack village up Union Pass, after the operations up there closed down and he became manager of the Mercantile?

One answer is obvious, if you read the rulebook. Properties aren’t accepted for the National Register if they have been moved (Dennison, Dolenc cabin) or if they are religious buildings (St. Thomas).

Another answer came to me only yesterday: We actually like to keep quiet about the identity of our favorite historic structures.

SheepTrap1_090515I lived here for several years before I learned who the hill west of our house was named after, and what went on in her establishment over the hill, whose only remnant is a stone fireplace. Curiously Jerome, Arizona, does mount historic plaques about establishments like that, but we continue to be fairly discreet about Mabel.

You probably have to go on one of the great hikes sponsored by the Museum, and get breathless climbing some pretty steep slopes, to see what remains of the traps that ancient Shoshones built hundreds of years ago to capture wild sheep.

You also need to take a Museum trek, or find someone who knows about them, to visit our remarkable collection of petroglyphs. The teepee rings on Table Mountain are very difficult to find. I had to ask a friend to take me on the jolting road across the plateau to locate the spot where the Shoshone had fabulous views from their tent flaps. I’d gone up there myself, but I couldn’t find them.

These relics are precious and vulnerable, so we don’t just bandy the locations about.

One of our newest claims to historic fame actually is on the National Register, put there recently by an enthusiastic graduate student in archaeology. High in the wilderness east of town, its discovery inspired a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to designate Dubois as “the epicenter of Rocky Mountain archaeology.”

AmArchCoverNobody’s hosting any guided walking tours to High Rise Village, the first of many ancient Native American occupation sites to be identified at a very high altitude in the Greater Yellowstone region. Until then, nobody suspected that the earliest humans in this area occupied villages at such breathtaking heights.

Because of their location and their age, these sites seem to overturn a favored theory about how humans migrated across North America. This has been of great interest to archaeologists.

It takes several hours on horseback to reach it, and the better part of a day to walk back down. You’d be hard-put to find the site if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for. Except to trained archaeologists, this very historic place looks like nothing more than a bunch of rocks lying around.

Registered or not, it’s our kind of historic place: Very old, fairly well hidden, quite a treasure.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

In Remote Dubois, a Quiet Revolution

The new economic base, foreseen 25 years ago: clean, quiet, almost hidden.

RodeoGrounds4This is a story of loss, and the signs of renewal.

In the late 1980s, the last sawmill in Dubois closed, plunging the town into economic crisis. (At left, the site as it looks today.)

Possibly that same year–I’ve lost track of the exact date–we came with our toddler son to a dude ranch near Dubois, to enjoy a getaway from two stressful jobs in the big city.

That was back when Bernard and Leota Didier owned the Lazy L&B, two owners and most of a lifetime ago.

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I was awestruck by vistas I had never imagined, let alone seen. I focused on trying to stay mounted on my horse, having never ridden before, while the wranglers loped easily over the endless range ahead.

A tourist enjoying a brief getaway, I had no idea about what was happening in the town nearby. Nor, at the time, did I care.

Dubois had thrived on logging since the turn of the last century, and the tie hacks hewed railroad ties for the transport network that was uniting the country (although the railroad itself never came near Dubois). Now, the industry had abandoned the town, due to a change in logging policy at the US Forest Service and economic realities that eroded its profit.

LazyLB_editedDubois quickly set about trying to re-invent itself. The town sponsored several community projects, hiring consultants who led self-examinations and assessments of the town’s potential.

My favorite assessment was a freelance project. In 1992–exactly a quarter-century ago–an economics professor named John Murdock, who had retired to Dubois, completed an independent analysis of how the town might recover from its devastating loss.

He considered the potential of minerals, oil, and gas (virtually none in that region) and small manufacturing (nil, because of the distance to market).

Murdock concluded that the town’s only hope for economic revival was two sources who would arrive bringing their own income: (1) retirees  and (2) people who would work here remotely, using the Internet.

The Internet didn’t yet really exist.  This was two years before the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium that would set international standards so that computers on different systems could share information.

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Dubois waited. Retirees always arrived, but predictably, some would leave to be closer to family and others due to failing health.

In the meantime, its lifeline was tourism. The goal has been to attract people like us who wanted a brief escape from “civilization,” and to entice part of the horde bound for Yellowstone to stop here long enough to experience Dubois’ unique, enchanting qualities.

The problem with tourism (which is now the second largest industry in Wyoming) is that it can’t form the basis of a year-round economy in a location like Dubois. In the periods between the snow and the summer, the revenue stops.

We were far away as all this was evolving, and I was experiencing industrial challenges of my own, as publishing began to shift to the Internet. I had to learn how to code content for CD-ROMs meant to be read on a computer. Then I was hired to manage a “webzine” about science. I ran an online news service, and had to learn more coding. Later, I helped create a search engine.

My team was based in New York and London. We communicated by email and videoconference. At my last firm, my boss was based in Denver, with my coworkers in Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco.

The writing was on the wall–as was a poster of the image below, which I had taken years earlier at the Lazy L&B and moved from office to office. Sometimes, looking up from the screen, I would rest my thoughts on Dubois.

Luckily, my last employer was unconcerned about where I was located while I worked. Our children grew up and left, as they do. Parents aged and passed away. Eventually, when the time was right for us, Dubois called us back.

LazyLBDrawAs we returned, the old sawmill site was being transformed. The EPA now cites it as a case study of environmental remediation.

Cleaned up with help from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the location now houses a medical clinic, a fitness center, and an assisted living facility. A fishing pond for children should be completed soon.

In my absence, Dubois had been laying the tracks for a new kind of transcontinental network: high-speed Internet. I quickly learned that it was more reliable in Dubois than in the city, where I often had to close my laptop and reboot in a library or cafe when my signal suddenly went down.

When we first moved to Dubois, I met a few other individuals who were making their living here on the Internet. Gradually I met others, but I don’t know them all by any means.

In the past few weeks alone, during the current spring thaw, I have encountered several other telecommuters–a computer coder, a software architect, and a marketing expert–who have newly relocated to the area. All of them chose Dubois in order to enjoy Nature and solitude while earning a good living at their keyboards. Two of them have children they don’t want to raise anywhere near a city.

DTECoils2The economy that Murdock foresaw 25 years ago is in its birth pangs at this very moment. According to a recent report in Forbes, about 40% of employees are now working “remotely” most or all of the time. About 80-90% of employees surveyed say they would like to work from home.

On Twitter, I’ve discovered a thriving separate industry of “remote workers” complete with vendors of supplies and services, support networks, employment recruiters, and professional conferences. A recent article on a jobs site for telecommuters predicts that the new industry will boost employment in rural areas.

Some high-skilled technology workers who work as consultants describe themselves as “digital nomads.” They migrate from one exotic location to another, wherever there is good broadband, enjoying a combination of travel and work as their day-to-day lifestyle. There are travel agents who specialize in serving this market.

The cost of commercial real estate, combined with the exploding cost of living in major cities and long commute times to affordable areas, makes it Downtown3almost impractical to insist that employees who work largely online must come in to an office–especially if the best candidate for an online job doesn’t live anywhere nearby.

Many employees want to live in urban areas anyway. But surely some want to be in a place like Dubois, for exactly the reasons we love it: It’s small, it’s isolated, it’s placid.

The new year-round economic base of Dubois is emerging slowly, one by one and two by two. Like Dubois itself, it is clean, quiet, and tucked away in the wilderness.

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© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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Time Travel: Jolted Back to Dubois, 1911

Two PDFs in my Inbox are a trip to the Old West

As a mother, I can’t help wondering how Mr. and Mrs. Leslie of Madison, Wisconsin, felt in 1911, when their 20-year-old daughter Elsie decided to take a job teaching school in a small village in northwest Wyoming. My own grandmother did much the same in 1919 when she moved from Michigan to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She took along my beloved Aunt Luella, who got her teaching certificate in Laramie and took her first job at a sod-roofed schoolhouse on a ranch somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming.

Thus my own real experience connects weirdly to a history of Dubois that seems, from this week’s new perspective, rather fantastic.

Dubois1913The journey to Dubois in 1911 “must have seemed like a trip to the end of the world,” wrote the late Dubois artist Mary Back, in her 1955 brief biography of Elsie. The new schoolteacher traveled by train to Lander, then by a one-horse buckboard stagecoach to Fort Washakie, changed to another buckboard stage that took her (and the mail) to a ranch on the Wind River where she spent the night.

The next morning, she took a third stagecoach “clear to Dubois.” The driver was a man named Jim Locke. In that alien landscape, Jim must have been quite a spectacle himself: his face “long and tanned to a high color from the wind and hard weather…. a hooked nose and small blue eyes which sparkle like fire and bore like an auger,” as described by Frederick Studebaker Fish, in his account of a 1913 hunting trip near Dubois. (The guide for that trip was Elsie’s soon-to-be husband, Floyd Stalnaker.)

Jim had “a reputation of being a cranky old fool when sober, but rather genial when well seasoned with whisky,” Fish wrote, adding that “his gaze is startling until one becomes accustomed to it.” You wonder whether Jim was sober or seasoned when Elsie met him.

At the time Elsie arrived, Dubois was “a little straggling string of log houses” (as Mary Back put it), with about 60 inhabitants, two stores including Welty’s (still in operation), a hotel, a bank, and St. Thomas Church (still very active). Elsie took up rooms with the Weltys and, schooled with a certificate in home economics from the Stout Institute in Menominee, Wisconsin, began teaching nine pupils.

Weltys CaveShe was a school teacher without a school: Classes were held in the saloon dance hall, up against the cave across from Welty’s Store. The cave was used for wine storage and as a jail. (The cave entrance is near the center of this photo, with the saloon at far left, which is also still in operation.) Elsie had to clear away the classroom any time the saloon held a dance.

“No one, either students or parents, seemed to think school was very important,” Back wrote. “There was often something else to be done, rounding up cattle, hunting or fishing, helping mother.” There were two other schools nearby, she said, one of them taught by a former Dubois student despite “irregular attendance at Dubois [and] lack of educational credits.”

Elsie taught for less than a year, and never taught again. She met rancher and hunting guide Floyd Stalnaker, married him in December, and in due course had their first child. Mary Allison’s Dubois Area History says she brought her sister to Dubois to take over the class. (Again, I wonder how her parents felt, and think of my own Aunt Luella, who was also lured out west by her older sister, also a schoolteacher.)

Although she quickly became a ranch wife and busy mother, Elsie kept up a strong interest in the Dubois school, serving on the school board for many years. In 1939, when she joined the board, the students ate lunch in the Legion Hall, Back wrote, where there was no water, no sewer, and no stove. The children were kept warm with a wood-burning heater, and a wood-burning cookstove was put in for the lunches. “Wood had to be split and carried in, water had to be carried in buckets, dish-water carried out in buckets.”

Before that, Bernice Welty had been making lunches at home, carrying them in baskets to the school along with the dishes, serving the 25 children at their desks, and then carrying the dirty dishes home again.

TheStoneHotelI’ve been reading this week about Elsie and Floyd’s world, thanks to two unexpected gifts that dropped into my Inbox from their great-granddaughter, Gabby Cook. She was kind enough to scan and send me Mary Back’s typewritten biography, as well as the century-old account of a hunting trip that Floyd guided, as told in great detail by Fish.

Thus, in the middle of a busy, mundane week, I was thrust suddenly and vividly back into Dubois of a century ago, a place so like the old Westerns that it gave me the dizzying feeling of being in reality and unreality at once.

Fish describes a visit to that saloon next to the cave during his first evening in Dubois:

“The place was crowded with cow punchers and hangers-on. Everyone seemed to be having a good time for the liquid was flowing fast…One old man kept cussing at the proprietor much to the enjoyment of his drunken friends who were anxious for a fight. It did not take long to start the fracas. Slim, the proprietor, finally lost his temper and came around from behind the bar to throw the offender out. … As soon as they were parted a few hot words were exchanged and then it was decided that the drinks were on the house.”

A dance was on for later that evening, but Fish and friends decided to leave before it started. The next morning, they learned that they had missed “a terrible shooting that almost took place … over the affections of a fair lady.”

The hunters went out shortly after their elk, and for one night stayed at the Stalnaker ranch.

“Floyd has a comfortable and cosy home,” Fish wrote, “a very pretty and exceedingly nice wife and a six month old son.”

“After our delicious meal,” he went on, “Mrs. Stalnaker played the piano. Hers is the third to be bought in this vicinity so it is a very great treasure.” Later that evening, two visitors came by, one of them “a rather odd looking person who put on the appearance of being very important and business-like. He immediately called Mr. Stalnaker into another room and spent several hours in earnest and serious conversation. I afterwards learned that he … spends most of his leisure moments bothering his neighbors with trivial matters of little or no importance.”

StalnakerRanchThe hunting party had to sleep outdoors next to the shed, because the Stalnakers took in lodgers and the rooms were all occupied. (Mary Allison wrote that Elsie was a great housekeeper who often ironed her lodgers’ clothing, if they were bachelors.)

“It was a beautiful cold, starlight night,” Fish wrote, “so sleeping out was much more appealing than in a stuffy room.” This was October. Fish had changed his tune by the next morning, after a bad night during which his friend stole all the blankets.

But that didn’t sour his enthusiasm for the Wind River Valley. An heir to the Studebaker fortune, he was one of those who fell in love with Dubois during a visit, and later returned to live here. He became one of the biggest ranchers in the area.

DuboisMap_StalnakerFloyd worked for many years as a guide and ranch manager. Elsie and Floyd survived the great flood of 1919 despite great losses, briefly became mail carriers (Elsie also drove the Jeep), and then purchased the drug store, which they operated until after World War 2. Their son, Dean, was Gabby’s grandfather. Floyd was working as a carpenter in Riverton when he died of a heart attack in 1948. Elsie died in 1965, ten years after Mary Back wrote her biography.

Many of the town streets in Dubois bear the names of old families. I will probably never again pass the street that leads to the Headwaters and the Visitor Center without smiling inwardly, as I think of the Stalnakers whose name it bears, and all their adventures.

(Thanks so much again for the emails, Gabby! They were a trip.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Snowstorms in the Real West: Whiskey, Outlaws, and More

Nah, that was nothing this week. Think about snowstorms of the past …

driveway011217After three days of whiteout and steady snowfall, we woke up this morning to a crystalline vista beneath blue skies–just as the forecast promised.

The snow crunched and glistened as I tramped my way out to the car, parked at the far end of the driveway near the highway, like so many others.

In town, people were all smiles, freed again to buy groceries and pick up the mail. We traded stories about being snowbound. Wives grumbled about men too slow to clear the driveway. All the talk was of snow: snowshoes, snowplows, snowbanks, snowdrifts.

The old-timers say they haven’t seen a snowstorm like this in 30 or 40 years.

Last night at bedtime I gazed out the window, mesmerized at the brilliant, bleached-out scene beneath the full moon. Watching the clouds clear away above the white slope rising beyond the valley, I began to think of O.M. Clark, buried somewhere right out there.

The first settler in this area, O.M. Clark staked his homestead claim in that very creekbed, sometime in the 1870s.

drift101217To the old homesteaders like Clark, this was just the way it was in winter. They had no weather apps to warn them of what was coming, either.

O.M. met his end during just such a long winter storm in 1910, as Esther Mockler recounts in her oral history Recollections of the Upper Wind River Valley.

Sometime in the winter of 1910, after a snowstorm had lasted for two days, neighbors noticed that no smoke was rising from O.M.’s cabin in the valley. Someone saddled up and rode over, to find Clark dead in the cabin, and frozen solid.

O.M. had been feeling poorly for some time, and every time he went to Lander he had been stocking up on whiskey for his own wake. Notified of his death, five neighbor men came out to the cabin, shaved and dressed his body, placed it on a plank in a storage shed, and brought wood back to the cabin to build his coffin.

Intent on honoring his dying wish, the men also retrieved the whiskey from the cave where O.M. had stored it.

That night they built a coffin, played poker, and drank O.M.’s whiskey. The next morning, they trudged uphill to the spot O.M. had chosen for his grave. The ground, of course, was frozen.

They hacked away all day, taking breaks for more whiskey. By the time they had finished, it was too late to bury the body.

The next day, when they tried to drag the coffin uphill through the deep snow on a sled, it kept sliding off and heading back downhill. Eventually they gave up and returned it to the shed.

By the third day, the whiskey had run out, the men were sober, and O.M. Clark was finally laid to rest.

For the families of laborers who cut railroad ties in these mountains in the first half of the last century, snow was an important fact of life. They lived and worked in it all winter, and sent the ties downhill in its runoff in the spring.

tiehackcabinMeanwhile, they might have to dig their way out of the cabin each morning to get to work and school. (This shows what remained of one tie-hack cabin last summer.)

In December 1937, the Riverton Review reported that all of the remote tie hack communities above Dubois were snowed in. “From now until spring, the residents will have no way of leaving their homes other than by skis or using horse-drawn sleds. There is considerable rueful dismay because the snow came so unusually early this year.”

The skis were no gleaming, curved fiberglass runners, by the way. They were slats of sanded wood, sometimes lined with animal fur to make it easier to get back uphill.

One of my favorite winter stories, also from the Mockler oral history, features our local outlaw and rancher, Butch Cassidy. It also involves one of the original loggers, a local homesteader named Hank Boedeker, who lived alone at the time in a small cabin remote in the mountains near Dubois.

butch_cassidy_mugshotAt work one day in the middle of a very cold winter, Boedeker was trapped under a rolling log and injured so badly he couldn’t mount his horse. Cassidy came along the trail and helped him back to his cabin, Boedeker said. Cassidy stocked the cabin with food and firewood, cooked the meals, and stayed until Boedeker was well enough to work again.

In 1894, Boedeker was one of the guards who accompanied Cassidy to prison in Laramie, where he served a term for stealing three horses. When they reached the prison after a long and difficult trip, Cassidy was sent in alone to report to the warden.

“That’s a hell of a way to deliver a prisoner!” the warden said.

“I just wanted to prove to you that there is honor among thieves,” Boedeker replied.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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