Posts Tagged ‘jarbidge’

My cousin scanned some old photos that he shared with me today, and all I can think to say is “Thank You!”

1961. We still lived in Jarbidge during the summer months, either at Pole Creek Ranger Station or up the hill at Mahoney (muh- HOE-nee) Ranger Station. Dad wasn’t a District Ranger for the US Forest Service, but he ran both Ranger Stations and worked in the Elko District office during the winter months. Most trail work was still done on horseback, and we kept a small remuda that the government shifted between ranger stations in the steep Jarbidge country. Mom still cranked the telephone to get the operator who listened in on everyone’s conversations (my brother has the crank telephones).

Uncle Mike, whose real name isn’t anything close to Mike or Michael, came that summer to see his older half-brother. One day, I hope to get the scoop on why we call him “Uncle Mike” and noone else calls him Mike (feel free to comment away, Fred Wilcox!). He and his sweet wife, Ellie, had three boys close in age to my siblings and I: Steve, Clifford, Chuck. I don’t remember this visit, except for a vague sense of how kind Aunt Ellie was.

I’m relying on Chuck’s notes to me, so I hope I get the other Wilcox family right:

Mom in the pink capris, holding Mary Denise in the red top. Aunt Ellie holding Chuck. I’m in the white-and-pink top. Clifford in the blue plaid shirt, Steve in the blue shirt, and my brother in the mostly white print shirt. Dad in the rolled up sleeves and Uncle Mike to his left. The World’s Most Awesome Childhood Dog Ever, Butchy, is the photo-bomber.

Butch protected us from all snakes, retrieved the same rock from the murky depths of the Humboldt River or the leech-infested waters of the pristine Jarbidge River, escaped every enclosure (including 8’tall chain link fencing), and eventually died of a high-iron diet the year I was ten. I cried so hard on his passing that I got tonsillitis (again) and ended up in the hospital for a tonsillectomy. I was 10 when he died.

We kids were actually regulars at the Jarbidge Club, which was more of a bar than a store, as I recall it (I was quite young). I got my first “Roy Rogers” (Seven-up and Grenadine, with a Maraschino cherry) at the Jarbidge Club. I love these pics: Terry looks grumpy and Denny (as we called her then) seems to be in love with Clifford. I mean, what is with that gunslinger stance, Bro? And Denny’s chubby little legs! When was SHE ever chubby? Lord, she’s so cute!

It’s hard to think about how much has changed in the decades since this summer. Aunt Ellie passed away after successfully defeating breast cancer once – and that was in the 1960s! Mom is gone, then Deni, and now Dad. We kids have all gone down some very different paths, and it is only in the years since my dad passed that I have come to know my cousin Chuck and his wife, Kathy.

Terry is still a gunslinger at heart.


And this. Dad, sitting upright in the saddle, an old cowboy (young in this picture) on his trail horse. I still possess the bridle.

That horse was the first horse I remember. The first horse I fell in love with. They pastured him separately from the others up at Mahoney. I was probably three years old, making mud pies in the wide driveway. He was trotting around, all Trigger-Roy-Rogers beautiful. Then he did the most amazing thing: he reared and pawed at the sky. I stood in awe. The picture is burned into my brain, whether it really happened or not.

Later, up at Pole Creek, he got a scrape on his throat that the flies had a hey-day with. Dad had to leave him in the care of Mom, who hated horses. She had to put ointment on his throatlatch every day to keep the flies off and help him heal. He wasn’t the friendliest horse (not sure any half-broke USFS horse could be called “friendly”), but he’d come to the fence to meet her and get his salve applied.

I don’t know what happened to him. I do know my dad was an excellent judge of horses, and he liked the half-broke ones best (in his younger days).

Thank you, Chuck, for the trip down memory lane – even if I can only recall it because of the photos.

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One of my first memories has to do with cows. There’s a story behind the memory that has been repeated many times over the years, and that embellishes my memory. I don’t actually remember the events that have been told in the story: those memories belong to my mother and my older brother. My memories are in italic.


Sunlight filtered through the aspens. Quaking Aspens. Shadows. A narrow one-lane gravel road on an incline. I am sitting in the little Red Flyer™ wagon, holding on to the sides. My brother is pulling the wagon, his back to me. I can hear the tinkle of bells in the trees.

Torgerson’s cows. He belled at least one of them so he could find them when he needed to. They are beef cattle, probably cross-breed Hereford/Angus/Charolais. Maybe purebred Hereford. Red cows. Big. My fear probably originates from my broken middle finger, the memory I don’t have but my mother says happened: the cow that stampeded and stepped on my tiny hands.

I begin to cry. The bell, the cows. the unknown. No mom in sight. Only filtered sunlight and the tinkle of a bell on a mad Hereford cow that is probably going to charge us any second now…

Torgerson was a rancher who owned a lot of the land just north of Jarbidge. He paid for grazing rights. His cattle roamed free.

The story goes that my brother – probably age 4 – had a fight with my mother. He told her that he hated her and we were going to go live in town with someone my brother was certain would take us in. He loaded me into the little red wagon, with my stuffed bear and a few possessions, and off we headed. He was fuming mad.

Mahoney RS was almost a mile out from the edge of town. Terry pulled me in the wagon all the way. Our mother followed us in Nelliebelle – at a very discreet distance – until we were with in sight of the edge of town. Then she passed us and went on in to have coffee with Youra.

Terry hauled me on in, stopping only when he found his destination. Someone he thought would surely take us in and adopt us from our evil mother. They offered us drinks and lunch.

Terry stopped pulling when I started to cry. He came back and hugged me, and then told me that I had to be brave. He would protect me from the ‘mean mommy’. Always. I sucked it up and hugged Teddy tight.

After we were fed and my brother was calmed down, our mother came by and acted like she didn’t know we had dropped in for a visit also. She offered to take us home in the car, and Terry readily agreed. It had been a really long walk, after all.


We were visiting Jarbidge. Denny was maybe 4 at the time and I was 7? I just remember being down near the saloon when someone shouted that there was a rattlesnake. Then there was a terrifying BOOM! and someone else said, “Old Torgerson shot the head off of it.”

My sister and I were escorted along the street back to where we were staying by our mother. We saw the bloody length of snake in the street, but it wasn’t what we worried about. Mom hissed that the head had been shot off and to watch for the head. Rattlers could continue to snap for hours after their head was severed from their bodies – and it was the head that was dangerous. Don’t ask me what images that conjured up – but I never lost any sleep over it. Rattlesnakes weren’t the same as Dementors. Rattlesnakes could die.

I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Torgerson. I have no recollection of the man. Only his red-painted log cabin home and the spread along the Jarbidge River, the cow with the bell, and the doomed rattlesnake. Oh – and his name.

* it is a fact that rattlesnakes can continue to bite after the head has been severed. We never saw the head to that snake. I do not personally hold a grudge against rattlesnakes, but in the early 1960s, a lot of people did. Still do.

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Everyone by now has read the amazing survival story of Rita Chretien, the Canadian woman who survived 47 days in the Nevada wilderness. She was located south of a ghost town called Rowland on a spur road off of a maze of dirt roads in the rugged Jarbidge country.

Those of us who know that country are probably more surprised than the casual observer: it is not just rugged terrain, it is brutal in the winter and it is winter there until the 4th of July. Some of those roads aren’t open until late June.

I grew up in Jarbidge, more or less. It was the first Nevada Ranger Station my dad was assigned to in 1957, shortly after my birth. He worked at three locations in the Jarbidge area: Pole Creek Ranger Station, Mahoney RS, and the Elko RS during the winter. Even after we left that country for more “urban” postings, the country and the friendships drew us back every summer. My folks owned property in Jarbidge (my brother owns it now).

I understand in part how the Chretiens may have ended up on a road impassable in March: their GPS unit most likely listed it as a scenic route with lots of history. The big silver mines, the old ghost towns (Jarbidge is still inhabited), and the site of the last stage coach robbery in the Continental US. GPS doesn’t give you a footnote: These roads are impassable in the winter.

Set all of that aside. I am ecstatic that Rita Chretien’s God came through for her.  I don’t want to be an arm-chair critic of why they went off-roads in that country in March. I am sad that Mr. Chretien is still missing, probably will never be found and if he is located, I seriously doubt he will be living.

What I really want to post about is the word Jarbidge. When I was a girl, we had a coffee-table history book of Nevada. If my memory serves me right, it was published in 1964, to coincide with the Nevada Centennial. It was light brown and full of interesting stories about the places and sights, including the background to the doomed Donner Party, the mystery of the Humboldt Sink, photos of the boom town of Hamilton and more.

My favorite story was almost a ghost story. It was about the giant, Tsaw-haw-bits.

Tsaw-haw-bits lived in a rugged, remote canyon. He was large and very hairy and he ate the native Shoshone and Paiutes who wandered into that country. He had plenty of hiding places in the basalt cliffs, deep ravines, and lava tubes.

The Indians exacted revenge on him, burying him in a cave by piling rocks over the entrance. They never wanted him to escape.

But they also never wanted to wander into that canyon again, and so – legend has it – they never went into the Jarbidge country again.

Every time I have been down in those narrow, steep canyons I have been in love. And I have wondered if Tsaw-haw-bits still wandered there. Or if he was what we now call Sasquatch.

It is beautiful country. If Mr. Chretien died there, then he died in a little corner of God’s country, giant hairy creatures or not. It is a little bit of the glory of God down in that country… but only in the summer, when the roads are passable.

PS – there is only on “r” in Jarbidge. Thank you.

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Random Memories

Some memories stick with us. The sounds, smells, the colors. A moment in time, a photograph in our brain.

I have many of those memories from our years in Jarbidge, Nevada. Most of them center around Mahoney Ranger Station, which – oddly enough – we have few photographs of. Most of the old photos I own were taken at Pole Creek. But the memories are at Mahoney.

I remember watching a spider crawl around underneath my mother’s ironing board while she ironed. It was doing no harm, just crawling. I might have mentioned it to my mother. I think I remember mentioning it to her. I think I remember she was less than concerned about it, as long as it was under the ironing board and not interfering with anything. She may have looked to be certain it was not a black widow, but I do not remember that. I only remember the spider did not frighten her and she did not kill it. My mother liked spiders (exception: black widows).

I remember the palomino. He was probably a gelding. He was half-wild, as were most of horses that made up the U.S. Forest Service remuda in those days. They kept him in a separate pasture at Mahoney. He reminded me of Roy Roger’s horse, Trigger, but in living color. I have a vivid snapshot in my mind: I am bent over in the driveway, making mudpies. I mix in the gravel and petals from the yarrow. My mother is not far away, watching me. The palomino is in the pasture closest to the ridge above Mahoney. Suddenly, he rears up onto his hind legs and paws at the air.

He is etched into my mind forever.

I have another photograph in my head: I am peering upward through milling horses’ hooves and tails. I am looking into the frightened eyes of a man who is standing in the loft, tossing down hay to the horses in the corral. I can smell horses. I can hear the man’s fear.

Someone snatched me out of the corral and I most likely suffered a spanking for scaring everyone. But what I remember is that I was standing in the corral and the horses milled around me.

There was another palomino. Maybe the same one. It was up at Pole Creek. The flies had gotten to it. It developed a sore under the throatlatch that festered and oozed. My mother had to apply salve to it twice a day, a chore she hated. I did not know at that time why she hated the chore – or even that she hated it. That knowledge came later when she told me she hated horses. All I remember is the horse standing by the corral fence, waiting for the salve that eased the flies and the pain.

Then there were the bears.

They were not real bears. Oh, real bears lived in the woods but one never got to see them. These were the bears that lived under the floor of the log cabin Ranger Station office that stood next to the white clapboard government house where we lived in Mahoney. My father’s office was in the log cabin with the white chinks between the logs. We were not allowed to go into the log cabin.

I didn’t want to go into the log cabin.

Bears lived under the floor.

I was not afraid of Smokey the Bear. He was warm, friendly, and smiling. Sometimes I got coloring pages of Smokey and I colored him brown with blue pants on. I did not stay in the lines.

I was afraid of the bears that lived under the floor of the log cabin and that came out at night, growling and prowling. I had nightmares about the bears chasing me.

My father did not believe children under the age of five could have dreams, let alone nightmares. Guess I was a wake-up to him.

My father and brother still laugh about the bears. But they were very, very real to me when I was three.

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She stood in the shade. Voices drifted back to her and laughter. The smell of camp fire.

The cars were all parked alongside the road: Grandpa’s and Uncle Bob’s and the sea-green Buick station wagon they all called Nelliebelle. She liked the color of Nelliebelle.

She looked up toward the sky but could only see the branches of the pine trees. It was dizzying: the trees were so much taller than the people and the people were so much taller than she was. She was certain her father was the tallest of all of them: tall, thin, with hair as black as the coal that came down the coal chute in the winter when they lived in town. They didn’t live in town in the warm summer, but lived in one of two white houses with green shutters up in the woods.

The houses had names: Pole Crick and Mahoney. She liked Mahoney best because there was a big white barn at the end of a long, wide gravel drive and there were always horses in the corrals. There were horses at Pole Crick, too, but no long driveway where she could play and make mud pies.

It would be years before she learned to spell and more years before she learned that Pole Crick was spelled Pole Creek.

In the sunny clearing where white smoke curled up from the campfire, her tow-headed girl cousins were giggling with her big brother. He was making funny faces, something he was very good at.

Her mother was busy with the new baby, Denise. Aunt Phyllis had a new baby, too. The babies were not very exciting: they cried and stayed wrapped in blankets.

The dogs were running around, sniffing the ground and begging. She didn’t like her mother’s dog, the little Chihuahua mutt they called “Squeaky”. Squeaky nipped. She was afraid of Squeaky’s nips, even though they didn’t really hurt.

She wanted to be special. The other children were special. They huddled together and laughed, but she stood on the edge looking in. She didn’t know how to play the games they played and that made her feel afraid.

All around her, the woods were dark and light, shadow and sun, green and brown and sagebrush. Wild animals lurked out there: porcupines, big red-and-white cows, floppy-eared mule deers, the chattering camp robber and the invisible rattlesnakes.

She looked down at her feet: the earth was a soft brown duff, littered with thin pine needles. This spikes of green grass poked upward. At Mahoney, there were flowers she could pick to put into her mudpies: yarrow, dandelions, Queen Anne’s Lace. She hoped to see some bright red Indian Paintbrush, but there was none to be seen.

There was something odd staring up at her. Half buried in the duff, a worn little soldier stared through the tiny cast-iron ears of his Cavalry mount. A horse! There was a horse on the ground by her feet. A horse that no one else had seen. A horse left there by some child many years before she came to this place.

She picked him up and toddled to her grandfather and father, the soldier and his horse held tightly in her hands. So excited by her find, she lost all sense of shyness and held it out for all to see.

Who told her that it was special? She could tell by the interest the grown-ups took in it and the careful way her grandfather cleaned it off.

“That is very old,” someone said.

The other children crowded to see, but when the soldier was released from adult hands, it was back into her hands. “No, he belongs to Jackie. She found him. He is hers to keep.”

The other kids lost interest because the horse only had three legs. That was all right with her: a three-legged horse was probably why it was such a special find. And part of her was sad for the little boy who lost it long ago. She would never know if it had all four legs when it was lost or not.

**The only parts of this story that are true are: we were on a picnic. My grandparents were there. Some cousins were there, but I don’t remember which ones. It was out of Jarbidge, NV. We spent our summers at one or the other Ranger Station: Mahoney and Pole Creek. And the wild animals that were loose in the woods. And our Buick, Nelliebelle, but we may have purchased the car after I found the soldier. I was two and a half or three and a half, so it was 1959-1960. Could have been 1961, but no later than that. My memories get clearer after 1961.

***The soldier looks very much now as he did when I rescued him. He has always been very happy to live with me and I have taken good care of him.

I don’t know why I have never named the horse or the soldier. I guess I thought that if they wanted me to know their names, they would have told me and they never did.

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