Old Idaho News: The Runaways

Remember the days when coffee shops, barber shops, and beauty salons were favorite gathering places? So many political and social discussions were had in those venues.

Early Idaho’s newspapers also were favorite sources of information. In fact, if you want to read about old families, businesses, and community problems, peruse the pages of some old community newspapers.

I was reading some century-old articles in the The Idaho Recorder a few days ago, looking for some items of interest regarding the good ol’ days of Lemhi County. I love the human-interest pieces often found in those old papers.

It seems in those old times, any family who ventured out of town for any reason got their travel story published. And the locals loved it! Every trip out of town was more than a road trip; it was an adventure – often fraught with danger and at least one vehicle break-down!

Local happenings become part of community and cultural history. A lot of information is gained from reading past news articles, including reading between the lines. Heck, even the lingo and slang found in the local dialogue is revealing. There’s a story everywhere you find people gathered.

In the April 8, 1921, edition of The Idaho Recorder, the precursor to The Recorder Herald of Salmon, I found some interesting news and a few names some old timers might remember. Apparently, there was a big spring snowstorm in the mountains earlier that week that wreaked havoc on the mail delivery for the Leesburg area.

Worst Blizzard Comes Late

“Eighteen inches of new snow that fell in the mountains during the storm of Monday made it difficult for Ferrell Terry, Star Route mail carrier, to deliver mail on schedule Tuesday, but he finally succeeded in making the fourteen-mile trip over the mountains to the camp of Leesburg, after being eight hours on the way. He left Salmon with the mail sack on horseback, as it was impossible to use the stage, as is customary, but after half the trip was accomplished, he was obliged to leave his horse and proceed on foot through eighteen inches of snow.”

That week, a ten-year-old boy was lost. Apparently, Little Jack Maher, as he was known, came up missing. Here are excerpts from that story. As illustrated, the Salmon Country can be unforgiving, especially during the cold seasons, which, in the mountains, can pop in at any time. Anyone who has spent much time in those mountains knows first-hand! But, you know, kids who grow up in the mountains know their way around and learn early how to take care of themselves.

Little Jack Maher is Lost For a Night

“In the evening at supper time his mother observed him pensively sitting on the back doorstep. A little later she missed him. The shades of the night were falling, and the parents became anxious. At their calls there was no answer from little Jack. All through the night they kept up a fruitless search for him. At dawn they called over the phone to tell neighbors and friends not apprised of the disappearance and soon, the Boy Scouts were called out, centering in every direction over the surrounding hills.”

As a point of interest, the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 and soon spread throughout the country. Apparently, the scouting organization soon found its way to Central Idaho, as eleven years after its founding, a group of scouts were called-up to look for Little Jack.

White Rock (Salmon, Idaho)

Being boys who spent a lot of time out camping and playing, the boys had a good idea where to begin looking for the lost boy. On the west side of the river from Salmon is a series of cliffs and bluffs carved into the foothills by the river. To all the local folks, that area is known as White Rock. And that is where the boy scouts figured Little Jack headed.

“White Rock is the scene of many an imaginary wild adventure of boys, the most likely place in the world to find such an imaginative youngster as Little Jack. But when the searchers got there only the remains of a recent campfire were to be found.

The two regular scouts thus put on the trail were Clayton Scribner and Morton Havemann. They were accompanied by the distracted father, Jack Maher, Sr., as well as young [Monroe] Quarles (Little Jack’s best friend).

The scouts thought they would proceed to a homestead cabin that stood in sight to make personal inquiries. As they neared the place, little Jack stood in view before them, playing with a fuzzy puppy. The cabin belongs to Ben Hirshberger.

When Hirshberger went down to see about it, he found the child with no comforts except the big blazing logs which the young [kid] had cut with his little axe and dragged to his camp.

Little Jack is an unusual boy. In his make-up there is not a particle of cowardice. So far as courage and steadfastness goes, he would have stayed at White Rock all night long without a whimper.” (The Idaho Recorder)

The Hicks Boys Plan Their Escape

In 1974, my brother Mike and I decided to run away. We lived directly across the Salmon River from White Rock mentioned in Little Jack’s story. It was fall and cold weather was coming on. Dad and us boys had just finished hauling a dump truck load of wood from the sawmill, and it was laying in a pile in our backyard. It was Mike’s and my responsibility to ‘rick’ that wood in neat stacks back by the shed. I was ten years old, and my brother had just turned twelve.

The more we worked the more pissed we got. We were overworked and underpaid! After discussing our plight at some length, we figured our best course of action was to run from our lives of oppression and live down by the river in an old cabin we often visited. After much talk, we had a flawless plan established.

I would surreptitiously enter the house and haul out my new .22 Marlin rifle and all the shells I could find. I would also stuff my Buck hunting knife and clothes in my backpack and hide it on the back porch. Mike would do the same. He had his shotgun and enough shells to hunt ducks and kill any bears that happened along. I could shoot a deer’s eye out at 50 yards with that Marlin, so we could eat venison to our heart’s delight!

For the other needed food, we decided to make a raid on the family food storage. Nobody would miss those canned goods. And there was enough beef and pork in the freezer to keep us going for at least a few weeks. When we needed more supplies, we would sneak back in the middle of the night.

I was euphoric knowing I would never sit in another school class as long as I lived! And no more bedtime at 7:00 p.m. or doing chores for those ungrateful parents who were, at that moment, sitting by the fire with our sisters, relaxing, while we were out working in the cold!

Well, like so many other big plans and dreams I had as a young boy, my plan to run away and live independently of any adult supervision soon unraveled. Dad opened the door and called out, “Hey boys, supper is ready! Get in here and eat!”

Mom had the table set with a big cast iron pot of chili and a pan of cornbread. As Mike and I sat down and began wolfing down the food, all thoughts of living on our own down by the river suddenly vanished. Before bedtime, I made one last ditch-effort to get my brother to run away with me. “Jeff, there’s no way we can cook as good as mom. I’m staying home.” And that was that.

Through the generations, beef steaks, chili and cornbread, pies and cakes, and other delicious, FREE food have likely inspired a lot of kids to remain at home under their parent’s roofs. I’m thinking Little Jack Maher back in 1921 would’ve found that out soon enough, too.

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