I haul two motorcycles — one for me, one for Jeremy — to Pierce, Idaho, starting point for the year’s Abbott Brother ride. I am there an evening in advance to secure our spot so I use the extra time to visit historic sites around the town.
My brothers and I are doing something a little different for our sixth annual motorcycle camping trip through North Idaho mountains. Instead of meeting in Moscow and riding out from there we are hauling our things closer to the year’s route. I arranged a place to leave my car and Joel’s truck at Jeter’s RV in the small town of Pierce at the edge of the Clearwater National Forest.¹
In the days leading up to my departure, our littlest daughter Brenna made two cards I was to carry with me as I rode.
“Why is dad shooting me!?” Jessica asked Brenna when she saw the drawing of me with bow and arrow pointed her way.
“They’re love arrows,” Brenna explained.
The KTM and TW200 are the most I’ve hauled on the folding trailer¹ behind my little Aveo. I thought of using the Jeep instead but prefered the small car challenge. I’m not sure how it will do up the long grades so I plotted a route of lesser used highways where I won’t hold up traffic. Climbing over the hill to Horseshoe Bend is the first test.
A boat and trailer left askew in smoldering grass aside the riverside highway north of Riggins, attended by a BLM fire crew and police cruiser, tell me someone’s hitch job was throwing sparks. The Aveo and folding trailer know better.
I have seen it do well this far so I’m relieved but not surprised as the Aveo holds 55 and 60 MPH up Whitebird grade with two motorcycles in tow. What a power house!
At Grangeville I turn north to Nezperce, a way I’ve never gone, part of the lesser-used highways plan to avoid holding up traffic. The pavement shoots across golden prairie like an arrow, glancing here and there from gullies, otherwise flying true.
Large farm trucks, tractor and trailer, rumble hastily by in clouds of chaff as I continue to the narrower roads beyond Nezperce.
I had seen in aerial views that Greer Grade was gravel but didn’t realize it was a somewhat treacherous one lane affair only open seasonally. At this point, though, it’s the only way to cross the canyon. How bad can it be?
Across the canyon from Greer Grade is the community of Fraser, Idaho, where my great, great grandparents, Freeman Pierce and Melissa Jane Reed,¹ homesteaded about September 25, 1882 after traveling from Nebraska in a one-horse wagon through Denver and Boise.² Possibly they rested at the Turmes Ranch³ along the way.
According to their daughter Beryl, her “dad built a large log house squared with an ax — no nails, pegged together with wooden pegs. It had four rooms downstairs and three rooms upstairs, a large orchard of all kinds of fruit.”⁴
1. “When they reached the site of Greer only one man was living there and he operated the ferry. At that time only three white women lived between Lewiston and Pierce” (gesswhoto.com/…/greer-idaho).
The first Reed children attended school down the road in Weippe in a schoolhouse built with lumber from their mill. Son Cecil, my great grandfather, later homesteaded nearby with his own wife, Mattie, to raise nine more Reed children over thirty years. My Grandpa Charlie was their eighth child, born December 5, 1928.
I pass it the first time. Low house, weathered shed, single-wide trailer home — it looks like the rest of Canal Street heading into the trees north of Pierce, eleven miles beyond Weippe. When I pass a second time I spot the handwritten sign set askew at the end of the driveway: “Jeter RV Park.”
A man with an easy smile across a weathered face is emerging from the squat pastel house even before I come to a stop. Steve Jeter introduces himself with mention of his years spent working timber before a logging accident left him with a debilitating back injury. The same mountains nearly defied Lewis and Clark.¹
Steve directs me to a spot in the grass next to a grey, weathered wood shed, once a little shower house, he says, now the apparent home of bees.
I unload the TW for the quarter mile ride back into Pierce to find some dinner. I want something with backwoods character like the Avery Trading Post¹ but all I find open along the sleepy main street is the Pioneer Inn,² its recently renovated white walls, fluorescent lights and tile floor orthogonal to my hopes.
After a night on the Jeter RV lawn, I return to the Pioneer Inn for breakfast where I wrest the private WiFi password from the owner, Sammy (Shyam Bhardwaj), then roam around to find a booth in range of the weak signal.
With still hours before my brothers will arrive, the TW and I decide to tour after breakfast.
Typical of gold mining across the west, Chinese immigrants followed after their caucasian counterparts. Policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act¹ kept them from owning land so they leased and pored meticulously over already worked claims. “The Chinese piled the white quartz up as little fences. Looked like a little park. Their workings were just beautiful.”²
The ethnic divide presented a convenient target of competitive frustration manifested in 1885 at the Chinese Hanging Site outside of Pierce.
2. Pierce interpretive marker quoting R.H. Bailey of Seattle
A narrow path leading into shadowy woods from the highway pullout isn’t obviously significant, isn’t obviously the last earthly sight for five men.
An interpretive marker placed by Eagle Scouts¹ explains that Chinese merchant Hung Yuen was setting off fireworks along the Pierce Main Street one stormy summer night in 1885 while noted pioneer David M. Fraser slept in the back of his General Store. The next morning when Fraser was found brutally hacked and shot to death (unheard amidst the fireworks), suspicion fell on Yeun and four others who were thought to have reason to want Fraser dead.
A Chinese interpreter, Lum Sears, was disguised as a drunk and placed in the cell with the Chinese suspects. Those Sears identified, based on overheard conversations,¹ were loaded on a wagon destined for trial in Murray, Idaho. Just three miles into the journey, however, they were intercepted by vigilantes and the hung forthwith from a pole slung between these black pines.
In spite of a federal investigation, the vigilantes were never identified. An indemnity of $100,000 dollars is said to have been paid to the families of the five men in China.² The community of Fraser, where my great great grandparents lived, was named to honor the slain store owner.
1. Fern Coble Trull, “A History of the Chinese in Idaho: From 1864 to 1910” (University of Oregon Master’s Thesis, June 1946), p. 167
2. Ibid., p. 171
The five Chinese men were buried in Pierce’s Chinese Cemetery alongside their fellow countrymen. The cemetery’s graves have since been disinterred and the remains returned to China. All that’s left is an unkempt, pockmarked forest hillside.
On the opposite side of the small valley, the opposite side of the world, is the stately Pierce Cemetery. There lies David Fraser and other town pioneers — perhaps some Reeds.
“I just had three bypasses,” a grizzled man in overalls, who I guess must be Steve’s dad, announces merrily while sauntering over to where I’ve parked my small car and trailer in the grass. I’m just back from my TW200 tour.
“Seem to be doing fine,” I answer the elder Jeter, attempting to match his enthusiasm. Added oxygen to his brain seems to have created a good mood.
We stand talking for an hour or more while awaiting my brothers’ arrival, a conversation that circles around his thirty years of labor at the sawmill (from which he retired thirteen years ago), mountain locations, Lewis and Clark, and the dangers of bears and wolves.
“We’ll be careful,” I promise more than once.
Although I enjoy talking with the elder Jeter, I’m relieved when finally Joel’s truck pulls in. Enough standing around. I think we’re all eager to get out into the mountains on some never tried trails.