Carved in wood
“I just had three bypasses,” the grizzled man in overalls, who I guessed must be Steve’s dad, announced merrily as he sauntered over to where I’d parked my small car and trailer in the grass.
“Seem to be doing fine,” I answered the elder Jeter with matching enthusiasm.
My brothers and I were 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 were 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
Me on my motorcycle
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.
Descend to Horseshoe Bend
The KTM and TW200 would be the most I’d hauled on the folding trailer¹ behind my little Aveo. I thought of using the Jeep instead but prefered the small car challenge. I wasn’t sure how it would do up the long grades so I plotted a route of lesser used highways where I wouldn’t hold up traffic. Climbing over the hill to Horseshoe Bend was the first test.
Along the Salmon
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, suggested someone’s hitch job was throwing sparks. The Aveo and folding trailer know better.
Steady as she goes
I had seen it do well this far so I was relieved but not surprised when the Aveo held 55 and 60 MPH up Whitebird grade with two motorcycles in tow. What a power house!
Old Highway 7
At Grangeville I turned north to Nezperce, a way I’d never gone, part of the lesser-used highways plan to avoid holding up traffic. The pavement shot across the golden prairie like an arrow, glancing here and there from gullies, otherwise flying true.
Large farm trucks, tractor and trailer, rumbled hastily by in clouds of chaff as I continued 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 that point, though, it was the only way to cross the canyon. How bad could it be?
Freeman and Melissa Reed*
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
As some of the earliest homesteaders in the county,¹ the Reed family made their living from the land, farming and running a sawmill on the prairie.
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 passed it the first time. Low house, weathered shed, single-wide trailer home — it looked like the rest of Canal Street heading into the trees north of Pierce, eleven miles beyond Weippe. When I passed a second time I spotted the handwritten sign set askew at the end of the driveway: Jeter RV Park.
Steve Jeter was emerging from the squat pastel house even before I came to a stop, an easy smile on a face weathered and deeply lined from years working timber in the same mountains that almost defied Lewis and Clark¹ and left Steve with a debilitating back injury.
Home for the night
Steve directed me to a spot in the grass next to a grey weathered wood sheed, once a little shower house, he said. I told him later I thought there must be a hive in there. The bees were thick around me while I set up my tent.
I unloaded the TW for the quarter mile ride back into Pierce to find some dinner. I wanted something with backwoods character like the Avery Trading Post¹ but the only thing open along the sleepy main street was the Pioneer Inn,² its recently renovated white walls, fluorescent lights and tile floor all orthogonal with hope.
After a night on the Jeter RV lawn, I returned to the Pioneer Inn for breakfast. By then I’d met the owner, Sammy (Shyam Bhardwaj), wrested the private WiFi password from him and found the best booth to pick up the weak signal. After breakfast and the morning news, with hours before my brothers would arrive, the TW and I decided to tour.
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.
A narrow path leading into the shadowy woods from the pullout wasn’t obviously significant, wasn’t obviously the last earthly sight for five men.
Dead men in a forest
To paraphrase the interpretive marker placed there by Eagle Scouts,¹ the 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. Sears later indicated who was guilty based on overheard conversations¹ and the accused were loaded on a wagon destined for trial in Murray, Idaho. Just three miles into the journey, however, they were met by vigilantes and hung from a pole slung between 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.
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 didn’t look at every marker.
Items for the afterlife
It was after I returned from my tour to the RV Park that the elder Jeter, Steve’s dad, approached from the house to announce his recent triple bypass. The added oxygen to his brain obviously put him in a good mood.
We stood talking for an hour or more while awaiting my brothers’ arrival. The conversation circled 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 promised.
Although I enjoyed talking with Mr. Jeter, I was relieved when finally I saw Joel’s truck pulling in. We were eager to get out into the mountains on some never tried trails.