Little Brenna and I take the doors off the Jeep for a drive to Idaho’s historic Silver City and the surrounding alpine mountains. On the way we stop at the Owyhee Museum in Murphy then begins our search for the gold we finally discover in the setting sun with only a minor loss of skin.
“Do you want to go to the park,” I asked, “or the mountains?” expecting swings and slides would hold sway.
“The mountains!” Brenna answered immediately.
Well hooray. I was bracing for a weekend afternoon on a bench a block away from home at Baggley (our local park).¹
“Grab a coat,” I reminded her as we prepared to leave.
“Why do I need a coat?” she asked for the second time. “It’s warm out.” It is as hard for a five-year-old to think beyond the present as it is for a forty-year-old to appreciate the moment.
Taking pleasure in the shape, size and color of natural forms would be our first order of business but underneath it I wanted Brenna, and all our kids, to understand local history. We pulled off the highway into Murphy’s Owyhee Museum¹ to see what we could learn.
Though too young for much abstraction, I hope the experience of other times and places will instill in Brenna enough sense of direction to avoid future ideological box canyons.
The first museum space consisted largely of outdoor artifacts such as an old sheepherder’s wagon and arrow heads. The second space was divided between historic home, bank and press furnishings. I did my best to explain their functions to Brenna but I would enjoy returning for a guided tour.
“What was that?” I asked, spinning around. I’d heard something clatter to the floor.
“Just this,” Brenna answered meekly as she tried to re-attach a decorative pot topper. I wasn’t so concerned when I saw it had already been repaired once with tape.
“These things are just to look at,” I reminded her.
“I know,” she acknowledged even as she continued to fiddle with things.
I remembered Jessica and I were impressed by the Sinker Creek Canyon when we rode this way¹ so Brenna and I also turned off Silver City Road shortly after leaving Murphy to follow the bumpy dirt trail to the edge.
“Please daddy, please,” Brenna had pled, flag in hand, as we looked around the Owyhee Museum souvenir shop on our way out.
“Why do you want a flag?” I’d asked before realizing it didn’t much matter. “Alright,” I said.
We went to the counter with the flag and three books: “The Magruder Murders” by Welch, “Massacre Rocks and City of Rocks” by Shannon and “Ferry Boats in Idaho” by Huntley. I still need to write about our family trip to City of Rocks,¹ have a plan to ride the Magruder Corridor Road² and have a few times been curious about old ferry landings. Those books should be helpful.
“You must read a lot,” the lady there had said. “Does she know the ‘Star Spangled Banner’?” she then asked, looking at Brenna. Her tone made me think my answer better be “yes.”
I thought a moment of platitudes, flags and books and decided just to say, “She’ll be in kindergarten this fall. She’ll probably learn it there.”
“Is this close to grandma’s house?” Brenna asked as we rose from the dry plain and canyon into the trees toward Silver City. I understood her thinking. My mom lives on a forest hill in north Idaho.
“It kind of looks like grandma’s, doesn’t it?” I acknowledged. “But no, grandma’s is a long ways from here.”
We followed the winding dirt road through the mountains and trees to Silver City. Before parking in town we drove through to the campground and picnic area along Jordan Creek at the end of Main Street.¹
We stopped a minute there at the town campground to cool off in the creek. Brenna emerged triumphantly from the thicket along the water exclaiming, “Look dad, a beaver skinned this stick!” We still have the stick.
After a refreshing walk in the clear waters of Jordan Creek we returned up the short hill and parked by the 1863 Idaho Hotel¹ for some exploration on foot.
“Are these made locally or do you have them brought in?” I asked Pat’s proprietor (maybe Pat). I was enchanted by tiny pewter miners busily extracting pyrite from variously sized amethyst geodes displayed around the store.
“We get them from a guy in New Mexico,” she answered. “Aren’t they wonderful?”
“Yeah. Do you have his card?” I asked.
“No. I think his name is Howard,” she said. I wondered if she realized how badly that Internet search would go.
“I want to look in more houses,” Brenna insisted. She had the impression the whole town was open to our perusal — we could walk through any door we wanted.
“Let’s eat first,” I proposed in lieu of explanation as we left Pat’s shop.
“Our grill is off,” the girl behind the bar cautioned as we entered the Idaho Hotel restaurant.¹ “I have pies or the things over there,” she explained with a gesture toward some candy bars and bananas.
“Are we going to look for gold now?” Brenna asked. Her mom had apparently asked her to bring some back, a request Brenna took seriously. I kept hearing about the gold.
After finishing our pie we headed up War Eagle Mountain above town to seek those riches. Jessica and I had stopped at a mine shaft there¹ that I thought might satisfy our quest. Unfortunately, it had been blasted shut.
Brenna has been curious about death lately so, continuing up the mountain, we stopped next to look at the cemetery of an old War Eagle mining town, Fairview, whose hundred-some buildings were destroyed by fire in October 1875.¹
For a decade after 1864, most of Silver City’s fabulous mineral wealth came from upper War Eagle Mountain, which rises a vertical mile above [the plain]. With lodes far richer than those found elsewhere, War Eagle miners fought a series of violent wars for control of valuable claims. Troops from Fort Boise finally had to intervene in a one-armed clash in 1868. San Francisco bank failures ended production there in 1875 and thriving camps became ghost towns.¹
Brenna was dissatisfied with the anonymous markers — “why?”, “how come?” I don’t know.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?” Brenna asked as we continued up the mountain.
“Why?” I answered.
“No,” she insisted, “you’re supposed to guess.”
“To get to the other side?”
“You heard that one before!” she responded, exasperated.
“Is there gold here?” Brenna asked when we stopped at the summit of War Eagle Mountain.
“Mmm, I don’t think this is a good place to look for gold,” I suggested.
“Dad,” she complained, “you said we could look for gold!” I pointed out some pretty lichen but she didn’t find that very satisfying. We didn’t stay there long.
We thought playing on the snow would be kind of cool. It was kind of cool.
“I wish we could live in the mountains,” Brenna remarked thoughtfully as we followed the dirt track from War Eagle, past the snow to wherever it would lead (hopefully to gold). I enjoyed hearing that.
The road brought us to Hayden Peak, the last stop we would have time for, where Brenna declared various rock piles her “castle,” marked with her new flag, while collecting small daisy-like flowers in the bucket she brought to carry gold. My job was to find that gold. Or at least to say that’s what I was doing.
The view from there, the highest point in the Owyhees,¹ of things big and small, was impressive. It was a pleasure just to walk slowly around and take in the sights.
I heard Brenna cry out as I knelt looking at curious plants and rocks. I looked up, ready to bolt to her aid, and saw her standing not far off, holding her hand. She’d fallen and scraped her palm. It didn’t bleed but she could see red under a small flap of skin.
“That will be your new skin,” I reassured her.
She looked distressed. “I don’t want red skin!”
“Don’t worry,” I laughed. “It will turn pink.”
“Peach,” she corrected me. After another moment of thinking she seemed distressed again and asked, “when will I lose all my skin?”
It was just luck, I think, that my brain caught her meaning. “Oh sweetie,” I consoled. “You lose your teeth but not your skin.” I went on to explain skin cells but I’m pretty sure she stopped listening.
starPhoto by Brenna
I told her I would stop when she wanted to take pictures of things from the Jeep. That was a mistake. We stopped a lot.
starPhoto by Brenna
“Are you going to die, dad?” Brenna asked nonchalantly as we descended from Hayden Peak.
“Yes,” I answered matter-of-fact. She’d asked several times before about me, my dad, my grandparents. She knew the answer.
“Is mom going to die?”
“Is everyone going to die?”
“Are you going to die before mom?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, “but you know you’ll be grown up — probably a mom yourself, if you want — before that happens.” She seemed satisfied with that. When she’s older I might also suggest this journal, what I’m writing now, is a part of me that can survive as long as she wishes.
I had in mind the jacket I was going to bring but in the (artistically licensed) commotion of reminding Brenna to bring hers, mine was left home. Brenna appeared to enjoy the dark and windy drive home but for me it was darn cold.