On June 3, all nine students of the Imnaha school (under the direction of teacher Garry Wagner) treated their community to a very special end-of -school program.
As an assignment, the students interviewed old-timers in the Imnaha area, and their stories were read out loud to the audience gathered for the occasion at the Imnaha church.
The old-timers smiled a lot as they sat on stage, and their eyes had a far-away-look. The well weathered group included Sam Loftus, Norman Lovell, Mary Marks, Wayne Marks, Jack McClaran, Grant Warnock, Kate Wilde and Jerry Witherrite. A hush fell over the audience as the students read those stories.
Ethan Lowe, who interviewed Sam Loftus, read how Loftus worked for a dollar a day and board for Kenneth Johnson when it was 115 in the shade on the Snake River when he was 19.
Loftus, who has lived on the Imnaha for 60 years, told the student interviewer the story of how he was going through a caribou thicket and encountered a big bull elk at the other end of it. “And I rode up towards him. He pawed the ground, shook his head at me and the horse and the dog got out of there. They were in rut and they were mean.”
B.J. Warnock took the mic and read his interview with Norman Lovell, who moved to Imnaha in 1930 and remembers driving hay derrick when he was 6 years old. Lovell milked cows for his board and room while he attended high school, after attending grade school at the Rim Rock school on Imnaha. Lovell’s grandfather homesteaded on the lower Imnaha and ran cattle around 1900.
Christine Marks interviewed her aunt Mary Marks, and found out she’d lived on Imnaha since 1934 and married Kid Marks when she was 16. Mary and Kid worked for the Marr Flat Grazing Association for 26 years, and Mary rode horseback, cooked, maintained cow camp cabins, salted and helped with the ranch work.
Mary Marks’ advice to kids of today: “Lay off the dope and alcohol, that’s what’s ruining so many lives.”
Young Clancy Warnock told about how Wayne Marks has lived in the Imnaha area for about 83 years and attended Freezeout School for nine years.
Marks’ first car was a Model A, with single doors and a rumble seat. He remembered when the road up the Imnaha was “just a single lane with a turnout every once in awhile. Marks also remembered that Minnie Shevlin claimed the road crossed the river 24 times between “here and Fruita, where she lived, clear up next to the Pallette place.”
Marks remembered when a family lived on every 160 acre place, living off the land, game and fish.
Cole and Wyatt Warnock interviewed Jack McClaran, who said his folks went downriver in 1919, so he’d been there about 84 years. He remembers riding the stagecoach driven by A.L. Duckett, up Camp Creek and stopping at Midway to switch horses. He also remembered the way his family would crowd around an old RCA Victor radio (the first in the canyon) for a connection to the outside world. And riding over to Snake River to meet the mail boat was a big occasion.
“There’s something in certain kinds of people that seek out remote, challenging, wild areas where they can be their own decision makers,” McClaran responded when asked why his parents ever came to that remote place. His advice to young people: “Dream about anything and be willing to follow those dreams. Take the sidebars off your dreams.”
One of Grant Warnock’s grandsons, Ty Warnock, told in his story about how his grandpa lives on the same spot where the old house stood where he was born, 73 years ago. As a boy he went eight years to the Freezeout School, walking two miles each way.
Grandpa Grant Warnock met grandma Barbara at a 4-H meeting at Imnaha in 1960, married her in ‘61 and raised three sons. The sons grew up, married and now Warnock’s seven grandchildren are growing up there. In fact, seven of Imnaha School’s nine students are Warnocks.
Grant Warnock was a cowboy, a packer and a guide, drove a D7 logging cat and a cattle truck, was a foreman for a U.S. Forest fence crew and worked on a firefighting crew, and drove school bus.
BoDean Warnock interviewed 94-year-old Kate Wilde, who was born in New York but ended up down in the canyons with her late husband Wilson Wilde, a well-known cattleman in the area. City girl Kate adapted to the ranch life, and has done it all, raising her family and spending countless hours cooking.
Asked to describe her first car, Wilde said, “We had an old Model T Roadster, and Will took the back part off and put a box on it … and an old Model T Ford.” She added, “Everybody has been so good to me and I’ve met all you nice children.”
Jerry Witherrite, who has lived on Imnaha for about 64 years, was interviewed by Cody Lee. Witherrite went four years to the Rimrock School and four years at the Bridge.
He remembers using rocks that looked like little trucks as toys, and he loved the old potlucks and dances at the Imnaha Grange. Jerry says there aren’t too many of the original folks left that he remembers as a kid.
Witherrite met his wife Myrna in 1954 at a Camp Creek Dance Hall “just below Sam’s place.”
He told how when they moved to Imnaha with a team and wagon and were crossing the bridge, the horses got scared of the water and backed the wagon off into the river. “Everything we owned was in the river! No one was hurt though, and we saved most of our stuff,” he said. Witherrite said the family lived in a tent for the first six months. “Kids were tougher. … (You have) warmer clothes now, and we didn’t have school buses.”
The old-timers were presented plaques with their names engraved and wording that expressed appreciation for their contribution to the culture and history of Imnaha. The plaques were signed by all nine students.