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A Walking Tour of Historic Warren

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After learning the year-round population of tiny Warren, located in the western foothills of the Salmon River Mountains, I was shocked. “Twelve?!” I couldn’t believe even that many people lived here.

Warren is the most remote town that we visited in Idaho, stationed at the end of a dirt road 45 miles out of McCall. It’s a moderately popular summer getaway which empties out almost entirely once snow sets in. Understandable, since the only road into town closes for winter. After that, it’s either snowmobile or airplane.

As with many of central Idaho’s tiny towns, Warren had its heyday back in the 1860s with the discovery of gold. Prospectors moved in from every corner of the country — Californians, Missourians, Secessionists from the South — but they were all out-numbered by the Chinese. Over 1200 workers from China flocked to Warren, establishing their own saloons, restaurants and barbershops. One prominent member of the Chinese community, Ah Sam, even became an honorary mayor of Warren.

The Forest Ranger station in McCall had equipped us with a pamphlet titled the “Warren Historic Walking Tour”, which describes the ancient buildings which are still standing, and relates some of the more colorful stories of the town’s past. As we walked past the Green House, for example, we read the following about the overly conciliatory judge who resided there:

Andy Kavanaugh assumed the office in 1895 and was distinguished by never rendering a verdict. Kavanaugh threw all his cases out of court on the basis of “hearsay evidence” because “it made a lot smoother living in the community.”

Perhaps my favorite of Warren’s buildings was the old schoolhouse, noteworthy for its backwards “N” — particularly embarrassing, since this was where children were taught to write. In the 1930s, townspeople rejected a proposal that the “N” be corrected, huffing that “this is the way it’s always been!”

At the schoolhouse, I pointed out an odd bit of playground equipment to my mom. It looked like a medieval torture device, but sent her into a fit of nostalgic ecstasy. “Giant Stride”, she squealed, running toward it like the schoolgirl she actually was the last time she had seen one. Apparently, these deathtraps were all the rage in the playgrounds of 1950s-era Indiana. It’s like a tetherball set, but taller, and with six ropes instead of one, and they’re metal chains instead of rope, and instead of a soft ball on the end of each, there are heavy, metal stirrups. Of course, it’s incredibly fun — I swung around on it for awhile, cursing the dumb kid who must have wrapped a chain around his throat and forced the nationwide ban on this awesomely dangerous toy.

We finished off our day in Warren at its bustling saloon. Literally everyone in town must have been there. A very cool place, quirky like only the bars of very small towns can be. They had old Chinese artifacts on display, and a book compiling the editions of the defunct Warren Times.

Warren was a far more entertaining day trip than I had anticipated. The beautiful Warren Wagon road which leads there from McCall is almost worth the drive itself, but the town has a lot to recommend a visit. Just make sure and pick up the Walking Tour brochure in McCall, first.

Location on our Idaho Map

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September 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm Comments (4)

The Pioneer Cemeteries of Idaho City and Grimes

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We always try to visit a cemetery in the places we visit and, whether it’s the baroque elegance of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires or the haunting beauty of Savannah’s Bonaventure, they often end up among our most memorable experiences. On our day trip to Idaho City, we hadn’t expected to even visit one cemetery, but ended up spending time in two.

Grimes-Pass

In order to get to Idaho City from Cascade, we took a gravelly road known as Grimes Pass (NF-382), which switchbacked up into the mountains. At the highest point, we found a trail leading to a small cemetery. Tombs were scattered about the parched land, many marked as “unknown”. A few held the bodies of infants of pioneers, while others were relatively recent. And in the center, we found the grave of George Grimes.

In 1862, George Grimes was the head of the prospecting group which discovered gold in the hills of the Boise Basin, and sparked one of the world’s most lucrative rushes. Just days after his historic discovery, Grimes was murdered. Officially, he fell at the hands of an Indian, but the true story has always been shrouded in mystery. Greed and crime ran high among the prospectors, and most assume that his own men were the ones who gunned him down. They were, after all, the only witnesses… and Indians make awfully convenient scapegoats.

After we were done touring Idaho City, we drove just outside of town to the Pioneer Cemetery, which holds the graves of over 3000 people. Only a fraction of them have been identified and of those, very few are known to have died of natural causes. Idaho City was a wild, violent and dangerous city, where it was far more common to catch a bullet in the streets than reach old age.

Cemetery-Art

At the tourist office, we had picked a brochure which led us to the most prominent graves and shared some of their tenants’ stories, such as that of the beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter of the town’s newspaper mogul, who broke her neck after being thrown from a carriage, sparking a citywide period of mourning. Or J. Marion More, who found himself on the losing end of one of Idaho City’s frequent duels, after a fight over a mining claim.

I never assumed that the life in a pioneer mining town would be all peaches and cream, but our walks through these two cemeteries confirmed it, and made me appreciate how lucky we are to be alive in these modern days.

Location of Grimes Cemetery

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More pictures from the Grimes Pass Cemetery:

Grimes-Cemetery
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Idaho-Cemetery

More pictures from the Idaho City Cemetery:

Buckley-Grave
Charles-B-Jones
Cowboy-Grave
Idaho-Cemetery-Pioneer
/Idaho-Graves
Iron Grave
Moss Grave
Pioneer-Cemetery-Idaho-City
Sleeping in Idaho
Stone Grave
Unknown Grave
Weird Graves
Deer-Grave
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September 13, 2012 at 2:14 am Comments (3)
A Walking Tour of Historic Warren Warren is the most remote town that we visited in Idaho, stationed at the end of a dirt road 45 miles out of McCall. It's a moderately popular summer getaway which empties out almost entirely once snow sets in. Understandable, since the only road into town closes for winter. After that, it's either snowmobile or airplane.
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