Southeast Idaho Fieldwork Survey Part 5: Franklin County
This short series is a snapshot of a month’s worth of work conducting folklife fieldwork in the far southeastern corner of the state. Unless otherwise noted, photos were taken with Jack Daly’s camera and text was taken from Jack Daly’s field notes.
First, I stopped at a historical sign for Franklin proclaiming it Idaho’s Oldest Town, which explained how the area was settled in 1860 by Mormon pioneers. Next, I stopped at the Relic Hall, a wonderful museum in Franklin that houses many important historical documents and items from the area’s history. I toured around the museum, taking note of artifacts I found interesting: a British spyglass from the 1800s, a copy of a book written about the Civil War by someone who had lived through it, a Yellowstone Transportation Co. wagon, a steam engine, and a pew from the Logan LDS church amongst many other noteworthy items. I then spoke with one of the workers, Jill Hobbs, and asked if she had any ideas for local folk artists, musicians, etcetera, that I may reach out to. She was very helpful, referring me to several local artists: Albin Veselka – a painter, Jason Rich – a painter specializing in western art, and Steve Moser – a clay statue maker. I plan to reach out to all these artists when I’m touring Franklin County. I also toured the rest of the grounds outside of the museum, where there was a monument in an obelisk-shape for the “heads of house” in the 1910s, the “Hatch House,” which was a mansion built by Bishop L.H. Hatch in 1874, which has been preserved as an example of early pioneer Idaho architecture, and the Doney House, which resides next door and fills a similar role.
My day begun at the Maple Grove Hot Springs outside of Thatcher. When I arrived, there was a group of girls who had taken a canoe onto the river, and one woman sitting by the cool-down pool. Maple Grove is in excellent condition – there is one small main building that has nice bath houses for both men and women, as well as an office. I spoke to a man at the office, telling him of my purpose, and was able to give him two stacks of brochures that are displayed by the window where you pay. I couldn’t help but take a soak in such a beautiful location, so I paid for my entrance and sat at the springs for a good 20 minutes.
There are four springs, each varying between 97 and 105 degrees. The view is amazing, as the river passes by in the middle of the valley where the hot springs are set. There are several yurts and several tents for camping, and the grounds are in excellent condition. In fact, the man who was working there was doing lawn care the entire time I was in the hot spring.
I decided to go to the Bear River Massacre Site. At the first site, I was accompanied by two bikers, who evidently were stopping by the side on a road trip. My impression of this site is that it is too sympathetic to the White perspective. There is a monument with several different plaques, one noting that the “Indians” were “guilty of attacks on emigrants.” [I]n reality it would be more accurate to say the natives were massacred while trying to defend their land which was being robbed by infringing colonizers. Another plaque, erected in 1953, attempted to glorify the efforts of the pioneer women using rhetoric aimed at saying how wonderfully they took care of the wounded natives. This first site is in stark contrast to the second site, as the first refers to the massacre as “The Battle of Bear River,” while the second more appropriately calls it “The Bear River Massacre.”
As I came upon the second site, I was overcome with a weight and sense of dismay, and I felt as if the entirety of the genocide and colonization of the native population was present in a single landscape. The second massacre site is serene; it sits atop a hill overlooking a river, the entire valley, a mountainous vista full of a variety of flora. But still all I could picture was what the natives must have experienced as they saw a cloud of dirt arising over the hill as the white forces came in on horseback to eradicate them, an experience detailed in one of the seven informative signs at the site. The second site is much more sympathetic to the natives; it as if the first site tells the white perspective and the latter tells the native’s. I read each sign carefully, trying to take in the importance of the site. I sat in one of the benches at the site and looked in awe of the scenery until I was ready to go.
On the south side of Franklin, there is a house with a yard covered in hand-carved wood art and metal work, and I stopped by to see who the artist was. A woman answered, and said that her husband is the artist, but that he had gone to Preston and that he would be back later in the day. I told her I would be back later, and I drove to Dayton intent on visiting Viking Leather.
The factory where Viking Leather is made is located inside of the Gundersen Sunrise Factory Outlet, and the Gundersens are the proprietors of both companies. I walked in, and started speaking with one of the workers, when the son of the Gundersens (I forgot to get their first names) came and greeted me. He took me back into the factory, which was located behind the store portion of the outlet to speak with his mom. I asked if they were busy, and they said that they have stayed very busy during COVID. In fact, the son asked me in jest if I wanted a job, to which I declined, but I suspect that if I wanted, he actually would have put me to work. In the factory, there was leather hanging from the walls, and Mrs. Gundersen was working on what appeared to be leather tassels. There were four other young people, probably college-aged, in the factory, and two of them were looking for a job.
I drove back to Preston, and looked up some quilters online, intent on speaking with them. I found a quilting store in Preston called Suppose, so I drove to their Main Street store location. The store itself is marvelous; it is in great condition, is colorful, and well organized. I spoke with the woman at the desk: Jo Thomas, a thirty-something who was pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology but decided to follow her passion as a quilter along with her mom. She said that she used quilting as a distraction in grad school, and while she was coming up as a quilter she saw the style of quilting changing a lot. The store is aimed at appealing to younger quilters, and through her store she has met many local quilters. She is part of the Cache Valley Modern Quilt Guild, an organization comprised of these local quilters.
I drove back to Franklin to see if the wood worker was available. His wife answered again, and took me to his shed where Roy Waddoups, the artist, was working. He was sat at his desk, with a large tree slab before him, which he was burning a design of mountains and elk with a wood burner. Roy, who is now probably in his 70s, got his start as a wood worker back in the 70s. He says that he does most of his sales by traveling to art fairs, but that 6 out of the 8 that he was going to go to have been cancelled this year due to COVID. The piece he was working on was very large, and he said that he could finish a piece like that in 3 days. He told me that he gets his wood from private land and from the Logan wood dump. Roy works with metal a bit too, and he also makes clocks, which he told me he learned how to make by back-engineering other clocks.
I drove back to Franklin and met with Albin. Like Roy, Albin has a shed where he does his work. The walls are lined with paintings that he had done for a showing that had been cancelled due to COVID. Albin got his BFA from BYU-I, where he started as an architecture major. He studied architecture because he wanted to put his love for art into practical use, but he quickly realized that painting is his passion and his calling. Albin was born in Casper [WY] and moved to Idaho where he lived a rural life, which is reflected in his paintings. He was very thoughtful about his journey to becoming a painter, and he shared some of his thoughts about the craft with me. He said that art is magic, and that if you work really hard at one thing that you can become an expert at it. I told him of my goals as an author, and he said that I should reach out to successful writers. This is something he had done and continues to do as he now teaches webinars and online classes. Albin said that seeing the art of other Western painters in museums spoke to his soul, and that seeing them was a transformative experience. My conversation was Albin was probably the best I’ve had so far during the fieldwork, as he was very engaging, and I found his art to be spectacular.