Steve's Place

Boys of Battery A

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[Figure 41: Harrison, Idaho as the South Fork Coeur d’Alene enters the lake. Eight miles from homestead]

The river, laden with silt rife in deposits that long ago killed off any fish, churns silts that invade grasslands during spring run-offs to this day. Biologists refer to the thousands of acres of polluted wetlands in the Coeur d’Alene River valley as “the killing fields.”

Farmers by 1905 were trying to sue mining interests for the death of their cattle to no avail. Today, silt at the bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene is estimated to involve 70 million tons of accumulated toxic sediment, and the 1500 square mile river basin another 100 million tons. During a storm as recently as 1996 it was estimated that more than a million pounds of lead flowed through the lakes district of Medimont and into Lake Coeur d’Alene in a single day.

[Figure 42: Sadly, to this day, dead swans are abundant in the environment]

To date, soil replacement efforts have been undertaken at mining and refining locations in the mountains upstream at great cost, though critics comment that the replaced soils are simply “moved around”, being deposited elsewhere in the vicinity. It’s estimated that recovery of the watershed from environmental degradation will take centuries.

While the homestead claim was “proven up”, the Spaffords moved on to Seattle by 1907. Their daughter Helen was finishing high school in Spokane and on weekends had visited her mother in Harrison by taking the inter-urban electric train to the lake, and catching one of the many steamboats to Harrison. Once she had finished, The Spaffords could move away from the river. The children were old enough to find work, Seattle was booming. Though it’s benefits from being a jumping off spot for the Yukon Gold Rush were diminished, Seattle was where those rich miners stored their wealth. The pride and confidence demonstrated in the tall new buildings rising at it’s center made Seattle seem like a good place to search for work. And it was a good place to be for a boy like son Arthur who aimed to be a machinist and perhaps land a position with a railroad.

Before long though — a matter of months — Phoebe died of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder which was never diagnosed. This may or may not have related to their years living on river shores of the Coeur d’Alene, though her illness may have contributed to the family’s migration from the homestead. The remaining children were soon married and launched on their own family building.

William spent his remaining two decades living for a few years at a time with the families of his children and relatives. He remained a scholar and reader, and took long daily walks, always picking his way with a favorite cane. He had a gray beard and the large eyes of the perpetually curious. He smoked a pipe and chewed tobacco, and didn’t much care what people thought about it. He’d been a stern parent and insisted that his own children remain quiet in his presence. He was never as demanding of grandchildren and tended to ignore them. He was a good gardener, and a patient one who could calmly hoe rows close to bee hives without getting stung.

William was at Osborn in the mining district of Idaho for a year or so, and subsequently lived on a ranch in the far northeastern reaches of Washington with close relatives of his wife Phoebe, and later outside Portland with the second family of his oldest daughter. Then in a few years William was in Umatilla of Oregon living with his youngest daughter Helen and her husband. Helen later served as the town librarian of Agate Beach, an Oregon coastal village until she was in her nineties. William always developed and maintained garden plots. He died a very old man whose loving daughter and grandchildren visited him at St. Anthony’s by train every Saturday and did little things for him like cutting his hair. “In the Garden”, his favorite song, was played at his funeral, as he’d required.


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