In My Backyard



   In central Idaho, nestled in a small valley near the Salmon River, is the village of White Bird. Twenty-one miles southeast is the small city of Grangeville, the Idaho County Seat.

The summit of White Bird Hill (halfway between both towns) overlooks the site of the opening battle of the Nez Pierce Indian Wars of 1877- a disastrous defeat of the U.S. Calvary. The ancient gray basalt cliffs and the rolling hills, gray green in spring and brown the remainder of the year, was already a part of history when the Oscar Rape family purchased the summit homestead in 1900. This was the childhood home of my father and his three brothers.

The original dirt road from White Bird to Grangeville wandered up the steep slope in a series of switchbacks and passed directly in front of the Rape homestead. Even in fair weather, the eleven-mile trek to the crest was treacherous and exhausting for teams of freighters hauling goods to nearby settlements. Just reaching the top could take the better part of a day. It was not long before the Rape family discovered the advantage of operating a rest stop. The Halfway House, located between Grangeville and White Bird, provided fresh teams, food and lodging for the weary travelers.

In 1910, Butler Rape, father of Oscar purchased an additional 247 acres adjacent to his son. A few months later, he died in a fall from the cliffs and the land was divided between the four Rape boys. Walter Rape, moved his family on the newly acquired land.

During family trips down White Bird Hill to visit relatives, Dad would often reminisce about his young life at the Halfway House.

In the winter the older Rape boys resided with their Aunt Edith Calkins Remington [Braybrook] in Grangeville to attend school. The two younger boys, Emil “Doc” (my dad) and infant, Cecil, remained with their parents. One exceptionally long and boring winter day, Mattie – tired of her young son’s mischief – gave Doc a box full of coins hoping they would distract him while she went about her daily chores. The coins indeed entertained him.  The three-year-old poked each coin down the cracks of the old plank floor.

  Dad would laugh and say, “I’ll bet I could still find those coins if I could locate the old home-site.” We all presumed Dad was talking about pennies, or nickels. But many years later, when the word “coins” took on new meaning.

While using the Internet for research, I often posted queries in a variety of places. Many months later an email arrived from a collector seeking information on a Rape Brothers’ token that was in the possession of a fellow collector. These men are as serious about token collecting as we are about genealogy. Both belong to the Idaho State Token Collectors Club and one was writing a book on the history of tokens in the state. For several years they had been attempting to locate the source of this token. The collector had done his homework but could not piece together any likely source. He sent me, as well as other Rape family members, several pages of data on the Idaho clan hoping to solve the puzzle. No one had the answer.

I was not aware such a token existed but there had to be a connection to my family. The only other Rape family in the area, while distantly connected to ours lived further south and had little, if any, connection to the White Bird area.

The collectors had located a diner owned by George Rape (brother to Oscar) in Orofino, Idaho but there was no indication any of his siblings were a partner. Oscar and Mattie operated the Halfway House, but it did not appear to be a logical choice either.  It was much later before discovering that Walter had lived nearby. That left one other option – the pool hall and general store Oscar and Mattie [Calkins] operated in Lapwai, Idaho sometime after 1915.  However, there was still no records  that proved any of Oscar’s siblings lived nearby. George and Ed lived in Washington State and Walter was listed as residing in Grangeville.

I emailed my Calkins cousins hoping for a clue. I also contacted the two oldest surviving members of our clan. No one could shed any light or actual dates on the Lapwai business or the Rape Token.

It was beginning to look like this mystery would remain unsolved until I had a casual conversation with my eldest sister. I mentioned the Rape Brother’s token. Before I could finish my sentence, she said, “Oh, you mean the one that says ‘Rape Brothers’ on one side and ‘Good for five-cents trade’ on the other?”  I was speechless. How did she know about the token? “I have one ,” she replied, “Grandpa (Oscar) gave it to me years and years ago – it came from the Halfway House. ” There is was – mystery solved.  Dad was not talking about playing with pennies or nickels – he was talking about tokens! Precious few of these tokens now exist but somewhere on that summit buried under the site of an old family farm perhaps lay a tiny treasure that gave my dad so much pleasure that winter day.

The moral of this story - sometimes the answers to our family’s most complex mysteries is as close as our own backyard. From now on, I think I will make a point of asking everyone.

Shannon Conder

Originally published in the RFA* family Newsletter, Reeb Roots Vo. 2, No. 3, Winter 2001

*The Reeb Families Association is no longer in exsistence.


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