We head to the hills just outside of town for a little walk through murder, political intrigue and free gold along Five Mile Creek.
“But I don’t want to drive for hours” is the usual caveat to afternoon outings. I thought that would limit us to Hulls Gulch or along the river as usual until I remembered the non-motorized trailheads you see up Rocky Canyon Road. They’re only minutes from home and we’ve never tried them. We agree to go for it.
Rocky Canyon Road north of town was once a stagecoach toll road to Idaho City. Now it’s probably best known as the Race to Robie Creek route.
“Do you see the caterpillar?” Jessica asks Brenna as she’s exiting the Jeep a half-second before she steps on it. Brenna stoops, horrified, hoping it may be resuscitated but it’s had its last metamorphosis.
Just as allergies are best prevented by early exposure to allergens, I have an idea the kids will be better adapted to the world if they know its woes as well as wonders.
“Someone was murdered on the trail we’re hiking today,” I mentioned to the back seat as we drove, in part just to pique their interest.
“Yep. Two ladies killed a guy along the trail a few years ago,” I confirmed with an indicting glance at lady Jessica.
Old fire rings in an open area along the creek, not far up the trail, look to be where the crime occurred. Somber trees standing alone on a bare hill above seem to watch in judgment.
Jennifer Mercado, 22, and Diana Lynn Fledderjohann, 33, were arrested early Tuesday morning and charged with first degree murder in connection with the death of 31-year-old Shawn Thomas Halcom, who was found dead May 10 at a campsite near Five Mile Creek trail in the Foothills northeast of Boise.¹
We are following the path up Five Mile Creek hoping to return to the road down Orchard Gulch. It’s more developed, more scenic than I expected. A light breeze and temperatures in the mid-sixties are ideal.
“What’s wrong?” I call back to Brenna. Hunter and Jessica are out of sight, ahead. Brenna is stopped, frowning. She doesn’t answer right away but I see it has to do with a contraption she’s trying to keep together for the Little Ponies she’s brought along.
“It won’t stay in its bed,” she finally explains, clutching some tissues and yarn.
“Hmm, I think it will be tough to keep that together,” I observe.
I remember well bringing Legos and Matchbox cars for family walks or camping. Getting to play with them in a different environment seemed pretty special.
“I guess I’ll just carry her,” Brenna finally concedes. The Little Pony goes in a pocket and we hustle to catch up.
Hunter and Jessica are stopped along the creek where fallen branches make riffles in the water.
“Oh, I think the ponies would like to play here,” I say to Brenna.
“And look at this over here,” Hunter adds, I think pointing out other tiny waterfalls.
“What’s so special about today?” I’d asked Hunter back at the trailhead. He looked at me quizzically. “That you decided to come with,” I explained. He just smiled faintly.
Hunter is unique among our kids, a boy among three girls with different aptitudes and interests. I am happy to see his playfulness that’s been lately obscured by the duties of adolescence. He’s poking around, detouring, calling back with news of little discoveries.
We all laugh, Hunter included, when his leap across the creek lands a foot short — the wisdom of flip-flops demonstrated again.
“Why are they called ‘fire ants’?” Brenna wonders. We’ve come upon an army crossing the trail. These aren’t fire ants but they got the kids thinking.
“Because it burns like fire when they bite you,” Hunter answers as if it’s something any idiot should know.
Brenna is quick to contest the answer since it came from Hunter. “Burning doesn’t hurt that much.”
“You’ve never been burned,” Hunter retorts. Brenna offers examples of hot pans she’s touched. “That’s not really getting burned,” Hunter interrupts.
And so it goes, back and forth until we tell them both to shut up.
“Look at this!” Hunter calls, drawing our attention to a concrete bunker we nearly passed without notice.
These hills are peppered with mining claims from the late 1800s, digs for gold and minerals, hopes of prosperity. We’re near the “Free Gold” claim, though reports suggest it was unproductive and left few marks.¹ If this structure was part of a mining operation, the Scorpion Mine owned by P.J. Pefley is a more likely affiliation. We passed its several digs just a short ways back.
Leppert, Gillerman, “Site Inspection Report for Abandoned and Inactive Mines on Land Administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the Boise Resource Area, Idaho,” Idaho Geological Survey, p. 71: idahogeology.org/…/StaffReport-09-2
Peter Jackson Pefley was a man of some renown, already known to me through studies of the Idaho Constitution. I didn’t expect to encounter him out here. But it turns out this land was part of his ranch. He identified and began work on his Scorpion Mine in 1868.¹
Pefley’s primary occupation was as owner of a saddle shop in downtown Boise but his mine did have a few fortunate pockets. “Specimens of wire gold taken from one of these pockets are on exhibition in the Saddlery Company’s window, as is also a gold button worth 90 cents taken from one pound of ore.”²
Idaho Statesman, “Good Quartz” (March 19, 1868)
Ibid., “News of the Mines” (June 25, 1895)
Pefley grew popular as he worked to develop a Public School System in Boise, eventually becoming the city’s fourteenth mayor in 1887 before his election to the statehouse two years later.¹ He may be best known, though, as a delegate to Idaho’s Constitutional Convention in 1889 where he took several solitary, principled stands.
A proposed section of the constitution had been written to bar from voting and office anyone “who is a bigamist or polygamist, or living in what is known as patriarchal, plural or celestial marriage or in violation of any law of this state,” or anyone even sympathetic to those ideas.²
Although careful not to codify names, the target was explicit. “I do not believe they have a right to exist in this territory,” Delegate A.E. Mayhew argued in defense of the section. “I am willing to do anything to tear down and eradicate the institution of Mormonism in this territory.”³
“The constitutions of nearly all the states have qualifications for voters simply on citizenship,” Pefley countered, “without question with regard to what they believe on this or that question. Then I ask, why make a distinction of the people of Idaho?
It appears to have been reserved for Idaho’s constitution to put in the first religious test in regard to the right of suffrage and holding office … Political and religious persecution are supposed to have died at the termination of the revolution but it appears that Idaho is again an exception.¹
Pefley’s arguments were unheeded and the section was approved. Later, when the final document was to be signed, Pefley addressed the body: “I always think consistency is a jewel highly prized, and inasmuch as there are sections in there that I could not endorse when they passed as sections or articles, I cannot conscientiously sign the Constitution.”²
He was the only one of the sixty-five delegates not to sign.
We might imagine Pefley up here, releasing Constitutional frustrations with a pickaxe and shovel. To the kids, though, it’s a place of whimsy, nothing more. They can barely comprehend past prejudices they learn of at school or from a show.
Hunter sits quietly taking in the secret space while Brenna has her Little Ponies explore nooks and crannies.
I don’t mind the graffiti decorating the interior of the structure but it’s hard to understand the motivation to drive then hike here from town with cans of spray paint. We’d be happy if our kids just picked up their floors.
Hunter gestures a threat to push his mom over a steep bank into a tangle of thorns, which causes him to go off-balance and fall down. That’s what happens when you threaten mom.
In the meantime, miniature horses gallop and soar among trees below.
Small blue butterflies flit on the breeze around us as we walk, like fairy companions.
The trail along Five Mile Creek continues a bit farther up the gulch before switching back to climb the ridge to the southwest. Our loop is the other way so we’ve left the creek early to go right at a wye over the ridge to the east.
“I hope your gymnastics legs can make it,” I tease Brenna when she complains of the climb. (She has twelve hours of gymnastics training each week.)
The breeze is stronger up here, carrying desert scents both sweet and herbal. The radial points of lupine leaves are everywhere, pushing up from the earth. The hills will turn purple if they all bloom.
We can see back down the gulch to Boise now, past dry hills belying the riparian spaces between them.
“It would be fun to bicycle down this trail,” I muse, expecting to get some agreement. But it’s a tough crowd today.
Brenna breaks into some kind of puppy dance, channeling the newest stuffed companion riding on her backpack. When she leaves for school in the morning I often urge, “be wild” or “cause trouble,” but I think we might be the only ones who see it.
The final climb brings us to an old road cut that carries us over two ridges to Orchard Gulch. “Brenna and I were in those mountains a week ago,” I muse at the horizon fifty miles distant, “looking back at these” — thoughts of space and time.
The old road ends and we descend into the gulch, glad to return to creekside trees and shrubs.
“Wolf,” Hunter concludes of a deer carcass along the trail. It’s fur is scattered all around.
Much of the chocolate bark is painted bright orange, a remarkable contrast.
“What are you doing?” I ask Brenna. She’s standing still, looking at a dismembered deer leg on the ground, still with hoof and fur.
“Just looking at the deer’s leg,” she answers. Life and death are fascinating for a nine year old. Or anyone.
“Just don’t break your arm,” Jessica implores (something he’s done twice before) as Hunter walks back to get a run at a berm he plans to fly from.
“I’m ready,” I signal. He wants me to catch a picture.
The trail along Orchard Gulch isn’t long and soon we’re back at Rocky Canyon Road, a mile or so from where we parked. “Where do you want to eat?” I ask as we stroll along the gravel, per the tacit day hike deal.
“That was kind of perfect,” I remark to Jessica as we reach the Jeep. The sights, temperature, distance, all very nice.
“Yes it was.”
I will leave with a final thought from P.J. Pefley:
I have very little confidence in legislatures, especially where a majority is made up of any one party. Under the lash they would be very likely to disfranchise any man that did not agree with the majority sentiments; on that it would be as complete in its inquisitorial powers as the holy Spanish Inquisition ever was in its palmiest state.¹