The Homestead

I left Ketchum and drove north on Idaho 75 into the Sawtooth mountains– a spectacularly beautiful drive on an excellent highway.  Split rail fence marches in uneven lines to enclose cattle grazing on fields that stretch for miles.  The jagged mountains in the distance live up to their name–sawtooth.  The Salmon river rushes along the side of the road.  I saw fly fisherman thigh deep in the river casting their glistening lines visible in the sunshine like a spider’s web sunlit and dew drop embellished.  Norman Maclean‘s lovely book A River Runs Through It came to mind.  As the mountains move closer to the road they lose their sharp form and resemble sensuous folds of velvet draped over soft hills.

I was headed for Challis.  Troy Deneen Smith registered in Challis for the draft in 1915.  Challis is the Custer county seat–a small town clean and quiet.  It is about 50 miles from Mackay where my grandfather lived most of his life.   As I continued toward Mackay I imagined my 30 year old grandfather riding a horse or bouncing along in a wagon on a rutted dirt road in 1915 going to register for World War I.  He didn’t serve in the war.

His draft card says his occupation was “farming;” his employer Augusta Paetsch; nearest relative Sallie Smith; blue eyes, brown hair.  My friend, Carol, an avid genealogist,  helped me find his draft card when I first began this research and observed that it would be easier to trace Paetsch than Smith!  She was correct.  I found out a lot about this man–a mystery to us all–by going to the 1900 census for Custer County and looking for Paetsch.

Augusta and Ernst Paetsch and her father Chris Rogers were born in Germany.  They had three children: Albert, Marie and Helen.  In the next census, she was a widow and her elderly father Chris Rogers was living with her and the children.  The Paetsch homesteaded this land as many immigrants did in the late 1800’s.  Augusta was born in 1876 or 1878 making her at least 10 years older than Troy Deneen.  They did not have any children together.

Troy started working in the area during haying season in 1912.    By 1915, Augusta was his employer.  In August 1919 he and Augusta were married in Hailey, Idaho, near Ketchum.  He is listed as head of household on the 1920 and 1930 census records.  In 1930 only Helen, age 22, lived at home with her mother and stepfather.  I imagine that Troy started out living in the bunkhouse and later moved to the larger home.

He was twice elected to the State Legislature in 1935 and again in 1937.  He was a Democrat.  He was a successful cattleman.

In October 1939 the Boonville Advertiser ran the following: “Mr. Smith was killed last Wednesday, Oct. 4, at his ranch home near Mackay when a shotgun was accidentally  discharged into his body as he was preparing for a deer hunt.  He was 50 years old.”

As I wandered around the deserted property I found myself wishing I had known of this man long before now.  I understand that my father had no desire to acquaint himself with a man who had deserted him, but I wish we could have at least been aware that our grandfather had lived a full and interesting life.  I don’t think I’ll be able to figure out why he left his wife and child but I cannot believe that it was simply wanderlust.

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