The supportive nonprofit that keeps the county-owned museum in Joseph operating, The Friends of the Wallowa County Museum, has been soliciting family stories since 2014 to be published as a history book.
Several of the members were involved in the publication of a 1983 history book that is out of print and considered an heirloom.
Earlier this year, I agreed to help them move their gathered stories into publication, and what fun and how interesting that has been. The History Book Committee members are hardworking, and it seems they love Wallowa County stories as well as their own children. Though we don’t have a specific date for the books on hand, we’re aiming for the end of the year. Watch for notices of pre-sale ordering.
We lost a couple of figures of living history in recent weeks. Bill Bailey of Imnaha lived to be 101 and Arnold Schaeffer was a heartstone of Lower Valley. Though I never was acquainted with Bill, I can only imagine what stories he held of Wallowa County.
In February 2014, having lived here for only two weeks, I was assigned to write a magazine article about mules. After the guidelines were offered, I called Janie Tippett.
“I don’t know a thing about mules!” I told her.
She gave me name of five outfitters to contact for interviews, and Arnold entered my life.
He must have read “sucker for stories” on my forehead, because the interview lasted longer than I planned. I left saying, “You have too much to tell for one article. Your stories need to be in a book. I’ll be back.”
Thus a three-year friendship was borne. The first book of what was later dubbed “The High Mountain Series” was “Mack the Mule,” a fascinating story of the Schaeffer family guiding from Lapover Pack Station with Mack.
Within a few weeks after the Mack book, Arnold called. “I’ve got some more stories.”
“I’ll be down tomorrow,” I replied.
From that came “A Ride to the Promise Land.”
His phone calls became like bait cast in my direction. Numerous trips to his home produced more books, “Mama Wapiti,” “Doc Adair” and “Crow Cabin.”
In the mix were me taking him for rides. At Two Pan, hunters unloading their stock gathered round Arnold for some good visiting. Headed back home, I said, “You’re a rock star, Arnold.”
He grinned, “Isn’t that a kick?”
We had a wonderful visit when I learned he was in the hospital a couple of months ago. Yet I wondered when I left how much longer he would last.
Soon after, Mary at The Bookloft called several times wanting more of Arnold’s books. When making the delivery, I asked her, “What’s going on? I thought things were winding down with these books.”
She replied, “Arnold’s in the hospital selling his books.”
I still laugh about that.
My appreciation goes out to his family who shared Arnold with me and heartfelt condolences to all who knew him. We certainly lost a treasure.
Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer and blogs at awallowagal.com.