Authorities drain Sable Lake in search for missing area rancher

MEEKER I About Aug. 2, 1931, Lester Burns, a prominent citizen of this county, disappeared somewhere between the K-T summer camp on Snell Creek and the Bennett Place on State Highway No. 132. He was last seen alive in the morning walking down the highway going to the Bennett Place, where he was expecting to get help to get his car back on the road.
The night before he had started to Marvine to a dance and got his car off the road some distance below the Bennett Place. He gave up going to the dance and returned to the K-T summer camp to spend the night. He left the camp early in the morning and started down the highway. A search was commenced in the afternoon of the same day but up to the present time, no trace of Burns has ever been found.
Almost a year before, one Hermie Parks disappeared in this same neighborhood and under practically the same circumstances, and although a thorough hunt was made, no trace of him was ever found.
Under the circumstances, the district attorney and the sheriff made a very intensive search of the immediate vicinity where Lester Burns disappeared with the hope that some clue would lead to the discovery of his body. In the search, it was discovered that a horse, shod, had gone from near the place where Lester disappeared through the timber to Sable Lake. This horse track did not follow any trail but kept to the thick timber and avoided all open places and upon approaching the lake avoided all generally traveled routes and went around the south side through the timber and stopped at the edge of the lake near the steepest bank. Evidence uncovered there indicates that a large stone had been taken out of the bank at this place and could not be accounted for. The fact that this horse returned practically the same way that it approached the lake and other evidence and clues, led the district attorney to believe that this body may have been thrown in the lake at this point. It is hard to get a good picture of this particular spot as it has to be taken at a great distance across the lake.
Attempts were made to drag the lake and also to locate the body by spearing. The water was approximately 16 feet deep and the lake bottom covered with mud from five to seven feet deep. Nothing was accomplished by dragging on account of the great amount of debris in the bottom of the lake. The district attorney procured a diving apparatus and suit from San Francisco and Undersheriff Merlin Smith of Garfield County made a good many descents in this apparatus to attempt to locate the body and at one time had a very narrow escape owing to the fact that he sank in the mud and his signals were misunderstood. Nothing could be accomplished by this diver on account of the mud, being unable to move around in it and because the water in this lake is not clear. It was therefore decided to drain this lake, the first five feet of water being taken off by a ditch, the balance to be pumped out.
In order to get the pump set in an advantageous position, it had to be set out in the lake about 120 feet from the shore line, and in order to do this, it was necessary to build a bridge which would carry the tractor out about 70 feet and a lighter structure 50 feet beyond there on which to place the pump. The building of this bridge out over this mud was an operation to which a good deal of danger was connected by reason of the fact that if anybody ever fell in this mud he would have smothered before help could reach him. All the timber used in this bridge was green timber cut from the hillside adjoining the lake and was handled entirely by man power. The method of building a foundation for the bridge was done by building log cribs 9×12 feet and adding height as the crib sank into the mud until a point was reached where no further sinking occurred when the tractor was moved out. The lighter structure for the pump was built on piling driven by hand. No accidents occurred during this construction.
The scene of these operations was eight miles from a wagon road over very rough country and very steep. One of the county “Cats” was used to trail a wagon and pull the pump and outfit in to the lake.
After beginning pumping operations this soft mud kept sliding into the deeper water and as this mud was full of all sorts of debris, it required a good deal of time to exhaust this water. After the water was exhausted, a thorough examination of the bottom of the lake within a radius of 100 feet of the point where the body was supposed to have been thrown into the lake was made, but no evidence of the body was discovered.