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MEEKER | More than 100 years ago, members of this community had their own version of staying-in-place. It was called homesteading and eventually ranching. Stories passed down from the families that settled here always include the bond they felt with the people who lived the closest to them. They may not have liked some of them but in times of trouble, they could always count on their nearest neighbor, whether it be a few miles down the road or far, far away. The neighbor range included folks living all the way up the White River to Trappers Lake (formerly Garfield County), as well as those scattered ranch and farm folk in all of the other directions. Upper Elk Creek, Pagoda, Hamilton, White River City, Powell Park, Josephine Basin, Upper Strawberry Creek were only a few.
They may have thought of the folks who lived closer together in town as their “community” but it was more a place they visited once or twice a year for supplies. Their community was the people who got together socially once in a while. These were their homefolks, the one’s who checked on them to make sure they were surviving all of the hardships that were part of living on homestead required. The doors of most of the rough timbered structures were left unlocked so if anyone got stranded, they could find shelter and food, as well as firewood to use in an old stove or fireplace.
Years ago while I was compiling local recipes for “The Meeker Cookbook” with my friend and co-author Linda Tempel, there were many descendants who shared their pioneer recipes with us. All of them talked about the frequent lean years when they could barely keep food on the table. Their talk of hard times included stories filled with details about how they survived during the times of hardship, as well as sharing their unique family tales of how they overcame the challenges they all faced. So many early settlers “made do” with what they had on hand to keep the larder full in times of hardship. Some of these family favorites were soups or stews that had to stretch for days to feed their big families, as well as assorted friends or neighbors. Sometimes the neighbors brought whatever they could share from their own slim pickings. If they hadn’t hunted for a while and the snow was piled up around their ears, they substituted all sorts of things from their larder to make a facsimile of flavors. Flora Kirkpatrick’s mock lemon pie, and Audrey Oldland’s mincemeat pie comes to mind.
Social distancing would have been unimaginable in those early days here. The isolation of the far-flung communities could have been called self-imposed, but geographically-quarantined applies more aptly. The few times a year that White River Valley residents gathered together in schoolhouses or ranches did not guarantee this self-quarantining would work. Residents here throughout both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the fast-spreading illnesses such as the Spanish Flu and polio lost many family members, as well as friends. That must be why it seems that many of their descendants of these pioneer families have learned the importance of immunizations.
Unfortunately, those developments had an unexpected side effect. It seems to have erased our collective memory and we take them for granted. Staying in place for a few more weeks seems to be a small price to pay.
By DOLLY VISCARDI | Special to the Herald Times