by Genevieve Mayberry
It wasn't in Frank Reid's nature to settle down to peaceful
pedantry, and when one hid-bound school board director " 'lowed as how" he was
an infidel, it was too much. Frank left the teaching profession cold.
He wasn't an infidel -- not by any manner of means -- but he did prefer wide
open spaces to the narrow confines of the meetin' house where the long-winded
school director held forth with dolorous hallelujahs.
Frank Reid packed his college diploma in a bag with his
surveyor's transit and hit the trail to the Klondike. It was a lonely
trail and ended in tragedy in Skagway in July of 1898.
It was back in 1873 when two tall, blond brothers came to the
land "where rolls the Oregon." In their clear gray eyes shone the light of
adventure and in their saddle bags were brand-new college diplomas granting them
the privilege to survey land and teach school. They were Dick and Frank
Reid. Dick was the taller, the handsomer, and by far the more conservative
of the two brothers. Both of the Reids were high-tempered and a bit
imperious, but Frank was possessed of an impetuosity that amounted to rashness.
With their different temperaments, it was only natural that each
should choose a different path. Dick settled down to the life of an
educator. He did some farming and a bit of surveying, but education was
his chosen field. He rose rapidly in Oregon educational circles and became
a college president.
Frank's entire life was one of high-adventure. The light
of adventure that shone so brightly in his eyes when he came to Oregon never
left until it was quenched by an assassin's bullet on the Skagway docks.
The Reid boys were originally from Peoria, Illinois. The
boys were orphaned at an early age and had no close relatives. It was up
to them to fend for themselves and they did a surprisingly good job. They
were determined to secure college educations and, by dint of hard work during
summers, were able to save enough money to put them through the winters at
college. They were graduated from a Michigan college and soon thereafter
started for the West.
It was necessary for them to work their way and they literally
surveyed their way across the miles to Oregon. They were headed for the
Valley of the Willamette. At last, after trekking over barren buffalo
lands, through the quicksands of treacherous river beds and across the
blistering sagebrush deserts along the winding Snake River, they came to the
gem-like Grand Ronde Valley. Even the beauties of that place could not
turn them from their purpose, and they followed the deep rutted trail over the
rough Blue Mountains, down the road Columbia to where it meets the waters of the
Willamette, and from there to where the town of Lebanon now stands.
The Valley of the Willamette fulfilled their highest
expectations. So lovely and promising it was that they decided to settle
down. Even Frank, whose turbulent spirit rebelled against the very idea of
settling down anywhere, was lulled into temporary quietude by the beauty of the
oak-clad hills and verdant valleys.
School teachers were in far greater demand than civil engineers
in the West at that time. Schools and churches came to the West in the
first contingent of pioneers. Packed away in the chests jolting on the
wagon floors of the prairie schooners were Bibles and school books, and in the
hearts of the emigrants was a deep desire that their children should not forego
the advantages of real "book learnin' " in this new frontier.
The Reid brothers soon found themselves established as
schoolmasters in log-school houses, and confronted with log benches filled with
eager-eyed little pioneers. In his first school district Dick met a
blue-eyes lassie and succumbed to her charms. His wanderings were
definitely over for all time.
Frank never married. He never remained in one place very
long, although he did teach a number of terms of school. After his
distaste for the doleful meeting house atmosphere drew such scathing
condemnation, his peregrinations took him farther and farther afield. He
called the farmstead of John Smith in the Willamette Valley home and it was to
that place he always returned after his adventurous journeyings.
In the late 1870's a number of wagons on the Oregon Trail were
molested by a few pitiful and ragged remnants of Indians making a last stand
against the great influx of white people into their hunting grounds. In
the subsequent flurry Frank Reid joined the militia that crossed the Cascades to
help quell the uprising. The struggle -- if such a gesture might be so
called -- was brief and the Indians were soon settled on reservations.
In his visit to the Smith farm just preceding his trip into the
eastern part of Oregon, Frank Reid had promised the little ten-year-old daughter
o the Smiths he would bring her an Indian pony. When he returned from "the
wars" he brought the pony. This act was typical of the generosity and
thoughtfulness of Frank Reid. My mother, who was that ten-year-old Smith
daughter, remembers that Frank was admired by all the grown-ups and frankly
adored by all the children for his kindly ways. He was something of a hero
too, and a traveler of no small dimensions in those days of horse and buggy
Not many men, in the excitement of an Indian war, would have
remembered a promise to a little girl. But Frank did. He brought
Ebram to the Smith farm. Ebram was small, brown and tough. He was a
typical cayuse and quite gentle. But, alas! Ebram's sharp little
hooves were full of corns! Whether it was his life in the rocky Blue
Mountains or the long trip over the Cascades no one knew, but poor little Ebram
was a sorry horse. In spite of the soft pasture lands along the swales of
the Smith farm and the hours of patient pruning by Frank Reid, Ebram still
limped. It looked as though he were destined to hobble through life.
Plainly he was no pony for a little pioneer who wanted to fly along country
roads, pigtails streaming in the wind!
One day Frank saddled up his horse and rode away from the ranch.
Ebram trotted docilely behind him on a lead rope tied to the saddle horn.
Weeks later Frank returned to the Smith ranch. On his lead
rope this time pranced a streamlined pinto. No corns in the hooves of this
little pony! He was promptly named Pinto, and the little Smith girl on the
fine little black-and-white pony became a familiar sight on the country roads in
that section. Pinto was a one-girl horse, and his favorites stunt was to
buck the Smith brothers off his back in the middle of the big ranch canal that
ran through the barnyard.
Frank Reid had an enviable reputation as a hunter and an outdoor
man even in that frontier country where every man was a hunter and an outdoor
man from necessity and not from choice. During the time he was home at the
Smiths the larder never lacked for provender from the fields and streams.
He was an adored bachelor uncle. He loved his little
nieces, the tiny daughters of Dick and Mary. In those days modish men were
rarely seen without a few chin whiskers. Frank was modish. The
little girls loved to sit on his lap and, by skillful maneuvering, manage to
bury their hands in his blond whiskers. Frank, unable to escape, would
howl with pain and eyes fill with tears. His howls were always accompanied
by shrill shrieks of glee, for to the babies this was his way of playing a very
Frank was generous to a fault and his days were happily free
It is not known whether or not he had heard of Soapy Smith
before he came to Alaska. It was not at all unlikely, for Soapy "played"
most of the small towns of the West with his shell game. He spent some
time in Oregon, and my mother's sister, the wife of Dick Reid, remembers having
heard Soapy bally-hooing his "line" on a street corner in Eugene in the days
The two men came to Alaska at approximately the same time.
Both were lured by the call of adventure and the gold fields. Soapy
brought his gambler's paraphernalia and his bagful of tricks. Frank
brought his surveying outfit, and did a considerable amount of work.
The story of the tragedy on the dock in Skagway has been told
too many times for another recounting. Frank Reid, representing the forces
of law, order, and that intangible thing we Americans call democracy, was shot
and killed. So was Soapy Smith, who represented the forces of evil,
embodies in dictatorship and gangsterism. The story has become an Alaskan
Today Frank Reid's grave is only one of the many graves of
heroes who have given their lives to rid Alaska of the enemies of freedom and
democracy. The most of the other graves are on Attu -- some are at Dutch
Harbor and other are scattered in lonely outposts. There are many graves
in the class with the grave of Soapy Smith, too. The most of them are on
Attu. They are occupied by some slant-eyed, buck-teethed "Sons of Heaven"
who also are the enemies of the force we call democracy.
If Frank Reid had lied into the 1940's he would want to be in a
foxhole in the front lines, for he was of the stuff of which heroes are made.
He gave his life to rid Alaska of the evil of a dictatorship which represented
the same forces which the allied nations are fighting today -- freedom from fear
and the right to throw pop bottles at the umpire.
Source: Mayberry, Genevieve, "Frank Reid." Alaska
Life: The Territorial Magazine. Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing
Co., July, 1945.