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Frank Reid

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 travel.

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 funny game!

Frank was generous to a fault and his days were happily free from responsibility.

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 before '98.

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 classic.

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.

 

 



 


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