We Are East Idaho: Dubois
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DUBOIS — As the Grassy Ridge Fire closed in on Dubois last July, locals received official instructions to evacuate.
Bonnie Stoddard, a long-time resident of Dubois, took very little with her. But what she did take was heavy. Stoddard has been working on a book to celebrate the centennial of Clark County, so she packed her computer along with clothes, medicine and some pictures.
“It does make you think,” Stoddard said. “If you had to leave within a half hour, what would you take?”
Dubois mayor Annette Eddins was in West Yellowstone when she received word that Dubois was threatened by a fire. She rushed home and stayed in the office until 1 a.m. handling the emergency.
“Two big fires in the summer – that was more than Dubois has handled for a long time,” Eddins said.
While she helped on the administrative side, the Dubois volunteer fire department was putting in hours of unpaid work to save the town from the fast-moving fires.
Tim Thomas, who has lived in Dubois his whole life, was outfitting hunters when the Indian Creek fire started. He immediately went to help residents move their cows. He almost had to leave his truck and run when the truck became stuck momentarily passing through a creek.
It was a difficult time for the community, but it also wasn’t the first time Dubois has weathered a disaster.
The snowstorm of 1989
In 1989, an intense four-day blizzard brought ice, huge mounds of snow, and bitterly cold winds of 40 to 80 mph. Weather reports from the time show wind chill reaching as low as 101 below zero.
The town was blanketed by massive snowdrifts that covered entire homes and other facilities, such as the Sheep Experimentation Plant, where many Dubois residents work about five miles north of Dubois, Eddins said.
“It was horrible. There was ice so thick on the outside and inside of the windows that you couldn’t see anything,” Eddins recalls.
The weight of the snow on the roofs was so much that Eddins and her husband worried what would happen to their children if the roof caved in.
Today, the 1989 blizzard is considered one of the greatest agricultural disasters in eastern Idaho history.
An estimated 800 cattle and nearly 2,000 sheep died of exposure alongside a significant, but uncounted, number of elk, moose and coyotes between Feb. 2 to 6. Total losses were estimated at $912,000 (more than $1.85 million in today’s dollars), according to a Post Register report.
Eddins’ husband, who had worked for one of the families that lost cattle, went out on a tractor to help recover the bodies. He said the animals froze solid and when ice formed on the animals’ mouths and nostrils, suffocating them.
Eventually the National Guard was called in and Clark County was declared a disaster area. “It took days to clear tunnels through the community and weeks to move the snow. Many drifts were so large, they didn’t melt until mid-April,” the Post Register reports.
“I pray we never go through that again,” Eddins said.
The history of Dubois
Dubois, a town of some 650 residents, has survived fire and ice on the windy plains of east Idaho since 1892. Even though it is such a small town, it is the seat of sparsely populated Clark County.
Clark County was named for Sam Clark, a pioneer who lived at Medicine Lodge Creek and represented Fremont County in the State Legislature.
Originally called Dry Creek, Dubois was named for Fred R. Dubois, who served as Idaho’s last Territorial Delegate from 1887 to 1890 and a Senator from 1891 to 1897 and 1901 to 1907. Even though Dubois ran his last Senate race as a Republican, he switched to Democrat not long after and moved to Washington, D.C. He died there and is now buried in Blackfoot.
On her table, Stoddard has a blue book that is six inches thick called Settlers of the Silver Sage. She helped write it for Idaho’s centennial in 1990.
Now, almost 30 years later, Stoddard is writing another book for Clark County’s centennial celebration. The actual anniversary is on Feb. 1, but the town will celebrate on June 14 because of Idaho’s winters.
Stoddard and her team of writers spent years putting together Settlers of the Silver Sage, and it’s mostly a collection of personal stories and histories. One of her favorite stories includes a group of children throwing the contents of the “thunder mug” (a.k.a. chamber pot) down the stairs while their parents had guests over.
Another group who contributed to the book were the Mennonites. Stoddard said their lives were hard, “but it was the best times of their lives because they learned to work together in their problems.”
Although Dubois is small and may not seem like much to outsiders, the residents enjoy living here. Both Stoddard and Thomas said they loved the “wide, open spaces” of the plains surrounded Dubois, while Eddins loves the community.
“The people care about each other here,” Eddins said. “In small communities, that’s what you find.”