Rigby home a monument to its owner and pieces of American history
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RIGBY – A 5,200-square-foot home on the outskirts of Rigby is a modern museum piece.
Located between Rigby and Menan, the house sits on 7 acres of secluded land surrounded by a fishing pond and an outlet that flows into the Snake River.
Its owner, Harley Reno — a beloved member of the community who passed away in spring 2021 after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s — intended the property to serve as a sanctuary for wildlife. Harley designed the home with wildlife observation in mind. With camera in hand or mounted on a tripod, Reno often looked out his front window to capture a rare view of wildlife activity not typically seen in eastern Idaho.
“There are wood ducks in our pond every year,” Cathy Reno, Harley’s widow, tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We once saw a deer being born in our front yard, and an eagle came and (snatched it away).”
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, Cathy spoke about her husband and the life he lived, which she says would dramatically fill the pages of a book. But talking about himself was never in his nature, she says.
Another distinctive quality about Harley’s property is the home itself.
Although the massive flooding at Yellowstone National Park last month is fresh in people’s mind, Harley’s home is a monument to a different Yellowstone disaster dating back 34 years ago. It’s built from logs salvaged in the Yellowstone Fire in 1988.
Cathy says Harley designed the house himself, and lumber was expensive. When wood from Yellowstone became available, it was cheap, and Harley had the first pick of what he wanted.
“He had five master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in entomology. He was a fish specialist and taught high school in Idaho Falls. Every year, he would teach a class on entomology,” says Cathy. “Because of his background and all of his credentials, he had first choice of the logs.”
The Trail of Tears and Marcus Reno
It’s also full of many historical artifacts dating back to the 1800s.
Harley had Native American ancestry and was a member of the Delaware and Cherokee Indian tribes. A small display in one corner of his house honors the memory of thousands of Cherokee who were forcibly removed from their homeland in the 1830s and relocated to Oklahoma. It’s an incident now referred to as the Trail of Tears.
In this same corner is a small likeness of Harley’s cousin, Major Marcus Reno, who was second in command to General George Custer during the Battle of Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand) in 1876.
During the two-day conflict, Cathy says Custer sent Marcus and his battalion to attack the Indian village on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. It didn’t take long for Marcus to realize they were outnumbered and “they were getting decimated.”
“Marcus took his remaining group up on a hillside, and later Custer came in (from the opposite side). When the Indians found out where Custer was … they went over and completely wiped out Custer’s band,” Cathy says. “Marcus Reno and his band lived because after they realized Custer was killed, they all left.”
The major was later criticized for this action, with some accusing him of not following orders in carrying out the attack, according to the National Park Service.
“A woman who lost a husband and a son in the battle deemed (Marcus) a coward,” Cathy says.
A court of inquiry was called, which determined “there is nothing in his conduct which required (adverse criticism) from the Court,” the park service reports.
“He was exonerated, but he spent everything he had trying to defend himself,” says Cathy.
To this day, Cathy says Major Reno is highly thought of among the Native Americans because he did not take any violent action against them.
He was eventually dismissed from the Army before dying of cancer. It was years later before he was given full military honors and buried at Little Bighorn next to his scout.
“When I found all this out, I said to Harley, ‘I found this (statue of Marcus) and I’m going to give him a place of honor in the home. He deserves that,'” Cathy explains.
Marcus is often confused with Major General Jesse Lee Reno, who was killed while leading his men into battle during the Civil War on Sept. 14, 1862. Reno, Nevada and El Reno, Oklahoma were named in his honor, and Harley is related to him as well.
Honoring Harley’s memory
With such noteworthy ancestry, Harley went on to have a fascinating life of his own after living on the streets of Oakland, California, as a kid. He eventually ended up in Idaho and through the years, Cathy says Harley was never one to “toot his own horn.”
He preferred instead to live a quiet life, tying flies and mentoring others while enjoying the beauty of the world around him on his private refuge in Rigby.
And Cathy is hoping to preserve that experience for others in his memory.
She’s living in the home with her son, Kevin, and the two of them are working to turn it into a museum of sorts, where families can come to visit, learn about Harley and the history inside, fish in the pond and enjoy the wildlife.
“We want to start an annual fish derby for the kids. Harley was all about kids because he had no grandchildren,” says Cathy.
Cathy is planning to leave the home to Kevin when she dies. But eventually, it will be given back to the Thomas family, her neighbors who originally sold the property to Harley many years ago.
“Harley and I talked about it. That’s what we wanted to do for years,” says Cathy. “Harley has completely transformed this place … and how like God to let us be here because the Thomases never sell any of their land.”