BY KAREN BOSSICK
The Wood River Journal~Bellevue
Ora Lee Disbennett used to skate to Bellevue on the canals that froze over in the winter.
And in summer she’d ride her horse into town from the family farm, which sits 1 and one-half miles south of Bellevue.
“In those days Highway 75 was US 93—it was a national highway,” she recalls. “But we probably knew every car that went up the road—there were probably 10 cars a day in those days.”
Those days were 60, 70 years ago.
Today Disbennett is 76 and about to be inducted into the 2007 Blaine County Historical Museum’s Heritage Court, which honors women who helped make the Wood River Valley what it is today.
Disbennett’s family was among the early pioneers in the valley. Her great-grandparents, the Fowlers, owned a dairy farm south of Ketchum near the site of St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center. An uncle worked in the mines. And her father and his father homesteaded what became known as the Myers ranch south of Bellevue.
Disbennett and her husband Otis Tinker Disbennett still live on part of the family farm, which sits above the Big Wood River.
When Ora Lee was growing up with her brother Jack and sisters Meredith, Mavis and Joan, the family farm resounded with the baas, moos and cackle of sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys.
“No ducks, though,” she says. “They got on the canal and floated away.”
There was no radio because there was no electricity. There was no running water, either—unless you count the creek in front of the house.
As the family tomboy, the fiery red head was pressed into service milking cows when her father took sick when she was in the third grade. It’s a chore she continued until she left home following high school.
“Then Dad got a milking machine,” she says.
In between school ballet class and playing on the district champion basketball team, Ora Lee danced square dances, polkas and the Virginia Reel to the string music of the Allred brothers. Hot irons kept her feet warm as she traveled by sled to barn dances near Glendale.
“I was 10 or 11 when one of the men first asked me to dance,” she recalls. “I swooned.”
She also loved going to Bellevue, which boasted a blacksmith’s shop, an IOOF Hall, two grocery stores, a post office, three service stations, a motel and three bars, including the Palace Club with the town’s only cafe.
“The town had a good library, too. I read at least two books a week—Zane Grey, mysteries…”
Fourth of July brought the carnival to Hailey, complete with Ferris wheel and merry go round rides for a nickel a ride.
Once a year, the family would drive to Challis to see an aunt and every Thanksgiving they’d drive to Jerome to another aunt’s. That was the extent of Ora Lee’s traveling, however, since farm chores always needed to be done.
“The train came through every day. I’d love to have gotten on it and seen where it would take me,” she says. “But I didn’t even go to Twin Falls until I was out of high school.”
In 1949, when she was 18, Disbennett married Tinker, whom she’d known since grammar school. Their mothers witnessed the simple ceremony performed by an Episcopal minister. They had just $2 to pay the preacher.
The couple bought four acres from Ora Lee’s grandmother Letti Myers, a Boise native who had been married in Hailey, moved to Stanton Crossing and then purchased the land south of Bellevue so her kids could go to school.
They paid $25 an acre and built a basement to live in while they saved up to build their house. Tinker bussed to the Triumph Mine every day and then joined the Army as an engineer.
Ora Lee joined him at Fort Belvar in Virginia and Fort Ord near Monterrey, Calif. When he was shipped overseas to build an airport in France, she returned home, where she drove a team, hauling hay by wagon.
“Oh my! I thought I was important!” she recalls.
When Tinker returned, he went back to work at the Triumph Mine while Ora Lee worked as a maid at Sun Valley for 85 cents an hour.
There she met Sun Valley Founder Averill Harriman, whom she described as very nice and common.” She also saw plenty of actresses and got to talk to Gary Cooper.
“I had my mouth open all the time. It was very glamorous with all those movie stars. Gary Cooper—he talked slow as usual. I told him we were having a party in Bellevue one time and he asked, ‘What kind of balls it going to be?’ in his drawn-out way of talking.”
Determined to have their own business, the Disbennetts bought a Chevron station and mini mart, borrowing $50 to put in the cash register so they could make change.
They sold that in 1958 to purchase the O’Donnell Grocery, which was housed in a bank building built in 1910, and they ran Tinker’s Grocery Store for 18 years. The building now houses Mama Inez.
Starting anew again
At age 50 Ora Lee fulfilled a lifelong dream, going to nursing school and working at Blaine Manor for 15 years.
“I always wanted to be a nurse. I used to operate on the birds and sheep when we were growing up,” she says. “I felt if I made one person’s day a little brighter, I was doing my job.”
Over the years, Tinker served as president of the Wood River Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Bellevue Labor Day committee. Ora Lee built floats featuring Martians and hula girls for the Labor Day Parade, worked in the PTA and served as state delegate to the Bowling Association after her team became state champion.
She has plenty of ribbons to show for her sewing and antique entries in the Blaine County Fair. And, as a firm believer in preserving history, she’s always available to lend a hand at the Bellevue Museum.
Today Ora Lee and Tinker still live in their home on the Myers ranch, her Mickey Mouse figurines welcoming visitors into the driveway where her red Blazer with the Ora Lee license plate sits.
The couple’s three children–Carma, April and Mark—regularly make the trek from Boise and Idaho Falls to help plant flowers and dust around Ora Lee’s tooth pick holder collection.
“We’ve always done lots of work,” she says, looking at the sheep shed and chicken coop that still sit on the property. “But we had more fun than work.”
Petra Morrison hasn’t strayed far from the spot she was born.
Maybe a hundred yards up the hill or so—enough, at least, that the trees are just budding out when things are blooming down below.
“This has always been a special spot for me,” said Morrison, looking out over the balcony of her home in Weyyakin toward the barn her family used to own. “As a youngster, I’d come up here and look at all the wildflowers. Once in awhile I would run into a sagehen or deer. I could hike all over the place from here.”
Morrison was crowned Sunday as part of the fourth annual Blaine County Heritage Court, a reward for her part in contributing to the life of the valley these past 82 years.
It’s a reward she could very well have shared with her folks and their folks.
Morrison’s grandparents were among the early settlers in the Wood River Valley. Her grandfather—a Swede who changed his name to August Farnlun after immigrating to the United States– brought his wife and four children to the Wood River Valley in 1894 after being chased out of Colorado by prairie fires. They settled first in Gimlet, a tiny settlement a few miles south of Ketchum where miners brought the ore from the Triumph Mine to be loaded on trains.
They then moved to the Olson Ranch—what is now the Lane Ranch—before buying a ranch at Warm Springs Creek Ranch, now the site of the Warm Springs Restaurant and golfcourse.
“The irrigation ditch had warm water from Warm Springs so you could raise anything—sweet potatoes, all kinds of things, Morrison recalled. “My grandmother—Petra Smith—brought a mahogany harpischord-style piano across the ocean from Denmark. All the Ketchum matrons begged her to give them lessons. It’s in the historical museum now, along with a dress of hers.”
In 1916 the family purchased a second ranch on what is now the Weyyakin subdivision at Ketchum’s south end.
“It’s an Indian name meaning ‘looking up to the mountains,’ ” said Morrison. “That’s why all the streets in the area have Indian names like Apache.”
Morrison was born in 1925 in a four-room farmhouse on the lower ranch. Though born in April, the doctor had trouble making his way through the snow from Hailey to deliver her.
In those days they didn’t plow in town, either, Morrison recalled. People depended on her dad to pack the roads down as he delivered milk by sled.
“My sister—Ella Marie Bennett of Smiley Creek–and I would crawl in the back and cover ourselves up with blankets. That’s how we got to school,” she added. “And kids would hook their toboggans to the sled and let Dad pull them along.”
Her father, Smith Farnlun, moved his white-faced cattle up and down the valley, grazing them in Adams Gulch in summer, then taking them to Carey as winter set in, picking up cattle at East Fork and Gannett as he went.
He also had a huge steam-powered threshing machine, which he used to thresh hay in an area ranging from the Glendale area south of Bellevue to where the North Fork store is now. As soon as he went through the schoolyard on his way to the Brass Ranch where Sun Valley Resort is now, school was out for the day. Everyone went out to watch,” Morrison recalled.
Morrison met her husband Frank during World War II when he served on the Naval commissary staff at Sun Valley Lodge, which had been turned into a convalescent facility for Navy men and Marines. They were married in 1944, going on to raise two children—Wayne, who now lives in Nampa, and Christina, who is a professor of Bio-Medical Sciences at Texas A&M.
While her husband worked as a chef at the Ram Restaurant, Morrison worked in the personnel department of the Union Pacific Railroad, for First Security Bank and then as a district clerk for the Ketchum Ranger District.
“Every weekend my dad liked to go fishing. He had a little Jeep that he and my son pulled back onto Trail Creek Road after it went over because some guy had stopped on the road and failed to put the break on. Being a farmer, my dad was pretty good at fixing things up. So he fixed that up and we used to it go all over. We saw a lot of the area.”
Over the years, Petra served as president of the Ketchum Parent Teacher Association, an officer of the American Legion Auxiliary, a member of the Ketchum/Sun Valley Historical Museum and Noble Grand and President of the Snowdrop Rebekah Lodge and Rebekah Assembly of Idaho.
She still helps select high school graduates for scholarships, utilizing the money raised from the sale of the Odd Fellows and Rebekah Hall.
In her spare time, she works at her computer generating greeting cards, dusting her teacup collection and, of course, gazing out her expansive picture windows toward Baldy and the old family ranch below.
“Idaho has such variety from the mountains to the prairies, from the sagebrush to the lava rock. And my favorite corner of Idaho is right here.”
BY KAREN BOSSICK
The Wood River Journal~Hailey
When Rose Mallory thumbs through her family scrapbook, she thumbs through memories of walking along Hailey’s Main Street with sheepherders, using sticks to keep the sheep off residents’ lawns.
She recalls accompanying her father into the hills to take produce and paychecks to the Basque sheepherders.
And she remembers the sheepherders trailing into her family’s boarding house each winter, eager for a hot bath, followed up with cigars and café royale and a game of mus–a Basque game of cards and bluffing.
Mallory, now 80, was born in the Basque town of Ybaranguelua near what is now the Basque resort town of Bilbao.
Her father David Inchausti had come to America in 1915 looking for a better living than he could eek out in the Pyrenees bordering France and Spain. By 1925 he had saved up enough money to go back to Spain and find a bride. He brought his bride, Maria “Epi,” and Rose to a sheep ranch near Challis when she was 3.
Mallory lived there until she was in the second grade, boarding with other families, because the school bus didn’t make it out to the ranch, which lay between Challis and Mackay.
“I hated it at first because I didn’t like this American food very well. They made me eat spinach and I didn’t like that. It was a traumatic, cultural change,” she recalls.
From sheep to chorizo
After a stint in Pocatello, the family moved to Hailey in 1936. Hailey at that time was in the hub of the biggest sheep shipping operation outside Sydney, Australia.
Mallory’s father bought a couple houses on Bullion Street where he opened a Basque boarding house and restaurant. And Rose, her five sisters and brother were pressed into service, buying French bread, meat and fish at the market every day for that night’s meals, which often featured ham, veal cutlets, halibut and cod, pimiento-flavored Basque meatballs.
“Mom wasn’t a cook by trade—she was a 25-, 26-year-old seamstress when Dad met her,” Mallory recalled. “But she took to cooking and she was a great, great cook. I did teach her how to make American mashed potatoes in high school when she catered the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club luncheons. Up until then she’d just cooked potatoes fried or with cabbage, green beans and parsley.”
The sheepherders ate first, then the women and children. Sooner or later someone started playing the spoons and someone else a concertina. Everyone would shove the tables and chairs up against the walls and the Basques would party.
When the Inchausti family outgrew their boarding house, Rose’s Dad moved his family across the street into a two-story brothel built by bootlegger Jack Turner and madam Peggy Palmer. It was quite the house, Rose recalled, with French doors opening into the Madam’s room and a lavender bathtub, sink and toilet.
Rose’s Dad instructed his children never to answer the door on the River Street side of the house. But every night, when the kids were getting ready for bed, a knock would ring out.
“The kids would run and hide under their beds and I’d go to the door,” Rose recalled. “I never asked who they were or anything. I just always said, ‘Peggy doesn’t live here, anymore.’ ”
Although the boarding houses were meant for the Basques, Sun Valley began bussing dinner guests down to Hailey as word of the unique meals spread.
Among those who came: Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Janet Leigh, Clark Gable and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
“My mother was quite taken back by all these movie stars coming to eat her cooking,” recalled Rose, who canned 13 bushels of red peppers or pimientos each summer to be doled out later among the hungry diners. “Col. Sanders—the Kentucky Fried Chicken man–said mother’s chicken was almost better than his.”
Parading through adulthood
Rose’s mother taught her Spanish, rather than Basque, since Basque was outlawed in Spain when Rose was growing up. But Mallory learned Basque by ear as she heard her mother teach it to her younger siblings.
“I was so fluent in Spanish I would take over for the teacher in high school when she was absent,” she recalled.
Rose also learned to dance in her family’s bar, a skill that served her well when it came to meeting her future husband.
“I danced with the soldiers who came to Sun Valley to be rehabilitated during World War II—always under my parents watchful eye. Some of the girls married them. But I was already going with Bill at the time,” she said.
Bill was Bill Mallory, whom Rose met during eighth-grade band class. She played clarinet. He was the band’s drum major.
She fell in love with his good humor and looked forward to dancing the jitterbug with him after school each day at the Star Cafe, a Chinese restaurant where Jane’s Paper Place is now.
“Bill was a great dancer but he played at the school dances with piano player Mabel Walker. She always ended with a waltz, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ so he could dance the last dance,” Rose recalled.
They were married in 1946, a year after Rose graduated from high school.
Bill was delivering oil for oil burning stoves one day when a baker invited him to try his hand at baking. Bill took to baking like yeast to hot water and pretty soon he was churning out French bread and sweet rolls in his own bake shop in Ketchum’s old Colonnade and decorating cakes full of sugar roses for Sun Valley Resort.
Rose, meanwhile, worked at a Hailey bank and as a switchboard operator.
“Sometimes at night I’d listen in because there was no one around, although we weren’t supposed to do that,” she confided. “I was 911 back then. If something caught on fire, I was the one who called the fire marshal. And the hospital number was 100—it was 100. It was easy to remember.”
Bill and Rose had three children, who have since given Rose nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
And they were active in the community, taking communion to the sick and teaching marriage preparation classes for St. Charles Catholic Church and volunteering with such organizations as the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.
Several years ago, they served as grand marshals of the Hailey Fourth of July Parade—a particularly fitting honor for Bill since he once rallied his high school band mates to march down the street the year the parade was cancelled because of the war.
Bill is gone now—he died in 1998.
But Rose still lives in the house they built in 1963, utilizing bricks from old Hailey schoolhouse for the wall their fireplace sits in.
A few years ago, she donated the historic photographs her husband’s father, Martin Mallory, took of the Sawtooths to the Hailey Public Library after identifying all those that she could.
And she still works on the annual Basque dinner, which her mother helped start in 1949.
Her family’s old house now houses Cornerstone Realty. Some of the other buildings Rose remembers from her youth have since caved in under the weight of snow or burnt, including the Hiawatha or Alturas Hotel, which was once called the finest hotel west of Denver.
But new wonders have taken their place
“It’s totally amazing the influx of people we’ve had into our little valley. We’ve been discovered,” she said. “The church is three times the size it used to be and there’s twice as many Spanish-speaking people in it as English.
“I hate not always seeing someone I know when I go into the grocery store anymore, but I love the culture that’s here now—the symphony, Company of Fools, the rodeo…”