the Old Man at Deep Lake

For a while my Grandparents, Oral and Jean Willard, ran a gas station down in Sun Lakes, on the shores of Park Lake by the swimming area. It was the 1950s and my mother was a pre-teen. She didn’t like the coulee region at first and missed the trees of Springdale and the home ranch where she grew up. Sometimes my Grandpa would load up the family in his old panel truck at night and they would drive past old Jim Terry’s homestead to the back of Deep Lake. At the time no one lived back there and of course there were no street lights, just a dusty, bumpy road with sagebrush and basalt boulders thick on both sides. In the darkness with only headlights it would be impossible to actually see what was out much further than the tip of your nose making the night as scary as your imagination. My mom told me it would be a hot, dark night but she would keep the windows rolled up because someone told her rattlesnakes could jump and she was worried one would jump through the open window. At the end of the road, with whatever moon was visible reflecting off Deep Lake, he would park the panel and shut off the lights so that only the silhouette of the cliffs could be seen as enormous looming shadows against a star lit night sky. Grandpa had been a hunter his whole life, starting in his youth in the hills of Springdale. It’s hard to say how he could do it, but under those almost black-out conditions he could spot them on the basalt cliffs. He would then turn on the spot light and shine it up at them. A family of bobcats, or at least a group of bobcats.

Jim Terry lived about halfway up the road, there is a story my Mother told me about him several times. She didn’t remember his name, I found it out decades later almost by chance. The information came to me one day when I randomly posted online some of the mysteries I was working on, listing the old man at Deep Lake from my Mother’s stories as one of them. One of my friends chimed in and said it was Jim Terry. I told my Mom and the minute she heard the name she remembered it, after all, 60 some years is a long time, all the details my friend had shared brought back memories. We believe Jim Terry came to Coulee City via train about 1900, settled in Deep Lake where he lived his whole life growing fruit and raising small livestock. Of course, no one’s life is that simple, especially homesteading in the rugged Deep Lake area in the 1900s. I’m sure Mr Terry was as rugged as the land he inhabited. He most likely lived off the land; hunting and harvesting, he probably felt one with the land as many due in those circumstances, especially without the distraction of a wife or children. Once my Grandpa took my Mom and Grandma out to meet Jim back in the early 1950s. It all went disastrously wrong when my mom, a fidgety pre-teen was stung by a bee. After all, it was a garden with fruit trees, and even though it was a very small one, bees love fruit. As soon as she was stung, off she went to her Dad for comfort, but he was talking grown up stuff with Jim, most likely hunting or fishing. “I got stung!” she interjected woefully looking teary; red face and small welt on her hand that she held up to show the sting.

Jim looked at her and with a slight chuckle replied “It’s good for you”

But it turned out his joke wasn’t so good for her, it created a line in the sand. Mom described Jim as a skinny, ragged and old as dirt bachelor. He probably was in his 70s by the time my mom first laid eyes on him at Deep Lake, and a true pioneer, he probably lived in a pretty rugged life, as opposed to the riding in the backseat of a panel truck lifestyle my mother was living. The 1950s were still a mix of people in the coulee, pioneers who had never seen a car now owned cars and had 100s of miles of road to choose from. It could easily be said that it was the advent of the automobile that truly opened the west for expansion.

Sometime during the visit old Jim Terry told my Grandma about the potholes just off the Cariboo Trail at Deep Lake. My Grandma used to spend hours exploring the country around Blue Lake and Park Lake but not so much Deep Lake. She loaded my mother in the car and took her out past Jim Terry’s homestead to where the Cariboo Trail crossed the road, parked and proceeded off into the sagebrush covered scablands. The 1950s were a time filled with UFOs and flying saucers on the big screen and in shared culture, my Mom took one look at those great big, deep potholes and thought they were created by aliens. She called them alien holes for years.

I started going to the potholes about 2016 and it seems I return or hike past them every year. I found them by following my mother’s directions, but I guess they are not really a guarded secret. I recently returned to where everyone agrees the Jim Terry residence was now located on State Park property, in fact, I have been out there several times poking around. I found remains of irrigation leading from a dried up seasonal or diverted pond and bits of an old poorly made foundation. When I looked closer I found bits of old tar paper siding. Looking around a bit more and found an old dump with some discarded relics from another time, slowly returning to nature.

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