My earliest of five generations of Idaho roots trace to a temporary dugout my 2nd great grandparent Neeley carved into a hillside.
It was a little more than three miles up the Cub River from the fort at Franklin, where it flows down out of a canyon near where it is then joined by Maple Creek.
The headwaters of the Cub River are formed from a mountain spring now encompassed by the Cache National Forest. But it is better known for willows, and remains a habitat for Moose and other large mammals.
I assume from looking at the area, near a crossroads they named Nashville, that the Neeley’s farmed and ranched rich bottomland.
But Armenius Miller Neeley, who went by A.M., also worked as a lineman for the telegraph when lines were extended first to Franklin in 1868 and then up Cub River Canyon and across the mountains to Paris, Idaho in 1871.
Most famously, though, he was an interpreter with the Bannock and Shoshone peoples long indigenous to that area for at least part of the year, following a “calling” or designation from Mormon leaders.
Coincidentally, both of my grandmother Adah’s grandfathers served as interpreters with Native American people indigenous to Cache Valley, as did one of my maternal grandmother’s father and grandfather further south for the Paiute and Hopi nations respectively.
My great (x2) grandfather Neeley was born in eastern Illinois where his native upstate New Yorker parents had settled in the 1820s and then returned there after a brief stint in 1830 when they unsuccessfully also tried to settle Wisconsin.
Both sets of his grandparents became Mormons in 1832, within two years of the formation of that faith. His parents followed by the time A.M was born in 1836.
Including another ancestor who had become only the 31st member of that faith, this means there are roots on both sides of my father family tracing back to the first thousand converts to that faith, something rare among its now 15 million worldwide.
While we both became inactive nearly all of our adult lives, we respected that being Mormon can be as much about a culture as a faith.
Following conversion, my Neeley ancestors migrated across Illinois to its western edge where other Mormons gathered for a short time, creating the settlement of Nauvoo from a swamp.
By the time it vied for the second largest city in Illinois, they were forced to flee for the safety of the Rockies in 1846.
My 3rd great grandmother “Betsy,” whose father had fallen during Missouri’s at Haun’s Mill massacre a few years earlier, died on the banks of the Missouri River in route to he West.
Barely 14 years old, my 2nd great grandfather Neeley made it across the Rockies by 1850.
Shortly, he migrated north first near Brigham City before marrying my 2nd great grandmother, Susan Morgan, a Welsh immigrant.
She was just 15 and he was 19. By 1862, they pioneered across the 42nd parallel into what would be named Idaho, even before it had been organized into a territory.
They would have probably moved back temporarily in 1863 to the safety of the rectangular fort of Franklin during an attempt by A.M. and others to mediate with the Shoshone after a settler shot and killed a brave.
But soon sixty cavalry troopers rode through the fort and what is called the Bear River Massacre ensued a few miles north on what is now US 91 near what, a few years later, would be settled as Worm Creek, now called Preston.
History tells me that my 2nd great grandparents the Neeley’s and Shumways were among the Franklin settlers that tended to wounded soldiers and Shoshone in the aftermath of what is the largest massacre by the U.S. Army.
Susan died during childbirth in 1877, a few months after dispatch riders had galloped into Franklin where they first telegraphed the news of Custer’s massacre to the East.
A.M. re-married a widow named Clark who hailed from near Spartanburg, South Carolina. She famously smoked a corn cob pipe.
My line of Neeley’s eventually migrated north along the Henry’s Fork where my grandparents met and where my father, me and my sisters were born.
Also not far off US 91/89, it is the furthest north point along more than a thousand miles of what I call the Meridian of my DNA, because it is along this route that my ancestors created dozens of settlements from 1847 until the end of the Frontier was declared 5 decades later.
But my grandmother Adah knew here grandfather A.M. very well. He didn’t pass until she was in her late teens and and ventured further north along the eastern edge of Idaho.
A.M. died two months after the creation of Cache National Forest a bit further up the Cub River as a nurturing influence below. Coincidentally, it was also, just as the Targhee National Forest was created in back of the ancestral ranch where I spent my early years.
Grandma Adah told me stories A.M. while I was growing up and also left historical sketches that illuminate details whenever I fail to recall them.
I sure wish I had asked her a lot more questions. To compensate, I weave these narratives for my young grandsons and their descendants to come.