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Saying Goodbye to Winter at White Spring Ranch
Spring on the Palouse has been a cause for celebration for as long as people have called the area home. Before settlers arrived in the West, Nez Perce tribespeople moved throughout their homeland based on the seasons. Fishing and gathering sites were returned to year after year, and they built their way of life around the cycle of nature. We can see this in the way the Nez Perce language developed to include several different words for what we consider ‘Spring’ based on the important natural events occurring during this time (more here).
Three specific words speak to this celebratory time of renewal and rebirth. Latí·t’al refers to “the time of when new plants surface and flowers blossom”, a welcome sight to this very day. ˀilaˀá·l is “the time when melting snows cause the rivers and streams to rise”, which creates a treacherous time to traverse the many waterways between gathering places. Last but certainly not least, qaqí·t’al has three intertwined meanings: “the time for the first harvest of roots, the time of thanksgiving, the time of arrival of new food.” The first taste of fresh food from the earth was a welcome respite after a Winter of dried fish and game.
As settlers came to the Idaho territory and established more permanent settlements, the joy and promise of Spring was no less important. Instead of seeking shelter in a more clement environment, early settlers to the area weathered the bleak Winter months in hand-hewn log cabins like the one that you can see at White Spring Ranch today. This is a rather deluxe model crafted by master carpenter Goswin Sievert in 1878 and later painstakingly moved and recreated log-by-log on its current location by John Lorang and his grandson Charles in 1924. More rudimentary dwellings were quite common, and I am sure you can imagine the sighs of relief as the Winter frosts melted away.
White Spring Ranch, established by the John and Mary Lorang in 1885, was one of an increasing number of farmsteads to take hold in Idaho during the late 1800s. Located in the wheat producing area of the Palouse just south of Moscow near Genesee, Spring planting season was of utmost importance as you can see in the sepia-tinged photographs above. While this year’s Spring may seem unusually late, the start of this much-anticipated time of year has always been fickle. In a letter from Marguerite Lorang to a friend dated April 27th, 1917, she notes, “They have not started to do anything in the fields yet… I think it will rain tomorrow as there is a ring around the sun today.” It seems as if waiting on agreeable weather is as much a part of Idaho’s heritage as farming.
The Lorangs did not use this time idly, however, as they readied themselves for planting season. One such preparation was the purchase of the tractor wrench pictured above. The Lorangs had to acquire written permission from the Latah County USDA War Board to obtain the wrench in 1943, as most materials and manufacturing were devoted to supporting the US’s involvement in World War II. The tool was deemed necessary and their request was approved on May 6th of the same year. We can only hope that this was a preemptive request and few precious planting days were lost due to tractor troubles.
Spring brings with it another one of Idaho’s time-honored traditions: enjoying the natural beauty all around us. In the same letter, Marguerite says, “Rudolph Norby had his car out for the first time yesterday, so you know the roads are getting goode(sic).” She also mentions their plans to purchase a car of their own, inviting her friend to join them for a drive. Advances in manufacturing pioneered by Ford made cars more readily accessible, and luxury manufacturers like Cadillac and Rolls Royce allowed the more affluent to ride around in style and relative comfort.
Every bit the enterprising gentleman farmer, John Lorang took advantage of the increased traffic on the roads and opened his Roadside Museum on the grounds of White Spring Ranch, which is now referred to as the Curio Cabin. An astonishingly early example of a roadside tourist attraction (most began to crop up in the mid-1920s), John’s museum featured his stunning array of taxidermy (most of which were donated to the University of Idaho in 1953 and can now be seen at the WSU Conner Museum) and other bits of historical interest and general curiosity. In many ways, the White Spring Ranch Museum and Archive Library is an extension of John’s initial enterprise. The collection of artifacts, documents, letters, journals, and publications have been curated over the years by three generations of the Lorang family, and a stop on your way to or from Moscow is just as worth the detour now as it was back then.
From the family archives we can see even more parallels between springtime back then and now. There are photos from a baseball game in Genesee from this same period, replete uniformed players and fans in the bleachers, showing that Spring has started with a crack of a bat for over a decade. Marguerite also writes of shopping for clothes for a wedding coming up later in May, revealing Spring to perennially be prime wedding season.
Spring is also a tremendously busy time for the Idaho Heritage Trust. Many projects we fund must be done during the Spring and Summer months, and we are hard at work providing technical reviews and consultations with potential grantees. The folks at White Spring Ranch are quite familiar with this cycle, as we have awarded them more than ten grants over the last fifteen years, and we could not be more proud to help support this incredible organization. The latest grants Idaho Heritage Trust provided to White Spring Ranch occurred in 2020 and 2021, which will be used to restore the windmill to working order.