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Carlson: In memoriam

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Jack Briggs died at 3 p.m. July 7 in Steele Memorial Hospital in Salmon, Idaho. While his death will be little noted other than by family, neighbors and friends, his passing brought to an end, at age 81, the life of one of those remarkable, vanishing breeds of Idahoans.

He was everything a man should be.

He possessed country wisdom born of experience, was incredibly well-read but largely self-educated. He was an excellent mechanic and worked in the family business, Pocatello’s National Laundry and Dry Cleaning, maintaining a large fleet of delivery trucks while in high school and several years thereafter before moving to Salmon in the fall of 1963.

We always could bring a smile to each other’s face by recalling the scene of his father, Fergus Briggs, Sr., a devout Baptist, holding a rake in hand extended toward the garage ceiling and jumping up in an attempt to hook that early Playboy Magazine pin-up of Marilyn Monroe in a diversion Jack had stapled to the ceiling where he could view it as he rolled out from under a vehicle on which he was working.

Within a few years of moving to Salmon with his wife Lois, a nurse by profession, and their daughter, Theresa, Jack purchased a ranch a few miles up Indian Creek which flows into the Salmon River. He became an outfitter and guide having purchased, with the ranch, rights to the Saddle Springs Area which straddles the Idaho/Montana border.

The family also turned the spread into a successful guest ranch that attracted people from across the United States, even some from Europe. Jack’s hard work, quick wit and ability to tell a good story while puffing on his beloved pipe charmed all with whom he came in contact. Most guests became repeat clients.

He loved to pull a person’s leg to see how gullible they might be, and he suckered many a “dude” with his dead-pan statements one took for gospel, including me, his adoring nephew.

As a resident of “The Canyon,” he was involved in the lives, follies and fortunes of his neighbors, most of whom were noted for eccentricities but all of whom, despite professed independence, were somewhat dependent on each other.

The Canyon has several historic distinctions, but the most noteworthy one was its status as the last hand-crank operated telephone system in the United States, the Shoup Telephone Co-op. Jack was its long-time president. There was one line strung down the Canyon and, of course. it was a large “party line” eliminating any secrets.

When dial phones came to The Canyon in the early 90s Jack, who was used to calling the operator in Salmon for connection to whomever he needed to talk, was bemused and befuddled for awhile by the challenge of mastering the direct dial.

As president of the co-op, his 15 minutes of national fame came with his appearance on a national network television program answering questions about the transition. One would have thought he had been media trained, so smooth was the interview.

He kept the ranch for a few more years following the both premature and belated death of his wife, Lois, in 1989. Lois, on a trip to Idaho Falls, several years earlier, had been in a horrible car wreck from which she never fully recovered.

Jack kept a small parcel of the ranchland and lovingly hand built a log home which he named Berry Creek, the name bestowed on the creek by Clark when he explored down the Salmon on the historic Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. A true history buff, Jack read everything written about the expedition, including the journals, and possessed a set of maps detailing the expedition.

He could pinpoint key places the explorers had been at in Lemhi County. Active in the county historical society, Governor Cecil Andrus named him to the State’s Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission. When the governor called to inform him of the appointment, he tried to decline, citing the fact he had no college degree. Andrus would have none of it, saying simply, “Neither do I, Jack, and it hasn’t stopped either of us, has it?”

Jack’s passing is particularly emotional because he took a paternal interest in me. He will be laid to rest next to Lois later this week in the quiet, tree-lined cemetery on a hill just outside of Gibbonsville, for a brief time Idaho’s first territorial capital before it moved to Lewiston, then to Boise.

With apologies to Will Rogers for the paraphrase, God just ain’t making people like him anymore.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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