Even in quiet North Idaho there are mysteries ... more, in fact, than you might think
Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine
By Susan Drinkard
There is a line that blurs between the rumors of unsolved mysteries in North Idaho, and actual corpse-in-the-cellar unsolved mysteries in North Idaho.
Some say there is a steam engine at the bottom of the river near Laclede.
Recollections in museum files from early-day settlers say the "red men" near Hope lashed the corpses of their dead high in trees on Memaloose Island.
One Bonner County resident recalls reading about a chained cadaver floating in our big water decades ago.
The steam engine? Who knows?
Bodies hanging in trees? Likely so. It was confirmed by several printed sources, and consistent with burial practices of some Native American tribes.
The chained cadaver? Well, yes. The boat belonging to bachelor Albert Kraege was found unmanned near Dover in June, 1923. His body was found days later floating near Kootenai. It was wrapped with a light chain, a piece of boom chain and a light sledgehammer, all fastened to his waist. The coroner "leaned to the opinion" Kraege committed suicide, but who knows for sure? Before the body was found, his brother, Emil, had consulted clairvoyants in Spokane about his brother's whereabouts because he did not believe his brother was suicidal.
Some surmised the bandit who shot the sheriff and stole from the Ponderay hotel may have found Kraege on the lakefront and made a getaway in the boat. But no one knows for sure what really happened.
The stories here are a sampling of Bonner County's unsolved mysteries – gleaned from old-timers, and the yellowed pages of newspapers in the Bonner County Museum. Like the Kraege death, there are facts missing, and when you combine that with the presence of certain facts, the result is intrigue.
Now, let's go back 105 years ago, when a few of Hope's residents found gold.
Gold 'n Hope
Nina Smith Owen moved to Hope from Kolmar, Sweden when she was 11 years old. In 1887 Hope had a railroad sidetrack, a tiny depot, and the fabulous resort called the Highland House. Nina's family and servants ran the vacation "palace." The railroad built the resort in 1885 to attract affluent millionaires from back east. (It did attract a few well-to-do folks, including the likes of Civil War hero General Sherman, according to a Spokesman-Review interview with Nina Owen in 1958.)
Nina and her sister Rose were hiking one day when they happened upon what they thought was silver. They filled their aprons with the "silver" and took it back to the hotel, where they showed it to their father and a visitor from St. Paul. The rocks contained not silver, but gold. With visions of instant riches, the two men ran up a nearby ravine where they searched and searched, in vain. Apparently the girls couldn't remember exactly how to get back to the ledge.
Rose could sniff out minerals. Her "nose" for minerals helped guide her father to a different ledge she had discovered. Two claims were located there: King of the Mountains and Queen of the Hills. Neither was the motherlode.
The following year the guest from St. Paul came back to the Highland House to search for gold with Nina's father. Rose was too ill to accompany the men, and it's a small mystery why Nina didn't attempt to show them the ledge. The men searched repeatedly, with no luck.
In 1958, when Nina was 82, she said no one had ever found that ledge. If it held more of the samples she and Rose held in their aprons, "it would be immensely rich in gold," she said.
Has anyone rediscovered this ledge since 1958? Could there be gold in Hope, or is the prospect of gold ... Beyond Hope?
It has been more than half a century since neighbors saw the hard-working, one-eyed lumberjack named Paul Spear working in his garden, pruning his orchard, and doing the beekeeping duties on his hilly Cocolalla farm. Spear was described in Grace Roffey Pratt's interviews with early-day Cocolalla residents as "pleasant appearing, sober and thrifty" – a good man, by all accounts.
Spear often took jobs at the Humbird Lumber Company camps some distance from his home. Somewhere Spear befriended a man named Bruce Anderson, and Anderson moved in with Spear to help him out with chores when he was away.
Neighbors found Anderson to be "neatly dressed, easy in speech, friendly and neighborly." Anderson was known for his generosity; he gave neighbors gifts of beef and fruit; he played cards with them and brought their kids candy and baubles in a time when there was little money for such frills.
It was common for Spear to be gone periodically, and when he dropped from sight no one was suspicious ... at first. Then Anderson was seen driving Spear's new car. He told inquiring minds that his friend had left for Oregon on the train, where he had a good job, and he'd given Anderson permission to use the car in his absence.
Well, no one had seen Spear board the train, and friends couldn't believe Spear would have taken a train to Oregon when he could have driven his new car. Officers were called; they searched the Spear place and questioned Anderson, who produced letters from Spear with Oregon postmarks in what they believed was Spear's handwriting.
Rumors circulated the valley. There was talk of a blood-soaked mattress in a field near the Spear house, a heavy hammer with blood on it, and a man's foot protruding from a pile of brush.
One evening Anderson got in an argument about horses with his neighbor, and he left their home in a huff. A short time later, he disappeared.
It may have been a year later when Bruce Anderson's photo appeared in the Spokesman-Review, confessed killer of a Marshall, Wash., chicken rancher. Also, Anderson reportedly confessed to the killing of two women; no names were given. He was hanged Nov. 14, 1941 in Walla Walla, Wash. To his last day on Death Row, however, Bruce Anderson denied he killed Paul Spear.
But Spear never came back to Cocolalla, and his land was sold for taxes.
The story does not end there. The Spear place became known as "the haunted house," and according to Pratt's research, the new owner, Charles Crosswhite, found a Mason jar underneath a concrete slab in front of the door while doing some remodeling. A note written years before by Anderson was inside the jar; it was addressed to Paul Spear, letting him know people were accusing Anderson of murdering him.
Crosswhite was perplexed by the message. If Anderson's purpose was to steer suspicion off himself, it was unlikely anyone would have found the jar unless they were doing extensive remodeling. The position of the jar gave the impression of a secret post office.
The homestead changed ownership. When he was cleaning out the old chicken house, new owner Frank Colburn claimed to find a human skeleton under a couple of feet of manure. Supposedly he didn't call authorities because he didn't want to cause trouble, and he covered up the skeleton.
Pratt wrote that Colburn enjoyed a wild yarn. So was it Spear's body Colburn found, or was it an animal carcass? Was a skeleton there at all?
There were conflicting reports of times, dates and places, but those Cocolalla folks Pratt interviewed who remembered the entire story "the most accurately" say they really aren't sure Bruce Anderson killed Paul Spear. Questions remain: What happened to Paul Spear? Were Spear and Anderson collaborating on something? The questions hang over the Cocolalla Valley, unanswered.
Puzzle of the petroglyphs
Long ago – probably thousands of years – people chiseled what appears to be bear paw prints into big rocks on the Hope Peninsula. The origin of the prints is probably the oldest mystery in these parts.
"There is just no way to date it," said Tom Sandberg, archeologist for Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. "The petroglyphs cannot be carbon dated because of campfires," he said.
A man named John Leiberg was making a study of forest stand potential back in 1893 when he found the rock carvings of what appears to be 28 bear paws, several cat or dog or coyote prints, and possibly the prints of a mountain goat and cougar tracks.
There are several theories about the paws' origins. Some say the symbol was placed there by a spiritual being that contacted the Earth. A 1977 Sandpoint News-Bulletin article reported that "an anthropologist once followed the edge of the last glacier that descended into North America about 20,000 years ago. Tracing the edge from the Great Lakes to the Northwest, he found bear paws all along the way and theorized that the petroglyphs were pounded into rocks by people moving southward, to point the way for people coming behind them."
There are other petroglyph mysteries. Between 1906 and 1940 or thereabouts, some of the petroglyphs disappeared – chunks of rock about a two and a half feet by one foot in size were torn out, according to Sandberg.
The most recent mystery is a very disturbing one to Sandberg, the Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and several Indian tribes. In the last year, visitors to the site have desecrated most of the paws with charcoal. Crayon markings from rubbings are evident. "Every intrusion gives the next person an idea ... graffiti leads to more graffiti," Sandberg said. To the Indians the site is sacred; the Kootenai Indians don't even want photos of the prints taken.
Are the perpetrators ignorant-but-interested tourists? Kids who don't know any better? Or simply drunken morons? This, too, is a mystery.
Whither Lurks the Paddler?
Lake Pend Oreille may be the home of a ghastly-looking "sea serpent."
Sightings of a monster in primarily the southern end of the big water have occurred repeatedly since the 1940s, according to "Mysterious Lake Pend Oreille and Its 'Monster'" by James McLeod of Coeur d'Alene.
Descriptions of what is affectionately known as the Pend Oreille Paddler have included: "a grayish-silver, serpentine" back, "undulating," "15 to 20 feet long," "6 to 8 humps," "darker than gunmetal gray with a fin on its back," "at least 40 feet in length," "snake-like appearance," and "dark green color with a light-colored head."
Of course, the monster might be only a fish. Virginia Overland of Sandpoint said a couple years ago her husband Orren and son were flying over the lake some 2,000 feet in the air when they spotted an extremely large fish. The fish was about a mile from Sandpoint City Beach. She believes the fish was a sturgeon.
The sturgeon theory is the prevailing one, said McLeod, an English teacher at North Idaho College. Fish and Game employees say it is reasonable to believe they live in the lake. Some say Indians brought sturgeon to the lake.
Still, McLeod said a nagging doubt lingers. In the 1980s he interviewed three adults, two of whom were teachers, who saw a creature they described as snake-like, much longer than their 22-foot sailboat, swimming in an undulating manner.
They watched the "thing" for several minutes and it was confirmed by sonar. "I interviewed them individually, and their reports were quite consistent," he said. Those were not the descriptions of a sturgeon.
"I don't discount absolutely, positively, that there couldn't be something unknown" in the lake, McLeod said.
It might be something to remember next summer, when swimming season rolls around.
Charter contributor Susan Drinkard lives ... somewhere near Sandpoint ... writing mysterious things ... for reasons no one but she really knows.
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COPYRIGHT by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., of Sandpoint, Idaho. Reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Sandpoint Magazine. Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year, in Winter and Summer editions, by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. Call 1-800-880-3573 to subscribe.