A Tombstone in Fortine

There’s a large, expensive tombstone in Fortine Cemetery, dating back to 1918.  The name, Waseles is one of the names the man lived under – but to his contemporaries in Trego and Eureka, he was Mike Smith. 

It tells part – a small part – of the story.  My grandfather bought Waseles’ homestead in 1918. He had met Waseles – but knew him as “Mike Smith.”  P.V. Klinke had the job of settling the estate – and here is the data he had to attempt to run down the next of kin.  On the east side of Fortine Creek Road, his root cellar is merging with the earth.  On the west side, his log cabin and barns are still visible and maintained.

This 1914 map of Russia pretty well demonstrates the impossibility of finding his next of kin, with only the word “Russia” to go by – Michal Waseles could have been a Finn, a Ukrainian, a Pole – he came to the US from a very different Russia than we recognize today.

You may note that there was an autopsy performed.  At the time Waleses (Smith) died, he was under indictment for torching a couple of logging camps and tossing tools in the pond behind the splash dam on Fortine Creek. (I still use an axehead that I took from the creek, removed the lime, and rehafted.  I had thought it was lost by one of the loggers – but more likely, it was tossed in by Mike Smith and I recovered it 50 years later.)   It had been a time of strife, with the logging strike of 1917 shutting down the woods across the nation.  Waleses had been bossing the crew that ran the logs from Trego to Eureka – but the assumed name of Smith, the legal charges, and the time suggest that he had moved from management to labor activist. 

With no way to find next of kin or heirs, it looks like P.V. (Peter Vigo) Klinke decided to spend all of the estate’s income he could on the finest tombstone for Michal Waseles (AKA Smith) he could, and minimize the share that went to Lincoln County.


Remembering Hunter Safety

I was one of the lucky ones – we had a pair of instructors for Hunter Safety.  Danny On taught the sections on wildlife, and Ed Ruhl taught guns.  Danny On was a forester with a camera. For folks who lacked the privilege of knowing him, there is a page describing his life at Asian Pacific American Employees Association.  Books with his photographs are still in print and available. A trail on Big Mountain bears his name.  Ed Ruhl was a Marine. Chief Warrant Officer Edgar Ruhl, USMC (retired) – and he brought his own examples of every weapon he had used or encountered between Haiti and Korea.  Not “Gunny” you understand, but Mr. Ruhl, or “Gunner.”

“Dis is a spring-gun.” he explained as he showed a nice looking air rifle.  “I got it on Okinawa.  Da little bastid dat was using it didn’ have any more use for it after I ran my baynit troo him.”  I suspect the little bastid actually shared Ed’s rations after he swapped the spring-gun away from him. It was similar to this photo:

I learned that the world’s finest handgun was the Model 1911A1 – “Except you want the old 1911 mainspring for women, ‘cause dey have smaller hands.  It doesn’t kick – my wife uses dis one.”   My first 1911A1 didn’t shoot so well – but I learned what a match bushing and a slightly longer link could do.  By the time I was 35, I had learned that the old Colt 45 automatic could match all of Ed Ruhl’s praise.

The finest hunting rifle was, of course, the Springfield model 1903A3 – “Used to think the 1903 was the best, but the A3 is parkerized and has a peep sight.  Much better.”  In the sixties, there were a lot of them available – and I looked for Ed’s preferred Remington, and replaced the cut-down military stock with an inexpensive, drop-in stock from a magazine ad.   A lot of them made it back to the land of the big PX, and became hunting rifles for two generations of hunters.  It was there when I discovered high power competition.

And I learned that my single-shot 22 just didn’t make the grade: “Dis is a Reising model 65.  Used it on Guadalcanal to take dare snipers out of da trees.  Didn’t like the model 50, but Reising did a good job with the 22.” 

It took me almost half a century to find a Reising.  A previous owner (probably named Bubba) had removed the original front sight and replaced it with a pricey target sight that guaranteed the rifle couldn’t hit anything – it was a half-inch too tall.  It did bring the price down, and when I removed it, I found that most of the threads underneath were intact, and I could buy a brand new, 70-year old front sight for $4.95 plus shipping from West Hurley, New York.  It shared the front sight with the model 50 that Ed despised – and with the sights returned to normal, I managed to set it up the way those WWII Marines used it.  There are enough elevation clicks in the rear sight to make it a 200 yard 22.  I realized as I brought it back into condition that a light trigger pull was not required for the old breed.

As I look back, Hunter Safety from Ed Ruhl was formative.  It took me a while to learn that the FBI wasn’t connected to the justice department – it was an informal group of elderly female residents of Fortine who relentlessly found the basis and actual story behind any and every half told piece of gossip in their community.  He installed respect for the relentless women of the Fortine Bureau of Investigation.  I don’t know how many people are still around who learned weapon voodoo from pre-war Marines who had served in Haiti – hand signals designed to make the real voodoo practitioners wake up in a cold sweat.  I signaled a Haitian grad student with one, and over 40 years after Ed had taught the voo, I got confirmation the hand signals were recognized.  “You don’t want to mess with those powers!  Where did you learn that?”  Jean-Michel still knew of the Marines who brought their version of peace to Haiti.

Ed’s life exemplified responsibility.  As his wife’s health failed, he moved to Great Falls to be near a military hospital.  I recall his story describing how Alzheimer’s had taken her memory, as she explained, “You’re a nice old man.  My husband would like you.”  While Danny On has public memorials, Ed’s memorial has been, and remains, intensely private – shared now with my son-in-law as he learns to use the 1911a1, and next summer when we move onto the Reising.