A Good Day for Earl

What a day we had in Chewelah! The drive through western Idaho and into Washington was scenic, but it’s kind of like leaving the MOMA and heading to “Crazy Eddie’s Wicked Good Museum of Art.” Your basis of comparison is all out of whack. As we left Idaho and entered Washington through the town of Newport, we were still talking about the towns of Ponderay and Sandpoint, ID. Nonetheless, the journey was pleasing to the eye and it was wonderful hearing Earl’s remembrances of the region, whether it be from childhood or from a field trip he took while completing his graduate degree at MSU.

It seems that once we cleared the Cabinet Mountains the terrain took on a different aspect. The pine trees thinned out and dust clouds kicked up where the land was not being irrigated. We crossed the Kanisku National Forest on a picturesque road that led us around the shoulder of Chewelah Mtn., el. 5775 ft. On the way down the mountain into the valley we passed the Pioneer Cemetery, and Barbara asked, “Do you suppose Harold and Vin are buried there?”

The town of Chewelah, where DD Monroe set up shop in 1912 and served as mayor for one year, now boasts a population of just under 1800. A very pleasant park which sits on land donated by Coronel Jenkins (the man from whom DDM rented the home in which Earl was born) covers several city blocks and straddles Chewelah Creek, whose charming but swift current has become a popular attraction with Chewelah’s children. Our first stop was the Chewelah Library, where the town history shows no record of a DD Monroe as either a doctor or mayor. However, the librarian was able to furnish Earl with a recent map of the town. We broke for lunch, consulted the map, and discussed other possible sources of information on this nebulous time in Monroe lore (it was Saturday, and the Chamber of Commerce and City Hall were both closed).

Earl hit the jackpot at the Chewelah Museum, an outfit run by one lady whose love for Chewelah history made for hours of good conversation. Mom found in the records a book of minutes from the Stevens County Medical Society. One note of the November 6, 1912 meeting reads, “Communication of Dr DD Monroe of Chewelah relative to membership read and filed.” Although not yet a member, he was herewith officially “on the books.” About six months later, said application was accepted. In the years that followed the minutes reflect that DDM was very active in the Society, serving as its president “for year 1915.” The final entry to mention his name is dated May 7, 1917, at which he “gave an interesting discourse on Ear Ache.” Earl sat in a chair for about an hour, reading these accounts, and noting pages in which his name was mentioned.

While he and Barbara were engrossed at the museum, I took a walk through the park, and noticed a house with very interesting beveled masonry. Earl had shown me the picture of his birthplace, and although it was a different color, and the façade look different, I walked around it to investigate. Apparently I was looking at the back of the home (which faced the street), because when I walked around to the front, I immediately noticed the curved walls on the second floor. The owners of what is now the Nordlig Motel were in the front yard gardening. I asked them if this house was owned by Cor. Jenkins, to which they replied affirmatively. I asked if it was rented by a DD Monroe, to which the man responded, “He was a doctor of some sort.” EUREKA!! We chatted for a bit. They were more than happy to chat with Earl if he wanted to pass by after his stint at the museum.

When I returned to the museum, Earl and the museum “curator” were making copies of the documents that they had found, as well as an index of all headlines from the local newspaper archive (several of the children are mentioned in various articles). Earl practically jogged over to the Nordlig Motel, where they invited us in to see the home, and share what history they know. Incredibly, Clarence’s drawing of the home (including the spiral staircase and water fountain that adorned the foyer) were a spot on match for the real thing. Earl walked upstairs and wondered in which room was he born. He didn’t want to overstay his welcome (there was no chance of that happening—they were thrilled, and their daughter is a history buff who just this year completed a history project on Col. Jenkins.), so we stayed about 10 minutes, showered the family with thanks, then headed off, amazed at the amount of information we had come across in just a few short hours.

(By the way, that swift creek mentioned above is, indeed, the creek in which little Vin Monroe drowned in 1916. No one but our family seems to have any record of the incident. Both the curator and the motel proprietors were grateful to learn that bit of history. The road improvements have rerouted the creek, and the island that Vin was trying to reach no longer exists.)

The final stop for the day was to that Pioneer Cemetery on the hill east of Chewelah. The blueprint index was poorly drawn, so Barbara and I spent a good 45 minutes scrambling up and down dry, dusty hills (read cliffs) trying to find the Monroe plot. Barbara triangulated the location by locating multiple obvious markers, and eventually we found the plot. Harold (stillborn, 1915) and Vin (drowned age 3, 1916) are memorialized with beautiful red marble headstones. The markers, as well as the larger Monroe marker, have weathered a bit these 90 some years, and lichen have gained purchase on the smooth, polished face, but otherwise they in very nice condition.

The Chewelah RV site did not have internet, so we are closing on the end of the next day, the 20th. We are outside of Spokane, at what appears to be the RV owner’s version of a timeshare. For that reason, the Ponderosa RV Resort has less of the “mom and pop” appeal that the previous venues had; however, their accommodations still rank third to the KOA’s in Bozeman and Glacier.

Tomorrow we drive about a mile to the RV service location where we will resolve the issue with the leveling jack. Wish us luck that we’re out of there by lunch time!! Then it’s off to Walla Walla, which should be a 4+ hour trip.

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2 Responses to A Good Day for Earl

  1. Jean says:

    What a great visit you had in Chewelah. The Monroe brothers had so many stories of their escapades in that small town. Of all the places they lived, I think Chewelah was their favorite, the tragic death of little Vin notwithstanding.One of the stories stories involved the Monroes and various neighbors packed into Duncan’s big car on a trip to see the Liberty Bell. The bell was on a cross-country tour before being displayed at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition of San Francisco. As the car traveled down the road, Wray, who was seated behind Duncan, suddenly called out, “Look, Pa, there goes the wheel!” He was right. The passengers gazed in dismay as the left rear wheel rolled majestically past the front fender and on down the road ahead of the car.

  2. Molly says:

    I’ve just printed this out and can’t wait to read!!! You guys are amazing!!!Much love and envy sent your way!!-M-

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