The Stump Ranch Chronicles

I had the good fortune of growing up on what was called a “stump ranch.” A stump ranch is a parcel of land that has been logged by an individual or company and then sold to a private individual for a low price. In our situation, the parcel of land was 80 acres and only the trees in the valley had been logged. The slash was burned. After a few years, the grass and wild strawberries flourished among the fire-blackened stumps, and the steep hillsides that surrounded us on three sides were conifer covered. My sisters and I had many adventures on this large piece of land. Later, when I attended the University of Idaho, I saw aerial photos of the stump ranch and it was plain to see the valley was an ancient oxbow of the Priest River.

Now my granddaughter, Madison, is 10 and reads a lot. So I have been sharing my childhood stories with her. We do not live near each other most of the year, so this has been a fun way to communicate. As I send them to M, I’ll post a few of them here. The first one was inspired by stories I read in Roughing It by Mark Twain.


The boss chose me special to make the delivery from Deadwood and I was traveling alone on my stagecoach wagon.  No passengers, no mail, and no one riding shotgun. There was just enough room for me, riding high on a powder box, and with a bag of the biggest gold nuggets in all of Idaho Territory.

This was dangerous work. The route was infested with robbers, those heathen pirates of the old west.  To make things worse, my wagon was painted bright red and you could see me coming for a mile.  But boy could we fly.  When I’d shake the reins and yell YE-HAH, the frisky little rusty-haired filly pulling my wagon would go, W-H-I-N-N-A, shake her mane and speed up.

Yep. I sat high on that box and raced toward the sunset over the hard, dirt road to Squirrel, where I planned to grab a bite to eat and rest the night. You could get the best fresh bread in the west, at the Squirrel Stage Station. The wheels purred along, but would my horse hold up at this breakneck speed? My six-guns rested easy in their holsters, and I wore my hat low to keep the afternoon sun out of my eyes. Just then, as if on cue, two robber’s ripped out of the bushes up ahead next to the road, cap guns blazing, black and white dog barking its head off.

Stop! Stop! They yelled. Can’t you see this is a hold up?”

Whoa! Whoa! I said, bringing the stage to a halt.I could see it was no use trying to outrun them. Not this time.

OK, OK. Just don’t shoot me, I said, my hands reaching high into the thin Idaho air.

They holstered their guns and threw their sorry stick horses aside.

Now, give us the gold. We know you got some.

Find it yerself! I said.

Git down off that wagon, said the bigger outlaw, followed by, Patsy, you guard that rotten gopher so she won’t try anything funny.

I did what I was told. What can you do, when there=s a gun at your head. I watched the head goon lift one corner of the box on my wagon and grab my sack of gold.

This is more fun when you play fair and stop so we can rob you, the younger outlaw said.

Well, if you’ll split the gold with me, I’ll stop next time, too. With no more loot, my horse spent, and my wheels awhobble, it was a good time to make such a promise.

It’s a deal. Now git back up on your wagon and we’ll all ride slow and easy to the station.  

As we pulled up next to an old gray pickup in front of the stage station, our mother stepped out onto the porch and yelled, Girls, time for dinner.


About Rae Ellen

Rae Ellen grew up on a stump ranch in Northern Idaho. She is a former landscape architect and the author of 5 books, including fiction, memoir and humor. She now lives in Escalante, UT. To celebrate a landmark birthday, she is painting her life and blogging about it at

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