George Conrad (“Con”) Nitz was born 20 April 1888 near Leigh, Nebraska. His father was George Christopher Nitz, who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1870. His mother was Emma Schmidt Nitz, born in Iowa. Con was only thirteen when he left home. While still a teenager, Con drove cattle from Nebraska to Walla Walla and traveled to Bonners Ferry. He finally came to Elk City in 1908, when he was 20 years old. This was during the quartz-mining boom in Elk City, and Con worked in the Buster Mine, the American Eagle Mine, and the Black Pine Mine (later called the “Mary K”).
Violet Brooke Supplee [pronounced suh-PLEE'] was the only child of Hunter and Camilla Supplee, of Pennsylvania. Her dad was a mining engineer and one of the partners who owned the Black Pine Mine. Violet had been born 13 Dec 1894 in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Philadelphia. She met Con when she arrived at the Black Pine in 1913. They were married 15 Jan 1914 in Spokane. Later, after the snow melted, a reception was held for the couple at the Black Pine Mine.
In 1922, Con Nitz homesteaded 160 acres on the west side of Erickson Ridge, running down into Little Elk Creek. (T29N, R8E, B.M. – SESE of Sec. 3, E ½ NE of Sec. 10, and NWNW of Sec. 11) He built a little cabin for his family down near the creek. The cabin is still there, accessible along the creek from the bottom of the “S-curve” where Elk Creek Road starts up Erickson Ridge.
By 1926, Con had sold this property and moved his family to the large Bar-N Ranch on Red River, north of Cartwright Creek. Con built the 11-room ranch house himself in 1932, and for years it was a landmark along Red River. In 1958, Con and Violet moved to Grangeville and were renting the ranch house when it burned to the ground in December. The land was later sold, and is presently the Little Ponderosa Ranch, owned by the Idaho Fish & Game Commission.
Con was an easy-going, happy, friendly guy who worked very hard and was liked by almost everybody. His long life was full of activity: he mined; he raised cattle; he built his own houses from home-milled lumber; he hauled freight and mail to Dixie and Orogrande; he trapped; he organized the Red River School District; and he served 24 years as an Idaho County Commissioner (14 Jan 1935 until 9 Jan 1959). He died 14 Feb 1977 and is buried in Prairie View Cemetery, in Grangeville.
One of Con’s famous exploits occurred in 1916, when Dixie was snowbound for so long that its 40 residents ran out of food. Con put snowshoes on “Old Frank,” his famous draft horse, hooked up a 12-foot toboggan, and for two weeks, Con and Old Frank hauled groceries into Dixie through the deep snow – three tons of groceries. On Dixie Summit, the snow was 12 to 14 feet deep.
Violet was a short, quiet woman who nonetheless had a strong personality that she would express when necessary. She was the glue who held the family together, as she and Con raised seven children. Violet died 29 Mar 1966 and is buried next to Con, in Prairie View.
Camilla Violet Nitz (“Mimi”) was born prematurely on 20 Aug 1914. She married Ormond Willard “Red” Fodrea on 29 Jun 1935. They had a son, George Ormond Fodrea. She later married Christian Frederick Lutz, Jr., and lived in Dallas, Texas, where she died 16 Mar 1993. She is buried in Prairie View Cemetery. Chris moved to Laughlin, Nevada after Mimi’s death.
Elsie Brooke Supplee Nitz was born 7 Apr 1916, in Philadelphia. She married Allen Culley Rice (one-time president of Idaho Fiddlers) on 1 Sep 1940. They lived in Boise, where she died 7 April 1978. Allen and Elsie had a daughter named Marilyn.
George Conrad Nitz, Jr. was born 3 Jan 1918. He graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in forestry and worked for the USFS. He died 1 May 1958 of multiple sclerosis and is buried in Prairie View Cemetery with his parents. He left a wife, Joyce Willene Evans Nitz, in Lancaster, Washington and two daughters, Sally and Colleen.
John Hunter Nitz, called “Hunt,” was born 27 Dec 1919. He served in the Marine Corps from 1939 until 1948, and was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on 7 Dec 1941. He fought in the Pacific Theater during WWII. After the war, he worked in construction, and married Martha Rae Manring in 1948. She had a child, Constance Manring, by a previous marriage; Hunt and Martha (Peggy) had two more children, Wade Hunter Nitz and Dea Conrad Nitz. Hunt died 15 Aug 2002 in Snohomish, Washington.
Donald Lee Nitz was born 29 Nov 1922, the only child of Con’s and Violet’s to be born in a hospital. All of the rest of the children were born at home. He served in the Army Air Corps in Europe during WWII. He married Carol J. Johnson 15 Jan 1950, and they had one son, Lee Roy Nitz, who died in 2002. Don later married Edwina J. Laine on 2 May 1968. Don ran an outfitting business with his brother Wayne from 1964 to 1975 when Don bought out Wayne’s interest and continued to run the ourfitting business until 1984. Don also owned a grocery store and hotel and operated the Post Office in Elk City for several years. He and Edwina live in the Stites-Kooskia area.
Norma Jean Nitz was born 3 Sep 1926 at the family home on Red River. She married Darrel Fred Farris 27 Dec 1945, and they had a son, Steven Douglas Farris LeProwse. On 6 Jun 1951, she married Robert Edgar LeProwse, who worked for many years for the USFS. In 1955, they moved to Missoula, Montana, where Bob worked for Anaconda and Norma worked for the USFS. Norma continued working for the USFS for the next 35 years. They had three more children: Linda Jean LeProwse, Conrad Robert LeProwse, and Rita LaRae LeProwse. Norma died 25 Jun 2002 in Missoula, Montana.
Wayne David Nitz was born 21 Oct 1927 at the family home on Red River. He lives in Elk City with his wife Betty. Their life is described below.
Wayne and Betty Nitz
Wayne David Nitz was born 21 October 1927 at the family home on Red River. Before and after WWII, he worked on the Tyee Dredge, first on American River and then on Red River. In 1955, he worked on the H&H Dredge on Crooked River. In 1954 and 1955, he served in the U.S. Army in Germany. When he returned, he worked briefly on the state road crew, then worked at Floyd Johnson’s sawmill, where they sawed lumber for construction of Gwen Shearer’s mill. He also bulldozed the tailings on the flat so that Shearer could build his mill. Along the way, Wayne worked 24 years for Harley J. Hammond Logging, running heavy machinery. Wayne and Betty bought the Elk City Bar & Café in 1958 (from Tex Mott, who was still paying Paul Filer for it). Then for 11 years, roughly from 1964 until 1975, Wayne and his brother Don ran Nitz Brothers Outfitters and had many adventures like the ones described on the following pages.
Betty Jane Cooper was born 8 Nov 1935 in Glencarlyn, Arlington County, Virginia. As a girl during World War II, she and her family (8 children altogether) traveled to Vanport, Oregon, where her father worked in a shipyard. (Vanport is no longer on maps because it was swept away in a flood in 1948.) After the war, her Dad worked in sawmills in Lucille, White Bird, and Elk City. By 1948, at age 13, Betty was cooking for a hunting camp in the Chamberlain Basin. The next year she met Wayne Nitz at a dance in White Bird; they were married in Grangeville on 27 May 1951. During the 1952 fire season, Betty cooked for as many as 80 firefighters at the Red River Ranger Station. She trained as a practical nurse at Grangeville General Hospital (now Syringa General) and then served as Elk City’s nurse from 1955 to 1972, until her brother Paul organized emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to serve the area. When Wayne and Don were off guiding hunters, Betty ran the Elk City Bar & Café. By 1964, she had tired of this and hired Mary Hadden to run it. By then, Betty was serving as Elk City’s Postmaster, a job she performed for 30 years, from 1962 to 1992. (She was the first postmaster in Elk City to serve long enough to retire.) During her tenure, the post office grew from 60 boxes in the grocery store to its own building with 600 boxes. Over the years, Betty also served on the water and power associations and the booster club, and was active in getting the roads paved.
Wayne and Betty have three children:
Eric Wayne Nitz, born 7 Apr 1953 in Grangeville;
Violet Lorraine (“Vicki”) Nitz Ash, born 8 Apr 1957 in Grangeville;
Randolph Russell (“Randy”) Nitz, born 5 Aug 1958 in Grangeville.
Wayne’s memories of the outfitting business Don and Wayne were outfitters together from roughly 1964 until 1975. Their area extended from Elk Mountain west to Schwar Creek and north to Indian Park. They had a great time out in the woods. In all those years, only two of their customers were sour apples.
Over the years, their guides included Sonny Young, Vance Baker, John Hatke, Rudy Carter, and Bud Crocker. Their cooks were “Matt” and Zola Mattoon. Matt, who was in his 70s at the time, also knew the horses well, and always seemed to know where they had wandered while grazing.
Favorite camps were at the end of the road on Elk Mountain, down at Goat Creek and Schwar Creek, and up at Indian Park.
Some of the guides were unforgettable characters. One time Sonny Young hiked a hunter all over, up and down the ridges for ten miles, and had him all worn out. Finally they arrived on Schwar Creek, where Sonny discovered the decomposed remains of an elk. Sonny looked devastated. He turned his rueful face to the hunter and announced, “Oh my, oh my! Old Beauford has died! We might as well go home ….”
Another time, Sonny and his hunters came across some elk tracks. Sonny picked up some elk droppings and appeared to taste them. He announced, “Well, they TASTE pretty fresh ….” You should have seen the looks on the hunters’ faces!
Sonny was a great storyteller. He could tell stories for days. Once the whole party was held in camp all day by fog so dense they couldn’t see anything. The guide kept everyone entertained by telling stories all day. On the second day, the fog was just as thick, and the guide continued telling stories as they sat again – all day long – in the tent. On the third morning, the fog was again thick, and one of the exasperated hunters announced, “If he tells any of those stories again, we’re going hunting, fog or no fog!”
Rudy Carter, a Nez Perce tribe member, was a guide and a funny guy. One time on Martin Creek, Wayne and Rudy split their party of four hunters, with Wayne taking two hunters along a side hill and Rudy taking his two down the creek. The arrangement was that if anybody saw elk, Wayne or Rudy would bugle, and the other group would move toward the bugler. In the middle of the day, Wayne heard Rudy bugling a lot, so he and his hunters worked their way carefully down in that direction, with great expectations. Finally, they had hunted right up to Rudy, who was sitting on a rock and still bugling up a storm. Rudy just grinned at them and said, “I think it’s time to go home!”
One November, it looked like heavy snow was coming, so Don and Wayne decided to break camp at Goat Creek and bring out the gear, before winter could seal it up ‘till spring. They sent John Hatke and his hunters in ahead, to start breaking camp. After a while, Don and Wayne were riding in to help, but here came Hatke running back toward them without his shirt, even though it was beginning to snow. Hatke was yelling that one of his hunters had died.
It seemed that Hatke and this hunter had gotten into a herd of elk, and each had shot one. Hatke took off his shirt and started to clean his elk while the hunter ran off to where his elk had fallen. When Hatke had gutted his animal, he went over to find the other one, only to discover the hunter dead next it. The hunter, who was an overweight guy in his 50s from a flatland state in the Midwest, had keeled over from a heart attack.
When Wayne and Don arrived, they and Hatke got the hunter loaded onto a packhorse. It wasn’t easy, because the body had started to stiffen up. About 10 a.m., they started back to the truck on Elk Mountain. By the time they got there, the snow was deep enough to make driving difficult, but they finally made it to Elk City by ten o’clock that night. They phoned the sheriff’s office and were told to bring the body in to Grangeville. This wasn’t easy, either, because the upper end of the South Fork Road was under construction at the time and closed at night. But they finally made it, delivered the body, and returned to Elk City by morning. They couldn’t rest even then: they still had to break camp at Goat Creek and bring out their gear before it was completely snowed in. This they proceeded to do. Finally, they got everything back to Elk City, but by then they had been up for three days with little sleep!
One time, Wayne rode in ahead of his party to check on a drop camp in Goat Creek. He found that a bear had dragged everything out of the cook tent and torn it up. The tent was okay, though, so Wayne cleaned up, put the gear back in the tent, and went out to get his hunters. When he brought them back in the next day, they found that the bear had returned, torn up the camp again, and this time ripped the cook tent open.
Wayne and Don replaced the cook tent, cleaned up the camp, and got everything squared away. That night, he and Don slept with their ears open and with flashlights and guns ready. Sure enough, the bear came back and started tearing up the cook tent. Wayne lit up the bear with a flashlight, and as the bear took off, Don shot at it and thought he hit it. They didn’t try following it in the dark, though. Instead, they rescued the cook, who had been hiding under his covers in the cook tent the whole time.
One time Wayne had a bunch of hunters working out of the Goat Creek Camp. He took them up to a little basin and turned them loose to hunt. At the end of the day, one hunter hadn’t come back to camp. Wayne rode up to the basin and looked around. He fired shots. Eventually, he saw in the distance where the guy was starting a fire.
Wayne rode back to camp and got Don and a spare horse. It was getting dark when they got near where he had seen the fire. It was raining and snowing. They reached a place where the horses couldn’t go, so Wayne got off and started to walk the rest of the way. In the dark, he fell in the creek. By now Wayne was REALLY cold. However, while in the creek, Wayne realized the water was flowing the wrong way. In the dark, he had become completely turned around in his mind. The creek experience got him oriented, and so he and Don were able to get to the hunter and bring him back to camp.
Back in the depression when the family was living on Red River, Wayne went into the kitchen one winter evening, and spied out the window about 300 elk feeding in the moonlit snow around the family’s haystack. He called his father to see this, and Con told him to get his rifle. They went out and shot two elk, which were badly needed for food in those lean years.
One time Wayne and another hunter were out in the snow, tracking a cougar in Dutch Oven Creek with two of Wayne’s hounds. The dogs treed the cat, and Wayne came up close to the tree on his snowshoes, with his 30-30. One of the dogs, still barking, jumped on the back of Wayne’s snowshoes. Just then, the other hunter fired at the cat with a .22, grazing its cheek. The angry cat jumped out of the tree at the dog on Wayne’s snowshoes, and Wayne shot it in the air. The cat missed Wayne, but splashed blood all over him as it sailed past. It managed to slit the dog’s paw, then took two bounds and piled up in the snow. A close call! Wayne had spun around on his snowshoes while this was happening, without tripping or falling down.
Another time, in February, Wayne was on snowshoes, tracking cougar with his two dogs and his friends, Bob McHargue and Gene Mott. They made it over Anderson Butte and down to the Meadow Creek Guard Station, but somewhere down in there, Wayne punched a hole in his knee on a tree branch. He figured that his knee hurt too much to make it back over Anderson Butte, so the friends started down Meadow Creek, thinking they could phone Betty from Selway Falls to come around the long way and pick them up. Fortunately, the snow petered out along the 15-mile journey downstream, and they were able to traverse the high part of the trail without snowshoes. At one point, they found themselves above a herd of elk, which proceeded to graze uphill past them – a beautiful sight!
Finally, they made it to the old Selway Ranger Station, near the Falls, only to find that the phone line was out. So they hiked another 20 miles down the Selway to Fenn, where Wayne was finally able to phone Betty. That little walk took four days ….
In 1954, Wayne and Betty, along with Bob and Norma LeProwse, were members of a 13-person group who bought a 33-foot rubber raft. They mounted sweepers on the front and back. Then they took it down to Corn Creek, below Shoup, and launched it into the Salmon River on August 13. Don and Carol Nitz went halfway with the group and then were met by Con Nitz and Steve LeProwse, who took them out. With Tex Mott and Monroe Hancock on the sweeps, the rest of the group ran the river all the way to Vinegar Creek. Along the way, they got fresh eggs at Lantz Bar, got all their sleeping bags wet as they ran Salmon Falls, camped out every night, and had a great time. 13 people started 13 August and were out 13 days. What’s more, the whole thing – boat, food, and supplies – cost each couple only $25.
The same rubber raft was used in 1956 by Don Nitz and Tex Mott to float bridge materials to Campbell’s Ferry. There’s a picture of this on page 161 of Johnny Carey and Cort Conley’s book, River of No Return (Backeddy Books, 1978).
In the 1980s, when Duffie Miller was in his 80s, he would come down to the Elk City post office every afternoon at precisely 1:30 p.m. to get his mail. He was so dependable that Betty, the Postmaster, would worry if he didn’t show up on time, and would send someone to check on him.
In those days, the Nitz family dog, “SirCat,” would come across the street to the post office every afternoon just before Duffie was scheduled to arrive. The dog would wait for Duffie, and when he would drive up, the dog would come to the car door so Duffie could get ahold of its fur. Then the dog would assist the old man into the post office.
One time the postal inspector had made a surprise visit, and found the dog in the post office at Betty’s feet. This was against postal regulations and Betty was a little worried that he might report this infraction. The inspector asked whose dog this was, and Betty told him it was “just the town dog – he hangs around a lot.” Right then, Duffie drove up and Betty told the inspector to watch what happened. The dog immediately went outside to Duffie’s car and assisted the old man into the post office. The inspector never reported this serious breach of regulations ….
When Wayne and Betty were young, there were a lot more elk in the Elk City and Red River areas. It was common to see 200 head in each meadow during the winter, and large herds would feed at the haystacks. We’re lucky to see a half dozen now. Wayne and Betty feel that the elk herds have been reduced greatly by poachers in recent years, and by poor management by Idaho Fish & Game. In particular, they feel that too many elk permits – especially bull licenses – are being sold to hunters. They also feel that seasons should be shorter, that you should be required to choose your weapon ahead of time, and that the herds would benefit greatly from a complete moratorium on elk hunting in this region for a few years.
Monument to Con and Violet NItz
In June, 2005, the grandchildren of Con and Violet Nitz dedicated a monument to their memory. It was placed on the property where Con and Violet’s house had been for many years, along Red River, in what is now the Idaho Fish & Game Management Area. Relatives and friends came from far and wide to express their love and share stories about the old days.
Here Bob LeProwse dedicates the monument and tells stories about the Nitz family. Edwina and Don Nitz are in the foreground.
Much of this is based on interviews of Wayne and Betty Nitz conducted by Bill Salmon in February and March of 2003. Wayne, Betty, and their daughter Vicki also provided family records and newspaper clippings. Steve LeProwse made several additions and corrections to my initial writeup.
The date and place of Con Nitz’s birth came from the interviews, from his obituary in the Lewiston Morning Tribune of 16 Feb 1977, and from the WWI Civilian Draft Registration. His ancestry was found in the 1910 U.S. Census enumeration in Elk City, obtained through Ancestry.com, and in genealogy records supplied by Vicki Ash.
Violet Supplee is listed with her parents and maternal grandmother in the 1910 U.S. Census for Pennsylvania. Date and place of birth are from obituary clippings taken from the Idaho County Free Press for 31 Mar 1966 and the Lewiston Morning Tribune. Con and Violet’s Elk City wedding reception is described in Gertrude Maxwell’s book, My Yesterdays in Elk City (Idaho County Free Press, 1986), on page 15. She said that the reception occurred at the Black Pine Mine, but gives the wrong year.
The legal description of the original Nitz homestead was taken from land patent records available on the Internet from the Government Land Office of the BLM. These can be found at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch
The fire in 1958 that destroyed the Nitz home on Red River was reported in a newspaper clipping from the Idaho County Free Press in December, 1958. According to that report, the house was occupied at the time by three renters.
The story about Con Nitz hauling groceries to snow-bound Dixie was taken from an article about Elk City and Dixie that appeared on page 6 of a U.S. Post Office newsletter for employees of the Spokane Mail Sectional Center, called The Postmark of the Spokane MSC, dated July 1988. It shows a picture of “Old Frank,” wearing his snowshoes. Betty Nitz was a main source for this article.
Dates for Con Nitz’s service on the Idaho County Commission were taken from his obituary and from the article, “Nitz Won’t Run for Commissioner,” in the Free Press in April, 1958.
The details of Betty Nitz’s life and career were gathered from interviews, from the article in The Postmark cited above, and from the article, “Elk City Retires First Postmaster,” on page 6 of The Idaho County Free Press, October 8, 1992.
Some of the birth and death dates for Con and Violet’s children were obtained from the Social Security Death Index available through Ancestry.com. These were checked against genealogy data supplied by Vicki Ash. Steve LeProwse supplied additional details.
- by Bill Salmon