Fritser Ranch, South Fork Salmon River
Valley County, Idaho
Fritser Ranch South Fork Salmon River
Homestead patented March 27, 1926
signed by President Calvin Coolridge
South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free
July, 1972 Chapter 1
… and hiked out to the South Fork Guard station. There we met the Forest Service guards who knew all the old timers from the area. One who particularly interested me was a resident who had lived on the river at Fritser Creek for 70 years. The following summer, July 1973, I hiked in with fellow smokejumper, Jeff Fereday, to meet him.
“Is your name George Fritser,” Jeff inquired when we arrived.
“Used to be,” was the laconic reply.
George Fritser with weathered face, creased hands and bright eyes, was the son of an original Idaho homesteader. He lived on the site where he was born, January 5, 1902, for almost 90 years. There he tilled the land his father had settled on before the turn of the century. George was born in a log cabin that sat a stone’s throw from his latest house.
The Fritser homestead still lies on a sandy bar 50 ft. above the pellucid waters of the South Fork but it is empty now. It is rimmed in by steep mountains that allow only three hours of sun to filter in during December but there is no old timer that comes out to feed “his deer” and “chickens” (spruce hens) on brisk winter days. The large orchard with apple, plum and cherry trees is a remnant of what it was, the branches having been broken by foraging bears and the large beautiful garden is gone. Above the home where two large hay fields once were and livestock grazed is only a harrow that was carried in almost a century ago.
When George’s father, Harry Fritser Sr., came to the South Fork from Oregon in 1898 it was still a wild and perfect country. The river was teeming with Chinook salmon and wolves as well as brown bears roamed the steep mountains or river breaks as the locals referred to the canyon walls. Two Canadian miners Hollaway and Dunaway were mining the site that would become the Fritser homestead. They in turn had leased it to Chinese who mined but could not legally own land in America. In the 1980’s archeologists would find “spectacular” Chinese gardens that George knew about his entire life.
Harry Fritser Sr. claimed the bar where Hollaway and Dunaway had mined. The two Canadians had taken off down the river in a boat after their claims played out. They lost 500 feet of rope in the first rapids (probably Devil Creek). We can only speculate how far they got in a raft as the South Fork is a Class IV+ or V- depending on water level.
George was the first born to Harry and Charlotte Fritser, coming on a cold January day in 1902. After that followed 10 brothers and sisters, all brought into the world without the help of a midwife or doctor. The nearest town was Warrens which was a day’s ski away out of the gorge that is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Charlotte Genant was living with her family on the South Fork when she married Harry Fritser. Harry took his bride and moved to a log cabin he had built on his homestead. The nearest neighbors were the Willy’s two miles upstream or the Hinkley’s one mile down river. In either case it meant getting across the South Fork which until recently called for rowing a boat or fording during low water.
South Fork of the Salmon River was at times a difficult place to grow up. To make ends meet, Harry Fritser would sell a cow in the fall or herd sheep in the summer. The large Fritser family did not have many conveniences. George described the good old days when, “We ate weeds and grass and drank milk mostly.”
Nonetheless, the Fritser children grew up in the serenity and beauty of the spectacular river gorge. Life was hard but Harry and Charlotte Fritser provided a stable family life for them. Then tragedy struck when Charlotte Fritser died during childbirth bearing her eleventh child. George, then 17 years old, skied to Warrens to get a doctor.
The only “doctor” he could find was Chinese so George brought him back to the river by descending the 5000 foot breaks (this historic trail is very close to where I jumped in 1972). The “doctor” administered herbs but could do nothing about the real cause of the problem which eventually led to Charlotte’s death on May 28, 1919. She was buried above the ranch on a shady knoll overlooking the river.
That fall (1919) the county superintendent of schools, Tersey J. Wayland, rode into the Fritser homestead on a borrowed horse. She had heard of the Fritser children (10 now, one daughter had died) living on the river with no mother and no school near. It was the law that all children had to go to public school. Mrs. Wayland wanted to bring them out to Boise to give them a chance to have a formal education. When she arrived at the ranch there was apprehension among the siblings because for the children to leave the ranch meant that Harry Fritser Sr. would be left alone.
George was in Cascade at the time fighting a fire. A vote was taken by the children when the school marm explained whey she had come. Some wanted to stay on the ranch and others wanted to see what life was like outside the canyon walls. They all eventually decided to leave with the superintendent. George later said that because of the law, the children’s vote was probably moot.
Traveling by horseback, the caravan of nine children and Mrs. Waylaid rode down the South Fork and up into Warrens where they spent the night in the old Warrens Hotel. Then they traveled to Boise where the children were all put up for adoption. It would take two years before they would all find a new home. George returned home to the South Fork after fighting a forest fire and left that fall for Boise, where he enrolled in school. When he tried to find out where his siblings were the adoption home denied him the information. It was 19 years before he found out where all of them were.
George stayed in Boise with the Witlock family until February 1923. He found Harry Jr. in Cascade staying with the Tersey J. Wayland family. During the time the brothers stayed there they had talks with a pastor in town who told the Fritser brothers they were working hard and receiving little in return. They would plow with four horses out in the Wayland’s field and then go to school. George remarked, “They would work us like slaves and never paid us anything.”
On a clear summer night in July of 1923 the brothers stole away from Cascade and the Wayland home. They only had a small sack of sugar between them and one rifle. They had planned to make it to the South Fork of the Salmon River in one day almost 67 miles. Sleeping at Scott Valley at the foot of the Salmon River Mountains, the next day they rose before the sun and crossed Big Creek summit and dropped into the headwaters.
The usually clear river was high and brown, and they had to descend to the ’49 ford before they dared cross. Even then they were in chest deep water. It took three days to reach home and a joyful reunion with their father. These were the only two of his children that Harry Sr. would ever see again . The sons stayed with the father until his death in September of 1927.
George and Harry Jr. became two of the earliest Forest Service employees. Harry Jr. died of “tick fever” in 1936 while packing horses in the Salmon River country. George said, “When they pulled the tick off his back it was as big as your thumb and the welt on his back was as big as your hand.”
Into his ninety’s George pulled ticks off himself every spring. He maintained that if a person paid attention you could feel them crawling on you and besides, “Ticks got to be on your skin for 24 hours before they stick their head in you.”
Except for brief periods when he served in WWII or worked as a watch repairman George has lived on the river. The conflagration of 1949 burnt down the original log cabin George was born in. The fire can only be compared to the ones that torched Idaho in 2000. Directly across the river, all that remains of the dense Douglas fir stand are small trees. But the two 50 ft trees shading his house he remembers as saplings in his youth. In 1951 he drug enough wood to build his house over the South Fork breaks. The entire house was built with $200 of lumber.
George was 70 years old when the first kayakers led by J. Cal Giddings kayaked the river in 1972. During the next decade I would be able to spend much time on the river with George and a part of every month. The last time I saw him was with Jeff Fereday and family in 1987, and like the river, he seemed to have changed very little, except that he was more ornery. Then in the winter of 1992 I received a call to my Alaskan home from Jeff, “There was a house fire, George could not get out.”
He had been staying three miles upriver at the Willy ranch, when a house fire started on a sofa spread quickly. George’s memorial is above the ranch where he spent his life next to his mother, brother and infant sister.
A weathered marker stands at the grave site.
The book (out of print) “South of the Salmon Wild and Free” is copyrighted © 2001 by Jerry Dixon
source: Idaho State University (broken link)
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South Fork of the Salmon River
March 22, 1978 by Pearl Boydstun
Harrison Fritzer was born in Missouri in 1867 his wife Charlotte Jeanott) was born in 1884.
Harrison traded his land in Garden Valley for a wagon, team of horses, cow and some chickens and moved to the South Fork of the Salmon River in 1898. He lived in a tent the first winter and the next summer he cut logs and built a house. Mr. and Mrs. Fritser were married in Roseberry, Idaho 1901.
They raised produce and packed on horseback to Warren, panned gold along the river to get money enough to pay their taxes and buy a few clothes, wild game and fine fish were plentiful so meat was no nroblem. One year they made $65.00 panning gold.
Mrs. Fitser died during childbirth May 28, 1919 she is buried on the South Fork ranch. After Mrs. Fitser passed away the County School Superintendent Tirza Wayland hired a Mr. Whitlock who had a string of rack horses in Warren to go to the Fitser ranch with her to bring the children out to attend school, they were taken to the children’s home in Boise excert the two older boys, George and Harry.
Harry stayed with the Waylands and George lived with Whitlocks. George was 17 years old and had never been inside a school house before he began working in the first grade and at the end of that term he was in the fifth. He attended the Maple Grove School in Boise Valley, his teacher was Bonnie Fisher. He stayed with the Whitlocks and went to school until 1923, he finished the 8th grade in Cascade, Idaho.
He went back to Boise Valley to see his brother Harry who was living with the Waylands. Mrs. Wayland became very ill so George stayed on to help with the work until she passed away.
While there he and Harry attended the Free Methodist Church, George was baptised in the Ridenbaugh Canal when he joined the church.
George and Harry decided they should go to see their father whom they had not seen for four years. They left the Wayland place in Boise early one July morning walking all the way to the South Fork, they traveled most of the time for three days and nights, sleeping only when they got too tired to walk, each carried a burlap sack which they would wrap up in under a tree to sleep.
When they reached the ranch Mr. Fitser was not there, he had gone to Warren for supplies, when he returned and found his sons there he was very happy, they sat un all night and talked.
Harry took a job packing supplies to the Split Creek Lookout and was stricken with tick fever (1935) he was taken to the hospital in Ontario, Oregon but it was too late he passed away and was buried in a cemetery in Ontario.
George went to work for Bailey Dustin who also had a ranch on The South Fork near Pony Creek then worked for a time for Brad Carey. He went back to Cascade to get some clothes he had left there and stayed to go to High School during the winter, then returned to the South Fork ranch the next summer. The ranch comprising about 45 acres lying along the river, it is patented land and now belongs to one of George’s younger brothers Who is a doctor in Twin Falls.
George has lived on the land most of his life and worked for the Forest Service until 1946. He raises a garden and some fruit especially berries, he winters horses for people who live in the surrounding mountains where the winters are long. He took a picture of a cougar that came into his yard in 1971 and laid down under a bush.
George is almost 76 years old now, a kind friendly man who has many friends, young and old.
source: McCall Public Library Collection (broken link)
link to: George_Fritzer_Folder.pdf (8 megs)
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Louis Rebillet says that when George Fritzer (born on the Fritzer ranch ca. 1903 and still there today) was asked how the Depression had affected him, he replied “What depression?”
source: pg 128 “Cultural Integrity and Marginality Along the South Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho”, Thesis by SJ Rebillet 1983 (7 megs)
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Backcountry life’s for him
The Star-News 8-8-1984 By Mike Stewart
Where are the mountain men?
They’re down by the river
Big rollin’ river
gonna sweep right over you
Some kind of livin’
when you’re down by the river,
feeling that you’re home
and you’re never really lonely
Big Rollin’ River
Song by Ken Kuhne, McCall
The house sits on a bench above the South Fork of the Salmon River at the five-mile marker, north from the end of the South Fork Road.
A corrugated tin roof tops the structure. That’ s not unusual in snow country. But, what is unusual is that the exterior walls of the cabin are also corrugated metal.
George Fritser is the home’s builder and lone occupant, if you don’t count his dog Chipper or the rats which preclude his leaving for any lengthy periods.
Fritser won’ t say so, but one wonders if the metal sides have something to do with the fact that the first cabin Fritser lived in at the site burned to the ground in the Pidgeon Creek Fire of 1949. That cabin was the same one in which Fritser was born 82 years ago.
He built his current house in 1951, packing in the materials necessary on an old wagon road and hauling them across the South Fork on his cable car.
Fireproofing a house’ s exterior is the sort of caution that seems fitting for a man who, with the exception of a few years in Boise for schooling following World War I and summers working for the U. S. Forest Service, has spent his entire life working a 45 -acre ranch in the Idaho back country.
The eldest of 11 children born on the ranch to Harry and Janotte Fritser, George has watched over his small, isolated corner of the world for the better part of a century.
“The river hasn’t cut any deeper. It looks about the same. I can’t tell any difference,” he said.
But he has seen a great difference in the numbers and types of people he sees traveling up and down the river.
During his early years, the population of Warren, numbered around 1,000.
With their small parcel of land, Fritser’ s family worked as many of the Chinese in the area worked, raising and hauling fruits and vegetables into Warren for sale to the miners.
At the peak, Fritser said about 600 “Chineemen” lived along the river growing produce for resale to miners or “skim digging,” which Fritser defined as “working here or there wherever there was a hotspot.”
Produce would be packed to Warren and sold by the Chinese, who would then return with human waste from Warren to be used for fertilizer, he said.
A five-gallon coal oil can filled with strawberries was worth $5 at Warren, and one entire acre at the Fritser place was planted in the small red fruit, George said.
One of the terraced Chinese gardens located near Bear Creek, a few miles downstream from the Fritser place, was irrigated by a two-mile long ditch, he said.
“It took them two years to dig that ditch, and that’s where the two last Chineemen lived. They’ d come up here to visit every once in a while,” he said.
About 1918, the two, known as Chinee Bob and High Pockets, left the area. One went to Boise and the other returned to China, Fritser said.
The population in the area didn’ t peak, however, until the 1920s, when Fritser said about 2,000 miners worked on the dredges in the Warren area.
At its largest, the boom town of Warren had three general stores, he said. Several mines in the region had tunnels extending a mile or more into the mountains.
But he said the number of people in the area had a definite effect on the number of deer and elk.
“In 1916, there were only about three deer in the whole country,” he said. Happily, that has changed as the number of permanent residents along the South Fork has dropped since those days.
Life in the back country was not without hazards, one of which is aptly demonstrated by a story Fritser tells about himself and brother, Harry.
With their father gone herding sheep to raise grocery money for the winter’s supplies, the two were using a small boat to row back and forth across some ” ripples” in the river above their ranch.
They stopped to land on a rock in the middle of the river and became stranded when they lost a grip on the rope tied to the boat. Attempts by their mother and another brother, Bob, to throw them a rope from shore proved futile, and the two spent the entire night sitting on the rock.
Finally, a neighbor living three miles upstream at what is now the Del Davis Ranch came to their rescue by swimming his horse out to the rock to pick up each of the boys.
“That was the longest night I ever put in,” Fritser said. ” It rained a bit in the middle of the night and the river raised a bit.”
George and Harry were the only two, residents of the ranch after their father died in 1927. Their mother had taken the children to Boise in 1919, and, with the exception of occasional visits, their father was alone until 1923 when Fritser and another brother, Eric, returned to the ranch.
“Dad, he was glad to see us,” Fritser said.
Following their father’ s death, George and Harry took care of things until Harry died a young man in 1936 from ” tick fever.”
“So, I was. by myself in 1936,” he said.
By himself, but not alone, as Fritser remembers the days when salmon and steelhead used to run up the river in large numbers, and when huge dolly varden trout could be caught by the hundreds in a fishing hole just below his place.
“I have to get out fishing one of these days,” he said, spurred on by the talk of big fish. He said it’s been several years since he went fishing in the river that’s only a stone’ s throw from his house.
Fritser is now living on the pension he earned working summers for the forest service, seven of which were spent on the Tailholt fire lookout a few miles above his place.
The Fritser acreage, once nearly taken up by, cultivated garden, has almost returned to a natural state. Only a ‘ few apple trees stand in the otherwise grassy meadow above his cabin.
Four of George’ s sisters are still alive, three in Boise and one in Twin Falls, but he is the last of the brothers with whom he grew up.
Why has he stayed on in the South Fork, alone, when most people his age are living in retirement centers or with other family members?
Besides the rats, which he said would take over the place if he left it unattended, Fritser said he likes it along the river.
“I’m always catching a cold out in town,” he said.
Besides, he added, “A man just gets used to living out here.”
Here’s to the heroes
that live down on the river
here’s to ol’ George Fritser
who endured the
And when his life is over
no small man shall
put him under;
his spirit shall continue
in the legends and the songs
source: McCall Public Library Collection (broken link)
see George_Fritzer_Folder.pdf (8 megs)
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George Albert Fritser
Davis Ranch — George Albert Fritser, 89, died Monday, Dec. 9, 1991, at the Davis Ranch on the South Fork of the Salmon River.
Memorial services will be held in his honor at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, at the Relyea Funeral Chapel, 318 N. Latah, Boise.
George was born Jan. 5, 1902, at the Fritser Ranch on the South Fork of the Salmon River in Valley County, Idaho, the first child in a family of 11 children of Harrison and Charlotte Fritser. His mother and father both came to the South Fork in 1898 to homestead.
George had lived most of his life on the South Fork where he worked for the Forest Service from 1926 to 1935, while living at the Fritser Ranch. In the fall of 1942, he entered the armed forces and was stationed at Hammers Field, Calif., and later was transferred to the 22nd Air Corps at Davis Monthan Field, Ariz.
During his lifetime, he traveled to many interesting places, but George always returned to the family ranch on the South Fork and his peaceful existence in the mountains of Idaho. Over the years, many family members and friends visited George and experienced the wonderful Idaho outdoors with him.
Survivors include four sisters; and numerous nieces and nephews. The family suggests that memorials may be made to Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue, P.O. Box 741, Boise 83701.
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Cabin blaze claims backcountry old-timer
South Fork – Salmon River — An aging backcountry man died in a cabin blaze here early Monday morning.
Valley County Coroner Marvin Heikkila said George Fritser, 89, died of smoke inhalation in a cabin on the Del Davis Ranch, where he had been cared for over the last three years by Bonnie Davis and her stepson, Buzz Davis. The cause of the fire, which burned the cabin to its foundation at approximately 6:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9, remained undetermined as of Tuesday.
“The cabin was totaled,” Heikkila said, “all except the concrete.”
Heikkila and Valley County Sheriffs Deputy Dave McClintock recovered the remains Monday afternoon. Buzz Davis, who had apparently been sleeping in the basement when the conflagration began, was treated for second degree bums on his hands. Davis and his stepmother, who was not present, had cared for Fritser for some time.
This gentleman had lived on the river all his life, and he was to the age where he couldn’t take care of himself,” Heikkila said. “He did not want to come out, so about three years ago he moved up there and they started taking care of him.”
The cabin where Fritser died is about three miles south of his own cabin on the South Fork. Ironically, he had carefully fireproofed his own cabin with corrugated sheet metal, possibly because the cabin in which he was born burned to the ground in the Pigeon Creek Fire of 1949.
On the river all his life, Fritser was witness to hundreds of “Chineemen” skim digging and selling vegetables to miners along the river. He saw the deer population along the river nearly eradicated by Warren’s mining boom in the teens and 20s of this century, and also saw fish runs along the river such as those in following generations may never see again. Fritser was so much a, part of the backcountry that he refused to be moved out for geriatric care or even cataract surgery, reports said.
No investigation is planned.
link to: news clippings
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Private Burials Valley County
Fritzer Ranch, South Fork
Charlotte Fritzer (1884 – 1919)
Carrie Amy Fritzer (1903 – 1910)
George Fritzer (1902 – 1991)
George died in a house fire at the Davis Ranch (fka the Willey Ranch). These two ranches are abt. a couple miles apart, on opposites sides of the river. The Fritzer Ranch is on the west side.
source: Valley County GenWeb
page updated Nov 30, 2018